A Taste for Good Taste

way quote phil culture

published 2024-02-18 04:59

updated 2024-04-06 14:49

After reading the Dynomight's blog, my opinion below has changed somewhat. I think I came across too strong as knowing what good taste was, but I'm starting to doubt that there is such a thing altogether. The arguments posed are strong, and the general myths agreeable. People choose their tastes for cultural reasons, and we're all playing different games. We're also playing the meta game between our games, that our game is (secretly) the best game to be playing.

I suppose the point below is kind of captured in that sentiment. We're all playing taste games, and we play them a lot, about nearly everything. I suppose a better way to communicate what I wanted below is "How do we make winning cultural games socially beneficial to the people playing a different game?". Can we influence value judgements at the scale of culture?

I don't know this is a lot of words to maybe trying to raise my own cultural capital. Are the games I'm playing beneficial to other people? I guess, I like to think so, but I can't really prove it. But the fact that I'm trying to help other people, is itself, a taste game. It seems that pointing out playing taste games is not tasteful? I'm getting confused...

The taste games I play are won through unwritten rules, and it's causing me confusion. Being explicit about mine, may be bad for the game I play, but I want to do it anyway, and in some sense believe it's good. Games with unwritten rules aren't Good games.

I want to challenge a part of what Dynomight states:

But if we really have this unconscious programming that determines all the stuff we like, then we can’t overcome that programming and probably shouldn't.

We cannot overcome taste games, but we needn't let them be unconscious either. We can try and play "Good" games. What that means will be different to all of us. In some sense we already implicitly do it. The games we unconsciously choose to play may not align with our conscious intentions, and choosing to play games that do makes us better at playing games all round. Taste can be cultivated, and you can get good at playing taste games. It's already in your interest to do that. But it's in all our interests to play Good games. That's the game I want to be playing.

I think about the below quote a lot. It's funny how much Susan Sontag resonates with me given I've yet to read any of her work. I should really fix that.

But that's for another time. What I want to focus on here, is not so much that tastes decide so much of our individual disposition, but that they can also be cultivated. What makes taste good, then? Susan Sontag condemns interpretability, and I think she was right to some degree. Even when we turn to the critic, we implicitly understand there is something sticky with their world view. Their snobbishness, though influential, is not a good proxy for fair taste. We are right to criticize the critics. Our jovial enjoyment of kitsch classics is worthwhile as Sontag argues. It is not rationalization that makes art beautiful.

Are we then to take a more democratic view? I find it difficult to stomach, especially in the modern age we all find ourselves in, that we sense the immediacy of art through experiencing it. Marvel fans thoroughly enjoy new sagas that are released at regular cadence, but the astute ones recognize they are not partaking in the soul shaking grasp of decidedly more real films. Heck, it goes far beyond just consumption. We recognize that there are more laws than we could possibly follow, and even if there were a limited number understood by all, that moral actions may involve not following the spirit of the law, let alone it's letter. What is good for the gander, may not be good for the goose, and it takes taste to recognize as such.

How do we build a culture that imbues people with a taste for good tastes in general? Where are actions align with our needs, the tools balance our agency, and our communication fills our spirit? One where we do not over-rationalize our preferences, and enjoy simple pleasures, but find ways to stay out of attention zapping, mindless consumption?

I'm not really sure, but I think it's important to think about. I strive to have a taste for Good Tastes, whether it be in media, morals or men. I don't think I'm particularly smart, I find it more accurate to say it is my taste in other people's ideas that gets mistaken for my own intelligence.

To patronize the faculty of taste is to patronize oneself. For taste governs every free -- as opposed to rote -- human response. Nothing is more decisive. There is taste in people, visual taste, taste in emotion - and there is taste in acts, taste in morality. Intelligence, as well, is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas. (One of the facts to be reckoned with is that taste tends to develop very unevenly. It's rare that the same person has good visual taste and good taste in people and taste in ideas.)

Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp"