Music and Independence in Late 20th-Century America
by Jody Nagel
Opinion and Observation
(An essay presented to the Ball State University School of Music Composition Seminar, October 1, 1998.)
Let us review some basic terms and definitions of political and economic thinking. (1) Politics is that area of human life dealing with power in societal, group, and interpersonal decision making. (2) Economics concerns itself with the manner in which resources, goods, and services are produced and distributed within a society. Since those in power choose the manner, it is clear there is a close relationship between the two. The primary conceptual paradigm in political and economic structures is whether one person, a subgroup of people, or all people participate in the acts of decision making and partake of the responsibilities and rewards of production and distribution. This paradigm, in various magnitudes, applies to groups of friends, clubs, teams, businesses, schools, militaries, churches, cities, states, nations, empires, or any other defined groupings of humans.
[A] At the largest level of consideration, political possibilities range from power held by one, as in despotism, to power held by all, as in pure democracy. From one extreme to another, then, these are among the possibilities for large-scale societies:
Despotism: societal control is maintained by one person, who holds himself above his own self-created laws. For example, "despot" was the honorary title of Byzantine emperors.
Monarchy: societal control is maintained by one person who is surrounded by advisory boards, and who is held accountable to his own self-created laws. Examples might include kings, queens, popes, and emperors.
Republic: a subset (of more or less size) of the population maintains societal control over the rest of the population. The subset may be church-oriented or secular, military or civilian, wise or selfish. If the republic has a leader, such as a president, then the degree of power of the leader is the determination of how far or close the republic is to that of a monarchy. The size of the subgroup in power is the determination of how far or close the republic is to that of a democracy.
Democratic Republic (a hybrid): all persons are involved only in the decision-making process used to select the leaders of a republic. An example is the American government as originally conceived by Jefferson and Adams.
Democracy: all persons are involved in all decisions. An example is the current American government, based on media-created opinion polls which, for the most part, determine the decisions of elected "leaders."
Totalitarianism: refers to a total lack of tolerance or respect, on the part of a despotic government, a monarchy, a republic, or a democracy, exhibited towards those who do not share in the power. "Tyranny" is a close synonym.
Anarchy: the lack of human-created civilized political structures, wherein people revert to barbarism and "survival-of-the fittest" modes of behavior.
The political spectrum of law-abiding civilizations include:
*not to be confused with the names of American political parties.
[B] Economics considers whether the efforts of individuals or groups create profit for just that individual or group, or whether, collectively, the efforts of individuals and groups create profit for everyone, or for some particular subset of the population. The relationship between individual effort and profit is then seen on the same paradigm scale of [one], [subset], [all].
Pure capitalism is on one side: an individual's or group's capital (his owned property and possessed skills) is used to create profit for the individual or group. Charitable acts may indeed follow the creation of individual wealth, such as supporting families, churches, social or artistic organizations, but, like the ownership of the capital itself, these acts are conducted individually. Examples include modern western culture.
Pure communism is on the other side: an individual's or group's efforts, and in relationship to any other individual's or group's efforts, produce wealth which is owned by all in equal amounts. The word "communism" is of the same linguistic root as in such notions as "communing" with nature, receiving "communion" in a church, "communicating with friends," or being a responsible member of a "community." The essential quality of communism is the root-meaning "together with." Examples include the first-century Christian communes, and some pre-western native-American Indian cultures. Since the totalitarian republics of 20th-century China and the Soviet Union misused the word "communism," and since anti-communist, pro-capitalist American powers purposely enflamed the misunderstanding of the term in propaganda wars, it is unfortunate but necessary to recommend that the continued usage of the lovely, ethically-inspiring term, "communism," be discontinued, and replaced with the weaker synonym, "socialism."
The economic paradigm, then, involves the opposing tendencies of capitalism and socialism.
It must be stressed that, theoretically, a society, or subset of society, could exist at any point on the political spectrum, and at any point on the economic spectrum. Socialist Democracies, Capitalist Monarchies, Socialist Republics, and Capitalist Anarchies are all quite possible, as is any degree of mixture between socialist and capitalist aspects within one society.
