Fantasy Island

I did not grow up watching a lot of TV, as my parents were (thankfully) on the stricter side of things in that regard. Yet, like most everyone else, I watched what I could when they were not around. Almost anything would do when these opportunities struck, and I distinctly remember even watching a few scattered episodes of Fantasy Island. Some of you will remember this show, in which Ricardo Montalban presided over an island resort of sorts, where people would come for vacations. But inevitably, guests would have some kind of unreal and usually traumatic experience, whereby certain unknown issues in their lives would attain resolution. The guests would leave happy, Montalban smiling benignly as they left.

Again, I watched this show even though I never particularly enjoyed it (it was on tv, and that was enough). What’s more, I could never grasp its basic premise or understand what was happening. Were the experiences of the guests real or not? They seemed unreal, but then if unreal, why did people feel so satisfied at the end? How could the island produce just what was needed for each guest (The Lost series, after an intriguing start, definitely borrowed way too much from Fantasy Island in its later seasons)? I remember no explanation, just that, “it had all worked out” somehow in a package that always seemed too neat and tidy

Again, the aggravations I had with the show didn’t prevent me from watching. In my defense, how can one look away from Ricardo Montalblan (still the best Star Trek villain to date)?

Much has been said about the dust-up over the brief video clips from the Pro-Life March involving the “clash” between Catholic high-school students and other protestors. I will say little here, except that

  • I was glad to see some who made ridiculous and ill-founded statements retract their comments when new, extended video evidence came to light. I wish I saw far more laments that thousands of people rushed to extreme judgment of a 17-year-old after seeing 1 minute of video–in other words, the very exercise of commenting on Twitter “in the moment” is desperately fraught with peril. It wasn’t just that people got it wrong, but that no one should have commented in the first place.*
  • I basically agree with David Brooks, who argued that 1) this scary and tribal rush to judgment happens on both sides** (this time the left was at fault) , and 2) the problem we have is also a byproduct a new technology (phones and social media) that we must understand more fully and use more wisely.

But as much as I appreciated Brooks’ wisdom, I think he misses something deeper and more fundamental. No one questions the impact of smart phones on how we interact with each other and the world. We should remember, however, that inventions do not simply randomly drop from the sky. They emerge within specific cultural contexts. While the phone was certainly not fated to arise in America, it makes perfect sense that it did. Apple marketed its products with the letter “i” in front, itunes, the ipod, the iMac, and of course, the iphone. Apple wanted one to think of these tools as a way to radically personalize our worlds, which fits within our cultural and political notions of individualism. It’s no surprise that their products made them billions of dollars. They did not create the need for radical personalization of our lives, they tapped into what already existed and helped us expand the horizons of our collective felt need.

I agree that we need to work as a society to understand the technologies we create, but that is just another way of saying we need to understand ourselves.

Harold Bloom’s The American Religion attempts to do just this. He argues that, as diverse as we are religiously, every culture must have some unifying belief, even if this belief remains below the level of consciousness. Bloom states that America is in fact a gnostic nation and not a Christian one, and he defines gnosticism as:

  • A belief that the physical world is essentially evil, and the “spiritual” is good.
  • That all people have a “divine spark” within them covered over by experience, culture, history, and materiality (the “all people” part of this is our particular democratization of what was an elitist religion in the ancient world).
  • We must find a way to liberate our true selves, this “divine spark,” from its constraints. Culture, tradition, history, etc. often stand as enemies in this effort.

Bloom postulates that this faith lies underneath other professed faiths, be they agnostic, Baptist, Jewish, or Mormon. It has invaded and colonized our institutional religions and our overall mindset. He finds it particular present in Southern Baptists of his era, but today he would likely look to the various mega-churches, which operate on the idea that Sundays should be friendly, relatable, accessible, and above all, not “boring.” Ralph Waldo Emerson no doubt helped found our particular version of gnostic faith, writing in 1838 that,

Jesus Christ belonged to the true race of prophets. He saw with open eye the mystery of the soul. Drawn by its severe harmony, ravished with its beauty, he lived in it . . . . Alone in history he estimated the greatness of man. One man was true to what is in you and me. . . . He spoke of miracles, for he felt that man’s life was a miracle, and all that man doth, and he knew that this miracle shines as the character ascends.

