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Beauty has become our enemy We are being punished for desiring the forbidden

We will never stop seeking beauty (Calvin Klein)

We will never stop seeking beauty (Calvin Klein)


December 19, 2022   6 mins

I was walking through the chaos of Times Square recently when, in search of some minor relief, I reflexively raised my head and focused on a space in the middle distance where I have been conditioned to expect the calming sight of beautiful young bodies in white underwear, courtesy of Calvin Klein. The image that struck me had the familiar soothing grey tones of the company’s distinctive neo-Hellenistic ad campaigns, pioneered by the photographer Bruce Weber. By then, I had stopped walking, as my brain was fully occupied with the futile activity of trying to erase what I had seen: two miserable-looking people of quasi-indeterminate gender, their middle-aged bellies spilling over the elastic of their underwear.

The joke was on me, I thought. Or maybe the joke was on Calvin Klein. Faced with a grotesque sight that I could just as easily have viewed in my own bathroom mirror, I resolved to eat less and exercise more often — and to stop buying Calvins.

But was the billboard actually a joke? On reflection, I had my doubts. If there is one aesthetic experience that defines the present, it is the feeling of being under more or less constant attack by the anti-beauty impulse — the kind of deliberate ugliness that I saw on the billboard. Examples of this style of defacement are everywhere, and particularly in commercial ad campaigns, from Calvin Klein ads to the cover of Sports Illustrated. Their omnipresence suggests that something more radical is afoot than an attempt to expand beauty standards by, say, showing us that men and women of different races, genders and sexual preferences might all partake of a common, more inclusive set of ideals. There is in fact an overriding difference between appreciating the beauty of men and women of different races and physical types, which at this point in history seems like a lesson that adequately-educated children learn in grade school, and asserting that a grossly overweight woman on a motorised chair — as featured on another Calvin Klein billboard — is a beauty object. The former expands and enriches a common ideal of beauty; the latter says that beauty doesn’t exist, shouldn’t exist, isn’t important, is the enemy of virtuous behavior and thought.

The anti-beauty impulse is iconoclastic, not in the playful mid-20th-century sense, but in the literal sense of destroying icons. It is dour, tight-lipped and totalising. Sex is forbidden, as are desire, playfulness, and pleasure. What’s left is the feeling of someone spitting in your face and forbidding you from wiping it off. The aim of such gestures is not to expand anyone’s aesthetic. It is to punish you for being attracted to what is now forbidden.

Iconoclasm has its own history. A few years ago, I visited John Calvin’s church in Geneva, whose brutalist interior was achieved by smashing the statues that had once been inside. I am not a Catholic and have only a passing acquaintance with the glories of Renaissance art, but still, it was hard not to feel the destructive force that had been unleashed in the interior of what had once been the city’s largest cathedral, even as a children’s choir sang hymns in the background. As the authors of that particular bout of heady vandalism no doubt intended, it was not a particularly peaceful or pleasant experience. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

The idea that destruction should be pursued programmatically, as a virtue, with beauty as the enemy, is what separates puritanism from punk, an aggressive aesthetic that rejected prevailing standards of beauty and other norms and instead sought to release energy by smashing things. Punk was a studiously primitive expression of the life-force. The Calvinist vandals of Geneva, like their latter-day successors in the Taliban, sought to repress the life-force by denying the validity of any experience or standard outside their own fixed notions of virtue.

The assault on beauty that we are seeing today is more puritan than punk; its authors defend their actions as expressions of the millenarian urgency of their supposedly secular beliefs. When climate activists deface paintings by Monet, Klimpt, Vermeer, Picasso, Van Gogh and others, they are not merely attacking paintings; they are saving the planet. Activists in the United States who tear down sculptures memorialising Confederate war dead are not merely attacking works of art, or rejecting the achievement of peace between warring sectional armies; they are posing as warriors locked in a death-struggle with racism and white supremacy. Putting photographs of overweight women, or trans women, on the covers of men’s magazines is said to be a way of fighting misogyny or saving trans lives, even as it is also obviously a way of expressing contempt for the readers of those magazines and the universe of desire they inhabit.

The motivation behind these acts would be recognisable to the inhabitants of Calvin’s Geneva: to attack images and objects considered by others to be beautiful or sacred. Why beauty should find itself the target of a culture-wide rage for destruction is a question to which no single answer is likely to suffice. A short list of such candidates might include: widespread feelings of misery and powerlessness caused by rampant inequality; the disillusioning reach and effect of new technologies; and the desire to build a better world, save the planet, and put an end, once and for all, to racism, sexism, homophobia, misogyny and other barriers to equality.

A more sweeping answer can be found in the Russian science-fiction novel We, written nearly a century ago by Yevgeny Zamyatin. We is set in a future utopia run by engineers whose rage for equality mediated by algorithms would be familiar to many of today’s puritanical activists. The novel is presented as the diary of a state mathematician named D-503, who falls in love with a woman named I-330, whose particular combination of black eyes, white skin, and black hair strike him as beautiful. D-503’s feelings of attraction for I-330, and his desire for an exclusive relationship with her, in turn draw him into a conspiracy against “the Only State”. Zamyatin’s totalising utopia is a centralised surveillance state governed according to a highly-advanced mathematics of happiness incarnated in the Integral, a giant computing machine/spaceship that will soon “force into the yoke of reason other unknown beings that inhabit other planets, perhaps still in a wild state of freedom”.

Love has been banned by the Only State as inherently discriminatory and unjust. Sex has not. According to the Lex Sexualis, the government sex code: “Each number has a right towards every other number as a sex object.” Citizens are issued ration books of sex tickets. Once both numbers sign the ticket, they are permitted to spend a “sex hour” together and to lower the shades in their glass apartments, becoming temporarily invisible to surveillance, which is how the romance between D-503 and I-330 begins.

We is chiefly known today in the West as the inspiration for Orwell’s most famous anti-utopian fiction, 1984. Orwell’s reading of We was heavily coloured by his revulsion for both the fascist and communist real-world versions of the one-party state, which he had come to loathe during the Spanish Civil War. “The guiding principle of the State is that happiness and freedom are incompatible,” Orwell wrote in his 1946 review of We. “Now the Single State has restored [mankinds’s] happiness by removing his freedom.”

Yet key aspects of Zamyatin’s book puzzled Orwell. “Writing at about the time of Lenin’s death, he cannot have had the Stalin dictatorship in mind, and conditions in Russia in 1923 were not such that anyone would revolt against them on the ground that life was becoming too safe and comfortable,” Orwell observed. “What Zamyatin seems to be aiming at is not any particular country,” he concluded, “but the implied aims of industrial civilization.”

Yes, but. If the opposition between happiness and freedom that Orwell found in We became the central theme of 1984, Zamyatin had introduced a third term, which he believed to be more revolutionary and also more inherently human than the desire for freedom: Beauty.

