Sunday Thoughts: Failed Systems

There is an episode of the original Star Trek called “Ultimate Computer”. The premise is that the genius Dr. Daystrom has built a revolutionary supercomputer that, he claims, can run a starship more efficiently than any human captain and obviates the need for a human crew at all. They install in the Enterprise for a test run, and at first it seems to work; it makes better decisions faster than Kirk and effortlessly triumphs in an initial simulation.

But then problems start showing up. It fires on a passing drone ship. It begins shutting down ship functions to power itself. It accidentally vaporizes a crew member and creates a shield to prevent itself being turned off. By the end, it’s firing on other starships, killing hundreds.

All the while, Dr. Daystrom (played with great pathos by William ‘Blacula’ Marshall) keeps insisting that things are fine; that these are understandable mistakes that can be corrected, that the computer will work, has to work, because its purpose — eliminating the need to send people to war — is that important. And also because he’s staked his entire career, reputation, and self-image on this one project.

That episode functions as something of an allegory for Modernity. Take an existing, functional-but-imperfect system (the Enterprise), note its very real flaws, and propose to replace it with a new, man-made system designed specifically to correct those problems. The system is brilliantly designed, and at first it seems to work perfectly, outperforming the traditional form in key areas. But then, as time goes on, more and more issues begin to arise that simply did not exist under the old form. The new system begins to behave erratically and unpredictably, it cannibalizes more and more of the old structure, and takes increasingly stringent measures to keep itself going. In the end it becomes far, far more destructive than the imperfect system it was meant to replace while simultaneously doing all it can to perpetuate its own existence. And all the while those who created it refuse to acknowledge its patent failure by continuing to point to the original purpose as being that important, despite the fact that their system is acting directly contrary to what they intended.

This pattern, it seems to me, plays out again and again. Feminism has made women more miserable and embittered than ever and left tens of millions of dead children in its wake, but it’s still being imposed because “it means respecting women”. The sexual revolution has gutted human relationships and, again, left millions dead from AIDs and other highly-preventable diseases, but we’re still celebrating it and pushing it because “it’s the only sensible way to think of sex”. Marxism devastates every single nation it ever gets imposed upon and again leads to tens of millions of dead bodies (are you noticing a pattern here?), but we’re still insisting that it somehow means justice for the poor and pretending that it was ever remotely rational.

Then there’s Vatican II.

Vatican II was supposed to be a new springtime in the Church, to make the faith more relevant and attractive to the people. It has, by any objective measure, done more damage than anything since at least the Protestant Revolt. The Church has never been more irrelevant, anemic, and unsure of herself. It’s really rather impressive; perhaps the most resilient, effective, and vibrant organization in human history, and the council fathers actually managed to hamstring it with only a few key monumentally bad decisions. There was a time, and not long ago, that that would have been considered impossible, but they found a way.

Of course, that’s not the only reason for the current state of affairs (Modernism was infecting the Church long before), but I don’t think anyone looking at the state of the post-Vatican II Church can honestly deny that it has been an utter disaster unless they are specifically trying to avoid that conclusion.

Of course, since this has only resulted in tens of millions of dead souls rather than dead bodies, it’s disastrous failure is not quite as noticeable, though since many of the same people who are most apt to defend and celebrate Vatican II are also the ones liable to heap praises on Red China, feminism, and all the rest of it, I have to conclude it would not have helped.

(Apparently, pretending not to notice mountains of corpses is a feature of Progress.)

I really wish the Bishops would get this through their heads and admit the obvious, but until then the only thing for lay Catholics to do is to simply ignore it as much as possible. Seek to live as if it never happened, at least in your own lives. If you want to learn about the faith, turn to pre-council documents and books. If you want to live it, seek out the devotions and practices from before the council.

The short version is that, until those in charge of our institutions wake up and realize they have to rip the damn computer out, we as individuals should at least stop doing what it says.

Altering Thoughts

As I’ve shared before, I suffer from moderate depression. Lately, in my effort to combat it, I’ve been reading a book called Feeling Good by David Burns, MD. Though I’m very skeptical of most modern psychology, this one is actually based on pretty solid insights, ones that harmonize with what I read from older authors (always a good sign) and which make philosophical sense. The author also makes a point of proudly noting that his therapy is actually scientifically tested, which apparently is not standard procedure for therapy methods (“cognitive therapy is one of the first forms of psychotherapy which has been shown to be effective through rigorous scientific research under the critical scrutiny of the academic community” – Feeling Good: chp 1. Translation: “most psychotherapy is pure snake oil”). In any case, I highly recommend the book, especially to anyone suffering depression, though I think the principles can be applied to many other disorders, as you will see.

The central principle of Cognitive Therapy is this: thoughts create emotions. We feel the way we do because of how we think, and we also act accordingly.

