07 October 2009

A collection of rants, being the Third of several

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Beware false dichotomies: body versus spirit, doing versus being, idealism versus pragmatism, appearance versus character, emotion versus reason. These pairings are not mutually exclusive. Both concepts can be reconciled within the one human being. We are not meant to be cut in two with the above false dichotomies; we are made whole with the pairings in harmony, not opposition.

Body and spirit complement and reinforce each other. ‘Doing’ any action with focus and mindfulness is synonymous with ‘Being’. Idealism is pragmatic, if achieving the good is the primary goal of one’s practical efforts. Beautiful appearances and beautiful character can be found and nurtured in the same person. Emotion, far from being the antithesis of reason, is simply a neutral tool that reason can use to one’s benefit. Destructive emotions flow from reason’s poor command, while life-enhancing feelings are reinforced through the rigorous exercise of one’s rational mind.


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In fashion, the human body is the canvas upon which the aesthetic ideas and philosophy of a mind are made manifest. Unlike static forms of art, fashion is imbued with that energy and expressive power that can only be generated by the living body in everyday motion. It is impossible, so long as a person breathes, moves and thinks, for her fashion sense to be merely fabric draped on flesh. Her life-force charges her selection – a volitional act indicating a mental process of evaluating style and taste – with an individualism that speaks volumes of the mind so clothed; of its passions, hopes, fears, ethics, politics and personal philosophy, namely all those ingredients that go into the creation of all kinds of art.

There is one particular art-form with which fashion shares a few traits: performance art. Both demonstrate an expressive physicality, a distinct relationship between the performer and the audience, the possibility of human-to-human interaction which enlivens an otherwise passive experience, the emotional risks undertaken by the human object of attention, the immediate, corporeal, fun sense of play and experimentation, or the expression of solemnity and melancholy.


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Love, as an ideal, is contaminated by all the popular depictions of it in literature, music, art, film and all the many storytelling media ever conceived by a fertile imagination. A person’s conception of romantic, erotic, passionate love is unavoidably informed, coloured, by her mental bank of images, experiences, expectations, representations, taboos, stigmas, affirmations, vindications and various memetic paraphernalia gleaned from some form of media for the purpose of identity construction. Her romantic hopes, fears, desires and biases are in a sense not purely hers. Their origins lie elsewhere, outside of her.

When it comes to romantic love, we imagine ourselves playing a certain role in a specific context, and likewise cast the object of our love in a compatible role (rarely do we imagine them to be incompatible; we are not so masochistic). The common ‘poor fit’ between two actors in the love story owes largely to our miscasting of our co-star. The girl you saw as that sassy yet sweet protagonist from your favourite Korean television series turns out to have a bit too much sass for your liking; meanwhile you are not quite the strong, sensitive, talented character she conjures from a mix-bag of funk-soul band frontman, Left Bank cafĂ© intellectual and rugged, boot-cut denimed cowboy.

We see the object of our longing through other eyes apart from our own. We approach love along paths pioneered by the professional storytellers and corporate mythmakers. And the compass you carry to navigate your way through love’s labyrinthine complexities is likely to be aligned to that bold, sexy yet vulnerable figure who haunts your heart from the monochromatic pages of a critically acclaimed, bestselling manga.


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It is a tragic irony that in order for politicians to be elected into power they must necessarily be populist, yet the people whom they must appeal to and who do the electing can be grossly irrational, ignorant, misinformed, superstitious, mean and stupid. So long as intelligent men and women with integrity, skill and wisdom founded on an unbreached loyalty to reason are either attacked or ignored because of their virtues – for such qualities are unappreciated by the mob – these good people will struggle to arrive at a place where they would be able to benefit their fellow citizens and affect change for the better.

People get the governments they deserve.


* * *

Historians who write on the history of human civilisation with a supposedly objective, uncritical eye contribute to the entrenchment of a ridiculous notion: that all cultural practices, beliefs and traditions are equally valid and are thus above criticism or condemnation. The Enlightenment, according to such impartial historians, was merely another interesting – albeit revolutionary – event in humanity’s timeline, one among many equally fascinating changes and happenings, all with varying degrees of impact and influence. Historical objectivity requires that descriptions of eras be ‘value-free’; things were neither good nor bad during such-and-such a time, they just were. To speak of the pre-Enlightenment world as being comparatively savage, superstitious, ignorant and brutal is taboo for the fence-sitters of history writing.

These historians maintain that the world of human relations and the ideas that shaped those relations did not, strictly speaking, improve ever since the Enlightenment onwards. They claim that any objective measurement of civilization’s progress is elusive, perhaps even non-existent. To such minds, there is no moral difference between a modern, rational doctor dedicated to discovering ever more effective methods of fighting disease through the use of his reason and scientific knowledge, and a medieval snake-oil purveyor who preys on the ignorance of his fellows and also does some fortune-telling on the side to pander to their superstitions. To such 'objective' historians, both men are simply products of their respective times and morality is a non-issue. The doctor – and the philosophical foundations of his era – is not ‘better’ than the charlatan, with the rotten philosophies of his era. To the so-called objective historian, both men and their ideological environments should be studied separately with no qualitative comparisons made and no moral judgements pronounced.

In fairness to these historians, how can they make such judgements when they have discarded all standards by which to judge what is good and what is not? If reason, science, progress and freedom are not considered ‘good’ and ignorance, irrationality, backwardness and tyranny are not considered ‘bad’ by such historians, it is only logical that their treatise on the history of our species should be devoid of any controversial – that is, moral – criticism.

As long as historians and other intellectuals continue to inhabit a moral world where greyness is always vaunted over black-and-white (after all, grey is a lot more comfortable and safe, unlike black-and-white where integrity and dedication to truly objective principles can cause friction and antagonism), humanity’s quest for moral clarity will be continually undermined by those too timid to judge good from bad.


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