Debunking TangoVoice’s leftist-traditionalist talking points

TangoVoice’s arguments in response to my comments on their post The Long Term Impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic on Tango are all easy to debunk and end up proving my point.

TV: “Seeing tango culture through the bifurcating lens of political ‘left’ versus ‘right’ is an oversimplification. There are multiple factors affecting the historical course of tango, and few of them can be simplified into binary variables. Whereas political beliefs may be correlated with some aspects of tango, these are more likely to be associated outcomes than causal influences.”

Your arguments are mostly if not all leftist talking points, so the dichotomy is correct.

TV: “To seek the causes of variation in tango expression, it would be wiser to identify the factors that are most highly correlated with this variation. Age appears to be the demographic variable most highly correlated with differences among tango dancers in their beliefs and expression.”

Of course, no one would disagree that as people get older they become politically more conservative, eg., because they realise that there is no such thing as a free lunch, that they don’t like paying taxes, and also they might start having their children and start seeing the foolishness of youth. So I might agree with you that this would not matter if with age people become more conservative and there are still traditions being maintained.

But, if a young person, under the influence of “progressive” values (in schools and the media) gets whole body tatoos, smokes weed or worse, or gets a sex change, instead of getting married engages in homosexuality, etc. Well, traditionally people went to church when they were young, then rebelled, but then had something to go back to. What we have now is that people increasingly grow up with no religion at home, become indoctrinated in secular school into leftism, destroy their body with tatoos, drugs and poor lifestyle, get surgeries and engage in alternative relationships. Boys are discouraged from being masculine, and girls are discouraged from being feminine. They don’t learn the necessary things.

That’s very difficult to come back from.men with beards | Tumblr

If these people then live in a bubble in which traditional relationships, dancing etc. is looked down upon, then they become like those 40 year old hipsters with whole body tatoos and a skateboard. They’re middle aged teenagers. This is what I see in these hipster milongas in BA. Their disdainful cynical hipster attitude is tattoed on their brain.

The other thing is, when I look at people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, these are old people who apparently believe in fairytales, like money grows on trees. It’s as if the Soviet Union never existed. I grew up under the Soviet system and still remember the empty supermarket shelves, the lines for food, and food rationing. So apparently old people do not necessarily grow wiser.

TV: “There is also some degree of discomfort with physical intimacy, possibly because sexual desire (or the ability to control it) is higher at younger ages.”

First, this is such a myth. I think that it is no easier for old people to dance closely than for young people. I remember as a teenager on a summer camp dancing those “slow dances” to 10CC “I’m not in love” with a girl. Yeah, it was intimate, but it did not eventuate in any sexual interaction. My central Eurpean culture is fairly conservative but it encourages social dancing. It is only in the contemporary highly sexualised “liberal” culture that everything is about sex (and in the end screws up sex).

Later, in my 20s I did Contact Improvisation, and everyone had to overcome personal discomfort but in the end it was totally non-sexual and I contacted with men and women. It’s always more “romantic” dancing with women, but it’s rarely sexual in the sense that it’s not particularly arousing.

On the other hand, I would say that older people who have not done any physical contact type dancing in their younger years have a harder time doing “close embrace” dancing.

Second, you can dance traditional tango with some separation between the dancers without doing all of the figures.

Third, I’m not against young dancers doing performance figures, only not at milongas, or at least not on a packed dancefloor. If the teaching is right then people know the difference. But “liberal” attitudes resist this sort of teaching, because it’s the constant mantra about “self-expression” and “personal preference”, and also the consumerism. People just don’t listen, and teachers just don’t teach the right attitudes.

TV: “There is no rationale other than prejudice for denying homosexual expression of intimacy at milongas. There is no reason to deny same or ‘reverse role’ (women leading, men following) partnerships of any kind, as long as the couples in these historically novel roles comply with milonga traditions of respect for the space of other couples on the dance floor and avoid exhibitionism.”

This has nothing to do with “traditional” tango and it just proves my point. The left is totalitarian and so we all have to endure transgenders and homosexuals everywhere whether we like it or not.

TV: “Totalitarianism is what is occurring in North Korea or what occurred in the former Soviet Union. Americans who cry ‘totalitarianism’ when asked to make sacrifices for public safety have no idea what real totalitarianism is.”

