“For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.”—C.S. Lewis, “The Abolition of Man”
Taste is often regarded as an autonomous matter. In art, it is a balance between our sensitivity to the form of the thing itself, and response as shaped by our own experience.
Taste is both trained and confers personal meaning. One’s attention to the intricacies and nuances of taste often reflects the intuitive responses in one’s ability to relate it to inherent truths about ourselves and how we view our place in society.
What if that perception is skewed so far as to be rejected by those who don’t share our tastes and, by extension, our beliefs? How about when objectivity is seen a barrier to equality, or equity? Not unrelated to the emotionally insipid conformity of conscience, society suffers from supplanting truth for taste, reality for fables, and beauty for destruction.
History has bookmarked in the great works of literature, art, architecture, and language how we see ourselves reflected in the aesthetic world and what it means to fit in its hierarchies. There have always been taste-making experts: those who set the scale of values on which we learn to judge the good art from the bad.
The more we appreciate the mastery of a trade, the more we learn to appreciate the fruit of such passion. But now having a provisional standard equates to a hostile takeover of truth in its stead.
In his book, “Of the Standard of Taste,” the philosopher David Hume makes two points: “When the critic has no delicacy, he judges without any distinction, and is only affected by the grosser and more palpable qualities of the object: The finer touches pass unnoticed and disregarded… Though men of delicate taste be rare, they are easily to be distinguished in society by the soundness of their understanding, and the superiority of their faculties above the rest of mankind.”
We are in a crisis in which we have an overpopulation of indelicate critics, and a lack of intellectual courage in those of delicate taste. Society built such tolerance for the abstract that we no longer put meaningful importance on utility nor the necessity of fact.
Why herald equality of opportunity when it is easier to justify failure through alleging systemic racism? Why point out how far American society has in race relations, integration, and equality when it is more convenient to use the crutch of inequality to pit groups against each other in the name of preserving political power? Why admit that decades of ivory-tower conservative intellectualism have resulted in the reawakening of a working-class uprising when one can claim the mantle of moral superiority and direct blame at the rhetoric of a former president?
We have retreated so far into our castes that elites cast any objection to their gaslighting as an insidious revolt instead of the plebes trying to reclaim our seat at the table in the marketplace of ideas. Objective reality is no longer the anchor to which we can moor our understanding of each other, ourselves, history, even our future. Reality is now a zero-sum game in which winners and losers are defined by the fickle trends of a system of group identity.
Failure to adhere to the abstract concept of someone’s personal “lived experience” or identify them by their preferred pronouns can brand someone problematic. Affirming the original meaning of the U.S. Constitution; teaching the facts of slavery, Jim Crow, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the roots of the Civil War; debating transgenderism and body dysmorphia; or speaking against child sexualization and politicization are all grounds for being accused of not just being intolerant, but for denying someone else’s right to his own reality.
It is a dangerous cliff off which to fall, and the trip is fatal. So the line between matters of subjectivity and truth are blurred into nonexistence.
The intellectual institutions that in previous decades incubated the young minds who craved a deeper understanding of the world are now whorehouses of indoctrination. Instead of sex being the currency, it is prestige and power. Elite institutions’ ideology has trickled down to poison the wells of preparatory and grade schools.
Arbiters of a reshaped reality are abusing their power as perceived paragons of knowledge to imbue their ideological viewpoints—not to debate the merits of one’s taste, but to subvert truth and cement an alternate reality. Critical race theory is so difficult to combat not only because it is entrenched in the narrative of an illiberal education system, but because the political left has made the language abstruse and elusive. It can mean whatever the left regards as the defender of their perceived history.
The manipulation of language is the crux of regaining reality. Right now, we are on defense. We see language manipulation in the Summer of Riots being rebranded “civil unrest” or “a protest for justice.”
Looting is justified as reparation. Citywide destruction is mostly peaceful demonstrating. Infrastructure is everything, or nothing. Silence is violence and words are violence. We are not to trust our own eyes, but the twisted tongues of ideologues whose loyalties are to the lies they ceaselessly wave about like Don Quixote and his lance, being forever the hero in a story of their own making.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his “Essays” series, “Intellect and intellection signify to the common ear consideration of abstract truth. The considerations of time and place, of you and me, of profit and hurt tyrannize over most men’s minds.” We are battling about reality. It is the last stop before we have surrendered the reins of our history to an unbridled horse in the wilderness.
It’s a path we cannot steer, a trail without a beginning or end. The generations that follow will only have the destruction of ideas and conformity of thought necessary for a reconstructed reality as their measurement of being.
Moral proclivity will favor the most powerful tribe. Political sides will win their affected loyalists with language. They will use it to identify their leaders, fight opposition, and establish moral authority. Their selective vocabulary defies the reality of those who are subjected to it: Latinx, systemic racism, privilege, personal pronouns, Western canon, religious truths, inherent human value—the sliding scale of control through perception and disavowing reality swallows each generation more vociferously than the next.
To hold a belief in the traditional sense—to defy the ideologies continuously churning tranquility and the sacredness of reality—is to deny someone else the alleged right to his reality. It will become the pinnacle of hate crimes. We are fast approaching the time we cannot elude this zero-sum reality from suffusing into an already fractured society.
The ugliness and pettiness that drive people apart, including the focus on superficial characteristics, leave us clamoring for truth, beauty, and objective reality. It is the oasis in a Lawrence-esque desert, the resting spot that nourishes the soul and tenders the heart. It is grace, honesty, and the type of stoic strength that comes from knowing the pain of life and nevertheless pursuing it to its fullest.
Let us not turn from a trickling spigot, but double our effort to open it and give life to all who seek to quench their thirst.
This article originally appeared on the author’s Substack, and we republish it, edited, with permission.