‘I Won’t Back Down’

 

70 years ago yesterday, Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the Soviets. We now mark the date as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

An important thing to remember, indeed. All of us. In all the nations of the world.

Indifference, antisemitism, silence. Fear of, contempt for, lack of understanding the ‘other’. These are among the things that enabled Auschwitz -and the other concentration and extermination camps that were at the heart of the Final Solution that the Nazis saw as the response to the Jewish Question.

Contrary to what too many of us might like to think, the Jewish Question was an ongoing subject of discussion in much of Europe from as early as 1750.

You read that correctly. 1750.

It was first used, according to Holocaust scholar Lucy Dawidowicz, as “a neutral expression for the negative attitude toward the apparent and persistent singularity of the Jews as a people against the background of the rising political nationalisms.” (from the Wikipedia) Essentially, the nations of Europe were trying to suss out the specific status of Jews as minority micro-communities in the the social order of the nation-states of Europe. The question arose and developed under the influence of such things as the Age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

In discussing how integration of these differing cultures might work, a fair bit of time was spent on a back-and-forth debate about whether or not religious belief had any role to play in secular societies- and therefore whether or not Jews should be required to relinquish their religious beliefs in order to attain full citizenship.

Then, from the 1860’s onward, the ‘question’, in many places, took on increasingly antisemitic tendencies that reached their peak in Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Their Final Solution was enacted through persecutions, the revocation of citizenship under the Nuremberg Laws and then the state-mandated internment and murder of Jews in the concentration and extermination camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau.

But. At its origin, the Jewish Question began a discussion of assimilation versus separation in increasingly multicultural societies (however colonial and Xian-centric those societies may have been at the time).

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

The ‘melting pot’ or the ‘cultural mosaic’? How should we shape a community in which people from different cultural backgrounds, with different religious beliefs, seek to live together under laws and standards that might govern us all?

Here in Canada, we’ve opted for the latter- as a matter of government policy. Does it work? Imperfectly- like most other governments policies. Is is better than the assimilation of the melting pot that countries like the US favour?

Given that neither we nor the US can boast a completely harmonious relationship with all of our constituent parts, I think the jury is still out. The question lies at the heart of what happened a couple of weeks ago in Paris. The social anomie experienced by immigrant populations can lead to radicalization- and we are seeing examples of this in any number of places- local and not-so-local.  Do we accept and embrace the cultural differences, or do we demand full assimilation?

Can we even expect assimilation- when we’re dealing with something as closely and deeply held as religious belief and practice?

This is one of the sociological questions being discussed in the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo– specifically as it pertains to France and their claims of secularization. And it’s happening closer to home…

A clear, current and North American example of how religion can interfere with the smooth running of secular societies? They are in the process of choosing a jury for the trial of the accused in the Boston Marathon bombings- and running into issues with RCs in the jurist pool who might have an issue with the death penalty. In Boston. A town that has a pretty substantial RC population.

My bottom line: Belief does not trump law. It CANNOT. Not in a democratic society in which the laws were arrived at through evidence-based discussion and the application of policies that are meant to ensure the maintenance of just and equitable social order. A social order that allows that laws can be challenged- and changed- as required when we have new and better information. Like when we realize that gender equality is, in fact, a thing. Or that a superficial thing like ‘race’ means not a whit in terms of the freedoms or rights of all us members of the human race.

I’ve said before that I’m a little concerned about my past inclination to just accept that others believe different stuff from what I believe- that I know that I see the world differently than many others do- and that I’ve always been ‘okay’ with that. My perspective comes out of specific set of contextual criteria- that differ from the contextual criteria of the next person.

That inclination- which I share(d) with a whole lot of people who call themselves ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’- has been permitted to run amok. Pandering to the lesser freedoms is messing with our larger ones.

We need to use our larger freedoms to speak up when people are violating- or re-writing- the higher laws of the land in favour of laws that respond directly to interpretations of this or that ‘sacred’ scripture.

Lawrence Krauss, groovy Canadian science-dude and vocal atheist, wrote a little bit o’ something about the Charlie Hebdo massacre. While I disagree with his point that Judaism and Xianity- unlike Islam- have ‘had the time’ to look at their sacred scriptures and develop a ‘thicker skin’ when it comes to criticism and questions regarding who really wrote the things and to what purpose (if he were correct, there wouldn’t be nearly as many biblical apologists about- and I’m not even speaking about the literalists…), I very much agree with his point about hate speech involving people, not ideas.

