My musings on different political topics relevant to America today.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Modernism, History, and Politics

Lately I have been reading two intriguing books and also watching House Hunters International.  I acknowledge that last point reluctantly, since its embarassing, but the combination of these activities has lead me to strange insights that may be completely wrong, but nonetheless I will share them with you.  I will let you be the judge.

There is one episode in House Hunters International in which a New Yorker moves to Cyprus with her two kids.  They look at three homes as is routine on the show, and must evaluate which they prefer.  I couldn't help but notice that two of them were super modern.  Meanwhile, Cyprus has a very ancient feel to it, with ruins all around.

The more I thought about it, the more intriguing it was to me that modern architecture and slowly crept into mainstream appeal, and that its basically the same everywhere it is employed.  It is always very "squarish" for lack of a better term, and there are large windows everywhere.  The structure itself almost appears as a blank slate, clean, but lacking flaws or character that give any sense of place or time.  The main characteristic of it is simplicity in design, and an adaptability to multiple environments.  Its like an isolated prism through which the alien inhabitants can gaze upon the earthlings as they mill around doing whatever earthlings do.

Its hard to say exactly what it is without saying what it isn't.  It isn't historical.  It isn't rooted.  It has no culture.  It has no place.  Thats modern architecture.  Its the architecture of what I believe is an emerging cosmopolitan global citizen.  This global citizen has no ties to particular places or a particular culture.  His culture is that of the world.  Its a global cosmopolitan culture.  While most people are still tied to regions of various sizes, and thus are tied to the heritage and history of their homeland.  The global citizen has forsaken her regional heritage in order to embrace a global one.

This global culture is still in its infancy, and thus must make sure to tread lightly.  It does so by taking unassuming forms that cannot offend.  Modern architecture cannot offend because its not rooted in anything.  A steeple can offend because it is rooted in Christian tradition.  A dome found on a mosque can offend for the same reason.  Cowboy boots, hijabs, etc. can all offend because one associates these symbols with history and culture.  Meanwhile, the dress of the modern person is intentionally ambiguous.  Same for the architecture and other modes of cultural expression.  Modernism can traverse space like no other cultural mode because its the absence of culture, while counter intuitively rising as an alternative culture.  It can assume both functions because the new Cosmopolitan elite can overlay a new global culture onto the seemingly benign blueprint of Modernism.

This all might make little sense, so I will give an example.  The modern houses built in Cyprus do not express or imitate the local culture in any way.  They are alien invaders so to speak.  However, they are accepted because they are not seen as cultural invaders.  If someone was to build a house that was blatantly French, British, or Japanese in character, I think the residents of Cyprus would complain.  However, since the houses were modern, aka lacked a culture, offense was not possible.  The people of cyprus could not claim there was cultural imperialism to modernist structures precisely because modernist structures are rootless, they do not claim any cultural origination based off ethnicity or geography.  It is this supposed blankness of modernism that makes it so effective in traversing international boundaries and slowly assert itself as the better expression of culture versus the expressions original to the localities it invades.  The genius lies in its ability to slowly destroy the culture of localities and regions without ever directly challenging them.

The new cosmopolitan elite has adapted modernism as its form of cultural expression.  Modernism has become the new high culture, much in the same way high French culture used to rule amongst the elites in the early to mid 20th century.  However whats unique about modernism is its lack of a national origin.  Since High French Culture originated in France, its appeal would always be limited.  However since Modernism's origins are international, its not doomed to such a fate.

My theory for the rise of this bifurcation of regional versus global culture is the unique immigration policies of our time.  The best and brightest can always move around and intermingle.  Every nation around the world will bend over backwards to attract this meritocratic elite to live and work in their country.  Meanwhile migration is much harder for those with low to middling skill sets.  Thus regional culture and identity are much more likely to be retained amongst these groups than the former.

This divide I believe will be the ultimate dividing line politically for years to come.  The meritocratic, and thus globally oriented, elite will be far more likely to embrace modernism.  They will embrace modernism out of necessity to get along with different people all over the globe.  They will be truely global citizens, able to access any opportunity the world has to offer as part of the meritocratic elite.  The international intermingling of this elite will ensure a more international and globalist perspective by its members.  They will likely, in my view, favor free trade, free migration, while also favoring strong international institutions to combat climate change and counteract recessions.  They will be even more inclined to favor these institutions since they will be run by elites like themselves.

The other political group will be oriented around the needs of regional and national cultural and political units.  They will be the Trump supporters, the Brexit voters, and whatever other groups that are determined to preserve national and/or regional cultural identities.  They will view the globalist elite with suspicion, and will work to ensure their nation states work primarily to preserve their societies as distinct and to prevent the domination of the new globalized elite.  They will likely favor protectionism, capital controls, restricted migration, etc.

I never thought of architecture being political but after reading excerpts of The Closing of the American Mind, and The Contradictions of Capitalism.  its has dawned on me that all forms of expression are linked to a culture of some kind.  We are not autonomous individuals that customize every aspect of our identity.  Since we must interact with others, our tastes will always be influenced by those with which we associate.  Anyways just some food for thought, have fun overthinking!

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