(A) From at least the time of Plato's masterpiece "Republic" and onwards, the middle of each of the spectrums was most often considered by thinking people the superior social structure. Pure Democracy was, and still is, considered by many thinking people to be equivalent to chaos, and naturally totalitarian in nature. Monarchies are considered unacceptably authoritarian in nature and intrinsically unfair by many thinking people. English philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), strongly influenced by French statesman and author Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59), emphasized that the "chief danger of democracy is that of suppressing individual differences and of allowing no genuine development of minority opinion. Democratic tyranny would be far worse than aristocratic or despotic tyranny, since it would be far more effective in utilizing the most efficient means of social control, the pressure of public opinion."Footnote 1 (Consider that this was said prior to the invention of radio or television!) When Thomas Jefferson, 3rd American president and philosopher (1743-1826), helped to shape the very original and hybridized Democratic Republic of the initial U.S. government, he did not worry that it would become too much of a republic, but, rather, that it would degenerate into a pure democracy.
No thinking person in all history desired a pure democracy, and Mill, who was initially drawn to the notion of democracy (but later modified his position), stated that a democratic government "could not work well unless the citizens who lived under it were reasonably well educated, tolerant of opposing views, and willing to sacrifice some of their immediate interests for the good of society."Footnote 2 The essential point is that not everyone can know everything necessary to make intelligent decisions about every question. There is no point in having a non-engineer democratically vote on which is the best bridge design for some particular river. Though later, they may be asked on their favorite color paint, there is no point in having non-engineers consider stress equations. People that do not understand necessary principles must obviously be excluded from decision-making involving those principles. It is absurd to listen to claims of media-censorship, elitism, or exclusionism from individuals that do not belong in a particular decision-making circumstance. Contemporary Americans, however, seem to believe that pure democracy is desirable, that their ignorance is no excuse for not having an opinion, and that requiring knowledge prior to decision-making is "elitist." Besides the fact that it is a complete misuse of the word "elitism,"Footnote 3 it is also completely idiotic. Modern educators, most of whom have bought into post-modernist, ultra-relativist,Footnote 4 truth-denying philosophies, tend to support pure-democracy politics, and they seem to believe that all people are deserving of having their unformed, raw opinions contribute equally to any act of decision-making, rather than allowing specific decisions to be made only by those possessing a highly-contemplated, well-worked-out knowledge base. Wouldn't it be nice if Americans were required to be able to name the major candidates (let alone understand their platforms) before being allowed to participate in an election! Mark Steyn, of the Montreal Gazette (7/26/98) reported that America ranked a dead-last average score in a survey of 17 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations in math from 8th-grade on, and are very low in everything else. (Incidentally, in my state, Indiana students rank 47th within the U.S. as a whole.) Apparently our forefathers, who worried so much about us (more than we do ourselves) were quite justified in their fears; as we have plummeted in our education, we have embraced democracy more and more.
It is highly disturbing to realize that, though few societies have ever been quite as democratic as ours has become, those that have tended towards increasing democracy have always eventually been annihilated by despotic totalitarianism. In contemporary America, the influence of broadcast media (especially television) has created a tunnel-vision in the breadth of knowledge held by most people. Our supposed democracy is really a totalitarian republic that is controlled by those in the media itself. As Mill said, control of the media will produce the ultimate totalitarianism, since the people will be so manipulated that they actually believe they are yet free. Those of opposing viewpoints, those outside of the arenas set up by the media, are utterly rejected. Relative to the then-current communications systems and knowledge bases, in the past, slaves lacked freedom of the body; in our society, the enslaved masses lack freedom of the mind.
(B) In economic considerations, it seems that the middle of the spectrum is also desirable. Too much emphasis on self-created profit leads to a non-empathetic society. The out-of-control selfishness of modern materialistic Americans reflects their economic system of "screw-thy-neighbor-before-thy-get-screwed" nth-degree pure capitalism. A marketing-manipulated, advertising-controlled commercialism transforms the highly evolved human species into unthinking lemmings. The relative stresses between high and low economic classes create deep-seated hatreds, though often unspoken. The mind-set of manipulation turns people into objects, rather than fellow subjects. Love, honor, and respect evaporate. Crime rates and suicide rates soar. Desire for true education, as opposed to a self-defeating and self-limiting job-training, plummets. Family structures collapse. Religious institutions are rendered hollow shells that end up transmitting a substance-less hypocrisy. A society so formed is so unfulfilling to live within that, purely in the name of enlightened self-interest, no thinking person would desire a purely capitalistic society. Yet, that is what we have. And, in general, it is the fundamentalist elements that most champion the current state, quite at odds with their sacred texts, and who become the most willing of pawns, reflecting a kind of Neo-Confucianism, and thereby allowing those in power to exclusively remain in power.
