Why Byron?


"Mick Jagger? Yeah, he's *kind* of cool, I *guess*..." 

The site has really been taking off over the past few weeks, and with increased readership has come greater volume of comments and questions.  Thanks to all of you who’ve sent suggestions for new essays; I am already at work on several of them.  But rather than taking something “from the headlines” for the latest post, I decided it would be beneficial to do another clarificatory piece on the project overall.  I still get many emails along the lines of “I like your essays, but I still don’t understand exactly what the 1585 philosophy is all about” — and this is not only fine, but in fact a good thing; if everyone always knew exactly what to expect from me, it would mean that I had become boring.

I could always do an “I believe these specific 216 things”-type post, but I want to leave room for people who might only believe, say, 159 of them.  Since this is about philosophy and not politics, there’s no reason to make specific promises about what I am or am not going to do.  And yet, I still felt a need to answer questions to that effect.  Then I noticed that one fairly minor-seeming question I'd gotten many times — why our avatar is a picture of the English Romantic-era Poet Lord Byron — might be just the thing.

It’s a worthwhile question.  Hopefully, the answer will carry other answers along with it.

I. Introductions, Contradictions

I certainly didn’t pick Byron randomly, but he isn’t the only person that The 1585 officially admires either.  There are many, but the others wouldn’t have worked as icons.  A picture of Freud or Nietzsche would have been too limited; too pre-coded as a symbol of one specific thing that perhaps we might like to move beyond.  A picture of Shakespeare or of John Lennon would have been both too boastful and too general.  A picture of a still-living hero like Richard Dawkins or Camille Paglia would be unprofessional, since I don’t know either of them, and they’re still doing great work of their own.  Some random painting would make too weak or too confusing an impression, and a simple picture of a hot girl would be too obvious.  Byron just worked.

But why did Byron “just work?”  In addition to the fact that not everyone would instantly recognize him, which demonstrates that 1585's target audience is a selective one, I liked the fact that, while he definitely seems to symbolize something, it’s hard to say what — aside from the fact that, whatever it is, it’s clearly awesome.

Sure, it must have something to do with sex, something to do with genius, something to do with being strong-willed — but, even taken together, all these things apply to any number of people.  Why is a picture of Byron better than a picture of, say, Madonna?

I liked the fact that, despite his being uncommonly forthright with his opinions, Byron still seems to most people to embody a sea of contradictions — at least, until one has learned enough to know that they are not really contradictions.  Being honest does not necessarily mean that one is easily categorizable — and the paradox of uncategorizability through honesty, at least, is certainly one I identify with.  

He was intimidatingly macho, but also pretty damn gay.  He was an elitist aristocrat, but praised the American and French Revolutions, and died aiding the oppressed Greeks in a war of self-determination.  He was proto-dandyish, but would kill you in a duel if you pissed him off.  He would fuck anything that moved, but also fell dramatically and intensely in love on a regular basis.  He was fiercely political, but also thought politics were petty and tedious.  He was self-assured to an infuriating degree, but was also one of the first males with a verifiable eating disorder.  He had one of the largest brains ever weighed, but loved feats of athleticism.  He had no kind words to say about religion, but retained Christian mythology in his work because he believed strongly in objective good and evil.  He dedicated his life to Poetry, but also thought that the vast majority of Poetry was profoundly retarded.  He was in his day — and is still to this day — attacked by his detractors as the very picture of immorality, but insisted that his greatest work was “the most moral poem ever written.”  He was never so deadly serious as he was when he was joking.

To this day, even career literary types cannot agree about Byron.  He is inevitably regarded either as one of the very greatest ever to write in English, or as a complete joke; he is either made the centerpiece of Romanticism courses, or omitted from them; his masterpiece, Don Juan, is either the most important long poem in English outside of the Canterbury Tales or Paradise Lost, or only even counts as a poem due to the technicality of its having rhymed.  He is either one of history’s greatest liberals and subversives, or the poster boy for the patriarchy.  Ask an academic about Byron, and your only guarantee is that the answer will be passionately delivered.  This is all, of course, just as it should be.  A sine qua non of the definition of cool is that people have a hard time figuring you out, and Byron is — very nearly by definition — the coolest person who has ever lived.   

