Acorns for the culture war
"Governor DeSantis will never own the libs—they are already owned."
There is an ancient Lithuanian proverb about a village whose central square was long shaded by a great oak tree. Late one Saturday night, a madman went mad with an axe and cut down the tree.
That night, as was his wont, the wise man of the village was deeply in his cups. When, on Sunday afternoon he painfully arose and looked out his window over the plaza, he exclaimed to see the great oak cut down—then exclaimed again to see the villagers, with rope and crane and shovel, replanting the tree.
They had dug the stump out to a pit, where they were planting the hacked-off trunk. Of course the oak’s leaves were already starting to wither. Still in his pajamas, quite careless of his pounding head and the sun’s savage glare, the wise man rushed down the stairs and into the square. He began to gather acorns and bury them in little holes. Everyone thought the wise man, too, had gone mad. Didn’t he want the tree back? What was he, a squirrel?
Do you want to win the culture war? I bet you do. Do you have the resources to do your part? I bet some of you do. Wat do?
Do you want to replant the great oak? Then send a big pile of money to Florida, where Governor DeSantis, with rope and crane and shovel, is trying to
win higher office replant a state educational system that will give young Florida men and women the virtuous and humanistic education they deserve, not the candy-flavored intellectual dung they are currently getting.
It cost $200 million to elect the Governor—a young and vigorous man, with the finest academic and military pedigrees. It might cost a billion dollars to elect him President. What, objectively, is all this money buying? Another Southern statesman, a few years ago, gave away the game:
Conservatism is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation.
What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution; to be denounced and then adopted in its turn.
American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt hath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted?
Its impotency is not hard, indeed, to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It intends to risk nothing serious for the sake of the truth, and has no idea of being guilty of the folly of martyrdom. It always when about to enter a protest very blandly informs the wild beast whose path it essays to stop, that its “bark is worse than its bite,” and that it only means to save its manners by enacting its decent role of resistance:
The only practical purpose which it now subserves in American politics is to give enough exercise to Radicalism to keep it “in wind,” and to prevent its becoming pursy and lazy, from having nothing to whip.
150 years later, the objective function of publicity-stunt conservatism is unchanged. When Governor DeSantis spends a million dollars to fly fifty Venezuelans from Texas via Florida to Martha’s Vineyard, what is the objective impact of this action?
As a fundraising and general lead-generation media-op for the Governor: fine work. Perhaps it raised him ten million dollars. The most impactful impact, however, is on the “progressive party”—which is in power, so impacts on it are the most powerful.
This impact is wholly positive. Governor DeSantis will never own the libs—they are already owned. They are owned by the “progressive party.” These institutions, which claim political ownership of the richest and smartest people in America, have their own fundraising needs. Everyone, even the rich thin beautiful people, has to eat. The NYT needs subscribers. The ACLU needs donors. Etc, etc.
All these institutions need to exercise their supporters. They need a basically harmless fake enemy to posture at them, maybe even roughhouse a little, so that little old ladies who wouldn’t hurt a fly keep taking fright and sending them checks. They need a heel, and DeSantis politics is kayfabe politics. That said—hard to do a shoot in just Florida…
An education show
The DeSantis administration realized that the Governor got to appoint a majority on the board of a shit-tier Florida public hippie college, New College. He promptly did so. You can read about it in the New Yorker—which also needs subscribers, btw.
What does the new board intend to do with this trembling fresh-caught bird, still reeking of patchouli? The New Yorker asks the question in its headline, and does not get an answer. The only reasonable suggestion was crazy, and was instantly shot down:
The following week, Speir would propose that the new Board of Trustees summarily fire every single faculty member—most of them unionized and most of them with tenure—by asking the Florida legislature to authorize a “financial emergency” as rationale. His idea was not formally presented to the board.
No word on getting rid of the students—who surely make the faculty look like gems.
The idea of the well-meaning new board seems to be that Governor DeSantis’s New Florida will need a higher-education flagship—a pillar of authentic Eurocentric learning—a state-sponsored Hillsdale College, with more and bigger alligators.
Suppose such an institution is truly needed. Imagine you wanted to start it. The last thing you would want on your campus is a bunch of old hippie professors and shaggy midwit stoner “students.” If you had to start with New College, you instantly realize, all you would keep is the land and buildings.
