9 years have passed since the publication of “The New Sins” by David Byrne . The book which was initially released in May, 2001 has been reissued. It has proven to be the seminal book of the previous decade and is sure to be ranked as one of the 21st century classics.
“The New Sins” was released only 4 months before September 11 and the subsequent events since and the book has prescience. David Byrne has mistakingly been labelled as a “Post-Modern” artist. It would be more correct to call him a Post-Modern critic. That is a critic of Post-Modernism. The New Sins is a scathing critique of Western Post-Modern society.
The book starts off with a hilarious description of its function. It is “a laptop for the soul’ which, ‘like a porno magazine, a home-cooked meal or a strand of DNA’ can be used at any time. David Byrne replaces the money-lenders and whores of Babylon with ‘graphic designers, website managers… women who have married stupid, well-endowed but ridiculous men and Nobel Prize winners’.
The premise of The New Sins starts:
“What was evil, despised and abhorrent yesterday is admirable and cheered today. The wealthy were once looked upon with suspicion, with the assumption that unusual wealth implied some unethical activity, the gains probably ill-gotten. But now this is a mark of virtue. The rich, the ostentatious, the loud, the crass and the indifferent are looked up to as models to be emulated. Only the old fogey would hold fast to childhood and traditional values.”
From there David Byrne begins his thesis:
“One may be tempted to laugh at the suggestion that one’s most treasured virtues are indeed sins… One may, however, upon reflection, come to accept this fact and then find a strange, calm center, a new model, a place of Astonishment and Peace.”
He describes Hell which is basically Western post-modernist society.
“The levels of hell are filled with the virtuous, the nice, the smart and the gregarious. Here they suffer for their sins, especially the hubris of thinking that they have never committed any at all… Here we can see, on the upper levels, graphic designers, website managers and humanitarian relief workers. Their crime? Hubris. Their punishment? Equality. Everyone looks cool, fashionable and absolutely identical… Everything is perfect and unbearable.” The text also includes a revised map of The Inferno, which includes public announcement speakers in the top tiers, with human rights activists and missionaries near the bottom. (Journalists fall somewhere in them idle of the eighth circle of Hell, just below market researchers, while serious pop musicians like Byrne reside in the fifth circle.)
So what are the New Sins according to David Byrne? They are: Charity, Sense of humour, Beauty, Thrift, Ambition, Hope, Intelligence/Knowledge, Contentment, Sweetness, Honesty and Cleanliness.
Charity is a means of exerting ‘not-so-subtle control over another party’. People like Bill Gates “trample on the poor and weak with money.” “If sins can be bought and sold, where does it end? Can anyone buy his way out of a cosmic jam? Do all rich men and women, or those who at least inherit their daddy’s money, go to heaven? Is God an entrepreneur?” This is the most devastating critique of capitalist mentality since Leon Trotsky .
Sense of humour is a sin because “humour is the snap, the breaking point, the straw that breaks the camel’s back and allows us to turn misery into something else. What is that something else? A cackling, ape-like non-verbal noise.” Obama has confirmed this by going on late night TV comedy programs telling jokes to as Byrne says “keep a keeps a hapless population in stitches.”
Beauty is a sin because it ‘creates the illusion that all is well’. Therein lies the deception.
Thrift s a sin because it denies people goods and pleasures that they want. Saving money for a rainy day is such an example of Anglo-Saxon capitalist society. Serbs don’t save money and are notorious spendthrifts which I believe is a good thing.
Ambition is an obvious sin as exemplified by Wall Street financiers and bankers who have caused the current economic depression.
Hope which holds more weight than all the others put together, is essentially empty wishing for order in a chaotic, unfeeling universe. Hope is the most deadly, for it ‘is for the cowardly… it deceives us into thinking that there IS narrative, linearity, and not chaos, chance and luck’. This is how the masses can remain optimistic that all is well with the world. The reality is that Hope is “a way of keeping people blinded, ignorant and servile, ignorant of the true and mystical beauty of the universe, a universe which is meaningless and amoral.”
Byrne’s most provactive sin is Intelligence/Knowledge. Why? Because the more you know, the more you know what you don’t know. Self-knowledge is dangerous, the more one knows oneself, the smaller one’s opinion of oneself.
“Contentment is a feeling which comes about because of three conditions.
1. One has completed a task successfully.
2. One has been flattered by an associate.
3. One has finished a large meal.”
In other words, Contentment is self congratulatory. Americans suffer most from this. Americans believe they live in the best country in the world but based on being content of putting men on the moon and electing a Black President. But does this make it the best country in the world? Why are Americans so content with their rotten society?
Sweetness is a sin because it conceals the bitter reality of life. Politicians try to be sweet when they run. McDonald’s hamburgers are fake food full of toxins but are tasty because they mostly contain sugar. In the West, politicians offer the population candy in order to pacify them as they proceed to rob and enslave them. Byrne writes: “One would do well to be suspicious of all things sweet and cuddly”
Honesty is a sin because it presumes that there is an essential truth. Love is a lie. “Our loved ones demand honesty, but what they really want is better fiction”
Cleanliness “is not next to godliness.” In fact, vaccines, excessive bathing, clean fingers have done to spread more disease than prevent them. “Impurities create natural immunities. (Post)Modern life in its sterile bubble is truly a sin against nature.”
The book concludes by declaring that “Words are no good,” the text states, “They’re unreliable. Untrustworthy. It should be obvious by now that they won’t stay put.”He then launches a blistering attack on “Spin Doctors, Hype Merchants, TV Pundits and Talk Show Experts” Because of them the world has been “beguiled, bewitched, enchanted, charmed, entertained, enthralled, delighted and captivated”. With unusual perception Byrne lashes against those who say “Shopping is Democracy.” In the weeks after 9/11 former New York Mayor Guiliani urged city residents to “keep on shopping to preserve democracy.” His successor Michael Bloomberg urged residents to go out Christmas shopping in spite of one of the worst blizzards in New York history rather than advising them to stay home.
As this nightmare of the previous decade closed with a less promising one ahead, “The New Sins” is a must read book for those feeling isolated, frustrated and helpless in the current social and political environment.
Readers might be confused upon first reading. The danger is that many will not give it a second chance. The book must be read multiple times before the nuances and full contours are found. At first, the reader isn’t sure whether to take it seriously or not. It’s a dark satire filled with subversive subtlety. Some might find Byrne’s accompanying photography on every other page more captivating than the text. The photographic images are subtle and nuanced with endless deep levels.
Overall, “The new Sins” is a contemporary masterpiece of art. David Byrne has stamped art of the 21st Century. It is a must have book on the library shelf, coffee table or even in the bathroom. Whether the reader likes it or not, it’s sure to leave a lasting impression.