Before Byron, the modern concept of “cool” didn’t really exist.  People or things could be powerful, desirable, popular, influential, or controversial, but not cool.  We credit Shakespeare with inventing pretty much everything about human society, but how many characters in Shakespeare are cool?  There are many who can seem proto-cool if looked at correctly — Mercutio, Hamlet, Cleopatra, Feste, Falstaff — but none is fully recognizable as such.  And this, of course, is not Shakespeare’s fault, because cool hadn’t been invented yet.  That wouldn’t happen until Byron.  Anything or anyone you can think of that’s “cool,” Byron invented it, and there are no cool things that are external to his precedent.  People would rarely think to mention, say, David Bowie and Wolverine in the same sentence — but this can easily be done if the sentence concerns personalities descended from Byron.  Filmmaker Todd Haynes credits Oscar Wilde with inventing rock and roll in Velvet Goldmine, but his genealogy has too late a starting point — Wilde lived upon one of the branches stemming from Byron, but there are many others (Oscar Wilde has little to do with Elvis, and even less to do with Wolverine).

Of course, it would be cheap and shallow to have picked Byron as The 1585's official mascot just because he was cool — at least, if cool were only being used in its deflated sense of indicating that something is fashionable.  But Byronic cool — the original and still the truest variety — recognizes that cool is not a resting point; instead, it is an ongoing transformative experience (rather like intelligence, which, strangely, is often seen as the opposite of coolness in contemporary life).  One critic observed that, while the other Romantics — chiefly Blake — were interested in death and rebirth, Byron had no need for them because his definition of life allowed for a great deal of change to begin with.  Experiments in life do not fail or succeed, because the experimentation is the success.

And yet, this certainly doesn’t mean that anything you might do is equally as okay as anything else you might do.  Absent a strong dedication — to something strongly right, and not merely to something or other — you are not experimenting, but only being experimented upon.  Nietzsche said that Hamlet “died of the truth” — but why die of the truth when you can kill with it?

II. A Sketch of His Life, with Lessons on Coolness Included Parenthetically

Though the family was Normanecht English — in origin, Byron was born to a domineering mother and an absent father in the Scottish Highlands (so he had humble beginnings, which is cool).  He inherited bipolar disorder from both parents, and was born with a deformed right foot (so he was nuts, and had a shameful secret in the form of a physical difference — both cool).  His mom hired some quack who screwed his foot into a heavy-ass box and fucked it up even more (so he had a problem with authority figures from an early age — cool again).  He succeeded to the rank of Baron at age ten upon the death of his uncle, and was initially conflicted about and ashamed of this too (humble beginnings are only cool if you get out, and if there’s some special thing about you, you have to remember to act like it’s partly a curse).  He fell deeply in love with a female cousin at 15, who broke his heart by marrying someone else, and then deeply in love again with a younger boy at boarding school, who died (tragic love affairs in your dim past assist in the formation of a “shell,” which others subsequently become obsessed with breaking through; if you don’t have a shell, no-one gives two shits, so go get one — if it is too late for you to get one, make one up). 

At school, he frequently insinuated himself into fights to defend the smaller kids from bullies (it is cool to fight, but only if you are the good guy), blew off his studies regularly but excelled at the ones that interested him (if you are going to hate school, it has to be because you are smarter than your teachers; if it is because you’re dumb, then that’s just sad), and protested a rule forbidding dogs in the dormitories by getting a pet bear from someplace (funny shit involving animals is always good).  His first volume of poetry was roundly panned (there has to be a scene in the movie where you suck at first), so he retaliated with a satire that talked shit about every prominent poet and critic in the UK (the scene where you bite off more than you can chew follows the scene where you suck at first, plus blind rage is obviously also cool; NOTE: this was the first post-classical instance of the dissing of sucka MCs).  He knew shit was going to get out of hand after that, so he got a posse together (form a posse) and traveled through mysterious, out-of-the-way locations in Eastern Europe and Asia Minor for two years (every once in a while, you have to fuck off and do some secret shit; cf. Wolverine). 