I grew up under the Soviet system so I do know what totalitarianism is. The US (or the leftist parts of it) is already North Korea and Soviet union: police state, lines for food, fear, propaganda. You’re the one who doesn’t know what you’re talking about and are spreading misinformation. When you’re forced to take your vaccine and carry a vaccination passport you will know exactly what Soviet Union was like. But it sounds like you might like it. Well I don’t and I think the left and the right are going to have to separate into different territories and that’s where it’s heading.

Why leftism is an illiberal winner takes all system

There are two strategies to maintaining traditional practices. One strategy is to simply affirm those practices as having intrinsic value and so to teach them to the young, and maintain them as worthy of investment by the community. Another strategy is to say that these practices are “liberating”, that the goal of society is the humanist goal to liberate man from the oppressive status quo. On this view, the goal of social practices is to disestablish the status quo. Then the question for any practice is whether it’s a marker of an oppressive established order or whether it’s a practice that is “therapeutic” and therefore “liberating”.

In order to view practices as liberating one needs to identify an established order which is defined in terms of those with power and those without power, those who are oppressed and those who are oppressors. In other words, you need to see the world in terms of a victimhood stack. If A is a victim than there must be a B who is a victimiser. Moreover, these are not merely individuals but groups. The system must be defined in terms of group identities where all members of group A are victims and all members of group B are oppressors. All women are victims of domestic violence and sexual predation, and all men are perpetrators of these things. Thus, we notice that in the leftist media the cases that confirm this scheme are always highlighted and cause outrage, whereas cases that contradict it are always either ignored, under-reported or explained away.

The human rights victimhood stack is a totalitarian scheme, however, because it’s a fight for power. The victims at the top of the victimhood stack cannot share power with the lower level victims. All right to complain and rule, to get the maximum resources, etc. must accrue to them first and foremost, such that laws are enacted or administered in a way that favours them at the expense not only of the people who are the arch-oppressors, namely, heterosexual white men, but also all the other victims below them. If a heterosexual white man wants to get out of his predicament and gain victimhood points he would ideally become a gender-fluid, pronoun-fluid, even species-fluid individual like Steph Loehr, the Twitch “Safety Advisory Council” member who has the power to decide what people are or are not allowed to say on their platform. This individual would be highly unlikely gain such power if he/she/it/fill in the blank was just a regular bloke drinking beers down at the local with his mates on Fridays.

The leftist victimhood stack strategy requires that in order to maintain a tradition you need to prove that it is a practice of some oppressed group, in particular that this group is oppressed by straight white men (who are sexually repressed, see TangoVoice’s real agenda) who are not apologetic about being straight white men. This strategy, however, requires this protected group to tolerate the other protected groups. But this assumes that this protected group can coexist with the other oppressed groups, and claim a separate “safe space” for themselves.

What we find in practice, however, is that claiming such a safe space inevitably ends up being oppressive to (ie., impinging on the “human rights” of) some other protected group. Thus, one finds in the governmental schooling system that some protected ethnic/religious groups conflict with other protected sexual minority groups. We often find that sexual minority groups are always toward the top of the victimhood pyramid and despite their small numbers they tend to conflict with all the other protected minorities. Women are clear about their own victimisation by straight white men (which is just taken for granted) but they are less clear about their fellow victims: non-white straight men, white homosexual men, religious minorities that actually oppress women, and women born with male genitalia and high levels of testosterone, etc.

The result of the leftist strategy is that you are now engaged in a battle in which, while the putative enemy, straight white men, were very clearly defined, the other contestants for “protection” (ie., special privileges) are a constantly moving target. Faced with straight white men, women, ethnic and sexual minorities have a clear place in the victimhood olympics. But when straight white men move aside, hunker down, give way, let everyone “lean in”, apologise profusely for their history of oppressive behaviour, they’re then faced with each other and that’s a much more complicated situation.

The end result of the cluster you-know-what that ensues is that, unable to fall back on the old affirmation of tradition, which is the arch-evil in the leftist mindset, they opt for consumerism. Exhausted by the battle of victimhood olympics, they have no choice but to compete in the marketplace. However, in this case the marketplace is no longer tempered by traditionalist scruples but is instead defined in terms of accessibility. In the end, it seems that straight white leftists somehow inevitably end up at the helm of such enterprises, having become fluent in the virtue-signalling woke apologetics that this requires. They are at the bottom of the victimhood stack, but they have the numbers and they’re really good at apologising to the oppressed minorities. In the end, the result is that white women end up dominating white men who do all the work and then let her “lean in” and take it from him.