1838 Divinity School Address

So too William James wrote that

Religion, as I ask you take it, shall mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine. . . . as I have already said, the immediate personal experiences the immediate personal experiences will amply fill our time, and we shall hardly consider theology or ecclesiasticism at all.

“The Variety of Religious Experience, 1902

We could easily sandwich Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself in between these two thinkers for the trifecta of the prophets of non-contextualized, disembodied, American hyper-individualism. This kind of individualism has as its mission liberation from other groups other entities that would seek to mold, shape, and define. And, as we look at the crumbling of institutional churches, our lack of respect for governmental instiutions, the crisis at many universities, etc. we must declare that the individualism of Emerson and Whitman has triumphed almost completely.^

I can think of few things more compatible with this faith than combining Twitter and iphones. We can both memorialize our lives (which are of course special and worthy of documentation) and express our inmost thoughts to the world at any time. Conventions of privacy, or politeness, you say? Sorry, the god of individualism is a jealous god and will brook no rivals for his throne. Do we contradict oursevles and treat others as we would rather not be treated? Well, we are large, to paraphrase Whitman, and contain multitudes. We believe firmly that our souls should have the right to break free at all times.

Thus, if Bloom is correct, if we want to avoid such miscarriages of justice in the future, we may need to do much more than get a better understanding of technology. Brooks is wrong. No quick and mysterious sitcom-like fix is in sight. We need a new religion to avoid such disasters in the future. Our nation, relatively isolated as it is, is still not an island. And, double alas, Ricardo Montalblan is not here to save us.

Dave

*I know that we need journalism, public records of public events, etc., but I will go one step farther. I don’t know why anyone was filming the students in the first place. I know this happens all the time, but it seems to me that you should go to a protest march to protest, not film others protesting. If you want to counter-protest, do so, but don’t go to film others counter-protesting. I agree with Jonathan Pageau, who argued that our incessant desire to mediate our experience through screens fits into the kind of gnosticism Bloom describes. The screen inevitably creates an abstraction, a disconnect between ourselves and reality. He writes,

It is only in the 17th century that men framed their vision with metal and glass, projecting their mind out into an artificially augmented space. Men always had artificial spaces, painting, sculpture, maps, but the telescope and microscope are self-effacing artifices, they attempt to replace the eye, to convince us that they are not artificial but are more real than the eye. It is not only the physical gesture of looking at the world through a machine that demonstrates the radical change, though this is symbolic enough, but it is the very fact that people would do that and come to the conclusion that what they saw through these machines was truer than how they experienced the world without them.

from his “Most of the Time the World is Flat,” a post for the Orthodox Arts Journal

**I am basically conservative and run mostly in conservative circles. So, while I feel that it is mostly the left that mobs people for now for breathing too loudly through their nose, I should say that the right engages in it as well. I remember some years ago glumly sitting through a presentation where a commentator dissected and destroyed the whole personality of Bill Clinton based on 6 seconds of a video clip played in slow-motion. At least Clinton was the most public figure at the time, and not a 17 year old high school student.

^Patrick Deneen has related that when he taught at Princeton, an important study came out that on the Amish that showed that more than 90% of all those who experience “rumspringa” (when as later teens they leave the community to experience the world) return back to their communities. Deneen was taken aback by how much this bothered his colleagues, who could not conceive of living a life bound by tradition and communal standards. For many of our elite Princteton dons, such a life could only be termed as oppression, and some went so far as to suggest that they should be liberated from this oppression.

This, I’m sure, backs up Bloom’s thesis all the more.

Mayan Collapse and the NFL’s City-State Culture

I wish I had tried harder in math class. I always said to myself that I would never have to use all those formulas in real life, but it turns out that it would have dramatically aided my appreciation of John Lowe’s book on the mystery of the collapse of Mayan Civilization, The Dynamics of Apocalypse: A Systems Simulation of the Classic Maya Collapse.

