O the month of May, the merry month of May, So frolic, so gay, and so green, so green, so green! O, and then did I unto my true love say: “Sweet Peg, thou shalt be my summer’s queen!
Now the nightingale, the pretty nightingale, The sweetest singer in all the forest’s choir, Entreats thee, sweet Peggy, to hear thy true love’s tale; Lo, yonder she sitteth, her breast against a brier.
But O, I spy the cuckoo, the cuckoo, the cuckoo; See where she sitteth: come away, my joy; Come away, I prithee: I do not like the cuckoo Should sing where my Peggy and I kiss and toy.”
O the month of May, the merry month of May, So frolic, so gay, and so green, so green, so green! And then did I unto my true love say: “Sweet Peg, thou shalt be my summer’s queen!”
I think you’ve got to look at Billy Joel’s raw talent; the prodigious musical gifts and compositional ability; the mimicry, the voices, the piano-playing which became a vehicle for so many of his hits. Add a quite nice voice and a road-warrior mentality trying to offer value at every show, and you’ve got quite a package.
An American Songbook kind of guy.
I can barely think of anyone more Lon-Giland, who put his abilities to the American grindstone, but whose talent often hovers above any chosen genre he finds himself in.
Nick Paumgartner on a Slate review of Joel:
‘He was terrible, he is terrible, he always will be terrible. Anodyne, sappy, superficial, derivative, fraudulently rebellious. . . . Billy Joel’s music elevates self-aggrandizing self-pity and contempt for others into its own new and awful genre: ‘Mock-Rock.’ ”
He [Rosenbaum] called Joel “the Andrew Wyeth of contemporary pop music.”
When I mentioned this to Joel, he said, “What’s wrong with Andrew Wyeth?”
‘In between pieces, he began to explain that these were variations on a motif and that they were telling the story of the history of Long Island, from its pastoral beginnings to the arrival of the Europeans—“I’m imagining the prow of a ship, and a Puritan hymn”—and then the bustle of the nineteenth century. Farming, fishing, the railroad. “Getting busy on Long Island,” he said. “This one’s almost Coplandesque, with big open fifths.” We were a long way from Brenda and Eddie. He played intently as the room went dark.’
That sounds like a pretty talented artist looking for roots and sifting through American history and Americana for inspiration to me…
Here’s a popular song in the seafaring style trying to do good for local people without the righteous self-flattery and regard stars so often bring to the table:
Mind you, this is Australia, but there’s probably a lot of overlap:
‘I don’t mean to suggest that every bright-eyed PhD candidate in anthropology today sees himself in a priestly role, or feels inspired by a religious vocation. Most are as sceptical of sorcery as of perdition. But what George Feaver has called the New Tribalism is a proud creed, and its gods are jealous gods. Syncretised with the pride and jealousy of the Old Tribalism the result is a powerful endorsement of totem and taboo…’
‘The Institute had been set up to “do science”, a secular activity. Yet in a curious way it has ended up “doing religion.” In its own eyes the Institute may have seen itself as a producer of scientific records; but in the eyes of Tribalism, both Old and New, its true role was that of a manufacturer of religious artifacts. And having become an archive of sacred objects it was hard to refuse doing priestly duty as the temple guardian as well. In this way a scientific body found itself gradually moving from the world of fact to the world of faith—and from the dull routines of research to the higher excitements of revivalism.’
We’ve got a lot of museum directors and academics I could see sinking into a kind of nebulous, humanist, institutional mysticism, quite frankly.
What many modernists and humanists can ignore are the deep impulses they have to make meaning, and to draw distinctions between the sacred and the profane, which in the West can manifest as a kind of sentimental Romanticization of Nature and Man (religious and anti-religious, truthfully).
Everyone wants to transcend and seek the timeless, the immortal, and the pure, I’m guessing.
There is a particular myth of the ‘Noble Savage,’ alive and well in the Western World, where the local tribesman or displaced native is celebrated as an exotic but worthy adversary, or some kind of anachronistic adornment.