Now, thoughts are reflections of reality; there is the real thing, then there is our idea of it as perceived through the senses. A true thought is one that is accurate to the thing perceived as it really is (“Actual knowledge is identical with its object.” –De Anima, III, 5. “The idea of the thing known is in the knower,” –Summa Theologiae 1.Q14.A1). Basically it’s like we’re constantly making drawings or descriptions in our minds of what we perceive with greater or lesser accuracy.

Our emotions follow from these thoughts; because we perceive a thing a certain way, we react to it in a certain way. If your mind forms a picture of a beautiful woman, you react one way. If your mind includes the detail that she’s pointing a gun at you while brandishing an Antifa flag, you react another way. But which reaction you have, which of the passions is engaged, depends on the image you provide to them.  

Therefore, if your thoughts are a fair reflection of reality, your emotions will be reasonable and valid. If your thoughts are distorted, your emotions will be distorted and invalid. “The first principle of cognitive therapy is that all your moods are created by your ‘cognitions’ or thoughts…You feel the way you do right now because of the thoughts you are thinking at this moment. ” (Feeling Good: chp. 1. Emphasis in original).

The interesting thing about this is that it is exactly the same principle presented in the book Inside the Criminal Mind by Stanton Samenow Ph.D. regarding how to effectively reform people with criminal mindsets. Criminals commit crimes because of the way they think; because their minds are fundamentally fixed on what they want. They are reformed when their habits of thought are altered, which generally involves intensive, uncompromising therapy and refusing to allow excuses: “How a person behaves is determined largely by how he thinks. Criminals think differently…Our approach to change must be to help the criminal radically alter his self-concept and his view of the world. Some criminals can be ‘habilitated,’ that is, helped to acquire patterns of thinking that are totally foreign to them but are essential if they are to live responsibly” (Inside the Criminal Mind – Chp 1. Emphasis in the original).  

In the field of eating disorders, the lovely Beauty Beyond Bones also recounts a similar principle for how she was able to overcome anorexia, recounting the grossly distorted thoughts surrounding her disorder and how replacing those thoughts with the truth is what ultimately saved her. “She’s doing this to herself because of an inner voice that’s got a grip on her. An inner Lie that is louder than anything else… To beat the disease, you have to: A) name the Lie B) discredit the Lie and C) replace it with the truth.”

Even more encouraging, this is essentially the traditional view of the matter. What did the old Saints and Homilist’s say? “Meditate upon Christ.” Just as one example, much of St. Francis de Sales’s  Introduction to the Devout Life consists in telling people what to think about. “To attain such a conviction and contrition you must faithfully practice the following meditations. By the help of God’s grace they will be very helpful in rooting out of your heart both sin and the chief affections for it” (Introduction the Devout Life: The First Part, 8.).  

Our Lord Himself alluded to this: “The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome. But if thy eye be evil thy whole body shall be darksome. If then the light that is in thee, be darkness: the darkness itself how great shall it be!” (Matt. 6:22-23). The eye, that is perception, determines one’s condition. If our perception is distorted or evil, our evil shall be great indeed.  

In short, this principle of thought creating emotion, leading to action keeps cropping up in different contexts, yet always, it seems, with actual evidence and actual successes to back it up.

Now, you will note the corollary; if thoughts determine emotions and consequent actions, and distorted thoughts lead to distorted actions, then mental health means having thoughts that adequately reflect reality. Basically, true thoughts. Everyone would agree with this; I would call it an axiom that of course we are obliged to think honestly. It is arguably the fundamental duty of mankind.

But if thoughts, as everyone agrees, can be true or false, accurate or distorted, that means that emotions can likewise be true or false, valid or invalid.

That’s great news when you’re dealing with depression or other painful psychological disorders. It’s somewhat less great news when you realize that this pretty much invalidates most modern thought.

For instance, you take this opening statement from a ‘Psych Central’ article found with a two-second Duckduckgo search: “Emotional invalidation is when a person’s thoughts and feelings are rejected, ignored, or judged. Invalidation is emotionally upsetting for anyone, but particularly hurtful for someone who is emotionally sensitive. Invalidation disrupts relationships and creates emotional distance. When people invalidate themselves, they create alienation from the self and make building their identity very challenging.”

The idea of emotional invalidation is now pretty much out the window, or at least heavily altered. Because your emotions can be invalid, and if so, the kindest thing to do would be to convince you of that, if possible, and the worst thing would be to validate them. Whether and how you can do that in any given situation is, of course, another story. The point is that emotional reactions are not somehow independent of objective reality.  

“When you do this, I feel mad.” But the question is, is that a reasonable response? What is the actual situation, and how are you perceiving it? What would be a more accurate perception?  