When he got back, he was exponentially cooler, so everyone naturally assumed that he had fucked every girl in the extended Caucasus region and probably also killed a few people (don’t talk about fucking a bunch of people; just act in ways that make people assume you do — also, don’t kill anybody, but if people think you killed somebody, don’t correct them).  The poem he released upon his return was a huge smash, and everybody figured this was because of all the secret shit he had done (your eventual talent must be implicitly associated with the secret shit).  It was ostensibly about Nature and History, but was obviously just about himself (write things that are purported to be about something else, but are really just all about you and how cool you are.  NOTE: the reason you are cool is that no-one understands you even though you are awesome). 

Then he had his most notorious love affair, with Lady Caroline Lamb, who subsequently coined the phrase “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” about him, then spent her next few years alternating between writing thinly-veiled polemics about him and dressing up as him at costume parties (have a “most famous” love affair that neither of you ever gets over — ideally with someone equally brilliant, passionate, and emotionally unstable, with pale skin and short curly blonde hair, who is also a writer, and who marries a rich guy but continues to write stuff about you and dress up as you at parties, and spends the rest of her life unable to decide whether she hates you).  Then he wrote a bunch of poems about pirates (incorporate pirates — ideally, pirates who are also sort-of maybe vampires or something; or, failing that, regular human pirates who just fight vampires).  Then he got married (when you don’t know what to do next, pull a high-profile fuckup; cf. Magical Mystery Tour).  This enabled him to get divorced, which in turn enabled him to write bitter poems about his ex-wife, her lawyers, the custody battle over his infant daughter, and, retroactively, his mom (cf. Eminem;  NOTE: do not forget the part about the daughter, because that is the part that proves you are sensitive). 

He left England, never to return (fuck off permanently), and partied with Percy Shelley in Switzerland and Italy (augment posse periodically).  This inspired him to get serious (thus demonstrating the vital importance of posse augmentation; NOTE: do not get serious until you are 28 — if you get serious before then, you will have nowhere to go), and he started writing his best poems, which alternated between having nothing and almost-nothing to do with pirates (ditch pirates eventually).  The new work was so good that he was no longer content with himself just as a writer (when you are at your peak, suddenly get sick of yourself), so he became deeply involved with the Greek Independence movement (find a cause), raised an army himself to help out, sailed to Greece, and died there of a fever before seeing battle (die; NOTE: the death has to come within a reasonable amount of time after the cause).

While the preceding is a handy template for being cool that nearly anyone can follow to great effect, there are other specifics about Byron and his relevance to our project that must be touched upon separately, and in greater detail.

III. Sexuality      

The most widely-known aspect of Byron’s romantic life, of course, is the mere fact that he was promiscuous.  But in a man, promiscuity alone tells us nothing — all men would be promiscuous if it were an option for them, so when an individual man succeeds at this, the point is not that he succeeded, but how.  What was it that made Byron arguably the most desirable man who has ever lived?

Yes, he was physically attractive and socially high-ranking, but so are lots of guys who would still never get laid that many times if they lived to be a million, much less earn undying fame as THE guy-who-gets-laid.  But a parsing-out of what made Byron so attractive is almost unnecessary in this day and age, since it is nearly exactly the obligatory persona of the rock star:  talented, moody, irreverent, both passionate and aloof, prone to both fits of rage and paroxysms of childlike ecstasy, self-destructive, perennially unsatisfied — the one who cares more than you do, and yet also cares less.

But this must never be reduced to the mere “sensitive guy.”  You must love beauty, yes, but also refrain from denying the fact that power — the will to subject, destroy and remake, possess, own in an effort to free — is an aspect of beauty, perhaps the central one.  Modern male sexuality is gravely hampered by the ridiculously oversimplified and overemphasized gay/straight dichotomy:  you either like clothes, or know how to fight; you either make art, or lift weights, etc.  In the male sexual ideal, the macho and the homoerotic inform and inspire each other, thusly:  you want to do attractive things with and to yourself so that chicks will dig you, but the fear of becoming the object of gay male desire stops you.  But how unmacho is this fear!  Women have to put up with a constant existence as the object of male desire from puberty onwards — are you weaker than a woman, that an aversion to this should be a let to you?  And with this thought, forged in sexism’s very core, sexism is itself unmade.  Of course, achieving this is easier if you actually are kind of gay — but failing that, you should at least let people think you are kind of gay.  Do not let this be a problem for you; if no-one ever thinks you’re gay, then it probably means women aren’t interested in you.

