The Vandals are within the gates

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

The Vandals are within the gates, Fred Reed warns — but they are all texting each other:

Why are things that once were the common property of the cultivated now regarded as fossils predating the trilobites? One reason I think is the weakening of the barriers of class. The educated cannot maintain standards of excellence when constantly bathed by television in mangled grammar and illiterate usage.

Then there is a variant of Gresham’s Law that says bad culture drives out good. Stated more carefully, in the absence of barriers of class the values of the drains of society tend to become universal. Thus we have rap music, if such it is, hanging pants encompassing louts, piercings, and functional illiteracy. In a sentence, the vulgar have discovered that it is easier to reject higher standards than to meet them. By sheer numbers they prevail.

The death of good language is part of the larger death of all culture, springing from the same causes: the domination of society by the mob. Note the decline in the sales of books, particularly books of history, the sciences, and literature: the rapid growth in genuine illiteracy, the disappearance of symphony orchestras. We have no poets, a nation of over three hundred million being far inferior to tiny, muddy London in the Seventeenth Century. Classical music is seldom played and never written. Architecture means K Street boxes; sculpture, curious confabulations made to be sold to bureaucrats in the Parks Department.

Little hope exists of a reversal any time soon, if ever. In 1850 those deficient in schooling knew their deficiencies, and wanted to learn. Today there is an actual preference for ignorance, which is regarded as authentic or democratic and morally superior to knowing anything, which would be elitist. In politics we see a vengeful delight that control of society passes to non-European minorities without interest in any culture but that of the streets. “He is street smart,” or sometimes just “He street smart” conveys approbation that once would have been expressed by “He is a man of taste and discrimination.” Once learning or even the desire for it has been lost, they do not readily return.


  1. Borepatch says:

    A lot of this is clearly wrong. For example, there’s a ton of popular classical music being written and performed. It’s not being played in symphony halls; rather, it’s in the movies. It’s also in video games (the score for Skyrim is excellent).

  2. David Foster says:

    “We have no poets, a nation of over three hundred million being far inferior to tiny, muddy London in the Seventeenth Century.”

    I suspect that a lot of people who would have been poets in prior ages are now songwriters.

    It’s not obvious why the song is an inferior form of artistic expression to the poem.

  3. Fred Simons says:

    ref. music: Last I heard Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whiteacre were both alive and writing really beautiful things. Both composer’s works are frequently performed in cathedrals and concert halls, especially Lauridsen.

  4. David Foster says:

    In his (very excellent) autobiography, long-time IBM CEO Tom Watson Jr. mentioned an IBM colleague he much admired, who had risen from a very tough background to a high executive position with the company. When Tom Jr. asked him how he had done it, the man replied that his self-improvement program had had 3 main parts:

    1) Read the classics.

    2) Listen to classical music.

    3) Buy all suits at Brooks Brothers.

    I wonder what the equivalent plan would look like today?

  5. Faze says:

    “We have no poets …”

    What is rap music but the great explosion of proletarian poetry long hoped for by socialists? Never in history have so many poor and working class people taken up verse, and never have poets of any kind been more spectacularly reimbursed than today’s rap stars. Without the benefit of a single government arts grant, rap poetry has spread around the world, bringing with it the culture of America’s underclass. Rap replaces native cultures more quickly and successfully than anything ever dreamed of by earlier generations of imperialists, and undermines the morale and morality of other cultures more effectively than an army of upper class bureaucrats or military in high places. You and I may hate rap and everything it stands for with a blue passion, but it rhymes, its metrical — it’s poetry. In fact, being primarily a spoken form of poetry, it has far more in common with the poetry of ancient Greece (beginning with Homer) than the effete Percy Dovetonsils poetry of the 19th and 20th centuries. Rap is also a throwback to the old Greek enthusiasms for bloody murder and buggery. As I say, we may deplore it, but it’s poetry and the authentic expression of the aspirations, obsessions, inner-life of a whole class of people who’s ugly (to us) fascinations have long gone unrecognized by elite or mainstream culture. (Oh, and what long-time IBM CEO Tom Watson, Jr, says about Brooks Brothers suits is true. They are a magic passport to acceptance by the elite.)

  6. David Foster says:

    Faze, on “proletarian poetry,” wasn’t it Karl Marx who said in his perfect society a man could — (googles) — yes, here it is:

    “In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.”

    (I’m pretty sure he means “criticise” in the sense of literary criticism, not general bitching.)

    Yet today’s intellectual “progressives,” who often claim to have been influenced by Marx, become truly appalled when functions like literary criticism, or any other academic-like function — or even garden-variety journalism — are performed by people who aren’t credentialed, single-purpose “experts” in those fields.

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