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Life Arts    H4'ed 3/24/15

Jump out of the pot!

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"I'm getting hot," croaked the frog as he floated in a pot of water from which steam was beginning to rise.

"Me too," croaked the other frog as she paddled listlessly. "This water used to be warm. Now it's too hot."

"Oh well... nothing we can do about it. Maybe it'll get better."

"Let's enjoy what we can," she croaked. "We'll listen to the music and watch the pictures on the ceiling that keep changing. They're pretty."

"OK... I'm feeling dreamy."

As the water simmered, the frogs slipped into a stupor; they were unconscious as they began to boil.

Like the frogs, we are provided with pictures, music, and other pleasures to distract us from the worsening conditions of our lives and render us incapable of changing them. These entertainments lull us with subjective emotions that offer solace and escape from our objective reality. They range from the crude to the refined, but all are characterized by glorifying the inner life of the supposedly sovereign individual. This esthetic trend, part of the romantic movement, began with the ascendancy of capitalism and expressed the self-oriented mentality of the rising bourgeoisie. The new rulers supported institutions and art that reflected their personalities: extreme individuality that rejected all fetters and pursued its desires regardless of the consequences for others. In exalting the superior autonomous spirit over the mediocre masses, it served to isolate the growing socialist movement. By the mid 19th century this had trickled down to become a widespread mentality of the educated population, cutting them off from the working class. Marx summed it up: "The ruling ideology is always the ideology of the rulers."

As the crises of capitalism deepened in the 20th century, the emphasis on subjectivity increased, especially in the realms of art and philosophy. The inner world, the joys and pains of our private emotions, was portrayed as the highest and most authentic topic for art. The artist became the new priest, guiding us to sublime planes of existence. This prevailing esthetic encouraged us to leave the crass social reality behind and become an aristocrat of the spirit. It reinforced passivity and turned the personal life into a refuge from and a substitute for the public life. This trend has now reached its effete endstage in postmodernism with its deconstruction of reality into conceptual narratives that have only subjective meanings.

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William T. Hathaway is an award-winning novelist and an emeritus Fulbright professor of creative writing. His peace novel, Summer Snow, is the story of an American warrior falling in love with a Sufi Muslim and learning from her that higher (more...)

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