1. Deceptive Ways
In June of 2017 an article was published in National Geographic. The article, by Wudhijit Bhattacharjee, is titled,“Why We Lie: The Science Behind Our Deceptive Ways”
At the outset, the author is speaking collectively. This is about a general behavior that the author identifies as part of “what makes us human” as opposed to an article about a particular lie or lies committed by individuals and deemed newsworthy (the coverage of duplicitous behavior in public figures). Though he cites many individual liars in his feature, including himself, the author is speaking for an “everyman” (“we lie” and “our deceptive ways”). The author also uses the word “science” which implies an impossible-to-verify abstract form of social science but we must also note that “science” denotes “knowledge.” This is of note because the author constantly refers to the behavior of liars and (lying in general) as a practice that involves refinement and growth; even mastery.
The subtitle reads:
Honesty may be the best policy, but scheming and dishonesty are part of what makes us human.
It may be rewritten as follows:
“Honesty is the best policy, but scheming and dishonesty are common and widespread human behaviors.”
Such a thesis should not be news to any sentient human being. It is reasonable, therefore, to conduct a careful inquiry into the intent of the author (as well as the editors and publishers at National Geographic) in publishing a 3600 word feature on the topic.
Bearing in mind the use of the word “science” in the title of the article (“The Science of Lying”), consider the following paragraph in which the writer explicitly depicts lying as an indication of learning and growth in children:
“These lies that my friend and I told were nothing out of the ordinary for kids our age. Like learning to walk and talk, lying is something of a developmental milestone. While parents often find their children’s lies troubling—for they signal the beginning of a loss of innocence—Kang Lee, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, sees the emergence of the behavior in toddlers as a reassuring sign that their cognitive growth is on track.”
Lying is depicted as natural (nothing out of the ordinary) rather than a behavior that individual human beings have control over. Consider the author’s likening of telling lies to “learning to walk and talk,” within the context of the definition of art and the example given in the Dictionary of the English Language:
ART (ART) n.s.[arte, Fr. ars, Lat.]1. The power of doing something not taught by nature and instinct; as, to walk is natural, to dance is an art.”
By linking the lie to that which is “taught by nature and (instinct)”, the author is once again attempting to advance the notion that this behavior (one which he also described as “crafty” in this same article: “The history of humankind is strewn with crafty and seasoned liars”). This suggests that lying simply occurs or happens as a natural force (as in “lying is as natural as breathing” or “lying is as natural to as as swimming is natural to a fish”) rather than a behavior that one can be held accountable for engaging in. Considering that this behavior can cause harm to the victims of the liar, it will be understood to be problematic to the victims of injustice that a demand me made that they forgo the need for justice simply because the liar does not (or believes can not) be brought to justice.
Finally, the author explicitly places lying beside “cognitive growth” and, in doing do, equates this behavior to learning as well as craft (something he wrote in the first paragraph and reinforces in this one through the use of the word “emergence” with it’s connotations of materialization to describe the appearance of lying in children). It is worth mentioning that, even though it has more to do with emotional considerations than learning, Bhattacharjee writes about the promise of parents learning to see the behavior in their children (when found to be lying) as a “reassuring sign.” It is also worth mentioning that Bhattachrjee expresses this thought by ascribing it to the psychologist he is discussing and interviewing without explicitly quoting the person in question as saying or intimating anything of the sort. Whether the person in question would express such an attitude is not the question at the core of my present observation but rather Bhattachrjee’s expression of this emotional attitude through it’s deflection onto someone else rather than saying it directly as being his own attitude (or simply quoting the other person as expressing it).
The reader will appreciate that a basic study of history should serve to demonstrate the requisite of honest behavior in as a basic standard for successful human endeavors and does not need the author to demonstrate examples of the essential presence of honesty in shaping functional models of trade, proliferation of scientific knowledge, construction of cities, treatment of patients by doctors, the education of others by teachers and human behavior in general.
