Category Archives: culture

No Country For Old Men (2007)

It’s bleak as fuck, but it’s still one of the Cohen brothers’ best films. On the surface, No Country For Old Men is a postmodern noir Western for the age of open borders and narco warfare. However, both McCarthy and the Cohens are always reaching for biblical scale symbolism and allegory, so I believe it can be convincingly viewed through a few different lenses. I read it as grand scale tragedy of the dissolution of the American social fabric as it transitions from the Greatest Generation to the Boomers. Though the film focuses on Llewelyn Moss’ attempt to outrun and survive Anton Chigurh, the film is seen through the eyes of Tommy Lee Jones’ Sheriff Bell. He yearns for a time when police officers didn’t have to wear guns, the moral fault lines were clear, and the administration of justice was swift and certain.

In this film, our ostensible hero is a Boomer Vietnam vet who lives in a trailer with his girlfriend. He has no children and he’s retired from a welding career. He happens upon the scene of a drug deal which turned into a bloodbath and makes off with a suitcase full of cash. So the acquisition of his great treasure is not the product of a Joseph Campbell-esque Hero’s Journey or the result of sacrifice. Right away, we’re asked to place our sympathy with a character who came by his reward through sheer happenstance. He merely stumbled upon a random carcass that was collateral damage from the drug war.

As a Boomer archetype, Llewelyn is perfect because he has a compelling mixture of damaged patriotism, trailer park chivalry, and a perverse sense of entitlement to his ill gotten booty. Since he is rendered as a Vietnam vet, his military service represents the last gasp of collective patriotism before the nation descended into a permanent posture of malaise, cynicism and discontent in the post-Watergate era. I mean, what’s wrong with scraping a little cream of the top of drug war, amirite?! Get those Benjamins, dawg! Woot!

He is pursued mercilessly and relentlessly by Javier Bardem’s cold blooded assassin, Anton Chigurh. Resembling something in between Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 and Benecio del Toro’s cartel killer in Sicario, Chigurh takes on a supernatural and superhuman quality. When we’re introduced to Anton, he kills a random motorist by using a captive bolt pistol after dispatching a police officer and stealing his car. Not only does Anton seemingly kill indiscriminately, his weapon of choice is the same one used in abattoirs to slaughter cattle. This suggests a man who sees himself at the apex of the Darwinian predator/prey dominance hierarchy. He’s not bound by quaint notions of morality. That shit is for the plebs. His purpose is to be a pure conduit for Fate. Life and death are decided at the flip of a coin. He’s just the functionary whose entire existence is about ensuring that the cosmic machinery of determinism runs smoothly.

Chigurh carries out his task with a frightening level of patience, forethought, and discipline. It brings to mind the kind of methodical planning someone like Stephen Paddock exhibited in carrying out the Las Vegas massacre. When considering these qualities along with his ability to self-administer advanced medical treatment after suffering severe gunshot wounds, Chigurh is very likely a programmed assassin with deep state military training. He exhibits the qualities we expect to see in a James Bond or Jason Bourne. There’s nothing in the film that would lead the viewer to draw this conclusion and I suggest this is by design. There’s a despairing fatalism underneath this film and I suspect the Cohens want the viewer to think Chigurh is just a natural product of the modern world.

Sheriff Bell’s final lines suggest that this film is the Cohens’ lament over the passage of a more civilized and stable America. Their employment of Roger Deakins’ cinematography leaves me with the impression of their abiding love for the beauty of America. In contrast to detestable horseshit like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, the Cohens’ underlying affection for America always seemed sincere to me. They’re Boomers themselves so there’s more than a little bit of Llewelyn in each of them. They helped usher in the America in this film and, by extension, the world in which we live. Like Llewelyn, they too are just the lucky beneficiaries of America’s post-WW2 ascension to global superpower. That’s not to say they’re talentless hacks, but they are firmly ensconced in the Hollywood establishment. By default, they’re implicated in building the world we currently inhabit. We may nod in despair to Sherriff Bell’s grim ruminations, but I’m fairly confident the Cohens themselves are standing right alongside Rob Reiner and Steven Spielberg cheerleading for open borders.

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David Weigel: The Show That Never Ends

Most commonly referred to by fans and detractors alike with the shorthand term “prog”, progressive rock is arguably the one branch of the pop music family tree most likely to elicit sharply divided opinions. Boasting a fanbase that has a borderline religious devotion, prog has been long overdue for a book length canonization. I don’t know if David Weigel’s latest book, The Show That Never Ends, will be the definitive statement on the history of progressive rock, but it’s a solid contender despite being in an uncrowded field. Writing a chronicle of prog’s trajectory through the pop culture sphere which begins with its early pioneers and brings us to the present is no small feat. Much like his subjects, Weigel has staked out an ambitious mandate for a 278 page book. Nevertheless, The Show That Never Ends is eminently readable and, for my money, is as satisfying an overview as one would hope for given its length and scope.

King Crimson

Yes

Genesis

ELP

As one might expect, The Show That Never Ends focuses on the biggest movers of the progressive genre. The career arcs of Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, ELP and King Crimson are given a generous space while the also-rans, second stringers, side projects, one-off supergroups and fan favorites are also given a hearing. The leading lights of the Canterbury scene are also given a fairly robust treatment. Fans of Soft Machine, Gong, Caravan, Daevid Allen, Kevin Ayers, and Robert Wyatt will doubtless enjoy Weigel’s respectful recognition of the significance these players made to the movement.

Rush

Weigel’s focus remains primarily centered around the genre’s British origins. When he finally turns his attention North America, it’s limited to Rush and Kansas. Any book that covers this much territory is bound to leave some people dissatisfied. One can easily imagine the indignant proclamations of outraged prog fans everywhere as they debate the exclusion of [fill in the blank]. I’ll add my indignation to the bonfire by stating that I was disappointed by the short shrift Magma received and I was absolutely gobsmacked by the twin omissions of Henry Cow and Saga.

Even at the most superficial level, Weigel’s account poses worthwhile questions. Is there a subgenre of rock more maligned than progressive rock? Was this hatred manufactured? Was punk the natural course correction rock historians have long claimed? Should rock even be “progressive” in the first place? Is prog elitist pomp or is it populist high culture? Are the pioneers of progressive rock geniuses or charlatans? Was the emergence of progressive rock an organic phenomenon or was it simply the product of upper crust Brits with too much idle time? Does prog even matter anymore?

Prog was and is ambitious music. By and large, rock’s calling card was its libidinous energy, hedonistic lyrics and its primal simplicity. It was mostly designed to piss off your parents and priests. It was also mostly a soundtrack for getting wasted, defying authority and getting laid. In the wake of the release of Sergeant Pepper’s and Pet Sounds, proggers sought new horizons. The progressive rocker wanted to liberate rock from the rigid confines of blues based harmony and the pedestrian grind of 4/4 time. The characteristics of “high art” music suddenly became raw materials for an alchemical transformation in the incantatory fires of rock’s furnace. Anglican church hymns, classical harmonies and structures, jazz improvisation, and English folk were all fair game. Lyrics no longer fixated on banalities like romance. Instead, proggers took to themes that drew from fantasy, sci-fi, history, religion and the occult. From the ferment of Britain’s rock scene in the mid and late sixties, the progressive rock genre took shape. Prog became the soundtrack to late nights, black lights, and bong hits for a mostly educated, upwardly mobile middle class in Europe and America.

There’s something about hymns, they’re simple and they’re direct but they have a kind of connection. – Tony Banks, Genesis (p. 12)

Weigel is clearly a fan and his treatment of the subject matter is very sympathetic overall. However, he is an establishment writer, and he is attempting to play the role of neutral arbitrator of events. While this approach serves to make this an entertaining and reasonably informative synthesis of a significant slice of rock subculture, it also feels painfully banal and aggressively anodyne in places. Particularly when it comes to the musicians’ proximity to the military-intelligence community, the Tavistock Institute, the Royal Society, the British aristocracy, the Labour Party or the occult.

I was so involved, I didn’t know what to think

This is very apparent when recounting Robert Fripp’s time at Sherborne House in the mid-70’s after the demise of the first iteration of King Crimson. It’s especially curious given that Fripp’s exploits within and without King Crimson comprise a fairly significant portion of the book. Along with Keith Jarrett, Kate Bush and George Russell, Fripp had developed an interest in the cultish teachings of George Gurdjieff. He had befriended Daryl Hall of Hall and Oates and had done so during a time of pure isolation from the outside world. According to Fripp, it was a time that was “both physically painful and spiritually terrifying” (p. 180) Weigel cites a quote from a 1978 interview in which Fripp confesses that “Sherborne filled its residents with the “the kind of cold that freezes the soul” (p. 180). I found myself wanting to understand more fully what Fripp might have meant by that, but Weigel drops it on the floor and explores no further. Instead, he goes on to recount the Hall and Fripp collaboration which resulted in the Hall solo record, Sacred Songs. It’s not a secret that Sacred Songs was inspired by Hall’s fascination with Aleister Crowley. Surely, Weigel knew that this was the common ground between Hall and Fripp’s interest in Gurdjieff’s esoteric teachings. Furthermore, he ignores the vast influence of John G. Bennett, the founder of the International Academy of Continuous Education, on the various strands of New Age thought we find today. Weigel abandons a juicy lead which links this artistic movement with the proliferation of what now passes for “spirituality”.

I think that whoever is listening to it should feel the same thing, that they are in tune and in time with God. – Jon Anderson, Yes (p. 72)

Sinfield reached into his notebook and pulled out “King Crimson,” a term he had come up with to fill in when “Satan” didn’t fit a rhyme. (p. 43)

Choice, choice, freedom? I have no choice, I can only do the will of God, this is freedom. – Robert Fripp (p. 197)

Fohat digs holes in space, man!

What’s gone is gone and I do not give a damn

The same superficial gloss is given to his casual mention of Jon Anderson’s spiritual beliefs, the deeper inspiration for Christian Vander’s vision, the Roches’ fascination with Wilhelm Reich, the gnostic overtones to Peter Gabriel’s focus on Carl Jung, ELP’s knowledge (or lack thereof) of Giger’s occult inspirations as well as Daevid Allen’s fairly well publicized fascination with ritual magick. This may seem like pointless muckraking, but it gets to the essence of what proggers were actually saying as artists. Weigel obviously thinks this is an unfairly maligned genre and that it should be accorded more respect. Prog is a cool soundtrack for smoking weed and most of them were first rate virtuosos, but all the proggers had something to say at some level. The messages seemed to run the gamut from an attempt to create meaning from nothing to messianic zeal. To selectively emphasize these things seems like journalistic malpractice.

