Quotulatiousness

May 13, 2017

QotD: Sneering at the “farmers” in fly-over country

Filed under: Education, Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

If Star Wars was written by today’s establishment, Luke would have to be a girl who suffered oppression by the bigoted farm boys, then escaped to the Empire (which was, of course, politically correct and ruled by wise, learned Socialist oligarchs) to wield its military might against the hicks and unlearned morons of Planet Redneck.

Such disdain is everywhere, now. It’s not hard to find in the media, in entertainment, or social media. Some time ago, I remember watching a Youtube video where a man with a strong Southern accent went to great lengths to demonstrate his education and intelligence, discussing complex matters of science, history, and philosophy in an effort to disprove the notion that a Southern accent somehow implies stupidity. I remember wondering why this was even necessary. I’ve met many intelligent, educated individuals in the South, and I’ve encountered no more idiots here than in the other places I’ve been to. Why would this even have to be disproved?

Then it hit me. The new American myth, carefully constructed by the SJWs and their ilk, is that farmers are stupid. Mechanics are dumb. Plumbers only ply their trade because they are too stupid to take gender studies courses. And since they are all idiots, of course their children must be idiots too. Indeed, they are all far too stupid to be permitted a say in how their own lives are run. As Tom Nichols once explained to me: Americans are too stupid to read maps, so why bother informing them about terrorist incidents? Being something of a Centrist, Tom is more charitable than most of the Leftists, whose disdain is much more direct. To those folks, America (and by extension, Americans themselves) is nothing more than a backward nation full of bigots, greedy thieves, murderers, and utter morons in desperate need of extinction.

[…]

But now, a two and a half centuries later, we’re back to where we started. The anointed, ivory tower aristocrats telling us what’s good for us — when we all know it’s a steaming pile of horse manure constructed solely to fool enough good people to keep the nobles planted atop their wobbly thrones. Their underestimation of the regular folks in the world, the farm boys and plumbers, may be what saves us, in the end. After all, it’s worked for America before, time and time again. It’s why, despite all the agitprop to the contrary, today America still remains the most powerful nation on Earth.

Dystopic, “From Farm to Space: A Lost Cultural Myth”, The Declination, 2017-05-01.

May 3, 2017

“Poverty, to be scenic, should be rural”

Filed under: Americas, Economics, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Daniel Hannan on the contrast between rural and urban poverty, and the attitudes of Westerners:

When I was growing up in Lima in the 1970s, Western visitors were astonished by the shantytowns, the barriadas, as they were known, that ringed that grimy city. Why, they asked, did people leave the countryside to live in these squalid slums? Why swap the pure air of the Andes for traffic fumes and sewage?

It was a very First World question. No Peruvian ever asked why people were quitting villages that lacked electricity and clean water. The barriadas may have been ugly, but they were humming with enterprise. They offered work, access to schools and clinics, a power supply. They were, for most of their denizens, transitional, a staging post between mountain squalor and something better.

In time, I came to realize that Western nose-wrinkling at developed countries was more esthetic than sympathetic. As the Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope put it, “Poverty, to be scenic, should be rural.”

Western attitudes haven’t advanced much since then. My kids’ geography homework is full of stories about evil Western corporations exploiting poor women in Vietnam or wherever. Now, you and I would not want to work in a Vietnamese sweatshop. But we have not spent our lives bending our backs in rice paddies.

Employees of foreign-owned companies in Vietnam earn 210 percent of the average wage. The readiness of that country to open itself to trade and investment has brought huge benefits to the Vietnamese, including those on the lowest incomes. Over 19 years, the West struggled to defeat totalitarian socialism in Vietnam, and failed. Three decades of trade have achieved what 60,000 American lives and over a trillion dollars in today’s prices in military spending failed to achieve: the end of Communism.

Developing countries which open their markets eliminate poverty more quickly than those which don’t. Compare Vietnam to Myanmar, or Colombia to Venezuela, or Bangladesh to Pakistan. A study of developing states since 1980 showed that those which had joined the global trading system enjoyed annual growth at an average of 5 percent, as against 1.5 percent for those which hadn’t.

April 26, 2017

QotD: The modern vice is “ostentatious class disdain”

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Yet Another Example… of our current practice of making important policy decisions based upon little except the learned habit of ostentatious class disdain.