I will now engage in a cursory survey of the world’s major religions. This survey will allow the reader to appreciate the universal concord (and clarity) in their teachings. Having said that, I would like to explain why the author deems it necessary to survey various religious texts in the present work which, after all, is on poetics (making) and anti-poetics (unmaking). I am aware that there exist many persons who are far more qualified to explain theology than a composer and so I beg the reader’s indulgence as I explain the reasons for this survey and why it concerned with the purely artistic and poetic lessons with which my lessons are concerned. I hope that, through this explanation, the reader will appreciate the way in which this diversion is not simply within the stated parameters for this text (artistic work) but actually vital to artistic work itself.
Any truly unmotivated and unbiased reader of the world’s major holy books will quickly realize that a general concord of teaching is true among the world’s religions. I point to this fact since it is the essential understanding that a person requires before he or she is to sift through a particularly dangerous lie. This is the noisy and schismatic lie that would have us believe in a disunity among major religions. Following this we would therefore be expected to believe that a Creative or moral Spirit has presented itself (or inspired people) in an inconsistent form and that this inconsistency has been observed and understood by billions of people. That would mean that universal human truths do not really exist.
Those universal truths are not simply things that any work of art must possess if it is to present itself as comprehensible to humanity. The “universals” are are truths that an artist can observe in countless instances of the presentation of art from the appreciation of a Ming vase by a 20th century Ukranian person or the singing of a Beethoven Symphony in Japan to the natural materials that I work with on a daily basis such as the harmonic series; materials that present a universal framework that can be gleaned in all the musics that humanity has ever known. If we are to believe that a Creative or moral Spirit has presented itself (or inspired people) in an inconsistent form, we would also be accepting the relativity of human civilization. The peddlers of this relatively new idea would attempt to convince their audiences that human civilization is not universal and that “one man’s barbarism” is simply “another’s civilization.” This can be seen in writing such as this article:
This is expressed through the use of meaningless generalities like “East”, “West” or speaking of alternate worlds like the “Islamic World” or “Western Civilization.” These generalities express nothing as opposed useful conversations which would center around topics that are manageable for human study such as the folk music of Rhineland or Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. To be clear, I am not arguing for specialization but rather for the study of many things but rather for the study of one thing at a time because this is how human beings are demonstrated to succeed at learning subjects from elementary school to the highest levels of any profession. If larger units are to be combined then this study should be conducted with a definition of the specific parameters of what is meant by the use of general terms such as “Western Culture” or “Arab World.” These parameters should also be accompanied by a reason that states the intent of the person presenting such terminology (regarding what we are expected to learn by studying large blocks of the world at once) so that we may follow their lesson coherently if there is a lesson to impart.
As an avid student and observer of the world which I live in and also have the pleasure of representing through my art, I have observed various authors, teachers and other “imparters of information” present large blocks of ill-defined information to the layman. This is done with the intent of selling the idea of falsely unifying collectives to large groups of people (usually with a marketing strategy or simply for the sake of association by default with another person’s accomplishments (ie claiming a proximity to Leonardo Da Vinci even though one may have nothing to do with art and has no intent to work in the arts simply because one imagines that they inhabit a common space “civilization” with the long-departed master. Another intent is that of hiding a lack of specific knowledge on the part of the person imparting that knowledge. Yet another intent is the seemingly positive idea of presenting an anthology of human wisdom in large blocks as a proposed method of “saving-time” for the intended audience of that convenient “wisdom”. I add to these intentions every other intention and reason that one can imagine (and many which one cannot imagine).
If the author’s intent is ill-defined and overly-ambitious, I offer the reader friendly advise that is born of much observation: simply refrain from wasting time that you could easily use learning or accomplishing something that you (and the rest of us) can appreciate.
As if all this was not enough, these is further erosion of the objective world since the practice of presenting broad and ill-defined rubrics aren’t limited to broad and large places or collectives. Since there is little definition that can be had to these rubrics (the “Asian Century” does not really exist objectively), there is no stoping the subjectively-inclined to deployed these terms to anything. “The Western World” is just as fair-game as “Chopin’s World.” One is not larger than the other. They are both ill-defined and nebulous. That which is nebulous can be appropriated to obscure the truth or even to confound a solid grip on reality.
