Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky. (slithytove) wrote,
Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

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[More of the backlog of stuff that I was thinking about on my long train trip across the US.]

JOHNSTOWN, Pennsylvania's most impressive buildings are churches. Seen from the train station platform, three churches rise up impressively out of the mass of red brick, slate roofed houses that spill down a gentle hill towards the river: a domed church, a church with two Russian-looking spires topped with squared-off onion domes sheathed in beautiful verdigris-colored copper, and a third church of yellow brick that looks vaguely Germanic. The town's other buildings, those that are visible to the train traveler passing through, that is, are undistinguished, small, or ponderously ugly: the great black corrugated iron masses of the steel mills, for example.

It's a shame, I thought, that religion builds such beautiful buildings, but capitalism builds such ugly ones.

Why is that?

Religion that acknowledges a god or gods tries to please that god. Glorious churches are usually built with the intent of building something that glorifies God. There's no way to query God and find out how He feels about this, but any number of religions seem to have come to the same conclusion: God likes big, impressive, beautiful buildings adorned with art. Capitalism also has gods; they're called the stockholders. Stockholders can be queried about how they would like their company's profits to be spent, and they usually favor things like increasing the dividend, stock buy-backs, investments in new products or better marketing, and the like. They generally take a dim view of soaring bell towers, beautiful sculpture, sparkling mosaics, or murals depicting the CEO and the board acting out the events of the company's founding, clothed in gauzy garments. Corporate architecture tends to be functional. Sometimes it's outright ugly, sometimes its not, but it's rarely beautiful. We are horrified at the destruction of the World Trade Center because of the loss of life, and the shock of New York's highest buildings disappearing, not because the WTC was especially distinguished as architecture—it wasn't.

Capitalism doesn't seem to produce many beautiful buildings, but capitalists do. When a man has his own wealth, and can spend it pleasing himself, sometimes beautiful buildings result. Fallingwater, the famous house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Kaufman family, wealthy Pittsburghers who owned departments stores, is an example. Capitalists may also endow museums, which can be very beautiful. An example local to me is the Rodin Museum on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, which was endowed by [name], who provided funds not only for the sculptural content, but also the building. Capitalists, and their employees, even endow churches, which I suppose brings us full circle. In nations such as the US, that do not have an 'established' religion that can draw upon government revenues, churches must rely on the excess wealth thrown off by capitalist enterprises, freely tithed by their congregations, for their needs, including the building of beautiful churches.

And that, I suppose, is the answer to my questions. Capitalism doesn't build beautiful buildings, but it generates the wealth that allows individuals to do so, on their own, or through their churches, or spend it any other way they please.

Next question: why are so few beautiful churches, or beautiful buildings of any sort, being built today? Why are the beautiful churches of Johnstown so old? And why is the National Cathedral in Washington DC guarded by robot gargoyles and stone insects bearing cans of Raid? To say nothing of Darth Vader.

meaning: same
douyou == similar
douji == same time
Henshall suggests taking this character as a hoop, an opening, and the kanji for 'one': 'All hoops have the same single opening'. (Henshall refers to the partial enclosure as a 'hoop' in other mnemonics.)


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