Because you see, when you validate someone else’s false emotions and false thoughts, you strengthen them. It’s right there in the word: you reassure them that their false thoughts are not false. You reinforce their habit of thinking that way and experiencing those emotions. The more you ‘validate’ someone’s invalid emotions and false thinking, the deeper you drive them into that pit (the bigger question, of course, is ‘just how do you convince them their emotions are invalid?’ Which I confess I don’t have an answer for).  

In short, since emotions follow thought and thoughts can be distorted, the mere fact that you experience a given emotion says absolutely nothing about the validity of that emotion. That has to be established on quite different grounds.

If distorted thoughts lead to distorted emotion and consequently to things like depression, criminality, and eating disorders, then you can see how distorted ideas can affect society at large. A given religion or ideology frames how we will perceive the world; that is, it provides the baseline for our thoughts and consequently for our emotions and actions. In the old days, societies were very cautious about the ideas they allowed or encouraged to be at large in the public mind, precisely because they understood this dynamic. Whether they were right or wrong to have done that is another question, as is the whole point of the specific ideas they opposed. However, it does rather undermine the whole idea of pluralism. The proposal that every man has the right to create his own view of the world and that all ideas are to be received as equally valid as far as society is concerned rests upon the notion that our ideas, our thoughts, do not substantially affect our actions or make us good or bad people. But, in fact, they are the only things that do (the fact that no pluralist society – including our own – actually lives by this principle further undermines it; try publicly suggesting that there are fundamental differences between races if you want to see how pluralistic we really are when it comes to ideas we as a society actually care about).

You see, if thoughts determine emotion and behavior, then whether people think truly or falsely is very much in the public interest and “all points of view are valid” is both false and dangerous.

I suspect, though I can’t prove, that pluralism factors into this dynamic in another way. As Uncle Screwtape explained, people in the old days used to be pretty well aware of the thoughts that governed their actions and were prepared to alter their lives on the strength of a line of argument. But we moderns are not like that; with the modern media and other such things, we are bombarded from morning until night with dozens of contradictory ideas and points of view, while at the same time we are encouraged to think of them less as true or false than as interesting or shocking or offensive or liberal or conservative or inspiring. In any case, the pluralistic environment we live in gives us an instinctual check to thinking anything absolutely true or false and acting accordingly.

The result, as I see it, is that we have a massive amount of mental static cluttering up our brains, and the actual ideas and beliefs that govern our actions slip by unnoticed. This might be one reason why there seems to have been an exponential increase in psychological and emotional disorders as pluralism became more widespread (there are obviously other factors, such as the breakdown of community, but that’s another story).

But to go back a little ways, if thoughts lead to emotions and distorted thoughts to emotional distortion (e.g. depression), and if ideas and worldviews provide the baseline for thoughts, then evil, false, and just plan insane ideas spread throughout society will create emotional distortions on a massive scale. Depression writ-large, in fact.

So if you have, say, the idea “men have always oppressed women, looked down upon them, and tried to keep them subservient,” abroad in society, then many people, perhaps most, will perceive the world through that lens. Whole institutions, laws, practices will be created accordingly, reinforcing the idea (again, action reinforces thought: when you live an idea, the idea and its consequent emotions becomes more fixed in your mind).

The result is…well, what we see. Widespread misery, injustice, and a maniacal, ongoing effort to fix the problem by continually reasserting the lie, like trying kill the pain by popping methamphetamines. Just like in matters of depression, where you think things like “If I can only stay in bed and do nothing today, I will feel better,” or “if the world weren’t set against me, I would be happier.”

One of my favorite games is Psychonauts, where you play as a young psychic who travels into people’s minds and battles their inner demons. One particular level has you helping a manic-depressive actress and concludes in a boss fight against her bloated inner critic, who fights by shooting words of criticism at you. You defeat him by shining spotlights on him. That is, exposing him and leaving him vulnerable to attack.

That’s how we defeat distorted thoughts, by exposing them to the light of truth and then mercilessly pummeling them while they’re down. Whether inside our own heads or abroad in the world, whether they take the form of actual statements of fact or emotional reactions, the thing to do is to show them for what they are and take them apart.

Because emotional reactions, that sense of hopelessness and despair, that feeling that the world is so cruel and unfair, those are only symptoms; symptoms of how you think. They are consequences of lies. “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Stop Feeding the Beast

I struggle with what is called Depression, though recently I’ve had better success in dealing with it by stumbling onto a very important insight, which I call ‘Don’t Feed the Beast.’

See, Depression takes the form of extreme negative thoughts, sometimes explicit, more often present as a kind of underlying assumption. E.g. “I am never going to amount to anything.” That these are, objectively, often untrue isn’t really relevant; they seem plausible enough, and you can always point to something that you do or don’t do, to habits and facets of your personality that seem to lend credence to them (every lie has some degree of positive evidence in its favor; just ask Herr vom Rath. It is usually the existence of counter evidence that shows it to be a lie).