By eliminating freedom and all causes of inequality and envy, the Only State claimed to guarantee infinite happiness. The real threat to this ideal isn’t sexual envy, which is rampant in the Only State, or the existence of an invisible elite that in fact rules the city. It’s beauty. For D-503, dance is beautiful, mathematics is beautiful, and the contrast between I-330’s black eyes and black hair and white skin is beautiful. Beauty is the answer to D-503’s urgent question, “What is there beyond?”

The subjective human perception of beauty, Zamyatin argued, was not reconcilable with utilitarian calculations of social justice. Beauty is unequally distributed, and therefore manifestly unjust. At the same time, no one loses anything because someone or something outside themselves is considered beautiful by others. My perceptions of beauty in a person or a piece of music are entirely my own, yet at the same time they in no way preclude others from the same enjoyment; the enjoyment of beauty is therefore at the same time wildly unequal yet universally available.

Beauty, Zamyatin believed, was an inherently stubborn human force that is rooted in our biology, and therefore in external absolutes, like the mathematical ratios that determine D-503’s perceptions of the beauty of I-330’s face, which are at the same time both fixed and irrational. It is something real we perceive in the world, and not, or not merely, an arbitrary “construct” determined by power relations. The ultimate example of human un-freedom and un-reason, beauty is key to our humanity.

Human beings want what we want because we are human. Therefore, we will never stop seeking beauty, and will reject and destroy any attempt to reorder our desires according to the logic of machines. Machines can be programmed to weigh out exact measures of equality, but they can’t be programmed to feel what humans feel when looking at other humans in their underwear. Nor can machines feel envy, spite, or the impulse to desecrate things that other people find beautiful.

It is no accident, then, that in a moment when Zamyatin’s vision of a technologically-advanced society whose chief value is equality seems to be within our reach, that beauty would present itself as an obstacle to that vision — and as a primary target of egalitarian rage.


David Samuels is a writer who lives in upstate New York.


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Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
1 year ago

I enjoyed this. Thanks.

I was reminded of Peter Whittle on the New Culture Forum channel on YouTube, interviewing the artist Jonathan Myles-Lea.

He recounted an anecdote, of some ten years back, of a visit to Rome with a friend and that friend’s friend, a lefty feminist academic. She was miserable, and spread it around, unable to enjoy anything. She didn’t want to see Roman ruins or artefacts in museums because of their patriarchal associations. She didn’t want to visit churches, cathedrals, and basilicas because she was an atheist who actually wanted religion destroyed and outlawed. Further, she didn’t want to go to art galleries because she disapproved of the subject-matter of all classical artworks.

Myles-Lea tried suggesting that if she disliked what this art and architecture represented, that perhaps she could appreciate the talent in the execution, the beauty on display. Her response, in full seriousness, was, “Beauty is fascist”.

It seems that this ideological impetus, bubbling away in the more extreme corners of radical leftism, is coming to fruition.

Last edited 1 year ago by Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
1 year ago

I enjoyed this. Thanks.

I was reminded of Peter Whittle on the New Culture Forum channel on YouTube, interviewing the artist Jonathan Myles-Lea.

He recounted an anecdote, of some ten years back, of a visit to Rome with a friend and that friend’s friend, a lefty feminist academic. She was miserable, and spread it around, unable to enjoy anything. She didn’t want to see Roman ruins or artefacts in museums because of their patriarchal associations. She didn’t want to visit churches, cathedrals, and basilicas because she was an atheist who actually wanted religion destroyed and outlawed. Further, she didn’t want to go to art galleries because she disapproved of the subject-matter of all classical artworks.

Myles-Lea tried suggesting that if she disliked what this art and architecture represented, that perhaps she could appreciate the talent in the execution, the beauty on display. Her response, in full seriousness, was, “Beauty is fascist”.

It seems that this ideological impetus, bubbling away in the more extreme corners of radical leftism, is coming to fruition.

Last edited 1 year ago by Sharon Overy
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

I found this essay interesting enough to google the essayist, who i’d not heard of. But far from being unheard, he’s a contributor to the New York Times magazine. Is the editorial policy of the magazine different from the NYT? Perhaps our US readers can advise.
I pose the question, because there seems to be an inherent antipathy to the wokegeist in this essay. Beauty is something i think about a lot, or should i say feel a lot. That particular frisson which comes when one’s eyes meet a beautiful woman/man (depending on preference); or that particular moment during a sunrise/sunset when all life’s possibilities become manifest simply can’t be denied or indeed replicated in art.
Art can, of course, produce a different type of beauty. But the essayist speaks of an advertising campaign, a deliberate negation of beauty, and whilst there can be an artistic attempt to reveal a kind of beauty in ugliness or dissonance, it remains confined to the realm of art, as a portrayal of the human condition. In those terms, something other than physical beauty is involved; for instance, the beauty of striving to overcome hardship or ill-fortune. There is also beauty in those who live with contentment in whatever body nature has bestowed on them, or even which someone seeks to bestow upon themselves.
Nevertheless, beauty is essentially life-affirming. If there’s an anti-beauty campaign afoot, it’s anti-life.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I’m an NYT subscriber and I’ve never come across work by this author before. Given the sprawling vastness of their website these days, that doesn’t mean much, but I think he’d have a hard time publishing something of such generalized anti-woke-itude there, even if he were one of their resident conservative columnists, such as David Brooks (moderate) or Ross Douthat (conservative).
I don’t agree, as Samuels opines, that actual equality is either Our Society’s “chief value” or “within our reach”. There is a missing distinction–in my view– between aesthetic flattening (“all is equally beautiful/ugly”) and a revolt against instances of extreme material inequality or what’s perceived as a rigged system. And either version is well-contested by opposing views.
Something else that weakened my own engagement with this piece was the author’s mention of any Calvin Klein ads as an example of noteworthy beauty. I agree that young in-shape adults are more appealing than the schlubs, but still, why select this as somehow important?
Intriguing points of resonance with We though I think the enforced promiscuity is much more strongly imitated in Huxley’s 1932 dystopian classic Brave New World. I do think Samuels makes a strong point concerning strains of extremism, ancient or modern, Calvinist or pansexual: they tend to deny or destroy beauty. To regard the human form or soul as–with few exceptions–damnably ugly, bears an inverse connection to the idea that we’re all ever-so-beautiful in every way (unless you dissent from that article of faith).

Last edited 1 year ago by AJ Mac
Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

“why select this as somehow important?”