I usually enjoy historical works that focus on the bigger picture, or at least connect a smaller scale event to something larger. But I know its also important to turn the binoculars around sometimes, and Lowe’s book accomplishes this well. I don’t mind his narrow and technical focus. Had I understood more math (most of it appears to be geo-spatial formulas) I surely would have understood his arguments better, but he does a decent job of summarizing the conclusions of all his deductions.

The mystery surrounding the apparently sudden collapse of Mayan civilization draws many different theories. What makes the case more curious still is that certain areas of Mayan civilization continued to thrive after other areas stopped functioning practically on a dime. Some speculate that the Mayans simply abandoned some large urban areas for reasons unknown.

Lowe begins by dealing with various theories of collapse he rejects.

The Environmental Argument

Lowe admits that many archaeologists find themselves drawn to ecological arguments because the two sciences lend themselves to similar kinds of analysis. But the evidence points away from this. Rainfall remained steady or increased in depopulated regions. Perhaps one might wish to say that the abandoned areas had too much rain and got choked by the jungle, but no . . . other swampy Mayan population sites experienced no depopulation.

Some suppose an over-extension of farming or denudation of soil quality. But no–Rowe points out that the Mayans used different kinds of sophisticated farming techniques that would have kept soil relatively healthy. Of course some form of soil erosion took place. In fact, most of it took place in the northeast Petan region. But again–this region experienced depopulation last among Mayan cities.

Disease

Others suppose disease wiped out the Mayans. But if the Mayans had an interconnected civilization that remained relatively homogenous ethnically, why did this disease not wipe out all of them? Most of the truly virulent diseases have their roots in the Old World, and the Old World would not visit the Mayans until some 600 years after the Mayan collapse.

W.H. McNeil proposed something along the Roman model. As he saw it, disease was not solely responsible for Rome’s collapse, but contributed greatly to it. Two plagues struck Rome in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. and had the net effect of depopulating the countryside, setting in motion a chain of events from which Rome was not culturally or politically healthy enough to recover from. But whereas we have plenty of internal evidence for the plagues in Rome, all of the written accounts we have from the Mayans indicate that disease played no factor. Some later sources indicate how healthy people were before the Spanish came. If we cannot rule disease out absolutely, we can safely call it unlikely to have contributed to a collapse.

Ideological Collapse

Much of the rest of the book deals with the more sophisticated and slippery arguments surrounding Mayan beliefs. The basic approach of these scholars argues that, however much certain physical factors might have contributed, the main cause of the fall must have its roots in Mayan religious beliefs.

We know that, for example, the Mayans had a strong sense of cyclical time. D.E. Puleston argues that the general collapse came at the end of an important 250 year cycle, and perhaps the Mayans believed in the need for a general “reset” of their civilization. But the holes in this theory reside in that not all of the Mayans obeyed this “reset,” if it occurred. And other time cycles don’t quite fit the model, so Lowe finds this explanation lacking.

Others, seeing that very specific modeling of ideology can’t quite fit, propose a more general internal negative feedback loop, of sorts. Conditions deteriorate, which makes you double-down on the system of belief, which makes you pour more resources into that system that already leaks. The extra pressure on the system causes it to leak even more, leading to collapse. Rowe remains open to this approach, but it cannot arise to anything more than the level of a guess.

Rowe runs the risk of subjecting everything to such rigorous examination (and complicated mathematical formulas), that he runs the risk of cutting the beef so thin no one can see it. But he eventually gives some of his own theories, which rely on the historical city-state collapse model of ancient Greece and Mesopotamia. Before examining this, I admire that someone with such an analytical bent as Rowe can consider some historical parallels and other paths that one cannot strictly measure.

The city-state model has the advantage of keeping both independence and interdependence at play simultaneously. This flexibility ideally can make them more creative and adaptive. They avoid putting all eggs in one basket, and can theoretically benefit from innovations other city-states make. But the intricacy of the system can make them vulnerable as well. The Greeks stopped cooperating and left themselves vulnerable to assimilation from the north (just as the Mayans from the south likely assimilated to the northern regions) in the form of Macedonia. When cooperation against a possible hegemon remained impossible or ineffectual, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.