This stuff can be true and inspiring in the arts, synthesized as part of the Romantic school:
Perhaps the native is to be included under the net of secular human idealism or given land, a casino or a museum somewhere on the Western Estate and left to many of his own devices (many further Left likely see a fellow oppressed class of victims with whom to feel solidarity on the way to radical and revolutionary freedom).
But certainly with the triumphs of trade and commerce, the many benefits and successes of Western expansion (the thousand injustices and brutalities of State and privately funded imperialism), comes a lot of doubt, guilt, and shame.
What is true and right?
How should I live and what should I do?
I can say Orwell, here, has caused me to think, reflect and take a look at myself in the mirror.
Much as the sciences require intellectual rigor, empirical evidence and much skepticism, there are bands of Western anti-science postmodernists in their wake, too, who can sink into a kind of nebulous modern mysticism, building museums as temples.
Just as there are humanists there are anti-humanists.
‘The paleo fantasy is a fantasy in part because it supposes that we humans, or at least our protohuman forebears, were at some point perfectly adapted to our environments. We apply this erroneous idea of evolution’s producing the ideal mesh between organism and surroundings to other life forms, too, not just to people.’
There’s a lot of confusion out there in the popular mind, apparently. Fascinating discoveries going on right now in genetics, genome research, and evolutionary biology, to name a few.
Because nobody asked, I tend to be skeptical of the Noble Savage, Rousseau’s State of Nature, and some products of the Nietzschean, tragic, romantic tradition in Europe. There are also lots of folks milling around America seeking a kind of collectivist utopian harmony in nature, as well.
It can be a long ways to travel to get from Darwin back to God and organized religion (too far for many people) and this blog remains generally agnostic, defensive of the broad, but fragile, traditions necessary for civil society and individual liberty.
It can also be a long way from Darwin to arrive at Natural Rights, Locke’s life, liberty and property, as well as Roman and classical ideas of law and even to Montesquieu.
Check out Darwinian Conservatism, as Larry Arnhart is dealing with many of these ideas. Here’s the banner from the site:
‘The Left has traditionally assumed that human nature is so malleable, so perfectible, that it can be shaped in almost any direction. By contrast, a Darwinian science of human nature supports traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals in their realist view of human imperfectibility, and in their commitment to ordered liberty as rooted in natural desires, cultural traditions, and prudential judgments.’
There’s something almost religious about the way some people go about pursuing their non-religious ideas.
Minogue framed it thusly:
‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’
‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and otherforms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion‘
As previously posted, Minogue discussed ideology (Marxist ideology in particular), and modern promises of radical and revolutionary freedom: To go deeper and replace Science and Religion, Economics and Politics, on the way to some knowable end-point to human affairs.
As previously posted:
Perhaps the flip-side to liberal secular humanist faith is a lack of faith. Surely some deep, liberal thinker out there has become thoroughly convinced that people are no good, after all, and can’t be trusted with their freedoms apart from his/her thinking or ideological commitments. Perhaps there’s a secular humanist political leader somewhere thoroughly sick of humanity for the time being, simply accruing more political power and influence because they can.
As far as satire or mockery goes, they would be just as worthy, no?
Those who rebel against authority, mindlessly, are more likely to embody a new authority.
Recently, British popular thinker Alain De Botton floated the idea of building an ‘atheist temple’ in the heart of London. He recommends combing through religious practices for useful organizing principles in response to the New Atheists. You can read more about it here, which includes a radio interview/podcast.
Towards a theme: Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Rothko chapel, in Houston, Texas:
‘The Rothko Chapel, founded by Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief. A tranquil meditative environment inspired by the mural canvases of Russian born American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970), the Chapel welcomes over 60,000 visitors each year, people of every faith and from all parts of the world.’
There’s even a suite of music by Morton Feldman, entitled ‘Rothko Chapel’
“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”
At one point, before his slide into hard-drug use, Biden meets with King Abdullah of Jordan on behalf of refugees (an opportunity derived, he says, from “nepotism, in the best way possible”).’
Cox closes some (A)uthentic (S)elfhood distance between herself and Hunter Biden (measured in units of gritty, 12-step fellowship).