The only reason I’ve been able to come up with as to why we became musicians was because there wasn’t anything to rebel or fight against. We weren’t doing it with another agenda as a means to escape. If we were seeking to escape, then it would have been from a kingdom of nothingness. Michael Giles, King Crimson (p. 10)

This tendency is especially egregious in his treatment of Rush. Weigel exposes himself as yet another progressive partisan hack when discussing Neil Peart’s affinity for Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy. As usual, he appears to think the British Labour Party has nothing for which to apologize, and Neil Peart’s critics were completely justified. He ensures that the critical scorn heaped on Rush was clearly spelled out in case there’s any mystery about what the woke intelligentsia thinks of you dumbass LOLbertarians. Not only does he fail to mention that Neil Peart went on record with a softened stance on libertarianism in 2012, but he openly aligned himself with the Democratic Party in a RS interview from 2015! Weigel had ready access to this information while writing this book. Why else would you place so much emphasis on his former libertarian convictions if not to feed the already overheated Ayn Rand hate mill? He even goes out of his way to score easy ideological points by mentioning Rush’s refusal to allow Rand Paul to continue using their music on the campaign trail. See? Even Rush shut down Rand Paul. LMAO! Ooh. Sticking it to the Randian Objectivists. How #EDGY, Weigel.

Maybe his mind is for rent after all.

A casual glimpse of Weigel’s Twitter feed reveals him as a typical leftist stooge who fancies himself some kind of brave dissident embedded on the front lines of the Trump #RESISTANCE. In other words, the embodiment of kind of the anti-authoritarianism that formed the basis of the album he lionized, 2112. If Weigel had an ounce of intellectual honesty, he would cast a skeptical glance toward the Corbynistas and the Eurocrats. Ayn Rand wasn’t right about everything, but if he actually allowed himself to examine the grievances of #Brexiters without his ideological blinders, he’d recognize that Peart apprehended the harm Labour has visited on the UK with greater clarity than his fellow media lackeys. Progressives are contemptuous of libertarianism except when it’s convenient for their agenda.

His partisan allegiance is significant because it may explain his seeming unwillingness to examine the extent to which prog’s demise was driven by the very media establishment to which he belongs. It’s true that plenty of bands built careers defying the establishment consensus, but Weigel’s refusal to investigate his own people speaks volumes.

The downfall of progressive rock happened quickly, with an entire critical establishment [emphasis mine] seemingly rooting for its demise. (p. 200)

This is especially significant given that the media’s pretense of neutrality has been revealed as a contemptible lie in the Trump era. If we take the case that the media are handmaidens of the deep state who are merely taking orders from an elite class more invested in cultural engineering than journalism, Weigel’s observation suggests much, much more.

You can force people to go into trances, and tell them what to do; it’s mass hypnotism, and you’re really setting yourself up as God. – Dave Brock, Hawkwind (p. 96)

Speaking of establishment elites, his ideological blinders also stunted his ability to investigate the extent to which prog was being encouraged by the social engineers of the Tavistock Institute and Royal Society or the extent to which they were under the influence of MI6 assets. Curiously, he included a quote by Crimson alum, Gordon Haskell, which speaks directly to all of these possibilities. My suspicion is that Weigel’s decision to include this quote was to hold him up as a conspiracy obsessed lunatic with an axe to grind against Robert Fripp. Of course, Weigel doesn’t explore any of these allegations, and allows the quote to go unexamined.

“The King Crimson weapon is musical fascism, made by fascists, designed by fascists to dehumanize, to strip mankind of his dignity and soul,” he said later. “It’s pure Tavistock Institute material, financed by the Rothschild Zionists and promoted by two poncy public school boys with connections to the city of London.” Gordon Haskell, King Crimson (p. 62)

Weigel concludes with a brief overview of prog’s unlikely resurgence in the midst of the nihilistic howling that defined the 90s grunge aesthetic. Led by neo-prog revivalists like Porcupine Tree, Dream Theater, The Mars Volta, Opeth and Spock’s Beard, prog had absorbed a more muscular and metallic edge from its stylistic progeny, but it seemed even more anachronistic than in its previous generation. Despite what is implied in the term “progressive” in contemporary parlance, I contend that there’s something reactionary about playing or enjoying prog in 2019.

We’ve become accustomed to the idea of the pop culture sphere being a quintessentially Darwinian ecosystem. It is the epitome of a dominance hierarchy in which the lowest common denominator generally captures the biggest market share while those who swim against the tide get bulldozed. It cannibalizes itself, but only to reflect and refract the most fashionable aesthetic trends and sensibilities of the moment. Prog’s sonic and compositional innovations were eventually flattened and absorbed into blueprints for virtually every style that comprised the 80s once the punk template had been firmly established as the new artistic orthodoxy.

While there’s usually enough bandwidth for a mass market Serious Artist or two who reaches an arena sized audience, you generally find the contemporary progger playing a 1000-seat venue or at a niche festival like ProgDay. The idea that a multibillion dollar rock industry which extends into every corner of culture is in any way rebellious or transgressive is a pathetic joke. Even if it’s loaded with odd metered rhythms, dense harmonies and extended psychedelic jams. Subsequently, the very idea of playing a form of rock music, the ultimate anti-tradition tradition, which adheres to a set of bygone ideals however loosely defined can only be seen as…well….conservative.

Prog was a byproduct of the 60s counterculture, and embodied the utopian idealism of the Flower Power generation which originally coronated it. As subsequent generations of rockers turned increasingly hedonistic and cynical, the Holy Mountain of progressive rock continues to attract acolytes precisely because it at least stood for something. Even if proggers had disparate goals, the fundamental message of the pursuit of a transcendent ideal seemed to be the binding force. I suggest that for today’s musicians, progressive rock is seen as something akin to a sacred calling. A spiritual cosmic journey that will always beckon mystics, dreamers, and charlatans along with the hardiest and most dedicated souls.

The existence of David Weigel’s history of progressive rock is a laudable achievement all by itself, but it also happens to be a fun read. Perhaps it is churlish to nitpick and we should simply enjoy the fact that it is here in the first place. If nothing else, we proggers are an opinionated bunch. You develop high standards when you’re an idealist.

By the time John Wetton’s Asia had sold millions of copies of its bland radio-friendly pop in the 80s, the post-hippie counterculture that was progressive rock, based on the idealistic impulses of the 60s, had finally run its course. The dream, or illusion, of individual and global enlightenment was over. Progressive rock, like the period that gave rise to it, was essentially optimistic. The whole underlying goal – to draw together rock, classical and folk into a surreal metastyle – was inherently an optimistic ideal. At its best, the genre engaged listeners in a quest for spiritual authenticity. We took ourselves too seriously, of course, and its po-faced earnestness could lapse into a moronic naivete, but it never gave way to bitterness, cynicism or self-pity. – Bill Bruford (p. 250)

Joni 75 (2019)

This concert film showcases everything that is simultaneously wonderful and loathsome about the Flower Power generation. Filmed over the course of two nights at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Joni 75 features an all star cast of peers and proteges who came to pay tribute to one of the modern era’s most unique and influential artists.

Originally hailing from Alberta, Mitchell’s career took root in the ferment of the now infamous Laurel Canyon scene. Despite her reputation as an icon of the allegedly counterculture 60’s, Joni Mitchell remains a true maverick amidst a sea of revolutionary wannabes. She has demonstrated a remarkable ability to both avoid the ideological pigeonhole that defines her more openly partisan peers and sustain artistic vitality in an industry which disfavors innovation.

With a career that spans 19 studio albums over the course of more than 50 years, Mitchell has attracted a following that draws from the worlds of pop and jazz. She’s that rare artist who can leave the listener’s heart wrenched by the immediacy of her lyrics while the musicians in the audience all puzzle over her unusual chord changes. Backed by a top notch band, Joni 75 featured performances by Brandi Carlile, Glen Hansard, Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones, Chaka Khan, Diana Krall, Kris Kristofferson, Los Lobos with La Marisoul, Cesar Castro & Xochi Flores, Graham Nash, Seal, James Taylor, and Rufus Wainwright.

On the one hand, it’s a beautifully shot, recorded and performed concert featuring some of our finest artists singing mostly successful covers from the Joni Mitchell songbook. It’s unfussy and straightforward. The footage of artists showering Joni with praise is kept to a merciful minimum. Surprisingly, Peter Gabriel’s prerecorded tribute had a rare moment of honesty when he suggested that she’s probably a raging cunt when you have to work too closely with her.

On the other hand, despite its ostensible goal of just being a straightforward concert film, it couldn’t help but draw attention to its own wokeness. The band was so #DIVERSE! The guests were so #INTERSECTIONAL! Oh snap! Rufus Wainwright just mentioned his HUSBAND! What’s Mike Pence going to think?! And of course, Graham Nash just had to politicize the whole thing. What should have been a sweet remembrance about the creation of the song “Our House” was completely poisoned when he linked it to the 2018 election results. Way to convince people you aren’t raging totalitarians underneath all that hippie horseshit, Graham.

The film also draws attention to the question of whether multiculturalism and universalism are in fact mutually exclusive propositions. While Joni has taken public positions that set her apart from the rigidity of contemporary woke orthodoxy, the concert felt like another self-congratulatory advertisement for multiculturalism and immigration. This was especially true of the treatment Los Lobos and La Marisoul gave to “Nothing Can Be Done”. It’s a vibrant and joyful rendition that gave the song a Mexican flavor while being propelled by a gentle quasi Afro-Cuban groove. Chaka Khan’s ecstatic interjections managed to elevate it even further. It’s the kind of cross cultural collaboration that we’re supposed to celebrate as sophisticated cosmopolitans. Yet at the same time, the Woke Stasi are constantly browbeating and shrieking at the unenlightened rubes about the nefarious evils of “cultural appropriation”.

Is multiculturalism a melange from which anyone and everyone can freely pick and choose? Or is it a collection of disparate subcultures which must remain within the confines of their respective people groups in order to retain uniqueness? Or is it just another excuse for SJWs to be selectively outraged over fake transgressions?

More importantly, is multiculturalism building a universal culture? Or is it appropriating different cultures only to strip mine them of their context and uniqueness? Is it just a self-reinforcing orthodoxy which operates on the presumption that there is no downside to infinite immigration? Does it inculcate an unwavering belief that there are no issues of cultural assimilation and that the future that awaits us is a rainbow hued utopia of vegan taco trucks, body positive belly dancing and gender neutral drum circles? Is it just an excuse to revel in a smug sense of cosmopolitan moral superiority? Does the obsessive liberal quest for global “oneness” degrade cultural distinctions or enhance them? Is it just an excuse for progressives to be selectively outraged over “racism” in one moment while in the next moment being selectively outraged over “cultural appropriation”?

I love Joni Mitchell’s music. The artists mostly did a great job. It was beautiful but also kind of sad that a collection of aging wealthy Boomers still affect a pretense of being edgy revolutionaries. That somehow, another collection of self-satisfied children of the establishment celebrating their engineered cultural revolution as an unqualified success was finally going to convince the unenlightened peasants of flyover country that they’re stupid and backwards. I mean come on, bigots. “Big Yellow Taxi” is the theme song for the Green New Deal! Get #WOKE!

