Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Losing So Long

I keep on thinking that one of the reasons Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign failed is because the leftist argument he made, that even when he won, people would need to continue fighting and protesting in order to get the things we demand is just hugely unappealing to normal people not invested in politics. What’s funny is that, by default, this argument now needs to be made to all of Sanders’ supporters to convince them why they should vote for Joe Biden. The only thing that transfers from the Sanders campaign to Biden’s is the notion of bitter struggle for the world we want. I don’t think it’s hard to see why this is a losing message, although I do believe it is being made in good faith.

 This is the argument Noam Chomsky or any number of distinguished leftist intellectuals would make, and it can be reduced to "choosing the lesser evil," but it's meant to be pragmatic, and inherent in it is a skepticism of electoralism and voting altogether. I saw someone phrase it as "You're not choosing a leader when you vote, you're choosing an enemy," and this is a cogent and intelligent point. It also lacks any emotional appeal to people who aren't socialist organizers. It completely neglects the broad swath of Sanders voters - young people, Latinos, the working class, aging hippies, people with debt, people suffering from health problems, whoever - who are actively being crushed by the world as it is and either can not or simply don't want to devote their time to direct actions and door-knocking campaigns.

The Biden campaign promised to its supporters, namely corporate interests: "Vote for me and Trump won't be president anymore, and things will be normal!" This is a plain-spoken emotional appeal, to the people it's being spoken to, but it leaves out everyone with half of a brain who sees Trump's presidency as the logical conclusion to a right-wing bipartisan project of deregulation that's been going on for forty years. The problem with Sanders identifying as a Democratic Socialist isn't the baggage of the "socialist" label, it's the expectation it then creates that everyone who wants something better than that is prepared to struggle all their lives to get the things they want.

I expect there will be a huge number of people who either do not vote this year, or if they do, do not vote for either of the major parties' candidates for president. I suspect Joe Biden will subsequently lose, and Donald Trump will win a second term, but this is complicated by the fact that Trump probably intends to steal the election by a number of underhanded means. In general, predicting the future is a sucker's game. I can only tell you what people are prepared for, and they're prepared to blame Bernie Sanders for not getting his people in line. It will never be acknowledged that Joe Biden never, not once, displayed the slightest sign of empathy towards people less powerful than him, to promise something better, or even remotely appealing, to people other than the wealthy donors he's deferential to.

It was only after writing this entire post that the thought occurred to me that all of the Republicans speaking at the Democratic National Convention, to offer their endorsement to Joe Biden, might be a psy op, designed specifically to demoralize voters and lead to Trump's re-election, and that the Democratic party leadership, in their naivete, is taking them at their word. This sort of paranoid thought, that comes from a place of deep cynicism, is genuinely the only thing that makes me want to vote for Biden. It's inspired by what I know of the politics in countries that have suffered from coups and dictatorships. If we start thinking of the Republican party as genuinely fascist and authoritarian, and presume they are therefore interested in infiltrating their opposition to render it impotent, things coalesce into a simpler shape, and the point of electing Democrats is that, while they're completely compromised and ineffective due to right-wing infiltration, the right wing is at least somewhat hobbled, and some of their plans will not be carried out as quickly as intended.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

On Music And Being Alive

It surely happens every day, but it only comes up every three or four months. Someone projects their insecurities onto the world at large, aimed in particular at whoever makes them feel insecure. The postulation is made that people who like “weird music” are only pretending to like it, that there is something performative to the act of listening. This is done, it is said, for the sake of appearing “cool.”

In my experience, anyone whose taste in music currently seems “cool” has spent a good number of formative years looking like a dork, a time during which music was balm for their soul. If they seem cool now, it is only because they have moved past the point of caring, and so are able to behave in some manner unselfconsciously.

The people I’m describing might be, in my imagination, speaking from my own experience, white nerds now labeled “hipsters,” but it might be fair to apply the same transformative process to Black people, long-othered by the dominant American culture, now dancing freely and defining coolness more generally. The experience I’m describing can occur on an individual level or on a culture-wide one. To make someone else feel insecure as a result of one’s own confidence might be a part of the underlying intention, but it is still more the fault of the witness if they become upset. They are merely refusing to learn the proper lesson.

As far as anyone can figure, the origin of music, and its evolutionary purpose, comes from a child hearing its mother hum or sing and learning to become calm and reassured by her presence. Another way to put it is the Albert Ayler album title “Music is the healing force of the universe.” It is best to keep this in mind before considering someone else’s relationship to the music they favor as somehow an affront to you.

There’s an argument I associate with the Carl Wilson book “Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey To The End Of Taste” where the argument is made that the whole notion of musical taste is defined by people identifying with something, whether it be the monoculture or a subculture. I fundamentally disagree with this premise. My own opinion on the matter is far more esoteric, which is: There are just certain things that resonate with  an individual’s consciousness. Some music is more complex than other music, on a level of harmony or whatever. I don’t want to make it into a thing where certain music is “smarter” than other music, and you need to be “more intelligent” to get it. I do believe that is true on a certain level, but I also think notions of intelligence are highly subjective and variational, so to put it that simply would be to miss the point.

Your thought patterns have a rhythm. Cognition is different for each individual. There are also larger patterns undergirding everything: i.e., in order to articulate a thought into a single sentence, there are at first initial presentiments underlying it, that the act of drawing out puts into their form. I’m familiar with this from language, other artists are surely familiar with it from drawing, or the act of playing music, either individually or with another person. The hand starts to draw and its line articulates the space it describes. One melodic line suggests another and together something complex comes into being. After you say something, you realize on how many other levels it seems true, beyond the initial instinct that led you to say it. Harmonies are suggested in thought, in resonance: For instance, what I said earlier, when I was describing the experience of white nerds, I realized what I was saying might also apply on a broader level to an entirely othered culture. You say things and they resonate with someone else, they harmonize. Someone smarter than me could put the same things I’m saying into a better form. I remain an imperfect instrument, but that very imperfection informs both everything I say and possibly everything I love as well. This is my best guess for why taste is subjective, but it’s also my best guess for how music works, and when I say that I’m referring to music as this enormously powerful force.

I don’t play music. I’m incapable of doing so, at least at the level where I’m able to articulate my thoughts and harmonic concepts as clearly as I’m able to through writing. But I know from my own experience of writing that I can write a piece that years later I only vaguely recall but that I find compulsively readable, so drawn am I to its rhythms, which feel so natural, even if it’s a piece of fiction I strained over for months, unable to find the next sentence that would follow in the sequence from what I’d already written. Because while I’m saying “rhythm,” I don’t just mean the beat of it, the underlying tempo, but this sort of procession of melodic development, of harmonic build, that is a part of the excavation of the architecture of a particular self, which is not the self in isolation, but one connected, as if by tunnel, to the other people in the world who are in some way similar.

Some music is ritualistic, violent, as surely as some speech exists to inflame passions, stir up the fear in the lizard brain. Roger Ebert compared an Andrew Dice Clay concert film to a Nuremberg rally, I wonder what he would’ve made of a circle pit. I’m describing music like it’s a cathedral drawn in the air, or a spaceship, it can also be a bludgeon, or an ice pick. Those tools are needed sometimes.

I am analogizing music to consciousness but its relationship is more intimate than a mere metaphor. It’s a thing that fits inside of it and changes its shape at any given moment. As music once recorded becomes timeless, so too does consciousness seem to resist the container of linear time, stretching across in either direction, to provide the things we need to become what we do not yet know we’ll be.