[SOC] Inauguration, MLK, LGBT rights, Media Clutter, Values and Minimalism, Music, Novels

It is not often that I begin one of these things with absolutely no place to start. I usually have some ideas percolating in my brain when I step to the keyboard, but I am drawing a blank today. When this happens, I glance over the Google News page to spark my brain a bit. Today, the buzz is about the inauguration and MLK day. Every year on MLK day, I take the time to comment on race relations in the USA, but I think I said it all with that statement. A black president was re-elected.

Now, there are a lot of people who don't like Obama, and I live in a red state. I get to hear the grumblings from people who are Republican and southern. Since I am the white guy, I get to hear the unfiltered white take on things, and the negative opinions about Obama that I hear never mention his race. There was a time in this country when a black president would have been taken as a sign of the apocalypse, but most people that I know don't care a bit that he's black. They are more pissed at the fact that the man wants to take their guns.

I don't think people care about race anymore in America. That's a good thing. There will always be pockets of racism, but it seems more against Mexican immigrants than against anyone else. Xenophobia is the biggest problem these days. But you won't hear that from the Left.

The big issue these days deals with gay rights especially gay marriage. Gay marriage is an abomination. I will lose some readers on that, but I don't care. I have embraced my church's teachings on this matter because I find them evenhanded but solid. People with same sex attraction are probably born that way and deserve a measure of sympathy. But they are not allowed to act on the attraction, and they certainly can't marry a person of the same gender. The Catholic Church will never change on this matter, and it shouldn't.

I see persecution coming on this issue, but that is the way it is when you stand up for what is right. As a friend of mine put it, "You find homosexuality in nature, but you also find cannibalism there, too. It doesn't make it right." Gay and lesbian relationships are wrong. Gay marriage attempts to make a human right out of a sin.

Obama and the Democratic Party has fully embraced the :LGBT cause. The irony is that many of the black voters that voted for Obama part company with him on this issue. I doubt even MLK would be a supporter. There is debate on the internet about where King stood on gay rights, but those who knew him think he was primarily a Christian. His religion like that of many other black pastors would have been incongruous with any stance for LGBT rights.

The reality is that marriage is tied to reproduction. Homosexuals and lesbians do not reproduce except with help from a third party. Every person born has a mother and a father. As such, the children of that mother and father are entitled to have a mother and a father. The way it stands today, kids are just pets for self-absorbed people. There is something perverse in that.

In other news, it has been a couple of weeks since leaving Facebook. My addiction to it has ended, so I no longer feel the urge to post or look at cat pictures. It has also afforded me the first real progress in taming my media cluttered world. My recent series on trash culture has also helped as well. I notice that I now watch almost no movies preferring to read the books instead. The quality of what I watch and read has gone way up, and I find that less of my time feels wasted. I also have more time to write.

I give a lot of credit to Leo Babauta, but I must also give credit to becoming Catholic as well. The reason for this is because you can't minimize or declutter without making decisions, and you can't make those decisions without having values. Minimalists strike me as people simplifying for its own sake while I simplify for the sake of doing other things. I will give you an example.

I used to be a sports junkie. I wasn't as bad as other people I know, but I used to watch a lot of football, basketball, and NASCAR. I also liked sports such as Olympics and cycling when Lance Armstrong was winning his victories. But at some point, I reached the conclusion that Lance was a doper. The rest of the world has caught up to me on that one, but I had to think long and hard about the issue of sports. Was sports a worthy endeavor or mere entertainment? Were these men pursuing an honorable thing, or was it simply human chicken fighting? I think the point is clear now. Sports is just entertainment. Once that was settled in my mind, I dropped the sports habit immediately. My values had dictated the decision.

Becoming Catholic has made me question the other areas as well. For instance, I don't watch trash television anymore. There is nothing good, true, or beautiful in any of it. So, if I watch anything, it tends to be news, a program on EWTN, or a documentary.

I am a total news junkie, and the only thing that seems to have tempered that addiction is the fact that I rapidly run out of free reading on the New York Times website. I am not ever paying for their content. So, I have tons of stuff rolling into my news folder on Google Reader. I don't know how to edit that down to something manageable.

The area where I can definitely let my values make decisions for me is the realm of music. I never made a deliberate decision in this regard, but I find myself listening to more classical music, the good jazz from the bebop era, and choral music. There was a time when I would have enjoyed this garbage:

Now, I like this stuff:

Why does Guaraldi beat Voivod? That is a very good question. This is because no one can answer it without appealing to some idea of beauty. Voivod is essentially nihilistic noise. Guaraldi is melody. Guaraldi is beautiful. Voivod is ugly.