He says: “No idea should be sacred in the modern world. Instead, in order for us to progress as a species, every claim, every idea should be subject to debate, intelligent discussion, and, when necessary, ridicule.” 

And:

“The biggest threat to the peaceful and sustainable progress of human civilization in the 21st century, with challenges ranging from global climate change, to energy and water shortages, and the oppression of women throughout the world, is a refusal to accept the empirical evidence of reality as a basis for action. Those who feel they know the truth in advance, and therefore cannot even listen to alternative arguments, are not just part of the problem, they are the problem.

This is the reason that religion is, in my opinion, on the whole a negative force in the world. In spite of the charity and empathy it may generate among many, because it asserts as true notions that clearly are incompatible with the evidence of reality, it inevitably engenders actions that are irrational. These range from the innocuous to the deadly.”

I had a very different post in mind when I started this one last evening. I have a growing number of bits and pieces in the drafts folder that need attention if they are ever to see the light of day.

Trying for a lightening of subjects, my eye was drawn to the whole Sam Smith/Tom Petty exchange of royalties sitch. You know I love Tom. And Jeff Lynne, who was his writing partner on the solo album that included ‘I Won’t Back Down’.

The Sam Smith thing is really just another example of our human tendency towards repetition of theme/recurrence of concepts.

I hadn’t really heard of Sam (full disclosure- last week a colleague attended his local show and raved about his performance. I had to admit to not having first clue who he was. Finding out that he was ripping off Tom didn’t much ingratiate him to me, tbh). When I read the article I was a little defensive of Tom (and Jeff) even before I listened to the song that ‘borrowed’ from them.

Evidently, it’s something that happens to Tom a lot.

I’m not surprised, really. He has written some pretty awesome tunes (alone, with the Heartbreakers and with super-cool dudes like Jeff). Which is all the more reason to grant credit where it’s due.

Once I listened to the songs back-to-back, I heard the resemblance, and I appreciate the amicability with which the issue was apparently resolved. Still, the original, as is often the case, is by far the better song.

I admit that I’m biased. And that the video features 50% of the Beatles and that Jeff Lynne-guy. So it’s kind of like comparing apples and oranges. No new kid is going to be able to compete with the chops of those who were present for the original ditty (although Ringo didn’t really play on the track- he’s nothing but eye-candy, assuming you can call Ringo ‘eye candy’…).

Well, I won’t back down
No, I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down

No, I’ll stand my ground, won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground and I won’t back down

(I won’t back down)
Hey baby, there ain’t no easy way out
(I won’t back down)
Hey, I will stand my ground and I won’t back down

Well, I know what’s right, I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I’ll stand my ground and I won’t back down

The song was politicized following 9/11- as it became a rallying call about standing up in the face of terrorism.

Interesting that it’s popped back into our popular attention at this particular moment in time…

The things I took away from watching the Memorial from Auschwitz yesterday? That the prison- and what happened there- remain as a scar on our shared humanity. The past is always present- and it often isn’t pretty. Yet humanity endures- even in the face of extermination and ideologically-driven hatred and horror. That hate can never be permitted to win. Ideas that suborn hatred and violence cannot be allowed to flourish.

There ain’t no easy way out of this quagmire of culture clashing. We’ve been talking about it for almost 300 years. THREE HUNDRED. But it’s a conversation we need to continue. We need to prevent comparable ‘solutions’ from seeing the light of day.

Vilifying the ‘other’- based on things like religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, physical ability- this is never going to be acceptable. Not with the empirical evidence of reality we can access. All ideas- and laws- must be subjected to rigorous examination, and we must remain accountable for the responsibilities that come with participation in the societies we create.

We have the scars- ever-present and always remembered- from the last time the world failed to stop an idea based in hatred.

We must revisit that lesson- and re-learn it, as required- as we reexamine the realities of multicultural and globalized communities.

We got just one life.

Stand your ground for what is right.

Regarding goat rodeos and other suchlike things

 

I don’t know how I missed this.

Thankfully, in a meeting today, our management team brought this wonder to our collective attention.  The video was presented in the context of team-building- and a discussion of the employment of varied talents, brought together to create something almost beyond belief in its greatness.

It’s still blowing my mind.

