Friday, December 21, 2012
“Faking…Is An Achievement”
Roger Scruton, writing for Aeon Magazine, examines the achievement of faking it, in an essay titled The great swindle - From pickled sharks to compositions in silence, fake ideas and fake emotions have elbowed out truth and beauty, which, as I read through it this morning, recalled to my mind a phrase from a George Weigel essay, Sifting Through the Wreckage, which compliments the thoughts Scruton elucidates on in his essay, when Weigel references the continuing decline in Americans’ freedoms as a “national will to diminshment.”
The opening of Scruton’s essay.
A high culture is the self-consciousness of a society. It contains the works of art, literature, scholarship and philosophy that establish a shared frame of reference among educated people. High culture is a precarious achievement, and endures only if it is underpinned by a sense of tradition, and by a broad endorsement of the surrounding social norms. When those things evaporate, as inevitably happens, high culture is superseded by a culture of fakes.
Faking depends on a measure of complicity between the perpetrator and the victim, who together conspire to believe what they don’t believe and to feel what they are incapable of feeling. There are fake beliefs, fake opinions, fake kinds of expertise. There is also fake emotion, which comes about when people debase the forms and the language in which true feeling can take root, so that they are no longer fully aware of the difference between the true and the false. Kitsch is one very important example of this. The kitsch work of art is not a response to the real world, but a fabrication designed to replace it. Yet both producer and consumer conspire to persuade each other that what they feel in and through the kitsch work of art is something deep, important and real.
Anyone can lie. One need only have the requisite intention — in other words, to say something with the intention to deceive. Faking, by contrast, is an achievement. To fake things you have to take people in, yourself included. In an important sense, therefore, faking is not something that can be intended, even though it comes about through intentional actions. The liar can pretend to be shocked when his lies are exposed, but his pretence is merely a continuation of his lying strategy. The fake really is shocked when he is exposed, since he had created around himself a community of trust, of which he himself was a member. Understanding this phenomenon is, it seems to me, integral to understanding how a high culture works, and how it can become corrupted.
America’s national will to diminishment continues to be fed by those deliberately pursuing the high achievement of faking it, and not just by those individuals in the arts.