Sun Ra - Column for 2/11

I, the Elite

In Modern Western Civilization, almost without exception, society is cast from a liberal democratic mold. No one is above the law, and the law is determined by the will of the people, in a democratic fashion. It has been increasingly so from the revolutions of the Age of Enlightenment onwards, sometimes stepping back, but then always taking two steps forward. So that now, people in Western societies are generally considered to be equal to their peers. There are of course differences based on circumstance, but our societal philosophy states that no one is inherently more valuable or deserves differently in life than anyone else. It doesn't map perfectly to the social model, where some people are smarter or richer or better looking, but it's the system we've got and it works pretty well. Politically - one person, one vote. Economically - if it's for sale, my money is as good as yours. Legally - everyone is equal before the law.

This leaves us with one major problem. Equality is not inherently satisfactory. Who feels that all other people are their equal? And it is particularly galling to live in a social construct where everyone is equal when you are in the minority. And this dissatisfaction with equality is the driving force behind some very interesting trends, trends which have one major feature in common: the denunciation of equality.

Philosophy is a particularly good example. If you are a philosopher, and you live in a world that is a) run by the people and b) is not in line with your philosophy, what can be your only conclusion? That 'the people' are either misguided by malevolent forces, or that they are inherently wrong and/or foolish. The first conclusion becomes more difficult to support given the generally happy and increasingly enjoyable lives of the citizenry. The Western societies of the last fifty years are hard to characterize as being run for someone else's benefit.

Which means that the people in general are wrongheaded. And this in turn means that the concept of human equality is a bad concept, since obviously you the philosopher are correct, yet the world is not. Thus you, or people who think like you or listen to you, should be elevated to positions above the masses. And even if this is not feasible, you should at the very least condemn such an obviously ill-run society, and retreat to your books and your truths, preserving your thought until such time as it can be appreciated; be one of Nietzche's "giants speaking to each other across the sands of time".

Or - or - you could attempt to end-run the whole democracy business. The government won't stop loggers from cutting down trees? Spike them. The government won't stop advancing international trade? Go to Seattle and riot. Maybe it will slow them down. The government won't stop abortions? Do it yourself - murder a few doctors. If the democratic process isn't working for you, there are options.

But, obviously, to step outside the law is to acknowledge your belief that you are superior to the bulk of all other people. By embracing liberal democracy, the West has forced people unsatisfied with things as they are to re-address their concept of equality. With the above examples, generally the actions of less intelligent or introspective thinkers, the usual solution is that the people are being fooled or misled or even not really represented by their government. Thinkers of a deeper caliber find themselves forced to admit that no, people are not equal, and that a system based on this supposed equality is, well, wrong.

Which is also evident culturally. The reason modern art is so, well, bad, is because art that is popular, by virtue of meeting with the approval of the masses, is worthless. Thus art that the masses dislike is true Art. And in this arena, unlike that of politics, the masses have bought into this idea hook, line, and sinker. It's not that a person doesn't like "blank white canvas #23", it's that they "don't understand it", they "don't get it." The argument that artistic taste is equal is much less compelling, and so the loud voices of the unsatisfied have won out, convincing the populace that they actually don't like what they should like. "The Simpsons" is vulgar entertainment; "The Rite of Spring" is Art. Amusingly, the dissatisfied individual's very need to be elite shackles them to the public - because they can only like what the public has rejected. As soon as an Artist is discovered, they become a capitalist shill.

Of course, people are not equal, a fact recognized politically and socially for millenia up to the nineteenth century, when it was discovered that abiding by the fiction of equality allowed for much greater happiness and societal stability. Of course, as we have rid ourselves of aristocrats, we have tied ourselves to each other... to every other. If I don't like a play, and the public in general does, am I less then they? Obviously not - they must be less than I. Thus other things that they like, that they believe, are probably also wrong. We need our cultural elite, who will like what I like and drag society along. Equality is just not satisfactory.

Columns by Sun Ra