This is a totalitarian political system that tolerates no diversity. It is administered from identifiable places by identifiable people, and it succeeds in controlling all the media and means of communication. It seems to everyone that the situation is the result of too much free market, when in reality the market is not free at all, because you will find that the moment you express certain ideas or thoughts, in particular, the moment you affirm traditional culture as having intrinsic value, you get crushed. There is total and persistent opposition to that idea. On the other hand, once you opt for the oppression olympics the end result is always and everywhere the same, the ideology of feminism prevails and European men are relegated to the back of the line.

The pandemic: left totalitarianism and acceleration

It seems that the current pandemic is a game changing event on many fronts. It is unclear to what extent it is an actual health crisis or a simulacrum of one. But however we judge the actual severity of the disease, the putative crisis seems to be a catalyst for profound social transformation. What is clear is the radical difference in the way that the left and the right are responding to the perceived threat. We see in full view how the left wants everyone to stay at home and “social distance”, and how it is profoundly anti-democratic and totalitarian.

No one doubts that the flu has unfortunate consequences for the very old, the frail, and those in poor health. It is less clear whether it is any worse than the seasonal flu we’ve seen in previous years, and there is some evidence that it is not. But the perception of the disease has caused such paranoid, over-the-top totalitarian response in leftist governments that it may well have radical and distastarous consequences on social practices like tango.

Now some people on the right advocate “accelerationism”. They argue that the right should let the left get their way and “watch society collapse”. That would mean that loss of traditional milongas due to the loss of the older dancers who have maintained them would make clear what a sham all the hipster neo-tango dancing is and would turn people against the left.

So-called “liberals” want to hold onto the idea that the left can maintain traditional tango. But I think that they can’t. Once you opt for egalitarianism and feminism traditional tango is on the way out. The young are being indoctrinated in statist camps to hate anything to do with tradition and to instead to go skateboarding and get whole body tatoos. Again, the pandemic is showing what a totally unnecessary farce the so-called “education” system is and this gives us hope that people will stop going to school altogether.

A case in point is Montevideo where I’m spending my pandemic, and one of the places where tango originated. It’s a liberal utopia with plenty of “centros de la mujer”. I already got my “anti-machismo” lecture from a woman I met at a milonga. There are no traditional milongas here at all. While the DJ-ing is very acceptable, all traditional tango dancers have to share the floor with neotango dancers. That is likely the future of Buenos Aires after the pandemic. Then people will start seeing why leftism is really the end of traditional tango dancing and that would be a positive consequence of this imaginary crisis.

Post Scriptum

It is quite possible that Covid19 is really just another weapon in an ongoing war that includes also feminism and antiracism. If so, then feminists and antiracists might reconsider their position given that there won’t be any tango to decolonise if you’re permanently required to social distance.

 

Postmodernism and consumerism

 

Postmodernism and “patriarchy”

The contemporary tango scene is Argentine tango taken out of its original historical context of the development of European culture, and especially European music. This culture is characterised by a specific set of cultural values, beliefs and attitudes, such as sociality and beauty. These values have been shed, debunked and deconstructed since mid-20th century as markers of reaction, conservatism, oppression, kitsch, patriarchy, etc.

The result is that these values no longer function to provide a basis of criticism and justification for cultural practices in the context of the new postmodern world characterised by individualism, subjectivism, relativism and progressivism. Progressive postmodernism aims to undermine the priority and legitimacy of any basic, foundational values that characterise Western culture and views them as inherently oppressive. They are viewed as merely the preferences of a particular “privileged” group, typically the “dead white males” which happened to be dominant. As such they have no more legitimacy than the cultures of “living marginalised/oppressed peoples”.

