Ruinenwert

One can truly never understand any time period beyond the ones he has experienced first hand. We might hear of earlier eras from our elders, but these stories will always be secondhand experiences to us. These time periods were experienced by another. Their perspective changes the particulars, filters out some and making others more potent. Furthermore, knowledge of the past gained this way is limited to only those that are alive. Any time period beyond the that has no living witnesses.

All historical knowledge beyond that comes from cultural artifacts. Some societies leave behind writings we can republish and read, art we can put up and view in galleries, and plays that can be recast and reproduced in modern theaters. In some ways, this is superior to having an actual witness relate the past to you. One can experience these works of art, assuming they are well preserved, in precisely the same way the people of past did. The universal methods and motifs great works of art utilize are just as effective on us now as they were then. How they are used tells us what values and ideals were important to the author and society that produced them.

In the same way that traveling to a foreign country can teach you of their culture, consuming art can be just as effective. One might not be able to travel to the past, but one can still read an ancient novel. Comparing and contrasting the societies of the past with the current is valuable, even if the work of art is from a culture that you are familiar with in the present. It allows you to get a sense of what has survived from the past as well as what has been lost. The bits of ourselves that we see in bygone eras can help us identify what is important in our own.

One of the most overlooked connections to the past is through architecture. Just as these ancient works of art can portray the people who created them, buildings can act as this sort of cultural mirror as well. Architecture has always lived in half in the realm of the practical and half in the realm of the expressive. Each building stands as both a testament to the designer who made it and the person he was designing it for. In this way, architecture can actually tell us just as much, if not more, about the societies of the past as any art form or archeology.

Architecture is one of the most enduring and present forms of the past. Every city in the world has buildings that are centuries, if not millenia, old. Many of them have been in use during all that time. People continue to live and work in buildings designed and made by a society long gone in their everyday lives. The use of these buildings is hard to misinterpret. A castle is clearly designed with defense in mind and an opera house is unmistakably for performers and audiences. In many cases, these buildings are the only tangible mark of their society still in use. The concrete, wood, marble, and stone was all harvested and cut by their hands. The technology, craftsmanship, and methodology required to erect it was all possessed by the society that produced the building.

However, there are some very strong limitations one should keep in mind when viewing architecture from a historical perspective. Not all buildings are equal. Some are built to last while others, by their very nature, are only temporary. Some buildings are made to be seen and are kept at the center of public life. Others are solely meant to fulfill a singular purpose and thereby abandoned. The most famous and longest lasting examples we have of architecture are the former type of buildings. We only see the buildings that were made to last from periods long ago. As such, our opinion on these cultures has an inherent bias to them if when we base it on these buildings. While we might stand in awe of buildings such as the pyramids in Egypt, The Parthenon in Athens, or Stonehenge in England today, these all had a very distinct and important use in their own time. They were not built for us to view them as tourist attractions now. Their original meaning can only be fully understood within the historical context of the societies that used them.

These buildings have survived due to their significance to the society in which they were built. They were built in important and sacred places. There was no expense spared in building them. They used the best and most durable materials available. They provide a timeless sense of style through their grandeur and impracticality for daily use. If they were co-opted for use by later societies, they would have been worn out or changed beyond recognition. What we get instead is a sort of time capsule and window into the societies that made them.

Perhaps, this is where their true value lies. Even though they were built them to last and as a testament to their religions, they were only used for this purpose for a short part of their life time. Their “second life” as a cultural artifact affects far more people than their original purpose.

When one considers this, an interesting question emerges: what modern buildings would survive into the future in our own society? Many of the buildings considered architecturally significant today were built for practical reasons. Skyscrapers, government buildings, and bridges all require an immense amount of upkeep to keep them in a durable state. They are made from glass that is easily broken and must be washed every few months. Reinforced concrete provides a stable base but it is nothing more than the skeleton of the building. Strip away all of the aesthetic materials from modern constructions and you would see it as plain, austere, and ugly. This has been the case in architecture ever since the late 19th century.

