7. Aesthetics and Evil
by Culture and Anti Culture
What evil is cannot be simply defined in words, but it can be pointed to and characterized. Evil, in part, may be depicted as the tearing apart of that which belongs together or the forcing together of that which, by its nature, strives to remain apart. (Almost all of us experience this, destructively, in childhood in being endlessly coerced into endorsing as true that which we do not believe, and denying that which we know to be true. Much of Huckleberry Finn is a laying bare of this evil)
To use an exceptionally crude example of tearing asunder that which aesthetically belongs together, picture a rural village in a remote region, with a well-worn pattern of paths, houses, yards, walls, vegetation, animals and the panoply of human life ; deeply imprinted with a rich patina of long use and habitation. A missile explodes in the center of the hamlet, instantly dissolving this living coherent fabric and leaving a field of rubble, whose chief aesthetic tone is a fragmented incoherence. The transition is from an aesthetically coherent microcosm to aesthetic incoherence and meaninglessness.
As to bringing together that which should remain apart, anti-culture has provided many instances, none more crudely and creepily obvious than beauty contests for small children, replete with sexual inferences. The pairing of infantile innocence and vulnerability with adult competitiveness and lust is blatantly evil. This is not ultimately a matter of abstract ethical principal but of direct moral-aesthetic intuition.
Aesthetic forces appropriated by evil wills towards evil ends has, of course, a long and elaborate history. On a mass scale, political propaganda was the obvious manifestation of manipulative evil in the course of the modern era – that is through most of the 20th century. In the post-modern 21st century world of anti-culture, it is the permeating presence of electronically mediated advertising that is the leading carrier of such evil; achieving its ends most strikingly through the expert hijacking of aesthetic power.
“Contemporary humanity is in the midst of many crises. At the heart of them all is the crisis in the inner life of the human being. We are writing for the consciously distressed.”