“Life Uglified”

Paris in the Spring

Paris in the Spring

What will Paris be like tomorrow? The thought was in my mind as, strolling beside the Seine in the mist, I contemplated the glory of the buds that covered the trees with a delicate veil. Paris possesses a beauty that alarms me at times because I feel it is fragile, under threat. Mainly from our town planners. Which young architect is at last going to give us the city of the future, a fine city capable of appealing to the generations to come as we have been enchanted by the Paris that has been fashioned slowly by the centuries? Is it too much to dream of a visionary who will be the poet of space and no longer one of those organisers of a life uglified, to paraphrase Baudelaire, one of those bearers of wasted space who erect modern apartment buildings as graceless cubes, full of the sound and fury of the neighbours’ television sets and plumbing facilities….—Julian Green, Paris


Gooble Gobble, One of Us!

Scene from Tod Browning’s FREAKS (1932)

Banquet Scene from Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932)

I’m going to talk about some tricky concepts here, and I’m not altogether confident that I can explain them to everybody’s satisfaction. I read an interesting review by Thomas Nagel entitled “The Taste for Being Moral” in the December 6, 2012, issue of The New York Review of Books. In passing, it takes up the difference between Liberals and Conservatives in a way I found to be interesting.

According to Nagel, American Conservatives tend to follow the norms of their own group, especially in the light of categories that the author refers to as Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. Liberals, on the other hand, tend to extend their aegis to all fellow men. According to Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion:

It would be nice to believe that we humans were designed to love everyone unconditionally. Nice, but rather unlikely from an evolutionary perspective. Parochial love—love within groups—amplified by similarity, a sense of shared fate, and the suppression of free riders, may be the most we can accomplish.

The “free riders” referred to can be Hispanic immigrants, African-Americans on welfare, single mothers, gays, people on Social Security and Medicare (according to Paul Ryan), and environmentalists. Even though the Catholic catechism tells us we were all made in the image of God, not all Catholics, let alone Evangelicals,. take this to heart.

The title of this blog comes from Tod Browning’s classic film Freaks (1932). It is part of a sung toast at a banquet attended by circus freaks and normal people sympathetic to them: “Gooble, Gobble! Gooble, Gobble! One of us! One of us!” We tend to place a higher value on the groups to which we belong than to outsiders or the general public as a whole—irrespective of what Christian teaching tell us to do.

Conservatives tend to view people outside their group as either “free riders” or as some unspecified threat to the values they hold dear. Think of the gun fanatics facing some unspecified threat to their God-given right to own assault weapons and enough ammo to blast all their enemies into the next world.

I, on the other hand, believe with Immanuel Kant that “the only thing that is good in itself and without qualification is good will—a will that obeys universal laws of morality…. It is in virtue of their capacity for morality—as both the authors and subjects of the moral law—that humans are ends in themselves and must always be treated as such.”

Of course, one has only to read my blog posts to note that I, too, am a member of a group, one that views American Conservatives with alarm and loathing. In my heart of hearts, which is in there somewhere, I would like to effect some sort of reconciliation with them. That will, however, be a long process. I’m only human, after all!