There have been a few interesting exceptions to this trends since then. Most notable were the architecture of the fascist movements in Europe in the 20th century. The head architect of the Third Reich, Albert Speer, explicitly made this one of the goals of his work. In a paper titled “Die Ruinenwerttheorie”, he describes the value he sees in designing buildings in such a way that they would “age gracefully”. Originating in Late-Romantic ideals, Speer notes that buildings are eventually, not matter what precautions are taken, are doomed to disrepair. The society they were built for is not permanent. Once the people are gone that used it, the building will fall into ruin. It is an eventuality that entropy will take is course. The only way that the architect can combat this, in his view, was to design buildings in such a way that limits this decay.

The most famous application of this theory can be found in his design of the 1936 Berlin Olympiastadion. It is replete with Traditional German and Classical Greek motifs. The primary support came from stone pillars quarried in Germany. Steel and modern materials were used but they were unessential to the support of building. The building would stand even if every scrap of steel rusted and every bit of glass shattered. The building was open and clear, allowing for natural lighting to penetrate to deep within the inner part of the structure. It was built in such a way that it supported all of the events the 1936 Olympics required but still retained a “monumental” style.

The stadium, unlike so much of the architecture in Germany from this period, remained relatively untouched by war. Away from the city center, it was protected from the bombing that ravaged most of Berlin. It was neither important enough strategically or symbolically for it to be a major target for destruction. While many other buildings of this nature were completely transformed by the war effort, the German government was able to repurpose it into a bunker, an arms factory, and a radio station without touching many of its distinctive qualities. Its durability made it one of the most important buildings in the post-war era Berlin. It was quickly reopened to be used for recreation and sports and remains so to this day. Despite some major renovations throughout the years, it retains much of the original design and grandeur it had when it first opened.

The fact that the Olympiastadion survived some of the harshest times in the 20th century is a testament to its design and the philosophy behind its construction. Despite the billions of dollars thrown at new construction projects at cities all around the world, very few of them are resilient or notable enough to survive the ravages of time. Buildings like this provide an invaluable link to the past in ways that no other form can. It goes to show that no matter the era something is made in, diligence and dedication to higher values can survive and be remembered. As cities crumble and time changes all, the very few that live up to this high standard will be passed on to future generations of admirers.

Socratic subversion

To understand the importance of Socratic thought in European civilization, one must first understand how it arose. First and foremost, one should keep in mind the Athens that he lived in. The most well known parts of Socrates’ life are the events leading up to his trial and death. He was an old man of approximately 70 years at the time of Plato’s dialogues. He was born around 470 B.C., just as the Athenian empire was rising to prominence as a true power in the Mediterranean. He was not born into a noble family. His parents would probably be best described as “working class” today.

In the early years of his life, he was stonecutter by trade, working on all sorts of projects to build the ever expanding city of Athens. He was even to have said to have made statues that stood near the Parthenon. He also was a soldier, fighting in several battles that lead up to the Peloponnesian war.

His was life intimately entwined with the rise and fall of ancient Athens. By the time of the dialogues, Athens, who had once been the most powerful of all city-states, had been reduced to the puppet of Sparta. The hubris and arrogance of the Athenian government had lead it from a golden age to rubble. No city in Greece had ever been so high or fallen so low. His characteristic irony and sarcasm are known for having a general sense of disappointment of humanity in them. The fall of Athens and the flaws in its democratic government played a formative role in such attitudes.

The ideological and scholastic developments that Athens displayed during Socrates’ life are just as important as the political. In his elder years, Athenian academics was thoroughly sophist. Many of the wealthy and powerful in Athens were taught by Sophist tutors. As a school of thought, its core teachings espoused the superiority of rhetoric in all things. The tools of argument, if properly wielded, could be used to sway any audience to any conclusion. It did not matter the truth of what was ultimately being said. Sophist thought is a prime example of “form over function”.