This may not be quite fair to Rowe. While I admire his book, Rowe is much more clear with his writing when critiquing other theories. He has had time stating a positive truth clearly, held back by all the possible caveats that no doubt lurk in his brain. I may not have read him accurately, especially at this point of the book.

I think his idea of a political collapse has merit, but I believe we need more focus on the ideological explanations. For example, one can say that the Mayans stopped cooperating, but they appeared physically able to do so if they wished. Why didn’t they, then? You can argue for the power of a northern Mayan hegemon akin to Alexander the Great, but the historical record doesn’t indicate this. Even if it did, it still could not explain why the Mayans could not cooperate.

Alas, I have nowhere near the familiarity with Mayan belief systems to propose anything specific. But I can suggest an analogous situation to illustrate my point with the Redskins and the NFL.

First, we can view the NFL as a civilization of city-states. The NFL has customs and laws shared by every team, but every team has its own independent leaders and cultures. Some teams are healthier than others, but all share in a degree of common fate. The city-state model roughly works.Now, the Redskins. In the early phases of their existence the team had a very modest amount of success. They entered their “golden era” around the early 1970’s, and it lasted until January 1992 with their last Super Bowl victory. I lived through this golden era and it was gloriously fun.

Such a run of success created an enormous cache of goodwill among the fans. I have no wish to make this anti-Dan Snyder post or to catalog the many abuses of fan goodwill and the terrible decisions from the late 1990’s until today. There is more here for those interested. But, many outward edifices of a successful team still appeared in place. Fans came to games, fans cheered their team, paid for jerseys, the team made money, etc. One of the puzzling things about the Mayan collapse is that certain elements of their civilization, such as the high quality of their pottery, lasted right up until the end. We see this too with Roman coins. They maintain their weight and intricate design for decades after most historians (with the possible exception of Gibbon) mark the beginning of the end.

This year the team started 6-3 and seemed playoff-bound in a weak NFC East. But underneath lay definite problems, such as terrible performances for key home games, fans and players feuding, etc. And then, suddenly, for the last game of the year–utter collapse, as Eagles fans outnumbered Redskins fans at least 2-1 in the Redskins stadium.

The Redskins had issues in the past with other teams’ fans buying up tickets. The problem came in spurts for different teams, especially big name teams like the Steelers. But for a divisional rival . . . nothing like this has ever come close to happening before.

Of course the NFL can absorb one terribly dysfunctional team. The NFL, for now, need not worry too much. Faith in the “shield” continues on. But, imagine a scenario where

  • The Redskins don’t recover anytime soon and become dead weight in the league
  • A few other franchises (perhaps Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, the Jets) slide into similar positions
  • The concussion and player safety issue grows in importance
  • Domestic abuse and other player issues continue

Then we might see a very sudden collapse of faith, and a sudden exodus from stadiums and television sets. One might imagine abandoned stadiums to accompany abandoned temples.


Bored Borders

I know very little about the great civilizations of Meso-America, so I was intrigued to at least skim through Tales of the Plumed Serpent: Aztec, Inca, and Mayan Myths.   I have long thought that the myths and folkore of a civilization form one of the best entry points for the novice.  Each of these cultures had remarkable achievements in nearly all marks of what we generally call “civilization.” Their architecture and engineering alone can rival that of Egypt and Rome.

Of course, studying these cultures comes with the big elephant in the room of human sacrifice.  We associate this primarily with the Aztecs, and they may have practiced this on a larger scale than other civilizations in the region.  But the Incas and Mayas both offered human victims on their altars. Some of their myths, as we might expect, help lay the foundation for such terrors.

I understand that any editor should have a light touch in such a collection.  One wants to let the stories speak for themselves. And yet, the extreme desire to stay “neutral” in itself reflects a certain worldview.  On page 87 the editor includes a section on human sacrifice, and writes,

Further to the south, the Incas practiced human sacrifice too.  One notable and particularly poignant custom was the rite of “capacocha,” in which the victims were usually children.  After going to Cuzco to be blessed by the Inca priests, the “capacochas” returned home in procession along straight routes called “ceques.”  Here they were either buried alive in subterranean tombs or killed with clubs and their bodies left on mountaintops.