It also seems clear that pure communism will not logically work. No matter how perfect a society humans may or may not be capable of creating, they are certainly not bees in a collective hive. If the individual is denied reward for his or her efforts in the name of collective wealth, then the communistic system will always eventually fail. To put it differently, it has already failed to be a truly human communism the instant that individual strivings are dismissed.
A reasonable middle position favors a healthy amount of competition that does not produce the anxiety of current business competition levels; a reasonable rate of change in technology over time, as opposed to the alienating rush of change currently forced upon us; a system that provides structures for all individuals to create individual niches in life without being forced to compile student debts lasting their lifetime; expectations of doing high-quality work and in reasonable amounts, as opposed to living amidst our current stress-induced illnesses stemming from 60- and 70-hour-and-more workweeks; a reasonable level of earned material profit relative to the whole gross national/global product; the avoidance altogether of welfare structures which generate laziness and dishonor; and the insistence that all humans have a place in the world, a place for the body to live healthily and to work productively, a place for the mind to flourish individually, and amidst socially-encouraged family structures.
Jefferson said in the Declaration of Independence, "That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." If Jefferson were alive today, he would initiate the Revolutionary War all over again in an effort to free people from the tyrannies of pure democracy and the degeneration of the human condition within pure capitalism and its associated commercialism. Be sure that the lessons learned from macro-historical cycles assure us that the current mess will not last.
Plato was one of the first to champion the logic of a middleground republic form of government, where the leaders had to earn their position based on principles. Consider this extreme case. (Mathematicians and scientists always consider extreme cases to help clarify the boundaries of a given problem.) Decision-making must always start from some underlying principle, perhaps unspoken. I challenge the person who claims truly to believe in pure democracy as his or her basis for decision-making. Given: all the members (except one) of some group (say, an entire state) vote to kill the one person because the person is too different. (Imagine also that no crime is involved.) If "democracy" is truly the most foundational principle to you, then you should have no ethical problem in recognizing the right of the group to murder the individual. If, however, you believe this represents an ethical problem, then you do not actually believe in "democracy" as the most foundational principle. If you believe that a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is more fundamental than "democracy," then you agree with Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. Since most people now assume democracy is indeed the most foundational, perhaps a constitutional amendment is necessary outlawing the Declaration of Independence as being too socially unacceptable in its implications. If you agree with Jefferson, then you better have a good reason for your agreement with the Declaration's principles. Most would argue that a right to life comes from some deity. To be sure, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin, like the French Enlightenment era philosophers, Voltaire (1694-1778), and Rousseau (1712-78) were anti-theistic, anti-church-authoritarianism-oriented Deists. A deistic, (or, for that matter, even a theistic) position seems simply to back-up the problem as to why an individual deserves the right to life over a democratic majority, and attributes this value-judgment to the Will of God without explaining why it should actually be required to be the Will of God. Nevertheless, many humans believe the notion of the Authority of God and that God has indeed actually willed a right to life; therefore, they accept a divine basis for a right to life. One might also find a degree of reasonableness in the position of genetics and evolution: If the society of some species experimented with the possibility of having individuals freely killing other members of the group, not checked even by those limiting institutional factors that are found in societies that employ capital punishment or, in the past, human sacrifice, then that group would quickly die out, and its genes wouldn't pass on. Nature's experiment would quickly end, and it could be seen that it is simply illogical in purely naturalistic mathematical terms to suppose that an ethical system not excluding free murder within the group could form; nor has it ever done so. Therefore, regardless of a divine or an evolutionary starting point, there is here represented at least one principle which can be seen to be more fundamental than "democracy": the right to individual life within a species, all other factors being equal. The leaders of a non-degenerative republic would simply have to acknowledge such principles, ignoring democratic whinings to the contrary. If the leaders of a republic caved in to majority opinion, they would clearly represent John Stuart Mill's conception of the "tyranny of democracy."
