January 18, 2006
A friend was, again/still, lamenting her romantic situation. That is to say, she is single. She is one of these people who is insufferable when she's single because she constantly talks about how unloved she is. During these times she rarely seems to reflect on how anxious and confused she is when dating someone -- which is a result both of her codependent tendencies and her poor choices.
Generally, I'm able to bite my tongue and keep a polite distance from discussing the matter with her at any depth, but at dinner the other night she crossed a line.
She said that she believes her codependency to be comparable to an unchosen characteristic such as sexuality. Specifically, she said that she compares it to being gay.
I started out gently with a cautious but (my best attempt at) warm tone trying to clarify her comparison and saying that surely she does not REALLY mean to make a direct comparison between the two, but that it merely seems to be so.
No, she insisted, the two characteristics are the same in the respect that they are unchosen.
After a few more progressively direct attempts, I lost my temper a bit and told her in so many words that her idea is idiotic and her need for a man in her life is not the same as being gay.
It was puzzling to her why I found her remark to be so offensive and I admittedly did not do a fantastic job of making the reasons clear to her.
By equating an unchosen characteristic, sexuality, with a chosen characteristic, the value one places on having a relationship, one reduces the whole of one's existence to a plodding sort of determinism. She was seated at a table of gay men and saying, "You know how I'm completely incompetent to deal with my emotions and reality? Well, I'm just like you in this way."
The attempted moral equivalency was absolutely shocking to me.
She readily admits that she is not aware of what is going on in her head. She conceeds that she is merely seeking pity. She believes that she is unable to think anything different from what she thinks. And, one can only conclude, that by bringing the topic up at dinner, she is looking for sanction from the rest of us.
This woman has managed to convince herself that she is unable to deal with reality. She openly scorns reason and rational thought, so her handicap doesn't come has a huge surprise. But she took it a step further and asked us to welcome her into the fold of people who have had difficulty with something they didn't choose about themselves.
She cannot see how she has chosen to be codependent!
Nathaniel Branden correctly defined self-esteem as consisting of two parts: self-worth and self-efficacy. A lack of a sense of being worthy of happiness will lead to a lack of a sense of being capable of achieving happiness and the reverse is also true.
A lack of self-esteem is usually never so clear as in the area of romance because romance requires that a person draw on the sum of their values to make their choices. People with low-self esteem very frequently wind up in horrible, torturous relationships and, surprisingly, they constantly pursue these relationships contrary to what they say about not wanting it.
Romance is an affirmation. In romance, we choose people who will help us in drawing our picture of the world. If you are a person who believes that reality is full of possibility and rewards effort with happiness, then you will likely find yourself drawn to others who similarly greet adventure and life with joyful anticipation. If you are a person who believes that you are incapable of achieving happiness or unworthy of happiness, you will seek partners that will, in some combination, make you unhappy or let you make them unhappy.
No one is born thinking of themselves in any particular way. Self-awareness, in fact, is not explicit in people until a certain point in childhood development.
As people grow our sense of self is in a state of constant change. That change is more rapid and subject to influence by particular events when we are younger. The concept of self follows the same path of development and formation as any other concept and it grows stronger as one gathers more percepts and we constantly perceive ourselves as we think and act in life.
It is not surprising that there are aspects of one's own psychology that one may imagine as innate, but they aren’t. And there may have been events in that woman's life that were beyond her control that lead to the formation of some of her ideas, so I can see why our friend might compare her codependent tendencies to an unchosen characteristic like sexuality, but the comparison is invalid.
A few basic observations can affirm that psychological characteristics, even something so fundamental as self-esteem, are not inborn. Consider how many times you've heard about traumatizing incidents that change a person's personality. Think about the process of forming habits -- good and bad -- and how not performing some habit or another actually does provide an emotional response.
This is because self-esteem is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think you are doomed to failure, you will fail. If you think you are fated for defeat, you will lose. If you think that you have the power and ability to overcome obstacles, you will find satisfaction in your successes.
To build self-esteem, one has to re-program one's subconscious so that the emotional responses one has to things are in line with what is good and rational. To accomplish this, one has to act consciously according to rational values. These actions will erode any wrong premises and ideas that may be held and build correct ideas in their place. Once rational premises are integrated, then one's emotions will respond to reality in line with rational values -- but not before.
In place of rational thought, this woman has substituted emotions, though. She expects her emotions to some how guide her to successful romantic relationships. Where she got the idea that emotions are anything but responses, I don't know. Even if she hasn't figured out that they are her brain's responses to comparing her values to reality, I would optimistically think that she'd have to be self-aware enough to see that they don't just come barrelling in out of the ether prior to any experience. But no. When she said, "I don't know what's going on inside of my head," she made it clear that she really does think that emotions occur spontaneously.
There are some people with emotions that occur spontaneously. They're crazy people. Crazy people have broken brains and they either need medication or some kind of neurosurgery that is impossible today.
If she really can't help being codependent, I asked, why do we continue to talk about it? Why is she bothering to ask for solutions or affirmation? If it is so, it is so, and agreement or disagreement will not change it and neither is there a solution. The answer, again, is that she just wants pity.
And she compares her state of psychological ineptitude to being gay. That is patently offensive to people everywhere and her specific choice of comparing it to my sexuality is an obvious ploy to draw out my sanction for her idea. I'll have none of it.
Update: If you're interested in Nathaniel Branden's discussion of self-esteem, I would recommend his book the Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. It's been a long time since I've read it, but I recall the first part of the book, which focuses on the nature of self-esteem, is very interesting. I think it was written before Branden got too far off the deep end, too, but as always, please assess its merits for yourself.