The problem for tango is that the Western or European cultural canon functioned as a bulwark against he onslaught of the market, consumerism and materialism. In the West culture has acquired the status of an “autonomous realm” that is beyond mere utility, a realm of ultimate, authentic or final values or ends that gives respite from the market. By deligitimizing European culture as a realm of authentic values postmodernism succeeds to blur the line between culture and the market, between ultimate and utilitarian values. As a result, the market intrudes into culture and takes over every realm of life. Losing the critical function of culture means that the market and herd behaviour decide the direction of commodified culture.

This new ideology of Political Correctness is channeled through progressive education in government schools and universities. It explains the wide disparity between how tango is practiced in Buenos Aires and elsewhere. The experience of tango will be proportional to the degree to which a given location is subject to the ideology of postmodernism, progressivism and political correctness. Buenos Aires itself is subject to these ideological forces and it is quite possible that the tradition will not be able to withstand the onslaught of these forces even there, and this is why it is important to understand precisely what is at stake.

Beauty and meaning

Postmodernism critiques and devalues beauty. It claims that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, a subjective and relative matter, and that there are not absolute judgements to be made. The waterfall is beautiful only if it arouses positive feelings in me. It then moves to the claim that since beauty is not an absolute it cannot be an ultimate value. It places all beauty in the realm of kitsch (or false feeling) unless it can be shown as a product of an immediate and hence an ‘authentic’ impulse. Authenticity is therefore removed from the realm of established art and placed in the realm of personal, individual expression, current feeling. Consequently, the postmodern approach to dancing emphasises lack of technique and emphasis on immediacy and primitive impulse and transgression.

My goal is to recover the traditional or classical view that beauty is a property of the object that is said to be beautiful. The beauty of the waterfall is a property of the waterfall itself and is independent of my experience of it. Also, beauty is not merely experienced but is discovered by way of a comparative method whereby we uncover the features that render an object beautiful or not. Finally, I hold that beauty is the realm of ultimate, authentic values that are beyond the realm of market utility and as such provide us with a foundation of aesthetic judgement that is not merely that which is useful or temporarily pleasant, and thus beyond mere fancy or impulse. Beauty liberates us not by way of “transgression” or abolishing of “the patriarchy”, but by way of transcendance to a higher realm beyond merely utilitarian values.

Authenticity, beauty and kitsch

The ideology of political correctness views authenticity in terms of either the spontaneous culture of a “marginalised group”, or else in terms of transgression against the norms of “the patriarchy”, which is just a slanderous code term for Western European culture. “Marginalised” cultures are viewed in opposition to the aesthetic norms of the mainstream art tradition.

Contemporary art on display in major art galleries approved by the academy in any large city rejects the beauty that has been the focus mainstream artistic tradition. It views the latter as culminating in reproducable kitsch. I agree Roger Scruton in the view that contemporary art ends up producing art objects that are “novel” and “interesting” but in the end become repetative kitsch themselves. Likewise, the interest in the spontenous culture of ‘marginalised’ groups (Hip Hop, Latin dances, etc.) cannot transcend the status of a merely touristic interest that renders these objects kitsch.

Therefore, I hold that the postmodern strategy cannot overcome the problem of kitsch. I follow Roger Scruton in the view that it is impossible to experience authentic beauty unless we take the position that some objects have the status of sacred or transcendent objects, that allow us to transcend the everyday reality, and that they are final, and not merely instrumental, and that they are vehicles for creating meaning in life. By contrast, the objects created by politically correct cultural academia as well as the market fail to provide meaning and leave us empty and dissatisfied once the interest or utility has been exhausted.

Historical context: subjectivism and expression

The politically correct postmodernist ideology leads to an anthropological approach to social practices. Thus, writers and commentators typically either ask what a certain arbitrarily defined group of people (in this case so-called “milongueros” in Buenos Aires) do. Alternatively, they take a “phenomenological” approach, describing their experiences and feelings in learning and dancing tango.

These methodological approaches miss the fact that tango as a dance and a music has a history that is rooted in the European tradition of art that going back hundreds of years. Without understanding this history, the anthroplogy and phenomenology lacks the context necessary to provide real understanding, and renders these things as in a vacuum, sui generis, emerging out of nowhere and without any specific place in our cultural genesis. It fits in with the relativism and subjectivism but in the end leaves us confused and ungrounded.

