The importance of being frivolous – how to inject our message into art


Mustela nivalis

For serious reasons, we libertarians need to lighten up. We need to develop a way to express ourselves through art. Sean Gabb’s talk to the other LA, posted here recently, is well worth watching and listening to. In it, he presents the case for developing and propagating a libertarian narrative through cultural means. This is necessary, he says, in order to counter the dominating narrative of the ruling class, of the goodness of multiculturalism and enforced integration, and of all sorts of other leftist/tyrannical hobby horses.

A few years ago Sean gave a similar speech to a group of Slovak libertarians. It’s probably on this site here somewhere. I was immediately convinced of his argument. So much so that I started on a novel of my own. However, after about 25,000 words I hit a brick wall. I may return to it someday. Or write something completely different. LA-Blog author Neil Lock did rather better than me (although I don’t know whether this was inspired by Sean or not) and wrote a science fiction novel called “Going Galactic”. I encourage every libertarian to try out their talents in some art: music, storytelling, painting, whatever. The earlier the better. We need art to tell our story, our “narrative”. We need it to reach not just the head, but the heart as well. We need it to transport our messages to people who have never heard of Mises, Hayek, or for that matter, Keynes. And never will. People who may have heard of Marx but don’t even know his first name is written with a K.

In a previous post, I stated that, after Marxism had been roundly defeated in intellectual discourse, the left had retreated from the battlefield of economic theory only to pitch their tents on the field of culture. I had said it was “ca. 1890”. I’ll now call a more precise date: 1896. That was the year that the economist of the Austrian School Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk published the final “theoretical” nail in the Marxian coffin: “Karl Marx and the Close of his System”. That same year some Frenchman called Alfred Jarry wrote a play, produced later that year, called “Ubu Roi”. Wikipedia writes about it: “It is a precursor to the Theatre of the Absurd and Surrealism. It is the first of three stylised burlesques in which Jarry satirises power, greed, and their evil practices—in particular the propensity of the complacent bourgeoisie to abuse the authority engendered by success.”

The play may not have been “the” blueprint, but it certainly seems to have laid out the pattern for leftist cultural revolution: Vilifying “authority engendered by success”, in fact authority itself and success itself – no matter where it came from, whether it was legitimate or not. And it concentrated its ire on the “bourgeoisie” and thus away from the really powerful: the government. Jarry laid out the pattern in another way which is all too familiar today: “His plays are controversial for their scant respect to royalty, religion and society, their vulgarity and scatology, their brutality and low comedy, and their perceived utter lack of literary finish.” (Wikipedia.)

So the idea of “form”, of some coherence, is dismissed, even maligned. That is to this day the meta-message of much of left wing and now ruling class culture: Destruction of organically grown form paves the way for a new world order. Long live chaos seems to be the motto. The kind of chaos upon which thugs, machos and other scum thrive, as demonstrated last week in Frankfurt and in a pub in Downe, Kent. After William Butler Yeats watched the premiere of “Ubu Roi” in Paris he had dark premonitions: “After us the Savage God.” Indeed, the play “is now seen by some to have opened the door for what became known as modernism in the twentieth century.” (Wikipedia again.) And now, plays and other forms of art in the vein of “Ubu Roi” get promoted in state financed schools and media, making whole generations love Big Brother (who will save them from chaos and the evil bourgeoisie, they believe).

That is not to say that M. Jarry is the root of all evil. But the coincidence of his play appearing the year that Marxism was killed off on paper is striking. The “Hideous Strength” (C.S. Lewis) simply found another outlet, another platform on which to play its horrible tune. It will continue to find outlets, because it is the expression of a basic religion. But it needs to be combated wherever it is. And now is the right time to do it.

It is on the field of culture on which the modern ideology of tyranny and destruction has advanced, cloaking itself in a costume of high brow intellectualism, impenetrable verbiage, and token gestures of compassion. These plays, stories, songs etc. form a “narrative” which no amount of treatises, theorizing articles etc. can combat.

