From Farm to Space: A Lost Cultural Myth

Social Justice Warriors often tell us that games are not just games, and books are not just books. Everything must be political with them, from the movie theater to the arcade. Naturally, I’ve long disagreed with them on this matter. Sometimes, the political impact of a thing is minimal, if even present at all, and it is merely entertainment. After all, where is the grand political metaphor in a battle between giant robots and giants monsters? If you want to tell me that the new Quake Champions game being peddled by Bethsheda is somehow a matter of politics, please take this moment to laugh at yourself in my stead.

And yet, there is a grain of truth to their statement, if not precisely in the way SJWs mean it. I was pondering this the other day, when a friend and I were talking about the latest Star Wars flicks. Yes, we all know the prequels were generally atrocious, and what little was interesting was contained only in the last installment. The new Star Wars movies were at least a little more entertaining, but even they were shallow, ephemeral things. They were strictly popcorn-and-soda flicks.

So what did the original trilogy have that the successors lacked?

In this writer’s opinion, it was an enduring mythos, a sort of cultural memory embedded within it. A farm boy took to the stars and became a warrior, trained by what amounts to a religious monk of an ancient, dying order. A princess was trying to save her world, and an evil wizard hunted them all in the name of Imperial power. You could have stripped the story of high technology, and set the whole thing in the middle ages, and it still would have made sense. Yes, even the all-powerful superweapon. Replace the Death Star with Urban’s great cannon, throwing its weight against the walls of Constantinople, or something.

Now try that with the other stories, and you will find that they are utter disasters. They don’t operate on their own anymore. Now it’s a franchise cashing in on nostalgia more than anything.

Of all the cultural myths, the farm boy who became something greater may have been the most powerful. Ye gods, we once practically worshiped this idea. It was one of the enduring features of American culture, as distinct from the various European cultures that spawned it. You see, if our farmers and fishermen could throw out the British, of all people, was there anything truly beyond us? We didn’t need noblemen, you see. We had farmers. We didn’t need warriors, we had soldiers. There was no need for great nobles, or learned men of haute culture. We could bootstrap it all ourselves.

The farm boy might become a great philosopher, or an astronaut, or a general. He might become a President or a Congressman. Perhaps he would be the next great scientist or engineer. He didn’t need the pedigree of an aristocrat, or the brand name of some noble house. He didn’t need to go to the grandest of colleges, or know all the right people. He didn’t need to have the correct political opinions if, indeed, he even bothered much with politics at all. If you could do the job, you could do anything, and it didn’t much matter what dusty mid-western farm you crawled out of.

Of course, in practice, this idea was never quite so solid. Connections still mattered, credentials still mattered, and a rich man of the city would have an easier time than a poor man of the country. So it has always been, and so it likely always will be. Nonetheless, American culture remained very resistant to the idea of rule by a cultural elite, an embedded aristocracy who could heap disdain upon the peasantry from their lofty towers. The farmer still stubbornly believed that he could make it, and the academic knew not to be too haughty, lest he be toppled from the ivory tower.

Today, that’s all backwards. Heaping disdain upon the peasants of the flyover states and the South is all the rage among our supposedly-learned castes. There can be no more Luke Skywalkers in Star Wars, that is to say no more farm boys who ascend to the highest levels. If Star Wars was written by today’s establishment, Luke would have to be a girl who suffered oppression by the bigoted farm boys, then escaped to the Empire (which was, of course, politically correct and ruled by wise, learned Socialist oligarchs) to wield its military might against the hicks and unlearned morons of Planet Redneck.

Such disdain is everywhere, now. It’s not hard to find in the media, in entertainment, or social media. Some time ago, I remember watching a Youtube video where a man with a strong Southern accent went to great lengths to demonstrate his education and intelligence, discussing complex matters of science, history, and philosophy in an effort to disprove the notion that a Southern accent somehow implies stupidity. I remember wondering why this was even necessary. I’ve met many intelligent, educated individuals in the South, and I’ve encountered no more idiots here than in the other places I’ve been to. Why would this even have to be disproved?