Perhaps what I heard in Joni’s gnostic rallying cry for the Age of Aquarius was something she didn’t necessarily intend. When James Taylor delivered a heartfelt rendition of “Woodstock”, it wasn’t heralding the advent of a secular New Eden. It was, in fact, the sound of a generation that has spent its entire adult lifetime trying to convince you that its complete monopoly of institutional consensus is the height of counterculture and rebellion. That all you need to usher in the final revolution is to don the pussyhat, hoist the placard aloft and post that fist pump to Instagram, baby. And that, my friends, is the sound of exhausted desperation.

We are stardust, we are golden
We are caught in the devils bargain
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden

The Mule (2018)

Every now and then, the fanfare surrounding a film is warranted and I suggest that the praise heaped on The Mule marks such an occasion. While Earl Stone’s journey from horticulturalist to drug mule drives the top layer of the storyline, the emotional undertow of his parental and marital failings packs the hardest punch. Beginning with Unforgiven from 1992, Clint Eastwood has leveraged his storied career as an onscreen badass par excellence to limn the depths of his personal travails like no other actor. This dramatic heft is satisfying on its own terms, but like a piece written by a great jazz musician, his performance has many additional layers that are equally praiseworthy. Aside from the numerous threads of commentary on the drug war, The Mule touches on immigration, veterans affairs, the toll of globalized e-commerce on local economies, the dissolution of intergenerational wisdom, the challenge of aging in America and the corrosive effects of political correctness.

Even when he’s playing a badass, Eastwood’s characters are never one dimensional and Earl Stone is no exception. Like Ellington or Mingus, Eastwood lays out the contours of Earl’s character with clean phrases but repeatedly plays them against dissonant harmonies. When we first meet Earl in 2005, he’s a model of geriatric charisma and swagger. He is quick witted, well dressed and still knows how to charm the ladies. Earl is a law abiding citizen, appreciates old fashioned verities and is a Korean War veteran to boot. Irrespective of the personal failings in his family life, Earl Stone is a model citizen. He is the guy with whom everyone wants to have a beer and shoot the shit. When he eventually turns to smuggling drugs, your sympathies do not diminish. Earl’s ill gotten economic gains are used help finance his granddaughter’s wedding and the rehabilitation of the VFW Hall. He puts the money to work out of a genuine desire to mend fences with his estranged daughter and ex-wife as well as to uphold a place of community and refuge for his fellow soldiers.

These qualities endeared him to hardboiled gangsters, Bradley Cooper’s FBI agent and his immigrant gardeners while making the unvarnished edges of his personality go down easier. When he sternly admonishes his Mexican staff to fix their car so that it won’t be a “ticket to deportation”, you’re disarmed by his honesty. When he tells his cartel handlers they’re getting dirty looks because they’re “two beaners in a cracker bowl”, it comes across like a straightforward observation rather than a hateful epithet. And the fact that he’s willing to say something that risky to the faces of armed thugs is also pretty funny.

Like clockwork, the puritanical screeching over Earl’s politically incorrect coarseness has come from the SJW corners of the mediasphere. Sadly, these insufferable scolds will never grasp the point that Eastwood was making. When Earl offers to help a black couple change a tire, he refers to them as “negroes”. Instead of being thankful for the help he offered, they spent all their time being triggered and butthurt by his words. They inform him that it’s against #WOKE protocols to say such terrible things, but Earl smiles and proceeds to help them. Eastwood is cleverly pointing out what everyone outside the progressive bubble already knows. The Left has indoctrinated a posture of perpetual offense and a pathological desperation to enforce to a set of ever changing rules. “Negro” was once perfectly acceptable and Earl’s usage of the term did not carry a tinge of racial animosity.

Speaking of PC scolds, Eastwood’s demolition of progressive puritanism isn’t limited to his willingness to piss off the racism cops. He gives us something that feels increasingly rare in today’s era of hypersensitivity: unabashed Latina pulchritude. When Earl successfully completes a record run, he’s treated to a proper celebration that only a drug lord could host. Earl is flown to the Mexico compound where Andy Garcia’s Laton throws a party that’s overflowing with liquor, drugs and tons of scantily clad chicks. Eastwood’s camera lingers on their curvaceous asses as they gyrate to salsa jams. It’s a lovely sight to behold and the fact that some harpy from the online feminist stasi is seething with rage over its inclusion makes it that much more glorious.

Though somewhat softer than the grizzled hardass he played in Gran Torino, Earl is perpetually bewildered and perturbed by the fact that he lives in a world that’s increasingly disconnected from the traditions with which he grew up. “Didn’t your daddy teach you to change a tire?” he asks of the couple in distress as the man flails about haplessly searching for network connectivity. For Earl, the idea of a father not teaching basic automotive care never crosses his mind. Let alone the possibility that either of them might have grown up without a father. The #WOKE intelligentsia will probably chastise Eastwood for this attempt at cinematic paternalism, but I’m inclined to think this was also Eastwood’s stealth commentary on illegitimacy in the black community.

While Earl feels the walls closing in on the destructive trade in which he’s inserted himself, he never stops seeking redemption, grace or a few minutes to stop and smell the roses. The pressures of the cocaine trade should never supersede the opportunity to enjoy the best pulled pork sandwich in the Midwest. Just because you’re being tailed by the FBI doesn’t mean you can’t impart hard earned wisdom with the agent who has you in his sights. Even as he basks in Laton’s decadence, he counsels his handler Julio to abandon the thug life. Earl never has to face the destruction his drug running exacts on the social fabric he wants to see preserved, but he never loses sight of his culpability in the consequences of his choices.

A cynic might say that casting Alison Eastwood in the role of Earl’s daughter was an act of nepotism, but in this case, it was a masterstroke. There’s no doubt in my mind that Iris’ resentment towards her father came from a genuine place, but like Earl, Iris goes through a growth arc of her own that feels equally genuine. Dianne Weist is brilliant as Earl’s ex-wife, Mary, and the mixture of emotional anguish and love she holds for Earl is palpable.

The Mule is making some very obvious points about how the media spotlight creates perverse incentives for federal law enforcement, but I suggest that Eastwood giving us a glimpse of something even more profound. This isn’t just a skillful adaptation of a real world story. This is a window into a tightly controlled network of forces that’s been deployed and managed by the establishment. Hollywood is the propaganda arm for two sides of a dialectic that appear opposed but are more intertwined than they appear. Eastwood may have the trappings of a successful Hollywood career, but I believe Earl’s fate is a metaphor for Eastwood’s life in more ways than one.

Hollywood’s pathological fixation on youth has fueled a culture of narcissism, vacuous moral preening and increasingly impoverished filmmaking. The mere existence of this film amidst this sea of fame seeking hacks and soulless technicians feels as precious Earl’s day lillies. With The Mule, Eastwood has risen to the stature of the jazz greats he admires. This is work of an artist who breathes life into every line and frame. The entire film feels like Eastwood’s lesson in filmmaking to the up and coming generations. I can only hope they’re paying attention.

Russell Kirk: The Conservative Mind

Edmund Burke

Growing up in a progressive environment, I developed the requisite contempt for conservatism that accompanies the standard leftist political worldview. If you’re a progressive, you will regard conservative ideology as the province of regressive dullards who desperately cling to religious nostrums, rigid notions of the Constitution, and nationalistic sloganeering. This contempt for conservatism has been the hallmark of progressive and liberal reformers since the dawn of the modern democratic age. John Stuart Mill was calling conservatives “the stupid party” long before Buzzfeed and Salon were able to build clickbait empires off of articles which expound upon that single premise. After two centuries of the American experiment which has given us Abraham Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, and Donald J. Trump as the faces of political conservatism, one would not be unreasonable to wonder for what does conservatism stand exactly? Is there anything beyond the God, guns and country caricature that’s promulgated by the progressives? What does the conservative aim to conserve? Russell Kirk’s excellent book from 1953, The Conservative Mind, sets out to answer these questions and much more.

The Conservative Mind

Kirk’s analysis is not an examination of political parties, but an exploration of the foundations of modern conservative thought beginning with the statesman he holds in highest esteem, Edmund Burke. Kirk guides the reader through two centuries of British and American conservatives who lived up to the Burkean standard in different ways. As the title suggests, Kirk lays out a collection of conceptual pillars which comprise the foundation of what he considers the conservative mind. While not explicitly an examination of metaphysics, Kirk is attempting to elucidate the lens through which the conservative sees the world. Where the progressive sees the world through a filter of largely unexamined assumptions which he takes as a given, the conservative makes at least a cursory attempt to ground his worldview in theology or philosophy deeply informed by classical theology. Rather than being a set of rules or laws, he’s providing a detailed sketch of the framework of thought the conservative applies to the challenges of his time. As Disraeli famously said, every conservative is a “creature of his age”, so the conservative must consider the circumstances of his age and the needs of his nation. Given that each age has unique challenges and the conservative is always swimming against an orthodoxy of progress which automatically disfavors historical knowledge and precedent, the conservative is perennially saddled with the stigma of being regarded as both the regressive, inflexible dolt and the fearful, hidebound bigot.

Stephen Colbert famously ridiculed George W. Bush, and all conservatives by extension, when he introduced the word “truthiness.” The entire joke was an attack on conservatives’ alleged prioritization of feelings and instinct over factual analysis. You don’t look things up in a book he deadpanned, you “look them up in your gut.” The joke has extended into the Trump era as Kellyanne Conway’s famous insistence on “alternative facts” has served as fodder for more than a few late night 2 minutes of hate. Even if George W. Bush was a terrible conservative (and he was), the joke landed its punch because there was a grain of truth to it in terms of how the conservative views the world and governance. The true conservative doesn’t see the citizenry as dehumanized units of input to be plugged into an economist’s model or a social scientist’s data sample. The conservative is not trying to radically reorganize society or confer special rights to groups. The conservative is not trying to appeal to a scientific worldview when it comes to the job of governance or the conservation of culture. The conservative is trying to draw time honoured wisdom culled from centuries of cultural and historical knowledge combined with appeals to divine counsel, affirmations of organic social bonds and a recognition of inherent differences between nationalities and ethnicities.

The true conservative knows that man’s nature is fixed and flawed. Subsequently, he also knows that a stable social order requires permanent institutions and a healthy reverence for virtuous authority. He affirms the dual role of Church and State, and that each are natural expressions of divine Providence. He is impervious to the fickle abstractions of liberal reform and knows that true progress is a product of cultural prescription and Providential order. He knows that equality of liberty must accompany equality of virtue, but does not subscribe to the idea of full political equality as it is a recipe for economic levelling. He rejects the liberal fascination with endless innovation for its own sake, its atomistic pursuit of individualism, and its rejection of authority. He vigorously opposes the liberal reformer who seeks to acquire state power in order to confer abstract “rights” or otherwise order society through some mathematical calculation of utility. He is suspicious of the liberal belief in unbounded human progress and academic prescriptions based on positivism. He repudiates the idea that a stable social order can be attained through Reason alone, and that true Reason is ultimately subordinate to moral virtue and the slow accretion of intergenerational wisdom. The conservative is, in fact, the conservator of civilization by ensuring that the transmission of cultural values remains decentralized, localized, and oriented around family and faith. Subsequently, the conservative is a bulwark against the encroachment of overweening politicians and academic busybodies because he knows that the role of government in the democratic era is limited, and must ultimately serve the greater cause of preserving the constitutional covenant between God and the People. To this day, conservatives continue to be assailed by progressives as hidebound ideologues who live in a echo chamber despite being reviled 24/7 by a progressive media monopoly. Even if his worldview is confined to post-Enlightenment/Burkean thought, a conservative is swimming against an overwhelmingly monolithic progressive cultural consensus.