Now we will turn our attention to music. Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, virtually all European medieval thinkers, and all thinkers through the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment in Europe agreed that to be educated meant, among other things, to be knowledgeable in music. What they meant by musical understanding, however, is what 20th-century educators refer to, with moods ranging from hostility to indifference, as "music theory." Plato said that only slaves and the peasant classes would actually be publicly performing instrumentalists and vocalists. Do not dismiss Plato's words too prematurely. The youths of Plato's day were taught to play the lyre and to sing as a way of sharpening their music comprehension skills; they did not (in reverse) learn "music theory" in order to become professional "musicians." When a school of music refers to their theory program as a "service" program for their musicians, it is only because the educators are so enslaved to current modes of thought; they would have no idea what to do with Plato's words. We will see shortly that Plato was, and is, awsomely correct, even today.
Plato also said that "the character of a nation is determined by that music to which it listens." The current democratic capitalistic world has evolved a perfect enslaving music. From this point forward, 20th-century pop rock, hard rock, rap, rock-inflected country, contemporary Christian, and all microscopic variations on 4/4 drum-track music will be called "commercial music." There are three aspects to consider when discussing music of any sort. (1) aesthetic/artistic considerations. (2) bio-psychological issues. (3) political and economic social issues.
(1) This essay will spend very little time addressing aesthetic issues. To try to argue the vast superiority of other musics of the world throughout much of the last 500 years, such as Romantic symphonies, swing-era jazz, Indian ragas, or Chinese operas, with a commercial music devotee, would be similar to a mathematical theoretician needing to prove to a mentally-retarded 5-year-old drug addict that a particularly knotty integration proof was more interesting than adding pairs of single-digit numbers together. There simply isn't any point in "throwing pearls to the swine" and in showing them arguments that have a naturalistic basis, or explanations of an aesthetics containing a reasonable domain of variety, but not infinitely so, and that reflect fundamental aspects of being a conscious, sentient, symbol-abstracting, cyclical, bilaterally-symmetrical, thinking human being. If thinking is given up, then we are right back where we started from 5-million years ago. If, however, thinking is preserved, there becomes the possible basis for discussing aesthetics. I accept a naturalistic, non-relativist, reasoned basis for aesthetic argument, and will not recognize the validity of any aesthetic judgment that begins with the words, "well, in your opinion." Aesthetic issues will only be discussed further here to the extent that they have bearing on the other two areas.
(2) Bio-psychological issues are now coming to the fore everywhere. It is clear that "commercial" drum-set music has several real effects on the body. The U.S. military obviously realizes this; they used loudly amplified hard rock to blast Noriega in Panama during the 80's. Hard rock was blasted from helicopters in the Vietnam war to terrorize the local people. In the spring of 1997, a South American government used amplified hard rock to disorient radical terrorists holding Japanese hostages. And a few months later the United Nations Council on Human Rights decreed that Israel was not allowed to continue blasting hard rock at their Palestinian captives as a form of torture. Neurologists recognize that this music creates distraction and less of an ability to focus, and therefore to problem solve. It increases hostility. Super low frequency, high amplitude waves are now being studied by the military as forms of weaponry and crowd control, because the right combination of sonic factors apparently causes people to lose control of their intestines. The music creates nausea in those not mentally conditioned to it. The American incidence of tinnitus (ringing in the ears) is on a dramatic rise, and many attribute a good percentage of this to listening to loud music. (Frequently, however, the tinnitus does not occur until ten, twenty, or more years after the period of regularly hearing loud music.) Many have now heard of Virginia high school student David Merrill's experiment on mice. Originally the mice averaged 10 minutes through a maze. After repeated testings and daily exposures to either silence, Mozart, or hard rock, the silence-immersed mice lowered their average to about 5 minutes; the Mozart mice lowered their average to 1 1/2 minutes, while the hard rock mice increased their average to 30 minutes. The experiment ended when too many of the hard rock mice killed one another. It is clear that hard rock/rap drum-set music desensitizes the brain, while increasing aggressive behavior. I personally need no experiments on mice to see the obvious similarities happening in people here and now. What I really wonder is if six billion humans on the earth times amplified rock music equals an increase in the amount of plate tectonic activity of the planet!
