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The term "bourgeois" was used by Marxist theorists to refer to the complacent middle classes who, in pursuit of the comforts that moderate wealth could provide, neglected all ideological concerns. The bourgeois attitude became characterized by the idea of "don't rock the boat" and a benign form of Social Darwinism that figured if people did not have money, it was because they did not want it or were defective in some way (true in 99.4% of poverty cases; the remaining 0.6% are philosophers, artists, dissidents and orgone scientists). Where Marxists found the most support in the West was among the intellectuals who, terrified by the drugged attitude that wealth defines aptitude prevalent in their societies, wanted to find something to break the money yoke. Unfortunately, the only contrary instinct among the left has been a tendency to equalize income, which still relies on income.
After the second world war, and the world silent conflict known as the Cold War, communism proved its untenability for this reason to the middle classes of the West even if not to the academes who eschew normal life in favor of the subsidized, accountability-less lifestyle of the professional theorist. Watching a succession of countries be devasted culturally, economically and socially by the dogma-heavy class-revenge agenda of communism made us skittish about it. For this reason, the word "bourgeois" fell out of favor except with self-parodic student "activists." Yet the word is making a resurgence today to describe the egalitarian distribution of its disposition.
Near A.N.U.S. HQ there is a public park that, unlike most shared spaces in cities, was created from undeveloped wilderness; such a thing is rare since most cities expand first and then find reasons to dedicate recreation centers from the flattest land available, and usually begin by razing all existing wildlife and replacing it with orderly lawns and public restrooms. The park in question in this article was preserved by accident of legislation, and initially, was unregulated public space populated with trees. The rarity of such a place within driving distance of a skyscraper made it immediately popular.
Initially, its fanbase was formed of the outdoorsy types who wanted to wander through trees and see butterflies and rivers and marvel at the thousands if not millions of species of flora and fauna accessible to those who could still their neurotic need for "activities" long enough to observe them. It was a great place for a walk or to simply meditate in a natural setting. This was not to last long.
First, the "sportspeople" spoke up: they wanted to be able to ride their bikes through the underbrush, so needed paths. This naturally led to conflict with those who walked through the forest, and led to bans on such things as BB guns and tents.
Next, the suburban walkers and cell phone users spoke up: they wanted to be able to take nice genteel strolls without having to interface with the bugs, snakes, poison ivy, thorny undergrowth and fallen logs that are part of any successful forest. Government, always eager to curry votes, leapt into the fray and put down a paved path which -- of course -- required at least twenty feet of shaved earth made into boring lawn on either side.
Well, at this point, you've invited in the general population, so what happens? Crime! Soon, police patrols were needed, and since crimes happen at such distant intervals, they brought with them a horde of regulations to justify their existence. Soon rules about leashes, skateboards, sleeping outdoors, and a pooper scooper patrol came about. In order to patrol in their motorized carts (most efficient!) of course, they needed more forest shorn and replaced with grass.
Not surprisingly, all this lawn created further needs. It had to be mowed, and the most efficient way to do that is with giant riding mowers, so "obstructions" had to be removed and straightaways and turnarounds created. Exit more forest.
Of course, when you break up forest like that, you ruin its ability to exist as contiguous space and thus some parts of the ecosystem die and breed certain creatures, like mosquitoes and rats, disproportionately (generalist species such as rats, squirrels, sparrows, raccoons and cockroaches exist at a ratio of five times normal in suburban spaces because specialized species require unbroken terrain, where things that eat anything and breed recklessly fit in anywhere). This in turn required clearing of forest floor detritus, which eliminated whole ecosystems and in turn created other needs to clean up after their death and the leaves, logs, roots, and bug carcasses that otherwise would have been composted by nature.
Finally, the civic groups got involved. What was left was small trailings of forest shot through with smoothworn bike trails, surrounded by lawn and wide patches of open dirt where detritus and other forces of nature had been removed. It was boring. It was ugly. It did not look like a park in a major, important city, but an open lot with forest like acne shot through it. So what does a government that wishes to be popular do? It landscapes the damn thing.
There's still forest left, and for this reason, the area is still more popular than other parks in the city. However, this forest is not like the wild, but is closer to a kept garden which is allowed to walk a little on the wild side, and you cannot go more than five feet in it without encountering some human-regulated space or leavings. What has happened to this area? It has been overcivilized, or made safe for so many interests that it has lost its original purpose and appeal, which was as natural space in a city where people are sick of managed, civilized spaces.
It used to have snakes and bugs and things that could kill you; it had neat geographic features like escarpments and copses and dropoffs and underground rivers. All of these however can result in injury and lawsuits, so they had to go. Even more, it had to fit into the exercise and recreational expectations of city people, so anything which obstructed that had to go. In the process of making it fit the diversity of expectations, we changed it into the same kind of space we find elsewhere in the city, but decorated like a forest. Civilization proved its own worst enemy again.
What we see here is, to borrow that Marxist word, the influence of bourgeois tastes -- but in this case, we cannot blame the middle class. The suburbs are home to people of all economic grades, all ethnic groups and backgrounds, all genders and sexual inclinations at this point. No one is not guilty.
Restricting "bourgeois" to middle classes alone was step-on-a-landmine wrong and a product of the burning resentment and desire for revenge inherent to all leftist movements, who fearing the greater competence of the middle class of that of the worker, seek to destroy both middle and upper classes and replace them with an "equality" of generalized, reduced competence. This is one reason why all leftist societies collapse inward; it is not the lack of competition, but the tendency to cannibalize, endanger and shout down above-average citizens that crushes them.
