Saturday, May 12, 2018

Nikita Koshkin's 24 Preludes and Fugues: Prelude and Fugue in F sharp minor

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnQJqAxQMiY

Prelude (starts at 0:25)

This prelude is in 6/8 and maps out as A A' a" B with coda.
The prelude opens with a rocking 6/8 bass line of F#, C# and D natural.  Despite the 6/8 meter in the score what this most evokes is the moderato con moto from the Third string quartet by Shostakovich.  If you want to hear for yourself go over here and start listening at 7:04.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDeJeBvln6E

Nothing wrong with a sound that evokes one of the greatest string quartets of the 20th century! Since Koshkin has mentioned Shostakovich as an influence if you want to play or study music written for the guitar that draws on Shostakovich and Stravinsky then Koshkin's music is what you'll want to keep coming back to. 

So, we've got ourselves what can be thought of as a macabre waltz that's "disguised" in 6/8.  The reason I have charted out this music as I have is that each block of melodic/harmonic activity can be defined by its resolution with a descending run in the bass strings (measures 10 and 22 specifically). 

This macabre waltz features a couple of secondary dominants and also a phrygian supertonic because if you're a guitarist and you're writing in any kind of F sharp the phrygian supertonic (i.e. neapolitan) chord is G major, the guitarist's best friend.  For the most part guitarist composers who have written in F sharp or G flat find the neapolitan supertonic irresistible.  They do not necessarily go for a more "locrian" vibe which could let them exploit the key of G major but from a modal rotational perspective of always coming back to F sharp, although personally I endorse this option because locrian F sharp sounds pretty cool.

I'm writing in a more nebulous way about this one because there are so many charming little details in this prelude.  Take measure 11 where Koshkin breaks out of the lilt of compound meter to introduce a duple rhythm march in just this one measure (50-52)

A (measures 1-11) is defined by a consistently lilting compound meter approach to 6/8. 
A' (measures 11-22) starts with a duple meter eruption that feints toward a meter change in duple time but quickly reveals a more "3/4" approach to compound meter.

a" (measures 23-33) introduces a hemiola of dotted eighth notes against eighth notes.

Here the duple is really duple against triple and can be thought of as the B in a larger scale A B structure.  Splitting measures down the middle in each measure is demonstrated more clearly by the descending lines in the first half of measure 33 that culminate in an F sharp major theme that is the new B material that rounds off the prelude (which you can hear at 1:48)  I consider this transitional passage work because the duple against triple creates tension but after six measures Koshkin leads us back into the lilting, rocking rhythms of straightforward 6/8 as he moves toward the B material in F sharp major at the previously mentioned second half of measure 33 (1:48).

The syntactic climax of the prelude is at 2:09 (measure 41) we get a recapitulation of the F#, C# and D natural bass line but the harmonies are in F sharp major in the treble strings. This fits a Shostakovich-style happy-sad or tragicomic coda, an ending that is somewhat more optimistic than the music was at the start but still permeated with a tone of macabre humor. Like a Shostakovich waltz there's something lurking within all this laconic crepuscular music.  The prelude winds down toward an unresolved half cadence that suggests an end that is never arrived at.  We're hearing stirrings that intermittently creep up as if from behind shadows, such as the duple meter moment at measure 11, that suggest there is something just beyond view that is waiting to erupt from behind this prelude.

Fugue (starts at 2:44)
What does erupt is the fugue.  This is an explosive two-voiced fugue but it has three presentations of the subject that simulates a three-voiced exposition. They appear as follows

Subject enters at measure 53 in the tonic on the sixth string (2:45)
Subject answered at measure 56 in the dominant at the fifth string (2:49)
Subject enters at measure 60 in the tonic in the treble strings (2:53)

The exposition is over by 2:57.  Even with the third entrance of the subject up top that is a 12 second fugue exposition. 

This is a three-measure subject in 2/4 that is much more like a rock or metal guitar riff than what might conventionally be described as a "fugue subject" by any measure of the keyboard or string literature.  It almost seems too explosive and brief to be a fugue subject but it has a vivid melodic profile and enough constituent parts within it to break them apart and to build a fugue from these fragments and possibilities.   The violence and brevity of the subject gives all the more reason for the "false" third entry that completes the exposition.  If Koshkin restricted himself to only as many presentations of the subject as would be strictly required in a "scholastic" fugue the exposition would be over before inattentive listeners would have been able to perceive there was even a fugue exposition. 

What makes this fugue subject so fun is not just its pentatonic blues/rock character, it's that the subject by its nature does not resolve but rushes headlong toward whatever is next.  August Halm wrote that a good fugue subject must never have too firm a resolution since it is supposed to be the catalyst for continual development and transformation but it must also have a recognizable enough a melodic shape that the subject can withstand or catalyze such growth.  I believe that's what Koshkin's subject, brief and explosive as it is, provides in this fugue. 

The initial episode culminates in a run in measures 67-68 where we get something very guitaristic that is not so "good" for fugues, strong beat accented parallel motion by compound fifths.  Guitars are great for parallel fifths but for fugues, for polyphonic writing generally, parallel fifths and compound parallel fifths weaken the independence of line. 

In this case I would have leaned toward the sixteenth note figures at top of the clef in 67 would sequence downward while substituting E for C and D sharp for D natural.  That uses contrary motion to get the two lines of the fugue to contract inward for the arrival of the first middle entry at measure 68 and the topmost note could be G natural--tenths are stronger than open compound fifths in terms of traditions of polyphonic writing.  Don't get me wrong, I like this fugue a lot, it's just that there are moments in this fugue where it is, so to speak, guitaristic to a degree where some things that are guitaristic aplenty would be considered weakness in counterpoint in a more traditional sense.  You can do parallelism if you want to, and Koshkin wanted to. 

The first middle entry is at measure 68 (3:03) and the subject appears in E minor in the lower register.  This is followed by an agitated descending episode in tenths and sixths every other measure that arrives at a new middle entry at measure 74 in B minor (3:10). 

This is immediately followed by a new middle entry in F sharp minor (3:13). We can hear how swiftly this subject moves along and if you can read along with the score we get the voices exchanged.  It's not so much that there's a countersubject in this fugue as that Koshkin presents the subject in the lower register and has a descant in the upper register and then in the next middle entry he effectively flips the relationship.  This is an incomplete presentation of the subject, though, as the rising of the subject in a middle entry that completed its line at measure 79 would make the melodic activity in the bass strings impossible on technical grounds, if not theoretical grounds.  But the linear trajectory of the subject is restored at measure 80.  There's room for rewriting a subject in a middle entry when technical and musical necessities call for that and this is a good example of how, at the practical level of writing a fugue, you can change the subject through interpolation or intervallic revision and still have an identifiable subject. 

From this middle entry Koshkin writes out a length episode with bustling sixteenth note runs and jump bass lines in counterpoint against the runs.  This winds through a couple of key regions to reach a new middle entry in the second half of measure 95 in A minor (3:35). This is followed up by single line riffs that evoke, if briefly, a kind of Shostakovich-style ragtime that destabilizes the key.  By measure 105 (3:47) Koshkin brings the melodies down to the lowermost strings with a dark perpetual motion evocation of the subject in running sixteenth notes, emphasizing the F sharp minor again but with a strong phrygian, almost metal sense of foreboding. 