The complex identity politics of Byron’s sex life may have been made more clear to the general public if there had ever been a major motion picture made about his life, but — curiously, seeing as how he invented the modern celebrity — so far there has not been.  Byron has been depicted on film several times, but always in movies whose plots center on Mary Shelley and the writing of Frankenstein, with the characters of Byron and of Percy Shelley respectively oversimplified to “asshole guy” and “sensitive guy” — the male equivalents of whore and virgin.

And it is through this inevitable and reductive comparison with Shelley that Byron’s sexual legacy is most frequently attacked, often to the point of his being reduced to mere “frat guy.”  Yes, Byron’s love life turned into a mess.  But Shelley’s love life was also about to turn into a mess — it’s just that he died right when the shit was about to hit the fan.  The other dude who was in the boat with Shelley and drowned too?  Shelley was fucking that dude’s wife, or about to start fucking her, or something.  Mary knew about this, and was not pleased, and Shelley didn’t get why she wasn’t pleased — because, unlike Byron, who was totally up-front about just wanting to fuck a ton of people, Shelley had this whole “I am inviting select others into my shiny poety circle of love” attitude about it.  Maybe this was just the same shit Byron had going on dressed up in more illusions, or maybe it was genuine philosophical advancement — but, practically, what’s the difference, if women aren’t down with it?  The debate between Shelley and Mary at this time was pretty much the same debate that Liberal Men and Liberal Women are still having with each other:

    Liberal Man:  Marriage and monogamy are tyrannical conservative constructions that deny the true nature of humankind.

    Liberal Woman:  If you mean the part about me not being able to have a job and having to do all the housework and shit, then yes, I totally agree, but if you mean the part about how we don’t fuck other people, then, actually, I must admit that I genuinely don’t want us to do that.

    Liberal Man:  Okay, you obviously just weren’t paying attention.  I didn’t mean that only I would fuck other people, because that would be sexist and unfair.  You can fuck other people too — you know, as long as they’re cool and sensitive, and not, like, jocks and shit.

    Liberal Woman:  No, no, I understood that part.  It’s just that I actually don’t want to fuck other people.  I want to fuck you, because I love you.

    Liberal Man:  Thanks.  I love you too.  But humanity needs to realize that people can love lots of different people, and fuck all of them — as long as they’re cool and sensitive and not jocks — which is why we need to get a bunch of cool sensitive people together and all live together in a Big Sexy Poet Fuck House.

    Liberal Woman:  Okay, great.  But I don’t want to do that.

    Liberal Man:  No, no — you just think you don’t want to do that, because society has cruelly forced you to suppress your own sex drive.

    Liberal Woman:  Okay, listen carefully here:  I am a girl.

    Liberal Man:  Exactly.  And I am helping you set yourself free, because I am the best type of man there is.  That’s why we totally have to do the Big Sexy Poet Fuck House thing.  A “fort,” if you will.  It can have water slides, and cool flashing lights, and snowball catapults on the roof for when jocks come to beat us up.

    Liberal Woman:  That’s stupid.

    Liberal Man:  No, it’s awesome.  Why do you always say things are stupid when they’re clearly awesome?

It would have been enormously beneficial for modern liberalism to see how this debate turned out, but it pretty much stopped there, because Shelley drowned.  IN THE SEEEEEAAAAAA.

Byron’s position on all of this was simultaneously less liberal and more liberal.  His retort to Shelley was along the lines of a simple “Dude, women are women.  They want exclusive relationships.  If you want to be married, then don’t fuck a bunch of people, and if you want to fuck a bunch of people, then don’t be married.”  Byron’s own choice, of course, was to fuck a bunch of people, which pisses off modern Liberals more because of its cynical lack of idealism.  But, as the few conservative literary critics there are have pointed out, it was Shelley’s worldview that, in practice, hurt women more — not nearly as many of them, but still.