You notice that at this late date, with a major policy campaign against the dreaded Semi. Automatic. Weapon., that most of these guys still haven’t bothered to discover what a semi-automatic is?

That’s a learned habit. They are signalling to other members of their class (or the class they aspire to) that they consider such knowledge base, the sort of thing known by the dirty callous-handed illiterates of the rabble and certainly not by the Lords of Intellect.

I mean, it’s like a recipe for ‘Possum Stew. To even know the thing would reduce you in status. Knowledge about guns is something the lower classes have; the criminal class, the agrarian workers (the peasantry), the lesser Servitor Classes of policemen and armed guards and military betas.

What could possibly explain such ignorance at this point, except a calculated, learned ignorance of the habits of one’s putative lessers?

Ace, “The Unburstable Bubble of Willful Ignorance of the International Self-Purported Elites”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2013-01-09.

April 25, 2017

Cultural appropriation of “poverty culture” in the Tiny House Movement

Filed under: Media, Randomness, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Ann Althouse linked to this older article by July Westhale on “Poverty Appropriation”:

How many folks, I wonder, who have engaged in the Tiny House Movement have ever actually lived in a tiny, mobile place? Because what those who can afford homes call “living light,” poor folks call “gratitude for what we’ve got.”

And it’s not just the Tiny House Movement that incites my discontent. From dumpster diving to trailer-themed bars to haute cuisine in the form of poor-household staples, it’s become trendy for those with money to appropriate the poverty lifestyle — and it troubles me for one simple reason. Choice.

The Tiny House Movement began in the ’90s, but has only been rising in popularity since the recession. And to be fair, it’s rooted in a very real problem: more and more people being displaced as a result of soaring housing costs, especially in tech-boom areas like the Bay Area.

[…]

It’s likely, from where I sit, that this back-to-nature and boxed-up simplicity is not being marketed to people like me, who come from simplicity and heightened knowledge of poverty, but to people who have not wanted for creature comforts. For them to try on, glamorize, identify with.

Such appropriation isn’t limited to the Tiny House trend, or even to the idea of simplicity. In major cities, people who come from high-income backgrounds flock to bars and restaurants that both appropriate, and mock, low-income communities. Perhaps the most egregious example is San Francisco’s Butter Bar, a trendy outpost that prides itself on being a true-blue, trailer park-themed bar, serving up the best in “trashy” cuisine and cocktails. With tater tots, microwaved food, and deep-fried Twinkies on the menu, the bar also serves cocktails that contain cheap ingredients, such as Welch’s grape soda. The bar has an actual trailer inside, and serves cans in paper bags, so that bar flies can have a paid-for experience of being what the owners of this bar think of when they think of trailer trash.

Butter Bar in San Francisco (Credit: Facebook)

It’s but one example of an entire hipster movement — can it be called a movement when it’s a subculture rooted not in political consciousness, but in capitalism? — that has brought with it an ethos of poor-culture appropriation and the “re-invention” of things that have largely been tools of survival for poor, disabled, working class, and/or communities of color for decades.

April 11, 2017

QotD: The great American humourists

Filed under: History, Humour, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The great American humorists have something in common: hatred.

H. L. Mencken and Mark Twain both could be uproariously funny and charming — and Twain could be tender from time to time, though Mencken could not or would not — but at the bottom of each man’s deep well of humor was a brackish and sour reserve of hatred, for this country, for its institutions, and for its people. Neither man could forgive Americans for being provincial, backward, bigoted, anti-intellectual, floridly religious, or for any of the other real or imagined defects located in the American character.

Historical context matters, of course. As Edmund Burke said, “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.” Twain was born in 1835, and there was much that was detestable in the America of Tom Sawyer. Mencken, at the age of nine, read Huckleberry Finn and experienced a literary and intellectual awakening — “the most stupendous event in my life,” he called it — and followed a similar path. Both men were cranks: Twain with his premonitions and parapsychology, Mencken with his “Prejudices” and his evangelical atheism. He might have been referring to himself when he wrote: “There are men so philosophical that they can see humor in their own toothaches. But there has never lived a man so philosophical that he could see the toothache in his own humor.”