The word “poignant” seems dramatically inappropriate for such a description.

True, the Spanish found much to admire about the religious zeal of the Aztecs, for example.  Perhaps some of the victims volunteered out of a genuine sense of zeal. But surely we should not assume that children “volunteered.” Surely we have not so lost our way that we cannot call children being buried alive “horrifying,” or at the very least, “tragic.”  

I can’t help but surmise that if the Greeks or Romans practiced this, different words would have been chosen to describe them. For Meso-American cultures suffered under European colonialism, and this seems to mean that, having been granted victim status, they can do no historical wrong.* But the situation has much more complexity than this.

NOVA’s documentary about the deciphering of the Mayan language called Cracking the Mayan Code has many things to recommend it. But it begins with the obligatory castigation of Spanish priests destroying the manuscripts of the Mayans, who clearly did so out of “ignorance” of the Mayans and contempt for their culture. At no point are we encouraged to consider whether or not Mayan culture should remain entirely entact. One can find things to admire about the ante-bellum South, for example, but slavery had to go, and removing slavery might mean altering other aspects of ante-bellum culture. However messy this might get, I would be surprised if many in academia object to the damage done to southern culture in the effort to destroy slavery.

The Spanish priests perhaps prescribed a stern remedy for the Mayans by destroying their manuscripts, but we should at least consider:

  • Did the priests believe that the foundations of human sacrifice needed eradicated?
  • Did the manuscripts provide a religious foundation for human sacrifice?
  • Should the missionaries attempt to end human sacrifice? If destroying the manuscripts helped accomplish this, should we see this as worth the cost of the loss of knowledge about Mayan language and history?
  • Did the priests see themselves as part of the “lineage” of the prophet Elijah, who proposed a contest with the prophets of Baal (whose worship also occasionally involved human sacrifice), or St. Boniface, who chopped down the oak of Thor? If so, was this connection justified?

We must at least entertain these questions, but on many campuses this would not be easy to do.

Acquiring such nimble minds would be entirely necessary for reading Henry of Livonia’s chronicle of Baltic Crusades in the 13th century. A brief synopsis of his account is almost impossible. Some converted under early missionary work, and the church sent other clergy to help establish churches in the area. Some fought against the church by attacking and murdering clergy and other Christians, others reneged on their conversions, making things even messier and more confusing. And so it went. The introduction to his text reveals that in the 19th century, German scholars revered Bishop Berthold for his tenacious will in establishing the church in the area. The editors rightly raise some eyebrows at this, for no one who reads the text would admire the bishop for his love, understanding, and perspicacious wisdom, whatever other qualities he possessed. And of course we know what the early 20th century had in store for Germany. But as one might imagine, today the editors see only the destruction of culture and cruelty, wildly swinging the pendulum of analysis. Even a cursory reading of Henry shows his appreciation for local cultures, but also the tension that comes when we encounter destructive pagan cultural practices. We should cultivate the boundaries of our minds so that we can make judgments without rushing to stark ideological conclusions that have no sympathy for one side or the other. When the introduction to Henry of Livonia reveals is that this is not a strictly modern problem, and that may be of some comfort.

As the center of our own culture erodes the our physical and mental boundaries inevitably become more porous. Douglas Murray tackles this in The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam. Murray writes with conviction but this is not a screed. He at least appreciates the tension between maintaining a cohesive identity as a culture and helping those in desperate situations. If we cannot recognize this tension debating the issues will go nowhere.

The problem Europe experiences over these issues, however, runs deeper than the plight of the desperate. First of all, many of those who migrate appear not to be desperate refugees but young Moslem men looking for greater economic opportunity. That, of course, does not make them bad people by any definition, but it should alter the debate somewhat. Murray believes that European leadership has distanced itself from their people. Their willingness to allow more migrants significantly outdistances the desires of most voters. But to the extent that this is true, the problem can easily get fixed in subsequent elections.