Koshkin revels in the agitated churning of sixteenth notes in the bass strings right up to measure 117 (about 3:58) when the guitar is called to play a blistering rising solo line that takes it the upper reaches of its register at measure 199 (4:02). From measures 122 to 123 there's a pattern of two sixteenth notes followed by a triplet of sixteenth notes that, honestly, reminded me of a drum beat from a Guns `n Roses song.  This really is the fugue in the cycle where Koshkin rocks out.  The triplets on sixteenth nots carry measures 124 to 125.  In the middle of 125 Koshkin presents the subject in F sharp minor and introduces quasi stretto presentation of the subject in the upper register (4:10 to 4:15)

From there Koshkin rushes along with sequential development of the initial fragment of the subject.  It rises up to a presentation of the subject at measure 138 (4:23) that's in E minor where the subject is presented as at the fifth rather than the root.  This is an inspired way to redeploy the subject within the coda.  It's not a middle entry and it's certainly not the syntactic climax of the fugue but it's a fine passage showing how you can take a solid subject and present it as being on a different factor of a chord (i.e. the third or fifth rather than the root) than it was in its "prime" form, thereby revealing new possibilities about the subject.  This is something I wish Koshkin had done more and more extensively with this fugue but I'll get to that later on.

At measure 143 (4:31) Koshkin gives us an abrupt F minor triad and octave shifting presentations of the initial fragment of the subject rising from octave to octave like the turnaround passage in a ragtime.  This is a short interrupting moment that leads to a relentless run of scale-work on sixteenth notes over a pulsing dominant pedal point.  This is the wind up to concluding the fugue. As Koshkin gets closer to the finish line he reintroduces the triplets of sixteenth notes and uses descending chains of parallel fifths floating above the triplet figuration to prepare final cadence, a modal tonic-subtonic, tonic burst on F sharp major that leads the fugue to an abrupt but triumphant finish.

Although I've had a few quibbles with parallelism a whole lot can be forgiven when the overall mood of this fugue is so aggressive.  The other thing too, is that at this tempo any of the flaws in polyphonic writing go by so swiftly you can't hear them unless you have trained your ear through study or your own writing of fugues.  

As fun as this fugue is and as much as it rocks out in a rock and roll style I do feel strongly that in this fugue there are some fantastic possibilities that went unexplored in the fugue.  The subject is pentatonic in the first two measures and introduces a diatonic descent on a sixteenth, sixteenth, sixteenth rest, and sixteenth pulsing figure.  For those of you who have the score I'll spell it out this way--that fugue subject can be presented in its prime form, its retrograde, its inversion and retrograde inversion and sounds really good in every one of those permutations.  This is a difference of conviction and compositional method, I suppose, but with a subject that has mixed pentatonic and diatonic writing where the dominant pitch class is pentatonic the possibilities of a fugue subject being presented in all four forms is something I find irresistible. 

I'm not saying Koshkin had to use all four forms of the subject as middle entries.  Nobody could recognize the retrograde and retrograde inversion for what they are if they appeared as middle entries but they could be the basis for episodic material.  But the inversion, the inversion of the subject sounds great.  Just flip the score upside down and transpose the subject into F sharp major and you can sing through it yourself and hear how fun it sounds!  Schoenberg has his detractors and defenders but one of the discoveries I've made is that a really great fugue subject can manage to sound good in more than just its primary form.

 Koshkin has a fantastic little fugue subject here and the E minor transposed form of the subject at measure 138 gets me thinking about how an inversion of the subject at the fifth rather than the root of the chord and in parallel major would be a fantastic middle entry.  In polyphonic cycles from Russian composers and composers from the formerly Soviet region subjects may often not be presented in inversion even when this is possible.  This has been noted about the Shostakovich cycle of preludes and fugues.  Sometimes you'll get a cycle like Rodion Shchedrin's where it's obvious he "could" present a subject in inversion as in his C major fugue and then you'll discover at the very end of the cycle that his prelude and fugue in D minor is a mirror/inversion of the prelude and fugue that opened the cycle.  That's cool and I like Shchedrin's cycle in general but I do feel that in the Russian tradition of cycles of fugues there can be a risk of cyclical thinking in large-scale terms that can sideline some amazing musical possibilities that, on a fugue by fugue basis, I think should be explored. 

Of course there aren't any rules against recomposing good ideas in new contexts to explore new possibilities.  Composers like Haydn did this as a matter of course.  There are a lot of untapped possibilities in this fugue but perhaps it’s just as well that this fugue in two voices has done as much as probably can be done given the speed and aggression of the subject.  For a chamber work in which there's more than one instrument, though, this fugue subject has a wealth of possibilities that in a strictly solo guitar fugue are swirling behind the subject itself.
Seeing as we've gotten through most of the preludes and fugues in Koshkin's cycle for which there are videos of performances it's going to be tougher going moving forward, dear reader, if you don't yourself own a copy of the cycle.  I hope by now I've made a case for why you, if you're a guitarist, should have a copy of this cycle by now.  It's a monumental achievement for the guitar and deserves to be regarded as one of the most substantial of Koshkin's works and not merely on the basis of its sheer length. 

at Pacific Standard James McWilliams riffed on Justin Stover's There is No Case for the Humanities


You've heard the case 1,000,000 times: The humanities are dying. With Justin Stover's recent essay in American Affairs, "There Is No Case for the Humanities," you can make that 1,000,001.

But in this essay there's something different: Stover, who teaches at the University of Oxford and the University of Edinburgh, doesn't try to overstate the humanities. He argues that the humanities are "no more or less relevant now than they've ever been." It's just that now, as universities become corporate boot camps churning out productive science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) students, the humanities can no longer compete under the new rules. To try to do so is to engage in self-defeat. "The justification for the humanities only makes sense within a humanistic framework," Stover writes. "Outside of it, there is simply no case."

Many a scholar will have a hard time admitting this point, but, beyond the academy, there's not a single skill set that would be enhanced by reading Virgil. A mechanic or surgeon who reads Virgil will be neither a better mechanic or surgeon—nor a better human being. He'll just be a mechanic or surgeon who enjoys Virgil. When it comes to being relevant to a larger purpose beyond ourselves, there is no case to be made for reading Virgil.


As of 2015, only 12 percent of undergraduates at colleges and universities in the U.S. graduated with a degree in the humanities. A 2017 analysis of the changing concentrations of Harvard University sophomores found alarming declines in the humanities. It also found a corresponding rise in STEM disciplines. Between 2008 and 2016, history majors went from 231 to 136; English majors went from 236 to 144; art history majors went from 63 to 36; anthropology majors went from 126 to 43; comparative literature majors went from 48 to 16; and classics majors from 41 to 26. By contrast, applied mathematics went from 101 to 279; electrical engineering went from 0 to 39; computer science from 85 to 386; and statistics from 17 to 173. These numbers mirror national trends. In my own discipline, history, majors have dropped by 25 percent between 2001 and 2016, a figure made especially alarming by the fact that it's a decline from 2.08 percent to 1.54 percent of all undergraduate degrees. In 1970 it was close to 6 percent. At my own university it's around 1 percent.

...

