A minority view

“Truth in advertising” isn’t good enough. We also need honesty and candour. The more familiar one becomes with products one is using, the more clearly this can be seen. Love also comes into the calculus. Regardless what they claim, do the makers actually love what they are doing? This will show in their works. Are their staff loyal, and proud of what they make, or the service they provide? Have they that joy in craft which lifts their occupation from the contemptible towards the noble?

Or are they only working for a buck, quick to cut corners to improve their margins, in a market that cares only for price?

Shoddy dollar-store goods (and like services) are what we think fit for the poor, because the poor, to us (the “middle class” and upward), are of little value, or none. They are defined by income, which is ludicrous. Often they think of themselves in the same way, preferring quantity to quality. They fill their high-rise hovels with cheap stuff, having surrendered their minds to advertising. The alternative would be to live simply. What you can’t afford, you do without, substituting not with an inferior pastiche, but by your own wit and labour. It is a moral imperative not to live beyond your means; and every penny saved on buying garbage contributes to that good end.

I am taking a position commonly dismissed, even mocked, as “naïve,” but I am taking it knowingly. The opposite in this instance is “cynical.” A world full of tawdry junk, is taken to be inevitable. To resist moral and aesthetic laxity is foolish to the crowd. The garbage-makers puff themselves with an inverted moral code. They claim to side with “the people” against “the elite.” They put on inverted airs. Anything done properly and joyfully is considered to be niche-market, for the hoity-toity types, and thus “impractical” for the masses. Craftsmanship itself is condemned as an imposture.

In traditional societies the “open markets” our economists defend were understood well enough, but usually rejected. The trade guild would enforce standards. These would not be conceived as “minimum standards,” such as a bureaucracy might enforce, but as essential standards. The product that fails to measure up is not put on sale. Rather, it must be destroyed, and be seen to be destroyed. The baker who sells stale bread at half price is not celebrated as a friend of the poor. Rather he is placed in a basket, and dipped in the pond, to freshen him up a bit.

The guild would of course look out for the interests of its members, but had not yet been reduced to a blackmailing racket, as modern trades union have become. It would restrict competition by establishing “fair prices,” to be neither exceeded nor undercut. The focus was upon the goods themselves, and the reputation of the trade. Modern “individualism” rejects this approach. The right to lie, cheat, and steal, is accepted as a fundamental liberty. Discipline is received as arbitrary punishment, and analysis reduced to whose side you are on.

My own, traditional, belief, is that morality and aesthetics are intertwined. Men are shaped by heredity, but also by environment. The making things ugly is an evil, because it damages the souls of men. Conversely, bad or obtuse moral principles are ugly in themselves. The notion that all work should be judged by cost-benefit in terms of money alone, is something every decent man must condemn.

This has nothing to do with government regulation. Instead, it has to do with custom, which governs through every human heart, and is founded not in legislation but in faith, reason, family and religion. It can develop only organically, over time, and only in a location; it will never benefit by abstract intervention, from the top, down. It actually requires subsidiarity: to be organized from the bottom, up. And from bottom to top, not agenda-driven lawmakers — power-hungry tyrants, impatient with the good, the true, the beautiful. Rather, the scintillating grace, of God.