Watching a local ritual of the petro-cult, the yearly application of toxic waste to the ever-increasing patch of asphaltic concretion that spreads over more and more of their sovereign private property; I realize how hard it is to look past manufactured necessity to see one's actions for what they are.
The question is tangled up in rationalizations that pass for causality. Why do roads exist? Why parking lots? Driveways? Necessity claims they are simply utilitarian, the best possible answers to a set of logistical problems. This view rejects the power of cultural framing. It accepts its particular assumptions as universal and goes on from there. In this view, everything is ordered pragmatically and while mistakes are made, and pockets of inefficiency are left to be rooted out, everyone – except the bad ones who disagree – is doing their part to get along.
"Of course I seal my driveway! Otherwise water would get in the cracks and plants would grow and pretty soon I wouldn't have a driveway anymore!" Don't try to take this questioning to the next level, Why do you need a driveway? You're already on dangerous ground.
Cult-worshiping behavior defended as outright necessity.
* * *
Any human practice is decadent whose function requires more and more to yield the same or less. Any practice is not decadent that uses the same or less to yield the same or more from what it does.
Thank you Yasei Kaige for this definition.
The problem with human justification, and the persistent urge to raise beliefs to the level of necessities, is not something that can ever be rooted out. It's a direct function of how we perceive and then construct our reality. It allows us to heal over paradox so we can get on with life.
Perhaps the problem only arises when our beliefs support a decadent system? It's paradoxical in itself that our urge to be pragmatic, to efficiency, becomes the vehicle of collapse. We tend to think that we are clever about gauging practicality; but when our cultural frame's answers cease to provide results; we continue to hold them out of our conviction that they are rooted in pragmatism.
What is pragmatism? I've written about it before: here and here, but never asked this question directly. Is there some other level of pragmatism that does what it claims to do? Some ideal pragmatism? Or, is the notion irretrievably linked to the cultural mechanism reinforcing a particular cultural framework?
Does it matter? In a way, probably not. Since we are tied to this cultural mechanism phenomenologically. But it should still matter in another way.
We can look at culture from two opposing perspectives. Normally we are inside a culture, living through its norms and forms as they provide us with the means and methods of survival. We tend to see outside cultures – and these days these tend to be extinct or at least dying cultures – through a lens colored by some blend of nostalgia and contempt towards their failed ways – I find myself doing much the same in my living museum watching my neighbor treat his driveway or herbicide his lawn. As soon as we see ourselves outside a particular cultural framework this viewpoint seems to take hold.
What is missing is what needs to take place at the other end of a culture's lifespan. Postmortem is easy for the most part. The cause of death obvious at that point. But other than giving us a useless admonishment, "Don't die of this!" It does nothing to help us get a handle on how a culture forms.
Presumably, if cultures exist because they give us a frame within which we find it easier to survive, then it must be that cultures form when a series of practices coalesce around a particular survival strategy. You could say this is the pragmatic theory of cultural formation, cultures form around successful strategies. In a way this must be true, otherwise its members would all die and its practices cease.
While this must be the case, it's still post facto, relating what happens if a certain condition is not met. Of little use in figuring out how it all takes place as it's happening.
I must admit, I'm astounded at how little thought I've ever put into this particular question! And this from someone purporting to be culturally creative! Whenever I've set out to create something I've put on an amorphous cloak and headed off with a purposeful stride; but haven't put any consideration towards how this process might fit into the wider action of cultural creation.
At such a point I've picked up my bucket of sealer and spread goo firmly within a process I was as unwittingly a part of as my hapless neighbor is of his!
This seems to be the crisis of this moment. With a jaded knowingness towards the faults of our decadent culture we march off with the avowed purpose of generating a replacement with little awareness of what that might entail. The most basic questions like, Does a true pragmatism exist? Are not only left unanswered; but mostly left unasked.