A true music theorist already understands the essential musical mechanics of both why commercial music is of low aesthetic worth, and why it is so desensitizing. (A truly wise person would never comprehend how one could value and cherish something which was bad for the self.) In particular, in music, each musical parameter (i.e., melodic contour, rhythm, motive, theme, tempo, dynamic level, tessitura, range, instrumental color, form, etc.) changes over time, and to some extent remains the same over time. In mentally desensitizing commercial music, the degree of change of ALL parameters throughout a particular song, and from one song to another achieves minimal values. When the music is listened to as background music all day long, it creates a tunnel-vision of the mind, a numbness due to lack of change. When did this first occur? Well, harnessed electricity is only one and a quarter centuries old. Commercial music addiction was logically not possible prior to this point, and originally came about because of continuous radio broadcasting. It is certainly absurd to suggest that commercial music addiction is natural. Unlike invented tools, which we quickly learn to use from the time of their invention and onwards, hearing continuous music has biological ramifications, and no one could claim that we are capable of genetically evolving to assimilate this musical onslaught within our systems in merely a dozen decades. (And, we never should!)
To quote from an earlier essay of mine:
So what is "quality" in musical composition? What is "fine" art? (Or, at least, what isn't it?) I will give an analogy. Mexico City is the largest city on Earth, with over 20 million people. Half of them, 10 million people, live in cardboard shacks in a 10-mile swath of abject poverty encircling the city. Yet, in spite of the vast numbers, schools of architecture around the world do not teach "Mexican cardboard-shack design" as a form of human fine art. A social worker, using desperate measures, may try to improve upon "cardboard shack design" for the purposes of survival, but no one refers to the resultant structures as works of art. Now, in spite of the vast numbers of artistically and musically illiterate Americans living within the current pop music ghetto, there is no basis for considering this type of trashy music to be "fine art." This music, found now in every human establishment, and from which everyone lacks the freedom to escape, has created (ironically) the "new ability" people have developed for "tuning out" the music, something unheard of in earlier centuries. According to Homer, Odysseus almost went insane and many a sailor were drawn to their deaths because of the beauty within the music of the Sirens. To go to the other extreme, a modern American in a shopping mall probably does not even notice there is any music at all. Surely the automatic ability to "tune out" music represents the death of music as a life-enriching form of art.
Plato said that the character of a nation is determined by the type of music that it listens to. How can our nation solve its political and economic problems, its problems of crime, education and the environment, when the average person is incapable of comprehending relationships, thanks to the mind-deadening music that it hears. The ancient world never separated the study of math and music, because the two are both nothing if not the study of relationships, cognitive as well as perceptual. The art of music is dying in this country, and is being replaced with mindless entertainment. As far as I am concerned, this is the death of society. (Certainly, at any rate, such a desensitized commercial-music-listening person is unqualified to be a true musician, and has no business being a college "music major.") [from What does "Fine" mean in the name "College of Fine Arts"? What Should it mean? (1997)]
(3) This leads to political and economic issues. In spite of the aesthetic worthlessness of commercial music, and in spite of its mind-deadening properties, in no way would I ever suggest that it be outlawed. I do not feel that anyone should be forced to give up that which they are addicted to, no matter how bad it is for them, if they really wish to keep their addiction. However, addicted people must not be allowed to vote, must be kept from operating vehicles on the road, in the water, or in the air, and should be counciled regularly. The legal implication is clear: the problem is for those that do not wish to hear commercial music. As unwanted sex is considered to be rape, unwanted commercial music too rapes the mind. As 2nd-hand smoke harms other people, 2nd-hand music damages other people that do not wish to hear it. John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty, states another fundamental maxim: "the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection." Mill essentially acknowledges the biological "flight or fight" instinct, which causes trapped animals to fight. He also essentially states the old cliché, "the right to swing your fist stops at my nose." It is your responsibility to avoid striking me; it is not my responsibility to duck. If this principle actually were followed, it would outlaw telephone solicitation, all environment polluters so as to avoid toxin-accumulation-based diseases, and all assault weapons (including the musical kind.) A person who wishes to kill their own brains and ears by listening to amplified commercial music at 110 decibels has every right to do so if they first build themselves an insulated sound-proofed environment. If they do not, they are attacking me. If I am in no position to engage in flight, then the proper biological reaction is to fight. Modern psychologists, though, would have us merely learn to "cope" with stress; they most likely would have told George Washington to "chill out," take some prozac, and learn to "tune out" the British. These people, like fundamentalists, are also, essentially, Neo-Confucianists, supporting the status quo, and weakening the statistical possibility of removing sources of stress. They offer aspirin to a world in need of the surgical removal of a brain tumor. Modern police forces are also no help. Either law-enforcement agencies must protect the rights of individuals over the tyranny of the masses and ticket and fine stereo-blasting from cars and buildings, especially when loudspeakers are attached to the outside of buildings, or they must acknowledge that law itself has become defunct, that we live in a completely anarchistic society, in which case, if I am assaulted, I assault back. In such a society, the winner wins all; the loser is dead. I loathe such a scenario, yet isn't this already true in essence?