In the context of public spaces, the mixed attitudes of the citizenry conspire to enforce a bourgeois taste rooted in the idea that we can provide what all people think they want (utilitarianism) and via this total lack of plan, come up with something that will please the average and thus suffice, nevermind that it adulterates into nonexistence the original intent of a space or idea. It's no different than your favorite band turning into radio rock to sell more records, classical music being used to sell tennis shoes, or politicians and civic leaders backing off of "daring" proposals to cede power to innumerable special interests groups and thus aquiescing to the default direction against which their original plan was a deviation.
What is this default? It is the idea that all of us can have what we think we want. That default concept is opposed to any kind of leadership, any kind of specialization, any kind of purpose... it is death to unique and the enforcement of a universal norm not because of some decision toward that angle, but because many small decisions whittle away at any unique concept and gradually convert it into the Same Old Thing no matter what its original intent was. Where the original bourgeois attitude was that of middle and upper classes preserving wealth, the fully-matured bourgeois attitude is that of overcivilizing from the pressures of all groups wanting to secure their own lifestyles and individual preferences. The poor are as guilty as the rich.
We can see overcivilization in society at large. Because we focus on pleasing the individual, we institute a dominant course toward overcivilization in all things which, since opposing it is difficult and will eventually be reduced by thousands of small compensations into the Same Old Thing, creates a de facto liberalism in outlook in all things we do. Liberalism is, for those who study history and philosophy, any system of politics based on satisfying the individual -- in philosophy it is called consequentialism, which is a fancy term for utilitarianism, or figuring that the best solution is what most people identify in polls and votes as what they desire. Such systems measure the intent of people, and never the outcome of events, because you cannot have a vote to decide whether or not a plan worked... you propose an alternate plan. And then come the special interests, civic groups, injured individuals, dogmatic bureaucrats to whittle it away until it resembles every other plan.
The postmodern bourgeois corrupts all it touches, and turns politics into a vast distraction that raises endless hue and cry but in essence never varies direction, because its assumptions of the means of power determine its outcome: any civilization regulated by individuals alone has not one direction but thousands of tiny limits to direction. The only system that supports such constant conflict and ultimate directionlessness is liberal democracy, as it encourages that concept of living by placing emphasis on not what is good for the society at large but what the individual desires. And given that almost every citizen agrees most of the rest are misinformed, it's clear that misinformed and stupid decisions will be the order of the day.
We can see this bourgeois attitude in what "popular culture" has done to art: turned it into entertainment. Although we now have niche markets for every conceivable type of art, these end up being variations on the same old type of art, since it fits the same need as this park -- to be everything to everyone. For gay literature to be understood by the masses, it must conform much as the wilderness is forced to so that it accomodates the individual impulses within the gay community. Thus, not surprisingly, the difference between gay literature and teenybopper romance novels is the gender and vocabulary of its characters -- the Same Old Thing dressed up in pink lace and buttless chaps.
Entertainment is bourgeois "art" because unlike art which has a distinctive plan or idea to communicate, entertainment pleases people with a lack of specialization so everyone can participate. Entertainment starts the reader or viewer out from a point of view that accepts the direction of society as the best, shows them fantasy worlds and car chases and sex scenes, and then returns them to a point of view that affirms the dominant direction of society at this time not as much explicitly as by method: if "art" is created about individuals fulfilling their desires and damn the collective consequences, like a park it will be shoehorned by a thousand competing voices into something that offends no one and facilitates all, thus is a massive averaging of artistic ideas into something that no matter how bizarre is milktoast in its content. Its goal is to suspend disbelief for a few hours and then reinforce acceptance of the world as it is so people can go back to their jobs without being threatened or challenged.
This concept in art and politics and philosophy is one of nullity because it has more "don'ts" than "dos." You cannot offend the walkers, or have dangerous snakes, or have unsightly forest, or have a lack of bike trails... you have to facilitate what everyone wants, in every situation, exactly the same. The only area for difference is in where you set it or the outward details of the characters, so you get supernatural thrillers where lesbian tuba-playing Sudoku experts take on half-amphibian eco-Nazi Scientologists, but the bad guys are all about ending individual desire and the good guys are all about affirming it. The story never changes.
This nullity allows the process of overcivilization to go on unabated by not challenging its basic assumption, which is that we can take any idea or chunk of land or artistic work and have it be all things to all people without losing what makes it distinct. By not challenging that assumption, we allow the default to continue and in fact gain strength, which furthers this process to the point where we cannot revoke it. Liberal democracy, the culture of diverse critique, marches on and by eliminating the distinctive creates an ever-increasing crowd of generalist whose political instincts are a mix between Communist (class revenge) and Capitalism (competitive altruism, or getting everything you can for yourself and making token gestures of guilt and subsidy for those unfortunates below you, while feeling good about yourself for gifting them from your lofty position and thus making yourself necessary in their world).
As our society decays, "smart" people can be heard asking where our plan went wrong. The answer to them is simple: we had no plan, but we allowed the process of planning to continue anyway, and in the process, we have overcivilized every aspect of our life into the exact same type of thing hiding behind transparent "diverse" facades. We are normalizing ourselves, much as we wrecked the forest park, and that is the ultimate failure of modern society.
May 13, 2006