The political left new intellectual pageants.
In the film Little Miss Sunshine, we have an expert in Proust, an aficionado in Nietzsche, and a 7-year-old girl, Olive Hoover, who unexpectedly qualified for a little Miss Sunshine pageant contest.
Little did she know, that by Americans' mainstream standards of beauty, she was completely off the mark for the actual contest. Her mother and family member, however, stood by her side all the way through.
In the film Proust, Nietzsche and the Beauty pageant contest are set in complete asymmetry with the characters they are related to. The expert in Proust even when versed in the topic could not really appreciate Proust beyond some fanciful catchphrases. The one obsessed with Nietzsche felt almost as if Nietzsche would have shot him in the head if alive and Olive Hoover, the little girl, felt like we really did not want to ever expose her to the pain of knowing the true reality of a pageant beauty contest.
Imagine now a world in which Olive Hoover is the beauty pageant winner in the same way as Jade Goody was the undisputed celebrity Big Brother winner in British television series back in 2006, making her as much of a VIP celebrity as any of the mainstream ones. There is something crucial we can learn from this. No matter how queer and fringe we might be there will always be room for the queer to be made normative, accepted, and highly coveted even when it will never be mainstream in traditional standards.
Now imagine the same process, with the same patterns happening in the intellectual world instead of in the pageant beauty world. We have witnessed this with postmodernism, but we often forget that postmodernism has always carried along forgotten opponents, those who opposed it under the flags of the Enlightenment and rationality.
If we could speak of the role of the public intellectual today in a world saturated by social media and an economy of attention Little Miss Sunshine is the perfect match covering all sides of the political intellectual spectrum.
In order to be an anonymous celebrity today, you don’t need to be successful if by success we mean a balance between financial freedom, being known, and happiness. We just need to be a qualified little Miss Sunshine in whatever local community we happen to be leaders of. To be an anonymous celebrity today all you need is to gather a great deal of attention and simultaneously be able to monetize it like a little Miss Sunshine of your local community.
Yet, when attention and monetization overspill on each other you are no longer a little Miss Sunshine. Your Miss Sunshine status gets global and mainstream. You become a proper celebrity, a public figure, just in the same way as Olive Hoover is the fictional character in the film Little Miss Sunshine while Abigail Breslin, the actress playing Olive Hoover, is the proper celebrity.
We didn’t see that coming. If Olive Hoover represented the non-conformity to American conformity measures of success and perfection, Olive Hoover and her non-conformity represent today a large sector of another of Americans conformity measures of success and perfection. In that sense, Olive Hoover's measures of success and perfection can be as tyrannical for those who did not conform to them as the measure of success and perfection she initially did not conform to.
When we politicize a measure of success and perfection in universal terms instead of segmenting it according to particular measures of that success and perfection we are likely to create new conformity to fight against instead of peacefully cohabiting with them.
When we segmentize a measure of success and perfection in fragmented manners instead of universalizing it according to particular measures of that success and perfection we are likely to create segmentized conflicts among many conformity measures of success and perfection instead of peacefully cohabiting with them.
As never before, we live in an era in which by just using social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) anyone can produce content, anyone can call attention, anyone can monetize attention and anyone can look and feel like a celebrity or rather, like a little Miss Sunshine of our local community.
But let’s be honest, the best way to imitate celebrities is not to announce wanting to be one. The simulation works best when you actually do the opposite without making too much fuss about it.
Imitating celebrities has to look not only effortless but it has to come from both, rejecting attention and welcoming a virtue-signaling against shallowness and lack of authenticity.
We have today a new soft-spoken cultural Church which actually is not a religion in the traditional sense, but rather a religion of rationality, a religion of literacy, a religion of being informed and of being not just well educated but of appearing well educated, knowledgeable and willing to educate others.
Jade Goody, as a Celebrity Big Brother winner, made of her uneducated savvy not only a new way of looking at people traditionally called ignorant, but her celebrity status generated also waves of opponents on the side of “reason” and “enlightenment” who actually shared the same shallowness they attributed to Goody but just from the opposite side.