Kirk masterfully guides the reader through two centuries of conservative thought and leadership to document the successes of conservatism given the seemingly inexorable tide of liberal expansionism. The net result is a unique work of political philosophy that is not just a collection of analytical arguments. Rather, it is a painterly portrait of the achievements and contributions of men whose wisdom and insight remains largely underappreciated by a world drunk on the elixir of progressivism. With this book, Kirk attempts to catalog the various ways conservatives have sought to conserve virtuous authority over centralized reform and tradition over liberalism.

The Failure of Conservatism

Paradoxically, this is also a chronicle of the abject failure of conservatism in the liberal democratic age. Despite all of the loving care Kirk expended in carefully curating these stones of eternal wisdom to erect a monument to modern conservatism, the sad truth is that its foundation has been eroded bit by bit in the post-Enlightenment age. The entire liberal project was solely concerned with supplanting the theological and religious underpinnings of conservatism with rationalism and empiricism. Propelled by an unquestioned belief in the institutions of democracy to improve human affairs and ignite civic engagement, the liberal elite have systematically dismantled and undermined every last vestige of traditionalism. Once those foundational precepts were removed, conservatives had no other recourse but to compete in a secular political arena arguing for positions that were borne from a conservative instinct but divorced from their larger context. Subsequently, conservatives have been playing a game that was designed to be stacked against them. Progressives could always claim the mantle of being the clear headed, forward thinking, compassionate revolutionaries because in the liberal worldview, there are only political, scientistic and institutional solutions. Since progressives have monopolized the engines of cultural consensus, the very notion of government not being the central institution driving social change will be viewed as regressive and backwards from the outset. Even worse, the very notions of fixed moral principles, objective truth and conserved tradition would themselves be targeted for elimination in the final quest for global domination of the liberal imperium.

Ultimately, Kirk’s presentation is an attempt to canonize a conservatism that’s borne of the conservative instinct while simultaneously being a product of the liberal worldview to which it’s presumably opposed. Through the course of the book, Kirk continuously grasps for the strands of conservative vitality while, as a reader, you’re left with a sinking feeling that you’re reading a chronicle of defeat. No matter how incisive, how profound or how deep these thinkers were, Burkean conservativism ends up being an empty husk whose seeds of vigor have been rapaciously consumed by neocons, Rockefeller Republicans, Moral Majoritarians and other globalist shills. The glowing endorsement of William F. Buckley Jr. prominently emblazoned on the cover is doubtless meant to confer deep legitimacy to this tome, but I doubt that anyone sees the revivification of the conservative instinct taking flight on the pages of National Review. Let alone from the insipid blathering of Margaret Hoover.

What you see in each chapter is two recurring patterns that persist to this day. On the one hand, you have a cycle of political conservatives being eventually defeated and going through an ideological retrenchment process while attempting to consolidate and assimilate ground ceded to progressives. In the process, the meaning of the word “conservative” gets diluted ever further until it is reduced to a collection of platitudes. Consequently, the gulf between the conservative population and the conservative political establishment continued to widen as the culture shifts further away from any notion of conservatism. The longstanding grievance amongst the rank and file conservatives that the establishment that represents them is weak and compromised steadily accumulates more weight. Meanwhile, the progressives move the political goalposts and conservatives are forced back to playing defense while yesterday’s progressive reform is either forgotten or assailed for its inadequacy. Conservative cultural critics, artists, academics and media figures, whether they’re establishment shills or readers of Modern Age, struggle on the margins to wrest the foot of cultural consensus off the gas pedal of progress from a body politic that’s drunk on the delusion of an eschatological inevitability. That the world will be unified and perfected under progressive, scientific, and increasingly multicultural governance. Herein lies the evil genius of the liberal mindset. It supplanted the traditionally religious outlook with a secular religious outlook. Against this ideological battering ram, both political and social conservatism was and is utterly ineffectual and flat footed.

Nothing captures the absurdity of the plight of modern conservatism better than the presidency of Donald Trump. A former Democrat billionaire who lived a very public and decadent lifestyle prior to entering the political arena becomes the second coming of Hitler upon his ascendancy to the Oval Office simply by taking on the issues that should have been conservative bread and butter from the start. In Trump, we have a man whose public positions on issues were a mishmash of textbook classical liberalism, moderate conservatism and economic neoliberalism prior to his entry into the political arena yet this prompted an unprecedented and neverending howl of national outrage from the progressive establishment. Even when he takes on causes previously championed by progressives, whether rolling back the War on Terror or criminal justice reform, his mere opposition to the global elite consensus is reason alone to brand him a tyrant even if there’s no evidence to support such an assertion.

Kirk’s Oversight

All of which brings us to what is arguably the single biggest oversight in Kirk’s otherwise stellar research into the life of Burke and his intellectual progeny. Was Burke a Freemason? Given that he’s upholding Burke as a conservative gold standard, and the endorsements of known members of Skull and Bones like William F. Buckley Jr. and PNAC/#NeverTrump establishmentarians like David Frum are featured prominently on the book itself, one must ask if this is being proffered as the outer boundary of Approved Thought. Contrary to claims on prominent Masonic websites, Burke’s membership in the Brotherhood has not been confirmed. His affinity for a known Mason, John Wilkes, makes this an especially important unexplored vein of thought.

Since Burke had risen to prominence by opposing the French Revolution, his support for what amounts to the Girondin version of the Revolution which was ultimately exported to the US seems very significant. Furthermore, his opposition to the philosophy promulgated by Freemasonry, deism, and its younger and dumber progeny, atheism, leaves one bewildered that Burke or Kirk felt that “prescriptive” liberty stood any chance against “abstract” liberty in the long run. Kirk points out that both Burke and John Adams apprehended the rot at the core of liberalism early on.

Thus, at the inception of modern liberalism, Burke and Adams saw the canker of liberal decay in the flower of liberal vigor. The postulates of the new liberalism, in France, England, and America, depended on old verities which the liberals themselves already were repudiating: upon the Christian assumption that men are equal in the sight of God, and upon the idea of an enduring moral order divinely sanctioned. The Deists had discarded most of Christian teaching, and Burke and Adams knew that the Deists’ intellectual heirs would reject religious dogma, root and branch. The new liberalism would tolerate no authority.(pg. 103)

All you need to add is the preposition “except its own” to that last sentence, and this insight is flawless. Burke was completely correct, but being right didn’t matter. His temperate vision of conservatism was destined for a collision course with the Freemasonic vision of liberalism espoused by America’s founders. His belief in the primacy of Christianity in public and private affairs was never going to be compatible with an ideology committed to the dismantling of throne and altar. The conservation of faith and heritage would be subsumed by rationalism and empiricism. Within a liberal paradigm which favored scientific materialism and nominalistic reign of quantity, conservatism was destined to be little more than a brake pedal at best and a punchline at worst.

Surely, he was aware that the Catholic papacy had already issued a ban on Freemasonry in 1738. Surely, he was aware of King George IV association with the United Grand Lodge. Surely, he was aware of Masonic sympathies and associations among the various American founders. Surely, he was aware that his narrow construction of the concept of equality was doomed to be crushed under the bootheel of the forward march of an unending appetite for the social and economic leveling he so vigorously opposed. Yet, Burke’s thought legacy defined the modern conception of conservatism in the post-Enlightenment era. But if Burke’s underlying thought is running on the same presuppositional operating system as the liberals, does anyone wonder why conservatism has failed? Traditionalism and liberal secularism are mutually exclusive positions. Yet, this liberal “conservatism” is exactly the virtue Kirk applauds. Why would Burke endorse the liberal project unless he was himself, and Kirk by extension, anointed to direct the other half of the Masonic dialectic?

Liberty, Burke knew, had risen through an elaborate and delicate process, and its perpetuation depended upon retaining those habits of thought and action which guided the savage in his slow and weary ascent to the state of civil social man. All his life, Burke’s chief concern had been for justice and liberty, which must stand or fall together—liberty under law, a definite liberty, the limits of which were determined by prescription. He had defended the liberties of Englishmen against their king, and the liberties of Americans against king and parliament, and the liberties of Hindus against Europeans. He had defended those liberties not because they were innovations, discovered in the Age of Reason, but because they were ancient prerogatives, guaranteed by immemorial usage. Burke was liberal because he was conservative. (pp. 20-21)

Whither Conservatism?

While Kirk certainly does a good job making his case for the conservative mind in the democratic era, it’s not unreasonable to ask what has conservatism actually conserved. What is it trying to conserve in a Western society where the legacy of secular democracy (i.e. multiculturalism, progressivism, Islamism and communism) are the default settings for a significant majority of the population? How can you claim a desire to conserve a strict construction of a collection of revolutionary ideals when the very utterance of an opinion that’s construed as conservative runs you the risk of being drummed out of society and being labeled a Nazi by the #WOKE intelligentsia? Where can you delineate the boundaries of conservatism when the progressive establishment controls the Overton Window of debate and self-identified classical liberals like Jordan Peterson and Alex Jones are routinely branded as alt-right extremists? How can you marshal a mass revival of conservatism when the progressive establishment has weaponized culture against you?

Since there is a concerted effort on the part of the establishment elites to create a technocratic superstate, conservatives have a difficult choice. In a world dominated by a liberal consensus that confines every sphere of life into the realm of politics, conservatives have two grassroots dissident right movements from which to choose: religious nationalism or ethno nationalism.

Though the alt-right consumes all the media bandwidth and are routinely propped up as an imminent threat, it’s unclear exactly how big the movement is from the social media footprint alone. Progressives will never admit it, but they need the spectre of the alt-right in order to justify their draconian agenda. They need the threat of a rising alt-right boogeyman in order to keep the flame of Trump hatred white hot. For the generations of progressives who know nothing but the technocratic administrative state, the caricature of “fascism” they’ve been spoon fed is as close to an absolute moral negative as they’re ever going to get. All moral virtue can be summed up by simply tweeting #RESIST.

While the racial arguments remain controversial and run counter to the progressive consensus, the argument for ethnic and cultural preservation strikes me as quintessentially Burkean. Perhaps it’s even Burkean conservativism taken to its fullest conclusion. Since both the Burkean and the alt-right worldview posit a very generic and unspecific metaphysic at the core which assumes the inherent dignity of people groups, the existence of higher morals, the natural existence of cultural differences, and a hierarchy of order, there is nothing incompatible between these coalitions except the stigma of advocating for racial majority or ethnostate. If prejudice and prescription emerge from a conserved tradition and hereditary knowledge, then what the alt-right propose is fully consistent with those foundational principles. Kirk even concedes as much in the final chapter.

