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.

Talking Climate Change at ‘The Federalist’

Another post is up at The Federalist: in this one I give some reasons why I’m skeptical of what is now called ‘Climate Change:’

You see, I can’t judge from what I don’t know (e.g., climate science), but I can judge from what I do know. I know something of history, something of philosophy, and something of human nature. I can observe what people are doing at the moment and listen to what they actually say.

Doing so, I note that the vast majority of people, including the cause’s most vehement advocates, are no more qualified to judge it scientifically than I am. Does anyone really believe that any of those people marching in Washington have the knowledge and ability to interpret data from a global climate survey? Have they sunk the necessary hours of study and objective research into this subject to be able to say what they say with any certainty, assuming they could ever be certain?

Of course they haven’t. They are going entirely off of what certain experts have told them — namely, a specific selection of experts who have come to their attention because the media has elevated them and political groups have championed and funded them. These climate change apologists are in no position to critically examine these expert claims.

Average Voters Cannot Verify Climate Change Claims

Now, if there is, for instance, a genuine international crisis (e.g., Venezuela), then people have resources to verify it. They can read testimonies and see photos and video of the event, and in the last resort, they can go there to see for themselves. If it is a question of domestic policy, people can consider their own experience and knowledge to judge which approach to, say, taxation seems to be the best.

People cannot do this with climate change. The signs of the crisis come down to weather and to intensely complex reams of data that require specialized knowledge to interpret. The latter is out of reach for almost everyone. The former could be used to justify just about any theory since it is a proverb for unpredictability and changeableness.

If you tell people the earth is getting warmer, they will remember all those hot summer days and snowless winters they experienced and say that warming is very likely. If you tell them it is getting cooler, they will remember the mild summer days and bitter winter nights and say cooling is also very likely.

The fact is, the average voter has no way to adequately judge the question of climate change. Yet he is assured that it is an existential crisis that must be dealt with immediately and by any means necessary. Politicians and media activists are thus urging him to favor certain actions to combat a crisis that he has no way to verify. Worse, this message tends to be directed toward impressionable young people — that is, those with the highest emotions and the least ability to examine these claims.

That is an extremely dangerous state of affairs for a representative government.

Read the rest here.

Realist Catholic Climate Declaration

WM Briggs, Statistician to the Stars, presents the second draft of what a Catholic Declaration on Climate ought to look like. Short, sweet, and to point:

The Magisterium of the Catholic Church has no, and should not have, an official position on the earth’s optimal atmospheric mean temperature, nor on the best rate of change of this temperature. Neither optimum is known to anybody.

The earth’s climate has always changed, is changing now, and will never cease changing. There is no earthly force capable of stopping climate change.

Mankind influences the atmosphere, as does every creature and thing. The extent to which man is responsible for climate change is not known, only surmised.

Extreme caution, even skepticism, is warranted in any statement about global warming given the decades of failed and overreaching forecasts and hyperbole from official and interested sources. Beyond individual prudent stewardship, no Catholic is obligated to support any environmental measure.

There is no evidence any particular global temperature will cause fewer or more souls to descend into Hell. Pray to God and pray for your neighbor, not to the planet.

It is an appalling state of affairs for the Church that the Bishops waste their time on trendy issues like climate change in an age where the very foundations of not only Christianity, but rational human culture itself are under such relentless attack (people are being hounded and losing their jobs for saying that male and female are real categories and you’re issuing statements about the weather). It would be as if, after Pearl Harbor, the US directed the bulk of its forces to prevent a resurgence of the Mexican Empire: ignoring a clear and present danger to guard against a theoretical one that isn’t even relevant to your responsibilities.

There is honestly no excuse for this kind of negligence and incompetence.

Talking Dying Franchises at ‘The Federalist’

First article in a while is up on The Federalist, talking about why dying franchises matter:

The imaginative power of Star Wars’s IP has been systematically stripped away into a confused and contradictory mess loaded down with contemporary politics. The simple, yet rich story of the originals (and even of the prequels, for all their faults) now suffers from a soulless and pointless tumor that grinds the rich characters of the originals into the dirt in order to set up hollow new ones.

“So what?” you might say. “Why does this matter? It’s just a fantasy film franchise. There are other, more important things in the world. Who cares?” Evidently, quite a few people care. But here is why it matters.

We’re Losing Wholesome Entertainment

In the first place, in practical terms, this means the loss of yet another source of wholesome and uplifting entertainment. Not much of that remains in mainstream American culture. This is important because the stories we tell and listen to affect how we see the world. They are part of how we communicate values and ethics. They are part of how we pass on our understanding of life and humanity. And they are an essential element in the continuity of culture.

A hopeful tale of good triumphing over evil, leavened by rich characters driven by familial love, courage, and decency, and bounded over by a mystical power delineating good and evil, cannot but have a positive effect on its audience as a whole. It isn’t the best story possible, nor the only such source, but in terms of mainstream media, there are precious few such stories left, and they grow fewer every day.

“Star Wars” was an atavism in its own time, a throwback to an earlier, more hopeful trend in Hollywood in contrast to the grim, nihilist fare that was all the rage in the late 1970s. It sparked a renaissance of that kind of storytelling, but now we are in an arguably worse state of affairs.

In our day, mainstream media is increasingly preaching a socio-political agenda. No hope, no uplift, no joy is permitted. Only instruction. Something that made people happier and better, something that helped communicate a healthy understanding of the world, has now been gutted for the sake of scoring political points. That matters.

 Read the rest here.