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Searching For Beauty

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The world is a horrible place, at least if we believe what the newspapers, politicians, and pundits tell us. Enemies are lurking in our own neighbourhoods waiting to blow us up with the fertilizer they bought at the hardware store. Terrorists are massing at all of our borders waiting to move here and raise broods of little terrorists who will grow up to be the enemy.

According to some people, last Tuesday, 06/06/06, was a sure sign that the apocalypse is on its way. You don't even have to listen very closely to hear the hoofbeats of the four horsemen pounding down the highway. Look at the state of moral decline we are in: men laying down with men and women with women and being allowed to get married, people using birth control to prevent the spread of disease, which means they're having sex for pleasure, and women are taking control of their bodies and refusing to let men dictate how they should live their lives.

There's violent crime in the streets of all our major cities. The news anchors take delight in reciting the latest shooting and updating the tally of those killed by gunfire. Civilians and soldiers are dying in wars every day in places some of us can't even pronounce. Volcanoes are erupting in Indonesia, threatening the thousands who survived the earthquakes that happened only last week.

It seems every month a new disease sprouts up somewhere that either makes part of our food chain a danger to us or another part of nature our enemy. Mosquitoes and birds spread West Nile, chickens (and maybe cats) spread avian flu, and cows are tainted with Mad Cow disease.

Every month a new wonder drug is rushed on the market that will save us from some evil or another only to be pulled a month later because it creates more problems than it solves. There are fewer and fewer days each summer when the air is of fit quality to breathe and less and less places where it is safe to swim as the bacteria count in our lakes, rivers, and oceans rise, or used medical supplies wash up on shore.

Our popular culture, books, television, movies, and video games are full of images and themes of paranoia and violence. Instead of providing a relief or a break from the litany of implied danger and horror, they reinforce the perception that the world is horrible and ugly.

Perhaps that is why those few shows that bill themselves as reality, no matter how facile they are, do so well. The reality they depict is pure fantasy, miles removed from how our own world is presented. When almost everything you read, see, or hear is guaranteed to trigger your fear and have you fleeing instinctively, anything that doesn't represent a threat will be welcomed with open arms.

What puzzles me, and maybe I'm odd, is what ever happened to beauty? I don't mean beauty as in the supposed physical beauty of some starlet and whatever enhancements her body has undergone, or some ideal specimen of a buffed male, but the simple beauty of just being in the world and enjoying the fact that you are here.

Does that sound all New Age and bullshit to you? Sorry, but I can’t help it if on occasion even blind pigs can find acorns. In other words, even New Age idiots can get something sort of right on occasion. Their problem is they present just as unbalanced a view of the world as everyone else. They’re so fixated on the "Light" that they're blind to the fact that starvation exists, or even worse that it exists because those people have "chosen" to starve through their actions.

If you're sick, hungry, poor, or anything else is bad in your life, like somebody is dropping bombs on your neighbourhood, it's only because you've chosen to hold on to a negative belief system that causes this stuff to happen. But if you buy into their way of thinking, and the key word here being "buy," you'll find yourself, healthy, wealthy and bomb-free in no time.

These folks aren't talking about simple beauty by any stretch of the imagination. Most of them are just this century's version of a medicine show, selling cure-all tonics off the back of a wagon. Their idea of beauty has nothing to do with the real world.

Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder; it's a completely subjective subject. What each of us finds beautiful is going to be based on what our own experiences have been and what we have learnt or been taught to appreciate. We create beauty through the development of an aesthetic sense that is as individual as our character.

That means we each have the capacity and the power to create beauty whenever and wherever we are. It could be the car parked next to you in the parking lot, the line of the skyscraper where your office is located, the way a problem you've been working on at work finally comes together, or the way your food at lunch is arranged on your plate.

So why don't we, each and every one of us, create little pockets of beauty for ourselves to help offset the ugliness we read about and see every day. Is it because we are so resigned to our fate of being unhappy that we can't believe it's possible to have anything nice in our lives? Or is it because we just don't know how to exercise our talents of appreciation?

I think the answer is that the two are interconnected. From a young age we are taught in a very utilitarian manner. We learn to ask the question, “What use is this going to be to me for survival?” Our means of appreciating something are on a strictly functional level. Even if form is noticed, like a young man appreciating a classic car, function is still the priority: V-8 verses V-6, how many horsepower, etc.

With everything being classified in terms of usefulness and practicality, how is it possible to believe that you can derive pleasure from something’s appearance or intrinsic value? We even assess people in such a way as to gauge their value and not the amount of pleasure we will take in their company. That may be appropriate for the workplace where you need people to have specific skills to complete specific tasks, but not for a friend or a partner.

This is the world we know and have known since we began being educated in a school system and perhaps even earlier through observation of the adults around us. There are exceptions, of course, as there is to every rule, but those people are different from the norm, and invariably don't seem to fit in with the rest of their classmates or in the work place.

For them to succeed they invariably have to seek training above and beyond what is offered to most of us, or seek the tutelage of others who think in a like minded way. They usually end up in one or more of those careers we call artistic, where form is considered more important then function, if not at least its equal.

This ability is looked on almost as an aberration in our society. It's not the normal way of thinking or perceiving. But that's only because we are told it's not. What proof is there that form and function can't exist simultaneously? That we can't appreciate both the practicality and the aesthetic qualities of an object is as much a learned behaviour as any other way of being we are taught.

Being able to appreciate the beauty of an object while at the same time utilizing it does not decrease the amount of use you are getting out of it, does it? Stopping to appreciate the manner in which your food is presented on your plate before eating it will not reduce its conversion to the energy, protein, and carbohydrates your body needs to survive.

Beauty is all around us on a daily basis, but because that is never reinforced in the same manner that ugliness is, we don't even look for it. Not knowing how to recognise it only serves to strengthen our negative view of the world, until all that is left is to believe that beauty doesn't exist.

Here's a rather simplistic experiment I would like to challenge each one of you to try. Every day for a week I want you to try and find one thing of beauty somewhere during your day, one thing whose form you can appreciate just for its form's sake. It's not going to change your life or make the world any better than it is, but it might bring you a little bit of a break from all the other stuff. Hey, what do you have to lose? At the very least you can get the satisfaction of proving me wrong, but there's always the chance you might just see the world in a slightly different light by the end of the week.

In a world full of predictions of destruction, unseen enemies lurking around every corner, disease, natural disaster, and famine, beauty may seem a trivial objective to look for. There are far more important things to be spending your time on.  But don't you think if we learned to appreciate the world a little more and the things we've created, we might take a little better care of them and each other? Just a thought.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.