Stover ultimately rests his "non-case" for the humanities on two important observations. The first is that humanists comprise a sort of "class" that does what it does because we enjoy the arts and want others to enjoy the arts too. We're not interested in being relevant so much as we are interested in being emulated or having our work consumed for pleasure.

...
Stover's second and closely related point is that, while society at large may have no need for a class of humanists who love delving into Thoreau and Emerson, the university (if for all the wrong reasons) evidently still does require this rarified class. [emphases added]
...

The university, if only motivated to do so by fear of cultural shaming or status decline, harbors the humanities to ensure prestige, ersatz or otherwise. If you've ever been to a recent college graduation you will notice that there's a relatively small cadre of professors who, all puffed out and head-capped like flamboyant jesters, take the academic regalia business very seriously. That's usually us, the humanists, the desperate torch-bearers for what a university wants us to think it's all about: Tradition. Our clownish garb reflects our desperation to protect our shrinking patch of turf.

...

As of 2015, only 12 percent of undergraduates at colleges and universities in the U.S. graduated with a degree in the humanities. A 2017 analysis of the changing concentrations of Harvard University sophomores found alarming declines in the humanities. It also found a corresponding rise in STEM disciplines. Between 2008 and 2016, history majors went from 231 to 136; English majors went from 236 to 144; art history majors went from 63 to 36; anthropology majors went from 126 to 43; comparative literature majors went from 48 to 16; and classics majors from 41 to 26. By contrast, applied mathematics went from 101 to 279; electrical engineering went from 0 to 39; computer science from 85 to 386; and statistics from 17 to 173. These numbers mirror national trends. In my own discipline, history, majors have dropped by 25 percent between 2001 and 2016, a figure made especially alarming by the fact that it's a decline from 2.08 percent to 1.54 percent of all undergraduate degrees. In 1970 it was close to 6 percent. At my own university it's around 1 percent.

What do these figures suggest? For one, that Stover's confidence in the status conferred by the humanities may be appropriate for his medieval-era stomping grounds of Oxford and Edinburgh, but not for U.S. universities. When an institution with the prestige of Harvard watches the humanities decline to a statistical sliver within its own ivied walls, and it does so in a country where tradition is measured in decades, it may be time to fess up to the fact that status over here is a fickle beast with little interest in preserving tradition. [emphasis added]
Consider the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. To my knowledge, that university's exalted status depends on relentless innovation rather than the preservation of a humanistic tradition. I'd venture that the vast majority of colleges and universities in the U.S. see themselves moving more in the orbit of MIT than Harvard. That is, they place less weight on "the aura of cultural standing" conferred by the humanities and more on the marketable applications of pragmatic, profit-minded research programs.

Stover underplays this element of higher education in the U.S. He acknowledges that, "it is not the humanities that we have lost faith in, but the economic, political, and social order that they have been made to serve." And then he concludes: "perhaps we only demand a case for the humanities because we cannot fathom having to make a case for anything else."

Well, I'm afraid we can. In fact, I'm absolutely certain that almost every high-ranking administrator at every university in the U.S. wakes up every morning prepared to fathom the case that the university is about serving the innovative needs of a globalizing economy—and if gutting the humanities would further that goal, they'd look at the numbers and make the call. [emphasis added]  If only quietly, it happens all the time. Can you imagine, beyond the university, a swell of popular opinion rushing to defend the department of comparative literature—and those 16 Harvard sophomores!—from oblivion?

With the traditional humanities being squeezed to the margins of university life, all the while banking its survival on nostalgic prestige, it seems appropriate to consider a possible likelihood: college education without Virgil, Shakespeare, Emerson, or Thoreau—or at least a college education where the humanistic pursuits become the equivalent of intramural Frisbee football. If this happens, would this mean the death of the humanities?

I don't think it would.

It's worth recalling that the only feature that Stover, who teaches in Great Britain, thinks will keep the humanities from rotting away is the presence of a class of humanists who thrive within the university as a symbol of its original mission. The hypothesis perhaps makes sense for universities founded in the 13th century. But in the U.S., where most universities are less then a century old, and the notion of class instinctively raises hackles, Stover's argument could backfire.

Indeed, one might turn Stover's point on its head and suggest that the reason the humanities come under such fire (from all sides) is not necessarily that they are irrelevant. Instead it's that, as a group of professors ensconced in an ivory tower, they evoke the notion of a class. As such, they too easily become an easy target marred by the taint of a concept we have no tolerance for on this side of the Atlantic: elitism. [emphases added]
When the book lover opens up a scholarly journal on literature and finds "The Political Procedural: The Novel's Contribution to the Rise of Nonpartisanship and the Abandonment of Reconstruction," or when the history buff goes to a leading history journal and comes across "Beautiful Urbanism: Gender, Landscape, and Contestation in Latino Chicago's Age of Urban Renewal," he might feel a little excluded.

...
America is often deemed anti-intellectual. I would never totally disagree with this assessment. But I do genuinely wonder to what extent that characterization reflects the dynamic outlined above—one whereby a cadre of humanities scholars uses its position in the university not to anchor the university to its founding mission, but to cultivate a cult of aesthetic and intellectual exploration that keeps those outside the university at bay.

In other words, before we lament the death of the humanities, or write that development off as the result of anti-intellectualism, shouldn't we consider how the humanities thrive—or could thrive—beyond institutions of higher education?
...
In his book Dream Hoarders Richard Reeves stated that he considers the United States to have a class system as rigidly differentiated as the one in the United Kingdom but that is worse in a particular respect, that it largely goes unrecognized. Actually, Reeves' polemic was more pointed than even that, he argued that the top twenty percent have exempted themselves from being the top twenty percent by focusing on the top one percent and above in terms of income and resources.  Not that those guys don't need to get taxed, so to speak, but that everyone in the top twenty percent is part of that problem of burgeoning income inequality.  As I admit I have sniped here at the blog for a while kids who can quote Walter Benjamin and have gone to places like Cornish or Reed or Oberlin need to step back and appreciate that they are closer to the one percent (and always will be) than they are to people with high school diplomas (if they make it that far in educational terms) who work in food service or the service industries. 

When I come across articles that seem to lack a Swiftian sense of satirical nuance, arguing that the cognitive elite should be allowed to run things, what can be passed over in judgment as "anti-intellectualism" begins to look more and moer like a not altogether unjustified class resentment.  Sure, plenty of conservatives would say class resentment of those who have is a bad thing.  I read Roger Scruton's description of Alberich in his book about The Ring.  Fugly dudes who can't get laid ruin the world, I get it.  But not all class divisions have to be just about looks and money, they can be about education and it's not a surprise if these can overlap.  For those pretty enough and wealthy enough and educated enough to be in American royalty of either the Hollywood or academic kind it's easy to feel that there's an anti-intellectual heart to American culture.  You could even invoke the culture industry and the people who are taken for a ride by it and propose that these people lack the educational wisdom to understand what the industry is selling them.  That could even be true so long as we recognize the possibility, or even the reality, that the educational industrial complex in America at this point is part of that culture industry machine. 

That class resentment against academics has come up isn't hard to find.  My brother once said that what keeps him skeptical about Marxist revolutions is that all too often the intellectuals who in some quarters push for the justice aims of such a revolution often end up getting liquidated as class enemies along the way.  If there were a way to have a socialist revolution in which the intelligentsia didn't get liquidated in a class war that would be something to highlight in historical terms. If anything academics with a background in history and humanities should seem like the first class of people, pun intended, to be aware of these historical risks. 

