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De-civilization and its Discontents

In "ISIS’ Theater of Evil and the Thirst for Blood," Jean Kaufman, aka Neo-Neocon, resuscitates a great decade-old quote from author Lee Harris, which deserves much wider distribution:

For example, Foley’s alleged executioner, Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, was raised in England in a West London home worth nearly two million dollars. In this respect he fits the profile of many if not most of the al Qaeda terrorist leaders, who were brought up in milieus that were hardly primitive. From what we know about ISIS (and al Qaeda and other terrorist groups), a significant portion of their jihadis are quite familiar with the modern world but have purposely cast off their background and its refinements in a process referred to by Lee Harris in his 2004 book Civilization and Its Enemies as “de-civilization” as distinguished from barbarism:

…I propose the word de-civilization, defined as…: “the effort, conscious or unconscious, to become less civilized than you are, either in general or in some special way, and, so far as in you lies, to promote a similar change in others.”

In terms of fantasy ideology, the function of de-civilization is not merely to promote ideas opposed to civilization, but to make men and women into human beings with a totally different set of visceral and emotional responses to atrociousness.

…[W]hile savagery and de-civilization can both produce atrocities, they do so in entirely different ways.

De-civilization is therefore a deliberate process undertaken to serve the purpose of ISIS’s Islamic supremacist ideology. Those who engage in it have systematically and purposefully cast off any reservations about mayhem. They do so in part as a bow to what they see as their glorious, sterner history and laws, and for the purpose of engaging in exactly that behavior which they believe will be most frightening to the west.

But de-civilization needn't always end in the mass-bloodshed of jihad, of course. Sometimes its impact appears in much more "subtle" forms:

I remember the first time I heard Green's 2010 song "F*** You" (on Electra Records, until recently another fine quality division of Time-Warner-CNN-HBO) and thought, musically, this is the best Motown song I've heard in three decades. But lyrically, it's a reminder of everything that went wrong with pop culture in the last three decades. It reminded me of something I wrote about in 2007 about -- stick with me here -- the George Clooney / Steven Soderbergh film The Good German:

The funny thing is, I would bet serious money that the average Hollywood mogul probably has TCM tuned into his rear-projection HDTV screen pretty often. But when he does, he’ll focus on the tiny details, and lose sight of the big picture. He’ll get hooked on Orson Welles’ deep-focus photography, and not his character studies. Or Hitchcock’s rhythmic editing, and not how deftly he handles a story.

From its poster to its cinematography, what was Steven Soderbergh’s The Good German if not an attempt to mate the brilliant craftsmanship of old Hollywood with the dark cynicism of its current form? As The Good German’s trivia page on the IMDB states, “The film was shot as if it had been made in 1945…The only allowance was the inclusion of nudity, violence and cursing which would have been forbidden by the Production Code”. And yet it’s that Production Code that virtually created classic Hollywood, by giving it rules to operate under–and yes, push against. But pushing against isn’t quite the same as breaking; that would come much later, much to the box office’s chagrin.

Green's recent admission -- or as he attempted to backpedal from it yesterday, "the comments attributed to me on Twitter" -- places "F*** You" into sharp perspective.

In his recent review of the James Brown biopic Get On Up, Steve Sailer wrote, "When rehearsing 1967’s repetitious 'Cold Sweat,' he tells his crack band to forget all they’ve learned about music: 'Every instrument a drum.'" Sailer goes on to note, "In the long run, Brown’s narrowing the parameters of black American music has been a cultural disaster: every instrument is not really a drum...By 2014, 'Happy' by Pharrell Williams, which would have made a worthy Curtis Mayfield B-side, seems like a monumental accomplishment."

Yes, it was quite a shock to hear a song on the radio in 2014 with an actual catchy, singable melody, and one whose chorus wasn't built around the F-word.