Monday, November 11, 2013

I, Philistine

philistine: a person who is hostile or indifferent to culture and the arts, or who has no understanding of them

It is not that I am either hostile or indifferent to culture and the arts, but I do tend to have far less understanding of them than I should. I have always had the ability to stand apart from myself and   study what I see with, I hope, objectivity. I have found that, overall, my knowledge is like a very large but very shallow lake. To paraphrase an old song lyric, I know a little bit about a lot of things, but I don’t know enough about much about almost anything.

Last night I went with my friend Gary to a performance of the really fine DePaul University orchestra. I always enjoy hearing them play. The program consisted of  William Walton's Capriccio Burlesco  and Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, neither of which I was familiar with. Unfortunately, when it comes to classical music, I have a requirement that one instrument must be played in order for me to appreciate it: my heartstrings. If my heart is not somehow involved in the performance, I am unmoved, and if I am unmoved, I am unable to appreciate it to the degree I know I should and probably would if I knew more about musical composition. My simple criterion for enjoying any piece of music is whether I can, after hearing it, remember and hum all or even parts of it?

I can with Tchaikovsky (I can hum pretty much his entire repertoire, and he is the ultimate virtuoso of the heartstrings), and Wagner, and a number of other composers. I expect flow and logical-to-me progression, and while the vast majority of major musical works obviously have them, the more technically constructed/musically complex the work, the less my ability to appreciate it fully tends to be.

Being a philistine encompasses much more than culture and the arts. I am a philistine in expecting everyone to like or dislike the things I like or dislike to the degree that I like or dislike them, and in being automatically and unfairly dismissive of those who do not see things in the same way I do.

My attitudes toward organized sports is an excellent example of my personal philistinism. I simply do not understand organized sports and people’s to-me-totally-mystifying addiction to them, and I suspect that I resent those who do understand and appreciate them simply because I don’t. I never have, despite any number of half-hearted attempts, managed either to figure out what the hell was going on, or to care when it is explained to me.

Perhaps my most shameful form of philistinism can be found in my attitudes toward heterosexuality, though I must hasten to  point out that my antipathy to the state of heterosexuality does not extend to the nine out of ten individuals who are, through no fault of their own, heterosexual. My prejudice is based equally upon my sincere inability to understand what makes heterosexuals “tick” and my anger and resentment at having lived my life being considered, in the eyes of the heterosexual majority, as something of a lesser species.

I should also point out that there is also a considerable difference between being an internalized philistine, which I consider myself to be, and an externalized philistine, whose actions can directly and all too often negatively impact the lives of others.

However, not wanting to be a philistine and not being one are two different things and, in my case at least, rooted in my admitted unwillingness to exert the time and effort necessary to change.

As that wise philosopher Popeye so sagely put it, “I yam what I yam.”

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

I am perhaps like you in that if I can hum the tune because it struck something inside me (your aforementioned heartstrings), then I appreciate it. That same analogy can be used elsewhere in life since much in life carries its own tune, some of which I enjoy and some I don't.

On the subject of heterosexuality and homosexuality, I've simplified it to someone preferring a flavor of ice cream. If I can understand why I like vanilla, then I can understand someone else who likes butter pecan. What I don't understand is why they can't understand why I like vanilla.