Surface Culture Versus Inner Culture

Mass culture creates surface culture by insisting on equality, which means that those who are qualitatively different from others are punished for being perceived to be exclusionary. That leaves only surface culture: attire, tattoos, accessories, clothing and piercings. But the most tattooed and pierced generation is finding that surface culture is not real:

“One of the things we teach is wear a very conservative suit. And I get push-back on that. ‘Do you want us all to look the same? You told us to differentiate ourselves.’ It sounds contradictory, but I want a dark suit and a light shirt or blouse so that people are looking at your face and listening to what you say. The tattoo doesn’t help. It is incredibly distracting.”

Individualism is the enemy of individuality. Individuality is lived through the decisions we make, how we spend our time, and what we believe. Individualism, because it requires the group to be supported because otherwise it is thrown out for being anti-realistic, is expressed through gestures, tokens and symbols because it never goes deeper than the surface.

What we might call “inner culture” provides a contrast. This exists in both the individual and the group, and consists of intuition as nurtured by a sense of values that fit the biological traits of that population, including inclinations toward a certain type of social order and personal lifestyle.

Someone within a culture comes from a long line of people with traits consistent with that culture, so their intuitive view of the world is consistent with culture, making it inner and therefore, it does not need to be enforced. Surface culture is enforced through media, social pressure and government, but inner culture springs up out of the individual, organically becoming prevalent.

Surface culture works because it requires nothing of those who are involved and, by providing constant distraction, gives them small rewards in the short-term instead of the more meaningful rewards that come with long-term action. It cultivates witless people who are highly socialized, and therefore cannot imagine a life where gesturing through social symbols is not important.

The squirts of dopamine that people receive for altruistic or social activity are addictive, which requires two things. First, the act must feel good, and second, it must leave the individual wanting more, usually by not actually fulfilling them. In this way, surface culture resembles the addictive nature of digital screens:

In a series of clinical experiments, a video game called “Snow World” served as an effective pain killer for burned military combat victims, who would normally be given large doses of morphine during their painful daily wound care. While the burn patient played the seemingly innocuous virtual reality game “Snow World” — where the player attempts to throw snowballs at cartoon penguins as they bounce around to Paul Simon music — they felt no pain.

I interviewed Lt. Sam Brown, one of the pilot participants in this research who had been injured by an IED in Afghanistan and who had sustained life-threatening third-degree burns over 30 percent of his body. When I asked him about his experience using a video game for pain management, he said: “I was a little bit skeptical. But honestly, I was willing to try anything.” When asked what it felt like compared to his morphine treatments, he said, “I was for sure feeling less pain than I was with the morphine.”

Sure enough, brain imaging research confirmed that burn patients who played “Snow World” experienced less pain in the parts of their brain associated with processing pain than those treated with actual morphine.

Instantaneous feedback creates an addiction. The surface culture devotees in our society constantly crave this stimulus because without it, they must face an empty void. Thus they are manic for Facebook and ten hour workdays, shopping and sports video, cell phone calls of ten thousand words and zero concepts, food, wine and sex.

Evil always provides a scapegoat in this way, and Leftism — a variant of Crowdism — is just one form of this evil. Surface culture promises a solution to all of life’s dark questions with simple distraction, and by staying in the constant feedback loop of the herd, people are able to forget about the need for meaning and death. While they do so, like addicts, they neglect their surroundings until it is too late.

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8 Responses to “Surface Culture Versus Inner Culture”

  1. Cynical Optimist says:

    Lately I’ve been struck by the surface nature of so many relationships in our lives. I don’t mean romantic relationships, but coworkers, neighbors, parents of your kids’ friends, and other people we interact with. All of these relationships are mediated in that we play specific roles and it is unnatural to break outside of them. Anything else seems gushy, or overly serious, or puts you at risk of disagreement. Or as my usual choice DFW says in Infinite Jest, “It’s like there’s some rule that real stuff can only get mentioned if everybody rolls their eyes or laughs in a way that isn’t happy.”