But none of the preceding is a definitive pronouncement about anything.  Byron would have been all for the Big Sexy Poet Fuck House if it had turned out that Shelley was right and women will be down for it as soon as we figure out how to pitch it to them the right way.  And so would I.  But the bottom line is, women have to make up their minds.  When you do, we’ll be right here.

IV. Religion and Fantasy

Those who argue that Shelley was actually cooler, more “modern,” and a better liberal role model than Byron inevitably rest a good portion of this assertion on the fact that Shelley was avowedly an atheist and Byron was not.  Indeed, it must seem to many readers that I myself would prefer Shelley for this reason alone.  But a discussion along these lines must be informed by an accurate definition of what “atheist” did or did not mean during the Romantic Era.

When Shelley identified himself as an atheist, this meant that he did not believe in the anthropomorphic, patriarchal, Judeo-Christian Jehovah, or in any kind of black-and-white idea of good and evil.  It did not, however, mean that Shelley was a realist, a rationalist, a skeptic, a “Bright,” etc.  He was essentially an animist, and in this sense his work is more regularly “supernatural” than was Byron’s.  Shelley certainly rejected religion and “God” in any strict sense, but he did not reject them in favor of any harsh reality and was certainly no biological determinist.  Rather than admitting of any dark inescapabilities re Human Nature, Shelley whitewashed over them in favor of a pipe dream of perfectability through Love and Art, as personified by the sensitive victim — this, as demonstrated by today’s UREGs, is essentially a religion, but just had yet to be exposed as one.  In the cosmology of today’s youth culture, Shelley would be most closely aligned with Goth Kids or Wiccans, ostentatiously rejecting one fantasy world only to construct another.  Any way you slice it, he would have been friends with a lot of fat girls.

While it is true that Byron never self-applied the term atheist, he was infinitely more concerned with real life than was Shelley.  He retained references to Christ and to “The LORD” in his work, but clearly did not take them seriously outside of their usefulness as devices with which to highlight the hypocrisy of Christian society — his goal was to confront rather than to escape.  I find it extremely unlikely that Byron believed literally in any Christian doctrine, up to and including the divinity of Christ — he traveled too extensively with too open a mind for the fact of religious belief’s being an accident of birth not to be obvious to him — but he did believe in the general heroic tradition of “good guys” and “bad guys.”  Thus, avowed atheism would not have been a viable option for Byron (though it certainly would if he were alive today).  He was primarily a satirist, and his heroes in the preceding generation of Neoclassical satirists — Alexander Pope, Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, and Jonathan Swift — all got more mileage out of concentrating on Christian society as a hypocrisy than on Christian doctrine as a falsehood.  The only trade-off for Christianity would have seemed to be the animistic pantheism embraced by Shelley, which Byron would have found too juvenile, escapist, and hippy-trippy (one is reminded of Stephen's rebuke to Cranly in the closing pages of A Portrait of the Artist:  "What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and to embrace one which is illogical and incoherent?").  A round-robin of equally viable points of view does not leave room for acerbic, self-aggrandizing mockery — which, as we all know, is how one gets things done.

His retention of Christian frameworks has been used as evidence by Byron’s detractors to frame him as a supporter of the patriarchy, etc., despite the facts that a) accusing Byron of actual Christianity is highly specious to say the least, and b) it is an undisputed fact that Blake believed strongly and extensively in Christian mythology, and modern liberal academics have a bigger boner for Blake than for any other Romantic — with the possible exception of Keats, who stayed out of the religious debate altogether, which makes him an enabler, if you want to be a dick about it. 