From what the dialogues tell us, Socrates was consistently and vehemently an anti-Sophist. He saw their use of rhetoric as a nihilist abomination, an affront to the gods. He held that the underlying truth of the universe was unchanging and could be reasoned with. Disaster was the only outcome for those who would seek to subvert this fact.

Socrates actions in the dialogues, when viewed through this light, take on a new significance. He is no longer just a wise man, exposing the folly of the citizens of Athens, but a critic of his society. One cannot help but see Socrates’ Athens as a civilization in decay, rotting from the inside out. Whatever ethics they had that brought them glory in the past had fled.

Socrates fought against this pervasive attitude by using the own tools of the Sophists against them. Rhetorical flourish depends on exploiting uncertainty caused by the inexactness of language. One can say something vague enough so that it has an effect on any listener. The Socratic method thrives on absurdity. His method of overcoming this vagueness was by raising questions that demanded exact answers. It immediately put his subjects on the defensive. This easily put himself in control of the debate, from beginning to end.

Most of the people Socrates conversed with in the dialogues were much younger and higher born than him. They had lived their lives in a world dominated by Sophist thought. Things they saw as completely reasonable, Socrates saw as foolish. However, it is important to see that he was not arguing with these people for any personal reason, as they were often strangers to him. He argued for the sake of Athens. Ultimately, he was put to death for this very reason, “corrupting the youth” of Athens. The case brought against him was not for any individual offense. His accusers saw the danger he represented against their society as a whole.  The worst punishment comes when the heretic speaks the truth.

There are many parallels between the Athens of Socrates and the modern world. Both are societies who quickly rose to prominence but now are in constant existential doubt. Deep down, both are aware of their tenuous right to authority. They lost the will to create greatness because most realize that the logical conclusion to their way of life creates nothing. It only brings about destruction, yet both societies are too cowardly to change course. As a consequence, they try to stamp out any that might challenge this order as quickly as possible.

Socrates found an effective method for exposing the absurdity of the time he lived in through irony and logic. By questioning everything, including the beliefs held common by most Athenians, he could get people to consider ideas that would otherwise be alien to them.

So much of the opposition to modernity today is pointless. It takes the path of most resistance when it comes to argument. Persuading people against deeply ingrained held beliefs by arguing directly against them is, for the most part, impossible. Trying to save the environment by stopping loggers or picketing an abortion clinic only serves to create contention. Those sort of methods don’t help anybody because they don’t attack the root cause, the insane beliefs brought us here in the first place. One only has to expose the absurdity of the modern world for what it is. Lies collapse in on themselves when the slightest amount of truth is introduced in an understandable way. The Modern worldview is its own worst enemy, but only if people see it for what it truly is.

Putting the rage in suffrage

“There’s really no point to voting. If it made any difference, it would probably be illegal.”

–H.L. Mencken

One of the most sacrosanct values of modern government is the ability to vote. The last 300 years, particularly in the Anglosphere, are a litany of ever expanding suffrage to more classes of people. The path of extending this privileged from white, land owning, adult males to anyone over the age of 18 is a long but steady one. It’s clear when you look at politicians and political movements of days gone by and see if they were on the “right side of history”, in this regard. Small battles are still being fought over technicalities, but the war over who can and should vote is long over. Any attitude besides universal suffrage has been banished from mainstream thought for decades.

If you ask anyone if you should vote in an upcoming election, the answer will be a resounding yes aside from a few malcontents. Ask the same person if they plan on voting and you will most likely get a polite lie in return. Barely half of the eligible persons in “the great democracy” of the United States show up to cast a ballot. The disconnect between these two attitudes is obvious and apparent. The highest civic duty and privilege of democracy is barely being utilized.