You’re right, it’s not important. But it’s there as a sign of how business tries to manipulate through images. Beauty, like everything else, has been commodified for sales and consequently become a cliche. Because of that they need something different to hang their product on, something to break through the glut of images people are exposed to and become immune to. As much as they might try to sell the idea that the human body is beautiful in all its varied forms, they don’t believe that. They pretend to glorify the human body but all they’re doing is trying to jumpstart your attention by doing the unexpected. Sometimes they get it horribly wrong, like the recent Balenciaga campaign. If they really cared about beauty they’d remove all their billboards.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

I agree there’s a larger, serious conversation about mercantile manipulation of beauty, which you outline well. But that’s not well addressed by comparing new Calvin Klein ads with old, as if the older underwear pics represent some pure or real standard of beauty, rather than a different manipulated image most people would prefer to look at, even these days. Still, Samuels wrote an article, not a dissertation.
Is it a fair generalization to say that more ads try to sell the perceived values of target customers back at them in recent years? Things like status, sex appeal, good taste, and even wholesomeness have been commodified since before any of us or anyone we’ve ever met was born, but now there’s often an even flimsier idea of “commerce ethics” whereby purchasing one mega-brand of soap (or whatever) aligns the consumer with the correct values and is implied to “buy goodness”. Not brand new as an advertising strategy I’m sure, but worse now?
Resistance is not futile. However, most of us fancy moderns are inundated by ads and other market-based manipulations that are difficult to parse while soaking wet.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

“Things like status, sex appeal, good taste, and even wholesomeness have been commodified â€œ
Interesting point. As you say, today status can be obtained, not with your car, or clothes, or address, as it has in the past, but by virtue signalling your position on the environment, gender, climate change and so on. Those who live in expensive suburbs are very adept at this and even vote accordingly. I think the “commerce ethics” is what corporations practice, within the company with staff having to adapt, and in its branding. The products one buys affirms the consumers’ moral goodness. That’s a very flimsy state to be living in when important decisions are to be made, like raising children, education, health or science.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

“Things like status, sex appeal, good taste, and even wholesomeness have been commodified â€œ
Interesting point. As you say, today status can be obtained, not with your car, or clothes, or address, as it has in the past, but by virtue signalling your position on the environment, gender, climate change and so on. Those who live in expensive suburbs are very adept at this and even vote accordingly. I think the “commerce ethics” is what corporations practice, within the company with staff having to adapt, and in its branding. The products one buys affirms the consumers’ moral goodness. That’s a very flimsy state to be living in when important decisions are to be made, like raising children, education, health or science.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

I agree there’s a larger, serious conversation about mercantile manipulation of beauty, which you outline well. But that’s not well addressed by comparing new Calvin Klein ads with old, as if the older underwear pics represent some pure or real standard of beauty, rather than a different manipulated image most people would prefer to look at, even these days. Still, Samuels wrote an article, not a dissertation.
Is it a fair generalization to say that more ads try to sell the perceived values of target customers back at them in recent years? Things like status, sex appeal, good taste, and even wholesomeness have been commodified since before any of us or anyone we’ve ever met was born, but now there’s often an even flimsier idea of “commerce ethics” whereby purchasing one mega-brand of soap (or whatever) aligns the consumer with the correct values and is implied to “buy goodness”. Not brand new as an advertising strategy I’m sure, but worse now?
Resistance is not futile. However, most of us fancy moderns are inundated by ads and other market-based manipulations that are difficult to parse while soaking wet.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

“why select this as somehow important?”

You’re right, it’s not important. But it’s there as a sign of how business tries to manipulate through images. Beauty, like everything else, has been commodified for sales and consequently become a cliche. Because of that they need something different to hang their product on, something to break through the glut of images people are exposed to and become immune to. As much as they might try to sell the idea that the human body is beautiful in all its varied forms, they don’t believe that. They pretend to glorify the human body but all they’re doing is trying to jumpstart your attention by doing the unexpected. Sometimes they get it horribly wrong, like the recent Balenciaga campaign. If they really cared about beauty they’d remove all their billboards.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I think what’s behind this is that the reality of human beauty completely erases wokeism.

Racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia … All the shibboleths of the shouty people fade into complete insignificance against the discrimination based on physical attractiveness that we all practice every minute of every day and upon which no amount of ugly ads by Calvin Klein will have any impact at all.

It’s the final and utterly insurmountable barrier to equity that renders the entire ideology completely meaningless.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

I fully agree that many inherited qualities, including good looks, are dismissed as though irrelevant compared to the shibboleths you mentioned. Other mostly inherited traits that don’t enjoy “sacred protection” include intelligence, strength, and the character and status of one’s parents.
Yet I’d argue that attractiveness is still inflected by race and sex, for example being harder for an Asian man or African woman to achieve in Western cultures. In large measure, these biased standards have also been exported to and adopted by non-Western cultures. So I accept your main point but don’t think the “modish” categories of discrimination have been rendered “completely insignificant” by looks or any other less-regarded aspect of life’s uneven inheritance.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Your comment is very insightful, as is the essay by Samuels, although I’m not sure why he separates sexual beauty from artistic beauty.
I have only two linguistic problems, and they’re not as trivial as they might sound. First, your list should refer either to “sexism” (which includes both misogyny and misandry) or to “misogyny and misandry.” The latter is at least as pervasive and damaging as the former is but still “hidden in plain sight.” Second, both “homophobia” and “transphobia” refer to neurotic fear, which is not necessarily the explanation for opposition to these phenomena.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

There is no single more advantageous asset with which to be born than beauty and it not something that you cannot really start a movement to challenge.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago

I also think Huxley’s novel’s premise much closer to We than 1984. It’s likely Orwell knew both. I’ve wondered about the proximity of Zamyatin’s novel to the revolution as well. I assumed there must be something in the ferocious conformity requirements of Marxists that got him thinking along these lines.

As far as Calvin Klein’s campaign is concerned, good luck trying to outwit evolution. It’s the same foolishness as trying to flatten status heirarchies. And proximately it seems ironically foolish to try to convince it’s customers that looks don’t matter. Maybe they are hoping that their regular customers will do as this writer did and avert their eyes, but that the “schlubs” represent a new market opportunity.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago

I also think Huxley’s novel’s premise much closer to We than 1984. It’s likely Orwell knew both. I’ve wondered about the proximity of Zamyatin’s novel to the revolution as well. I assumed there must be something in the ferocious conformity requirements of Marxists that got him thinking along these lines.

As far as Calvin Klein’s campaign is concerned, good luck trying to outwit evolution. It’s the same foolishness as trying to flatten status heirarchies. And proximately it seems ironically foolish to try to convince it’s customers that looks don’t matter. Maybe they are hoping that their regular customers will do as this writer did and avert their eyes, but that the “schlubs” represent a new market opportunity.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Yes, agreed. And there has never ever been equality in our world. Not in humans, animals or reptiles and plants. To even imagine a time when all is equal is complete folly at best and delusional or destructive at worst.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

I fully agree that many inherited qualities, including good looks, are dismissed as though irrelevant compared to the shibboleths you mentioned. Other mostly inherited traits that don’t enjoy “sacred protection” include intelligence, strength, and the character and status of one’s parents.
Yet I’d argue that attractiveness is still inflected by race and sex, for example being harder for an Asian man or African woman to achieve in Western cultures. In large measure, these biased standards have also been exported to and adopted by non-Western cultures. So I accept your main point but don’t think the “modish” categories of discrimination have been rendered “completely insignificant” by looks or any other less-regarded aspect of life’s uneven inheritance.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Your comment is very insightful, as is the essay by Samuels, although I’m not sure why he separates sexual beauty from artistic beauty.
I have only two linguistic problems, and they’re not as trivial as they might sound. First, your list should refer either to “sexism” (which includes both misogyny and misandry) or to “misogyny and misandry.” The latter is at least as pervasive and damaging as the former is but still “hidden in plain sight.” Second, both “homophobia” and “transphobia” refer to neurotic fear, which is not necessarily the explanation for opposition to these phenomena.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

There is no single more advantageous asset with which to be born than beauty and it not something that you cannot really start a movement to challenge.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Yes, agreed. And there has never ever been equality in our world. Not in humans, animals or reptiles and plants. To even imagine a time when all is equal is complete folly at best and delusional or destructive at worst.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Interesting view. I think a dissection of this part of the article might be relevant:

“Beauty is unequally distributed, and therefore manifestly unjust. At the same time, no one loses anything because someone or something outside themselves is considered beautiful by others. My perceptions of beauty in a person or a piece of music are entirely my own, yet at the same time they in no way preclude others from the same enjoyment; the enjoyment of beauty is therefore at the same time wildly unequal yet universally available.”

