November 26, 2011

Amen, brother Albert....

One of the more odd-but-meaningful moments of my life was in 1971. One of my professors at UC Berkeley was the well-known architecture critic Allen Temko. He brought a batch of his students over to SF for the "unveiling" of the Vaillancourt Fountain, and we handed out his flyers deriding it. (I remember the flyer described Justin Herman as "the Gauleiter of the Redevelopment Agency.") It was a signal moment of my life, though it took me 3 decades to really start to "see" it. To see what it meant.

Burke touches [the] matter of patriotism with a searching phrase. 'For us to love our country,' he said, 'our country ought to be lovely.' I have sometimes thought that here may be the rock on which Western civilization will finally shatter itself. Economism can build a society which is rich, prosperous, powerful, even one which has a reasonably wide diffusion of material well-being. It can not build one which is lovely, one which has savour and depth, and which exercises the irresistible attraction that loveliness wields. Perhaps by the time economism has run its course the society it has built may be tired of itself, bored by its own hideousness, and may despairingly consent to annihilation, aware that it is too ugly to be let live any longer.
      -- Albert J. Nock

Well, we can see this all around us. It's plain as a pikestaff, but no one wants to see. Look at this picture of the Vaillancourt Fountain, with the Ferry Building behind it...

Nihilist Vaillancourt Fountain and noble tower

Our world is belatedly becoming conscious that there's something very bad going on with birthrates. (If you are new to our brave new situation, "TFR" stands for Total Fertility Rate. It's how demographers designate birthrates. The TFR number is births-per-woman. A TFR of 2.1 is replacement rate. That is, the birth-rate at which population will stay the same. Below that, population shrinks. Above, it grows. Europe now has an average TFR of 1.5. Europe is toast.)

The book to read right now is David P. Goldman's How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam Is Dying Too) (I wish I had the ooompf to write a full review, but I did write a bit here.)

Goldman points out that the most reliable correlation is between birth rates and faith. Family size correlates with frequency of religious observance. (This is not controversial, demographers are in agreement on this one.) I'd like to suggest that there is something else that dovetails with birthrates, although it can't be quantified or pinned down.

Knowing what we know now, I will submit with confidence that the people who built the tower in the background had a TFR of at least 3. And the people responsible for the abomination in the foreground—that's you, SF liberals—have a TFR well south of 2.

Beauty is really a proxy for something deeper. Beauty comes from God. The San Franciscans who built the Ferry Building and its towering 1898 were still in touch with the deep wells of faith from which beauty grows. (Explicit religious observance was in decline, and the architect may not have been a church-goer, but, as those who have followed my arguments about nihilism will understand, the habits of Judaism and Christianity still lingered on.)

Liberalism is the idea that we humans can navigate ourselves, without need for outside landmarks or guide-stars. [Link] One expression of that idea has long been that art and poetry etc will flourish once people are liberated from the shackles of religion and tradition and stuffy morality. So, human race, how's that bit of hopey-changy working' out for you? Hmm? Are we all happy with the buildings we are getting? With the poems—do they linger in your mind like a fragrance? How about paintings and sculpture? Do they make your life sweeter? Or nobler?

This has turned into a stream of consciousness post, and I should really outline my thoughts and re-write it. Ha ha, how likely is that? Maybe later.

Posted by John Weidner at November 26, 2011 12:54 PM
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