Friday, January 27, 2023

Punk, Conservatism, & the Mandate of Heaven

A couple of weeks ago, a column in the Economist ("How rappers are strengthening Donald Trump’s movement") sent a shiver down my spine.

Mr Townsend ["Topher"], 31, served as a cryptological analyst in the Air Force before moving to Philadelphia with his wife, a teacher. He loves the 'Sip, as he calls his state; you could not pay him to move to "any of those Democrat-controlled cities." A fireplug of a man who raps—and eats lunch—in a MAGA-red knit cap, he can glower with the surliest of rappers. But his music can also be buoyant and empathetic and, in person, so is he. His influences range beyond Mr Trump to Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X and Eminem. 
Mr Townsend grew up in the hamlet of Kilmichael, Mississippi. His mother taught him to be the man of the house by ten years old, he says, but she drank, and his father, married to another woman, was not much in his life. When he was 12 or 13 one of his mother's boyfriends hit her in the face with a two-by-four, and as she bled it took an hour for the police to respond. "I learned early on no one was coming to save me," he says. "And I think that's what fuels my ideology today. No government, nobody."

Mr Townsend's contempt for authority points to a reversal of cultural polarity under way in America. The left once drew energy from scorning authority and bourgeois convention. But as it becomes America's enforcer of social norms, it increasingly treats the arts as a tool for instruction. As a result it is surrendering what puts the arts in society’s vanguard, the capacity to question and shock. What more transgressive act could an artist perform than to don a MAGA cap, as Kanye West did?

The boldfaced sentence encapsulates an idea that's been a nagging source of angst for me over the last half decade, and reminds me of something a former acquaintance of mine from high school once said.

The guy's name was Paul. We were friends insofar as we usually ended up at the same cafeteria table if we shared a lunch period, and we associated with the clique of punker kids who congregated by their leaders' lockers during the fifteen minutes between the general arrival of the students and the first bell. I never saw him outside of school.

As a teenager, Paul was into the Dropkick Murphys and the Misfits, and looked up to George Carlin as a hero. In retrospect, whenever politics came up, his had a markedly libertarian tilt.

After everyone in the country in Facebook and friended their old acquaintances around 2006–8, I got a window into where Paul's life was headed. Mostly I remember him making a documentary about the frontman of a punk-/goth-rock act; it pricked my attention because I was working on The Zeroes at the time. He was also doubling and tripling down on his libertarianism. Before I got off Facebook around 2015–16, Paul had gone full-on Proud Boy. I don't know what he's been up to since then, and I'm sometimes tempted to do some digging to find out. I think it's safe to guess he was within the city limits of Washington, DC on January 6, 2021.

I forget when exactly it was—probably sometime between 2010 and 2013—that I went on Facebook and read an opinion of Paul's which I still remember because it seemed so insane. However he worded it, the gist was: "the new punk is conservativism."

Friday, January 13, 2023

Magic: The Gathering: The Worldbuilding: The Writeup (9 of 8)

POSTSCRIPT: There were like five additional Magic: The Gathering posts after this one, which more or less covered all the sets from 2011 to early 2023. I erased them because they were embarrassing. I don't feel too mortified by the earlier writeups, since they follow the game's humble origins, growing pains, and maturation—but the later ones were a protracted wank over an IP that earns a billion dollars annually, written in the fog of seasonal affective disorder and probably under the influence of meds that weren't working out. I'm keeping this one up and leaving it at that. 

Friday, January 6, 2023

Twelve Rounds with Kant (part fourteen)

Wassily Kandinsky, Circles in a Circle (1923)

I've ran out of steam. Between the business of living, the time I'm allotting to other sorts of writing (some of it is more pop culture gibberish you can look forward to reading on here; some of it is fiction which may or may not ever see the light of day), and Kant fatigue, I don't have energy enough to grapple with the Critique of the Power of Judgement with much vigor. I think this is going to be the last Kantpost for a while.

I'll do at least one more later; for all its faults and glitches, the third critique is an embarrassment of riches. It's the kind of book you could write at least two books about.

Anyway, let's talk about...


I am out of my depth here.

Here is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's list of interpretive issues with the Critique of Aesthetic Judgement. Have a look.

That's a professional's take, and I won't pretend I'm on that level. Stress-testing Kant's analysis of taste and beauty on its own terms is more appropriate to a graduate student writing a dissertation, not a dilettante's blog post. And I can't in good faith attack Kant's theory of beauty when I don't have a comprehensive alternative to recommend in its place. I'm agnostic on the subject.

I respect anyone with the stones and the self-confidence to attempt a systematic definition of beauty. If the what is art? conversation typically leads to a quagmire, what is beauty? ends up in some spatially impossible MC Escher painting. We're all of us convinced we understand what beauty means, but struggle to articulate it in objective terms that stand up to scrutiny. In this we're like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart explaining his legal criterion for obscenity: I know it when I see it.