One thing we can – and must – do is to learn from the enemy. Copy not their content of course, but the way in which they succeed. In his more recent speech linked above Sean mentions an often used tactic: The injection of a message somewhere into an otherwise fairly innocuous story (or painting or song etc). Sean does this in his books. I think we need more than tactics to become successful overall. We also need, as the left has, an eschatology (only they don’t call it that, they don’t have a word for it, but that’s what they have and what keeps them on the road despite all setbacks in the real world once they implement their policies). I’ve written about that before, so today I’ll concentrate on the tactics.

Here’s a recent example of how a “ruling class message injection” into a story works:

I occasionally watch modern films, but not so much for entertainment. Most are full of vapid, empty guff. Lots of superficial glamour, stale jokes, technological wizardry, lots of politically correct history, at best pseudo philosophy, lots of lurid stuff, some token and approved minorities and on the whole rather low on intelligent content. However, some are bearable and my daughters love them and so I occasionally acquiesce to watch one with them. I use the time to detect the hidden narrative.

Last weekend I watched the film “The Imitation Game” (2014), the one about Alan Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Surprisingly his homosexuality was not front and centre of the plot (the film was criticized by the usual suspects because of that – unsurprisingly, they missed the actual point of the film). I had expected a story of how beastly everyone was to poor Alan because of him being gay. But no, it was only some minor policeman, according to the film, who nicked him for that. Not “society”. Neither was his atheism stressed, in fact it wasn’t mentioned at all. If anything, it was his apparent Asperger’s syndrome (not true, say other critics) that the film seemed to tell us had caused people to shun or despise him (for his seeming arrogance). But even that was just a side show. The injected “narrative” of the film was not that gay disabled atheists are a better form of human being, as I had half expected. That was just background noise, so to speak.

No, quite another ruling class narrative was injected into this film. And the choice is a highly interesting one. The injection appears right after the team finally cracked the Enigma code. At that moment, they are the only people outside the Nazi realm who can see what the enemy are up to. They realise that an Atlantic convoy is about to be attacked by U-Boats. One of the team rushes to the phone, to alert high command. Turing intervenes and even smashes the phone. Even when another team member tearfully tells him that “my brother” is on one of the targeted ships, Turing does not relent. He responds (I’m paraphrasing from memory): “Our job is not to save individual people, our job is to help win the war”. The reason being of course that the Germans must not know that the code has been cracked, so they’ve got to be very careful who they tell and how to react to the information. The narrative transported in this highly improbable, actually completely untrue, melodramatic scene – which does nothing to move the story forward – is this: For the greater good, sacrifices have to be made. And: Leave it to the experts to make the proper decisions. We’re at war don’t you know.

In a separate injection in that film it is implied that war time Soviet spies in Britain were fairly decent and well meaning chaps, and, not to worry, MI6 was on their case all along. After all, MI6 were “helping an ally” get the proper information. That this ally wasn’t one until summer 1941, and in any case a mass murdering monster, is swept under the carpet.

Again: Leave it to the experts, we are told.

This is interesting because this film appears at a time (2014) when ruling class “technocracy” is under heavy attack. It is under an amount of pressure it has never been since the invention of movable letter print and the subsequent Reformation. (The Edward Snowden revelations e.g. started in June 2013.) Due to the internet, and due to people having more time to inform themselves (this being a function of growing prosperity), official pronouncements on global warming, financial crises, international tensions, health issues, food issues, terrorism, surveillance, you name it, all with the purpose of creating a New World Order (leave it to the experts), are suffering from a large and growing credibility gap. The ruling class are in defence mode. Their narrative injections, at least in “The Imitation Game”, show that, for the time being, they are on the back foot.

So this is good news. Back to the original purpose of the post: Precisely because the ruling class is on the back foot, this is a better time than ever before for everyone else to push their narrative. It has to be done through art though, and although it needs to promote an “eschatology” to have any long term effect, it does not need one to get started.

5 thoughts on “The importance of being frivolous – how to inject our message into art

  1. Golly. This is one of the moments when you think to yourself: “I knew that all along…..in my heart…so why couldn’t I have said it then?