A lot of the time it works something like this: we sit down to work and hear the thought “You’ll never amount to anything, so why bother putting in the time? You’ll only humiliate yourself”. For fear of humiliation, or because we just want the painful thoughts to go away, we comply, hoping that, perhaps later, we’ll feel better. But then an hour or a day later, with nothing much to show for our time, it becomes, “See? You just wasted all that time doing nothing instead of working. That’s why you’ll never amount to anything.”

But if once we realize that our depression is based on the fear that we’ll never amount to anything, we ought to see that a reluctance to work is exactly what would make that fear come true, and thus in giving into that fear, we only make it stronger. We are feeding the very beast that we’re trying to escape.

So, per the advice of the great therapist Bob Newhart, stop it.

A lie becomes stronger the more it is believed or acted upon. The more you treat as if it were true, the greater the hold it will have over you. It may even become true in the end.

I bring it up both because I hope it’ll help anyone reading who has a similar problem and because I think we’ve been living this pattern on a societal level, especially in the Church, for quite some time now: acting on lies that we know are lies in the hopes of sparing ourselves pain. The attitude of “Yes, this isn’t true, but…” But we don’t want to be thought intolerant. But there are people like that out there (remember Herr vom Rath). But people might turn away if we make a fuss about it.

And in so doing, we confirm the lie and lend our own credence to it. By saying something like, “this is true, but we can’t put it like that because people will think we’re bigots,” we only vindicate that interpretation. We are, in effect, agreeing that this particular truth is bigotry and thus cannot be spoken, when what we ought to be doing is challenging that interpretation: not “that’s intolerant; we don’t believe that. We believe (same thing in weaker words),” but rather “we believe that and it isn’t intolerant because….” In trying to be charitable, we in fact surrender.

As with depression, we really need to stop it; to stop admitting to lies or trying to make accommodations because we’re afraid of what others will think about us. By so doing, we only, in fact, confirm their worst ideas by acting as if they were true. Then we wonder why we keep losing ground.

Stop Feeding the Beast.

Everyman Corona Thoughts

I offer some of my thoughts on the present insanity at The Everyman:

In fact, we are wedded to the idea that any given problem is solvable, and that we – those fortunate enough to be born in the age of science and reason – do not have to put up with what our poor benighted ancestors did. They may have suffered from cholera and typhus and smallpox, but with our medical care and hygiene, these things are in the past. They may have had to put up with world wars, institutional oppression, and grinding poverty, but we have evolved beyond that and know how to eliminate these things. It is, in fact, an article of faith with us that we can make a heaven on Earth and become like gods, if we have enough laws, enough knowledge, and enough good will.

This is what might be termed ‘Progressivism’, the belief in the advancement of man, so that man today is superior to man yesterday, and that man tomorrow will be greater still, and that mankind may, through science and reason, come to rule his world and supply all his wants and needs in perfect contentment. This is the chief religion of the modern west, and has been for some time, even among many who still claim the name of Christian.

The credentials of this faith rest on the real advancements, mostly in science and medicine, that have been made over the past few hundred years. Its promise is that it will, eventually, be able to do the same for every ailment of mankind. If we can’t do it yet, we will be able to in the future, but certainly there are no permanent evils of the human race; only those who have some interest in keeping their fellow men down would say such a thing (these same oppressors serve as excellent scapegoats when the promised benefits fail to materialize).

Consequently, we always have to do something in the face of any given problem. If there is an illness, we must march for the cure. If a Starbucks employee seems to act in a racist fashion, the company must impose sweeping new policies. If there is a shooting, we must impose gun control. If there is poverty, we must expand welfare. The point isn’t whether these things solve the problem, the point is that we can never admit that a problem is outside of our control, or that the best we can do is endure, because to do that would be to deny our faith in Progress.

Read the rest here.

A parting question:
Which had greater long term consequences; the Spanish Flu or the Great Depression?

The Scorpion and the Frog: Modern Version

A frog was walking down the riverbank one day when he saw a scorpion sitting in front a pile of dead frogs.

“What happened here?!” the frog exclaimed.

“Oh, I’m trying to make the world a better place,” said the scorpion. “I want a world where everyone loves each other, no one is greedy or cruel, and only good people are allowed.”

“What a lovely idea!” exclaimed the frog. He was so struck by the beauty of the notion of such a world that he completely forgot about the pile of bodies right in front of him. “Tell me more, please.”

So the frog sat down by the scorpion to talk about how to make the world a better place, and the scorpion stung him as soon as his back was turned.

As the frog writhed in agony, he asked why the scorpion would do that, to which the scorpion answered:

“I told you that I think only good people should be allowed. I never said I thought you were a good person.”

Then the frog died and the scorpion tossed his body onto the pile.

