The story of western civilization has been one of fairly constant refinement toward such distant ideals as beauty, quality, craft, subtlety, transcendence. But over the past few decades the liberalization of culture– which certainly focuses on freer expression– has been accompanied by a disappearance of the guiding influence of taste. The rot that so widely disgusts us in politics today spreads to journalism, the arts and even science. Spectacle drowns substance. For instance porn has not only become mainstream, it's now become Big Business! Major corporations that are getting rich on porn are still quiet about it, but soon there'll be no adults left in the room to tell them to knock it off. Now that they are in the game, there is no going back. Politics will obediently follow, enshrining former taboos into the law of the land. Is this not alarming in its own right? Without some institutional voice urging us toward higher ideals the "development" of culture simply becomes a market-driven race to profit from the lowest instincts of the masses. In another generation there will be no need to even cover it up. It will have become business as usual.
A liberalization of culture is one thing, but abandoning the standards of a culture to market forces represents a loss of a sense of what is decent and good. Freedom of expression is a valuable individual right, but in the absence of a standard it matters less and less; "good taste" is reduced to the merely popular. And without a standard of taste there can be no avant garde, no satire, no creative breakthroughs. Everything becomes equally vacuous.
I can see no cure. We cannot transform our institutions, we can only transform ourselves. I wonder if, like the memorizers of books in Vonegut's Farenheit 451, we individuals will one day be the secret carriers of high culture inside our lone hearts... Take some time today to remind yourself and revel in what is truly GOOD!