‘I kept thinking of that experience reading Biden’s book. I wish that Biden could acquire that kid’s gift of grace that’s born of humility, of receiving and giving help because we’re all in the exact same place. We all fall the same distance to the bottom.’
The bottom is wherever you say it is:–This topic has become so predictable, so bland, that even Hunter Biden is getting in on the action. First, the fall from grace, then the public redemption and appeal for forgiveness. Addiction’s a disease, just like cancer. We need more awareness and more social programs. Then comes a publicity tour. Some social media couch-sitting, maybe. The Romans had baths and we Americans have warm, therapeutic tongue-baths, open to the public.
The top is wherever you say it is: –I’m pretty sure one’s life will be immeasurably better by not spending it smoking crack or becoming an alcoholic. Shocking! I try and take people as I find them, and hope they do the same with me. Over-sharing is probably not a sign of an organized life, but nearly everybody deserves a little grace.
Also, think of the suffering you can avoid by not reading Hunter Biden’s ghostwriter or Ana-Marie Cox.
A few more thoughts (they’re totally free, after all): Many modernists tended towards genius-level artistry; looking inwards and spinning the suffering of life (reducing life) into form, coherence and a lot of truth. Then focusing outwards onto the world.
At the very least, this made some really interesting architecture, but also an architecture which divorced many people working inside these buildings, from many elements of their pasts, and day-to-day life.
Here’s an interesting presentation. There are some good reasons to re-evaluate things:
For the postmoderns, this task became harder, I’d argue, as the ground became more barren. Inner often becomes outer; all reduced to a (N)ow of (S)elf. That said, there are many geniuses and a lot of good art to inspire. For the post-post-moderns, there is some good stuff out there, too, but questions of epistemology and ontology remain nearly open.
How to live and what to do? Further downstream, in the current social, political and institutional worlds, you’re on your own, unless maybe you gain notoriety through celebrity. Beyond your family and friends, you’ll probably have to join a political tribe. Join a majority and find out later it was just a minority! Invest your money in a (C)ause.
Most of us, most of the time, can’t handle the kind of isolation that comes from such intellectual provenance. I think such insight has a lot of predictive value.
It’s almost enough to make a guy religious!
Let’s conserve weirdos, and innovation, free thought and free inquiry (now that new majorities are forming)?
Is this my political tribe, or can I just float free, as a (S)elf, upon the surface of so many dangerous currents?
No one was harder than Billy Idol. While exploring his (S)elf, he’s nearly died many times over, and was banned from Thailand!
One major shift in my thinking occurred while reading Leo Strauss, and approaching Nature from a position where the reason/revelation distinction was suddenly in play:
‘Strauss was a Jew who promoted a pre-Christian, classical understanding of “natural right” as found in Plato and Aristotle. Yet after the publication of his Natural Right and History in 1953, Strauss was sometimes classed alongside Catholic scholars of political philosophy who aimed to revive the natural law tradition of Aquinas. Strauss recognized that these Thomists were fighting some of the same battles against historicists and philosophical modernists that he was fighting. Nonetheless, his own position was quite distinct from theirs. Natural right, unlike natural law, is changeable and dependent on circumstance for its expression, says Strauss. As he puts it: “There is a universally valid hierarchy of ends, but there are no universally valid rules of action.”
Such thinking made me question many modern epistemological foundations I had been taking for granted: Perhaps (H)istory doesn’t necessarily have a clear end, no more than does any one of our lives (other than a death forever beyond our full imagining). Perhaps (H)istory is long, often bloody, and takes a lot of work to understand.
Nature, too, in its depth and majesty, often Romanticized and Idealized by many moderns (collectivists and Hippies, especially), can be terrible, cruelly indifferent and the source of much of our suffering. These debates are old, and deep, so why not return to many original thinkers like Plato and Aristotle?
Politically and socially, I suddenly doubted that we’re necessarily heading towards knowable ends, individuals achieving a kind of virtue in declaring loyalty to the latest moral idea, protest movement, or political cause. Progress is complicated.
