Friday, June 08, 2007

Chasing Phantoms and Living in Reality: 3 of 3, The Loose and Empty Foolishness of the Market(ing)

So in the previous posts I explored where Proverbs refers to the abundant life of the heart as a morally good life, apparently meaning that we are made good and valuable. I also made brief mention of some contemporary, or semi-contemporary “phantom” notions of a full and abundant “heart” – according, at least, to the book of Proverbs. In the next post, I explored how true architecture appears to me as a phantom pursuit in the contemporary fieled of architectural (eerr, real estateual) play. If this is truly meant to be a series, then, I shall here explore the moral value, or lack thereof, of the contemporary architecutral field. This will, of course, also entail an exploration of the bigger field withinin which the architecural one is plotted out.

Proverbs 13: 7 says: "A pretentious, showy life is an empty life; a plain and simple life is a full life." If not vigilant here, we might think that by an "empty life," the teacher is simply referring to something like Proverbs 14:12-13 - "There's a way of life that looks harmless enough; look again—it leads straight to hell.Sure, those people appear to be having a good time, but all that laughter will end in heartbreak..." We might think that the wise teacher is here only referring to the typical transgressions of youthful inexperience and stupidity. We might also then think that the solutions to the problem are the virtues of wisdom and prudence, which often come with age.

But what if what the wise teacher really meant in speaking of the empty and showy life could be extended to the showy emptiness of our markety-driven economy – the previously referenced larger field that determines the field of architectural play - in which a scantily clad women are somehow meant to sell cars or soda, and whose very life depends on the false illusion of lack or emptiness? There is no longer a central source of power tempting the young to trnasgression, but the whole machine turns on the desire-driven consumption of everyone who plays the game, the game whose rules are set by the market’s system.

Cell phones and back-yard sprinklers, the kinds of "necessities" of contemporary life and the kinds of toys of wise old men of our day, weren't exactly "necessary" for the abundantly rich King Solomon. Proverbs 14: 6 - "Cynics look high and low for wisdom—and never find it; the open-minded find it right on their doorstep!" If in fact the “necessity” of back yard sprinkler systems and increasingly powerful and complex cell phones - again, the toys of the older boys - is illusory, then Proverbs 10: 18 becomes relevant: “Foolish dreamers live in a world of illusion; wise realists plant their feet on the ground.”

The market depends upon such objectss appearing as both desirable and necessary. A sexy woman may have nothing to do with cars or soda, but she makes them appear desirable. The sexy woman in the soda or car commercial give the soda and car a certain image in which the advertised image is made. And its not the "Image of God" in which Man is made; its a bit more of an "empty" "phantom" like image. So the system broadcasts the silliness of empty phantom images, and a do-it-all cellular phone or a back yard sprinkler system might have nothing to do with necessity or a full life, but the market depends on objects of consumption and fantasy appearing as both desirable and necessary.

Relevant to my friend’s asking me if “I’d say I’m a good architect,” too, is the fact that the market depends on our self image being dependent on its participation in the market’s game. If I own a house and can’t afford a sprinkler system in my back yard, then my penis must be smaller than my neighbor’s, who has a really nice sprinkler system inside of his fence. Oh, and what kind of businsess man am I if I have a two year old cell phone? As a conemporary business man, my cell phone even determines my ability to get clients. Not only my self image, but even my livelihood is wrapped up in my participation in the field of play that is determined by contemporary values and rules.

This picture of reality wouldn’t effect me if not for the contents of my previous post. I could simply choose to be prudent and not necessarily spend all that money for sprinkler systems or the newest and latest cell phones, but then two things happen. I loose the penis enlargement contest, and I don’t get clients. Well, I’m not a business man, supposedly, so the whole thing plays out differently for me individually. If I don’t play by the world’s rules, or even if I don’t want to play by the worlds rules, then I am simply viewed as a bad architect. Of course, then, this also effects my livelihood, just as the ownership of an anicent cell phone effects the livlihood of the contemporary business man.