I'm a sometime fan of Cold War stuff and I love a lot of Soviet music.  One of the things I think Adorno was completely wrong about was dismissing the possibility of art in what he regarded as totalitarian societies in contemporary terms.  If he could admire the artistry of a Bach or a Haydn or a Beethoven, who all lived and work in autocratic contexts, why would we have to assume it was impossible for some kind of art to flourish within the context of the Soviet Union?  It's a point at which I think Adorno's ideological commitments betrayed his capacity for artistic perception.  I'm not saying you have to like the string quartets of Shostakovich (I love all of them) but the idea that art, however you define it, cannot even be made in a totalitarian state or that "real" art cannot be made in a consumer capitalist context is so patently an ideological ploy I am "almost" surprised Adorno and company made that ploy.  It's where I think Taruskin's polemic against Adorno and company on what the nature of the "culture industry" is has merit but you'd have to have read Taruskin for that and I only feel like writing so much in a post on a weekend.  :)
 

contra a piece at WaPo about "the crumbling of the monoculture" in reference to the dinosaurs of rock, the monoculture isn't crumbling at all. The shelf-life of individual things and the shelf they sit on are not the same

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...
 
Mercifully, Hyden’s affection for vinyl and rock documentaries does not mean he’s a cultural reactionary. “The old classic-rock myth about the white-male superman who pursues truth via decadence and virtuosic displays of musicianship has run its course,” he writes. “The time has come for new legends about different kinds of heroes.” He even nominates a few, such as Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, transgender musician Laura Jane Grace and recent Pulitzer Prize-winner Kendrick Lamar.
 
The crumbling of the monoculture means that you probably won’t ever have to squint to make out any of these artists from the other side of a football stadium, but that’s a good thing. Hyden’s warm and witty scholarship is, too.
 
Call it the inevitable outcome of reading books by Adorno but ...
 
I would venture to say that it's not even remotely true to declare that the crumbling of the monoculture means we won't make out any of the old rock stars from the other side of a football stadium.  The reason is because the monoculture may change but the presence or absence of this or that can of goods on the topmost, most visible shelf is not the same thing as there being no shelf.  The monoculture can be thought of as the shelf on which the dinosaurs of rock have up until recently been on the top shelf of.  The monoculture is not the cans of goods at the top, middle or bottom of the shelf that can be thought of as the culture industry.  If the Eagles and Madonna and the Beatles are top shelf and Mariah Carey is bottom shelf that's irrelevant to the shelf itself.  Thirty years ago "everybody" would do cultural criticism with reference to The Simpsons as cartoons geared toward adult audiences would go.  Now it's more likely to be Archer or Rick and Morty or Bojack Horseman.  but until the core of the industry changes the monoculture (what Adorno and company would have included in "the culture industry") won't change at its heart, just its costuming.
 
That still doesn't mean folks in the Frankfurt school were all that on the mark anticipating that Eisenhower could be the next Hitler.  When folks at The New Yorker write about how the Frankfurt school saw Trump coming that's generously reading back a whole lot of foresight on to the Frankfurt school authors I don't think they had and doing so in the wrong direction.  I read Grand Hotel Abyss, okay, so I can remember the part where Adorno was worried that the nascent "new left" was just as totalitarian in its aims and means as he thought the fascists and national socialists were. 
 
But a term like "monoculture" has a clear, if limited use, as something that articulates what Adorno and company called "the culture industry".  The caveat there is that I think the best way to understand what the culture industry is is to see it as encompassing not just the "pop" but also the academic scene in American culture.  Academics are in serious danger of seeing themselves as the solution to a problem they may not realize they are a substantial part of.  I also don't believe that battles between "poptimists" and "rockists" will do anything significant to change the monoculture or the culture industry as overlapping circles in the Venn diagram of where we are at. 
 
As long as the shelf is still there (and it will probably always be there) whether the can says "Beatles" or "Madonna" or "Kendrick Lamar" is in key respects irrelevant even if we can all have reasons to be happy or sad that this or that artist is on the proverbial top shelf.  That Beethoven hasn't been on the top shelf for most people doesn't mean his late piano sonatas or string quartets don't have beauty to them.  It also doesn't mean that the beauty of those works is somehow discarded because they no longer have "top shelf" status for a majority of people any more than that hip hop dominates the music market means hip hop has become "great" because of that market dominance.  It doesn't mean that the whole genre is "bad".  This does highlight a withering remark Richard Taruskin made about the Adorno school of thought about the "culture industry", that it's never been as monolithic as Adorno or his fans have made it out to be and that it has been that lambast culture industry within which minorities have managed to find a voice.  Adorno, were he alive, might argue that's precisely what the culture industry is good at manufacturing, the illusion of cultural participation so long as a profit can be made, but Taruskin's point can still stand.  The polemics of an Adorno and a Taruskin about what can be called monoculture or the culture industry are mutually correcting polemics.  To go "all in" for one or the other is to be ... as a Marxist axiom has it, insufficiently dialectical.  ;)
 

self-fulfilling prophecies of mutual contempt, courtesy of an interview at Slate from March 2018



 
Isaac Chotiner: You write in your piece that, “The problem isn’t just filter bubbles, echo chambers or alternative facts. It’s tone: When the loudest voices on the left talk about people on the right as either beyond the pale or dupes of their betters, it is with an air of barely concealed smugness. Right-wingers, for their part, increasingly respond with a churlish ‘Oh, yeah? Hold my beer,’ and then double down on whatever politically incorrect sentiment brought on the disdain in the first place.” The way that’s written implies that the right-wing attitude that we see online and from the president is a response to a smug leftism. Is that how you see thisthat essentially the right is merely reacting to something?

Katherine Mangu-Ward: The sentence that’s at the very top of the piece is, “It’s hard to tell who started it.” I actually do believe that. I think it is not a case of a single original sin that sent us cascading down into the rhetorical swamps where we now live. But I do find that, although I am demographically and in many ways even ideologically sympathetic to people on the left, in this story, in the story of smug versus trolls, I find myself sympathetic to the right, sympathetic to this response of, “Fine, if you’re going to see me that way, I’ll double down on it. I’ll be as bad as you think I am.”

The idea, then, is that people are accused of being racist, or see other people being called racist, and as a response to that say, “You know what? I’m going to vote for a racist, or I’m going to be part of a political movement that looks the other way about racism.” If that is actually going on, and let’s grant for the sake of argument that it is, it’s a very strange way of operating in the world.

I guess I would challenge the way that you set that up. I think that when people feel that they’ve been accused of something horrible, like racism, or that their peers or friends have, that they respond negatively, and that they respond by maybe overstating their own case, or mocking the other side. I don’t think that it’s an accurate mental picture to say they responded by voting for a racist. I think they say, “You on the left are either overstating or overvaluing that particular aspect of Donald Trump. However, he has a lot of other attributes that you don’t value at all, and you’re wrong to not value those things.”