The new laissez-faire will endeavor to create conditions “within which autonomous groups may prosper.” It will recognize as the basic social unit the group: the family, the local community, the trade union, the church, the college, the profession. It will seek not unity, not centralization, not power over masses of people, but rather diversity of culture, plurality of association, and the division of responsibilities. (pp. 489-90)

Not that anyone in the progressive establishment is paying attention, but there is more to the dissident right than the alt-right. Though some among the dissident right would probably not admit their conservative sympathies, this coalition also includes AnCap Rothbardians, paleoconservatives, civic nationalists, minarchist Libertarians, anti-globalist truthers, and increasingly, a faction of post-liberal reactionaries. While most in this latter category are Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox traditionalists, the unifying principle behind these voices is the conviction that liberalism has failed and a return to religious belief must be the central principle animating the revival of the West.

As abhorrent as it may seem to those who still subscribe to a cosmopolitan liberal mindset, I’m increasingly inclined to believe that all these liberty minded people must also confront this stark choice. Sure, there’s a chance that QAnon isn’t a LARP or a psyop, but the likelihood that the cabal behind Q will bring the progressive establishment to its knees is slim. For those who remain committed to the liberal project, The Conservative Mind poses one big question for conservatives, libertarians, classical liberals and anarcho-capitalists alike. What are you trying to conserve given the state of the culture and the demographic transformation that’s already well underway? And if the answer is some variation on “traditional American values” or “liberty”, how do you plan on revitalizing these ideals in the face of a decades long indoctrination campaign which has demonized everything you hold dear?

Now that the Democratic Party are the party of immigrants, overeducated urbanite baristas, public sector workers, academics, tech monopolists, Wall Streeters, neocons, deep state denizens, and Hollywood elites, the Republican Party have inherited the working class that were once Democratic loyalists. And the libertarian elites of the establishment haven’t necessarily warmed up to this reality.

As brilliant as it is, The Conservative Mind already feels like the caricature of conservatism that has been emblazoned into the progressive consciousness. You can already imagine the snarky outtakes in the Borowitz Report or Colbert doing an extended riff off of any given figure Kirk lionizes. Progressives have been conditioned to view the entire conservative worldview with disdain and condemnation from the start. No matter where they align themselves on the rightward end of establishment thought, conservatives end up becoming the kickstand propping up the progressive establishment.

Ironically, Kirk also seemed to outline the walls of the prison that’s been so artfully constructed around us.

This utilitarian utopia, prophesied by Henry and Brooks Adams as the triumph of the cheapest, starves the realm of the spirit and the realm of art as no other domination can. The culmination of liberalism, the fulfillment of the aspirations of Bentham and Mill, and of the French and American spokesmen, it is also the completion of capitalism. It is communism. Rockefeller and Marx were merely two agents of the same social force – an appetite cruelly inimical to human individuation, by which man has struggled up to reason and art. (445)

This is a supremely astute observation. Every aspect of the liberal project, including conservatism itself, can be appropriated to further the final goals of the global progressive agenda. Even a show like Downton Abbey which romanticizes the twilight of the British aristocracy becomes a subtle tool for propagandizing the advent of the technocratic era.

Perhaps Kirk is correct when he suggests that tomorrow’s conservative victories will be built on the ashes of today’s failures. With libertarianism serving as little more than an arm of the progressive establishment to be selectively appropriated as the mandates of political expediency dictate, the true conservative is the only bulwark against the ever encroaching global technocratic despotism. A despotism whose magnitude and ruthlessness Kirk certainly apprehended, but whose remedies are questionable at best.

Facing a progressive establishment whose braindead foot soldiers routinely cheer the removal of dissident voices from the digital public square, the odds seem stacked against the conservative as never before. But has it ever been any different in this age of democratic supremacy? The progressives promise emancipation, but everyone outside the bubble of the true believers knows they intend pure enslavement. As the paucity of substance, principle or virtue in the liberal worldview becomes increasingly apparent, the craving for meaning, purpose, legacy and moral clarity in the traditional mindset will only grow. The Conservative Mind may not have been the barricade against the rising tide of liberalism Kirk intended, but red pills come in many different degrees of strength these days. If nothing else, Kirk allows us to take in the fullness of conservatism’s failure in the democratic age. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

National Treasure and The Masonic States of America

I was dismissive of Disney’s National Treasure when it was released in 2004. It seemed like a more sedate remix of The Da Vinci Code for a Disney audience, and neither the premise nor Nic Cage’s cinematic charms were enough to make me care. Art hits you in different ways at different times in your life, and I doubt I would have been attuned to the significance of National Treasure’s subtext at that time. Time passes and perspectives change. National Treasure is exactly what I sensed it would be and succeeds as a light espionage/action mystery thriller. But there’s a lot going at the symbolic level that’s very explicit and warrants a deeper examination. Because this was a Disney production aimed at a young audience, I suggest this movie’s pro-Freemasonry message is kind of a big deal from a cultural programming perspective.

I’ve been paying more attention to the architecture of morality and the ways in which it interacts with the belief apparatus. This has led me to examine the sturdiness of the underpinnings of the Enlightenment and American republicanism. Despite being largely perceived as a turn towards secularism and scientism, one of the hidden hands behind these revolutions is in fact an occulted spirituality of another kind: Freemasonry. Though “occult” broadly refers to esoteric spirituality of every kind, it also means “hidden”, and in the case of Freemasonry, it is certainly applicable. The fact that this film is linking Freemasonry to America’s foundations is intentional and borne out by history. While there’s certainly dramatic license taken in the details, the underlying truths are noteworthy all by themselves.

National Treasure is basically a variation on Raiders of the Lost Ark with overt references to Freemasonry instead of encrypted ones. As Benjamin Gates, Nic Cage is a adventurer/historian who’s dedicated his life to unraveling a mystery that was revealed to him by his Mason grandfather, John Adams Gates. As the elder patriarch, Christopher Plummer spins a fantastic tale of the Knights Templar and the untold riches they kept hidden from the Muslims and the British. The Knights managed to conceal the treasure in America, but the map is encoded in disparate objects and letters that are only decrypted by initiates of Masonic mysteries. Fast forward to the present, and Ben Gates’s quest has taken him to the arctic regions of the globe to unravel the mysterious message he uncovered that fateful day. Once the object is discovered, it unlocks another clue which points them towards a hidden map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Sean Bean’s Ian Howe gets greedy and the race to acquire the Declaration is on. Accompanied by trusty sidekick, Riley Poole and sexy museum curator, Abigail Chase, our heroes scramble to outsmart the dastardly Howe and his goons.

While the conspiracy community is awash in theories over hidden Masonic messaging in entertainment and the Illuminati conspiracy it conceals, National Treasure is one film that isn’t hiding its symbols or their connections to Masonry. They’re front and center. The controversy is whether these symbols are benign or malevolent, and the conclusion you reach will depend completely on your moral, ideological and spiritual frame of reference. National Treasure clearly wants you to see them as benign. Not only that, it wants you to equate Freemasonry with the Founding Fathers and American values themselves. This isn’t far off the mark, either.

American republicanism is seen as the fulfillment of the Enlightenment consensus enshrined in the formation of a new nation. For the first time in history, religious morality was mostly decoupled from the state, and compulsory religious practice was expunged from the law. Religious pluralism, secular reason, the scientific outlook, radical egalitarianism and democratic cosmopolitanism would be canonized as the gods of a new civic religion. This collection of presuppositions formed the basis of what we now simply identify as the pillars of classical liberalism. Depending on your point of view, it’s a set of ideas you want to see conserved for posterity, consumed in a brand new revolutionary conflagration or rejected as a Gnostic heresy.

How does Freemasonry have anything to do with classical liberalism?

While I recognize this isn’t a popular thesis amongst the woke intelligentsia, I’m inclined to believe that the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the underlying ideals of American republicanism are Masonic in nature. Freemasonry doesn’t officially call itself a religion but it asks its initiates to accept the existence of a Supreme Being. Not unlike the deism for which Thomas Paine advocated in The Age of Reason. A single, infinitely mysterious, divine monad which unites all religions, creeds and races and can never be fully understood by the human mind. Though his status as a Mason is unconfirmed, older editions of Paine’s Age of Reason even featured an essay on the origins of Freemasonry. Most people don’t self-identify as deists or take the same view towards spirituality that Paine did, but his worldview prevailed. The deistic universalism for which he advocated can now be found in the Christian ecumenical movement, New Age spirituality, Buddhist hipsters, and the various manifestations of UN-affiliated, syncretistic Blavatsky lite which also includes Freemasonry. This spiritual mindset came bundled with all of the presuppositions that accompany classical liberalism. Paine’s deism was repackaged and continues to be sold as a perpetually revolutionary set of American ideals with new labels like “liberty”, “democracy”, “equality” and perhaps most importantly, #TOLERANCE . These lofty ideals mask the Promethean promise of a very seductive spiritual truth: apotheosis of the individual.

The fact that these words occlude their Masonic origins is consistent with its nature as as a secret society and a “peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols”. Throughout the film, Ben Gates has to decode various ciphers, messages, and hidden cryptograms. While this makes for lots of intrigue for the viewers, this is a bit of revelation of the method. Masonic symbols are hidden in plain sight and embedded in every corner of the culture, but invisible to the profane masses due to their ubiquity. Whether they’re used in corporate logos, rock band album art, or the infamous All Seeing Eye that adorns our Federal Reserve Notes, these symbols are imbued with meaning and work at the subconscious level.

Because humans are wired for belief, the question merely becomes one of the awareness of the belief mechanism and the direction in which its pointed. If you are atheist, agnostic, an occultist or subscribe to any non-Orthodox Christian or Islamic faith, the mysticism of Freemasonry is probably no big deal. From an Orthodox Christian or traditional Catholic perspective, this is probably seen as another example of pop culture trafficking a Luciferian doctrine packaged as family entertainment. Freemasonry, or Gnosticism, was challenged as heresy first by Saint Irenaeus and much later by Pope Leo XIII.

However, herein lies the film’s and Freemasonry’s great sleight of hand. Conservatives proclaim the belief that America was a Christian nation while progressives generally claim that it is secular and pluralistic society in which American propositions supersede proper religion. I suggest that the progressives are fundamentally correct. Conservatives may grouse about the erasure of quasi-Christian norms and traditions in the public square, but the ideals of American republicanism were departures from traditional Christian theology in the first place. The Christianity that took root in the early colonies was mostly Puritanism which in turn gave rise to increasingly atomized denominations. Add in Roman Catholics, Baptists, Unitarian Universalists, atheists and a dozen different versions of Protestantism and the idea of a unified Christian body politic becomes an increasingly untenable proposition. Subsequently, progressives are constantly able to capitalize on a fractured conservative constituency by painting themselves as the pious majority and their opponents as callow hypocrites. Perhaps America’s true national religion is the Cult of the Individual smuggled into the psyche through veiled Masonic euphemisms and symbols. Perhaps Freemasonry’s great triumph was that it swapped out religious orthodoxy in favor of a doctrine of radical individualism divorced from ethnicity, history or an abiding national identity. 231 years after the ratification of the Constitution, Disney decides the time is ripe to canonize Freemasonry with a family friendly action movie which blurs reality and fiction sufficiently well that the public likely remains anesthetized to the possibility that they’re unwitting vessels for a spiritual worldview that goes unquestioned.