The Woke attitiude to beauty seems to reject the notion that nobody loses if someone else is beautiful. If you believe, as the Woke do, that unequal distributions of power and privilege are inherently unjust, then it follows that the ugly and the plain DO in fact lose out from the existence of the beautiful. The efforts to beautify the unbeautiful through political activism therefore must require the confiscation of the aesthetic sense from us all as a precondition of any success.

As you say, it’s anti-life, but that apparently is no obstacle to the attempt.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I’m an NYT subscriber and I’ve never come across work by this author before. Given the sprawling vastness of their website these days, that doesn’t mean much, but I think he’d have a hard time publishing something of such generalized anti-woke-itude there, even if he were one of their resident conservative columnists, such as David Brooks (moderate) or Ross Douthat (conservative).
I don’t agree, as Samuels opines, that actual equality is either Our Society’s “chief value” or “within our reach”. There is a missing distinction–in my view– between aesthetic flattening (“all is equally beautiful/ugly”) and a revolt against instances of extreme material inequality or what’s perceived as a rigged system. And either version is well-contested by opposing views.
Something else that weakened my own engagement with this piece was the author’s mention of any Calvin Klein ads as an example of noteworthy beauty. I agree that young in-shape adults are more appealing than the schlubs, but still, why select this as somehow important?
Intriguing points of resonance with We though I think the enforced promiscuity is much more strongly imitated in Huxley’s 1932 dystopian classic Brave New World. I do think Samuels makes a strong point concerning strains of extremism, ancient or modern, Calvinist or pansexual: they tend to deny or destroy beauty. To regard the human form or soul as–with few exceptions–damnably ugly, bears an inverse connection to the idea that we’re all ever-so-beautiful in every way (unless you dissent from that article of faith).

Last edited 1 year ago by AJ Mac
Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I think what’s behind this is that the reality of human beauty completely erases wokeism.

Racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia … All the shibboleths of the shouty people fade into complete insignificance against the discrimination based on physical attractiveness that we all practice every minute of every day and upon which no amount of ugly ads by Calvin Klein will have any impact at all.

It’s the final and utterly insurmountable barrier to equity that renders the entire ideology completely meaningless.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Interesting view. I think a dissection of this part of the article might be relevant:

“Beauty is unequally distributed, and therefore manifestly unjust. At the same time, no one loses anything because someone or something outside themselves is considered beautiful by others. My perceptions of beauty in a person or a piece of music are entirely my own, yet at the same time they in no way preclude others from the same enjoyment; the enjoyment of beauty is therefore at the same time wildly unequal yet universally available.”

The Woke attitiude to beauty seems to reject the notion that nobody loses if someone else is beautiful. If you believe, as the Woke do, that unequal distributions of power and privilege are inherently unjust, then it follows that the ugly and the plain DO in fact lose out from the existence of the beautiful. The efforts to beautify the unbeautiful through political activism therefore must require the confiscation of the aesthetic sense from us all as a precondition of any success.

As you say, it’s anti-life, but that apparently is no obstacle to the attempt.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

I found this essay interesting enough to google the essayist, who i’d not heard of. But far from being unheard, he’s a contributor to the New York Times magazine. Is the editorial policy of the magazine different from the NYT? Perhaps our US readers can advise.
I pose the question, because there seems to be an inherent antipathy to the wokegeist in this essay. Beauty is something i think about a lot, or should i say feel a lot. That particular frisson which comes when one’s eyes meet a beautiful woman/man (depending on preference); or that particular moment during a sunrise/sunset when all life’s possibilities become manifest simply can’t be denied or indeed replicated in art.
Art can, of course, produce a different type of beauty. But the essayist speaks of an advertising campaign, a deliberate negation of beauty, and whilst there can be an artistic attempt to reveal a kind of beauty in ugliness or dissonance, it remains confined to the realm of art, as a portrayal of the human condition. In those terms, something other than physical beauty is involved; for instance, the beauty of striving to overcome hardship or ill-fortune. There is also beauty in those who live with contentment in whatever body nature has bestowed on them, or even which someone seeks to bestow upon themselves.
Nevertheless, beauty is essentially life-affirming. If there’s an anti-beauty campaign afoot, it’s anti-life.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
1 year ago

Woke ideology is bent on tearing down all social hierarchies and putting up new ones. Race, gender, sexual orientation: woke ideology has them all in its sights. But the world will not be a better place when these structures are torn down… history shows that during a revolution, one tyranny is simply replaced with another.

And yet this is not the main problem faced by woke ideology: the main problem is that once all social hierarchies are torn down, the natural ones will remain. And there is no stronger natural hierarchy more strict or more brutal than the one based on physical attractiveness.

This points to a disturbing conclusion: that hierarchies may be biologically programmed, and hence, that the whole woke crusade is built upon a false premise. I suspect that the proponents of woke ideology realise this at some deep level but instead of facing facts, they are, ostrich-like, placing their heads in the sand, and ignoring the salience of physical beauty, and ultimately, ignoring material reality as well.

Last edited 1 year ago by Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
1 year ago

Woke ideology is bent on tearing down all social hierarchies and putting up new ones. Race, gender, sexual orientation: woke ideology has them all in its sights. But the world will not be a better place when these structures are torn down… history shows that during a revolution, one tyranny is simply replaced with another.

And yet this is not the main problem faced by woke ideology: the main problem is that once all social hierarchies are torn down, the natural ones will remain. And there is no stronger natural hierarchy more strict or more brutal than the one based on physical attractiveness.

This points to a disturbing conclusion: that hierarchies may be biologically programmed, and hence, that the whole woke crusade is built upon a false premise. I suspect that the proponents of woke ideology realise this at some deep level but instead of facing facts, they are, ostrich-like, placing their heads in the sand, and ignoring the salience of physical beauty, and ultimately, ignoring material reality as well.

