I recently wathed the following video, in which the author claims that in today’s art there is no place for such things as heroism and selfless love.
As you may guess, this is complete BS and here is why.
First of all, I want to say that I liked the video and watched it to the end. The author supports his view by the popularity of several TV shows, some which I enjoy as well (Rick and Morty). He claims that the only thing that art can do today, is to “deconstruct” big ideas. “Deconstruct” is a better word for “shit on”.
However, there are several reasons why idealism in its various forms will never be dead.
Reason #1: Practice
In order to do something, most people need emotional fuel. You believe you can make the world a better place, you feel good about that future, and then you build a business. You believe that your child can become better than you (thus enriching humanity), therefore you invest resources in raising him or her. Before the child can even be born, you got the idea that a particular woman or man is special in that together with him or her you can achieve things you couldn’t alone. This idealistic thought led you to ask that person out, and later invest resources in the relationship.
As you can see, all things worth having (fulfilling career, long-term relationship, children) start with an idealistic thought. That idealism is the emotional fuel. You can get it, among other things, by reading books about how businesses changed the world for the better as well as love stories of all sorts.
Now imagine that all artists follow the advice of the author of the video above and only “deconstruct” those idealistic values. They produce only works like “Rick and Morty.” People who consume such works, will think that…
- Building a business is dangerous, not worthwhile, or morally contempting,
- Relationships suck, and
- Kids are lame ingrates.
You can find evidence for every of those statements, if you want. First comes the attitude, then logical arguments supporting it.
If you believe in those things, will you ever try to build a business, start a relationship, or raise healthy kids?
Reason #2: History kills those who shit on their heroes
There is a big country, which has a long tradition of shitting (“deconstructing”, man, how much I hate this word) on its history, its heroes, and its achievements. We can look at this country to see what happens, if you deny eternal values (they are eternal for a reason).
The country was called differently at different times — Russian Empire, Soviet Union, and now there are over 15 independent countries that share common cultural problems (among them Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus). Its intellectuals always tried to destroy it:
- Ivan Bunin regarded ordinary Russian as subhumans and looked forward for Germans to occupy Russia by force (in World War I). His literary achievements are highly questionable — most likely he got his Nobel Prize only for shitting on Russia. However, modern Russians don’t condemn him (as they condemn proponents of other comparable ideologies, like Hitler) and there is even a monument in the center of Moscow.
- Most important Russian poet and songwriter of the 20th century, Vladimir Vyssotsky deconstructed the cult of labor spread by Soviet propaganda. The problem is with the way he did it: He wrote brilliant songs glorifying the lives of thieves, rapists, prostitutes, and murderers. No, these weren’t political prisoners, but ordinary criminals. He was so successful in shitting on traditional values that many other talented artists followed suit ( Alexander Rosenbaum, Alexander Novikov, and countless others).
- In the late 1980es there was at least one movie glorifying the life of prostitutes. In 2002 a highly popular TV series was produced, which shows the romance of being a gangster.
The problem with all that “deconstruction” is that a society can only work, if people
- work hard,
- procreate and raise kids, and
- defend their society from enemies, internal and external.
Soviet intellectuals claimed they fought against Communism, but they forgot that some of the Communist values (like hard work) is required in any society, including Capitalist one. Today, the people who work hard are probably entrepreneurs — the engines of capitalism. In reality those Soviet intellectuals fought not against the Communism, but for the laziness.
This attitude led to the almost complete destruction of the post-Soviet society. Russia failed to capitalize on technological inventions created in Soviet times and became dependent on exports of raw materials. During the 1990es birth rates fell to catastrophic levels. At the same time, the crime rate was enormous, with most victims being entrepreneurs. Thus, the regime that came after the “bad” Soviets persecuted the people most capable of creating new jobs and replacing old Socialist economy.
It looks like around 2010 Russia started to become saner, and more conservative. However, it is not guaranteed that it will ever recover from the damage done by the intellectuals (who learned nothing and are as idiotic as their predecessors).