The immigration issue exposes deeper rifts in beliefs about democratic practice. Those on the right and left both believe in democracy. Conservatives tend to see democracy as somewhat fragile. Democracy can work only with healthy institutions and an instinctive level of trust between people that comes from shared values and a shared culture. If your candidate loses the election, you can shrug your shoulders and try next time, knowing that, whatever your differences on tax policy or budget allocations, you know that nothing substantive about your life will change. The moment you stop believing this about other candidates from other political parties, fear may drive you to do more than simply shrug your shoulders

Many liberals these days** (so it seems to me–I am a conservative, so forgive and feel free to correct any misrepresentation), believe that democracy is primarily a powerful idea, not a complex practice or culture. Ideas can transfer easily, thoughts have no borders. So, democracy requires little more than belief in “freedom” or “equality,” and participation–“make sure you get out and vote”–to work successfully.

Conservatives might balk at the prospects of bringing in millions of mostly young men who neither share your religion, your cultural values, your shared democratic practice, and no history or context for understanding the issues. If recent immigration policies tell us much, liberals tend to believe that this poses no fundamental problem to continuing our democratic practice.

For Murray, the deeper problems involve a profound spiritual malaise, a great crisis of confidence Europeans feel about their own institutions and culture.

One can argue that civilizations should function much as individual people function, and have the capacity to exercise humility and repentance, though this is dicey and comes with many complications. But granting this and leaving the question aside, one could argue that western civilization has much to repent of, such as imperialism, slavery, etc. Of course western civilization is hardly alone in committing such sins, but we can only repent of our sins, and not those of others. But as St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, and St. Peter and Judas demonstrate, there is a godly sorrow that leads to life, and a sorrow that leads to death.

Much of Murray’s book indicates that large swaths of the political class of Europe may wish for something akin to an atoning annhiliation of their culture–akin to Van Gogh cutting off his ear. Recently an op-ed piece from Todd May in no less than the New York Times argued that for the good of the Earth, humanity as a whole should make itself extinct. But most on the far-left only desire this of western culture. Consider a very small smattering of examples:

  • Sweden’s PM Frederic Steinfeld stating that, “only barbarism is genuinely Swedish.”
  • The extreme reluctance of law enforcement agencies to publish the ethno-national information of the accused when they come from Moslem areas, lest they (so I suppose) seem racist.
  • In the aftermath of the coordinated sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany on New Years Eve 2015, the response of some was to give instructions to women on how they should behave around young migrant men. What makes this troubling to me is the assertion that Germans should adjust to the behviors and culture of their guests, and not vice-versa (no one would, or should, make the equal assertion that Germans abroad should expect their hosts to conform to German cultural norms).
  • The failure of states to aggressively try and curb the rise of anti-semitism in areas of high Moslem concentrations.

All of his examples illustrate Murray’s main theme of internal cultural immolation,^ a drastic diagnosis, but one that seems apt.

The problem of borders often raises its head often in history. On the one hand borders strike us as entirely artificial. Nothing in the nature of the universe would have it that America occupy a certain amount of space with a certain amount of prosperity. If borders be artificial, no good reason exists to prevent anyone from moving anywhere.

But, on the other hand, borders must exist, for without them we would have no way to order our lives politically or economically. Borders lack the legitimacy of natural law they have a relationship to natural law. I think national boundaries are akin to our relationship with food. There is nothing that says we must have either chicken, pizza, or salad, but we must eat some kind of food to survive. Some form of national and cultural boundaries, then, seems necessary to our existence.

The borders in our mind are more crucial. Maintaining distinctions in creation is one of the hallmarks of Genesis 1. Light is not darkness, morning is not evening, trees are not fish, and men are not women. As we review Incan mythology, we have to say that burying children alive is worse than being merely “poignant.” We must not assume that a pagan culture is by definition “oppressed” when they come into contact with the Christian west. We have to have conversations about emotionally difficult subjects like immigration. If the viral malaise that stymies this bores its way into other borders of our mind, eroding the entirety of our mental structure, so our cultural structures. will follow suit. And because chaos has no differentiation, the sameness of all things can get boring–as well as dangerous.