Last edited 1 year ago by Lennon Ó Náraigh
Rob N
Rob N
1 year ago

Interesting article. And very depressing. However please do not ever use the term transwomen. Those people are not in any sense women and so better for all of us if they are referred to as what they are gender dysphoric men or maybe just gender delusional men.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob N

One should be compassionate about gender dysphoria – it is real, intractable and distressing for those unlucky enough to be so afflicted – so I would suggest your first alternative label is a good idea, but not the second.

jmo
jmo
1 year ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Do they all suffer from it? I wonder. It often looks like enjoyment of a sexual fetish.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago
Reply to  jmo

Well yes, they do. Like anything else these days there’s a healthy number of frauds involved too, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a real thing.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago
Reply to  jmo

Well yes, they do. Like anything else these days there’s a healthy number of frauds involved too, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a real thing.

jmo
jmo
1 year ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Do they all suffer from it? I wonder. It often looks like enjoyment of a sexual fetish.

Laura Kelly
Laura Kelly
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob N

TIMs and TIFs work for me. Trans Identified Male and Trans Identified Female. With the added bonus of being easy to remember.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob N

One should be compassionate about gender dysphoria – it is real, intractable and distressing for those unlucky enough to be so afflicted – so I would suggest your first alternative label is a good idea, but not the second.

Laura Kelly
Laura Kelly
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob N

TIMs and TIFs work for me. Trans Identified Male and Trans Identified Female. With the added bonus of being easy to remember.

Rob N
Rob N
1 year ago

Interesting article. And very depressing. However please do not ever use the term transwomen. Those people are not in any sense women and so better for all of us if they are referred to as what they are gender dysphoric men or maybe just gender delusional men.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago

Advertising used to be about trying to get someone to buy their wares wasn’t it? Now it seems to be about Woke messaging, which is off putting to many.
Then some stray off towards Balenciaga style advertising designed to shock and prove that they are cutting edge in some way that only super cool and woke people can understand. In a much diluted Balenciaga theme, we now have a slightly creepy Gucci ad with Harry Styles dressed in a T-shirt with a pink teddy bear on it and a child’s mattress propped up against the wall. It is the Ha Ha Ha collection. Rolls eyes.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

“Advertising used to be about trying to get someone to buy their wares”
Advertising is about trying to create a particular attitude in the consumer towards a product or company. It’s not their intention to be woke. Some products have consumers who are woke, or research that leads them to think that. That makes it easy to reach them. But some think that by appearing to be woke they might widen their audience and bump up their profits. They’ll go whichever way the wind blows. The problem is that advertising has a powerful unconscious affect on people and the more they see of woke sentiments the more they’re likely to see it as a social reality and accept it. The irony is that woke is Marxist and Capitalism is to be defeated. Something has to give.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

Maybe you are misunderstanding me. They are speaking to the woke and they are trying to sell their wares to the the woke but are flirting with disaster as the culture wars are so very divisive. Much more so than the few squabbles that broke out when CK models might have shown a bit too much flesh – the very worst being the young Brooke Shields in her CK jeans. It was over sexualised, but was storm in a teacup in comparison to what goes on now. Balenciaga is such a recent lesson that I’m surprised Gucci are dabbling with the same theme. Most social liberals (I am one), are fairly tolerant, but the flirting with paedo stuff just crosses the line. And furthermore, I don’t want to see ads of some fat people in ugly underwear.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

I’m not sure what the misunderstanding is.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago

Crosses what line? You acknowledge being “socially liberal”, so how can there even be a line?

MĂŽnica
MĂŽnica
1 year ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

You believe socially liberal people have no standards of behaviour? Anything goes?

MĂŽnica
MĂŽnica
1 year ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

You believe socially liberal people have no standards of behaviour? Anything goes?

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

I’m not sure what the misunderstanding is.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago

Crosses what line? You acknowledge being “socially liberal”, so how can there even be a line?

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

“Some products have consumers who are woke, or research that leads them to think that. That makes it easy to reach them.”

And which creates a strong likelihood that if they’ll believe in Wokery, they’re stupid enough to believe anything else you might tell them.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Well not so stupid, because they won’t go against the tide. So they won’t believe in just anything. But it’s probably fair to say that they don’t think too much about anything. But it must be nice to believe you’re creating a better world by buying a pair of underpants you saw on a fat guy on a billboard.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brett H
Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Well not so stupid, because they won’t go against the tide. So they won’t believe in just anything. But it’s probably fair to say that they don’t think too much about anything. But it must be nice to believe you’re creating a better world by buying a pair of underpants you saw on a fat guy on a billboard.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brett H
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

Maybe you are misunderstanding me. They are speaking to the woke and they are trying to sell their wares to the the woke but are flirting with disaster as the culture wars are so very divisive. Much more so than the few squabbles that broke out when CK models might have shown a bit too much flesh – the very worst being the young Brooke Shields in her CK jeans. It was over sexualised, but was storm in a teacup in comparison to what goes on now. Balenciaga is such a recent lesson that I’m surprised Gucci are dabbling with the same theme. Most social liberals (I am one), are fairly tolerant, but the flirting with paedo stuff just crosses the line. And furthermore, I don’t want to see ads of some fat people in ugly underwear.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

“Some products have consumers who are woke, or research that leads them to think that. That makes it easy to reach them.”

And which creates a strong likelihood that if they’ll believe in Wokery, they’re stupid enough to believe anything else you might tell them.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

“Advertising used to be about trying to get someone to buy their wares”
Advertising is about trying to create a particular attitude in the consumer towards a product or company. It’s not their intention to be woke. Some products have consumers who are woke, or research that leads them to think that. That makes it easy to reach them. But some think that by appearing to be woke they might widen their audience and bump up their profits. They’ll go whichever way the wind blows. The problem is that advertising has a powerful unconscious affect on people and the more they see of woke sentiments the more they’re likely to see it as a social reality and accept it. The irony is that woke is Marxist and Capitalism is to be defeated. Something has to give.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago

Advertising used to be about trying to get someone to buy their wares wasn’t it? Now it seems to be about Woke messaging, which is off putting to many.
Then some stray off towards Balenciaga style advertising designed to shock and prove that they are cutting edge in some way that only super cool and woke people can understand. In a much diluted Balenciaga theme, we now have a slightly creepy Gucci ad with Harry Styles dressed in a T-shirt with a pink teddy bear on it and a child’s mattress propped up against the wall. It is the Ha Ha Ha collection. Rolls eyes.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago

We’re being deliberately inured to ugliness to further dehumanize us (you might call it Marilyn Munster Syndrome). Hideous architecture is everywhere, “art” no one would ever willingly pay for litters our public spaces, people have never been so obese and slovenly – but is it working? Well, compare the crowds at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to those at the Modern. If you go to the Modern, you’ll have a very quiet afternoon, so no, not yet.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago

I wouldn’t worry about it. The Louvre and the Vatican museum have long cues every day. When that changes, it’s time to worry.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago

I wouldn’t worry about it. The Louvre and the Vatican museum have long cues every day. When that changes, it’s time to worry.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago

We’re being deliberately inured to ugliness to further dehumanize us (you might call it Marilyn Munster Syndrome). Hideous architecture is everywhere, “art” no one would ever willingly pay for litters our public spaces, people have never been so obese and slovenly – but is it working? Well, compare the crowds at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to those at the Modern. If you go to the Modern, you’ll have a very quiet afternoon, so no, not yet.