Another country, Ukraine, seems to suffer from same problems, but in a different form. It is supported by the West (at least in PR terms), but so far has failed to prevent its most capable citizens from emigrating.
Don’t think, it doesn’t apply to you because you live outside Russia or Ukraine. Creative destruction is present in any capitalist society. Therefore crises occur regularly.
Here is an example. Imagine, one of the many truck manufacturers manages to invent a self-driving truck that is economically viable. Companies start to get rid of human drivers and replace them with driverless trucks. Something like this is very likely to happen in the future. If it happens, it will be a major crisis because there are lot of truck drivers in the US.
What do you need in order to survive a crisis (mass unemployment of truck drivers)? Among other things, you need to irrationally believe in a brighter future. It must be irrational because there is no guarantee that the future will be bright. But if you don’t believe, you won’t do anything in order to make that better future possible. In fact, if you have no idealism at all in your psyche, you probably would destroy yourself fast (suicide) or slowly (e. g. through alcohol, drugs, etc.).
It is possible that “Rick and Morty” and other “deconstructive” works of art won’t survive the next big crisis.
Reason #3: Socialism is dead, Capitalism is dead, Utopia is not
At some point, we have stopped to think on how to build a better society with much less problems than in ours. I think it all started when Churchill said that the democracy is the best of all possible systems.
Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 11 November 1947
This idea is, of course, wrong. Hitler came into power by democratic means. That’s one reason. Another is the lack of proper definition of democracy. The US and Austria, for example, are both democratic, but the two political system work very different.
Another blow to Utopian thinking came with the disillusionment with Soviet Communism. The logic runs like this:
- We wanted to create a better society.
- We tried Socialism and it failed everywhere.
- Therefore a better society is not possible.
First of all, it isn’t entirely true that Socialism failed 100 %. It was under Socialism that Russia and China became industrialized nations and dramatically improved the quality of life for ordinary people. It can be argued that without industrialization, these countries wouldn’t exist by now.
The second problem with the above reasoning is the wrong belief that there are only two possible ways to run a society: a capitalist (liberal) and a socialist one. Purely capitalist (liberal) approaches work in some cases, and fail in others. Same can be said about socialist methods.
Truth is, neither liberalism nor socialism are scientific concepts. Economics, upon which both liberal and socialist theories are based, is not a science. Marx is not a scientist. Keynes is not a scientist. Hayek is not a scientist. Friedman is not a scientist.
Don’t agree with me that economics is not a science?
Then explain to me how the economy of a modern nation (e. g. the US) works in terms a more or less educated person can understand, but without logical contradictions and references to magic (such as the “invisible hand” of the market).
All existing macro-economic theories I am aware of, are incapable of explaining how the economy works and useless in improving it.
But it does not mean that a viable economic theory is impossible. We haven’t just found it yet. If we think hard enough, someone may find a theory that explains economics better than what we have now. And then it will be possible to design a society with less problems than those we have now.
A word for the deconstruction
If you are a true artist, you need to know what “deconstruction” actually means. It is part of humor and the purpose of humor is to destroy the value of a certain concept.
Adolf Hitler goes to a psychic.
Psychic: “Mein Führer, you will die on a Jewish holiday.”
Hitler: “Which holiday?”
Psychic: “Any day, on which you die, will become a Jewish holiday.”
In this case the joke destroys the idea that Hitler is someone who deserves human compassion. This is an example of a healthy deconstruction.
What “Rick and Morty” does is to destroy positive values like heroism and love. In order to use humor in a serious way, you need to have an idea what’s good and what’s bad. Then, you
- reinforce good values and
- destroy (e. g. through humor) bad values and lies
in the head of the reader. You don’t deconstruct values for the sake of deconstructing (if you do, you are an incurable hack).
Most of the works that managed to survived hundreds and thousands of years revolve around heroic deeds and constructive values (like long-term love). That’s the ocean of arts. Works of art inspired by postmodern philosophy are like the foam on the surface of the ocean. The next big crisis will wash them away.