The debunking mentality is prevalent in both men’s writing, a genuine fervor to knock the United States and its people down a peg or two. For Twain, America was slavery and the oppression of African Americans. For Mencken, the representative American experience was the Scopes trial, with its greasy Christian fundamentalists and arguments designed to appeal to the “prehensile moron,” his description of the typical American farmer. The debunking mind is typical of the American Left, which feels itself compelled to rewrite every episode in history in such a way as to put black hats on the heads of any and all American heroes: Jefferson? Slave-owning rapist. Lincoln? Not really all that enlightened on race. Saving the world from the Nazis? Sure, but what about the internment of the Japanese? Etc. “It was wonderful to find America,” Twain wrote. “But it would have been more wonderful to miss it.”

Kevin D. Williamson, “Bitter Laughter: Humor and the politics of hate”, National Review, 2016-08-11.

April 5, 2017

What your wine choice says about you

Filed under: Humour, Wine — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

Posted on the Facebook Four Sisters Wine page, H/T to Jessica Brisbane for the link.

March 29, 2017

QotD: The humble vodka soda

Filed under: Business, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

My favourite drink? Vodka soda on the rocks, no lemon. Unpretentious, dependable, easy to slap together, gets the job done. It’s basically the Ford F-150 of cocktails. And clear as rain, so it won’t stain my wife’s dress if some good-time Charlie slaps me on the back at a party. For years, it has been my odourless, tasteless, ten-ounce refuge of gastro-utilitarian sanity in a world full of foodies gone mad.

But those days are over: the vodka soda has gone the way of wine, Scotch, and gourmet hot sauce. Order one at any velvet-rope bar or restaurant, and the waiter follows up by asking your preferred brand of hooch — under the demonstrably false conceit that the human tongue can distinguish between what are effectively different varieties of windshield-wiper fluid.

Last month, when a waiter launched into an especially long list of unpronounceable Russian and Scandinavian words apparently corresponding to fashionable vodka brands, I felt as if I were in a scene from “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” I really can’t tell the difference. Just give me the cheapest one on the list were the words on my lips.

Of course, I said nothing of the sort, because I didn’t want to come off as a rube. So instead, I declared emphatically, “Oh, Grey Goose, please” — recalling at random the last brand I’d seen advertised in an upscale travel magazine.

Moments later, the waiter returned with my drink, and it tasted fine. Which is to say, it tasted exactly like every other vodka soda I had ever tasted — or, indeed, that had ever been tasted by any other human in the history of fermented spud juice.

This, more than anything else, is what I have come to resent about foodie culture: Not just that it is pretentious and expensive. Not just that it makes me feel guilty about the Cheez Whiz sandwiches I put in my kids’ lunch boxes. But that it turns us all into liars.

Jonathan Kay, “Lies My Waiter Told Me: Foodie culture has invaded my vodka soda. It’s time to fight back”, The Walrus, 2015-08-17.

December 21, 2016

Mapping the new western caste system

Filed under: India, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

An interesting re-map of India’s caste system to modern day western society:

I move professionally in circles where lib-left “virtue signaling” is taken for granted, especially inside the US. (Academia outside the US, while no less in the grip of a collective moral superiority complex, at least tolerates dissenters to some degree.)

As I was perusing Trump’s cabinet list in the Times of London the other day, I was struck not so much by the names — some ‘feck yeah!’, some ‘well, OK’, some ‘meh’ — as by what wasn’t there. The ‘Brahmandarins™’ had been left behind, as it were. Allow me to expand.

Traditional society in India has myriad little jatis (“births”, freely: castes), but they ultimately derive from four (plus one) major varnas (“colors”, freely: classes). While caste membership and profession are more fluid than generally assumed by Westerners, these five major groupings do exist to the present day, and are mostly endogamous. From top to bottom, the varnas are:

  1. Brahmins (scholars)
  2. Kshatryas (warriors, rulers, administrators)
  3. Vaishyas (merchants, artisans, and farmers)
  4. Shudras (laborers)
  5. Finally, the Dalit (downtrodden, outcasts — the term “pariah” is considered so offensive it has become “the p-word”) are traditionally considered beneath the varna system altogether, as are other “Scheduled Castes” (a legal term in present-day India, referring to eligibility for affirmative action).