You say that smug people on the coasts, to speak broadly, look at people who vote for Republicans, white working-class people, and say, “You guys don’t understand your own economic interests.” That comes across as smug, and that makes people respond in a certain way. But if that’s your objective analysis of what’s going on, how do you think we should have that conversation? The sincere belief of many people on the left is that working-class people on the right are being taken advantage of, in this case by a con man

The definitive piece on this, which I didn’t explicitly reference, but consulted, is Emmett Rensin’s Vox piece on the “smug style” in American liberalism. I find that piece to be a very compelling account of the demographic reasons why liberals believe that thing that you just described, [which is] that essentially the liberal coalition has been hollowed out. While it used to be a coalition that spread more evenly across different socioeconomic classes and a broader geographical area, it’s now rich, white people and then people of color, to oversimplify it dramatically. He says, and I think it’s true, that there’s a certain amount of baffled resentment at the class of people that abandoned the left. It was a coalition that made sense to the rest of the left before, when it was intact, and so the natural inclination then is to say, “Something’s gone wrong that those people left us, and it must be that they’re confused and were right before.”
 
I think that that explanation explains the weirdly emotional approach to this. It explains why people aren’t just like, “Oh, that’s a bummer,” or like, “You seem to be under a misapprehension,” but are like, “Screw you, you idiots,” because they were abandoned. [emphasis added]

I think the flip side of that is that if you talk to conservative intellectuals, they don’t know what happened in their party. They are very confused about what happened. The sort of Never Trumpism among National Review types and others shows that they too are confused about what happened with that demographic.

OK, but I’m a writer. You’re a writer. I want to say what I think. I still haven’t quite figured out how to not smugly say that I think Donald Trump is a con man taking advantage of his voters. I don’t think every Republican, or the entire Republican Party’s platform, or libertarianism, or social conservatism, is just about conning voters. I do think Donald Trump is a con man, and he is essentially conning his voters to enrich his family. I don’t know how to say that without sounding smug and without immediately telling essentially everyone who voted for him, “You got conned.” I just don’t quite understand how to get out of that pickle when you have someone like Donald Trump as president.
 
Your response is very similar to a significant portion of the response to this piece. That is to say, of the people who replied to me on Twitter and elsewhere, the vast majority of people who were “team smug” offered some variant of what you just said, like, “But we’re right, and they’re wrong, and so what do we do?” All due respect to you and all those people, that’s precisely the problem. You are the problem. That is to say, just because you have an analysis of why someone voted the way they did and you think that it’s wrong, you don’t have to say it out loud. Having said it out loud lots of times, and it having not been effective as a rhetorical move to shift the political landscape in the direction that you want, why not try another tack?
 
I think this is the argument for [saying], “OK, maybe these people who we are talking about here, these Trump voters, it is not that they are confused about their own interests, but simply that I am not looking at the world the way they look at the world. How can I do better at that?” It’s an Oprah thing to say, but it is nonetheless the answer.
 
It seems like what you’re saying is a version of political correctness. It’s as if saying this, even if it’s the truth, doesn’t work, so you should stop saying it, which is itself almost condescending. It’s essentially, “You people can’t hear this.”

Yeah, I think that’s right. It is a version of political correctness, but the origins of political correctness are nonpernicious. The very, very beginning of the political correctness movement was basically just people saying, “Hey, why not temper your speech slightly to avoid giving offense to those in a position of less power than yourself?” That’s a good idea. I think obviously you don’t want to pull every punch, but at the same time, to say over and over, both formally as the Democratic Party and also rhetorically as the pundit class, “You all are wrong about what you need and want,” is not doing it.

It just feels to me that as writers we have some responsibility to argue for what we think the truth is. You write in the piece, for example, about the DACA debate, “The left labeled the right racist. The right accused the left of hating America.” There’s just more truth to one of those things than the other. We should have some responsibility to say what’s true rather than just saying, “This is how people feel.”

Again, all due respect, but you’re wrong about that asymmetry. Just to be clear, I think that every single DACA beneficiary and every Dreamer, because those are, I guess, slightly different categories, should be given immediate full citizenship forever, and ever, and ever, and their family forever and ever, amen. I am basically an open border person.

You libertarians, you love those open borders. Go on.

Yes, but I think it is equal. The assumption about motivations on both sides is equally an exercise in some amount of truth and some amount of bad faith. There are many, many people, even relatively close to libertarian circles, who are very clearly not racist and who are genuinely worried, instead, about keeping a distinctive and powerful American culture intact, who are worried about the bottom line of the federal and state governments, who are worried about overcrowding in schools. Again, I don’t think those are good reasons to keep these immigrants out, but none of that is about racism.

Conversely, I think there are many liberals, of course, who don’t “hate” America, but I think it is fair to say of many liberals that they don’t particularly value national loyalty or patriotism very highly, and that also they think that whatever America is, it’s OK if it changes, which to a person who very highly values America as it exists right now, is not a good outcome.

Again, it’s not exactly hating America, but it is a little, and it’s not exactly racism, but it is a little, in many cases. I think it’s a fair parallel. I really don’t think there’s an asymmetry there.

OK.
It’s just that the president, who has ended DACA or put it on the road to being ended—
 
Again, if what we keep doing here is coming back to Donald Trump as an avatar of trollish conservatives, then I will never push back on that. Donald Trump is a trollish conservative. He is the worst of his form, but—

He’s also president.

But I don’t think he is representative of the median grumpy right-winger in American right now.

You say in the piece, “Liberals and people of the left underpin their politics with moral concerns about harm and fairness. They are driven by the imperative to help the vulnerable and see justice done. Conservatives and people on the right value these things as well but have several additional moral touchstones—loyalty, respect, and sanctity.” How do you think Trump fits into that paradigm, specifically regarding respect and sanctity?

I think that Trump fits into it uneasily, which is again why the intellectual right was taken by surprise by his election. That intellectual framework still strikes me as extremely true for a way to think about our deeper underlying political differences. At the same time, I think you have to work a little bit to understand how that gets interpreted on Trump. In this case, I think it is, for instance, when we talk about loyalty, and in-group loyalty in particular, Donald Trump said a lot of times on the campaign trail, “I love America. America is the greatest country. We are better than the rest of the world. We need to get the best deals. It’s our group that matters, not that group.”

This is absolutely speaking to a value that, as I say in the piece, and as Jonathan Haidt, who’s the author of these categories has said, to a person who doesn’t share that value, it sounds like xenophobia. Sometimes it is xenophobia, but for lots of people, it’s not. For lots of people, the power of in-group solidarity drives good things. This is how people feel loyalty to their church, which drives all kinds of excellent community institutions. There’s of course the family. Loyalty is not a bad thing. Just because I happen to completely lack that part of my brain—

...

My impression has been that back when the GOP was redistricting the country to try to regain some momentum at the electoral level they were not thinking first and foremost (i.e. at all!) that someone like Trump was going to land the nomination of the GOP for the presidential primary.   They might have been hoping for a Rubio or a Cruz or ... anybody but that guy who actually got the nomination.  The journalistic script that the play of the game indicates the rules of the game is something that might have to be set aside for a figure like Trump.  Now if I recall correctly what Chomsky had to say about possible actual lessons from Weimar it was something about how the intra-left battles over purity issues made it easier for a notorious group of people to seize a stronger electoral hold.  Perhaps the way to translate that proposal would be to say that while team Clinton advocates insisted on pinning moral blame on Bernie bros any would be left-of-Trump putative center wasn't together enough to pick the designated alternative, at one level, and at another level, the DNC mainstream had already settled on who the anointed future victor was supposed to be anyway so what on earth was Sanders doing throwing his hat in the ring?  It seems that it was not just on the GOP side of the intellectual conservatives that 2016 had baffling moments. 