January 07, 2006
If you truly take as deep an offense as you proclaim, your only course of action is to ignore Rauschenberg, not fume over him or vomit on his work. You've determined he's not worth any more of your time, so why do you give it to him? I don't protest against Raschenberg because it would be a complete waste of my time. If there are people who admire his work they are people I also do not care to waste my time on trying to convince otherwise.
Somewhere back in time the mainstream of "High Art" got off track. At some point, the art being produced started to drift off course.
This assumes that at some point the better part of the art being produced was of a high quality both in terms of technical production and in aesthetic value overall. This is a highly debateable assumption.
In terms of technical production, the artists of the Rennaissance pioneered production values that are seldom seen today but are requisite in master works if accompanied by proper aesthetic values.
But in terms of aesthetic value, which includes the subject matter and themes of the work in addition to the technical execution, I'm not sure that there has been a period or major movement that is completely in line with what Ayn Rand called Romantic Realism. She defined this style as art that shows life as it could and should be.
The Rennaissance saw definite movement back to classical, rational, humanistic themes.
Anyway, if we assume that things were on the right track or at least moving in the right direction, there was clearly a major deviation from the path of righteousness to get to what we see lauded today, which consists of the Rauschenberg crap I commented on earlier.
(As an aside, I suspect that Art has actually been so corrupted that today there exists no primary mainstream movement in High Art production or appreciation. I'm just speculating, though.)
I think that the deviation started somewhere around the early to mid-19th century. The reason I say this is because it was during this period that the French Romantic period began to slow. Actually, I say this because it was then that EugÃ¨ne Delacroix remarked, "Of which beauty will you speak? There are many: there are a thousand: there is one for every look, for every spirit, adapted to each taste, to each particular constitution."
This idea that beauty is completely subjective is very dangerous in art. Indeed, subjectivity in any field of philosophy is terrible.
During the Romantic period, many artists including Delacroix, were ignored by many simply because it was regarded as ugly.
In the Impressionist period that followed, artists sought to paint not the objects they saw, but the light around and on the objects. Some people ignored their work because it was regarded as messy and ugly.
The same reaction has probably been observed by pretty much every art movement, but I think it has been happening at an increasing rate since the Romantic period in Art.
What did ignoring offensive work achieve? Sure, the individuals who chose to ignore it lived their lives untroubled by it and those who liked it were free to gawk at it and buy it up.
The problem is that as the voice of opposition faded, the voice of support for the worst aesthetic offenses remained even if diminished.
I'm not saying that those who oppose putting hideous blobs of garbage on display as art have been silent. I am positive that throughout history, there have been people decrying bad art.
I think that James' comments to me are an attempt to be more helpful than anything. I'd like to think that he's really just saying that I ought not occupy my mind with silly things like Rauschenberg's white canvases, particularly if they're going to distress me so much.
As I have pondered an academic career as an art historian, it's important for me to note to my readers that Art is something that interests me more than some other topics. I suspect that I will get more involved in Art as time goes on and my career advances.
But I do want everyone to pay more attention to what passes for art.
When you see something hanging on the wall, look at it. Actually consider what it's showing you. What is it saying about the world? When you look at it, does it show you somewhere that you would like to live or does it show you some place you would dread?
Everywhere I go, I do this. I look at what people hang on their walls. I actually judge people a bit by what they put up on their walls and, as uncomfortable as it makes everyone, I like to ask them why they have it.
And I do have an emotional reaction to Art. James is correct on that count, too: my post was inspired by the raw anger I experienced at being confronted (again) by Rauschenberg's work. If I saw some disgusting bit of Rauschenberg's work, I would be incredulous, outraged, insulted, and generally bothered by it. Perhaps that's what he wanted in creating it, but giving him what he wants there is no injustice. It doesn't suddenly make it art. It doesn't make it worthy of purchase.
When I typed up my comments on Rauschenberg, I should have taken a more direct, purposeful approach to discussing his work and its aesthetic value. That way, no one would be mistaken about what's wrong with it and what I hope to accomplish by pointing it out. Not to mention the fact that the post would have been more effective to the ends I had in mind.
But I want to point out that merely ignoring bad ideas when one is aware of them is insufficient to thwart them. Ignoring bad art will not stop those people from making it.
When confronted with a work of art, every individual should identify what values it affirms or which ones they attack. What to do about it once this is decided is a moral question that requires another check with the individual's values.
If we ask 'how can we stop the production of this garbage?' the first thought that springs to mind is to not buy it. Don't pay these people.
I'm curious to know how many "artists" today actually support themselves on the sale of their work as opposed to being supported by government grants and subsidies. I'll bet it's not enough to warrant the amount of crap that's being made.
So, we also need to urge our political leaders to stop using our tax money to support this.
We can also campaign as intellectuals against it. This is where my blog comes in. I realize that most people who read my blog are already agree with me. I happen to know that some people who read this blog, however, aren't quite there. Sometimes, people who are completely against my ideas come by here.
I think James is right in that there are definitely times to ignore bad art and times to speak out loudly against it. I also think my blog is the perfect place for me to announce my disapproval.
So, James, thanks for the support and the comments. I think you're wrong, but I appreciate what I've made up as your intentions. If I throw a dinner party and you're invited, I promise, we won't talk about Rauschenberg at all. (Unless you bring it up and then I'll turn red in the face and launch into a diatribe, just for you.)
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