The Longest Now

The lost Aesthetics
Saturday March 19th 2005, 5:28 pm
Filed under: %a la mod

We have gained and lost many things as a ‘civilization’, that name we give to peer-to-peer systems of organisms that satisfy a certain combination of longevity, information dissemination and preservation, discovery, and aesthetics beyond the thrill of battle. That last clause is perhaps the most recent addition to the mix; and perhaps the most contentions. (Although as far as I’m concerned each of those clauses should be contentious.)

It is interesting that, although we prize aesthetics as one of the cornerstones of civilization (when we think of that abstraction at all), among the discoveries and advances we have lost are certain aspects of aesthetics. It is not that they have been lost to individuals, but to society as a whole, and to our notion of common sense. And this is a notion that is socially-developed and passed on; these are again key properties of civilization, so please don’t nag me about how difficult it is to coordinate passing on mores and sensibilities.

In among the lost aesthetics is a universal sense of perspective, and the beauty thereof. Excessive precision is ugly (but we see it everywhere; it is the default nowadays). So is near-infinite longevity; things should naturally fade and disappear, and this should be understood from the beginning, relished, and planned for — yet we as a civilization spend much of our time building things, letting them languish, and epxressing surprise and dismay when they start to fall apart (often compounding the problem with ineffectual patches).

Comments on how we have never had such an aesthetic, how awful this conception of ‘civilization’ is, how we have never actually known civilization on Earth, and other rebuttals, are most welcome.

On a bright note, I saw a fuzzy clock for the first time today, on a KDE installation. It gave the time in words, not numbers, rounded to the nearest five. “quarter to nine“, it would read, “twenty past nine“, “five till ten“. It was beautiful.

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