“You know,” he said to himself. “You’d think the frogs would get more suspicious of my intentions at some point. Or at least notice that I’m a frickin’ scorpion.”

“Imagine all the people…”

Gunga Din at ‘The Everyman’

A new ‘Everyman’ post went up yesterday, talking about Rudyard Kipling’s Gunga Din and what it reveals about both his perspective and ours:

Now, you cannot think sense about morality unless you get this idea of principles clear, and you cannot get it clear until you can identify what is and is not an equivalent case.

The respective views of Mr. Kipling and a modern college student on the subject of the Indian peoples, for instance, is not an equivalent case, for they were raised in completely different intellectual climates. Kipling’s point of view was never seriously presented to the college student as something he ought to believe; if it was presented at all, it was as a historical relic that has been supplanted. The reason the modern college student doesn’t think as Kipling did is not because he is that much more enlightened than Kipling, but because it was never a serious option for him to do so. He may as well be proud of the fact that he never owned a slave or mistreated a horse. Likewise, Kipling never seriously encountered a perspective that we would recognize as Progressive, and certainly wasn’t raised to one (though he was likely to be much the more independent thinker of the two, but we’ll discount that for now).

I am not here saying that Kipling’s Imperialism and the modern’s Progressivism are morally equivalent; that’s as may be. I am saying that they are socially equivalent. What we would call racist sentiments was as common in Kipling’s day as progressive sentiment is in ours. In both cases they are more or less the accepted, cultured view among the educated classes. And both have their ‘Other:’ the people who, in the common view, are ‘lesser than us.’ For the Imperialist it was the native population; for the Progressive, it is (among others) the Imperialist.

And herein lies the equivalent case; not how each regards Indian people, but how each regards their particular ‘Other.’ Stripped of their respective idioms, this is what is being said on each side:

The modern says, “This man is of this type and therefore he is of no account.”

Kipling says, “This man is of this type, but nevertheless is of more account than I.”

Read the rest here.

An Architectural Fisk

Dipping a little into politics with this one. Kind of.

I recently learned that President Trump has drafted an executive order entitled Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again. Basically, it orders that “classical and traditional architectural styles” should be the default for constructing new Federal Buildings in the future, specifically saying that styles like ‘brutalism’ and ‘deconstructionism’ should not be used.

You know, I think that if I weren’t already, this alone would be enough to make me want to vote for Trump.

Predictably (you know, since it was a conscious action attributed to the Orange Wonder and all), it’s been met with outrage from some quarters. In particular, the American Institute of Architects issued a statement condemning the order.

I was going to do a quick article about this, but I found I had so much to say about the AIA’s tone-deaf and self-satisfied take that it turned into a full-on fisk.

Here is the link to the article, which is reproduced below; their comments are in italics, mine are in bold.

The American Institute of Architects has called on members to sign an open letter to the Trump Administration after a plan to introduce an order that all federal buildings should be built in the “classical architectural style” was discovered.

That sounds to me rather like the AIA is dictating to its members what their views on architecture should be. A rather odd note to start an argument couched in terms of artistic freedom. But that might be reading too much into it: we’ll see.

The AIA released the statement and online petition for the White House yesterday, shortly after the Architectural Record revealed it had obtained a draft of the order, called Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.

If approved, it would update the 1962 Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture to make classical architecture the required style for any US federal courthouse.

Thank God!

A friend of mine, when I mentioned this, said this may be one of the most significant things Trump has done. He’s quite right. The thing about architecture is that it lasts; it’s not like a painting where, when it goes out of style you can stick it in a back room or quietly burn it in the dead of night with certain ceremonies. The building cost $70 million dollars to build and you can’t replace it until you have a very, very good reason to. Worse than that, you have to keep using it. A bad painting you look at and look away. A bad book you put back on the shelf after the third nonsensical chapter and never touch again. A bad building sits there for decades and forces you and everyone in the vicinity to notice it day after day.

Moreover, since buildings last so long, we are in effect giving them to our children; telling them, through architecture, who we are and what we value.

The Middle Ages left us Cathedrals, proclaiming the glory of God. The 19th century left us the US Capital proclaiming its belief in Republican government. We are going to be leaving a series of grey cubes proclaiming that we don’t care a straw about either the past or the future.  

That is why this is so significant; if Trump carries his point, he could ensure at least a partial uplifting of the American landscape for decades to come. Imagine beautiful new buildings actually being constructed all across the nation, buildings that people would enjoy going to work at, that we would be glad to show to our children, which have real character, and which we can picture growing old and venerable without ever going out of style.

We did that once, you know. In fact, we did it for most of our history. No reason we can’t do it again.

Also, as you’ll see from reading the order, it doesn’t say that classical architecture is “required” but that it or some other traditional and publicly preferred architectural style should be the “default” and only be deviated from for a good reason and after due consideration.  

