Roger Scruton on Beauty

A reader, Alan, pointed out that I did not call attention to this passage from Scruton:

There is a liturgy of denunciation here that is repeated all across Europe by a ruling elite that trembles in the face of ordinary loyalties. But the fact is that national sentiment is, for most ordinary Europeans, the only motive that will justify sacrifice in the public cause. Insofar as people do not vote to line their own pockets, it is because they also vote to protect a shared identity from the predations of those who do not belong to it, and who are attempting to pillage an inheritance to which they are not entitled.

Motivation is indeed worth pondering. The EU has no motivational power for Europeans because its an artificial construct with no historic cultural, ethnic or linguistic ties.

In the U.S. there are still national sentiments surrounding the flag and deeply felt historical memories, particularly of wars; the vast majority of these national memories are at least implicitly White; it is well-known that these emotions are felt mainly by conservatives. All this is much in evidence today, the Fourth of July, and especially from the Tea Partiers—the angry White folks. The ideology of the U.S. as a “proposition nation” dedicated only to certain abstract principles and promoted by the Jewish intellectual movements discussed in The Culture of Critique parasitizes the trappings of nationhood for their motivational value while unleashing the forces that will certainly destroy any sense of nationhood.

As an evolutionary psychologist, one looks for motivation in natural feeling states like group loyalty that are far stronger when based on ethnicity than on abstract ideas or even common interests. In his BBC series on beauty (currently featured at the TOO video corner), Scruton also emphasizes motivation—the importance of natural human emotions of love, grief, and appreciation for the human form. Evolutionary psychologist Randy Thornhill generalizes this to suggest that

Beauty experiences are unconsciously realized avenues to high fitness in human evolutionary history. Ugliness defines just the reverse. Greenough (1958), in reference to architectural structures, defined beauty as the promise of function. The Darwinian theory of human aesthetic value is that beauty is a promise of function in the environments in which humans evolved, i.e., of high likelihood of survival and reproductive success in the environments of human evolutionary history. Ugliness is the promise of low survival and reproductive failure. Human aesthetic value is a scale of reproductive success and failure in human evolutionary history, i.e., over the last few million years. (Downloadable from here.)

Assuming that this is at least roughly correct, it’s fascinating to think about Scruton’s comment in Part 5 of his video that the movement against beauty is a movement to create a “loveless” world—implying in terms of evolutionary psychology, a movement to remove adaptive human emotions from the world. It is also a movement to conflate beauty and ugliness which, in evolutionary terms, is an attempt to conflate adaptive and non-adaptive—a sure recipe for evolutionary disaster.

To take just one of the emotions that Scruton links to great art, evolutionary psychologists distinguish between sex and love—the latter an uplifting and adaptive human emotion that evolved because of the need for high-investment parenting, the former a natural and hence adaptive feeling but one that is much in need of social control in a civilized society (see Joe Webb’s article, “What Ails Us?“). I suspect that when all is said and done, psychologists will find that great art and even ordinary positive attitudes to our surroundings tap into  a number of natural human affinities—e.g., for symmetry and for healthy examples of the human form (definitely not on display in the painting by Lucien Freud shown below but certainly present in Scruton’s example of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus).

Detail from Botticelli's Birth of Venus

Scruton’s video highlights many of the artists that have been discussed on TOO as a very high profile part of the cultural degradation that has characterized the West for most of the last century—particularly by Lasha Darkmoon and Michael Colhaze: Marcel Du Champ, Piero Manzoni, Andrews Serrano, Tracy Emim, and Damien Hirst. Not surprisingly, Scruton does not discuss the role of ethnic outsiders like Charles Saatchi in creating and promoting the current malaise. As Colhaze (who, like Scruton, features Botticelli’s Birth of Venus as an example of healthy art) notes,

Lord Leighton was President of the Royal Academy from 1878 until his death in 1896. If you observe his art, and that of his contemporaries in Europe and America, you get a clear idea of the cultural pinnacle we were inhabiting then, and how deep we plunged from it only a century later. Because the present president of the RA is a trite modernist architect whose masterpieces are dreary concrete heaps resembling plastic sausages, and the art he peddles are gems like Damian Hirst’s Rotting Shark or Tracy Emin’s Stinking Bedstead, [both featured by Scruton] all chaperoned by that unspeakable grease-pot and carpetbagger Saatchi, nomen est omen, and financed through the Jerusalem Foundation, the Henry Moore Foundation and similar maggots who have long since sequestered the hallowed halls and now gnaw at their very foundations. As to the [Royal Academy’s] present worship of feminine beauty and splendour, you only need to cast a fleeting glance at one of Lucian Freud’s chef d’oeuvres to know where we stand.

Cast in terms of this discussion, it is always problematic when ethnic outsiders promote behavior and feelings that are maladaptive for the society they inhabit—when indeed, they are part and parcel of an attack on the very foundations of the culture. This is particularly the case when that ethnic group forms a hostile elite well known to have a preeminent role in the production of culture. Indeed, as noted repeatedly on TOO (most recently here) and The Culture of Critique, hostile attitudes toward the traditional people and culture of the West are entirely mainstream among Jews and such attitudes pervade the organized Jewish community. Indeed, such attitudes may be seen as an integral aspect of contemporary Jewish identity in the Diaspora, motivated to a considerable extent by perceptions of historical anti-Semitism. Because Jews are prominent in the production of culture, these attitudes are toxic and lead to entirely reasonable negative reactions by the people who are thus under attack.

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