Just as a retreat into Faerieland — egalitarian though such a place might be — was not a suitable battle plan for Byron, neither was the obscurantism of academia, as demonstrated by the then-middle-aged Wordsworth and Coleridge.  Whether the alternative to the world at large was an imaginary one or one that, however pedagogically rigorous, was also myopic, Byron wasn’t interested.  Any of these options would have seemed to Byron simply to be one version or another of the nerdy kid running home and hiding because the other kids play too rough.  And indeed, it is suspect whether to this day in academia, alterity and hegemony are just grown-up words for unicorns and quidditch.

But this must not be taken as anti-intellectualism.  Byron was highly learned, regarded knowledge as a supreme virtue, and despised ignorance.  He was just uncommonly wary of the hard-to-perceive threshold at which esoteric learning for its own sake begins to constitute an avoidance of the problems and challenges of reality rather than a weapon with which to confront them.  Any contemporary academic who defends every form of insanity under the sun because this allows them to construct an even more uselessly complex definition of truth — and, subsequently, to spend even more of their day talking about vaginas — has much to learn from this.

V. Politics

Though Byron was avowedly a Liberal, modern Liberals frequently hesitate to apply the term to him, and occasionally openly despise him, and he may ironically be equally or even more admired by Conservatives, provided that they are not conservative for reasons either of religion or simple stupidity (though I know of no other reasons why someone might become a Conservative, I have been told that they exist). 

The contemporary misalignment of admiration for Byron might be born of the tendencies of both today’s Liberals and today’s Conservatives to categorize people and things based on situational accidents or personality tendencies rather than on the (less readily apparent) beliefs involved:  a “tough guy” who hated touchy-feely bullshit and made fun of people for a living will be admired by Conservatives even if he was a tried-and-true Liberal, and a titled aristocrat who thought war was cool and fancied himself a mack will be rejected by Liberals, even if they owe the entirety of their culture to him.    

Byron was, after all, the first celebrity — which means that all subsequent liberal celebrities exist by virtue of his precedent.  Sure, another “first celebrity” probably would have come along sooner or later — but what if this person had been a Conservative?  It’s not like the idea that celebrities are supposed to have many high-profile love affairs, talk shit about the government, and then die under mysterious circumstances was something that had to happen — it could have turned out a different way, if it hadn’t been for Byron.

And that whole thing where Liberals want us to embrace diversity and know stuff about other cultures?  Byron invented that.  He made a habit of visiting Eastern European regions that folks in England had barely heard of back then, learning their languages, and translating their great works into English and great English works into their tongues.  And the following quip from the notes to Cantos I & II of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage may be the first recorded celebrity joke about how kids in Western, English-speaking countries are dumber than kids from everywhere else:

    “I remember Mahmout, the grandson of Ali Pacha, asking whether my fellow traveller and myself were in the upper or lower House of Parliament.  Now this question from a boy of ten years old proved that his education had not been neglected.  It may be doubted if an English boy at that age knows the difference of the Divan from a College of Dervises.”

Trust me, it was funny in 1812.

As a corollary to this, Byron also pioneered the practice of celebrities getting “into” another culture, and then making stuff from that other culture their “thing” for a while.  Observe:

"You know what would be cool? Getting a bunch of Asian girls and keeping them as pets..."
Byron in Albanian Garb, 1814
"Say, that WOULD be cool..."
Gwen Stefani with Face Dots, 1998

So how come Liberals don’t like Byron?  There would, of course be any number of internally consistent reasons for Conservatives to distance themselves from Byron — now that I think about it, in fact, everything about Byron should logically make Conservatives hate him… except for the by-rights-inconsequential details of his having been white, rich, and male, and living a long time ago.  Is this really enough to make someone count as a Conservative these days, both to Conservatives and Liberals alike, even if that person helped to invent the modern Liberal?

Conservatives, of course, are more than willing to pick up whatever and whomever Liberals mystifyingly throw away — especially in the Arts, where Conservative critics have slim pickings to say the least — but, as I’ve explained, there is no sensible reason for Liberals to do anything but revere Byron.  When and if Liberals despise him, it can only be because strength, genius, and confidence themselves are despised out of egregiously misplaced principle — and anyone who rejects these things is willfully dooming themselves to failure out of a perverse attraction to martyrdom.  Of course, even this shouldn’t really be a problem, since Byron invented perverse attraction to martyrdom.  essentially a Honestly, how can anyone expect to win at what isgame if they are opposed on principle to the very suggestion that there are people who are good at things?  The utilization of people who are good at things is how you win.