Disputatio Ineptias
Disputatio Ineptias
1 year ago

If Dostoevsky was correct, that beauty will save the world, and if those who say that beauty is the pathway to truth and goodness are also correct, reflecting on the nature of the transcendentals, then the destruction of beauty can be the only way to achieve the goal of total disruption of order and achieve totalitarian control.

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago

Or Keats:

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago

Or Keats:

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know

Disputatio Ineptias
Disputatio Ineptias
1 year ago

If Dostoevsky was correct, that beauty will save the world, and if those who say that beauty is the pathway to truth and goodness are also correct, reflecting on the nature of the transcendentals, then the destruction of beauty can be the only way to achieve the goal of total disruption of order and achieve totalitarian control.

Iris C
Iris C
1 year ago

It is a truism that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Fortunately for procreation and the good of humanity, the beholder comes in all shapes and sizes.

Iris C
Iris C
1 year ago

It is a truism that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Fortunately for procreation and the good of humanity, the beholder comes in all shapes and sizes.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago

Interesting essay but I feel that it misses an important related point, which is that it probably doesn’t matter whether modern activists are right or wrong in their ambition to redefine beauty and make it inclusive, because that isn’t what they really care about: they care about the power that must be gained by themselves in the process of trying.

Why is this important? Well, the difference is to be seen after the experiment has failed by the standards of any rational observer (because nobody will actually alter their own preferences in such a way to adhere to political fashion), but will be declared a success by the people now in charge of everyone else’s freedom to act upon their own aesthetic instincts. In other words, we’ll know it’s all bollocks, but we’ll be too scared to say so.

That’s what these would-be control-freak architects of the minutiae of our lives call success.

Last edited 1 year ago by John Riordan
John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago

Interesting essay but I feel that it misses an important related point, which is that it probably doesn’t matter whether modern activists are right or wrong in their ambition to redefine beauty and make it inclusive, because that isn’t what they really care about: they care about the power that must be gained by themselves in the process of trying.

Why is this important? Well, the difference is to be seen after the experiment has failed by the standards of any rational observer (because nobody will actually alter their own preferences in such a way to adhere to political fashion), but will be declared a success by the people now in charge of everyone else’s freedom to act upon their own aesthetic instincts. In other words, we’ll know it’s all bollocks, but we’ll be too scared to say so.

That’s what these would-be control-freak architects of the minutiae of our lives call success.

Last edited 1 year ago by John Riordan
Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago

“At the same time, no one loses anything because someone or something outside themselves is considered beautiful by others.”

Clearly the author missed the whole ‘self-esteem’ thing.

“My perceptions of beauty in a person or a piece of music are entirely my own”

Would marketing experts agree with this?

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago

“At the same time, no one loses anything because someone or something outside themselves is considered beautiful by others.”

Clearly the author missed the whole ‘self-esteem’ thing.

“My perceptions of beauty in a person or a piece of music are entirely my own”

Would marketing experts agree with this?

Paul K
Paul K
1 year ago

Excellent essay. Thank you!

Paul K
Paul K
1 year ago

Excellent essay. Thank you!

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

I’d be interested to know what someone blind from birth thinks of beauty.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

Beauty that can be seen is the most obvious, but not the only source – there is beauty in sounds/music, for instance.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

That’s true, but it seems to me that vision, of all the senses, gives us the broadest sense of what’s going on around us. There may be beauty in music when exposed to what satisfies you, there may be beauty in the laughter of children, but you need to be around them to hear it. Visual beauty can appear at any moment in daily life, from a beam of light to the colour of a woman’s hair.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

You need to make friends with a blind person. Some of them are more aware of their surroundings than the sighted.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

I’m not disagreeing with that, I’m just making a point about our visual sense. As to your following comment I also acknowledged that. Unfortunately to take this any further leads us into the definition of beauty which would be a mistake. However, Klein knowingly playing with ideas on beauty is no mistake and it’s classic woke territory that you can’t argue with. As Lesley Van Reenen suggested, in playing this game with their branding they contribute to the culture wars. They don’t care who’s right or wrong but they expand the woke argument when they do it. Someone said beauty is life affirming, but woke can even damage that in their own interests. Beauty can quite easily be turned around as fascist.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

I’m not disagreeing with that, I’m just making a point about our visual sense. As to your following comment I also acknowledged that. Unfortunately to take this any further leads us into the definition of beauty which would be a mistake. However, Klein knowingly playing with ideas on beauty is no mistake and it’s classic woke territory that you can’t argue with. As Lesley Van Reenen suggested, in playing this game with their branding they contribute to the culture wars. They don’t care who’s right or wrong but they expand the woke argument when they do it. Someone said beauty is life affirming, but woke can even damage that in their own interests. Beauty can quite easily be turned around as fascist.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

You need to make friends with a blind person. Some of them are more aware of their surroundings than the sighted.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

That’s true, but it seems to me that vision, of all the senses, gives us the broadest sense of what’s going on around us. There may be beauty in music when exposed to what satisfies you, there may be beauty in the laughter of children, but you need to be around them to hear it. Visual beauty can appear at any moment in daily life, from a beam of light to the colour of a woman’s hair.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

They would likely think of their favorite music as beautiful. Or the smell of a fragrant flower or the taste of a well-grilled and seasoned rib eye steak. Or perhaps the sound of sea birds on a beach and the warm tingling of the sun.

Laura Kelly
Laura Kelly
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

Blind people are well able to appreciate the beauty of sculpture and can become quite good sculptors.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Laura Kelly

Yes, I know that. For some reason some people here seem to think I’m suggesting the blind live without the idea of beauty.
My question was what do they think about beauty? That’s not saying they have no idea. As yet no one has addressed the question, whether blind or not.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Laura Kelly

Yes, I know that. For some reason some people here seem to think I’m suggesting the blind live without the idea of beauty.
My question was what do they think about beauty? That’s not saying they have no idea. As yet no one has addressed the question, whether blind or not.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

Beauty that can be seen is the most obvious, but not the only source – there is beauty in sounds/music, for instance.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

They would likely think of their favorite music as beautiful. Or the smell of a fragrant flower or the taste of a well-grilled and seasoned rib eye steak. Or perhaps the sound of sea birds on a beach and the warm tingling of the sun.

Laura Kelly
Laura Kelly
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

Blind people are well able to appreciate the beauty of sculpture and can become quite good sculptors.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

I’d be interested to know what someone blind from birth thinks of beauty.

Paula G
Paula G
1 year ago

And yet, Meghan is “stunning and brave,” to the young and woke. She will be our allowed portion of beauty, since AOC is not down with you wanting to sleep with her.
I am going to guess that Sam Bankman-Fried wears Calvin Klein, and that maybe the CK photographer sleeps with these models, as photographers in the past slept with theirs.