The AIA said that it “strongly and unequivocally” opposed the change, which would also affect federal public buildings costing over $50 million (£38 million).

“A top-down directive on architectural style”

“The AIA strongly condemns the move to enforce a top-down directive on architectural style,” the organisation (sic) wrote in the open letter.

“Design decisions should be left to the designer and the community, not bureaucrats in Washington, DC,” it added. “All architectural styles have value and all communities have the right to weigh in on the government buildings meant to serve them.”

Okay, lots to unpack there. First, if you’re designing a building for the Federal Government, then the government very clearly should have a say in this matter. As the order lays out: how people see federal buildings affects how they view the Federal Government. Now, I have no love for the US Government as it currently exists, but surely the government is within its rights to set guidelines on how it is represented and ought to be allowed to at least attempt to clean up its image.

It’s funny that they add “and the community” and that “all communities have the right to weigh in on the buildings meant to serve them.” In the first place, I doubt any community, when asked, would knowingly choose a brutalist or deconstructionist style over classical ones. When (as we shall see) the present guidelines say to adhere to “the finest contemporary architectural thought,” it recommends adhering to something that just about everyone who isn’t an architect thinks is boring, ugly, depressing, or faintly ridiculous. In fact, the new order specifically points out the simple fact that most of the public do not like the kinds of designs that the AIA are promoting and much prefer more traditional designs.

In the name of the community, we disregard the community’s opinions (this is a common tactic of Progressives, by the way; as long as you claim to be representing the collective, any individual who disagrees with you can be disregarded, even if his views represent those of the majority of common people and yours are held only by a tiny cadre of elites). 

And besides, what is “the finest contemporary architectural thought” but a top-down directive on architectural style from an insular, select group of artists, architects, and critics? Because if you try to tell me that the distorted grey rectangle design arose organically from the community, I will laugh at you.

Also, in the order, it recommends that some proposed designs be reviewed by a public committee, specifically not made of engineers, architects, artists, or anything of the kind, so that, you know, the actual community should have a say in what they work in and have to stare at for the next few decades.

In short, when you read what is actually being said, the White House specifically calls for the local community to have a say in the kind of buildings they want, while the AIA is tacitly in favor of ignoring this in favor of what they think the community should want. 

According to the AIA, “classical architecture” as defined by the White House is derived from classical Greek and Roman architecture. There are some “allowances for ‘traditional architectural style'”, which include Gothic, Romanesque, and Spanish colonial.

 ‘Allowances’ seems to imply that the order sets stringent conditions for allowing other traditional styles. In fact, they’re pretty much just broadly encouraged, provided they are aesthetically pleasing and (where applicable) fit the local heritage. What is properly said to be ‘allowed’ is “experimentation with new, alternative styles”, with the proviso that “care must be taken to fully ensure that such alternative designs command respect by the public for their beauty and visual embodiment of America’s ideals.”

That is really the whole point of this order; when you make federal buildings, make sure they command respect and admiration rather than disgust and ridicule, and that they are suitable expressions of American ideals.

Is that seriously so much to ask?

Any references to Brutalism, the controversial style that only dates back to the 1950s, would be banned entirely.

Again, thank God.

“High bar” of new order would limit exceptions

‘Limit expectations’? What exactly do you think people’s expectations for modern architecture are now? Are you aware that it is considered, at best, a joke?

While the guidelines for Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again allow for the inclusion of some other architectural styles, the AIA said that the rules are so stringent they would limit creativity.

Yep, the styles that gave us the Parthenon, St. Peter’s Basilica, Hagia Sophia, Buckingham Palace, the Hofburg, Notre Dame Cathedral, Versailles, the whole city of Florence, and the US Capital Building are so limiting that they’ve only been in vogue for two-and-a-half millennia or so. They pale in comparison to the chance of making a box or another box or a distorted box. 

“The high bar required to satisfy the process described within the executive order would all but restrict the ability to design the federal buildings under this order in anything but the preferred style,” the added AIA.

Yes, that is kind of the point, and God forbid that a high bar be set for buildings representing the nation. And, again, this really isn’t that high a bar: make something people actually want to look at and work in rather than yet-another monument to your own inflated egos.

The existing Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture were written for President Kennedy by New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who architecture critic Paul Goldberger described as “the most architecturally sophisticated Federal official since Thomas Jefferson”.

I wonder what the designer of Monticello would have to say about your Goldberger’s idea of good architecture. In any case, I’m sure that if the senator promoted the kind of architecture that Goldberger liked, he would say anything and everything in his praise.

All I hear from this paragraph is “we are the smart people, you’re the stupid ones, so shut up and do as you’re told.”  

The new order – which is named after Trump’s campaign slogan Make America Great Again – comes in contrast to Moynihan’s guidelines, which call for the “finest contemporary American architectural thought”.