Byron refused to cast himself as victim to anything other than destiny and himself — and this rankles those who would like to believe that only victims can be good people.  What those people fail to understand, however — both in relation to Byron and as it pertains to life in general — is that victimhood is a pose that one can choose either to select or not select for oneself.  This doesn’t mean that there are no victims, because that would mean that there is no evil, and I — as did Byron — admit that there certainly is.  Yes, one is wounded by many things in life — some avoidable, some not — but it is also true that displaying these wounds is sometimes advantageous and sometimes not.  Privately, Byron was terribly hurt by many things about the world.  In his work, however, he chose to present himself as superior to the things that hurt him — this is the role of the satirist.  Most contemporary Liberals choose the opposite path, more in line with the work of Keats:  present yourself as situationally inferior, and only morally superior, to that which injures you, and trust to the existence of conscience. 

But honestly, no-one really cares about moral superiority — least of all the right-wing oppressors who claim to care about it exclusively.  Gandhi’s dictum that the evildoer will eventually tire of evil may very well be true, but it is also something of a straw man in that it fails to compare the speed of this tiring to the rate at which evildoers become tired of various other things — and I have found that evildoers become tired of getting laughed at for being stupid far faster than they tire of evil itself (plus, it never hurts to let them think that you might be a pirate vampire).   

Byron opposed all the same things that modern Liberals oppose — tyranny, prudery, imperialism, racism, hypocrisy, dogma, ignorance — and what’s more, he made opposition to these things cool, which, regardless of whether anyone wants to admit it, was vitally necessary to the continuance of mainstream social Liberalism, especially among the young.  Every young person who has ever been liberalized by a rock star is a point scored posthumously by Byron, and a shitload more people have been liberalized by rock stars than by Noam Chomsky. 

The rub, I suppose, is that Byron refused to jump on the otherwise pan-Romantic bandwagon, driven by Wordsworth, of deifying the “common man.”  For one thing, Byron recognized that this rhetoric was infantilizing to the objects of its ostensible praise — thereby making his reluctance to participate more anti-elitist than elitist — and for another, he recognized what is still a major sticking point for all Rousseauist Liberals:  the fact that, for the most part, “common people” are not only dicks, but rabidly conservative dicks who would smile at the deaths of the enlightened academic types who insist on celebrating them.  This intra-Liberal cognitive dissonance is — perhaps not coincidentally — equally present in relation to the twin Romantic emphasis on the alleged virtue of children; Wordsworth himself might have been filled with boundless love for all Creation as a toddler, but I have known far more toddlers willing to hate and ostracize others for reasons barely perceptible to an adult, and whose chief delight in life seems to be running up to strangers at full tilt and punching them in the crotches.  It was Byron’s ready acknowledgement of these open secrets — of the fact that human nature and, even more blasphemously, Nature itself are almost uniformly terrible and cruel, and, by implication, can only be improved via the magnanimous intervention of select individuals — that modern Liberalism cannot (openly and officially) stomach.

But modern Liberalism had better learn to stomach these truths, because, like most truths, they happen to be true.  If we deny the existence of the human predilection for cruelty and destructive self-expansion, then we lose the authority to condemn the Conservatives’ denial of the sex drive.  (If any conservative readers are still confused about why your “abstinence pledges” upset us so much, just imagine how you would feel if we made our children sign contracts binding them never to truly hate anyone until they were married.)

VI. Conclusions

For the reasons outlined here — or for those which I attempted to outline, in any case — Lord Byron is the avatar of 1585.  We are little closer to being able to say exactly what he symbolizes, but sense far more strongly that he must symbolize something, and feel the same way about ourselves.  If I symbolized something, I suppose I would be the last to know what it is, but can only conclude that I already do, because The 1585 is pissing off old fans as quickly as it is gaining new ones — usually on account of things that I didn’t actually say, which just goes to show that there is no surer path to becoming completely misunderstood than complete honesty.

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