Not just the undeniable beauty of the music that these sessions produced (you know I love great music) but because it is indicative of the overarching culture that drives my place of work.  And because it completely corresponds with the direction in which my brain has been running this week.

Bringing together disparate elements with individual strengths to create an incredible whole.  Yeah.  I like that.  A lot.

I also like the song a lot.  Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile (and Aoife O’Donovan on Here and Heaven) came together in 2011 and demonstrated that things like background and genre need mean nothing when there is a common goal.  That Bluegrass and Classical music speak to the same atavistic drives and desires and propensity for greatness and cooperation that we have as humans.

The two genres might generally appeal to different sorts of people, from different places and different circumstances, but the artists demonstrated that when the elements are brought together, the superficiality of some types of context can vanish in the face of the purity of what is produced.

As you might be aware, I’ve been saying that very thing about our stories and songs for quite some time hereabouts (have a run through the archives if you need a refresher).

A goat rodeo is a chaotic situation in which many things must all go right for it to all come together.  It is often used to describe corporate or bureaucratic circumstances, but, in this case, it refers to the perfect storm of challenges that is required to combine the elements of the styles of music.

(N.B.  It’s also, apparently, a real thing.  A rodeo.  But with goats.  Go figure.)

The term is often used negatively to describe an unmanageable event or circumstance.  The artists who participated in The Goat Rodeo Sessions have turned that definition on its head.  They prove that order– constructed through the work of many- can be used to overcome chaos- another specific point I’ve chatted about recently.

There’s a whole lot of chaos out there.  I can hardly bear to watch the news some days.  I could easily list off some of the more distressing manifestations of the chaos that is making headlines around the world today.  It would be a long list.

I’ve written posts about that sort of thing before.  Not being one to bury my head in the sand and deny the crazy, it’s hard to move past the day-to-day realities that demonstrate the desire- on the part of too many people- to act in ways that reflect the lowest common denominator amongst us human-type-beings.  Horrors and injustice and just plain bad behaviour clog the news feeds and contribute to the general malaise that seems unwilling to let loose its grip.

Exposure to direct evidence of the contrary- the highest heights of cooperation and collaboration- mitigates the pessimism.

Not long ago I threatened to talk about these guys.

I have to admit that I was more than a little awestruck waaaaaay back in the day when the Wilburys showed up.  Sure, there had been other examples of super-groups- it was the post-BandAid era, after all- but that particular combination of singer-songwriting majesty just blew me away.

Bob Dylan.  Roy Orbison.  Jeff Lynne.  George Harrison.  Tom Petty.

Handle With Care, while about the trials and tribulations of fame, spoke to the Wilbury ideal.  These five guys.  All HUGE musical presences with the exposure and the accolades rightly afforded by their decades of dedication to their craft.  You’d have to wonder- with some justification- how the egos all managed to fit in the same building, let alone studio.

But.  The project stemmed out of George’s desire to do an album with his ‘mates’.  Just him and some pals writing some tunes and contributing their own, inimitable, voices to some songs for the pure joy of doing so.

To add to the fun, they created pseudonyms and personae around the conceit of the Wilbury family- traveling musicians who were half-brothers stemming from a single, fictional, father.  Along with the fun, the stories, the harmonies and sense of togetherness, as the great songsters they are/were, they provided little bits of advice that remain timeless.

‘I’ve been uptight and made a mess
But I’ll clean it up myself, I guess’

Personal accountability- a pillar of individual success, but also one that contributes to the smooth functioning of groups and development of the product needing to be delivered.  It comes up as a theme in this one, too:

‘You can sit around and wait for the phone to ring (End of the Line)
Waiting for someone to tell you everything (End of the Line)
Sit around and wonder what tomorrow will bring (End of the Line)’

After Roy Orbison died of a heart attack, the Wilburys kept on Traveling.  The rocking chair- empty save for his guitar- and the brief close-up on the framed photo still speak to me about the importance of remembrance and recognition of lives touched while illustrating that the road doesn’t end when we lose the people we love.

I still get choked up when I watch that video.

As the years moved ever onward, we also lost George (admission here- he will always be my fave from the Fab 4).

‘I don’t see nothing new but I feel a lot of change
And I get the strangest feeling, as I’m
Heading for the light’

The joy of this song- finding a path after a time in darkness- is so very George.  Yet, the addition of Jeff’s distinctive harmonies and the combined guitars make it a Wilburys song.  Truly- bits and pieces of the best of some of the best of a generation of musical presences- what is more positive and concerted than that?