The upper three varnas bear some resemblance to the three Estates of the French ancien régime: clergy, nobility, and the bourgeoisie (le tiers état, the Third Estate). American society used to be a byword for social mobility (“the American dream”) — but a stratification has set in, and it takes little imagination to identify strata of Dalit, Shudras, and Vaishyas in modern American society. The numerically small subculture of military families could be identified as America’s Kshatryas. So where are the Brahmins? (No, I’m not referring to the old money Boston elite.) And why am I using the portmanteau “Brahmandarins” for our New Class?

In India one was, of course, born into the Brahmin varna, and they actually delegated the messy business of governance to the varna below them. In China’s Middle Kingdom, on the other hand, not only was the scholarly Mandarin caste actually the backbone of governance, but in principle anyone who passed the civil service exams could become a Mandarin.

Originally, these exams were meant to foster a meritocracy. Predictably, over time, they evolved to select for conformity over ability, being more concerned with literary style and knowledge of the classics than with any relevant technical expertise.

Hmm, sounds familiar? Consider America’s “New Class”: academia, journalism, “helping” professions, nonprofits, community organizers, trustafarian artists,… Talent for something immediately verifiable (be it playing the piano, designing an airplane, or buying-and-selling,… ) or a track record of tangible achievements are much less important than credentials — degrees from the right places, praise from the right press organs,…

November 16, 2016

QotD: Foodie self-righteousness

Filed under: Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… asking people to “eat local” who live in northern climes where “local” means “nothing green” for six or seven months out of the year, and do not get to spend a few months each winter in Sicily teaching a cooking class, is pretty rich. A food writer who is telling other people how they could eat, if they wanted to, is doing a great public service. A food writer who is telling other people how they should eat (just like me, except without my access to ingredients) is just obnoxious. You can’t possibly know how they should eat, unless you have spent some time living their lives.

It is well to remember that people who spend time professionally writing about food have quite a bit more time in their day for acquiring and cooking food than most people. They also have more resources and recipes at their disposal. And you know, they can move to California to enjoy the produce.

Nor is it just the tyranny of localism; it is the list of ingredients that you ought to like, and the list of ingredients that you shouldn’t, and what the hell is wrong with you troglodytes and your Twinkies? Now, personally, I hated Twinkies before Hostess went bankrupt, and I’m sure I’d hate them now, along with Hostess cupcakes, Ho Hos, Devil Dogs, Snowballs, and whatever other tasteless cake substance they’ve filled with that disgusting white goo that tastes like rubberized confectioner’s sugar. I also despise anything made with canned cream-of-whatever soup, detest marshmallows in any form, and would rather eat paste than Cool Whip. You know what these are? Personal preferences. They are not signs that I have achieved a higher level of food consciousness. There is no such thing as a higher level of food consciousness. There is stuff you like to eat, and stuff you do not like to eat.

Megan McArdle, “Dinner, With a Side of Self-Righteousness”, Bloomberg View, 2015-03-27.

October 28, 2016

QotD: Today’s cultural elite

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

You may be wondering how our elite, or any elite, could rise to predominance in society they reject? Should not the elite be composed, as in the Old World, of those established ruling and land-owning families whose ancestors founded or conquered the social order, and hence are loyal to it? Or, in the New World, should not the elite be composed of self-made men whose genius and enterprise and good fortune enabled them to contribute so much to society, offering mankind oil and steel mills and rail lines and electrification, that the reward of the free market elevated them to wealth? Would not either an elite of lineage or an elite of money be loyal to the social order?

The answer is that the modern Progressive elite are not the children of iron who whose fathers won land by hard military service and fawning on princes, but neither are they children of wealth whose fathers’ stubborn hands won gold from a hard world by fawning on customers: our elite are self-selected and self-anointed, and they know nothing of the iron of war nor the gold of commerce.

The elite are people who flock to journalism and entertainment and politics and the academy, and they share one outstanding characteristic:

Even though their intellectual accomplishments are relatively modest, they take their ability to disregard morality as a sign of lofty and superior intelligence, as if disobedience were a difficult quadratic equation.

As a corollary, they assume that loyalty to morality can only be due to an absence of intelligence rather than the presence of experience, common sense, honor, grit, manhood, spiritual insight or upright character.

They are people less moral than the rest of us, and they take that lack of moral character to be a sign that both their moral character and intellectual ability supersedes our own.

The pop psychology of high self esteem, the loss of the Christian virtue of humility, is what allows them to have these inflated and false-to-facts self-estimations.

