Letters of the week, from Roy and Ray (a coincidence, I swear):
The recent story about a High School photographer reminded me of my first day of High School, a day I will always remember fondly and treasure.
It was my first day of High School, and being the oldest in my family I had no idea what to expect so I had arranged to go with a friend from down the block who had an older brother and sister already in High School. The long awaited day arrived and I made my way down to Dave's house to meet him for our walk to school. Being excited I was early and waited patiently in the hall while Dave finished getting ready in the bathroom (pretending to shave and all that).
Behind me a door opened and Dave's older sister, Head Cheerleader for our High School, stepped out and challenged me, "So, you're going to be a big freshman today...!" I turned around to reply something smart but my mouth fell open and no sound would come out. Terry was standing in her bedroom doorway, perfectly backlit by the morning sun coming in through the window, holding a pom-pom in each hand and wearing nothing else. The sun light up her golden hair and made her glow all over like an angel with a halo on both ends. When she saw that she had my complete attention she went back into her room and proceeded to unhurriedly put on her cheerleading outfit while I watched in dumb amazement.
I never shared my experience with anyone because no one would have believed me anyway and because it was a secret shared between her and I.
I discovered your website quite by chance, and reading through your goals and philosophy, immediately saw that I have been a "dirty old man" for a long time, indeed, for as long as I can remember, at least back to the third grade when I fell madly in love with Ramona, who was French and Jewish, and georgeous. I lost track of her, and one day forty years later saw her in a Macy's ad, unmistakably, and as beautiful as ever.
But I digress.
You touch on something I've been thinking about off and on for several years, i.e., the importance of beauty. Strangely, it is a subject that the psychological and psychiatric professions have almost completely ignored. Yet, it seems to me, there is an innate drive for beauty that is at least as powerful, as important, as the trait Mr. Freud identified as the sex drive.
You will notice, as you clearly do, that in every known human culture, as soon as men, and women, have satisfied their basic survival needs they begin seeking beauty. A great amount of discretionary income is spent on beauty, i.e., on hair styling, on makeup, on manicures, on jewelry, on sports and exercise clubs for fitness, on cosmetic surgery, on clothing, on houses. As soon as folks can afford it, they move away from dilapitated areas and run down towns, and they move, often, to the most beautiful places they can afford. An estate at Lake Tahoe was recently on the market, offered at $50 million. The entire automobile industry runs on beauty; if it did not, there would be very few cars on the market, since they all do pretty much the same physical thing - roll on four wheels from one place to another with people inside.
You may also have noticed that, generally, crime rates and the incidence of mental illness is higher in places with less beauty, and lower in more beautiful places. I suspect that there is a functional relationship here, i.e., that a "beauty deficiency" may trigger a kind of chronic depression in humans which leads to crime and mental illness, and that "beauty therapy" could mitigate at least some of the ravages of crime and mental illness. I have wondered whether crime rates and the incidence of mental illness could be significantly reduced, for instance, if government should adopt as an express policy the beautification of all urban areas, with special attention to those areas which presently fit the description "urban blight."
I think it is notable that among the earliest human artifacts found, some dating back at least 77,000 years according to recent news, are bone flutes and geometric carvings, from which it can be inferred that a sense of beauty, of order, of music, evolved very early in the history of homo sapiens. Throughout most of human history for which there are artifacts, most cultures have invested a great deal of their wealth and energy in beauty, i.e., witness the architecture and other artifacts of Egypt and Greece and Rome. The 20th century movement toward "functionalism" and "minimalism" and "modernism" in architecture and design is, historically, a cultural aberration.
The 20th century is also the only century I am aware of in which some artists, composers, musicians, novelists, poets, sculptures, have expressly eschewed the traditional focus of the arts on beauty, and expressly sought to express anger, cacaphony, ugliness. What this portends for the future of civilization I do not know, but it is unnerving.
I have watched animals living in "nice" places and blighted places, and it has seemed to me that at least some of the more intelligent species, dogs, cats, horses, primates, at least, recognize and respond to beautiful, or nice, surroundings differently than to blighted areas.
Beauty, of course, is not always the same thing to all people in all cultures, and times, and places, although recognition of the beauty of women (and men) in their prime is constant in all known human civilizations.
I am suspicious that a million years of pre-industrial evolution have implanted in the human race a sense of beauty inextricably linked to the natural landscape, largely unaffected by man, in which our race lived throughout its history, into the last century, when, quite suddenly from an evolutionary perspective, vast areas have been plowed, and paved, and covered with cities and factories and freeways, to which we have quickly and adeptly adapted at a conscious level, but which our genes have had no opportunity to adapt, and that the dissonance between our cognitive experience of 20th century, now 21st century "civilization" and our old genetic sense of natural beauty may underly many of the psychic, physical, and social ailments that were, apparently, less common or acute in other times.
I once wrote a letter to a friend of mine, a PhD clinical psychologist, explaining these ideas. Curiously, I never heard from him again, and he never returned my calls, leaving me to wonder if I had offended him somehow, or if this view of psychology may have been somehow unsettling, unnerving, disorienting. I don't know. I have searched the web, and Borders, and Barnes & Noble, for books that discuss this idea, and have found none.
So it is good to know that at least a few others out there understand, and express, the idea that beauty is important. I suspect that it is more important than most of us have suspected, that the recognition of the importance of beauty is a condition precedent to civilization, and that the level of recognition of the significance of beauty in a civilization, expressly or implicitly, may be indicative of its health and potency, just as it may be a strong indicator of the mental health, or ill-health, of an individual.
I suspect that there is a causal relationship between the experience of beauty, and the acknowledgment of the importance of beauty, and mental and emotional health. I suspect that there is a causal relationship between a "beauty deficiency" and poor mental and emotional health. I do not suggest that beauty or its absence is the only cause of mental and emotional good health, or ill health, but that it is an important factor which has been largely ignored by the mental health professions.
I am not a trained psychologist or psychiatrist, so I will not pretend to any authority on this subject. I only observe what, it seems to me, the professionals have either intentionally, or, more probably, inadvertantly, ignored.
And, of course, beautiful young women are among the finest manifestations of beauty on earth, as all "dirty old men" know.
My best, Ray
I find it an interesting coincidence that the devaluation of beauty came right after psychiatry and psychology came into vogue, with their theories that man is an animal, and that one must adjust to one's environment instead of the other way around. Not to mention psychiatry's explicitly avowed goal of erradicating from our culture the concepts of Good and Evil.
The pictures are from recent pages in the members' section.