A concert is ‘a public performance of music’, but it also represents ‘agreement in design or plan’ and ‘union formed by mutual communication of opinion and views’.

Despite the individual and collective merits of each of their songs, as we head into the first long weekend of the summer (come on blue skies and rising temperatures!), this is the one that will be heading the playlist on the Shuffle Daemon.

In that short piece of goodness (mainly authored by Tom), each Wilbury is identifiable as an individual- but the concert of it all makes it one of my favourites of their joint composition.

(I really do like Jeff’s bit best, though)

‘Still the sun went down your way
Down from the blue into the gray
Where I stood I saw you walk away
You danced away’

I’ll be dancing my way into the weekend.  Spending it with friends and family and acknowledging that for all our individual strengths, we remain best together.

We can all be honourary Wilburys.  Let the concert begin.

I’m told it’s a virtue.

That’s what Prudentius said anyway.  In the Psychomachia.  In the 4th century CE.

I am very patient most of the time.

I routinely wait, without much effort, for results, feedback, holidays, tardy friends and etc.  Especially the tardy friends.  I am habitually early for things (it’s an illness) and I am friends with a disproportionate number of people who are habitually late (also an illness) so I spend a whole lot of time waiting for people to show up.

I’m okay with that.  I almost always have a book on me so the time is generally well spent.  No point in stressing about a personality quirk in a good friend (THEY are the ones with the quirk, never me).

Unless the lateness makes US late for something else.  That I have a problem with.  I CAN control my behaviour, and I hatehatehate being late for commitments.

Really, the only times I get truly impatient is when I am trying to do something fiddly and it’s not working out, I can’t find something I’m looking for despite the fact that I know FOR SURE that I put it right there the last time I used it, and, most of all, when I am waiting for something to happen.  Something that I’ve been told will happen, but that is taking its sweet sweet time.

Crazy-making.

It’s probably symptomatic of some outrageous level of control-freakdom.

Whatev.

If you tell me to anticipate something, I do.  Anticipate it.  Often with increasing anxiety when it doesn’t show up according to a reasonable (as decided by me, of course) time frame.

Situations when I’m told to look for further information or follow-up ‘in the next few days’, or ‘early next week’, or ‘before the end of the month’ make me nutso with the waiting.

Lack of specificity is my nemesis in the waiting game.

All this technology and access to various forms of communication serve to make it waaaaaay worse.  Although I am not normally one who has to be constantly logged in (I can generally forget my phone at home and be fine with that, or turn the computer off for days at a time without jonesin’), when I’m waiting for something, I start to obsessively check my email.

All.  The.  Time.

And if a subject line in the Inbox catches my eye that looks like it might be what I’m waiting for, something wacky happens to my breathing and I get all tense and jittery.  And then, when the email isn’t what I was looking for, I sign out and try to focus on something (anything) else, but really just go back to checking every 4 minutes or so.

Ack.

I could never be an apocalyptic.

Seriously.

In order to buy into an apocalyptic worldview I’d have to (among other crazy things) resign myself to the fact that the end, or the return, or the justification, or the final battle is going to happen maybe sometime.

How near, exactly?  No, really.  HOW FREAKIN’ NEAR?!?

I’d be a nervous wreck after a week.

That new era?  Second Coming?  Final Judgement?  Ascension of the Antichrist?  Extraterrestrials showing up to take us to another planet?

WHEN.  IS.  IT.  GOING.  TO.  HAPPEN.  WHEN?!

If it’s not something I can put down on my calendar as definitely coming on January 22, 2014, then I don’t want to even know about it.  And don’t just tell me it’s going to happen on January 22, 2014.  You’d best be showing me solid proof that it’s all going to go down then.

And none of this 24-hour cancellation policy stuff either.  If it doesn’t happen then you’re going to have to pay me for the missed appointment.  I am a Doctor (okay, of Philosophy.  But still).  I should be able to charge for missed appointments like dentists and physicians.  Especially since not showing up to end the world/era/whatev is far more serious than missing a cleaning appointment.

Isn’t it?

ISN’T IT?!

Oh, another thing about me and waiting?

When I’m nervously anticipating stuff I have a tendency to procrastinate.

Not that I’m doing that right now or anything.