Fan as I am of the free market, Capitalism has one obvious drawback: it is too forgiving. Capitalist societies forgive entertainers and entrepreneurs their peccadilloes, their addictions to drugs or booze or porn or adultery or pederasty, because the society wants the goods produced by the entrepreneur and the diversions provided by the entertainer. There are times when your favorite song is the only thing fending off a gray and rainy day of despair; and nothing else will cheer you. Why should you care if the singer molests children? He does not live in your neighborhood. Your ill opinion will not affect him. There are times when the only car worth buying is your favorite make and model. Why should you care if the manufacturer is an anti-Semite? The free market does not condemn.

The entertainment and media markets are even less condemnatory: Artists are expected to be odd. What would in a normal society be a sin in the world of artists is an amusing eccentricity, or a source of insight, or a sign of the sanctity. In the Academic world, eccentricity to the point of sickness and madness is not a drawback, but a passkey to lauds and fame. See the case of Peter Singer of Princeton for details.

Democracy also has a drawback: our liberty allows for such license, that no accomplishment is needed ere one is called accomplished. Even our elitism is democratic: Anyone can be a snob!

All you have to do to achieve the paramount of the modern Decalogue is dishonor your father and mother; to be the modern version Horatio, all you need do is betray the ashes of your fathers and the altars of your gods. Hegelian evolution says that whatever comes later is better, right? Well, you come after your forefathers, and you are younger than your teachers, so you must know more.

To be a snob in the Old World you had to be born to a high family, or in the New, to earn a high place. But all you have to do to be a snob in the world of no-fault modern snobbery is look down on the giants who founded and fought for this nation.

John C. Wright, “Supermanity and Dehumanity (Complete)”, John C. Wright’s Journal, 2014-12-13.

October 23, 2016

QotD: The coalition of the cool

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

[T]here’s this fundamental problem where so many people who identify themselves as being part of the broad left define their coalition based on linguistic cues, cultural overlap, and social circles. The job of politics, at its most basic, is finding common cause with people who aren’t like you. But current incentives seem to point in the opposite direction — surveying the people who are just like you and trying to come up with ways in which that social connection is actually a political connection.

As usual, I blame the internet, which I’m more and more convinced is one of the worst things to ever happen to the left. It encourages people to collapse any distinction between their work life, their social life, and their political life. “Hey, that person who tweets about the TV shows I like also dislikes injustice,” which over time becomes “I can identify an ally by the TV shows they like.” The fact that you can mine a Rihanna video for political content becomes, in that vague internety way, the sense that people who don’t see political content in Rihanna’s music aren’t on your side. The fact that you are part of the tiny sliver of humanity that lives in very small geographical and social enclaves in a handful of coastal cities and can identify some such thing as the “litbro” doesn’t change the fact that 99.9% of the people who use the term “bro” would find the conflation of that term with a love for literature totally, utterly confusing. But since those enclaves are vastly overrepresented in digital media, so is the concept of the litbro, which then becomes another means through which potential allies are alienated by the obscurity and insiderism of left discourse. With no one particularly intending it to be so, left discourse becomes indistinguishable from a social discourse that is exclusive rather than inclusive.

Fredrik deBoer, “getting past the coalition of the cool”, Fredrik deBoer, 2015-11-09.

October 22, 2016

QotD: Snobbery

Filed under: Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

“Zoology, eh? That’s a big word, isn’t it.”

“No, actually it isn’t,” said Tiffany. “Patronizing is a big word. Zoology is really quite short.”

Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men, 2003.

September 6, 2016

QotD: Minimum lot size regulations hurt the poor

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Government, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Other things equal, the larger the lot, the more you’ll pay for it. Regulations that specify minimum lot sizes — that say you can’t build on land smaller than that minimum — increase prices. Regulations that forbid building more units on a given-size lot have the same effect: they restrict supply and make housing more expensive.

People who already live there may only want to preserve their lifestyle. But whether they intend to or not (and many certainly do so intend) the effect of these regulations is to exclude lower-income families. Where do they go? Where they aren’t excluded — usually poorer neighborhoods. But that increases the demand for housing in poorer neighborhoods, where prices will tend to be higher than they would have been.

