Part of an ongoing conversation. Stephen J writes (quoting me):
“Crudity and vulgarity is sacred to the socialist, because to deprive the world of beauty and dignity is necessary for their program; is in an innate part of their philosophy.”
For what it’s worth, I have seen Mieville get called on this before, and I believe he defends much of it by simply pointing to the place names and speech patterns characteristic of much of 18th- and 19th-century London — translated for contemporaneous jargon, it pretty much is just that filthy, apparently.
Which leads to what I guess to be the socialist counterargument about Beauty, which is not that it is neither real nor important but that in a capitalist society it most often becomes merely another commodity hoarded by the rich and denied the poor, and where it is made available to the poor it is, in practice, used as at best a distraction and at worst as a narcotic and tool of control. Crudity and vulgarity are not sacred in themselves, they are only a necessary step in breaking the mental habits that perpetuate this structure. (The fact of the savage fun with which crudity and vulgarity are all too often embraced as ends rather than means, however, is the point most socialists I’ve read have always left out of their calculations. You can’t build a society that will remake human nature if you have to use humans to build that society.)
Ironically, the thesis that it is precisely the commodification and political exploitation of Beauty that destroys it (a point that dovetails neatly with the book’s greatest tragic arc, the fate of the character named Lin) is one that you do not have to be a socialist to believe, I think.
Your analysis of the Socialist theory of beauty pays the Socialists the compliment of taking them at their word, as if they were actually concerned with the plight of the poor and the costs and drawbacks of the free market. I cannot share your rosy picture of them nor pay them that compliment.
I believe Socialism to be merely a limb of a larger theological movement — if I may use the older and more precise terminology — a heresy. A heresy is when one part of a coherent and organic idea is plucked out of the middle of the context in which it makes sense and expanded and emphasized to become a master idea from which all other ideas flow. In the case of socailism, the Christian idea of all men being individually judged, possessing individual worth as the images of God, and of compassion for the poor become the master idea. The liberty of the free market which is necessary for these ideas to find some practical way to uplift the poor becomes demonized, and is blamed for all ills. The socialist promises that centralized control of the economic will produce greater wealth and prosperity, and when that idea is laughed off the world stage, it hastens to promise other things, anything and everything that sounds good, whether possible or impossible, that an honest or dishonest man might need or want, such as the equality of the sexes, harmony between the races, world peace, equality of income, free health care, free everything else, two cars in every garage, the downfall of the proud, and all tears wiped away.
This heresy cannot stand by its own. It is not really an economic theory. Socialists do not talk about the topic economists talk about, such as the impact of minimum wage laws on unemployment rates, or the effect of the free movement of goods and services across border on prices, and so on. They talk about social justice, the oppression of women, black slavery, and the utopia to come. They talk about the sins of man and the New Jerusalem to be ushered in by the all-powerful all-seeing omnipresent and benevolent god of the total state.
In short, real economists talk about how the free market operates to produce wealth, given the limitations and scarcities of reality. Socialists talk about how wealth will appear out of nowhere for no reason in defiance of the laws of economics once a totalitarian system makes limitations, scarcity, and reality illegal. It is anti-ecnomics.
Hence, the heresy requires, just as orthodoxy requires, a metaphysical foundation on which to rest.
Christianity rests on the metaphysical foundation of belief in an objective reality created by an objective and rational God, who created man with reason — a faculty that enables him to comprehend a rationally-constructed universe — and which gives man dignity, the ability to understand the difference between right and wrong. Man also, in the Christian worldview, suffered a primordial moral catastrophe called the Fall of Man, which puts him in a position where he knows what is right but cannot bring himself to do it. Christianity is at once the most optimistic of doctrines, since it posits man is the specially loved favorite of creation, made in the image of God and like Him able to reason and to speak; but is also the most pessimistic, since it denies man has any way to avoid bathing in evil like a pig in filth, no way to save himself nor help himself.
The socialist heresy is part of a broader heretical worldview, one that does not have a name but which might as well be called Postchristianity or Neognosticism or Postmodernism. Unlike the antichristian Gnostics of old, the Postchristians do not believe in a spirit world, but they do agree with the Gnostic doctrine that the world is radically evil, that God (or the idea of God) is evil and the source of evil, and that the esoteric knowledge of the elect few, the masterminds, will save the world.
Neognosticism posits that man can build utopia by his own heroic effort, provided only that enough sacrifice of other people’s lives and fortunes is embraced. Man is perfectible because he is not innately evil, not fallen. It posits that man is imperfect due to the backward and unenlightened institutions of civilization, especially the
institution of private property, but feminist neognostics also posit that the institution of the family is the source of all ills. Pervertarian postchristians posit that normal sexual relations between men and women or a desire for the same, are the source of all ills. The source changes from season to season as rhetorical convenience demands.
If man is perfectible but imperfect, and in imperfect due to loyalty to the institutions of civilization, then the proper emotional coign of vantage, that is, the proper
perspective from which to view man is that man is an intractable beast who needs to be gelded, bred, and tamed to produce the tame superman.
Ironically, the Christian who views all sons of Adam as tainted with the sins of Adam logically must regard man as innately dignified. Man is damnable, but no one is born damned. No one is such a damned fool that he is not worth saving. No one is unworthy of heaven because heaven is a gift.
But, also ironically, the Postchristian worldview requires that if man is perfectible but imperfect, and merely awaits the totalitarian enlightened dictator to force him into utopia, Man cannot be regarded as dignified. He cannot have any rights, since rights spring from the institutions of civilization, nor can he be shown any signs of respect or honor, except unless he is a fellow comrade in the revolution against civilization, in which case he must be content to be called ‘comrade’ or ‘brother’ or some other sign of respect due only to his loyalty to the cause, not to his human person. He is respected only as a raw material for the utopia.
Polite and refined language innately almost instictively shows respect to the human person as human, and not as a raw material for the utopia. Woman and children are not a specially protected or honored class of men, because that implied a special dignity to human life and those who mother it, and it implies a special leadership and protective role for men. Respect for the fine arts implies a respect for the human ability to appreciate and create beauty. Dignity in speech, the avoidance of words that are crash or crude or scatological or vulgar implies a respect for the decency, for womanhood, for marriage, and for all the things that make a young man abashed if his speech is too crude.
So, with all due respect, I cannot entertain your conclusions about the reason why Socialists love vulgarity, because you do them the credit of assuming they are honest, and I see a broader movement behind their socialism, which is no more than the political arm of a more general antichristian worldview that hates the image of God seen in man, and wants man to be comfortable in the gutter slime and insists men talk like gutter slime.