[Although] the (S)ciences are so successful in describing and explaining the Natural World, such knowledge can’t simply be transferred and implemented into policy and law, a bureaucracy and a technocracy [full of] of people who are often not even scientists. Perhaps there are many modern fictions abroad.
The more individuals are either liberated or freed (from tradition, from moral obligations to family and friends, from insitutions, from religious belief) it doesn’t necessarily follow such freedoms will be used wisely.
In fact, some individuals are clearly coalescing around narrow, totalitarian ideologies and failed theories of History through the road of radical chic (Marxism, Communism, Socialism). Other individuals are exploiting our current insitutional failures in favor of political extremism (alt-right and alt-left) while yet others are spending their formative years flirting with nihilism and anarchy in the postmodern soup.
Cycles of utopianism/dystopianism, and idealism don’t necessarily lead to stability, and more liberty.
Where I might agree with the moderns: I do think that Man’s reason, individual men’s use of mathematics applied to the physical world, sometimes occurring in flashes of profound insight, often after years of study and labor within and perhaps outside of a particular field, are tied to a reality which empirically exists. One could do a lot worse than the best of the Natural Philosopher.
It typically takes years to imbibe the necessary and often counter-intuitive tools to ‘see under the hood’ of Nature. Then, it often takes very long and close observation to make some kind of contribution. Unlike the Oakeshottian critique of rationalism in favor of tradition, I do think there are gains in basic competency from an education in the sciences that are not exclusive solely to the genius. Some of this can scale. Many laymen can become aware of how deterministic and probabilistically accurate these laws govern the world in which we live.
To be sure, we are undergoing a renaissance in certain fields: A technological revolution in our pockets and work lives, an explosion in space science, for starters.
As to my view of human nature, and a depressive realism, often informed by the humanites:
There’s something about Rene Girard’s work that strikes deep chords within me. I must confess, though, as a non-believer, I remain skeptical that a lot of Christianity isn’t Platonic Idealism + Synthesized Judaism + Transcendent Claims to Truth & Knowledge that gained ascendance within the Roman Empire. My ignorance shows.
A Christian and religious believer, Girard synthesizes psychology, literature, history, anthropology and philosophy along with his Christian faith into something quite profound.
Recommended. The mimetic theory of [desire] can really can change how you think about the world:
A briefer introduction here:
Girard and Libertarian thought?:
The closest I come to religious belief: Writers and musicians, at a certain point, give themselves over to their own mysterious, seemingly inexplicable, creative processes. If you practice enough (muscle memory), play your instrument alone and play with others, counting the time signature, you can makes sounds in time which express something deep about our condition, sharing it with others.
Even after the well runs dry, creative artists often go back to the bottom, finding themselves spent. The stronger the emotional loss and more real the pain; often this translates into the pleasure others take in your creation. But what is it you’re sharing exactly, from mind to mind and person to person?
This [can] produce something like a divine, God-worshipping, vulnerable state of mind and being, which is just as dangerous and corrupting as it is bonding and enriching. From Bach, to Prince, to now even Kanye West, apparently, religion can suddenly sweep into the gap.
Of course, studying and playing music is a conscious, reasoned process, more than many people know, but it also, very clearly isn’t entirely planned in the moment of its synthesis and creation.
Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
I’m missing a lot, here, folks, but doing my best with current resources. Thanks, as always, for reading.
As posted, here’s the organ intro to Boston’s ‘Foreplay-Long Time’ played at tempo, then slowed down.
I’m still a little mesmerized.
You’re never really that far away from the old hymns done up in new clothes.
Even if it’s the more adult-themed popcraft of ABBA:
We’ve got more [prizes] than [poets] these days. We’ve got way too much poetry in universities and institutions, and way too much foundation money, which is supposedly supporting good poetry, getting taken over by ideologues.
You don’t have to sink into the postmodern morass to make something meaningful.
Perhaps a lot depends on which kind of stiffs you want in charge.
Big-band and jazz, which were once popular art-forms, are now often curated like a patient etherised upon a table.