And it’s not just middle-class families that do this. Very wealthy residents of exclusive neighborhoods and districts also have an incentive to support limits on construction in order to maintain their preferred lifestyle and to keep out the upper-middle-class hoi polloi. Again, the latter then go elsewhere, very often to lower-income neighborhoods — Williamsburg in Brooklyn is a recent example — where they buy more-affordable housing and drive up prices. Those who complain about well-off people moving into poor neighborhoods — a phenomenon known as “gentrification” — may very well have minimum-lot-size and maximum-density regulations to thank.

When government has the authority to restrict building and development, established residents of all income levels will use that power to protect their wealth.

Sandy Ikeda, “Shut Out: How Land-Use Regulations Hurt the Poor”, The Freeman, 2015-02-05.

August 9, 2016

Growing up White Trash in the modern university

Filed under: Education, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Holly Genovese on the difficulties of an academic career when you come from a “White Trash” background:

I bought The Professor Is In by Karen Kelsky, a terrifying book full of blunt (and much needed advice) about navigating the academic job market. While the author gives outspoken advice about the struggles of the job market, particularly for women, she also implicitly argues for the importance of hiding one’s class. She wrote about clothing and makeup and speaking patterns in women. Around the time I read this book, I realized that I, for a lack of a better term, code “white trash.” I have bad teeth, frequently say “ya’ll” and “how come,” and have a habit of running around South Philadelphia in a Dale Earnhardt Jr. t-shirt. It is one thing to have your hometown judged by your peers, but it is quite another to realize that qualities you possess, habits born of a lifetime that you don’t even realize you have, make you read as unqualified or unfit for your chosen profession.

But you can’t go home either, as they say. The more formal education I acquired, the larger the gap between my family and I became. My parents are incredibly proud of me and have never been anything other than supportive. But everyone from cousins to former employers have insinuated that I am arrogant because I left my small town for the city and enrolled in a Ph.D program. Why couldn’t I get a real job in the Harley Factory? What could you even do with a history Ph.D anyway? And most common of all, was I ever coming home? Slowly I realized the answer to that question had to be no.

Coming home still feels like a relief, a break from a life of pretending. But very gradually, my life has become very different from that of my family and old friends. We no longer watch the same TV or drink the same beer or read the same books. It takes a good week to get acclimated to the Folgers coffee my mom still buys. And many of my friends have no frame of reference for my chosen career, having never gone to college or even finished high school themselves. And sometimes my liberal and quasi-socialist opinions run up against those of the people in my hometown. How can I contest their sometimes racist, homophobic, or anti-intellectual opinions without confirming their stereotypes about who I have become, an elitist snob from the city?

H/T to Rick McGinnis for the link. “Except for the use of the voguish word “microaggression,” this resonates strongly with what I’ve seen (and lived.) That in-between feeling, of never quite fitting in where you’ve come from or where you are now. Class is a powerful thing, and in my experience Americans have a hard time talking about it. (And Canadians only marginally less so.)”

August 3, 2016

QotD: The lure of “new” old art

Filed under: Books, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

What is it about stories like these [the discovery of “lost” artistic masterworks] that we find so unfailingly seductive? No doubt the Antiques Roadshow mentality is part of it. All of us love to suppose that the dusty canvas that Aunt Tillie left to us in her will is in fact an old master whose sale will make us rich beyond the dreams of avarice. And I’m sure that the fast-growing doubts surrounding Go Set a Watchman (which were well summarized in a Feb. 16 Washington Post story bearing the biting title of “To Shill a Mockingbird”) have pumped up its news value considerably.

But I smell something else in play. I suspect that for all its seeming popularity — as measured by such indexes as museum attendance — there is a continuing and pervasive unease with modern art among the public at large, a sinking feeling that no matter how much time they spend looking, reading or listening, they’ll never quite get the hang of it. As a result, they feel a powerful longing for “new” work by artists of the past.

To be sure, most ordinary folks like at least some modern art, but they gravitate more willingly to traditional fare. Just as “Our Town” (whose form, lest we forget, was ultramodern in 1938) is more popular than “Waiting for Godot,” so, too, are virtually all of our successful “modern” novels essentially traditional in style and subject matter. In some fields, domestic architecture in particular, midcentury modernism is still a source of widespread disquiet, while in others, like classical music and dance, the average audience member does little more than tolerate it.

Terry Teachout, “The lure of ‘new’ old art”, About Last Night, 2015-02-27.

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