The claim is not that the anthropological and phenomenological approaches have no place, but that they must be located in a historical context. Progressives reject the study of history on the grounds that it is merely the story of “dead white males”, and slander European history as nothing more than the story of colonialism and oppression.
Shedding a proper historical context, anthroplogy and phenomenology become relativistic.

If we consider the proper historical context of Latin music and dance generally, and tango specifically, we find that these practices have their origins in English country dances, subsequently spreading in Europe as “contradanza”, and that the specifically latin music emerged in Cuba, subsequently termed “Habanera”. This historical context can provide us with an understanding that can inform our understanding of tango music and of tango dancing as a social practice, other than as merely in terms of individual and subjective experience.

Subjectivism and relativism tend to view cultural forms as a matter of transgressive expression, that is, loss of inhibition and rebelliousness. Anthropological texts on dance and music written by progressive sociologists always emphasise these transgressive and non-conformist aspects, usually as a matter of imaginative interpretation rather than any sort of objective fact. Postmodern dance always rejects strictures of classical beauty and emphasises dance as an expressive form in the sense of “self-expression”, “transgression” or loss of inhibition of impulse.

However, if we take a historical approach and view tango as continuous with Contradanza and Habanera it is more likely that dancing is essentially a social practice rather than an individual and expressive one, in which one transcends one’s individuality. It is pretty clear that viewing tango as a self-expressive practice is incompatible with viewing it as a social one, the two tend to be in tension with each other.

Learning and dancing tango ss a matter of conforming or fitting in with the music, one’s partner and other dancers. This is quite different than learning it with attitude that it is a stimulus to “personal self-expression”. There is expression, namely, in the music. The music expresses certain feelings and emotions. When we dance we express those feelings, identifying with them. Only in this way are we able to participate in the practice together with, and not against, other people, when we share the feelings expressed in the music with the others.

Choreography and commodification

Undermining art as an autonomous realm opens up practices like tango to commodification. The commodified dance market requires that dance teachers package their dance product in terms of ‘pretty’ or ‘cool’ choreographed steps and patterns or routines. Dance classes are fronted by teachers who demonstrate the routine to the students who then attempt to perform it themselves.

Learning is assumed to be linear, progressing from simple steps to complex routines. At an intermediate level students progress to workshops that focus on ‘technique’, typically meaning the learning of adornments, or perhaps ‘musicality’, where they typically they will learn a pattern tailor made to a particular type of tango music. The focus on choreography and the assumption of linear progress of steps has the result that learners focus on the feet and neglect their posture, embrace and the music. These are always compromised for the sake of complex step patterns.

An alternative to this is to stick to walking and some basic patterns and focus on the embrace, posture and music. The steps, rather than being markers of mastery, are viewed as variations on walking while in the embrace, with good posture, and while listening to the music. From this perspective, set choreographed patterns are not viewed as the product itself but rather as a means towards improvised dancing whereby the steps naturally emerge out of variations on walking.

Proposal for an alternative tango nomenclature: Tango Dramático, Tango Romántico y Tango Expresivo

The globalized tango scene is reaching new heights of marketing fervour. Systems have been set up with Facebook groups and pages, professionally photoshopped posters for marathons and DJ lineups complete with the DJ’s bios and face pics. All this marketing is primarily in the service of the organisers because in the end the events are the same in terms of the important things: the ambience, the DJ-ing and the dancing. These are consistently dissatisfying even as the marketing gets louder and more professional. Marketing is really the only thing that is improving in the tango world, and as always, it only serves to promote vapid consumerism and to confuse rather than to help in decisionmaking or to educate.

I believe that a significant source of the problem is that the designations Salon Style Tango, Tango Milonguero and Tango Nuevo are no longer useful. The nomenclature needs to reflect the orientation of the dancers, the value that they extract from the event, and the values that the people attending the event hold. What do the categories “salon”, “milonguero”, “traditional” and “nuevo” tell us? Not that much, in large measure because these words lack connotations that would quickly conjure up images and inform whether this is something that one might find appealing.

81CP1j-zprL._SL1500_For example, the words “blue”, “cool” are associated with the jazz of Miles Davis and jazz musicians of that era. Later, Herbie Hancock initiated “funk” jazz which is associated with words like “groove”, “hip” (as in Hip Hop which is derived from Funk Jazz), and “beat”. These words provide information as to what to expect from this type of music: one is bluesy but cool, so that it’s something listen and relax to (hence “chill out” to but this is a more recent term). The other has a danceable (funky, groovy) beat. We use words to describe the music and the type of attitude that would be associated with it. It gives us an image of the personal style and so tells you whether this is something that would suit your particular individual or personal style, and so whether it is something that you could get into.