Paula G
Paula G
1 year ago

And yet, Meghan is “stunning and brave,” to the young and woke. She will be our allowed portion of beauty, since AOC is not down with you wanting to sleep with her.
I am going to guess that Sam Bankman-Fried wears Calvin Klein, and that maybe the CK photographer sleeps with these models, as photographers in the past slept with theirs.

Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago

Indeed. It’s yet another form of populism in action – hate the elite, worship the 3rd rate, all must have prizes (why, because it makes me feel bad if you don’t, and good if you do, and so I’m gonna gaslight the s**t out of you if don’t acquise.

Last edited 1 year ago by Dominic A
Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago

Indeed. It’s yet another form of populism in action – hate the elite, worship the 3rd rate, all must have prizes (why, because it makes me feel bad if you don’t, and good if you do, and so I’m gonna gaslight the s**t out of you if don’t acquise.

Last edited 1 year ago by Dominic A
E. L. Herndon
E. L. Herndon
1 year ago

Shades of Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopian story, “Harrison Bergeron” (in Welcome to the Monkey House). Perhaps our current crop of wowsers were dismayed and traumatized in their early lessons: “Only the brave deserve the fair”…

E. L. Herndon
E. L. Herndon
1 year ago

Shades of Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopian story, “Harrison Bergeron” (in Welcome to the Monkey House). Perhaps our current crop of wowsers were dismayed and traumatized in their early lessons: “Only the brave deserve the fair”…

M Theberge
M Theberge
1 year ago

The reality is: even the ugly are having sex and someone is desiring. So really what we are saying is I want a solipsism where only what I have in my mind already is acceptable.
Even art or sexual beauties are cultural. There are places on earth where you cannot even see women bodies and people still have desires.
I think the fear of ugly becoming normal is that again the dam will be broken and everybody’s values will be subjective and this scares those keeping the gate.
it is simple power play!

M Theberge
M Theberge
1 year ago

The reality is: even the ugly are having sex and someone is desiring. So really what we are saying is I want a solipsism where only what I have in my mind already is acceptable.
Even art or sexual beauties are cultural. There are places on earth where you cannot even see women bodies and people still have desires.
I think the fear of ugly becoming normal is that again the dam will be broken and everybody’s values will be subjective and this scares those keeping the gate.
it is simple power play!

jules Ritchie
jules Ritchie
1 year ago

With Calvin Klein it’s all advertising and marketing for them. Whether this advert, placed in such a prominent position actually increases sales for them is the question. It might lead to lots of discussion but it won’t effect purchase – I would want to wear undies associated with that image even if I could afford them. Most people we see in the street with that elastic visible have bought knock-offs.

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
1 year ago

I am sure it all sounded great as he constructed the story in his head. A thesis on beauty, and then the house of cards to build that thesis up into an actual truth…..

Personally I think Love is more powerful, and more a driving force than beauty, and one can blur them all over the place too, and all the biological imperatives carry some aesthetic as well, some beauty.

I think the writer is trying to get across some utterly disinterested thing of beauty as its self – some aesthetic moment which could confront any if they could see it… I am not sure I believe in it, beauty for its self, or as its self, that requires belief in an ultimate, that which is beyond the mundane.

Grandness, hugeness, power, purity, perfection – say seeing the perfect sunrise over icebergs…every human would be struck by the vision – but is it seeing the hugeness of the elements come together in a way they rarely do, perfection. And it is just the laws of physics coming together, only beauty from being perceived, and so that raises some big issues.

Anyway – what I came to write is about this:

”The Calvinist vandals of Geneva, like their latter-day successors in the Taliban, sought to repress the life-force by denying the validity of any experience or standard outside their own fixed notions of virtue.

See – this is pure bigotry, to be calling differing groups actions as one motive, and then ascribing that to some agenda he knows nothing about, but is simple, obvious, and bad.

Does he know the Taliban; of the Pashtunwali, the code of the Pashtun? The Deobandi sort of Salifism from the Madrassas? Can he judge their culture and find it wrong so easily from his Secular Humanist arrogance, without being self aware enough to understand he knows nothing of them and their motives? Can he not see their system of beliefs, their codes and philosophy predate Islam to the days of Alexander? Then the Old Testament, and then Koran building with that?

Calvinists? What does he know of them? I would guess nothing but some stories out of context. I have been around the old believers, they are nothing like he believes, they are tremendously complex, a sophisticated theology that you could say was one of the largest factors in producing us.

Anyway, I think the atheist, the secular humanist – they cannot grasp the ‘Ultimate’. Mere Utilitarianism is as high a philosophy as really is possible to them; as they come from existentialism – and therefore, by refuting the very idea of god – they know nothing but spouting words, because nothing in fact exists or matters. No, I do not like his negatingly; blanketly, describing those peoples as vandals, I think he has no grasp on truth and existence and ultimate at all, as that requires divine, an ultimate, and without that all is Nihilos, and just words, and then nothing.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonas Moze

I profoundly disagree that atheism is antithetical to spirituality; that’s simply to misunderstand our humanity. I’d maintain that belief in a religion springs from a baseline human spirituality; after all, humans felt the way they do before any recognised deity came onto the scene.

When cave artists made their work, it expressed something – about simply being alive – that had nothing to do with the later manifestations of organised religion, which arose through the development of language as societies became more complex. That baseline spirituality remains, and can best be expressed through artistic endeavour to this day.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I make a point, professionally, of distinguishing religion from theology and moral philosophy, both of which are secondary religious phenomena in terms of both chronology and depth. In other words, I suggest, the origin of religion, whether personal or communal, is not in ideas at all but in experience. That experience would be what has come to be identified in Western organized religions as holiness, or the sacred, and in the East as enlightenment. But at the heart of this experience, no matter how elaborately articulated, is simply the sense of wonder and joy at being alive in a “beautiful” cosmos. That is accessible to even young children. It might or might not be accessible to atheists, but atheism per se does nothing to foster it.

philip kern
philip kern
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Don’t know if you’re right or wrong but your post brings to mind Joanna Lumley, after days of failing to see the northern lights, finally seeing the sky come to life. She was literally jumping up and down, hands lifted up, shouting ‘thank you, thank you.’ To this day I wonder who she was thanking.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

The extraordinary sense of being alive and the perception of beauty doesn’t need fostering. Whether we choose to experience it is another matter. One of my objections to organised religion is that it simply gets in the way of our experience of beauty – an unnecessary intermediary, if you will. I very much doubt if anyone who doesn’t appreciate that innate joy would do so through religion.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

In theory, that’s true. Access to the sacred (religion) is an innate ability and therefore does not require any cultural encouragement (organized religion). But that’s only part of the story. It’s innate in early childhood. There’s a window of opportunity beyond which it atrophies without encouragement, opportunity, practice, memory and so on.
You say that organized religion “gets in the way of our experience of beauty.” I didn’t see that one coming, mainly because organized religion is almost synonymous with the production of art. And art, until very recently in human history, has indeed mediated beauty in terms of both the sacred and the aesthetic.
Not every individual produces art, but every culture has done so. Similarly, not every individual is sensitive to or even aware of the sacred, but every culture has been. Until, as it were, the day before yesterday.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

