Lowering Standards Outside of the SuperBowl

In sports, we know that young people will achieve more by aiming high, by pushing themselves into zones of discomfort and even pain. No one would advocate that even a high school football player should just settle down at a performance level that’s comfortable to him. We encourage high standards in sports (forget the steroids and the financial corruption for a minute). On the other hand, the typical American won’t even try to appreciate performances by those supreme athletes of vocal performances — opera singers. We prefer juvenile performances by emotive actors to disciplined performances by adults who can project their voices without screaming. We prefer politicians and journalists who flatter us rather than honest men of moral integrity who will speak honestly. We prefer entertainers who exploit our passive couch-potato selves rather than maintaining the skills of reading substantial books or those of making our own music. When we grow white of hair, we prefer condos in Florida to the joys, and frustrations, of being full-time grandparents.

We want high-quality sports because we can appreciate the show from our amateurish pasts as sand-lot ball-players, from our hot summer evenings of tossing basketballs in the general direction of the hoop. Why do we not appreciate a truly good singer from our weak efforts to hit the notes in our church’s children’s choir? Why do we not appreciate a truly good writer from the garbled one-page essays we struggled with in ninth-grade? Maybe because there is some brain-power involved in either writing or making music and we are intellectually and spiritually lazy? True, we’re also physically lazy but you don’t have to push your bodies through walls of pain to watch a marathon and you don’t have to jump even 12 inches to watch a wide-receiver go straight up 30 inches in a crowd of 250-pounders ready to slam his defenseless body into the ground.

It takes mental effort to appreciate a substantial novel. This is true of a Dickens novel, straightforward in some senses but having a complex plot. This is also true of a Melville novel that is typically far from straightforwardin any sense. It also takes an effort to appreciate a Mozart piano sonata or even a Beethoven setting of a poem by Walter Scott or Lord Byron.

But I don’t think it’s a matter of laziness, not fully. In fact, a certain amount of disciplined laziness leads us into the leisure which allows us to appreciate substantial elements of human culture. The interested reader can check out Josef Pieper’s “Leisure: The Basis of Culture”. A certain amount of disciplined laziness is also necessary for creative writing or musical composition and also for the contemplative life, religious or philosophical.

In my previous posting, “Morality and the Modern Novel”, I made the claim that modern human beings don’t like to read true novels, substantial works of moral exploration, just because they shy away from any examination of their moral insides. We are so many Dr. Jekylls, suppressing our unconverted selves and pretending to be what we are not. The modern novel in its classic form played a role as a helper to the Bible, pointing towards the need for moral self-examination even when specific novels or Biblical passages seem to be glorifying sinful activities. Laziness played a part in the loss of our ability to read the Bible and “Don Quixote” in an intelligent way, a way that allows a living response. But I suspect that we, and our ancestors, began shying away from any moral self-examination from a feeling of self-righteousness — we’re a genial folk, surely that means we have a true moral integrity.

A writer with moral integrity, that is, a author who is truly an author and not just a writer can’t back off. I’m certainly not claiming that all serious authors have been morally good human beings, nor am I claiming that all novels teach moral lessons in the simplistic way. I’ll shift a little to use a man who was primarily a poet to speak of the moral explorations of moral rebels. Baudelaire set out to explore the alleged beauty of evil and wrote many poems about lesbians and cats. He then marched all his lesbians to hell. His cats didn’t particularly suffer in his poems. Cats. being of low levels of social order by the standards of higher mammals, are not always willfully disordered but they are… Not so well-ordered in moral behavior by the standards of men, dogs, elephants, and whales.

Cats are the most predatory of higher mammals, mammals which tend to high levels of social and moral order.

Modern men have tried to shift the balance of their natures towards cat-hood. I’ll explore this more elsewhere. In fact, I’ve explored this somewhat in my various writings, including my book, “To See a World in a Grain of Sand”. We’ve tried to be individuals to a greater extent than is healthy, or even possible in the long-term, for human beings.