We have the Ted-Talks, the Think-Tank, the Talks-At-Google, the Flow-Genome-Project followers, the admirers of opera, great architecture, great designs, galleries, museums, great wines, workshops, gurus, mentors, and leaders. This is a world of cultural vultures in both senses, as an aficionado and as an art merchant. Culture is viewed like a God and education like its devoted priest. Revamped Enlightenment is our new old Church and the dogmas about being well informed are as refreshing and deep-rooted as those of long-gone Catholicism.
This is not a class, a group, or a political party, this is one of the mobile trend or even the mobile brand of our current Zeitgeist. It can impersonate as much the rich as the poor, left-wingers or right-wingers, but it has a predilection in the humanities and arts for those who want to be educated more than gain any skills and a predilection in the sciences and businesses for those who want to gain skills more than to be educated. The first ones have great potential as educated idiots and the second one as qualified fools.
These are “clever-creative” people, mostly enamored with the comfort of their “hard-earned” bourgeois life, extremely versed in the art of “compassionate hierarchy” while confusing mentorship with the sweetest and most obnoxious Master-Slave logic.
They love to appear insightful, which doesn’t mean deep, but cultivated and culturally versatile. At the same time, they know how to shield and cover up their shallowness by way of attacking shallowness or anything that smells kitsch, populous, or lowbrow culture.
They would go to any length within their political correctness to masterfully and kindly give to those around them only two choices regarding their character: You either admire them or envy them. They will treat you in a condescending manner as a deplorable ignorant if you ignore or hate them when they address you. They believe too much in “reason”, or rather in their reasoning to accept to be hated or ignored if you refuse to exchange with them rationally, or rather in their “rational” terms.
Yet, the virtues of the educated idiot and the qualified fool don’t stop there. They are also great con-artists at making the admiration and the envy they stealthy promote in you appear as coming from you and not from them.
They show all the cues of the wishy-washy wannabe Renaissance man and woman, the Vitruvian archetype, or even better, the Leonardo Da Vinci impersonator with all the deceptive demeanor of the imposter. They claim to have the general goodwill and knowledge to educate others, but they don’t have “patience” for the ignorant. They look intellectual, artsy, erudite, and cool. In reality, they are tirelessly patronizing, believe to have earned their superiority over others without asking for it and they love exercising their intellectual paternal roles towards those less educated than them.
Right-wingers often identify these people with communists. They couldn’t be any more wrong. This has to do more with a particular way in which the Renaissance and the Enlightenment movement have been embodied by the so-called capitalist system than with anything external to it called communism.
Classic Liberalism and Classic Conservatism are like brothers in law out of a marriage that is completely broken today and has put these two siblings at war both parties knowing they are not only brothers in blood but best friends. Enlightenment-Conservatism took the route of individualism and libertarianism. Enlightenment-Liberalism took the route of Social Democracy and Socialism.
Ultimately, this is Enlightenment a la Rousseau versus Enlightenment a la Locke and not right-wingers versus left-wingers or Republicans versus Democrats. The root of the problem here, which originated with the ideals of the Enlightenment, be it conservative or liberal, is the false conflict between specialized skills and general knowledge, the social division of work and the unity of all human faculties, building a society with people with wide general knowledge but fragmented skills sustained by robots and government or a society with people with expert skills but with fragmented general knowledge sustained by specialists and corporations.
Even if poverty were not an issue the problem with most societies which have followed the ideals of the Enlightenment and Rationality is not that they end up failing such pursuit and turning irrational but that right when they are about to accomplish their highest dream of Enlightenment they have kept turning a universal local precept of reason into universal global precept of reason.
The echoes and legacy of religions will forever hunt science and rationality because they are and will always be the echoes and legacy of metaphysics before religion. We should aim for wholeness and general education. In fact, we should aim for metaphysics, not against expert knowledge and competence, but neither in favor of an overarching rationality and enlightenment that would include both as a happily ever after harmonious unity.
Education can be viewed as a progressive never-ending acquisition of knowledge and skills. However, for as long as “progress” keeps being understood merely as a linear incremental betterment, we won’t fully understand what is to be enlightened. There is an ignorance in enlightenment and that is the enlightened oxymoron that will save us from enlightenment dogma.