I’m not tainted by these times that we live in

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

Ryan Holiday has noticed that people can’t even learn from history anymore because they don’t like a given person. Robert Greene has seen the same thing:

Well yeah, I had a recent example on social media that was so irritating. One of the people in the book is Coco Chanel. And I’m a great believer in trying to find as many women examples as possible. You’re writing a book on human nature — it is kind of absurd to have 90 percent of the stories about men as if that’s assuming that men and women are exactly the same. Clearly there are differences. So I believe in that aspect of finding. And so I looked into her, and I found her story extremely interesting.

Now, of course, in the thirties and forties, she flirted with Nazism, and she definitely was tainted by that. And rightly so — she had kind of weird fascistic ideas that can be traced early in her life and for various reasons. And I brought that up in the story and then I say how she kind of rehabilitated herself in the fifties with her great comeback and bringing her line of clothing back, et cetera. And I get this kind of a-hole on Facebook — who’s somebody I know and I’ve met before — and he’s clearly really bitchy and kind of upset with my book for whatever reason. And he brings out: “Well yes, but she was this Nazi, this fascist and you know, isn’t it interesting how fashion and fascism were kind of linked, et cetera.”

And this whole thing explodes, and I try to make the comment that there are plenty of other people in history we can pick apart. Pablo Picasso supported Joseph Stalin well after everybody knew what an evil dictator he was. So does that mean we can’t appreciate anything that Picasso ever did or wrote before that? The French writer, Céline, whom I really like a lot, wrote some amazing novels like Journey To The End Of The Night. And, in the forties, he also had a flirtation with Nazism. As did Ezra Pound. Ezra Pound’s poetry is fantastic. Céline’s novels are amazing.

Can you separate the flaws some people have with perhaps some political thing that came up in their life from their work or find some value or some lessons to be learned from them? Chanel is this amazing story of a woman who overcame all odds — an orphan from sheer poverty who created one of the most powerful fashion houses ever in history. Well, can’t we learn from that? Oh no, because of this taint on her, we can’t even go near her, she’s radioactive.

And when I made that point, all these incredibly snarky comments came up and these people said, “Oh, well, I guess it’s okay to support Nazism as long as you make beautiful clothes,” or whatever. All this kind of really ugly arguing, and I had to leave the discussion because when it gets to that point, it’s so irrational, there is nothing you can say or do anymore.

One of the main points of my book is to understand that we’re all flawed. We need to get over our fucking sense of moral superiority, which is probably the most aggravating quality in twenty-first century life — people’s insane sense of moral superiority as if, because of their posts on Facebook or their pathetic little blog where they support some righteous cause, they are superior to other people. It’s so much a part of modern life and it’s this need people have in times where things are a bit dark. It’s this sense of, “Oh, I’m not tainted by these times that we live in, I’m superior to it, I’m superior to other people, I’m good, I’m angelic,” et cetera.


  1. Graham says:

    Some progressives I know often seem to think only right-wing low-historical awareness people do this on the web.

    And there are plenty of them. but they’re not alone.

    It’s possible, for example, to note the subtleties of Nazism’s origins, ideological suppliers, political positioning relative to period and current issues, utopian revolutionary aims, and the degree to which “socialist” validly describes them, without screeching “The Nazis were socialists and environmentalists and hated smoking” everytime someone advocates public health care, concern for trees and animals, or that smoking is on the whole rather bad for one.

    It’s also possible to notice that they were allied with many on the more trad right for all sorts of common assumption and goal reasons, made piece with capitalism, and advocated a sort of nationalism while noticing the many ways in which their agenda ultimately deviated from all these and observing that conservatives and nationalists ended up being among their more capable opponents [for various reasons, to be sure] and that these ideologies played a huge role in the opposition to them of other European nations [especially Britain and Poland]. Or indeed that nationalism motivated all sorts of stuff that I’m less critical of, like the liberal revolutions and [with nuances] imperialism.

    [hey, I'd have wanted to revise Versailles too, and rub France's nose in it. C'mon.]

    Instead, all one gets from internet people is variations on “Hitler was a socialist” or “Hitler was raised Catholic and the SS was modeled on the Jesuits” or “Hitler was a nationalist ergo…”

    Still, I’m actually encouraged that in this end-of-history or post-historical, consumerist internet paradise, the eloi at least have started to think Stalin was almost as bad as Hitler.

    For my part, I consider myself sometimes a one-man anthropological team from pre-postmodernity, representing all its accumulated mindsets to some degree, sent forward to struggle among the eloi. I’ve had the opportunity to converse amicably with Indian Trotskyites, Hindu supremacists, mildly fundamentalist Muslims, and relatively unreconstructed Italian communists, among others. All far more approachable and less annoying than some folks one meets in Canada.

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