For illustration purposes, here are some examples of “the finest contemporary American architectural thought.”

 

File:Frances Perkins Building.JPG - Wikimedia Commons

Seems to me they’re already having trouble thinking outside the box, as it were.

Now here are some examples of designs that ‘stifle creativity’


40 Plantation Home Designs - Historical & Contemporary

Please get this through your head, AIA; we, the American people, have had half a century of what you consider “the finest contemporary American architectural thought,” AND WE HATE IT.

“Design must flow from the architectural profession to the Government”

As far as I can tell, the Government isn’t dictating what kind of designs you can make; only which ones it will pay to have represent it to future generations. You can design any kind of building you like there, Mr. Roark; just don’t go thinking you have an unalienable right to have someone drop a hundred million dollars to let you build it.

“The development of an official style must be avoided,” the guidelines read.

Why? Why should an ‘official style’ be avoided? In fact, seeing as how this is to represent the American government, and to an extent the American nation, doesn’t that mean there absolutely should be an ‘official style’ to convey the message “this is who we are” or “this is what the government looks like and aspires to be”? Again, the order makes this very point: that the classical style was chosen for Washington DC (by Washington and Jefferson themselves) specifically to make a statement of what they hoped the country would be. Unless you are suggesting that there should be no common ideal or no common identity for the United States (which is the same as saying that there should be no United States: an opinion that you can’t really expect the Federal Government to share), then on what possible grounds do you say that an official style should be avoided?  

“Design must flow from the architectural profession to the Government and not vice versa.”

Again, one, the ‘architectural profession’ as you define it has largely shown itself to be incompetent in this regard, and two, when the Government is the one footing the bill and will be represented by the final result, it really, really ought to be the one picking the design. The way you put it sounds like an elaborate way of saying, “shut up and like what your betters give to you.”

Also, to paraphrase someone whom I suspect is a rather more astute critic than Mr. Goldberger (namely Pinkie Pie), what kind of artist doesn’t like beauty? That’s insane!

The order is among a number of political issues that the AIA and the Trump Administration have locked heads over, including the climate treaty withdrawal and his immigration policies.

Those certainly sound like topics on which architects would have special knowledge and interest in.

In particular, the two have been at loggerheads over climate change after the president revealed his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement in 2017. The following year, AIA called on its members to sign an open letter to Trump as a means of voicing its opposition to his climate change policies.

Again, why is the American Institute of Architects directing its members on what they should think about climate change? While complaining that being set guidelines of what kinds of designs will be accepted by a particular client is a top-down imposition? I have no idea how the organization works, but it honestly sounds much more autocratic to tell your members – who no doubt derive professional benefit from being part of your organization and would suffer if that membership were lost – what you expect them to say on given political issues than that the government would set broad style guidelines for its official buildings.

Late last year, it called for Trump to reverse his “shortsighted decision” to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement amid the global climate crisis.

Gottta love the institution that champions things like Brutalism over classical architecture having the gall to call anyone ‘shortsighted.’

Quoth Rifftrax: “And you can burn in Hell if you think this problem can’t be solved with a rectangle. In Hell.”

Read the full statement from the AIA below:

What follows is mostly what we just read. Which kind of makes me wonder why they bothered with the above article rather than just posting the statement. I suppose it was a word count issue (which would also explain the odd digressions into climate change and immigration).  

The AIA learned several months ago that there is a draft executive order being circulated by the Trump Administration for consideration by agency officials that would officially designate “classical” architecture as the preferred style of all U.S. federal courthouses.

We have voiced our fervent opposition directly to the White House and officials in the relevant agencies. Additionally, all federal public buildings in the Capital region would be required to adhere to the same “classical” style (and all other federal public buildings whose costs exceed $50 million in modern dollars). The AIA strongly and unequivocally opposes this change in policy to promote any one style of architecture over another for federal buildings across the country.

The draft executive order defines “classical architectural style” to mean architectural features derived from classical Greek and Roman architecture. There are some allowances for “traditional architectural style” which is defined to mean classical architecture along with Gothic, Romanesque, and Spanish colonial. The draft executive order specifically prohibits the use of Brutalist architecture, or its derivatives, in any circumstance.

Except for Brutalism, there is some language in the draft executive order that would allow for other architectural styles to be used. However, the high bar required to satisfy the process described within the executive order would all but restrict the ability to design the federal buildings under this order in anything but the preferred style.

Again, this narrow ‘preferred style’ being “anything used in the civilized world up until about 1950,” or basically anything that is actually pleasing to look at, with allowances for experimentation provided you come up with something actually good that doesn’t trample on the local community.  

The AIA strongly condemns the move to enforce a top-down directive on architectural style. Design decisions should be left to the designer and the community, not bureaucrats in Washington, DC. All architectural styles have value…

You’ve pretty much disproved that over the past few years.