Most people would shrug this off under the presumption that there’s nothing to question in classical liberalism. It gave birth to America, so what’s the problem? That’s a reasonable question, but I’m dubious on where the classical liberal framework is leading us. While those who claim a stake in the so called “intellectual dark web” are attempting to tend the breached walls of classical liberalism in order to forestall the continued advance of neo-Marxist identity politics, the #EQUALITY goalposts move further and further into the Twilight Zone of pure insanity. Classical liberalism has begotten postmodern identity politics. Classical liberalism has created a marketplace for Marxist academics, feminist hacks, despotic technocrats, racial demagogues and globalist sociopaths like George Soros who engineer social unrest, capitalize on the chaos, and then fund the fifth column organizations who work to unravel society even further. It’s the freedom to accept a marketplace for depravity, degeneracy and perpetual revolution. It’s the freedom to be mocked and demonized for even suggesting that there are traditions that are worth conserving. Progressives like to see themselves as uniquely empathetic and attuned to the suffering of the underdog, but somehow, this empathy can only be realized through neverending political protest, language policing, and exerting absolute dominion over the cultural dialogue. The subsequent result of this worldview has been an atomized population, moral relativism, postmodern subjectivism, and the radical quantification, automation and commodification of life itself. We’re at a point where the simple desire to marry someone of your own race is considered a shudder inducing rallying cry of “white supremacy”.

Paul Revere. Grand Master Freemason.

By the film’s conclusion, Gates uncovers an enormous treasure of what appears to be Egyptian artifacts and relics. The film ties Freemasonry back to its pagan and polytheistic Egyptian roots. Since these artifacts were of incalculable value to civilization, both Gates and the Freemasons come out looking like heroes and stewards of ancient mysteries that would have been destroyed in different hands. Regardless of how much dramatic license is taken in the details, the mere fact that our very first president, George Washington, was himself a Freemason lends weight to the myth. America’s list of known Freemasons who’ve occupied the Oval Office, worked in powerful federal agencies or scaled the heights of pop culture success lends even more gravitas to the claim of Freemasonry’s widespread influence in American life and thought. When Harvey Keitel’s Agent Sadusky flashes his Masonic ring, we are to understand that the Brotherhood extends to the highest echelons of power throughout the nation to this day. Naturally, Gates is exonerated from criminal charges because his higher service to mankind is recognized by the Brotherhood. Besides, laws are only for the peasants anyway.

Ben Franklin. Freemason.

As is often the case with Hollywood films, the fictitious veneer often masks a reality. The film propelled the heroes through the National Archives, Independence Hall and culminated in a church in lower Manhattan. Gates had to uncover secrets from historical documents and objects hidden within the buildings. Three years ago, when the Massachusetts State House politicians hosted a ceremony to unearth the time capsule buried by Paul Revere 220 years ago, the Freemasons were the ones who were entrusted with the task. Just like the film, the contents were passed to the Museum of Fine Arts staff. Not exactly a roomful of Egyptian artifacts and relics, but of significant historical value nonetheless.

In a manner that was very similar to the film, Freemasons are present at the unearthing of a significant piece of American history and their connection to our national heritage is cemented into to minds of the public. Freemasons are woven into the fabric of American leadership, history and ideas in ways that, prior to this film, go mostly unrecognized. On the surface, it seems pretty benign and even downright noble. That’s certainly what Disney wants you to think. But Disney is in business of manufacturing symbols that create new realities. You could say it’s a kind of magic. They say Disney is “the most magical place on earth.” Something tells me their fascination with magic makes them natural allies with Freemasonry. I’m just not sure it’s as benign as they want you to think.

David McGowan: Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon

When I first started putting my liberal assumptions about the world to the test, I really thought that libertarianism had done a pretty thorough job of slaughtering all the sacred cows with which I’d grown up. Little did I know that an even more powerful red pill lay between the covers of David McGowan’s chronicle of the bands that defined the flower power counterculture, Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon. If you’re at all like me in that you bought the mythology of the 60’s being an era of enlightened emancipation and a fearless rebellion against repressive norms and reckless imperialism, then you are well advised to brace yourself for a severely rude awakening. Weird Scenes may, in fact, shatter your world. It’s not that McGowan has uncovered lots of brand new revelations that have never come to light. It’s simply that he’s peered between the cracks of both the public record and the mythology of these artists and dug deeper to reveal a mosaic of facts that can hardly be dismissed as mere coincidence. McGowan’s work will doubtless be viewed as conspiracy theory to many, but his sources and methods are very conventional. What McGowan himself concedes as the hurdle of disbelief that the reader might encounter is the manner in which he’s pieced together the history and the implications thereof. What we learn from Weird Scenes is that not only were the movers of the 60’s musical revolution mysteriously concentrated in the very exclusive Laurel Canyon area, but what bound all of them were three common threads dangling against the backdrop of one highly curious phenomenon.

  • Family connections to the military or intelligence community
  • Connections to the occult
  • A long chain of mysterious deaths and brutal murders
  • Laurel Canyon was home to a top secret military intelligence film studio whose presence and purpose remain largely unknown to this day

All of the information presented runs completely contrary to the mythology of the Peace and Love 60’s counterculture. In fact, McGowan’s work doesn’t just cast doubt on the idea of an organic social and cultural phenomenon, it detonates the very foundations of the popular myth. At the core of the book are simple but mind blowingly provocative questions:

What if the counterculture revolution was engineered?

What if these artists were working in concert with the military intelligence establishment to mainstream rock culture and decadence?

What if the goal was sabotaging both the antiwar Left and to hastening the break down of the social order?

I know what you’re thinking. That sounds like crazy talk, but McGowan’s thesis is reasonable. He posits that there was an active and engaged antiwar movement on the Left. He also delineates between the real activists and the decadents who were eventually branded “hippies.” He is suggesting that this decadent strain of counterculture was the unique export of the Laurel Canyon phenomenon. And despite the weight of the lore surrounding the Haight Ashbury scene, the Laurel Canyon scene preceded it by a couple years. Obviously, McGowan doesn’t unearth the secret white paper or the definitive proof of the CIA’s hidden hand. Rather, what emerges is a series of patterns that suggest that the convergence of so many artists with so many common connections who left such a large pile of corpses in their wake is something other than cosmic serendipity.

McGowan begins by sketching the broad strokes of his narrative arc and fills in the details in the subsequent chapters. I don’t think I’m alone by saying that I had to shake off brain scrambling bewilderment at every turn of the page. I was suspicious of the monolithic leftist messaging of the music industry, but I had no idea how deep the rabbit hole went. I suspect I’m no different from others in thinking that that the industry is corrupt, and any artist’s untimely death, eccentricities or habits can be chalked up to that simple fact. We accept the notion that the industry places incredible pressures on artists while offering unlimited access to every vice and pleasure. But is it mere coincidence that nearly every one of the characters in the Laurel Canyon scene was connected to the military intelligence community somehow? And if this was a collective act of rebellion, where are the public denunciations of their parents’ actions and allegiances? Is the confluence of all this talent, both real and imagined, and the speed with which they were catapulted into the limelight a purely organic phenomenon? If the establishment really saw them as a threat to the social order, why weren’t law enforcement officials making routine sweeps of the Canyon? Why did the media establishment trumpet these artists with enthusiasm if there wasn’t a tacit acceptance of an overall lifestyle message from the highest echelons? How did these artists routinely escape the draft or any convictions?

Weird Scenes focuses on the prime movers of the early Canyon scene. These included The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, Captain Beefheart, The Doors, Steppenwolf, Love, The Beach Boys, The Monkees and The Mamas and the Papas. This scene also included what were then considered the Young Turks. Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Bruce Dern, Peter Fonda, Sharon Tate, and Jane Fonda all have intelligence community connections just like their rock counterparts and are an integral part of this tapestry. It’s odd that a pack of up and coming actors wouldn’t mind being canonized in the press by being associated with the folks who initiated the Armenian genocide, but then again, the fact that this name lives on in alternative media as a leftist propaganda and current affairs show tells you a lot about this industry.

There are also fascinating side stories about some lesser known artists who all had links to the Canyon scene in one way or another. Fans of Roky Erickson, Judee Sill and Phil Ochs will appreciate the depth of McGowan’s research. Each band achieved different levels of public success, but each story peeled back new layers of intrigue, pathology and decadence that was a way of life in this exclusive enclave nestled in the Los Angeles hills.

I don’t know how these individuals fare in other rock history books, but no one comes out looking particularly great. Since so many of the Laurel Canyon luminaries were children of the military establishment, the fact that several notable figures exhibited domineering control freak/cult leader-like tendencies should come as little surprise. Stephen Stills, Frank Zappa and John Phillips in particular all fell into this category. Though it’s largely peripheral to the Zappa saga, Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) is exposed as something akin to a pathological Mansonesque cult leader. This is also chronicled in all its cringe inducing detail in Zoot Horn Rollo’s extraordinary memoir, Lunar Notes.

If it seems like every couple years, we get a new telegenic boy band to ignite the hormones of the tweener set, you can thank The Monkees. The genesis of the manufactured media friendly boy band can certainly be traced back to them. As it turns out, very few of the Canyon bands were actually very good in a live setting. The story behind The Byrds in particular will definitely leave you a little slack jawed. Most of these early acts relied on the talents of a group of studio musicians that eventually became known as the Wrecking Crew.

Zappa’s tale is a particular standout because he stands apart from virtually everyone else in the history of rock both artistically and politically. Zappa remains highly regarded by musicians because his oeuvre is such a singular achievement in the history of 20th century music. Setting aside all other concerns and caveats, Zappa’s unique gifts and prodigious output are legendary when measured against artists of any genre. Needless to say, Zappa was also a complete totalitarian. Even if he was shilling for globalist institutions like the IMF and the World Bank, his anticommunist/neoconservative political convictions also set him in sharp contrast to virtually every other major artist. Zappa also notoriously ridiculed hippie culture while actively trying to consolidate that very audience for his band. If you strip away the avant-garde nature of his music, you have very unique window of insight into this entire cabal. Culture creation that emanates from the globalist/military intelligence complex which presents an illusion of freewheeling bohemianism but masks a uniquely authoritarian and pathological mindset.