Indeed, commercial music blasters do not insulate their actions. They even have the gall to consider me the selfish party for attempting to disallow them to assault me with their music. Sorry, in every legal precedent from the signing of the Magna Charta in England, June 15, 1215 and afterwards, it is the instigator of action, not the receiver of action, who must treat their actions responsibly. When I say to them, do you realize that you are hurting me and forcing me to endure something against my will, they say their favorite words, "f__k you." This behavior is an expression, obviously, of tyranny. Any unwanted loud music is unacceptable, though it is only commercial music (for some not inexplicable reason) that is used so irresponsibly. The elitist commercial music business, in its single-minded goals of gaining financial profit, has enlisted willing slaves into its armies. Plato said that only slaves and peasants should be musicians. The statement is still equally true, but in reverse. Musically-illiterate instrumentalists are slaves along with all the rest of society to those corporate powers that wish to remain in power, that continue to profit from this miserable state of affairs, and that want the masses to remain musically illiterate so that they can be controlled through music. Interestingly, whereas music theorists deduce older composer's self-created rules AFTER the music was created, modern marketing techniques dictate which rules must be followed BEFORE the music is made, and, so that they have a chance of "making it," every young would-be band or "pop-musician" internalizes these rules without question. They are slaves.
So, People tune out music and desensitize themselves to art. Therefore they desensitize themselves to an aspect of themselves. People alienated from their own humanity can not solve the problems of humanity. While society continues to listen to garbage, it will continue to live in a garbage society filled with crime, absurd magnitudes of greed and selfishness, ineffective government leadership, and disregard for the natural environment; and with the legalized lying and brainwashing that is politely called "marketing." Somewhere or another I once heard "you shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free." Now, understanding music is the only means possible to escape from the single greatest controlling force in commercialism, namely commercial music based primarily on the artificial perpetuation of the stylistic features of late 1960's hard rock. For example, if one understands the relationship of two major triads with roots a minor third apart, played on distorted guitar, one can not be duped into the subconscious "cool" syndrome that this harmony and timbre usually elicits in unwitting listeners. The "cool" syndrome, then, generates greater susceptibility for being influenced into buying something, just as with some suggestion drug. Truly, if one is free from having to worry about being "cool" in our youth-dominated society, one is free indeed! In an enslaved commercial society, the last thing the power structure wants is real music education, though people are welcome to learn all the instruments they want.
Rock music is a mind-desensitizing drug, a type of weapon, not a type of art. Now, selfish people blast their stereos from their cars, at parks and beaches, and in their homes, as a way of establishing turf, just like dogs urinating on trees. At worst, they dare you to challenge them to turn it down by their looks of hate and indifference, and, at best, they are oblivious to the effects of their selfishness on their fellow man. If parents cared properly for their children, they would, among other things, forbid them to play on freeways, eat poison, or listen to rock/rap music. Some otherwise responsible parents (increasingly rare as they are) have the notion that rock music is merely "their" music, children's music, and believe it is harmless, even if they the parents don't like it. If this is how children are "loved," they might as well be substituted directly for the mice in Merrill's experiment. Parents! You are making your born-naturally-intelligent kids dumber by letting them ruin their minds this way. Children's chances of becoming common criminals are much greater if they learn early on the habit of assaulting others with "their" music, the music of commercial aggression. If Hitler had had this modern marketing weapon, he would have certainly claimed victory in World-War II.
