Practical to a Fault, Reprise

As a follow up to Monday’s post on the arts, and in light of KameCon folding on Vic Mignogna, here’s a guest post from the vaults by author Rawle Nyanzi about the Conservative tendency to dismiss art as somehow “not real”.

Rawle Nyanzi picks up from my previous post on the continued failures of conservatism with his theory on why conservatives have totally abdicated their former dominance in the arts.

Mainstream conservatives are too practical, and this is why they ignore the arts.

The US conservative ethos can be summed up as: Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Make money to support your family and improve your lifestyle. Handouts are shameful. In following this ethos, they select careers with a practical application that would get them earning right away. It’s not bad advice; you need money to live, and more money is better, for bills need to be paid. With this conventional mindset, conservatives relentlessly focus on “what works,” emphasizing careers like engineering, resource extraction, skilled trades, and other things of that nature. Since these are skills immediately useful to society, conservatives have a reputation of “getting it done.”

And it’s this exact temperament that makes them unsuited for the world of art — and by this, I mean all forms of artistic expression, not merely paintings or installations.

Art is not immediately useful; it neither grows your food nor supplies your energy. Except for a handful of megastars, art is low-paid. Most artists rely on either a job or on other people to support them in their endeavors; “don’t quit your day job” is a cliche for a reason, as is “starving artist.” It requires the mind to break with conventional modes of thinking and spend much time speculating on bizarre possibilities. Art requires one to focus on emotion.

This is as far from the conservative mindset as one can get.

As a result, conservatives do not view the arts as particularly important; to them, it feels like a useless indulgence. To the liberal (whether SJW or not), the arts pose no psychological obstacle since their self-concept does not derive from accumulating wealth, being the hardest worker, or having a conventional family life. They’re fine with being supported if that’s what it takes. They’re fine with making less money if that’s what it takes. They’re fine with not getting married or having children.

Thus liberals have the psychological advantage for art. Thus liberals put in the work to become successful at it. Thus liberals shape popular culture through it.

Though art appears useless, it is quite real — every bit as real as anything conservatives prefer to deal with. People love to engage with it to relax or to gain some emotional thrill, and such things are highly addictive. The small buildup of every little piece of art over time eventually shifts the culture. Though most entertainment is chosen, the mere availability of high-quality works can brighten someone’s day. People like being entertained.

And few conservatives provide this entertainment because they consider art to be beneath them.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? Conservatives avoid going into art, then they complain that all the art is liberal. If conservatives are to make any headway in the world of art, they have to let go of their doubts and do what they do best: get to work and get it done.

No one reads think tank papers for fun.

Rawle is on to something, here. To clarify, I think that contemporary conservatives’ temperamental aversion to the arts isn’t natural, but is a rather recent ideological development. After all, the days when most movie studios, and even major comic book companies, were controlled by what would now be considered arch-conservatives, are within the living memory of any American over 60.

But the question remains: how did conservatives let their cultural hegemony slip through their fingers? I’m convinced that certain axioms of their philosophy made this reversal of fortune inevitable.

Each of these positions is precisely backwards. Economics is downstream from culture. Speculative reason has primacy over practical reason, because practical reason can’t explain which of the two is preferable. Leisure is the end purpose of work; not wasting time when you aren’t working.
Modern conservatism has sidelined speculative reason and leisure, and without these there can be no culture.

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