Criticism: It Sucks! (part the third)

NaBloPoMo Day 13!

I left off yesterday discussing my utopian vision for a better world. 😉 Or, at least my fervent hope that human interaction isn’t by definition doomed to devolve into nitpicking one-upmanship, and that we just might be capable of more. I have just a few more thoughts on the topic for now.

If we want to keep from endlessly reenacting primal dominance rituals, first we need to be aware that that’s part of what’s going on. A few handy terms might be helpful in that regard.

I mentioned the zero sum game before, and I mention it again because a) it’s a particular pet peeve of mine and 2) it dovetails nicely with another concept I want to mention.

I participate in a few different online discussion sites, where impolite topics like politics and religion are discussed. Time and time again, I’ve seen someone identify a certain idea/cause/topic/issue as something important, and, as reliably as a Swiss train, someone else will pop up and say, “Yeah, but what about this other idea/cause/topic/issue, huh? Why don’t you care about THAT?” Here’s a silly example: Let’s say I decide to volunteer in a soup kitchen, and I see that good things are being done there and I want to spread the word about it, so I start talking about it, and my enthusiasm for it is so great that somebody else can’t stand that so much energy might be going to something outside their control, so they get all huffy and say, “That’s just great, but what are you doing to pressure the auto industry to increase fuel efficiency in cars? Nothing? Just as I thought! You don’t caaaaare!” 😥

Of course, I DO care about fuel efficiency, and even if I didn’t, that shouldn’t stop my hypothetical compadre from working on the issue. Hunger and fuel economy aren’t engaged in a chess match.

But I see people acting as if life were a zero sum game quite often, and I think it’s related to what’s called a scarcity mentality. If you’re wondering, by the way, what any of this has to do with music, here we go:

Another fun activity you get to do in grad school is go to lectures by visiting scholars. The quality of these events varies widely. Sometimes they’re life-changingly great. Sometimes they make me think there must’ve been an epidemic of severe insomnia in the academic world at some point, and these events were devised as part of the treatment plan. One type that comes to mind at the moment is the successful-yet-curmudgeonly éminence grise who comes to share his (or possibly her, but mostly his, in my experience) wisdom with the assembled students, but also to inform us that the field of music is deteriorating, the resources and support for it are drying up, and it’s only gonna get worse. Fantastic news to those of us who have decided to throw ourselves into years of advanced musical training, while those of our friends from undergrad who aren’t masochistic lunatics are out in the working world, contributing the maximum in matchable funds to their 401k plans.

It’s bollocks, of course. The death of classical music has been reported on repeatedly during the past 100 years or more. (Here’s an in-depth article on the topic by another of my former professors. Aren’t I just the little name-dropper? 😉 ) If classical music took on human form, it would quote Mark Twain. And I find it hard to understand why folks who’ve had long careers, who have found success, would cling to such a “glass half-full — of poison” mentality.

Or maybe it’s not hard to understand. Maybe they feel the need to defend their slice of the pie from a horde of young upstarts in fashionably-tattered clothing. “I’ve got mine — back off, sonny!” 🙄

As an aside, I’d like to say something that’s really pretty obvious: these human dynamics I’m talking about are by no means confined to the music world, or to academia. They just take on a particularly high tone there, is all. But since I mentioned online forums, I’d just like to take this moment to say that examples of the “you’ve gotta be wrong so I can be right” dynamic can be found in these virtual communities in almost embarrassing abundance. At one point I had the urge to post an expository essay on the cerulean tint of the celestial regions as seen from the earth during daylight hours, just to see what the opposing arguments would be, and how short a time it would take for them to appear. ‘Twould be worth making popcorn for, I think.

But at least I could expect some intelligent thought on the subject if I posted in the right place. Sadly, you don’t have to look very far to find rampant idiocy infesting this wonderful series of tubes we call the internets. I mean, I guess it was a good idea to start adding comments sections to every online newspaper and website and youtube video; it’s democracy, right? Free speech! I’m all for it! But do you ever read any of that stuff? I do sometimes, and it’s like spelunking through the underground river of toxic ectoplasm that was discovered to be the source of rudeness among New Yorkers in Ghostbusters II. Every once in awhile you’ll find something insightful, or cleverly funny — as opposed to unintentionally funny. You can sometimes find kernels of corn in cow patties, too, but why would you want to do that kind of search?

[Note: I know that the above analysis only applies to some sectors of the internet, not all. And I encourage you to comment here, as I know that this particular corner of cyberspace would never descend to that level! 🙂 ]

When I get fed up with the dark, slimy side of human nature, I tend to ask, along with my buddy Bill,

How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea?”

I’ll tackle that in the (blessed!) conclusion to this series! 😀


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