…and all communities have the right to weigh in on the government buildings meant to serve them.

What strikes me most about this statement is the way it is framed as though the architects who can command multi-million dollar projects and the socially-connected art critics who set the standards of “high-brow taste” are the victims here and the people who prefer beautiful buildings over ugly ones are the ones out of line. I noticed something similar in the entertainment world, where some people get furious if ever ordinary viewers dare to criticize or fail to support a multimillion-dollar corporation’s bad product (e.g. some people actually were angry that Sonic’s design was changed, since it was ‘catering to the fanboys’). This usually comes from those most apt to express their solidarity with the common man and hatred for large corporations and the like. Go figure.

 In any case, the situation, as I see it, is this. For the past half-a-century or more the AIA and its ilk have simply been creating bad work. They have been permitted to do so because of a transitory accident of taste and ideology among those with decision making powers. Now Trump is issuing an order that the Federal Government should no longer accept this kind of work.

Because when you design a multi-million-dollar building that represents the United States of America and will do so for at least the next several decades, it is just possible that your personal artistic vision is not the most important factor.  

Everyman Hate Speech

This post went up a little while ago, but preoccupations in real life caused me to miss it. I go into some of the problems I see with the whole ‘hate speech’ concept (there’s a lot more to be said, regarding speech laws and freedom of speech and all that, but I decided to focus on this one aspect for now. I might do a follow-up essay later):

Another key problem may be illustrated merely by noting that there is a particular demographic that receives an enormous amount of hatred and vitriolic language directed against it, that historically has been a frequent victim of violence both large scale and individual, and yet which no one, to my knowledge, has ever suggested protecting under hate speech laws. Of course I’m speaking of the Rich.

The issue isn’t that we much protect the Rich. The issue is that the hate speech concept explicitly only applies to those certain forms of hatred, which its advocates, for reasons best known to themselves, have fixated on. Thus, it is not vitriol or inciting speech as such that they object to, but only speech that targets their particular values.

I bring up the case of the Rich to demonstrate that this uneven application is inherent in the very definition that its adherents give to hate speech. Any fair and even application of such a concept would have to include economic status, social position, and political beliefs among protected categories.

This would, of course, exacerbate the inherently contradictory nature of the idea to the level of insanity, while effectively rendering all discourse illegal. Hatred can be felt and expressed along any line of human experience, meaning that, assuming an even application of this principle, every topic imaginable would be a potential source of hate speech, and since the qualification of ‘attack’ is not given, any speech that one person happens to find offensive or difficult or painful could be regarded as such an attack.

Under such a situation, it would of necessity be left to the judge or the lawyers to decide in each individual case, meaning that a hate speech law, by its nature, calls for the censoring of speech at the discretion of a particular official. Again, this not only permits, but demands the imposition of a particular worldview, not by any official act, but by the arbitrary rule of particular judges.  

Note that all this is so even while merely considering the given definition in the abstract and assuming a relatively fair and even application, which nothing in recent history should lead us to expect.

Read the rest here.

Thought of the Day: 11-7

So, apparently they’re planning a gender-swapped Zorro TV show. Because that sort of thing has been so successful with GhostbustersBatwomanOcean’s Eight, Terminator: Dark Fate, and so on.

You just know that the writers are patting themselves on the back for being so modern and up to date, calling it a ‘modern re-imagining’. The funny thing is, this has already been done. In the 1940s.

Well, kind of. Technically, the wonderful Linda Stirling didn’t actually play ‘Zorro’ in the 1944 serial Zorro’s Black Whip: The Zorro name was mostly just used for advertising purposes, though she did play a masked vigilante called “The Black Whip” fighting for justice in the old west.

This is a major reason I always laugh when I hear contemporary writers preening themselves on their ‘strong female leads’ as though they were pioneers. I remember heroines like Linda Stirling’s Black Whip and Tiger Woman, Lorna Gray’s Daughter of Don Q, Frances Gifford and Kay Aldrige’s Nyoka the Jungle Girl, and so on, not to mention the innumerable courageous, determined, skillful serial heroines who didn’t make the title card. Basically, we’ve had ‘strong female leads’ in film pretty much since we’ve had films (that’s not even considering the features, because this is just a quick thought and not a book).

The thing is, I suspect that most of these filmmakers and writers and such probably don’t know about any of this. I get the impression from most contemporary films that those who make them have very limited knowledge of their own medium and its history. Their knowledge of the past is a vague and highly limited impression gotten from film school, probably tailored to illustrate a particular narrative that they never bothered to investigate for themselves.

The same is my impression of, well, most of the contemporary world: we receive a particular, highly selective and colored narrative about the world in school, then never bother to check it for ourselves. Thus we go about in a kind of mirage, fixated on the illusions around us and wondering why things don’t turn out the way we expect.