Charlie's Blog: The Permanent Minority


The Permanent Minority

Truth always rests with the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion — and who, therefore, in the next instant (when it is evident that the minority is the stronger) assume its opinion… while truth again reverts to a new minority.

There is an English proverb that says that there is no accounting for taste. This is very true. One look at the genres of popular music will indicate that. You have punk, metal, hip-hop, jazz, funk, blues, disco, and various sub-genres ranging from the beautiful to the hideous. To survey all that popularity, you might conclude that aesthetic standards are purely relative. Then, there is classical music to remind us that beauty is not relative. It is a genre of music that never catches on and never dies. It represents a permanent minority.

You will go broke trying to fathom and divine the popular taste. Both Hollywood and Nashville will hit upon formulas that they will mine to death in order to rake in as much cash as possible from the masses and their fickle tastes. Inevitably, there will be a backlash against those formulas as the public demands fresh novelties to satiate their demand for the new and different. What is popular today is certain to be a joke tomorrow. Then, it comes back again in the form of nostalgia. This is how happy songs become sad songs without changing a note.

In my younger days, I tried to understand and capture what it is that made a thing popular. I never achieved that end. I thought that if I could figure out what makes a certain kind of novel popular then I would write that novel and become very wealthy. But as I surveyed the list of bestsellers in fiction, I noticed that all of the titles were varied in style and genre but uniform in being bad. Here is an Amazon review for a Pulitzer Prize winning bestseller:
I don't understand why this book is so highly rated. I belong to a small book club that chose to read it and 4 out of 6 give up on it. Those that finished were very frustrated. Not only was this book too long, it was unbelievable due to insufficient character development. Things just sort of happened around people and they "changed" (not evolved) from chapter to chapter. There are many books I've not liked, but I have this crazy need to stick it out and finish anything I start. This is the first book in decades I gave up on. That should sum it up.
There were many reviews like that along with very glowing reviews. Obviously, many people liked the novel enough to make it a bestseller and give it prizes. Personally, I find nothing about it appealing. I might think differently if I read the book, and it might be a great book. But if it is a great book, I can tell you why. If it is merely a popular book, I cannot tell you why it is popular.

Great literature is great because it provides a moral education. This is not a didactic form of education like one of Aesop's fables. This is moral education that explores the human condition. Great literature is not necessarily popular literature. Shakespeare's plays never top the charts, but they never go out of print. They are a permanent minority of literature in the same way that classical is the permanent minority of music, and the Renaissance remains the permanent minority of art.

This same quality exists in the world of politics. The proposals and the politics of the progressive are always the popular ones. This is why small governments always turn into big governments and why socialism is the most dismal failure that never goes away but is attempted again and again by successive generations too dim to read a history book. In contrast, conservatism is not popular and has nothing appealing about it to recommend it to anyone. But conservatism is the politics of reality, and it endures even if it rarely prevails precisely because of its close attachment to reality and common sense. The bottom line is that it is hard to compete with government checks until those government checks start bouncing and the state run grocery stores end up empty.

The true, the good, and the beautiful are not popular. They are merely permanent. No one goes to them, but they never go away. For the individual, a choice must be made to pursue and embrace either the popular or the permanent. It would be nice to have both, but life is not like that. The musician can choose to play for the orchestra or for the local punk band. The punk band might sell millions of records and play arenas as some do. But the orchestra remains to the end of your days with musicians with gray hair intermingling with the young sharing the passion for an open secret. Popular music is always for its time while classical music is always timeless.

To be unpopular is to be a failure. This is because success is popularity. When a lot of people like what you are doing and actually pay you for it or vote for you, you must be doing something right. But this popularity is merely a proxy. I grew up in a time when a man could become successful by putting on cosmetics like a woman and playing three chords very loudly on a stage. Those men are now laughingstocks of the generation that outgrew them.

When you embrace the permanent things, you see and value the world differently. Popularity is held in suspicion. Status becomes empty. Money and happiness separate from each other. You go from wanting to be loved by the world to hating the world that you desperately wanted to love you back at one time. In short, you trade folly for wisdom and congratulate yourself for having found the thing everyone else overlooked.

The permanent things can never become popular things. You see churches attempting this sort of thing as they renovate themselves away from worship into entertainment. Those craving the real thing find themselves leaving quietly for the traditional worship of their forebears while those remaining turn the timeless faith into a sad joke. This is what happens when religion goes whoring after the world.

The Hebrews never became an empire. You can tell that they had empire envy sandwiched between Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans. Those empires came and went while the influence of the Hebrews lives on and has had more lasting impact than anything Alexander or Caesar ever dreamed of achieving. With the Roman Catholic Church, you have the religion of the Hebrews turning into the permanent religion of Christianity. Yet, the Church remained and still remains a permanent minority becoming an empire of the mind, the heart, and the soul. The majority never embrace her, and she never dies.

The wise individual shuns the popular majority in favor of the permanent minority. It is a hard path to choose. Not everyone can manage turning their backs on the world. There are also regrets wondering what could have possibly been gained for the price of one's soul. But gaining the world at the loss of your soul is never a good bargain. Retaining your soul is worth being a failure and a nobody in this life. Afterall, you end up living forever in eternal bliss. In the meantime, you have truth, beauty, and goodness to console you and to reassure you that you made the better choice in joining the permanent minority.