Then it hit me. The new American myth, carefully constructed by the SJWs and their ilk, is that farmers are stupid. Mechanics are dumb. Plumbers only ply their trade because they are too stupid to take gender studies courses. And since they are all idiots, of course their children must be idiots too. Indeed, they are all far too stupid to be permitted a say in how their own lives are run. As Tom Nichols once explained to me: Americans are too stupid to read maps, so why bother informing them about terrorist incidents? Being something of a Centrist, Tom is more charitable than most of the Leftists, whose disdain is much more direct. To those folks, America (and by extension, Americans themselves) is nothing more than a backward nation full of bigots, greedy thieves, murderers, and utter morons in desperate need of extinction.

Sometimes I wonder if the British once thought this way, too. Before the Revolutionary War, did they consider Americans to be stupid hicks? Did they see us as rednecks too dumb to manage our own affairs? Did they send their ships, soldiers, and mercenaries thinking the victory would be easy, because, damn, are those farmers stupid? We all know how that ended up.

But now, a two and a half centuries later, we’re back to where we started. The anointed, ivory tower aristocrats telling us what’s good for us — when we all know it’s a steaming pile of horse manure constructed solely to fool enough good people to keep the nobles planted atop their wobbly thrones. Their underestimation of the regular folks in the world, the farm boys and plumbers, may be what saves us, in the end. After all, it’s worked for America before, time and time again. It’s why, despite all the agitprop to the contrary, today America still remains the most powerful nation on Earth.

Whether it will be so tomorrow, I can’t say. All I can say is the politically-connected elite may soon be getting a refresher course in America’s most enduring and powerful cultural mythos. And that, my friends, is a story I’d pay money to read.

Writing The High Register & The Low

English is a weird language. Because of its Norman French heritage, and the Germanic structure beneath that, there are usually at least two English words that mean more or less the same thing. However, there is usually a sense of one being higher, more intellectual, or at least more appropriate for certain settings. Consider these two phrases:

A hearty welcome.

A cordial reception.

They both mean more or less the same thing. But where the former brings to mind a hearth-and-home greeting, the latter brings to mind a much more formal affair. As it so happens, the words in the first are Germanic in origin, and the latter are French in origin. The same pattern is more or less repeated across the entire English language.

It’s a pig when it is on the farmer’s field. Germanic. But it is pork when it is on your plate. French.

A lot of folks write predominantly in one register or the other, even when the opposite is more appropriate. If, for instance, you went into a biker bar and started using a bunch of high register terms, you would likely be seen as pretentious, even something of an asshole. You might just get your ass kicked. And if you were to attend a high society ball full of pseudo-intellectuals using low register and slang, it won’t be long before you stop receiving their invitations.

Vox Day has pointed out something similar with regards to a Japanese author who wrote several novels in English. Since the author’s knowledge of the language was less than that of a native speaker, he wound up using more simplistic constructions. And, in the process, wrote several award-winning, well-received works.

Sometimes the simple will do. And as often, the pretentious will actually hurt your work.

Here on The Declination I frequently switch between styles. There is an intellectual style, composed predominantly of the high register and a rant-and-rave style mostly using the low register and even outright offensive slang. It is telling that, throughout my life, it has been the rant-and-rave that has received the most positive attention. Apparently I am better at using the low register than the high.

But here’s the interesting sidebar: the high register is not necessarily a mark of intelligence. This is a fallacy that many people succumb to. If only, they think, I were to speak using big words, people would take me seriously. Others use the high register to intentionally confuse the people they are speaking to. Lawyers, politicians, and speechwriters are famous for doing this.

The low register thus retains a certain honest quality that the high register lacks. It’s hard to bullsh*t in the low register.

I’m not saying everyone should write with a low-brow, rant-and-rave style. What I am saying, however, is that using high prose is not always a benefit, and indeed can work against you at times. When writing, ask yourself why you are using a “big” word. If it is because the word is appropriate for what you are communicating, go right ahead. A story may have many cordial receptions, so to speak. But if your reason is because you wish to sound smart, consider the possibility that instead of making you seem intelligent, it may just make you look like a pretentious fool.

And, with the exception of the Hugo Awards of late (and John Scalzi in particular), pretentious fools don’t usually win anything.

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