It seems worth remembering that even if Clinton technically won the popular vote (setting aside claims made by supporters of Trump that she supposedly lost that once you get rid of all the illegal votes) the electoral college vote has been designed in a way where it can contradict the putatively popular will.  Clinton lost the actual electoral college vote by an even bigger margin than she lost the pledged votes on super Tuesday.  If there were an election in the last forty years to suggest to us as a whole that the popular vote and the electoral college vote are distinguishable things 2016 should have been that year.  Which is why ruminating on how this or that demographic of the popular vote made the difference for Trump needs some qualification.  Even if a majority of white evangelicals voted for Trump that's not necessarily a sign that what they were voting for was what writers at Slate think they were voting for.  Conversely, everyone who voted for Obama was probably not voting for a geometrically increased use of drone strikes, for example.  But that's not the kind of thing journalists seem hugely concerned about.

I try to distinguish, post-2016 between a variety of strata on the axiomatic "left" and "right" in American politics.  I find it a whole lot easier to take old lefties seriously than new lefties.  I also find it easier to take actual self-avowed Marxists seriously than folks who pay lip service to the Frankfurt school while having gone to places like Oberlin. Since I've been reading a few books by Adorno, I find there's a lot to like about his work, not the parts where he comes off like an elitist and faintly racist snob (I'm not saying he was against blacks at all, actually, but a German harboring dismissive and contemptuous views about Slavs does seem to creep up in Adorno's work) .I find it easier to take a Chomsky or a Sanders seriously than a Clinton.  If the best you can do is say in reaction to "MAGA" that America already is great then don't be shocked when you lose the electoral vote.

But it also seems as if people on the mainstream red and blue have so pejoratively defined what "populism" can mean that the mainstream political machines and journalistic platforms have gone out of their way to poison the well there.  Call it naïve but some kind of sincerely, positively defined form of populism or populist concern seems like it's something we need if, for no other reason, mainstream punditry across the "left" and "right" of the United States seem so dead set on defining populist concerns in such trenchantly pejorative terms.  We're well past the point at which John Lennon could strum his guitar and spout "a working class hero is something to be" and rock critics might still nod in approval.  They'll do it now, of course out of sacred tradition ... but that doesn't mean it's thought of in the same terms.

AI without a capacity for emotional response is probably not going to be actual artificial intelligence

Relevant to an unfortunately not-yet-written piece about ghosts in the shell old and new and on why the old "classic" film has a dead on arrival premise in its final act reveal ... something from the Washington Post about why artificial intelligence absent a capacity for affect (i.e. emotion) is probably never going to happen.  Cue up potential discussions of season 1 of HBO's Westworld for those who would want to do that.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/theworldpost/wp/2018/03/02/human-machine/?utm_term=.41f3394f3c79


 
 
Technologists across the world have frantically embarked on the quest to create a new species in our own image — general artificial intelligence with superior computational brain power. But we are only just beginning to understand the foundations of human intelligence and consciousness that cannot be captured in an algorithmic formula divorced from the functions of the body and the long evolution of our species and its microbiome.
 
As the celebrated neuroscientist Antonio Damasio argues in a WorldPost interview based on his new book, “The Strange Order of Things,” it is the feelings and emotions, which originated and dwell in that biological terrain, that are constitutive of human intelligence, consciousness and the capacity for cultural creation. In short, a map of the computational mind is not the territory of what it means to be human. [emphasis added]
 
 
 
“Our minds operate in two registers,” Damasio explains. “In one register, we deal with perception, movement, memories, reasoning, verbal languages and mathematical languages. This register needs to be precise and can be easily described in computational terms. This is the world of synaptic signals that is well captured by AI and robotics.”
 
 
“But there is a second register,” he continues, “that pertains to emotions and feelings that describes the state of life in our living body and that does not lend itself easily to a computational account. Current AI and robotics do not address this second register.”
 
For Damasio, the biological mechanisms behind feeling — “what we now call pain and pleasure” — were survival strategies selected and combined in the simple cell organisms of early evolution “when there was no individual suffering or reason.” He calls this process “homeostasis, which aims at the management of a living organism such that it can meet current energy needs and have enough energy in reserve to respond to stress and continue into the future. Homeostasis counters thermodynamic decay.” It is this capacity to not only survive but to thrive going forward that Damasio identifies as “the monitors and arbiters of cultural invention.”
 
“Minds,” concludes Damasio, “are not made by nervous systems alone but rather by nervous systems in cooperation with many other and far older living systems of our body, including metabolic, endocrine, immune and circulatory systems. Nervous systems are late-comers in evolution. They are useful servants of the older life systems. Nervous systems have declared a considerable degree of independence relative to the older systems they serve but they are by no means free of those older systems. They do not stand alone. Unfortunately, conventional conceptions of mind are based on the idea that nervous systems make minds by themselves.”
 
To the extent the intelligent mind is biologically embodied, it is swimming in the vast sea of the human microbiome. As Tobias Rees and Nils Gilman point out, “few are aware of how directly these microbes and their genes affect the functioning of our bodies. The human genome found in the nuclei of our cells contains roughly 20,000 genes, but the microbiome — the sum total of genetic material in the microorganisms that live in and on us — contains as many as 20 million genes, all of which are directly or indirectly interacting with and at times even controlling our genes.”
 
Indeed, researchers at CalTech recently discovered that bacteria found in the guts of mice produce serotonin, a biochemical neurotransmitter that regulates emotions and adult neurogenesis — the formation of new neurons which are the basis for openness and adaptability to outside stimulus and experience.
 
The authors worry that modern-day diets, C-section births and overuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics are degrading the integrity of the microbiome, established over millennia of evolution with unintended consequences for the emotional and physical wellbeing of humans. “The lesson of the human microbiome,” they conclude, “is that it compels us to revise our understanding of ourselves as humans: Microbes are us. In fact, it is impossible to clearly determine where a human being ends and its microbiome begins: there is a quintessential indistinguishability. We humans are not more than mere nature. In fact, we are just that — a piece of nature, deeply interrelated with the microbial environment on which we are utterly contingent.” [emphasis added]

A couple of friends and relatives over the years have commented about their skepticism about the proliferation of C-section births.  Some folks I know regard the frequency with which C-sections are urged upon women to be a whole racket in itself.  I don't think I'll comment on that because it's not something I have any direct stake in but it is interesting to have heard from women I love among family and friends that they have felt over their course of their lives as wives and mothers that a whole lot of the medical industry seems geared foremost toward what's bureaucratically optimal for the industry and not for the woman or her children. 