If you press somebody on this, you might get a bit closer to the truth. “It’s too much of a hassle and one vote never makes a difference anyway.” It takes a rare kind of person to do something even when they know their action will have no affect on it. In fact, it sounds like a form of insanity. Most people with OCD know that nothing changes when they perform their tics ad nauseum. In this light, it is somewhat amazing that half of the population still feels compelled to take half a day to vote. They will put off whatever they were doing to pull a lever in a cardboard station to vote for someone they will never see in person, let alone meet.

The last time I voted, it was out of sheer boredom. The polling station was literally outside my front door and the line was an obstacle to get out onto the street. My curiosity got the better of me, and I thought it would be interesting to join the line.

What ensued was the most potent soul-crushing mix of boredom and frustration in recent memory. First off, the line only had 30 or so people in it, so I figured it would pass fairly shortly. There were several polling stations and five or so odd people assisting the process along. It took me over half an hour to reach the front of the line. The only thing that compelled me further to stay in the line than five minutes was my own sense of stubbornness.

Once I had reached the front of the line, it took them an additional five minutes to verify my identity. I couldn’t simply hand them my drivers license or tell them that I lived on this block, they had to look me up by name in some arcane tome of bureaucracy. After some fumbling around, the half-awake poll worker finally realized the correct order of the alphabet and found the right record.

This got me a ballot in a manilla folder and a cheap ballpoint pen. After wandering over to the makeshift privacy stations they had set up, I proceeded to look over the options on the ballot. It instantly brought me back into my childhood, when I took public school standardized tests. I saw a few names I had recognized from TV ads and sign posts, but the majority of options were faceless people filling previously unknown positions. Part of me just wanted to randomly mark names that sounded nice, and the other part of me wanted to rip the elongated piece of paper into shreds.

I left leaving most of the options blank. I think one of the poll workers might have put it in the wrong box when I left. It made me wonder if my ballot would be thrown out on a technicality. It is too bad you don’t get a revote in that case. The entire process is designed to make it as hard as impossible to do anything right.

The essential flaw behind voting in a modern democracy is that is voluntary while other parts of society are compulsory. Even in countries where voter turn-out is mandatory, abstaining is still an option. Abstaining from paying your taxes, dodging a draft, or ignoring a court subpoena are not. As a consequence, these are the parts of government that people actually pay attention to. It doesn’t matter if you feel these things are honorable or not. It does not need propaganda and peer pressure to speak well of it. You either do it or bad things happen to you. The action taken is based in fear of consequences and a sense of powerlessness.

In this, one can see the true operational capacity of democratic governments. The sense of cooperation and appreciation of diversity are nothing more a facade for the uglier and more necessary parts of government. It’s success relies on the combination of these two forces. They both need each other to thrive. In a society deprived of any sense of commonality or nationhood, something else needs to jump in and fill the void. Otherwise, people will never work together. The farther a society falls into this trap, the more propaganda and fear are needed to patch the gaps.

I sure as hell know that I’ll never go out of my way to vote again.

Slaves of desire

Freedom is a meaningless word. It is cursed with such ambiguity in the modern era that it has lost all significance. It is without form because it it takes many shapes. Ask a thousand people what freedom means to them and you will get a thousand different answers. To the poor man it means being able to have enough money to quit a job he hates. To a rich man means being able to use his wealth however he pleases. It is bent by the whims of whoever interprets it.

Many take advantage of the sorry state of this word. It is a popular platitude for those who wish to been seen favorably in the eyes of others. Countless ideologies, movements, and politicians have hijacked ‘freedom’ as a rallying cry. Don’t like where you live? You simply haven’t been given enough freedom to escape it. Don’t like who rules over you? They are tyrants who have taken your freedom. Do you feel powerless to change your life? Don’t worry, it isn’t your fault, you’ve simply been oppressed.