R.I.P Stanley Crouch (I’m glad they gave him a platform, but I don’t think we want to leave our music curation to the stiffs at NPR):
From the comments: ‘‘The Good Old Days When Musicians Looked Like Your Science Teacher’
There was a time when comedians wore tuxes, didn’t talk endlessly about the cosmic significance of comedy and the (S)elf, and musicians of all kinds entered in through the servant’s quarters.
Originally formed within a Houston church, now bringing tight percussion, percussive, memorable bass lines, and world-music, psychadelically-influenced guitar, I can’t quite tell what to make of Khruangbin:
“Taking influence from 1960’s Thai funk – their name literally translates to “Engine Fly” in Thai – Khruangbin is steeped in the bass heavy, psychedelic sound of their inspiration, Tarantino soundtracks and surf-rock cool.”
Obligatory hip-hop and black church drumming, radically chic bass and psychadelic, putumayo hippie guitar have the potential to be a self-indulgent mess.
But the groove is incredibly tight and mellow. The time-keeping is excellent. Memorable bass-lines are coming from an entry-level bass guitar. The lead is very nicely-played; textured, with emergent melodic lines sinking back into the narrative.
Most importantly, Khruangbin all seem to be going meaningfully to the same point in time. I don’t hear too much self-indulgence:
‘The general lesson from all of this is that when people understand what kind of pandemic they are facing, their behavioral immune system will motivate them to spontaneously change their behavior in adaptive ways to mitigate the health costs of the pandemic through social distancing, while also securing the social benefits of freedom of movement.’
I’m as much concerned about many ideas afoot in the Republic, the people we’ve elected, and the incentives those people are receiving, as I am about the disease. We’ve been rewarding many weak, often incorrect, and sometimes, hysterical voices in our current institutional landscape.
We also have a lot of large, semi-functional bureaucracies out there, full of people who haven’t been elected making decisions.
Speaking of information, Youtube appears to be mainstreaming and monetizing itself apace, while Twitter still seems to be amplifying LI=Loudest ignorance and selecting for LAB=Loud Activist Bias.
As many readers know, I have full trust and absolute confidence in the Twitter Trust & Safety Council. In an attempt to be as fair as I can, however, I suspect some Twitter problems are all-too-human. This could merely include the sentimental soft spots and biases of a few people scaled-out across the network, now involving lots of money and influence. If you’re building something other people use, perhaps it’s best not to scale-out your own biases and sentimental soft spots and tell users it’s raining.
Dear reader, this is why I write a blog with a few thousand followers.
Enjoy the rain!
As for the tendency in engineering types towards techno-utopianism which I’d argue could do with a good humanities, history or legal education (not necessarily the kinds of education available these days with so much bad institutional stewardship and capture): Today’s well-designed new software platform (if it’s lucky enough to gain traction), could well become tomorrow’s flea-market or center of online blight, with pockets of prostitution, drug-running and the occassional murder.
Do you want the online cops to run another dragnet for wrongthink while they unroll a new murderer-friendly outreach program?
It’s always worth a reminder: If you choose play the activist game, don’t be surprised if your partners suddenly flip-over the board, start throwing pieces around and claiming you are the new oppressor. The logic was there all along, after all.
Change, but at what cost?
As for my sentimental soft spots, here are a few things a reader points out (I’m into more classical guitar music, blues-based rock, some folk and a little jazz).
I had never thought to put these two together, so thank you. There’s a message in here, but you’ll have to dig it out yourself:
Long ago in Atlantic City: I got my palm read by a girl under an aluminum scaffold covered with a cheap, white tarp. It cost $15. She took my hand in hers and led me through the other booths to a canvas folding chair. She traced my palm lines and told me I would be rich. There was salt in the air, and a smell of tar rising from the boardwalk. A fly kept landing on her cheek and she kept extending her lower lip, exhaling a breath to blow it away. She was busy looking into my hand, my eyes, then off into the sea or seemingly within herself, as if divining some deeper meaning. The fly would land again, crawl slowly over her cheek, and rub its two front legs together and over its eyes.