In other words, then, the system perpetuates itself. The system is predicated on desire and the illusion of necessity. The life of the system is a matter of life and death, so to speak. The life of the system has gotten so powerful that folks who don’t live by the same values by which the system finds life are forced out of the game alltogether. As per my previous post: Lou Kahn died in great debt, W.G. and my professor can no longer publicly practice architecture in Charleson, S.C., and Daniel Libeskind’s quest for a public architecutre in NY in the wake of 9/11 turned out to be an utter failure.

I previously quoted the Teacher as saying, ““Foolish dreamers live in a world of illusion; wise realists plant their feet on the ground.” Here it comes across as simply an intellectual issue. But it is also a moral issue, because, as discussed previosly in this post, it is an issue of our self-image. In the first post, I discussed the moral goodness of the heart. Also, Proverbs discusses how true life comes out of that goodness. If, then, the market(ing) game of contemporary life and architecture is one that perpetuates both a life and a self-image of illusion and lack, then the foolish dreams of those who live in a world of illusion is also a moral issue.

I should be clear, though. I am not saying that free market economy, capitalism as I like to call it since I’m an architect, is morally bad “per se.” That would be absurd. And it would also leave me with an obvious choice as to whether or not I should stay in the game of contemporary architecture. If the contemporary market were morally bad, per se, then my choice would be obvious; I should leave “the world” of architecture for ministry, or to live as a hermit, or to live on some tropical island with a bunch of hippies.

The way I see it, though, is not that the system is bad “per se,” but that it has: a) like the image of man, been corrupted by sin, and b) simply gotten to big and powerful to leave room for anything else to exist. In terms of the consequences of (b), then, it’s a question of my own gifts that I have to offer to the world, and the world’s lack of desire to accept them. As I noted previously, I had previously tended to project the fault, blame or corruption in that instance onto myself…leaving me with a less than healthy self-image. Again, though, this series of posts is an exploratino of how maybe, just maybe, the problem isn’t so much with me as with the world. Maybe I should have the freedom and original goodness in my soul to actually be angry rather than “stuck.”

As it stands, though, I am still struggling with how to respond to the problem at hand, which I will explore in my next post. My three part series, then, has unexpectedly turned to four.

I'm with you all the way in this post. Is there any room to maneuver when the system, as you say, doesn't seem to leave room for anything other than itself? It's hard for people to see this: there's so much choice, what's the big complaint? But the choices all fall within such a narrow band of possibilities, most of them mediocre. No one is forcing anyone to buy this crap, but it gets harder and harder to show examples of anything other than the crap. After awhile people forget there ever was or could be anything other than what is -- now that's a totalizing discourse.
When I hear that whole "there's so much choice" thing...its kind of a frustrating two edged sword for me. On the one hand, we don't get killed by a personal king for dissenting. But on the other...the whole "choice" thing is kind of a joke, really.

I still sort of have PEOPLE at the top. I wonder sort of it...just like on the OT...its really a question of whether you are living in the time of "a bad king" or "a good king?" But that's a hard question for me to even concieve. If the answer were "yes," I'm not sure what it would even look like with a "good king." I have in mind "The Devil Wears Prada," which my friend gave a sermon on last night. "Bad king." Only "princes" and such by Prada, but its Prada (and such other things that cost 4,000 dollars for a purse) that is the standard bearer.


I guess maybe in a bitchy world you get to the top by being a bitch. In David's time, the goodness of the "Torah," which was David's concern, had some say, obviously.
I like your thoughts here, Jason. Very good. You have a very good grasp of both the Hebraic world and the current situation, I think this has some future possibilities.

Thanks for the encouraging words, Ron. I'll admit that at the moment I'm having difficulty seeing the possibilities, though. What shall the future hold? Also...thanks for stopping by. Blessings,
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