Freedom is effective as a political tool simply because it shifts the blame away from the individual. It moves it on to shady cabals and devious oppressors who seek to destroy all of the good things in life. The problem is that these people simply do not exist. Every election and revolution starts out with the same premise: liberate the oppressed and crush the oppressors. The outcome is always the same. Not everyone can be “free”. Some men are born to rule and all others must follow.

In modern society, many see freedom as a synonym of permissiveness. It means the freedom to do whatever they want, whenever they want it. It does not matter how it effects the external world. This attitude can be seen every time nature is crushed to make way for a new freeway, every time a couple aborts a child to extend their prolonged adolescence, and every time politicians kick today’s problems further down the road for future generations to deal with. Let the good times never end. It’s not our problem. It will just go away if we sweep it under the rug and keep it there long enough.

To be free in this sense is a desire to live in a world without consequences. It is to be responsible for nothing except your own whims. This is a form of cowardice. Those who run away from responsibility do so because they are scared of it. It stems from a complete lack of self esteem. When you are responsible for something, it means you have the power to create or destroy it based on your actions. When one runs away from responsibility, he is essentially admitting he is not up to the task. He is afraid that by taking responsibility over something, he is more likely to hurt it than help it.

The tragedy of this mindset is that it destroys any possibility of having a meaningful life. If you look towards your ancestors and search for what gave their life a purpose, you will see that every great accomplishment required taking on a great responsibility. Whether that takes form in preserving a culture, defending their land from invaders, or making a home and raising a family in it. Modernity’s complete rejection of these values has created a vast wasteland without purpose. Reclaiming the world so it is full of meaning once more requires us to give up on the illusion of false freedom. Only then can we take responsibility for the things that matter most in life.

The blind leading the blind

Humans are social animals. We face many problems that are too big for any one person to accomplish. As a result, we form groups to solve these problems. Once a team is formed, roles are needed for each individual. Without them, it is impossible to divide labor in any meaningful way. The most logical way to form roles is based on the strength and weaknesses of each team member.

This is much easier said than done. It takes a great deal of foresight and leadership to reach this optimum balance. More often than not, it seems like the most incompetent get put in positions of power. This is nowhere more apparent than in modern society. People today are deeply dissatisfied with leadership at every level in society, from their bosses at work to their national politicians.

The root of this problem comes from modernity’s core values. It values appearances and words over results and action. It values popularity over actual competency. Only those who appear the most confident are able to convince the masses that they are able to lead. The truly wise are in constant doubt of what they know. They know that they know nothing. When you are inexperienced, big problems appear small. You can only know the true size of any problem when you fully understand the smallest parts of it.

Every individual only has a very limited set of knowledge about reality. Even the smartest physicist knows next to nothing about almost every other subject. Ignorance is the natural state of all knowledge. Very few people actually understand what it takes to be a great leader. When everyone gets an equal say in who rules over them, it naturally follows that most leaders will be chosen for superficial and unimportant qualities.

This can only be overcome by silencing the ignorant and promoting the wise. We must start speaking truthfully about the limitations of everyone. The modern tendency to pander to self-esteem and inoffensiveness is in direct opposition to this. As a consequence, honesty takes a back seat. Reality is subverted. What people want rules over what actually is. People having the courage to call out idiocy is the first step towards a healthier society.

Atavism

Conspiracy theories are far more common than we give them credit for. Everyone harbors some belief that the majority rejects. We live in a world where we only see an incomplete picture of reality. You only have one set of eyes.

For a narrative to be compelling, it must be complex. Everyone has tried to interpret a dream at one point in their life. The best ones are the dreams where you only remember bits and pieces. Meaning comes when you try to formulate a cohesive story out of the dream.

Our worldviews are created in a similar way. Wars spring up on every corner of globe. Genocide is a regular occurrence in history. We hear about another mass shooting every month like clockwork. Some people are so rich that they couldn’t be bankrupted from spending a fortune each a day. Others are so poor they can’t even afford food. All of these are begging to be explained. They must have a reason.