Then there are the myriad stories of rampant sexual promiscuity and sexual depravity. Before Manson hit the Canyon scene, Vito Paulekas and his entourage of Freaks apparently single handedly launched the phenomena of the Free Love Hippie. Rock has long been associated with sex and drugs, but Paulekas in particular seems to have played a significant role in cementing that association in the public mind. The fact that this routinely included teenagers is yet another eyebrow raising revelation. In fact, sex with underage kids and pedophilia is an undercurrent of more than a few stories. It is howlingly hilarious that pop stars are now publicly preaching the #MeToo hashtag as though they’re these pious crusaders when everyone knows that the industry’s history and underlying message has always been one of pure sexual decadence.

At the bottom of the depravity barrel are the two sets of murders that betray the heart of darkness that seemingly defined Laurel Canyon. These were the Wonderland murders and the Manson murders. It even includes possible connections to the infamous Black Dahlia murder. Needless to say, connections to the occult go hand in hand with all of these stories. What is to be made of the string of torched homes and unexplained or mysterious deaths surrounding so many of the Canyon’s brightest stars? What is up with Gram Parsons’ death? What should we conclude about Gene Clark’s bizarre demise? What really happened to Jim Morrison? The list goes on longer than you can imagine.

It’s mostly a secondary theme in the book, but mafiosi and serial killers are also part of this sordid tale. Between this book and Fredric Dannen’s Hit Men, the full weight of the music industry’s degeneracy begins to show in its Dorian Gray-like visage. Ironically, McGowan took up this project based off the work he did exploring serial killers in his 2004 book, Programmed to Kill. It’s a merely a side dish in the Weird Scenes narrative, but Rodney Alcala’s story alone should leave you asking a few questions.

The one aspect of the McGowan’s work which is probably unique among all historical accounts of this scene is his exposé of the top secret military film studio, Lookout Mountain Airforce Station. It was billed as a film processing studio for nuclear testing footage, but that just doesn’t add up. Why would the military schlep film all the way from Nevada to Laurel Canyon? They could’ve done that anywhere. This was a fully equipped studio with sound stages, screening rooms, an animation department, climate controlled vaults, a bomb shelter and a helipad. This sounded more like a prototype for ILM or WETA. Hollywood luminaries ranging from Ronald Reagan to Marilyn Monroe all had clearance to work there on undisclosed projects. I suppose that like every other phenomenon of life in the Canyon, it’s all just a big coincidence. Right?

McGowan concludes with the transition from the 60’s and 70’s Canyon artists to the origins of 80’s New Wave. Rock was a well established phenomenon by that time, so if you think that puts a kibosh on all this conspiratard nonsense, you’d be dead wrong. As every rock fan is aware, a little record label called IRS Records run by a gentleman named Miles Copeland III was home to more than a few big names in 80’s pop. His brother Ian Copeland also ran a booking agency called Frontier Booking International (aka FBI). Combined with the IRS roster, FBI’s contact with other major artists extended their influence over the New Wave era even further. Their little brother, Stewart, formed a little band called The Police. Big deal, right? Plenty of families go into the entertainment industry. It would be easy to dismiss if the patriarch of the Copeland family weren’t a well known CIA operative. So I suppose the children of a spook who collectively form a label called IRS, a booking agency called FBI and a band called The Police and end up dominating the 80’s is just another coincidence. Right?

Right.

This book was a revelation, but it was also really difficult. Even if I didn’t own records by every artist, they collectively formed the background soundtrack to growing up in California in the 70’s and 80’s. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that the pioneers of counterculture were brave contrarians, rabble rousers, eccentrics and visionaries. In a world of phony politicians, bloodthirsty war hawks and corrupt businessmen, the artists were supposed to be the fearless truth tellers and the guardians of the human soul. They might’ve been decadent, but the art made up for their excess. How wrong could it be to try and create a Brotherhood of Man through rock n’ roll? The fact I completely handwaved away the implications of someone like Charles Manson ingratiating himself with the leading lights of counterculture is certainly a testament to pop music’s effectiveness in engineering a perception of unassailable righteousness. But what if the gulf between the fantasy and the reality was wider than you ever imagined? What conclusions are you supposed to reach about an industry packed with connections to the intelligence community, gangsters, occultists, control freaks, pedophiles, and otherwise pathological degenerates? Even if you really, really loved the music that came from it? The prospect that the entire rock revolution was a giant military psyop is among the bitterest pills I’ve ever swallowed. That’s not to say that there was no organic artistry or genuine greatness, but once you peer behind the curtain, the rock n’ roll wizard loses some of his mojo. Sometimes, the truth hurts. Dave McGowan deserves credit for administering the tough medicine.

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

Widely perceived as throwaway 70’s kitsch, Smokey and the Bandit deserves a second look for numerous reasons. Not the least of which is how far Hollywood has moved the PC threshold. Smokey and the Bandit is a mere 41 years old and it already feels wildly transgressive with its unabashed glorification of the the Southern rebel archetype, fast muscle cars, heterosexual romance, unforced biracial harmony and the sweet glory of black market Coors. Admittedly, it was also a seminal entry into a subgenre of trucker-themed 70’s films that canonized the mythology of the modern outlaw in his 18-wheel stagecoach. Smokey and the Bandit is properly viewed as a contemporary Western with cars and trucks instead of horses. Where classic Westerns glorified law and order, this film inverts those classical conventions and places your sympathies solidly with the outlaws. With a plot that amounts to an interstate beer run set in motion by a couple of oligarchs, Smokey and the Bandit sanctifies the presumed American virtue of profit and glory for its own sake.

Bandit: For the good old American life: For the money, for the glory, and for the fun… mostly for the money.

Featuring a star making turn as the Bandit, Burt Reynolds’ character is the kind of leading man Hollywood once served up regularly without reservations. A handsome, lovable rogue who was a brash, reckless show off, but had a romantic heart and sweet side underneath it all. Unequivocally masculine, charming, and tough, but unpretentious and easygoing at the same time. Intentionally written as his diametric opposite, Sally Field’s Carrie is neurotic, artsy, cosmopolitan and flaky. After a hasty roadside introduction, Carrie hurls herself into the Bandit’s caper after fleeing marriage to the son of the film’s villain, Sherriff Buford T. Justice.

As Justice, Jackie Gleason absolutely dominates the film with an outrageous performance. Spewing vitriol and contempt in every line, Gleason is a veritable supernova of politically incorrect piss and vinegar. Besides setting the template for Rosco P. Coltrane in the Dukes of Hazzard, Gleason’s character is also the bumbling, racist caricature of Southern law enforcement that will repeat itself in countless subsequent films. Seething with rage over the Bandit’s consistent ability to outmaneuver him, Justice is Ahab to Reynolds’ Moby Dick. Ironically, in our age of revolutionary orthodoxy, Gleason’s character has come full circle. While there’s never any doubt that the film wants you to root for the Bandit, the overwhelming prevalence of the outlaw antihero casts Justice’s most famous line as a perfectly valid commentary on the present.

Buford T. Justice: What we’re dealing with here is a complete lack of respect for the law.

Smokey and the Bandit is also noteworthy from a predictive programming perspective because it is unequivocally a film designed to mainstream the subversive nature of the CB radio. The Bandit and Cledus are consistently able to outfox law enforcement by tapping into the CB radio underground. The film portrays a perfectly coordinated #RESISTANCE whose allegiance to the Bandit and his mission are never in question. The Bandit was just trying to give the people what they wanted! It’s just plain un-American to deny Coors, dammit! I suggest that this was a precursor to the smartphone revolution and a critical building block towards the larger goal of global digital panopticism.

Most of all, Smokey and the Bandit succeeds because all it wants is to make you smile, laugh and cheer. While Hollywood seems increasingly reliant on CGI driven sci-fi and superhero franchises, Smokey and the Bandit feels downright organic and tactile by comparison. Films like Fast and Furious certainly lay claim to this film’s legacy, but there’s something refreshingly simple about Smokey and the Bandit. The car chases nowadays may be more outrageous and the actors more ripped, but the self-conscious multiculturalism feels forced and the cool, sophisticated outlaw is now a boring cliché. Perhaps it’s the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia, but this film feels like a pop culture high water mark. It may have been a harbinger of a deluge of SJW degeneracy to come, but it had a joyful, old fashioned spirit that’s sadly absent from any contemporary film you can name.

Wynton Marsalis and the Paradox of Artistic Conservatism in the Progressive Age

Wynton Marsalis has positioned himself as a jazz conservationist and all purpose pop culture reactionary for the past several decades. From his lofty perch ensconced in the Lincoln Center, Marsalis has inveighed against the pernicious influence of avant garde, R&B and hip hop to howls of outrage on numerous occasions. Reviled by many in the musician community as a self-appointed authoritarian schoolmarm, effete royalist and uptight poindexter, Wynton is an easy target for any artist with modernist sympathies. As one would expect, Marsalis’ latest foray into the white hot culture wars has provoked yet another collective spasm of indignation from the social media commentariat. Brace yourself, proles. In an interview with Jonathan Capehart, Marsalis posited that hip hop is “more damaging than a statue of Robert E. Lee.” Cue autistic screeching.

Marsalis has been just as outspoken in his opposition to the degrading influence of popular music as he has been in defense of what he considers a more edifying, uplifting, and yes, traditional vision of black art. While his statement does not represent a radical departure from any previous public claims, it is yet another noteworthy cultural moment in our current climate of supercharged identity politics and battles over free speech. Not only does it parallel the absolute shitstorm that followed Kanye West’s recent public statements in support of Trump and Candace Owens, it draws attention to some deeper questions over whether being an artistic conservative of any stripe is even possible in the techno-progressive age.

Just as you can roughly divide people along conservative and progressive lines in the political sphere, the same can be said for the artistic. An artistic conservative would generally subscribe to the notion that tradition should be respected, have objective aesthetic criteria, and its practitioners should be held to the highest standards of excellence. The artistic conservative would not buy into the idea that good art is completely subjective nor should it be completely democratized. Conversely, the artistic progressive would hold that traditions only exist to be inverted, reinvented, cherry picked or demolished outright. Art is always in a state of forward motion and flux. Change is an unassailable good while stasis is oppressive and confining.

Given these two competing worldviews, I contend that Marsalis finds himself in a position roughly analogous to the position Christina Sommers found herself when writing Who Stole Feminism. In other words, Wynton has the thankless task of attempting to consolidate and conserve an artistic form which was already a modernist amalgam of numerous traditions long after the wild horses of modernity had broken down the stables and overrun the barricades.

This is the main reason I find the outrage from the progressive camp to be both laughable and redundant. As usual, progressives are blind to their triumphs. The modernist genie is already out of the bottle. Wynton has neither the ability nor the desire to squelch any artist from making the music he wants to make. He is simply voicing an opinion. How many young hip hop fans are even paying attention let alone being persuaded by his point? Is there any reason to believe that even one person will stop listening to Lil Wayne after hearing Wynton Marsalis’ opinion? And even if he did manage to persuade someone, why would anyone who disagrees with him even care? Isn’t music the province of individual taste?