    Thank you Mustela, thank you so, so much.
    You have been able to articulate what I thought was right, but didn’t know how to do it. I think Sean thinks it too, and was groping towards it rather faster than I was.

  2. I would argue too that the Admiralty in 1915 got into hot water, especially with the Daily Mail (yes it did exist then) for deliberately not alerting civilian towns like Hartlepool, Yarmouth, Scarborough and Whitby, to the effect that they were about to be bombarded from the North sea the next morning by (some of, and we even knew which ones) the Kaiser’s High Seas Fleet “units”, mainly battle-cruisers, which had rather large guns, averaging 11-12 inch-calibres, but carried somewhat little weight in armour, and compensated for this with rather more turbines and boilers than an equivalent “battleship”, and so could run away fast if challenged.

    If we had caused those towns to be evacuated at particular times for particular reasons, then it would have indicated to spies (and there were a few then still) that “Room 40” was routinely decrypting and reading the High seas Fleet’s codes (which it was) for stuff sent by “wireless”, which the HSF deemed safe.

    If we’d done that, then Tirpitz and his other blokes whose names I sadly can’t right now recall would have detected that we were reading their codes, would have changed them, and then we might have lost the war. I can’t say that for sure, but it wasn’t a risk that I, as Sean Gabb’s War Secretary, would have agreed to take. I would have resigned immediately and asked him to appoint someone else, or, more probably, I would have shot him in the chest instantly and taken over.

    I seem to remember that Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty, before Gallipoli, did in fact get into political trouble over this one thing, rather badly. Gallipoli did for him, which was unfair because the Imperial General Staff procrastinated and messaged far far far too much in advance, so that the Turks then could find out what was being planned, and order more mines and guns and wire. So we lost.

  3. The British commanders at Sulva Bay, David, the British commanders at Sulva Bay – they took what should have been victory and turned into defeat. The “experts”, the “professionals” failed – and failed utterly. They showed a basic lack of basic common sense – failing to attack when the had 20 thousand men and the enemy just a few hundred militia, allowing the enemy to rush in reinforcements and build defences.

    Yes M.N. – the treatment of the matter of Soviet spies (and so on) in the film is deeply disturbing.

    Pro liberty people in the arts – in culture.

    There have been such people – most notably Ayn Rand.

    Sadly the lady mainly gets abuse around here.

  4. My dear weaselly friend,

    You have touched a nerve here. David Davis’s first comment is a peach. Ten thousand monkeys have spoken!

    And thank you for the personal compliment for finishing my novel. I too hit writer’s block, in my case about two-thirds of the way through. I got round it thusly: I took myself off to a nice town (Taunton) for a long week-end. On the Saturday morning (it was my 56th birthday), I sat down at the desk in my hotel room, vowing not to leave the room until I had written at least another 500 words. Seven hours later, I had written what is now one of the longest chapters in the book.

    As to whether Sean influenced me, his example was certainly not the main reason why I wrote my novel. But he is not entirely innocent of the charge of inspiring me. This is one very good reason why I have stuck with Sean, rather than rejecting him as so many others among more radical libertarians seem to have done.

    That said, as I’m sure Sean would tell you, libertarianism doesn’t sell today. I know this, because I’m ahead of the game in many ways. Visit my Going Galactic blog at http://www.goinggalactic.co.uk and you’ll see that I’ve started re-publishing some of my past limericks and “pomes.” And I am, for my sins, a composer of music for brass band, and I’ve even written three songs. One of them is an extended version of Monty Python’s “Philosophers’ Song” which I, just last week in the Ukraine, got a bunch of students to sing with me at one of Glenn Cripe’s Liberty Camps.

    (Oh yes, and Sean and I had an exchange of verses on an earlier thread. I still enjoy the one I wrote about Horatius defending the bridge…)

    In the rest of your post, you make many good points. They need more thought than I have available tonight. I hope that others here will respond in the positive spirit in which you wrote your post.

    Cheers,
    Neil

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