Understanding is the basic purpose of consciousness. It is the interpretation of the past to predict the present. The smaller the system, the easier it is to understand. All scientific knowledge is gained by isolating a phenomenon down to its essentials. This sort of thinking is not universally applicable. Treating life like a science experiment is a recipe for disaster. A person is a infinitesimally minute part of a much larger system.

Despite this, we are still implanted with the desire for understanding. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t smart enough to connect the dots, you are going to anyway. Much like the trope of the obsessed detective scouring through random clues to break a case, we search the world for meaning. You see that shady figure behind the bush in this photograph? That isn’t a smudge on the negative, that’s the real the killer.

Modernity has made the world more complex than most people can handle. People want to know why they can’t find a job. They want to know why their kids are so fat. They want to know why their country seems to get worse with each passing year. Most people have a hard time staying awake in history class. Why should we expect them to understand global politics?

What they end up with is nothing more than patchwork. An ideology based on appearances and intuition rather than reality. Some people put their faith in God for these answers. Some people put their trust in a charismatic politician. Very few are honest enough with themselves to realize that truth isn’t a birthright.

Horror vacui, nature abhors a vacuum. Meaning and purpose have always been a useful mechanism for survival. Even if modernity has made it irrelevant, the urge lives on.

This is my rifle

I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to buy a gun.

I realize I’ll probably never use it. It’ll sit at the bottom of a drawer in my nightstand. It’ll be covered by miscellaneous junk that inevitably accumulates in drawers. If I ever need to get to it quickly, I’ll probably have trouble finding it. I won’t keep it loaded so I’ll have to scour the junk once more to find the magazine. The ammo will probably get jammed as I load it. The safety will be set on. With any luck, I’ll have a usable weapon about a minute after I needed it. I’d probably be better of defending myself with a 200-year old, single shot musket.

Owning a gun to “defend yourself” is mostly bullshit. Unless you are going to strap a gun to your chest every day, you are probably never going to be in the position to use it. No, I don’t want a gun for defense. I want it for peace of mind.

It puts you in another class of men. In every society, the people with real power have weapons, and they have the best weapons they can get their hands on. For the past 300 years or so, that has meant guns. In most third-world countries, the government is so ineffective that they do not rule most of their own cities. Some towns are ruled by a mayor and others are ruled by a crimelord. Most cities are a mix of both. They each have their own different set of leaders and laws. There is one sure way to see who has the real power. Just look for the people with the most guns, then you’ll know.

The state only regulates things that threaten its power. It should come as no surprise that guns are heavily-regulated world wide. In many countries like Switzerland and South Korea, gun ownership is strictly tied to military service. Compulsory conscription means that citizens will learn about firearms through their government. How to hold them, how to clean them, how to aim them, and when to use them. Subconsciously, it reinforces the state as the arbiter of destiny. If you want power, you’ll have to get it through them.

It’s hard to meet someone who doesn’t have a strong opinion about guns. This opinion operates on an instinctual and visceral level. Are you uncertian of how you feel about guns? I’ve got a surefire way for you to find to out. Simply hold one in your hand, take aim, and squeeze the trigger. You will feel something. If that target was a person, he’d be dead. Don’t knock it until you tried it.

That amount of power can be intoxicating. If you aren’t ready for it, it will frighten you. It is cathartic. There are a lot of uptight people in the world. I bet if there was a gun range on every corner, there would be a lot less stress. It’d certainly be healthier than a bunch of convenience stores. I wonder how many people are dying each day from cheap beer and potato chips that come in hermetically sealed bags.

That’s probably why my father has a cabinet full of guns. It’s probably why his father does too. I bet my great-grandfather had a whole rack of rifles back in his heyday . I doubt any of the guns were ever used. Besides the occasional target practice, they’ll sit down there and rust. There is something very human about just owning a weapon. You’ve got to prepare yourself if the world goes to hell.