An Object Lesson On Being and Experience

“With all the atrocities and the humanitarian crisis ongoing in Ukraine, how can anyone care about something so insignificant as Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Academy Awards?” So say many self-important voices today, as they attempt to show their moral superiority over those who dare to care about this little Oscars story during a war. On its face, the criticism rings false, since in truth there is always a war going on, there are always atrocities being committed, and yet even these critics themselves, sentimentalists and moralizers though they may be, still, I am quite sure, find time for many other and less urgent interests and concerns in their own lives. This hypocrisy, however, is not the deepest problem with their criticism of the public discussion about Will Smith and Chris Rock. For the real matter at issue in their objection is not proportionality or relative importance, but whether one is to view the world with the eyes of one’s soul or merely with those of one’s body.

In other words, is one a literalist, for whom all observed objects and events are distinct and mutually exclusive “facts”? Or is one’s thought attuned to the music of the spheres, according to which life and experience continually sort themselves into categories according to some approximation of the Pythagorean table of opposites? If the former, then one might indeed view a bit of Hollywood misbehavior as radically unrelated to the front lines of World War III, and therefore unworthy of attention. If the latter, then the thuggish, self-promoting Smith’s unprovoked violation of the comedian Rock’s rightful place of work and humiliatingly public physical assault against the smaller man, far from being a meaningless sideshow in a world of “serious news,” rather gains immeasurably in significance and higher truth precisely by virtue of occurring, and being experienced, within the context of that wider world of historical developments.

To state this less elegantly (and therefore less accurately) for the benefit of the literal-minded, if you cannot categorize that Oscars ugliness by analogy with “the war,” comprehending Smith as analogous to Putin’s Russia, Rock to Zelensky’s Ukraine, the social media and reality television celebrities defending Smith’s thuggery to Tucker Carlson, Tulsi Gabbard, and Donald Trump, and the awards show audience that gave Smith a standing ovation for his best actor award that night to the Western establishmentarians still trying not to “escalate” the war and hoping to maintain a “constructive” relationship with Putin in the future, then you are not experiencing life fully. In truth, this analogy is neither forced nor artificially configured. On the contrary, it arises without intention, of its own accord; it is the reason the Oscars story has meaning at all. It is the intrinsic and deepest significance of the story, in the strictest sense of signification.

The world of experience, for those still capable of having experiences in the fully human understanding of that notion, is a world of principles and parallels, of natural analogues and hierarchies of being. Things mean other things, reveal other things, indicate or symbolize other things, by way of demonstrating the principles or logical imperatives of reality to the attentive soul. A mind that is forever finding or feeling such parallels or indications, not by invention or “creativity” but by inadvertence and instinct, has achieved the minimal level of development necessary to meet the definition of a truly human intellect.

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