Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cultivated Interest: Its Extistence

In our modern times, there has been a large case of problematic relativism getting about.  In some circles, we have moral relativism and in others, aesthetic relativism, which is also problematic and exists in places it may not be initially expected.  Here I will address some problems in regards to aesthetic relativism, especially in regards to movies, that interweave with things I have already said on this blog so bear with me.

How do we arrive at truth?  There are so many ways.  I can't name them all.  One way is intuition.  On the one hand, intuition is or can become a cop-out.  On the other hand, we have no basis for any knowledge at all without it.  All knowledge is built on fundamental first principles that can only be faithfully accepted as givens because they are derived from nothing and the basis of all other knowledge.  As an example, I take something to be true that I find utterly impossible to believe is untrue.  For example, my conscience makes it impossible for me to murder someone.  Therefore, murder must be objectively and independently immoral.  If I really believed it wasn't, I might try it myself or excuse others who do so.  In theory, I could be wrong on some things, but I could never admit I am wrong, only that I was wrong.  The moment I recognize my mistake, I'm no longer making it.  If I believe in objective truth, I can only believe it is what I believe it is.

Now to the case of moral relativism.  I know this is a little off-topic for this blog, but I'd like to briefly go on this tangent.  Moral relativism is a cop-out to avoid discussion on a number of issues.  Don't agree with my sexual mores?  Well, morals are relative so it doesn't matter.  I can do what I want.  The problem is that almost no one will apply their relativism universally.  Mention most forms of violent crime and they will suddenly admit there are things people shouldn't do.  They may play semantic games over what to call their proscriptions, but it is ultimately a moral code.  While many people's moral codes may not include as many dos and don'ts as my Christian ethic, a more limited moral code is still a moral code.  To be a true moral relativist, one would have to be a sociopath.  This can show the importance of intuition when someone's actions trump their professed values.

The case against aesthetic relativism is harder to make.  Even I am forced to leave some room for individual taste, especially when it comes to individual movies.  It's hard to judge a single movie or anyone who likes it in any absolute way.  It is easier to separate preferences and not lay down absolute statements as it would seem that no falsifying action imperatives are on the line.  Here's a potentially telling scenario, though: Imagine you are in a burning building with the world's last copy of Oliver Twist and Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker.  You can only save one.  Which do you choose?  While I regret to admit that some people won't give the answer that my rhetorical question is leading to, I think most people, in their heart of hearts, will recognize the superior value of high culture in this instance for whatever reason.  The fact that they may put broad "cultural" concerns over personal preference is very telling.

Relativism is the death of culture.  As the whole of humanity, we do not have the capability to hold on to all knowledge.  There has to be a filtering process which involves some criteria of what is kept and what is lost.  This may admittedly not correlate to an objective best, but it has to be based on something.  Even as we move deeper into the Information Age, perhaps even to a point where the vast majority of human knowledge is preservable, at least on a server, we'll still be forced to decide which things are worthy of being passed down to the next generation.  This is a question of parenting and education.  Until we all have a computer in our brains that stores everything, we will have to wrestle with this question.

Why do people with broad tastes who have seen all different types of movies seem to gravitate towards the same ones?  Could it be that those things are actually good?

Three Sight and Sound 2012 Critic's Poll Top Ten Winners

Some people truly believe that high culture is a conspiracy of phony snobs, who secretly have lowbrow taste, to pretend to like things that they don't.  How is it that this hive has any consistency?  How do they know where to go next?  How could they tolerate so much consumption of things they supposedly hate so much?  How in the world have they been able to fake it so long?  I'm not saying it's impossible for anyone to be a phony snob on these matters, but I imagine it's rare and the pleasure of phony superiority would wear off.  Also, as long as the fakers are a minority, they would only be aping the genuinely held tastes of real connoisseurs.  Let us lastly note that it is not entirely impossible for lowbrow populism to be a phony stance, too.

Even worse, this viewpoint is ignorant and utterly lacking in empathy.  It's an attitude that says, "Come on.  No one really likes things that I don't."  Having lived to the ripe old age of twenty-nine, I can say from experience, that the world has all sorts of people that are into all sorts of things.  The human mind is a dynamic animal.  When other people have interests that I find boring, I don't immediately dismiss their earnestness.

Many, if not most, of life's pleasures are acquired tastes, not things initially enjoyed.  I can say from my own experience that my taste in movies has definitely changed with time and broader exposure.  For the most part, those who can't fathom the enjoyment of high art have themselves not given it a chance in any significant way.

Being dismissive of aesthetic refinement means not only dismissing critics, but also dismissing content creators to a large degree as well.  The same aesthetic refinement that is part of the critical process is also inversely a part of the creation process.  Criticism is deconstruction and creation is construction.  The creative process involves a number of additional practical concerns as well, including knowing equipment and dealing with people, but the aesthetic side is very similar.  This is why most film schools teach film history and aesthetics courses that may, at first glance, be better suited to critics.  Every content creator, even ones that "lowbrow" viewers would claim to like, has a little critic in him and at least some critics may make competent content creators.  Movies don't come together from magic.  Even the "worst" movies could have been much worse and were created by people with some artistry in their blood.  Even dismissive "populists" would regret seeing a movie made by a complete philistine.

Three Sight and Sound 2012 Director's Poll Top Ten Winners

Is it arrogant to recognize a cultivated interest?  Some people play up this relativism to not insult those with regular taste.  This is unnecessary.  Everyone has their own set of interests so while one may be set up on a pedestal in one arena, they ought to be lowered in another.  For me, I like to think this realization is more a matter of humility than arrogance.

This entire blog is founded on principles that trolling skeptics may take issue with.  In general, I have to ignore certain concerns as it would vastly slow down the conversation, they defy basic common sense, they are outside the purview of what I am doing here, or I honestly do not currently have an answer for them.  I don't believe in judging people over their taste on any one singular movie.  That is why this blog trends toward broader topics.  I also do not believe that we should bow down and worship an "anointed" group of critics or worship the film "canon."  If someone desires to be skeptical, though, they ought to do so with a reason and purpose and not just have skepticism for skepticism's sake.

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