To put it mildly, a concept like a microbiome as a foundation for artificial intelligence has not been on the table for most sci-fi ruminations on the topic.  Even the original Oshii Ghost in the Shell could only have accounted for it by sheer accident of not addressing it thereby allowing fans of the film to impute it decades later.  But at some point I have to gear up the willpower to finish writing some version of that comparison of the two ghosts in the shell to highlight what's tragicomically off about both films.  Meanwhile, a bit of reading for a weekend. 

on marriage not going away, and on the "cornerstone" to "capstone" praxis about how Americans pursue it

Having been in the Reformed side of things for a while and having spent more than a few years in what many would call the new Calvinist wing (i.e. at Mars Hill) I've seen more than a few laments about how long people are waiting to get married these days.  Mark Driscoll, I am sure, still goes on and on about the social blight of guys not getting married as early as they used to.  It doesn't matter if the financial crash of 2008 may have gutted savings and financial opportunities.  It doesn't matter if the increasing promotion of bachelors degrees and post-secondary education have inflated the value of degrees as costs skyrocket in contexts where jobs for degree holders dwindle and the possibilities for trade work go untouched.  Never mind all that, for a certain nebulously alluded to strata of potentially upwardly mobile middle class to upper class dudes there need to be guys getting married.

I have seen reference to a "plague of singleness" more than a few times in the course of twenty years. 

Socially conservative Christians tend to fixate on the later date for first marriage rather than on the propensity for a majority of people to cohabitate in some context in which a sexual relationship is established.  Or as punkish teenagers could ask, where, exactly, in the Bible does it say that you have to go to a justice of the state and formally get permission to "be married"?  There are some pieces in The Atlantic that have been published over the years that discuss how marriage is probably nowhere near as "on the rocks" as a variety of social pundits have said it is.

The actual title of the following article is not what's in the link, it's "Marriage Has Become a Trophy".

https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/03/incredible-everlasting-institution-marriage/555320/
 
The decline of marriage is upon us. Or, at least, that’s what the zeitgeist would have us believe. In 2010, when Time magazine and the Pew Research Center famously asked Americans whether they thought marriage was becoming obsolete, 39 percent said yes. That was up from 28 percent when Time asked the question in 1978. Also, since 2010, the Census Bureau has reported that married couples have made up less than half of all households; in 1950 they made up 78 percent. Data such as these have led to much collective handwringing about the fate of the embattled institution.

But there is one statistical tidbit that flies in the face of this conventional wisdom: A clear majority of same-sex couples who are living together are now married. Same-sex marriage was illegal in every state until Massachusetts legalized it in 2004, and it did not become legal nationwide until the Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. Two years after that decision, 61 percent of same-sex couples who were sharing a household were married, according to a set of surveys by Gallup. That’s a high take-up rate: Just because same-sex couples are able to marry doesn’t mean that they have to; and yet large numbers have seized the opportunity. (That’s compared with 89 percent of different-sex couples.)

The move toward marriage has not been driven by young gay and lesbian couples rushing to the altar. In both the year before and the year after Obergefell, only one out of seven people whom the Census Bureau classified as in a same-sex marriage was age 30 or younger, according to calculations I’ve done based on the bureau’s American Community Survey. In fact, half of them were age 50 or older. The only way that could have happened, given that same-sex marriage has been legal for less than 15 years, is if large numbers of older same-sex couples who had been together for many years took advantage of the new laws. In other words, changes in state and federal laws seem to have spurred a backlog of committed, medium- to long-term couples to marry.

Why would they choose to do so after living, presumably happily, as cohabiting unmarried partners? In part, they may have married to take advantage of the legal rights and benefits of married couples, such as the ability to submit a joint federal tax return. But the legal issues, important as they are, appear secondary. In a 2013 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 84 percent of LGBT individuals said that “love” was a very important reason to marry, and 71 percent said “companionship” was very important, compared to 46 percent who said that “legal rights and benefits” are very important.

Yet the emphasis on love and companionship is not enough to explain the same-sex marriage boom. Without doubt, most of the middle-aged same-sex couples who have married of late already had love and companionship—otherwise they would not have still been together. So why marry now? Marriage became for them a public marker of their successful union, providing them the opportunity to display their love and companionship to family and friends. One reason, of course, was the desire to claim a right so long denied, but that only further underlines the way in which marriage today signals to the wider community the success of a long-standing relationship.

In this sense, these gay couples were falling right in line with the broader American pattern right now: For many people, regardless of sexual orientation, a wedding is no longer the first step into adulthood that it once was, but, often, the last. It is a celebration of all that two people have already done, unlike a traditional wedding, which was a celebration of what a couple would do in the future. [emphasis added]

Consistent with this shift in meaning, different-sex couples, like the many of the same-sex couples who have married recently, are starting their marriages later in their lives. According to the Census Bureau, the median age at first marriage—the age at which half of all marriages occur—was 27.4 for women and 29.5 for men in 2017. That’s higher than at any time since the Census began keeping records in 1890. It is six years higher than when I got married in 1972 (at the typical age of 24). In my era, a young couple usually got married first, then moved in together, then started their adult roles as workers or homemakers, and then had children. (I scandalized my parents by living with my future wife before I married her.) Now marriage tends to come after most of these markers are attained. [emphasis added]
 
If socially conservative punditry only emphasizes how late to the rite people are going for marriage you'd get the impression that marriage isn't a goal.  Yet the prevalence of gay marriages should disabuse us all of the idea that people somehow don't view marriage as a good to be pursued.  But the "capstone" rather than "cornerstone" view needs to be kept in mind.  And, as anyone who has read any degree of Marxist cultural theorizing should be able to point out, there's also the matter of class and in Anglo-American contexts it's pretty hard to separate class from what's conventionally known as educational attainment.  So ...

The main distinction in marriage patterns today is between Americans who have attained at least a bachelor’s degree and those with less education. The college-educated are more likely to eventually marry, even though they may take longer to get around to it. In addition, nearly nine out of 10 wait until after they marry to have children, whereas a majority of those without college educations have a first child before they marry. Rates of divorce have been dropping across the board since about 1980, but the drop has been steeper for the college-educated. In the mid-20th century, people’s educational level had less impact on when, whether, and for how long they married. Today, marriage is a much more central part of family life among the college educated.

Nevertheless, the last-step view of marriage is common across all educational groups in United States. [emphasis added] And it is being carried to the nth degree in Scandinavia. In Norway and Sweden, a majority of the population marries, but weddings often take place long after a couple starts to have children, or even after all of their children are born. The median age at first marriage in Norway is an astounding 39 for men and 38 for women, according to a recent estimate—six to eight years higher than the median age at first childbirth. In Sweden, one study found that 17 percent of all marriages had occurred after the couple had had two children. Why do they even bother to marry at such a late stage of their unions? Norwegians told researchers that they view marriage as a way to demonstrate love and commitment and to celebrate with relatives and friends the family they have constructed. This is capstone marriage: The wedding is the last brick put in place to finally complete the building of the family.


As for the capstone rather than cornerstone, that's discussed over here, too.
 
The polls show that a growing number of us want our fellow Americans to be able to marry whom they love, regardless of biological sex. Those same polls show that we also want to have the right to leave a miserable marriage as easily as possible. Those aren't inconsistent positions. They reflect the modern sense that marriage is primarily about individual happiness rather than making babies or ensuring communal stability. Everyone should be able to take their chance at the unique set of rewards we imagine that only marriage can offer; everyone should be able to leave if those rewards are not forthcoming.
 