Why is the current sonic assault legal? Because the mind-numbing, mentally-dulling effect that this has on people effectively turns them into willing consumers, which is what the commercial world wants. Currently, our legal system is itself simply a pawn of American capitalism. This is why you are incapable of being free from this music; it is found in every restaurant, mall, clothing store, airport, exercise and aerobics center, gas station, hair salon, convenience store, grocery store, commercial television and radio advertisement, telephone "on hold" system, doctor's office, amusement park and fairgrounds, swimming pool, and worst of all, in the secretaries' offices of the various divisions of Schools of Music within Colleges of Fine Arts. You are no longer free to conduct your life outside of the presence of this type of music. To borrow symbolism from the Book of Revelation (13:16-18), "[the beast of the earth] forced everyone, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name." All know the famous number, 666. If you are unwilling to wear the mark, you are locked out of the economic system, excluded from the buying and selling of goods. Any American that attempted to live their life completely outside of the presence of commercial rock music, would be forced to remain excluded from the entire economic activities of the nation. This is tyranny. This is worth fighting another war over, in order to regain freedom of the mind.
When the president of the university where I currently teach was told at a luncheon that music from car stereos and dorms was the worst problem on the campus, he laughed, and refused to listen further. When the vice-president of student affairs was told that car stereos on campus and the outside rock music stereo system set up at a prominent campus intersection aimed directly at the College of Fine Arts, caused pain and interfered with classes being taught, he callously asserted that it was not a problem, and caused no one pain but me. I dare say, I am not unique enough for that statement possibly to be true, but, you see, if the majority votes to kill someone, the majority wins, in an unprincipled tyrannical democracy. The individual's rights, my rights, are not protected based on legal principles, but are simply trampled based on supposed democracy. The university allows such anti-education, anti-learning, anti-teachable behavior by student terrorists with their sonic weapons on campus, because, capitalistically, the university fears the students would go elsewhere if they were held accountable to principles of respectful behavior. Capitalism kills art, education, and ethical behavior. The commercial music addicts are not forced to go to insulated spaces to listen to their loud music, as smokers are now thankfully forced to go to smoking areas. They noise-pollute the campus from the beginning to the end of the day, and laugh at anyone else's anguish. Like an addicted drug user, the hard rock defender hears these arguments and declares, "I don't care. It's not a problem." These individuals are not educable, perhaps not even job trainable. I certainly trust no one in any profession that chooses to listen to commercial music. It is amazing that parents, who pay high tuition prices, have not created class-action law suits against universities for not providing sonically acceptable learning environments, especially in dorms, for their children. Perhaps simply no one has thought of it yet.
In analogous areas, I can understand that illegal drug use might never vanish, but the one place you would not expect to have it thrust on you is when you go into a pharmacy to obtain an anti-biotic prescription. I can understand that some people engage in what is called "Satan worship," but I don't expect to encounter it Sunday morning in a Baptist church. And it might truly be impossible, now, to change society from its massive commercial music addiction, as if someone has poisoned the national water supply. It may be that this mind-desensitizing, anti-learning, brainwashing force is here to stay, but I DON'T EXPECT TO BE FORCED TO ENDURE THIS AT AN INSTITUTION OF HIGHER LEARNING. It utterly and completely negates the function of a university. If legally there is no choice but to allow this assault, then a university is a logical impossibility in our times, and we should lock up the buildings and all go home. The usual commercial music defense is that insistence on amplitude restrictions would go against free speech laws, which is nonsense. Loud rock/rap music's vibrational assault is as much free speech as is a bullet in the brain in order to "express" one's anger; if this is free speech, then its category is that of threats and verbal harassment, which is supposedly illegal. Why are old-fashioned noise ordinances ignored by so-called law enforcement agencies? Educators say that universities are changing. These same people lie to the public by constantly recentering test scores, so that the public remains unaware of how stupid it is becoming. Sorry. No more NewSpeak. The word has been defined quite well for almost 3000 years. The "university" is not changing at all. Institutions are changing. Namely, they are changing from being a university to being NOT a university.
