Friday, May 9, 2008

You just got to believe...

I know a number of very passionate people. I'm not talking about the sex (there, that'll help my Google page rank) and I'm not talking about pretentious artists who talk about passion like it was a knock off Prada.

I'm talking about people who, before too long in any conversation, start talking loudly and pounding on the table. You see, most people's passion comes out in anger at the opposite of whatever it is they are passionate about.

And when it comes to this type of passion, I'm at a disadvantage. I used to be angrier. I used to be the one pounding on the table, going off on what what right and what was wrong. But I made a fatal mistake.

I started reading history.

And not just the TV Guide "Battle of blank" version of history, where what's important is who won (because, you understand, for the most part they're the good guys). I'm talking about the kind of day to day living history, that's what attracts me. I want to know how people lived, how they thought, and most importantly what led them to live and think that way.

And there's the problem. It turns out, the more you read about people's lives, everywhere, the more you start to realize that people are people. That through out history, some have wanted to tear it all down and start again, and others thought that the slightest change was the end of civilization (and that things were better in their day). For hundreds of years, people have fought an ongoing, bitter battle over whether the little mark should go in front of or behind the 's'. Plural or possessive? Long rants about the collapse of society hidden in the single space or double space after sentences. Years ago, double negatives in English were the norm, and now it is the mark of the devil. Text messages and online abbreviations are the current mark of the end times.

I just read a thing where a guy got really upset because in his day, teenagers benefited from long phone conversations with their friends, instead of announcing things over the internet. What do you want to bet I could dig up a similar rant from the sixties and seventies about how bad long telephone conversations were for teens, instead of hanging out at the soda counter, like in their day?

It has been said that those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it. I say those who know they're quotations are doomed to hear them over and over. So what happens to those who do know their history? Are they somehow free from this cycle?

What they are free from is being able to pound the table and make a dramatic statement of right and wrong. Because almost every view point you could hold can be weakened by a knowledge of where that view came from. Most of what we believe, especially the things we believe the most, are fictions, made up to keep us sane.

I've been reading this book about authenticity in music, about how almost all musical genres are defined in some measure by their attitude towards a quest for authenticity. How blues music isn't considered authentic unless played by a black male. How rock is judged based on how authentic the performer seems, who self revealing they seem to be. How disco was deliberately inauthentic, and how that enraged people. But the quest for authenticity in a 3 minute song is a fiction, and can never be truely realized. But what the audience is looking for is something that perfectly conforms to their expectations, while still surprising and engaging them.

Where do those expectations come from? Personally and culturally? They're manufactured, intentionally. You have to be introduced to them by an outside source - and this source is often from someone who wants to convince you to think a certain way.

The question you have to ask yourself is, do you judge what you're told based on the source? Or do you take a close, skeptical look at what you're told, including learning tis history, to see whether it makes sense to you? I'm willing to bet you know which side I come down on.

Man, that's a long post, isn't it? Of the two or three people who actually read this, how many got this far? And you read all this way and I'm not even going to wrap things up for you.

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