This sort of prying into our moral natures is what’s involved in serious writing, not techniques allied with the willful refusal to write “with a message”. Since I’m allergic to modern educational systems and techniques, I’ve no intention of going near a writing school, but I’m under the strong impression that they try to relieve any true writer of that desire of true writers to tell true narratives. Despite what writing-school professors and publishers of writer’s manuals preach, true narratives are — by definition — morally ordered.

Narratives have purpose and direction and those attributes are supplied by some recognition of moral order, though it might be a moral order which is decaying or never quite came into form. A narrative without purpose, without moral order, will cease to be meaningfuly to human beings, but we modern human beings prefer purposelessness to moral self-examination. In each of our heart of hearts, we fear we are Dr. Jekyll or — if you prefer — Adolf Eichmann. We fear, if only deep inside ourselves, that we’re capable of stomping a young child for the sheer pleasure of it and we know we’re capable of putting our noses to the grindstone and pursuing our careers in the service of an evil government.

This points towards serious writing folks. Whether an author writes history or theology or novels, he is serious precisely when he deals with the big issues in the context of his own times. And modern human beings don’t like that stuff. They gravitate towards writing which is allegedly pure, it tries not to be preachy, whatever that means. Modern human beings are as allergic to serious writing as I am to modern institutions. It’s not just coincidence that I try to write serious books. I despise our modern school systems, academic attitudes, and moral frivolity. Our modern schools systems, nearly all of our modern institutions, are fascist — that is, they have authority structures imposed from above. Human beings are healthiest when authority structures grow naturally starting from the extended family. Despite what many people think, that is what the history of the ancient Christian churches show — they pass through periods of corruption which are also periods of bureaucracy and wrongful sorts of authority. Unlike nations and other secular institutions, they survive to once again serve God and His children.

Human beings who adapt well to artificial and exploitive forms of organization were described well by our Lord Jesus Christ. They are the white sepulchres, pure-white on the outside and full of death and rot inside. They are also the ones who honor the prophets murdered by their fathers — even as they prepare to murder the prophets of their own age. In the modern age, human beings are squeamish and they first use weapons of silence against anyone, including any serious novelist or historian, who takes a properly prophetic stance. Serious novelists are studied and taught by the same sorts of mind-deal and soul-dead human beings who ignored them when alive.

As for me…

I may or may not write books which will prove to be of lasting interest, but I most certainly have the same attitudes as all those great writers who despise the modern world. I aim for high standards and those have nothing to do with the brain-dead techniques of modern fiction-writing. High standards for writers are the same as for all those who have vocations involving mind and spirt — honesty comes first, insight is valued more than flattery.

This is the problem. Higher standards are denigrated in all fields where they would be associated with moral self-examination. Great literature, especially the modern novel, explores moral order. Politics, economics, history, science, engineering, and even games also are dynamic efforts to explore moral order and to find some sort of useful and noble stability. But sports is interesting in that higher standards of a sort can still be pursued when moral order or even moral relevance are denied. American politics and business are the same. We explicitly deny that moral order is a necessary precondition before we pursue our short-term goals.

There was some truth in the English claim that their empire was built upon the sports fields of Eton. And it’s clearly true that the British Empire, even at its most evil, was built by men of little moral vision but much moral discipline.

Our political and our business worlds have decayed into battlegrounds of incompetent, greedy men, but our sports worlds have become battlegrounds of highly competent, greedy men. Now we can see a conclusion coming into form, and it’s not one I had in mind in such a sharp form when I began writing this entry:

We can maintain high standards in sports while our standards are dropping rapidly in literature and history and politics and economics just because competence in sports can be appreciated by the citizens of a morally disordered society. In that sort of a morally disordered society, a serious book might as well be written in a language not spoken or written for a number of centuries.

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Explore posts in the same categories: literature, Modern culture, Moral issues, philosophy, Religion

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