Perhaps, if Harvard is the Stanford of the East Coast, New College is the Reed College of Florida. Is this bug important enough to step on? Is it important to take their land and buildings? Does Florida have some shortage of land, or of builders? How hard is it to pour a little concrete, hire a bunch of nerdy classics victims and STEM postdocs, and put up a quirky viral application site? Start now and really hustle—by September, you’ll be teaching Virgil to homeschooled virgins on occupied Seminole land.
However, if your actual strategy was to get exposure by tussling with the libs, you would do exactly what is being done—constantly irritate them in a way that (a) gives them the oxygen they need, (b) makes you look like Ferris Bueller’s principal, (c) cannot in any way cause more than negligible damage to liberalism as a whole.
For this, millions of human beings pour out their hearts, or at least their votes—for this, nine and ten figures change hands. The poor donors. They are being skinned.
Even my proposed Homeschooled Virgil Academy is in a way replanting the trunk. Not only would it already exist in a society that needed it—it does. Hillsdale exists. Hillsdale exists, but it is not bulging at the gills with students hot-bunking in shifts. What we need is not the right college—it is the society that needs the right college.
Can power do this? Power can do it. But the powers of Ronald DeSantis cannot do it. The powers of Donald Trump cannot do it. Press releases cannot do it.
The fallacy of replanting the tree is to believe that the past is something we can just have back. If we cheer loudly enough. If we spend enough money. America is our America; it was always ours—since the Pilgrims, or something—and then someone cut down the tree. Now we must all pitch in and set it back upright. Indeed we are about to win, Iron Ron is killing woke in Florida and in ‘25 will kill it nationwide, we’re almost at a turning point…
There is a greediness, a wishful thinking, to this delusion. You fools! The Pilgrims were leftists! Why do you think they started Harvard? It’s true that Iron Ron’s name doesn’t end in a vowel. But it might as well. He means well. He even went to Harvard. But in the end he’s just visiting, and so is all of conservatism—which is the postwar fake opposition of the “progressive party,” aka the New Deal. Press F to pay respects.
Of course, if doing a fake thing is the only way to become capable of doing a real thing—have at it. It is true that over the last six years, pretending to get real has become the currency of the young American right. It’s better than not pretending at all. And it certainly does sell. But…
Lying is bad. Pretending is lying. Lying is bad, but it is especially bad to get in the habit of lying. It makes you weak. Weak doesn’t win. To be strong, get in the habit of only doing strong things, never weak things.
The fallacy of replanting the tree is to believe that the past is something we can just have back. It isn’t. We can be inspired by the past. We can want a beautiful oak tree in our town square. But we live in the present and we have no oak tree, just raw lumber. We can build the future under the inspiration of the past—but it is not the past. And we have to be patient enough to wait for it, or we are just losers. Press F to pay regrets.
Do you want to plant an acorn? Then send a few coins to my friend Beckett Rosset, who needs to raise just seven grand this week to fund his literary magazine, TENSE. Don’t be a villager! Be a squirrel.
You could also support the Delicious Tacos/Peter Vack film, or lit at Expat Press, or…coming soon, you could even buy my own archives from Passage Press. These days I see approximately a million and two deserving acorns of based art and publishing. Like all real artists, these people are BROKE and a little real coin goes a long-ass way.
Yes. These people are my friends. I am biased. However, I am still sort of a rationalist. Let me get extremely spergy and talk about the mathematics of planting these acorns.
The business of philanthropy is turning money into power. Unfortunately, the kind of people who have a lot of money tend to be super into metrics. Money is super easy to measure. Power is super hard to measure—and the more measurable or even visible it is, the weaker it tends to be.
To really plant acorns, you have to get as far upstream of power as you can. While, as a donor, obviously your goal in funding the arts is world domination, there is no way at all to measure this impact. In art, the delay between action and impact can be decades.
And yet… the golden rule of fashion is that fashion flows downward. Do you want your ideas to be the ideas of a billion people, taught in a million schools? Then who are the first hundred people you want to infect?
Status is a pyramid. You want your ideas to start at the top and saturate every level of the pyramid before it moves down to the next. You want to traverse this pyramid in what computer scientists call a breadth-first search, not a depth-first search.
Every idea is a social network—the network of people it has infected—and the quality of a social network can only decline. People only want to join a network of people who are cooler than them. When we consider the capitalization of this network, the value of every eyeball is not equal. Celebrities are diamonds. Losers represent negative capital.
For the purposes of turning money into power, the art itself does not matter. I mean—I love art. It is very important that the art be good. But the art is not the power product. It is only important because good artists and good art make a good scene—a good social network. All the power is in the network.