I hereby declare independence from American commercial slavery. As a composer, I offer my music not to Americans, who seem happily to embrace mental slavery, but, as the dedication on the first page of my orchestral/choral setting of Jefferson's Declaration of Independence says, "to all humans everywhere on the planet who wish they had freedom from tyranny." If the orchestras of any nation still have an audience left worth playing for, I invite you to perform the Declaration of Independence; with your instruments, with your voices, in your hearts and minds, and in the way you live your lives. As they once said in the state of New Hampshire, live free, or die. In John Stuart Mill's conception of responsible freedom, live free, . . . or die. If you are unteachable, tyrannical, and selfish, and have merely laughed at the words of this essay, I recommend to you the latter. To the rest, I truly, truly wish you freedom from tyranny.
Most sincerely, humbly, and respectfully yours,
1The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 5, Paul Edwards, Ed. in Chief, p.321. The Macmillan Company & The Free Press, New York. © 1967. 1978. Return to main text
2ibid., p.320. Return to main text
3A usual accusation against those that defend fine art, is that they are elitist. Elitism is a term used to describe people in power deciding which aspects of the culture are to be given access to the remainder of the people. (The Random House College Dictionary defines "elitism" as "the practice of or belief in rule by an elite.") The Esterházy court for which Haydn composed his music from 1760 to 1790 was elitist, to be sure. The many peasants, through whose sweat was paid Haydn's Kapellmeister position, never would have had access to hearing those works. Now, however, we have libraries and PBS radio and TV for the taking. They cry out for people to partake of what they have to offer, with very few takers. At the same time, the commercial music business decides in advance which music will become "hits" and how stylistically it is to be written. They decide what must be played by which commercial radio stations. They in power decide which music people will and will not have access to, and be brainwashed by, based on their notions of making profit. So I say, who is the one who is elitist? It is not the late-20th-century American defender of fine art. Elitism is about power. In defending fine art, I am discussing quality, the quality of the art objects themselves, not power. Stupidity, ignorance, mass brainwashing, and aesthetic trash is still what it is...bad; even if those possessing such values dislike that fact about themselves. Trash is trash, regardless if someone misuses the term "elitism" and applies it to me. [from What does "Fine" mean in the name "College of Fine Arts"? What Should it mean? (1997)]. Return to main text
4I agree with Harvard Philosopher Hillary Putnam on several points concerning the topic of "relativism", the notion that all beliefs are equally good and purely a matter of subjective opinion. Firstly, a passionate opposition to all forms of political, moral, and intellectual authoritarianism (which most intelligent people feel) does not logically require a philosophical commitment to relativism. (H. Putnam, Reason, Truth and History, Cambridge University Press, p.149.) Secondly, we would not at all be better off in the long run if we abandon notions of "impartiality," "consistency," and "reasonableness," even if all we ever do is approximate these qualities in our life. The opposite notion, that there are only "subjective" beliefs about such things, with no "objective" reality about values, is a critical error. (Putnam, p. 164.) As Putnam so aptly puts it, "If any point of view is as good as any other, then why isn't the point of view that relativism is false as good as any other?" (Putnam, p. 119.) Unfortunately, some ethnomusicologists around the country, like many anthropologists, have completely bought in to philosophical relativism, and they would have us believe that Eskimo whale-hunting chants are of equal worth to a Beethoven symphony. In principle, I am in favor of multi-culturalism, but I am interested in encountering the great art of various cultures, and am unwilling to use musical refuse from around the world just to be "multi-cultural." The cardboard shacks of Mexico City, Mexico are not of equal architectural worth to the Taj Mahal mausoleum in Agra, India. And the vast majority of human musical activity is not fine art either. [from What does "Fine" mean in the name "College of Fine Arts"? What Should it mean? (1997)]. Return to main text
Dr. Jody Nagel
September 30, 1998