    To me, it is as if we are in a movie and we can’t talk about the fourth wall. Even conversations that go well beyond small talk don’t get around to talk about the existence of God, or the good life, or whether we have big doubts or regrets in life, or aspirations.

    This gets depressing. The internet here is a double edged sword: it serves as an outlet for talking about real stuff anonymously, but it can’t substitute for the real thing, and it distracts us from real life relationships.

    I know your post is about surface culture from a different angle, but this is how it hits home for me today. As the shitlibs would say, “that’s MY truth.”

    • You are on point: we cannot discuss existential and metaphysical issues, just like we cannot discuss realism, because the only way for us to “all get along” is to keep topics light and airy and firmly on the surface. We gain the appearance of brotherhood that way, but at the expense of our civilization and our souls.

  2. davecydell says:

    I have experienced the video game phenomena myself. I have peripheral neuropathy and am on some serious drugs, but the damn pain can jump up at anytime and I am forced, under doctors direction , to take another dose.
    However, I have noticed when under a mind diverting activity, such as reading alt-right writings on line, I can ignore the pain for hours.
    Even Brett Stevens becomes a soothing drug. Especially since Mr. Trump has turned my side into a winning one.

    • That sounds really painful. I hope this site can be a pleasure for those who like in-depth, highly analytical (some would say to leave off the “lytica”) writing from an ancient Right perspective.

      • Cynical Optimist says:

        Hi Brett, one thing I like is that this site hits two ends of a spectrum. On one end, there is the highly analytical component, which involves analyzing complex systems with many moving pieces, and pointing out things that the crowd misses.

        And on the other end, there are many things which are made beautifully simple. You know, difficult problems often require complicated solutions, but sometimes the right one is actually quite simple. And we should be damn sure that we identify those situations. Here are some mundane examples, although there are many on a societal and policy level.

        “I’m trying to decide whether I should put the last 10% of my monthly savings into emerging markets or real estate ETFs.” <– Do you pay for Starbucks every day, and wait in line to boot?

        "All the up front parking spots at the grocery store are always taken and I drive around risking a fender bender to get a good one." <– Or you could park an extra 100 yards away under that tree, keep your car cooler in the summer, get extra exercise, and keep your sanity.

        "I can't decide between Google Drive or Apple iCloud or Windows Whatever for backing up my photos and documents. Should I do a mix? Or use an external hard drive and replace it every 5-10 years?" <– Or you could just burn them to DVD-Rs, which last for decades, and not pay money to store your personal stuff on a remote server where it is at risk (of unintentional sharing, or hacking, or of corporate change-overs) not top of paying extra to access it over WiFi or 4G.

        etc. etc.

    • Cynical Optimist says:

      I can’t imagine what you have to go through and how you cope but I hope the drugs don’t cause secondary problems for you, in terms of dependence and withdrawals.

      I totally agree about blogs being soothing, which I think is both a credit to their writers but also a potential danger; the same instincts that lead to entertainment addiction can co-opt our desire for intellectual stimulation and without putting the intellectual content into action enough, we can be trained into passivity (and reality denial).

      I have found that playing SuDoKu serves as a fast-forward button while dealing with the (much milder) discomfort of air travel.

  3. EX says:

    I would call this superficial phenomenon anti-culture as it actively destroys actual culture, or whats left of it.

  4. bewitched says:

    “One of the things we teach is wear a very conservative suit. And I get push-back on that. ‘Do you want us all to look the same? You told us to differentiate ourselves.’ It sounds contradictory, but I want a dark suit and a light shirt or blouse so that people are looking at your face and listening to what you say. The tattoo doesn’t help. It is incredibly distracting.”

    Yes it can be distracting at first but after a while, but for my part, I get past it easily and still listen to the guy. There are been colorful clothes and tattoos since the dawn of time especially with pagans. But I agree that culture is often shallow these days.