The growing abhorrence of infidelity is linked to this more individualistic view of marriage. Just a few decades ago, divorce was scandalous; if your marriage came to an end you and your spouse were likely to face cruel gossip and painful social ostracism. The fear of the public humiliation that attended divorce kept people in unhappy marriages. That fear is gone, replaced by a growing anxiety about the more private humiliation of sexual betrayal. "I'd rather be left than lied to" is the prevailing sentiment that the polling reveals; it's not a stretch to suggest that the reverse would have been true just a few decades ago.

As Karen Swallow Prior wrote here at The Atlantic in March, young people are marrying later because they see marriage as a "capstone" to a well-ordered life rather than a "cornerstone" upon which to build. Whatever the wisdom of delaying first marriage for the sake of a richer set of life experiences as a singleton, there's little doubt that the "cornerstone" model builds in an expectation of difficulty that the "capstone" paradigm doesn't.

We expect couples who marry young to "struggle"—a common euphemism that encompasses everything from fights over money (of which there is almost invariably not enough) to extramarital flirtations and affairs. The cornerstone model presumes, optimistically, that men and women are transformed for the better by sticking it out through the "tough times" that everyone concedes will attend the marriage of the young, the poor, and the naïve. The expectation of struggle doesn't condone infidelity so much as it concedes its near-inevitability.

The "capstone" model presumes, as one of my friends puts it, that you only should get married "after you've got your shit together." Capstoners believe that marriage is something you enter into only after you've finished sowing your proverbial oats—and come into possession of the financial, emotional, and professional sophistication you'll need to blend your life with another person without becoming dangerously dependent upon them. The capstone model is much less forgiving of sexual betrayal because it presumes that those who finally get around to marrying should be mature enough to be both self-regulating and scrupulously honest. The increased unacceptability of adultery is linked to the rising age of first marriages. The evidence suggests, however, that the capstoners are more than a little naïve if they imagine that a rich set of premarital life experiences will serve as an inoculation against infidelity.  [emphasis added]

It may just be that we can move the naivete from one domain to another about marriage as a social institution and interpersonal relationship but that we can't remove it from ourselves. 

 
The same Gallup poll that found near-unanimous disapproval of cheating also found rising acceptance of many other non-traditional, consensual sexual relationships. The new ethical consensus that you can do whatever you like as long as you're not hurting anyone—and as long as you're being rigorously candid—reflects a thoroughly modern mix of tolerance and puritanical censoriousness. We've become more willing to embrace diverse models of sexual self-expression even as we've become ever more intolerant of hypocrisy and the human frailty that makes hypocrisy almost inevitable.

A Google search for "ethical non-monogamy" returns plenty of results about polyamory and open marriage. It also brings up sex columnist Dan Savage's notion of "monogamish" relationships, in which partners pledge enduring emotional commitment while enjoying "flings, affairs, three-ways, and swinging experiences." Even the monogamish life, however, is predicated on one key rule: telling the truth. As Savage argues persuasively, ethical non-monogamy can certainly lead to happiness. But non-monogamy and infidelity aren't synonyms—only the latter signifies betrayal. [emphasis added] For non-monogamy's growing number of advocates, total candor is the non-negotiable admission price to liberation; "ethical dishonesty" remains an oxymoron.


As has been discussed here over the years a few times, socially conservative Christian pundits who fixate on the lateness to the marriage game dynamic seem to be skipping altogether past questions of how and why people wait longer and longer to get married.  The idea that marriage has shifted from a "cornerstone" to "capstone" paradigm for socioeconomic reasons and that the more traditionalist approach to marriage is more typical of middle and upper class than lower class seems to be off the table. 

As Mark Driscoll made the rounds on the conference and interview circuit in the Christian media scene in the wake of his resignation he showed that he's still eager to talk about how he wants to compel the young men to grow up. 

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2015/06/29/hillsongs-brian-houston-interviewed-mark-and-grace-driscoll-after-all/

http://wp.production.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/files/2015/06/DriscollHillsong.mp4

03.00ish
I've made a lot of mistakes and one of them was going too fast. There's the Lord's calling and there's the Lord's timing and I should have waited longer. I should have been under godly spiritual authority, for Grace and I to be under a godly couple, that was [a] senior pastor, so that we could learn and grow. I, I, my character was not caught up with my gifting and I did start to young. And I believe God called us to start the church and he was very, very, very gracious to us, uh, but had I to do it over again I would not look at a 25-year old and say, "Do what I did." :


03:57ish
... We went into the urban core and we felt, specifically, called to go after young, college-educated males. That was really my heart. I wanted everybody to meet Jesus but I felt particularly if we were gonna make in the city and the legacy of families and, you know, the way that women and children and culture treated, that getting young men to love Jesus would be paramount. [emphasis added] So that was really the focus and I didn't think the church would amount to much. The first three years we didn't collect a salary; it was very small; we met at night; we moved a lot because we kept losing our rental location; the offices were in our house, so it wasn't a big deal and we didn't anticipate that it would become what it ultimately did.


37:26
... young men aren't going to church. Young men aren't going to college. Young men aren't marrying women. Young men are not raising their children and I have such a deep burden and passion to see men--you know, 1 Corinthians 13--I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I acted like a child. When I became a man I put childish ways behind me--I want, I want to compel young men to grow up, to take responsibility. And sometimes, in doing that, I have communicated that in a way that demeans women and that's not helpful and that's not right. In the grace of God I need to repent and be better about that  but I still want, I mean no one would say young men are, in the Western world, highly impressive and we're all encouraged. There's a lot of work to be done. [emphasis added]


And so I regret the times that I have not communicated in such a way that, in trying to compel the men up it seemed like I was pushing the women down and that's my fault.

This is "cornerstone" boilerplate and in an economic and cultural context in which a whole lot of Americans have moved to the "capstone" paradigm, to the point where it's taken as axiomatic by at least a couple of authors at The Atlantic, it doesn't seem unfair to ask why a social pundit like Mark Driscoll can't account for that in his bromides for bros.  In the double standardized realm of tests of character it's hard to see how Mark Driscoll is ideally situated in the wake of his controversies about plagiarism and Result Source and non-disclosure agreements and resigning in the wake of a restorative disciplinary process he claimed he initiated that a guy like Mark Driscoll is really in any position to talk, even on the basis of his own previously stated ideals, about how he wants to "compel young men to grow up, to take responsibility."

If that's what he wants then he may have to go about doing that the way just about any parent does, leading by example and not just precept. 

Now there could be a few things said about the dangers and risks of a "capstone" approach to marriage but those would involve criticisms of cultural standards of consumption and issues of class and caste.  Socially conservative Anglo-American Christians can lament the "capstone" approach but they will also have to more directly address how many of the real and perceived problems with a "capstone" praxis highlight the ways in which the "cornerstone" theory and praxis presuppose the power of the state to legitimize or delegitimize a set of practices that are decreasingly manifest in the less educated strata of American society.  If the vehement disapproval of infidelity even within a "capstone" cultural context is anything to go by people get that adultery is a terrible betrayal whether there's an official marriage license or not. 

Since the second article invoked Dan Savage I might suggest that one of the points at which we can step back and consider where "we" are at is that it has even been possible for grandstanding pundits like Dan Savage and Mark Driscoll to have gained any cultural currency to begin with.