Popular music can be beautiful. But most of the time, it isn't. I always wonder what makes the music have that beautiful quality, and I want to say that it is the melody. But Barry Manilow was the king of melodies, but his music is so saccharine that it is now the butt of jokes. So, there are no easy answers there. Rhythm is also essential, but rap is almost pure rhythm. And it sucks. Good music is the balance between NutraSweet and noise.

This song gets it right:

The Verve never made another good song like this one. If they did, they would have been Coldplay which borders dangerously close to Barry Manilow territory. The only group that I know that got it consistently right was U2.

What I am finding in all of this is an idea that crosses many fields. Something becomes ugly when it takes an essentially good element and distorts it. This was something I discovered about heresy in Catholicism. A heresy is a truth distorted into a lie. Likewise, ugliness is a beautiful thing distorted and disfigured. People try to capture some element and make it become the whole of a thing. This leads to disorder.

The Verve song could have been ruined in many ways. They could have gotten rid of the drumbeat and made it saccharine. The singer could have rapped the lyrics. Or, they could have turned it into a techno song or something heavy metal. Beauty comes from balance and harmony.

The problem with minimalism is that it elevates simplicity into an end in itself which is why so much minimalist architecture and design seems sterile and alien. My wife has taken me to task many times for this post. Needless to say, I don't find minimalism to be as appealing anymore as an aesthetic. Being inside beautiful churches will change you in that regard.

Minimalism is dull and lifeless. Musically, I think Brian Eno comes closest to minimalism:

I used to listen to this stuff, but it is the equivalent of a musical quaalude. It wants to be beautiful, but it can't make it. This is experimental stuff, and it sucks. For maximum suckitude, here is some Philip Glass:

Where Eno pursued simplicity, Glass explored monotony. So, why does any of this matter? The answer is obvious to me. People go out and try new things. They experiment. They think they will discover something that has never been before. The results are hideous. To the credit of Glass and Eno, they would go on to make much better stuff.

There really is nothing new. This does not mean that there can be no variety. But there are certain rules and principles that govern the world of the true, the good, and the beautiful. I pick music because it has a more immediate impact, and I can make my point quicker. But art and architecture also seem to follow these same principles. When I compare a Mies van der Rohe to the Cathedral at Notre Dame, I must admit that the cathedral is a much better building. And don't get me started on Frank Gehry.

When something aesthetic gets it right, it is moving and satisfying. When it is wrong, it feels empty and nauseating. Now, I don't want to mindlessly champion classicism. If all art simply reproduced the Renaissance, that would not be a good thing. But we can and must look to those classical periods for clues to what is true, good, and beautiful.

Here is what I am talking about:

We have a tendency to be dismissive of those things from a classic era because they are old. For some reason, we think virtue and value is found in the new. But it is not the old or the new that does it. It is the timeless. The timeless things do not change, but they always satisfy.

I know I am beating a dead horse with this stuff, but it pertains to a lifelong struggle that I have had in trying to determine what is good and what is crap as a writer. I am able to see it much more clearly in other realms of endeavor but not so much in my own. I have written various bits of fiction over the years, and all of those bits have truly sucked. So, the question is put to me. Who were the great writers? Shakespeare is obviously on the list, but he was primarily a playwright. When I try to think of a good fiction writer, the only ones I really like are Flannery O'Connor, Cormac McCarthy, and one novel from Alexander Dumas, The Count of  Monte Cristo. I could give a damn about anything from Hemingway, Twain, or Melville. Tolkien also deserves a mention, but I have not spent so much time reading him.

I look over the list of great novels compiled by different people, but I find that most of them suck especially those written in the 20th century. I am someone who has read and studied literature since high school, and the only author I really enjoyed reading over the years has been Flannery. I don't think she is the greatest writer of all time, but she is certainly the greatest of the 20th century. Naturally, people will debate this assertion, but no writer of fiction has had as much impact or lasting influence on me than that woman.

Fiction like music must be moving and satisfying. The problem with most fiction of the last century is that it has been moving but not satisfying. Here's what I mean. Basically, you take a character, put them through some obscene trials and tribulations, and then, let them wallow in some kind of existential angst. This is Hemingway, Camus, Sartre, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and on and on. Then, you have a lady like Ayn Rand that writes a novel totally not like this, and it becomes the bestseller of the century. But it sucks. It is pop philosophy, but it at least leaves you feeling better at the end than the beginning.

O'Connor is shocking in her writing, and shes goes to dark places. But her Catholic sensibility comes through. She is writing for these angst filled existentialists, but she is tweaking their noses it seems. Her stories are moving but also satisfying. They stir you up, but they make you better in the process.

I feel this struggle acutely and wonder where I am going with all of this. My greatest frustration in life is this writing thing. I have always felt that I should do something with it, but I have never known what that is. I just know that it has to be good, and so far, it has all been bad.