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Style

“For those unacquainted with the blues, it is not necessary to know much except all blues sound essentially the same. What counts is the individuality of the singer, the soul of the performer. Everyone plays the same three or four chords; the melodies are almost indistinguishable, so the captivating part is what the player brings to the form. In the presence of a rare and gifted player or singer, one can capture for a moment a special feeling. It may cause you to cry or laugh. Sometimes it can change your life. It is this essence that compels everyone who hears the blues to listen to more.” – Michael Nesmith, The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora.

“There exists a unique language, halfway between a thought and a gesture.” – Antonin Artaud

In Platonic philosophy there exists a belief of the perfect form of things. Any manifestation of that object or person is only an imperfect instantiation of the perfect form. Working with this model in mind, we all have pre-programmed into our minds the concepts that exist of these objects. It is not the rabbit itself that is the ‘rabbitness’ and in truth there is no form needed to truly encompass the idea of rabbit. This is to say, the concept of rabbit and rabbitness is independent of the actual form of rabbit. This can be witnessed by taking a picture of a rabbit and slowly taking away each part of it. What is the defining point? The nose? The whiskers? One ear? The tail? Or is it in truth the fact that you have an image of rabbit that goes beyond all of these things?

Should that be so – and in truth it is – you have now in your mind the ‘Style’ of rabbit. It is this that we are trying to capture and this that this note is focused upon. The concept of style is abstract, but it is also vital to understand in what I will be discussing in future notes at this time. To grasp the concept of style is to grasp the elusive, mercurial language that Artaud sought to exemplify within his Theatre of Cruelty. To understand style is to understand that ephemeral “special feeling” that Nesmith wrote as being a driving factor in the widespread appeal that the blues has been known to have. To be able to recognize style is to recognize an ongoing theme within the music of the late, great, Townes Van Zandt. It its these things and more that I am focusing upon.

To reiterate – the function of style, as defined here, is to serve as the all encompassing meaning behind any object or thing. Style is what makes a rabbit recognizable despite the condition it may be in. Style is what allows you to recognize that someone has entered the room and who that someone is before they speak – irregardless of any other indicators. Style is that innate ability to recognize things that we each have within us. As an alchemical concept, it is nearly pure abstraction, but a basic enough form of abstraction that we each should be able to grasp it with ease.

A Response to Elizabeth Spelke

Elizabeth Spelke, in her contribution to John Brockman’s book What We Believe But Cannot Prove: Today’s Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty draws several conclusions about the future of humanity based off of her current observations in the neurological fields.  The conclusion that she draws from her observations is threefold: Firstly, that all people fundamentally hold the same practical values; Secondly, the concept that we all differ fundamentally in the values we hold is wrong; thirdly, that we all possess the ability to change our perspective if it is proven to be unreasonable.  These three concepts build on top of one another and lend her to her fourth idea that all misconceptions will be overcome in the face of reasonable discussion.  Although I would greatly love to see this come to light, I would like to respectfully disagree on the grounds that history has shown that human nature is more likely to lend itself towards the easy solution instead of the morally correct one.

The first point that Elizabeth Spelke raises is the belief that, like the biological similarities we all share, so we share a similar value system.  On this point I would have to agree with her in the very broadest sense of a ‘shared system.’  Marc Hauser, in his book Moral Minds, proposed that we all have an innate sense of morality – essentially the Golden Rule – and that unless we are severely demented (i.e. sociopathic) we adhered to this rule.  I would agree that this is the case in the most basic of terms.  However, to say that we all want the same things and go about them in a reasonable manner would be a naïve assumption to make.  Although primary needs can said to be requires (i.e. food, water, sleep) secondary needs and values are greatly diverse (i.e. freedom, human rights, whether religion is meant to be preached or exclusivist.)  In addition to this, it can be argued that even the primary needs are subverted by some (anorexics believe they do not need food, insomniacs and some PTSD victims subvert sleep, etc.)  On these we differ, and the view of Classical Liberalism that Spelke beleives is self-evident to all then is in question.

Spelke’s second point, that the notion that all groups differ profoundly, is in a form a reiteration of her previous point.  Classical liberalism essentially states that we live in the best of possible worlds.  Instead of each country and person looking to benefit themselves the most (classical realism) liberalism states that we seek to benefit everyone.  This philosophy only works if everyone else is practicing it.  If one person is looking to get the most power and someone else is trying to benefit everyone the person practicing peace is going to be an easy target for the person seeking power.  Moral high ground means very little when a person is being subjugated for the sake of another’s benefit.  Essentially, it would be dangerous to adapt this stance if everyone else is not adapting it.

Spelke’s third point, that of the most wonderful ability of our cognition being the ability to adapt our ideas and stances is something that I do agree with.  My caveat to this is merely that debate seems to be overtaking dialogue.  By this, I mean to say that people are often just arguing for the sake of show rather than the sake of gaining a deeper knowledge of themself and/or others.  In diaologues, one is seeking to discover the truth and possibly have their minds changed, while in debate they are simply seeking to share their mind.  The internet, although it allows for wonderful conversations, it also allows for a way to get a wide audience to hear your ideas and for you to reasser them through debate disguised as dialogue.  This is a true danger and one often unexamined.

Spelke speaks of a “race between science and intergroup conflicts” that will determine the future sustainability of our planet.  I would like to switch her phrasing a bit here and say that it is rather a race between intelligence and ignorance.  Science is incredible, but I feel that it fails to encompass the concept of reasonability in the way that it is tossed about in common parlance. (Come on, Intelligent Design is referred to as a science in common usage..)  I would not go so far as to call religious people ignorant, but I would go so far as to say that a relativism is called for.  The ability to be relative is the ability to respect other people’s beliefs without jumping to the conclusions that have proven so dangerous for our continued peace.