The problem is that the words “salon”, “milonguero”, “traditional” or “nuevo” don’t really do the job in tango dancing that the words “blue”, “cool”, “groovy” or “beat” do in relation to jazz. They are not descriptive or evocative enough as adjectives so that one cannot really conjure up an image without getting more information in the form of a lengthy verbal explanation. But if the designating word does not generate an emotional, vivid picture, and you need to use many more words to get the idea across then that word does not function to help in deciding, educating and persuading. The result is that marketing takes on that function with imagery of its own, for its own purposes of producing ever more meaningless consumable entertainments.

Now, there are readily available words that do in fact function to get across the ideas that are normally, albeit inefficiently, contained in “salon”, “milonguero”, “traditional” and “nuevo”. We normally try to express the emotional colouring of these designations using certain adjectives. If a person asks me what sort of music and style one finds in a Salon Style Tango milonga I would say that the music is dramatic. It’s usually quite loud and seems to aim at creating a sense of excitement and drama. This is reflected by the style of dancing, with an open embrace and somewhat exaggerated movements. I often hear that if the music being played is at a lower volume and is more traditional and laid back these people get bored and demand something louder and more exciting. They seem to always crave more of those dramatic peaks more typical in non-traditional (post-1950s music hall) recordings and always at an uncomfortably high volume (eg., you could not have a conversation at such volume without shouting).

Tango Nuevo on the other hand seems to me to be expressive, which is similar to the dramatic aspect of Salon Style Tango but there is even more use of outer space in the service of expressive and fluid movement. They seem to want move their arms and legs in wide circles in a manner that seems best described as expressive and outward. They usually emphasise the freedom to creatively explore possibilities and express one’s individual preferences, and to be open to possibilities and novelty.

Finally, if a person asks me to characterise Tango Estilo Milonguero I would say that it is interested in the romantic aspect of tango music expressed in a more introspective appraoch to dancing. Romance connotes a more receptive, introspective attitude that connects to the sense of longing and sadness in the music. The emphasis on conformity to tradition seems to be misunderstood. The sense of romance that is conveyed in Golden Era tango music can only be appreciated through a sense of quiet and stillness. As Roger Scruton points out, the first step in learning to listen is to learn to appreciate silence. The cultivation of the inner response to the subtle moments demand quiteness and inwardness. Unlike drama or expression, romance demands focused listening and the feeling to be shared in a more inward manner, as it were, as lovers might share a beautiful moment (a sunset, a moon) silently, holding hands.

I accept that perhaps these might not be the connotations that you make, and I am not claiming that these adjectives cannot be applied to all of the different styles. Just as Miles Davies’ jazz can be both cool and groovy, Salon Style Tango can be dramatic, expressive and romantic at the same time. The point is not to draw exclusive categories but to indicate the main focus and value that the participants attach to the event and the activity, what they prioritise. It seems to me that Salon Style Tango dancers prioritise a sense of drama, and that romance or self-expression are really just side dishes for them if one judges by the type and volume of the music that is demanded at those events and the manner of their movement. When Tango Estilo Milonguero people emphasise feeling in tango it seems to me that they are talking about the sense of romance that Golden Era Music always contains and that needs to be inwardly cultivated. When Tango Nuevo people prioritise individuality, creativity, freedom and improvisation it seems to me that their primary interest can be summarised as the pursuit of self-expression.

So I submit that the designations Dramatic Tango, Romantic Tango and Expressive Tango, or Tango Dramático, Tango Romántico and Tango Expresivo, designate much more effectively the different approaches to tango in terms of the dancing, music and ambiance. It expresses more effectively what sort of music the DJ is likely to select, his or her approach to the music set up (music files, player, DAC, speakers, filters and volume), the manner of promotion and event type (encuentro vs marathon), and the manner of dancing. The currently used designations simply do not provide useful information as to what type of teaching, organising and DJ-ing one can expect, and tend to lead to confusion and dissatisfaction among many dancers.