Dave

*Without excusing the subsequent actions of the Spanish and Portuguese in the least–actions that many contemporary Europeans themselves criticized–one must remember, for example, that Cortez had a great deal of help in bringing down the Aztecs. Many other local tribes rallied around him, and perhaps they did so at least in part because they wanted to protect themselves from the Aztecs sacrificing them on their altars.

**Some could also lump the neo-conservatives of the early 2000’s into this group, so perhaps this is not exclusively a liberal belief.^I will go on record as saying that I agree with Murray that Europe is a undergoing a kind of cultural suicide, but I don’t see this necessarily as a recent phenomena of the last 15-20 years. In other words, it’s not primarily the fault of too much immigration. Perhaps this is merely a symptom. Rather, Europe began this process many decades or perhaps centuries ago. Europe as we know it had its foundations with the Church, and has painstakingly eroded that foundation. Without this, the edifice built upon this now non-existent foundation will have to collapse.



11th Grade: Stravinsky and the Idolatry of the Victorians

Greetings,
This week we wrapped up our look at the Progressive/Victorian Era.  I wanted to look at things in a little different way, by asking if there are there any possible links between Darwinism and Victorian morality.  Victorians devoted themselves to duty, both to country and family.  But as many have noted, Victorian morality was ‘defensive’ in nature.  That is, it focused on protecting themselves from outside forces. This is reflected by the segregation of Europeans from other natives in the imperialized countries, among other things. This is not a Christian concept because love is ‘positive’ in nature and should push us out of ourselves.  We see this ‘defensive’ attitude in their fashion:
Womens’ dress reflected  this idea of protection and isolation.  Darwinism says that we are little different from the animals, thus, we need protected from the ‘animal’ instincts just below the surface.  As some students commented, the women are not allowed to look like women at all.  Does modesty require a denial of femininity in general?  Men’s fashion does not change nearly as much as women’s, but even the men seemed quite buttoned up in their multi-piece suits:
Queen Victoria herself set the tone by projecting soberness and duty:
As we discussed in class, ‘modesty’ does not mean denying one’s femininity.  I would even argue that Victorian fashion projected the idea that they needed to protect themselves from themselves as well as the world.
Can patriotism become a religion in its own right?  Arnold Toynbee remarked that the ‘victory’ of science over Christianity proved disastrous.  It did not and could not eliminate religion.  Rather, it turned people from a ‘higher’ religion to the ‘lower’ pagan religions.  Toynbee writes further about the turn of the 20th century,
‘The most serious symptom was that, professedly Christian countries . . . .were by this time, practicing the primitive pagan worship of the bee-hive by the bee and ant-heap by the ant.  This idolatry was not redeemed by being concealed under the fine name of patriotism’ (Study of History, vol. 7b).
Along these lines, we discussed briefly Stravinsky’s (very likely a Christian) premiere of his ‘Rite of Spring’ in 1913. which was meant to depict pagan ritual.  Shocked and horrified people nearly rioted at performances.  Did they do so because Stravinsky destroyed traditional artistic conventions of what music and dance should be, or because the he held up a mirror to a society that refused to see themselves for what they were (or perhaps both)?  We watched this clip in class:
All religion involves sacrifice.  If God was no longer present to sacrifice Himself, if man robbed the Crucifixion of its reality and power, would the sacrifice have to come from within the community?  If so, would this help explain the advent of the cataclysmic conflicts in the west during the first half of the 20th century?  It might also help explain the not often discussed dark underbelly of the Progressive/Victorian Era, the rise of eugenics.  My personal take is that Stravinsky was trying to unmask the very carefully cultivated civilized veneer of European society.  I think they thought of themselves this way, with Strauss’s famous, ‘Blue Danube’ waltz.
It is to this first dramatic conflict, World War I, that we will turn our attention after Christmas break.  How did a globalized, modernized, Europe, where few if any had much to gain from the risks of war stumble into it?  What factors, be they religious, political, ideological, economic, or psychological, brought this on?  I look forward to tackling these questions with the students after the mid-term.
Dave Mathwin