In theory, that’s true. Access to the sacred (religion) is an innate ability and therefore does not require any cultural encouragement (organized religion). But that’s only part of the story. It’s innate in early childhood. There’s a window of opportunity beyond which it atrophies without encouragement, opportunity, practice, memory and so on.
You say that organized religion “gets in the way of our experience of beauty.” I didn’t see that one coming, mainly because organized religion is almost synonymous with the production of art. And art, until very recently in human history, has indeed mediated beauty in terms of both the sacred and the aesthetic.
Not every individual produces art, but every culture has done so. Similarly, not every individual is sensitive to or even aware of the sacred, but every culture has been. Until, as it were, the day before yesterday.

philip kern
philip kern
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Don’t know if you’re right or wrong but your post brings to mind Joanna Lumley, after days of failing to see the northern lights, finally seeing the sky come to life. She was literally jumping up and down, hands lifted up, shouting ‘thank you, thank you.’ To this day I wonder who she was thanking.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

The extraordinary sense of being alive and the perception of beauty doesn’t need fostering. Whether we choose to experience it is another matter. One of my objections to organised religion is that it simply gets in the way of our experience of beauty – an unnecessary intermediary, if you will. I very much doubt if anyone who doesn’t appreciate that innate joy would do so through religion.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I make a point, professionally, of distinguishing religion from theology and moral philosophy, both of which are secondary religious phenomena in terms of both chronology and depth. In other words, I suggest, the origin of religion, whether personal or communal, is not in ideas at all but in experience. That experience would be what has come to be identified in Western organized religions as holiness, or the sacred, and in the East as enlightenment. But at the heart of this experience, no matter how elaborately articulated, is simply the sense of wonder and joy at being alive in a “beautiful” cosmos. That is accessible to even young children. It might or might not be accessible to atheists, but atheism per se does nothing to foster it.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonas Moze

“I am sure it all sounded great as he constructed the story in his head. A thesis on beauty, and then the house of cards to build that thesis up into an actual truth
..”

I think this is largely true. Most articles are like this. They allude to things more than elucidate.

philip kern
philip kern
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonas Moze

I had problems with the reference to Calvin (not Klein) as well. I suspect Geneva wasn’t opposed to art and beauty but to the notion that prayers directed to the God of the Bible can be mediated through portraits and statues of dead people. Even the ancient church had bouts of iconoclasm in the gathering space while allowing art everywhere else. [i hope my use of ‘dead people’ doesn’t offend. I can’t think of a better way to express their views.]

Last edited 1 year ago by philip kern
Roger Sponge
Roger Sponge
1 year ago
Reply to  philip kern

Portraits and statues in Catholic churches are a way of calling to mind in the same way as photos or paintings can of, say, one’s parents, children or a dead, dearly loved partner.
They’re not necessary. But they add warmth to memory. And help us, as the years pass, not to forget the love that they once showed and inspired. As it happens, I’m looking up at a photo of my late parents, sadly dead too many years ago.

Roger Sponge
Roger Sponge
1 year ago
Reply to  philip kern

Portraits and statues in Catholic churches are a way of calling to mind in the same way as photos or paintings can of, say, one’s parents, children or a dead, dearly loved partner.
They’re not necessary. But they add warmth to memory. And help us, as the years pass, not to forget the love that they once showed and inspired. As it happens, I’m looking up at a photo of my late parents, sadly dead too many years ago.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonas Moze

I profoundly disagree that atheism is antithetical to spirituality; that’s simply to misunderstand our humanity. I’d maintain that belief in a religion springs from a baseline human spirituality; after all, humans felt the way they do before any recognised deity came onto the scene.

When cave artists made their work, it expressed something – about simply being alive – that had nothing to do with the later manifestations of organised religion, which arose through the development of language as societies became more complex. That baseline spirituality remains, and can best be expressed through artistic endeavour to this day.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonas Moze

“I am sure it all sounded great as he constructed the story in his head. A thesis on beauty, and then the house of cards to build that thesis up into an actual truth
..”

I think this is largely true. Most articles are like this. They allude to things more than elucidate.

philip kern
philip kern
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonas Moze

I had problems with the reference to Calvin (not Klein) as well. I suspect Geneva wasn’t opposed to art and beauty but to the notion that prayers directed to the God of the Bible can be mediated through portraits and statues of dead people. Even the ancient church had bouts of iconoclasm in the gathering space while allowing art everywhere else. [i hope my use of ‘dead people’ doesn’t offend. I can’t think of a better way to express their views.]

Last edited 1 year ago by philip kern
Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
1 year ago

I am sure it all sounded great as he constructed the story in his head. A thesis on beauty, and then the house of cards to build that thesis up into an actual truth…..

Personally I think Love is more powerful, and more a driving force than beauty, and one can blur them all over the place too, and all the biological imperatives carry some aesthetic as well, some beauty.

I think the writer is trying to get across some utterly disinterested thing of beauty as its self – some aesthetic moment which could confront any if they could see it… I am not sure I believe in it, beauty for its self, or as its self, that requires belief in an ultimate, that which is beyond the mundane.

Grandness, hugeness, power, purity, perfection – say seeing the perfect sunrise over icebergs…every human would be struck by the vision – but is it seeing the hugeness of the elements come together in a way they rarely do, perfection. And it is just the laws of physics coming together, only beauty from being perceived, and so that raises some big issues.

Anyway – what I came to write is about this:

”The Calvinist vandals of Geneva, like their latter-day successors in the Taliban, sought to repress the life-force by denying the validity of any experience or standard outside their own fixed notions of virtue.

See – this is pure bigotry, to be calling differing groups actions as one motive, and then ascribing that to some agenda he knows nothing about, but is simple, obvious, and bad.

Does he know the Taliban; of the Pashtunwali, the code of the Pashtun? The Deobandi sort of Salifism from the Madrassas? Can he judge their culture and find it wrong so easily from his Secular Humanist arrogance, without being self aware enough to understand he knows nothing of them and their motives? Can he not see their system of beliefs, their codes and philosophy predate Islam to the days of Alexander? Then the Old Testament, and then Koran building with that?

Calvinists? What does he know of them? I would guess nothing but some stories out of context. I have been around the old believers, they are nothing like he believes, they are tremendously complex, a sophisticated theology that you could say was one of the largest factors in producing us.

Anyway, I think the atheist, the secular humanist – they cannot grasp the ‘Ultimate’. Mere Utilitarianism is as high a philosophy as really is possible to them; as they come from existentialism – and therefore, by refuting the very idea of god – they know nothing but spouting words, because nothing in fact exists or matters. No, I do not like his negatingly; blanketly, describing those peoples as vandals, I think he has no grasp on truth and existence and ultimate at all, as that requires divine, an ultimate, and without that all is Nihilos, and just words, and then nothing.