Pragmatism and value

A theme in society that has often bothered me is that which says, “what is not pragmatic, is not useful”.

I notice this greatly in relationship to art. Art is not respected because its product is not easily defined. Indeed, it has short-term benefit only for those able to appreciate it – most of its societal benefit being in the long-term.

One reaction I see in the world to the idea of a “romantic” journey (that is, to run off from the rest of the world and contemplate life) is that it is not pragmatic, and hence ultimately useless.

Interestingly enough, it is possible to view “romantic” as being related to “artistic”. That is, its benefit is hard to define, and what benefit there is is only visible to those in a position to appreciate it; and the actual societal “product” will only be realized in the long-term.

The typical social reaction to anything having those characteristics is distrust and disregard. In minor things, such as writing or painting – when it is not the primary source of income – is pretty much ignored, since what real harm can it have? If that’s how the person has fun…

But when it comes to placing art, and the need for art, as primary in one’s life, then society seems to try to rush to the person’s rescue: to save them from themselves. What the artist is trying to attempt is scorned (in subtle, or not-so-subtle words), and he is persuaded to abandon his attempt because “it is not useful” – mainly because it is “not pragmatic”: there is no direct, concrete product associated with his intentions. How is he going to benefit the world by the plans that he has?

This same pragmatism seems to deny the pursuit of anything for its own sake. Knowledge for knowledge sake, or virtue for virtue sake. It always has to have an end, and the end must be visible and well-defined. Such pragmatism denies any optimism in the face of life’s many sorrows; it ignores the hidden potentials which are only a veil’s-width from our realization; it condemns as foolish or ultimately idiotic anything done purely for the sake of some hidden or invisible beauty, of which most people are unaware.

Now, I do not think that most people openly subscribe to this view. That is why I call it a “social more”. Perceptual models seem to defend themselves: they use human minds to propagate, almost like a virus attaching itself to a host. And the person, even despite their own hopes and desires, may find themselves vehemently declaring the social more as incontestable, merely because it has become such an inseparable aspect of their Weltanschauung.

I see the societal models trying to curtail my efforts toward beauty at every step. It is constantly telling me that I should basically just keep quiet and continue working away at my job; that I should find a nice wife, buy a nice home, and ultimately just settle down to die.

The point where it becomes unacceptable for me is that something deep within me is positively screaming for some kind of change. Whenever I behold things that express true beauty, I am seized by such a transport of glorious joy that I keep saying to myself, “I will not live my life the way that other people do.” The role of art has become an obsession, and my soul requires nourishment from the storehouses that it offers.

Of course, the result is that I am more and more viewed as foolish and irrelevant in a our highly sophisticated, technological world. My fascination with ancient Greece, my longing for hardship and dire simplicity, my thirst for pain to burn away the ugly blackness that is settling on my soul: all of these have just about won me a front-row seat in the funny farm.

Can it be that I am really so crazy, and so idiotic? I know that from a strict social perspective, any intention I may have of giving up my life for one more dedicated to intangible realities, seems impractical and pointless. For I certainly will not be able to prove afterwards that I actually “did” anything.

Yet the soul cries for something. What I do not know, or else I wouldn’t even be wasting my time writing these things down. One thing that I do know for sure: the accepted social more does not offer me any substitute. What alternative does the 1997 model of the world offer to someone who’s heart is bursting from day to day? Whose souls groans in agony at all the irreverent indignities heaped upon it by a heedless and godless generation? Where is the ethereal fragrance of beauty in such a world, such as I once felt wafted over my soul while reading the short stories of D.H. Lawrence?

After thinking about it for a while, it seems possible that the very reason a “romantic” endeavor is termed such is because “romantic” is viewed as the atmosphere surrounding “artistic”, and whatever is sheerly artistic, or is not pragmatic, will never conduce to a useful result.