Yet, I’d argue that this is where the progressives are shortchanging Marsalis and also shooting themselves in the foot. Since I’m a musician myself, most of the reaction I observed on social media came from other musicians. Predictably, progressives assailed his comments as fusty and clueless. The reaction to his thrashing of Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and Miles Davis’ electric period in Ken Burns’ jazz documentary was met with a similarly hostile backlash. Despite the fact that numerous musicians chuckle at Miles Davis’ savage putdowns of Steve Miller, the Grateful Dead, and even Marsalis himself in his autobiography, Marsalis’ knocks on rock and pop music get a completely different treatment simply because he’s attacking from a different ideological vantage point. Miles was a trailblazing badass whereas Marsalis is the backward looking stuffed suit. What’s also odd is that these very same musicians, even if working within the new music circles, generally value a certain degree of musical proficiency and historical perspective. These skills and knowledge are the products of the study of some kind of musical tradition. Generally, it’s the jazz, blues, country or classical tradition. As in the ones Marsalis venerates and wants to conserve for posterity.

The unquestioned deference to a culture of pure individual expression untethered to any kind of traditionalism has resulted in an increasingly atomized marketplace. Just as religion provides a set of shared values and norms, a common tradition in arts can also serve a similar purpose. The irony is that musicians tend to denigrate pop music just like Wynton, but for slightly different reasons. They’ll shit on its lack of originality, the absence of real musicianship or its blatant commercialism. If anything, it was precisely because Marsalis put hip hop in his sights that prompted this particular bout of fauxtrage. Despite being a multibillion dollar industry, hip hop enjoys a permanent monopoly on being perceived as an edgy street art form that gives a voice to the Oppressed. Therefore, Marsalis was blind to the fact that racist old farts from bygone eras said the exact same thing about the music he currently canonizes. Get #WOKE, Wynton.

As expected, progressives seem to imagine Wynton as this quasi-fascist dictator who’s attempting to tell artists what art to make. Since we live in an age of liberal hegemony where unquestioned deference to progress is the orthodoxy, anyone who even suggests the idea of a conserved tradition with boundaries, limits and standards is branded a hidebound reactionary and a heretic. The reaction Marsalis is receiving also has parallels to the reactions Jordan Peterson is currently receiving over his secular defense of Christianity and traditionalism.

Is the knee jerk defense of artistic progressivism fostering a deeper appreciation for music with artistic aspirations that extend beyond the pop sphere? Or music which requires a higher level of complexity? Will the average hip hop fan give a shit about the numerous starving jazz musicians who stormed social media to denounce Marsalis as a retrograde dimwit? Even if Marsalis wants cordon off the jazz tradition and build an ideological border wall around it, will that prevent anyone from discovering Sun Ra or Albert Ayler? Or even J Dilla?

And then there’s the issue of preserving historical integrity when facing an onslaught of selective outrage that defines our Age of #SocialJustice. Current social justice narratives cast the entire sweep of history as nothing but a long chain of oppression and subjugation. We’re already seeing pop music being consigned to the memory hole for failing to the pass the hashtag friendly litmus tests. If an artist doesn’t live up to the feminist #MeToo standards, progressives are completely unmoved by calls for removal from streaming platforms. If Robert E. Lee gets sent to the dustbin for failing to meet ever shifting standards of woke piety, who’s to say that the records treasured by the progressive establishment won’t also be consumed in the fires of revolution eventually?

Marsalis has already responded to the considerable backlash with a lengthy and thoughtful post on Facebook. Anyone who doesn’t grasp his intent or the substance of his argument is being willfully ignorant, dishonest or both. But does his thoughtful response even register for anyone who reacted negatively to his argument? Like Sam Harris’ quixotic attempt to dismantle Ezra Klein’s hit pieces in Vox, Harris was forced to stave off the SJW zombie hordes simply for defending his right to voice an unconventional opinion.

Though they likely share opposing views, Wynton Marsalis has become a more genteel version of Ted Nugent. Every time he opines, it elicits paroxysms of contempt, but once you get past the vitriol, you’ll find an occasional grudging admission of respect.

At the same time, this controversy reveals the reason there has been a decades long conflict over who will have control over the levers of cultural consensus. Progressives reacted with customary autistic myopia as though the mere utterance of a controversial opinion would topple the secular liberal order. Each side knows that culture matters, but only progressives continue to affect the pretense of being underdogs despite the polar opposite being true. You are more likely to see progressives collectively high five one another over Black Panther than consider the possibility that NWA might have had an adverse effect on the black community.

In an anything goes culture of radical subjectivity, the artistic conservative faces an extraordinarily difficult task. When contemporary woke consensus considers gender a social construct, what chance does the artistic conservative have in promoting the idea of an objective aesthetic standard? Progressives are being myopic and greedy about the cultural marketplace. The progressive paradigm has triumphed unequivocally. So lighten up, progressives. The fire of artistic radicalism will not be extinguished if Wynton Marsalis takes a few shots at the hip hop empire.

Trump’s Thwarted Revolution: The Case for Defunding Federal Arts Programs Still Applies

As Trump began implementing his agenda in the early days of his administration, the daily drumbeat of outrage was as predictable as it was consistent. Whether it was denunciations of Rex Tillerson’s perceived conflicts of interest or Betsy Devos’ lack of credentials, Trump’s agenda sparked a howl of autistic screeching that now comprises a wall of digital noise that permeates the mediasphere. Each day ushered in a new set of perceived assaults on the moral fiber of the republic, but there was one agenda item that seemed to rise above others as an especially odious affront to civilization. Trump wanted to cut funding for the ARTS AND HUMANITIES. Cue Colonel Kurtz. The tremors of terror that rippled through the arts commmuniity were palpable.

It was bad enough that Neil Gorsuch secretly wanted to repeal Roe v. Wade and Betsy Devos’ appointment was a Trojan Horse for the reinstatement for school prayer. This was something infintely worse. This was seemingly an act of sabotage on the cornerstone of culture itself: ART. The indignation that emanted from the intelligentsia played out like an ad-lib. Shame on you, President Literally Hitler! Do you know who else banned art? HITLER! How dare you propose something so barbarous and regressive! You’re obviously just an unenlightened, pussy grabbing boor for even suggesting such a thing! The calls for defunding renewed, and like clockwork, the progressive establishment revved up the outrage all over again. The condemnation from all corners was strident and unanimous.

Though Trump is not the first to threaten this funding, we have yet to see any actual results from any Republican president. Reagan famously made a similar threat only to later add it to an ever accumulating pile of broken conservative promises. Apparently, we may never see any follow through. Early reports on the latest budget agreement indicate he has already capitulated just like Reagan. Regardless, I still believe his original instincts were correct and he he should have pulled the plug from the funding of the entire federal arts establishment from the budget.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will make two confessions from the outset. First, I’m an artist myself and there’s no doubt in my mind that if you were to list out all of the recipients of federal arts funding, there’d be much I’d either support outright or find commendable at minimum. Second, this was a taxpayer endeavor to which I was once fully sympathetic and wholeheartedly endorsed. This essay represents a change in a once deeply held conviction.

There are five arguments for defunding the arts programs:

  1. Taxpayer funded art is politicized art. Progressives are very clever about rationalizing and defending these programs. They’ll portay them as universal goods. They’ll say these are apolitical programs which spread a universal appreciation for art. In fact, they’re so beneficial, they’ll reap benefits that we may not even see in our own lifetimes. It may not yield the next Picasso, but it might yield the next art conscious industrialist or technocrat. However, the truth is quite obviously the opposite. Taxpayer funded art carries implicit and often explicit political content. No matter how abstract, art serves as a transmission vessel for values and ideas. At a bare minimum, it reinforces the idea that government funding generates culture, and that without it, the will to create or appreciate art would evaporate. And in the case of taxpayer funded art, the political outcomes flow in one direction. To the urban enclaves and strongholds where the Left already enjoys a cultural hegemony. Furthermore, the art world in general is overwhelmingly dominated by the Left. To assert that decades of taxpayer funding haven’t produced a quantifiable consensus in the art world is to deny reality. The progressive elites are keenly aware that opinion can be shaped and molded more easily through art than any other means. Politics are downstream from culture and no one knows this better than the progressive Left.
  2. Taxpayer funded art does not reflect the “will of the people” or a national consensus. It’s an argument that bears repeating. When art is funded through compulsory taxation, the final recipients will be ultimately be determined by a handful of bureaucrats. Subsequently, awards will be granted based on either proximity to the political apparatus or the subjective tastes of the bureaucrats. Funds appropriated through force immediately deprive individuals the opportunity to make voluntary purchases in the marketplace.
  3. It destroys the appreciation for fine art rather than strengthening it. A common rationale for this funding goes something like this. Making truly Great Art requires that the artist forego the idea of commercial success. Therefore, We as Enlightened Citizens should subsidize these heroic efforts because people just don’t appreciate these visionaries and this funding will help foster a deeper appreciation. But where’s the evidence? Are people demanding more Shakespeare and Bach? Or are we seeing the influence of the pop culture sphere eclipse all other artistic endeavors while listening to progressives bemoan the collapse they hastened? While I will concede that there’s truth to the claim that the artist must shoulder a certain degree of risk in creating original work, this line of thinking also reinforces an orthodoxy of virtue as well as a smug elitism around the entire enterprise. Furthermore, it reduces the incentive for subsidized artists to compete honestly in the marketplace alongside other commercial endeavors and produces its own aesthetic conformity. How many conservatives end up at Kronos Quartet concerts or are interested in seeing the Sol Lewitt exhibition? I suspect it’s next to zero. Does the federal funding apparatus hope to fund the next Leonardo Davinci, Raphael, Michelangelo or Vermeer? I suspect it’s a resounding No. We live a multicultural, post-national, postmodern world now, bigot. Don’t go pushing that Western civilization supremacy on us!
  4. It contributes to federal mission creep. The government is an institution vested with the power to initiate force, jail and imprison. When you attempt to project altruistic, humanitarian or higher order values on to government policy, you are essentially transforming these benevolent impulses into compulsion. Progressives are always the first to denounce the slightest hint of tyranny from conservatives, but somehow the rhetoric that fuels the taxpayer funded art apparatus inoculates them from criticism. It’s as though the good intentions and the aura of enlightened civic engagement are winning arguments all by themselves.
  5. Once implemented, federal spending programs are hard to kill. Again, we return to failed promise of conservatism in the liberal democratic age. Even a game changing president like Trump submits to the hive mind when the chips are down.

Taxpayer funded art is yet another example of how appealing rhetoric trumps outcomes. Even if you agree with every dollar of funding alloted, there will be a segment of the population who does not. Progressives always tout the size of the budget as a pittance relative to other federal expenditures, ergo all this is much ado about nothing. But if it’s truly so inconsequential, why the indignant pronouncements of moral condemnation? Why the supercharged proclamations of barabarism and small mindedness? Deploying state coercion to compel the provision of an abstract ideal of Common Good should be viewed with the greatest skepticism and the most vigilant restraint.

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