As you may know, I’m listening to Hillsdale College’s seminar on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and re-reading the book. This story about the group Decolonize This Place and their nine-week protest at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which ended in the middle of May, made me think about the section in Aristotle’s treatise on justice.
The group was protesting the presence of Warren Kanders on the board of the museum because his company manufactures tear gas. “Kanders represents an untenable hypocrisy for an art institution that purports to present radical works,” according to the article. In the group’s own metaphors-run-amok prose: “We can no longer accept the art-world logic of career over cause, with artists and critics making politically engaged work against the backdrop of an institutional framework grounded in the art-washing of profits for figures like Kanders.” In short, they think it is wrong for Kanders to be on the board because he makes a product that is used to help enforce laws, including ones limiting immigration, and they think it is wrong for the private, non-profit Whitney to manage its finances as it sees fit, putting its own success over progressive causes that Decolonize happens to support.
The rich irony of Decolonize This Place is that while they think they are acting in the name of justice, they are, in reality, acting tyrannically—imposing their rather narrow opinion on others and attempting to force them to act accordingly. It is not illegal or immoral to make or sell tear gas. In fact, one could argue it is one of the more humane ways of subduing a riot—better than clubs and bullets, I’d say. Of course, it can be used for good or evil, but it takes a rather thick skull not to understand that in most cases evil actors should be punished for the evil use of a thing, not the creator of the thing itself. There’s also nothing illegal about a private institution managing what it owns as it sees fit. In fact, as Aristotle argues, freedom to make choices about one’s life and affairs is necessary for a just society. But Decolonize This Place is trying to take that freedom away from the Whitney simply because it disagrees with how the museum is managing its own affairs.
By the way, Decolonize This Place also thinks of itself as an art group that (if you can handle the mushy thinking here) blurs “the lines between knowledge, action, practice, academia, and activism. I think you can say we’re about art, but we’re also [about] changing perceptions.” So, the Whitney is wrong to put “career over cause,” but Decolonize This Place is free to pursue both at the same time—and get a nice interview in Pacific Standard talking about their “aesthetic,” to boot. Talk about hypocrisy.
Let’s look at some real art, shall we? Check out these illustrations in Victorian children’s books.
Luke Kennard reviews Andrew Martin’s latest novel, Early Work, which sounds interesting: “Andrew Martin’s Early Work functions simultaneously as a celebratory autofiction about literary life in the United States and an indictment of the generation that populates it. ‘Most of the people I associated with considered themselves exceptional,’ says Pete, the protagonist, and we may take this to mean above average or, simply, those to whom normal rules don’t apply: “‘So you work from, uh, home?’ ‘Yeah, I’m a bum,’ she said. ‘Like you, I heard.’ I figured she meant writer.” Pete and his friends, all in their late twenties with MFAs in creative writing, rent cheaply in rural Virginia, where bars are plentiful, everyone is smart and funny, and the drugs are strong and readily available. The novel opens: ‘Like most people trying to get by in something like the regular current of American life, I don’t act like a total asshole to most people I meet, and am generally regarded as pretty nice, mainly because I leave myself vulnerable to hearing out other people’s crises and complaints for longer, on average, than would be merely polite.’ Self-aware to the point of self-loathing, Pete attributes his personality to being ‘raised by relatively kind parents who taught me to be polite and decent and to rely on the company and the help of others, but to also consider myself smarter and, on some fundamental level, more deserving of complete fulfilment than anyone in the world besides maybe my sisters.’”
What did Old English sound like? Have a listen if you’ve never heard it read or spoken.
The day Agatha Christie disappeared as reported in The New York Times.
Before the invention of x-rays and the modern xylophone, the letter X was for Xerxes and Xantippe, sometimes Pope Xystus and Xany, in alphabet books.
Recovering the seriousness of Herakles: “Barnard Columbia Ancient Drama’s recent production of Herakles in the Minor Latham Playhouse was notable for many reasons. The acting, particularly Yilin Liu as Lyssa, is superb. And Caleb Simone’s deft direction ensures that the entire production coheres wonderfully. But the play is also performed in ancient Greek (with subtitles projected for the audience) and, most significantly, accompanied by a reconstructed score on an auloi, a double-reed wind instrument. It is, perhaps, as Mary Spencer writes in National Review, “the first time the instrument has been fully employed in the performance of a tragedy since ancient times.” And while it isn’t necessarily true that tragic performances have become “cliché,” they can often take on the Herculean quality of having “reached the boundary of their own myth.” It’s a wonderful paradox that pushing them farther back towards something more resembling their original formal structure allows them to resonate more clearly within a contemporary audience. This production of Herakles thus makes itself relevant by eschewing timeliness.”
Essay of the Day:
In The American Scholar, Steve Lagerfeld writes that self-driving cars will make the roads much safer one day . . . and life a lot less enjoyable and, perhaps, less contemplative, too:
“I recently drove a Tesla for the first time, or rather it drove me. The Model 3 was beautifully appointed, embraced the road like a lover, and boasted the kind of instant acceleration that car aficionados like to call head-snapping. It was a terrific experience right up until the moment I switched on Autopilot and the car’s computer took command, eerily changing lanes and keeping pace in traffic. The car even parked itself. I marveled at the Tesla’s otherworldly powers, but I couldn’t help feeling sad. The Model 3 and its electric kin can’t reliably steer themselves without a human copilot, but that limitation won’t last forever. When it’s gone, driving and all the wonderful things that go with it will be roadkill. Elon Musk’s remarkable driving machine will someday help bury driving itself.
“The end of driving is a tragic necessity, like removing ice cream from your diet. More than 37,000 Americans (and more than a million people worldwide) were killed in traffic accidents in 2017, and the vehicles weren’t often to blame. It was the drivers—drunk, stupid, inept, or just unlucky. More than half the deaths involved only one vehicle. The coming of autonomous cars won’t eliminate traffic deaths, but it will save many lives. Traffic will be unsnarled and calmed, harmful emissions will decline, and former drivers will be free to text and play Candy Crush all the way to the office. Inevitably, it will become illegal for humans to take the wheel—which will probably have joined the engine crank and the human appendix in the museum of vestigial things. Along with the steering wheel will go the internal combustion engine, its burblings and exultations so big a part of the sensory experience of driving.
“I’m sure I’ll appreciate all this when, too old to drive, I can summon a robotic Ford to take me to the grocery store (if such a thing is still around). Until then I’ll be in mourning. Cars will continue to exist, but when driving ends in the foreseeable future, we will all become passengers, passively conveyed down the roads and byways of our lives. We’ll leave behind a form of adventure and freedom and, more than that, a haven of privacy, intimacy, and creativity. And we will lose a way of encountering others that teaches us how to be more civilized.
“Driving may be in bad odor for environmental reasons, and post-millennials may not be as eager to get their licenses as their elders were, but most people enjoy driving and some even—gasp!—like commuting. A third of those polled by Gallup last spring said they enjoy being behind the wheel ‘a great deal,’ and another 44 percent said they enjoy it ‘a moderate amount.’ Only 21 percent said they didn’t like it much or at all. A few people even told other pollsters they wished their commutes were longer.
“Something interesting is going on inside all those cars, and most of it is in our minds. Car time is often private time, leaving you alone with your thoughts in your own self-contained capsule—or perhaps with the absence of any thoughts. It is a refuge.”
Photo: Church of Good Shepherd
Poem: Amit Majmudar, “Deaths of the Eminent Philosophers”
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