This is why I have come to believe that the less political the art, the better. In a sense: the less political, the more political. There are only two qualifications for “based” art (if that term is not overexposed): it has to be good, and it has to be uncontaminated. Uncontaminated art is not filtered by, nor does it pander to, the “progressive party.”
That’s all. It is easy to keep your scene uncontaminated—just keep enough garlic hanging on the wall that the vampires don’t want to come in. No need to overdo it. The best garlic is casually and effortlessly noxious to vampires, without making a big deal about itself—any kind of complaining or other effortposting is especially “off.” Vampire art (eg, “race opera”) is a cliche anyway; a quality filter should also catch it.
Political art is always narrowing. Art should be so big that it includes all the present; all the better if it sees things it is not supposed to see, or say things it is not allowed to say; but if its purpose is to see the unseeable or say the unsayable, it is a little smaller. If your idea of “based poetry” is “wignat nursery rhymes,” while you may have a good and happy soul, please consider how much richer the world could be for your silence.
The death and life of Beckett’s
Beckett Rosset has been a hub of the Dimes Square based NY arts scene, for a couple of reasons—a big one being that he can use his father’s West Village townhouse as an informal theater and event space. Matt Gasda often runs his plays there, for instance. Alas, the estate gears are grinding and Beckett’s is to be sold—if you feel your family office could add a Greenwich Village townhouse to the ol’ portfolio, drop me a line.
But the other reason is nepotism—one principle I always endorse. You see, Beckett’s is not just a house. It is the Grove Press house (complete with library)! My son is named Beckett because my wife loved Samuel Beckett’s plays. Beckett Rosset is named Beckett because Barney Rosset, Grove’s founder, partied with Samuel Beckett. (Yes, there was old money. But you know what happens to old money.)
As Wikipedia writes:
Under Rosset's leadership, Grove introduced American readers to European avant-garde literature and theatre, including French authors Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jean Genet, and Eugène Ionesco. In 1954 Grove published Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot after it had been refused by more mainstream publishers. Grove was also the first American house to publish the unabridged complete works of the Marquis de Sade, translated by Seaver and Austryn Wainhouse. Grove also had an interest in Japanese literature, publishing several anthologies as well as works by Kenzaburō Ōe and others.
Grove published most of the American Beats of the 1950s (Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg) as well as poets like Frank O'Hara of the New York School and poets associated with Black Mountain and the San Francisco Renaissance such as Robert Duncan. In 1963, Grove published My Life and Loves: Five Volumes in One/Complete and Unexpurgated, with annotations, collecting Frank Harris' work in one volume for the first time.
From 1957 to 1973 Grove published Evergreen Review, a literary magazine whose contributors included Edward Albee, Bertolt Brecht, William S. Burroughs, Albert Camus, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Nat Hentoff, LeRoi Jones, John Lahr, and Timothy Leary.
And of course:
The defining movements of the 1960s in America—the antiwar, civil rights, black power, counterculture, and student movements in the United States—along with revolutions across the globe, were debated, exposed, and discussed in Grove’s publications, as was the sexual revolution. Grove’s books challenged prevailing attitudes about sex through dozens of erotic books, many by "anonymous" authors; introduced the layperson to new directions in psychology through Eric Berne’s Games People Play; and gave voice to revolutionaries around the world, including Che Guevara and Malcolm X. They published works by Frantz Fanon and Régis Debray, and numerous books opposing the Vietnam war and the draft, including information on G.I. rights.
The oak tree of the 2020s? Or rather, the poisoned upas tree of the 2020s? Where was its toxic acorn? Well, Grove Press was not alone, but… consider the impact.
The thoughts that Grove put out in the early postwar era became the texture of reality. They were terrible thoughts, generally—communist thoughts. Do you want to win? Or do you want to wring your hands? Where did wokeness start? Among the cool kids. In the Village arts scene. To hear the story the world will be telling itself in 50 years, always listen to New York now. The future always starts at the center and at the top.
(And if you are a serious donor/investor and you’re into this stuff, please reach out—I know of a lot of high-impact opportunities, and can probably help you find more. TLDR: the cool thing about “investing” in the arts is that you get to hang out with cool artists… yeah… I know… “investing.” But still. As the English footballer George Best said when asked where all his money had gone: “I spent most of it on drugs, cars and women. But the rest I wasted.” If you don’t feel this way about the arts…)