Freak Show

Part of what constitutes our decadence, or maybe is the very essence of our decadence, is our cowardice in the face of ugliness, our willingness to compromise with it.

We know the difference between ugliness and beauty or we would not mount arguments against the unfairness of the distinction. But we are compromised: we cannot uphold beauty because we cannot uphold unfairness.

Now this would seem to be an inevitable consequence of what we call democracy given that beauty stands out because it is uncommon and that its appreciation must therefore slight the common. The antagonism between democracy and beauty is confirmed by the fact that the bulk of the beautiful things that have been handed down to us and that we take care to preserve were produced under decidedly inegalitarian and authoritarian conditions.

More fundamental to our predicament is that fairness is absent from nature, which is innocent of any notion of universal rights, and that our modern idolatry of fairness is, therefore, an expression of a radical alienation from nature.

Beauty and naturalness are intimately connected to the degree that beauty could be said to represent nothing else than perfect naturalness and the necessity that we perceive in naturalness. Conversely, ugliness and unnaturalness are synonymous. It follows that the affirmation of beauty is possible only alongside an affirmation of the order of nature.

Therein lies the root of the modern antagonism toward beauty. For modernity recruited its promoters and adherents by promising an emancipation from the constraints of nature. All our investment in the empirical sciences has been driven by that promise–which science has more than fulfilled but at the price of rendering us, its late beneficiaries, into wholly unnatural creatures.

The horrific mutants and aliens that populate sci fi are us. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a vision of what post the ascension of the bourgeoisie, Western man was becoming.

Modernity is in its very essence the triumph of unnaturalness and ugliness. It is the age of the freak.

And this is why beauty has fled from us, and why we are powerless to resist the ever-more-hideous abominations that science and technology foist on us, be they misgendered and transgendered beings, architectural obscenities, or abysmal manners.

Today, ugliness has rights. And beauty is a detestable privilege.

And yet, we have not successfully eradicated all beauty. It lingers as our bad conscience, as a repressed awareness of our degradation. And to that extent, it lingers as our death drive, for deep down we loathe our ugliness and seek our own extinction, the means to whose realization science has also mercifully bestowed upon us.