The creation and promotion of these false “collections” is not unlike the invention of genres Whatever the intent of their creators and advocates, the collection have the effect of obscuring or denying the existence of objective truths (that can be demonstrated through their common appreciation by many people) This is in addition to having the effect of obscuring universal human truths. But these truths, being demonstrable, clear and often instinctively asserted, do not go away. The result is confusion and a lack of trust or direction among those who are offered information which is ill-defined.
And finally, the idea that a Creative or moral Spirit has presented itself (or inspired people) in an inconsistent form and that this inconsistency (and that these inconsistencies have been observed and understood by billions of people) would enlist those people up into a consensus that witnesses the lie itself (with or without those billions having signed up for such a “vote” one way or another). The end of this idea as an assault on the universal truths that humanity has observed (the truth that human beings are naturally constructive and reasoning rather than destructive and unreasoning) is an absurd notion: that lies precede truth. And so lies, rather than self-evident truths, “become” natural.
In other words, we would have to believe that in the beginning was a lie and then the truth was formed out of the lie and instilled into people by “society.” That idea is hard to conceptualize let alone belief in. It’s much simpler to understand that the source of this inconsistency is a lying person rather than the Creative or moral Spirit.
Having studied the sources of these faiths in detail, I have found no inconsistency and nobody who can point to a solid inconsistency that is not “lost in translation” or simply misunderstood in a way that can be clarified easily and demonstrably. I point this out because of my interest in truth and because I am a creative artist. This text is about poetics: making; doing; forming, defining, creating.
The propagators of this lie of division between religions go so far as to isolate the Torah, Gospel and Quran from one another while the truth is that those three books are clearly one cyclical reading and that they follow the narrative of one Abrahamic vein with no contradictions between their respective messages of justice, love and human responsibility. The reason for this clarification is the clear and stated intent of these liars: to cause schismatic unsettling among peaceful people and, sow distrust and disbelief. They propagate an unreasoning sort of cynicism that leads to extremist skepticism and a disbelief in the creative spirit, in ouselves, in one another and in the human soul. The the goal and final aim of this is anti-poetic: unmaking, undoing, deforming, confounding and, finally, destroying.
I would like to focus on the teachings that concern themselves with honest behavior.
Let’s start with the Bagavad Gita:
“Now, O Arjuna, let Me describe to you all of these individual members of society: The works of the Brahmins are characterized by such qualities as, peacefulness, self-control, purity, tolerance, honesty, faith, righteousness, and wisdom.
(अन्त:करण का निग्रह करना, इन्द्रियों का दमन करना ; धर्म पालन के लिये कष्ट सहना ; बाहर–भीतर से शुद्ध रहना ; दूसरों के अपराधों को क्षमा करना ; मन, इन्द्रिय और शरीर को सरल रखना ; वेद, शास्त्र, ईश्वर और परलोक आदि में श्रद्धा रखना ; वेद–शास्त्रों, का अध्ययन–अध्यापन करना और परमात्मा के तत्त्व का अनुभव करना ये सब के सब ही ब्राह्मण के स्वाभाविक कर्म है ।। ४२ ।।”)
The Quran enjoins honesty in word and deed:
“Those who show patience, Firmness and self-control; who are true (in word and deed); who worship devoutly; who spend (in the way of Allah.; and who pray for forgiveness in the early hours of the morning.”
In Phillippians (Chapter 4) the Apostle Paul enjoins us to think about the things that are true and honest. Where Bhattachrjee writes an article that attempts to link lies with growth, learning and compassion, Paul’s Epistle places honesty in the company of justice, purity and loveliness:
“Finally, my brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honest, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report; if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, think about these things.
Those things which you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you.”
In the Torah, the command is also communicated unambiguously: we should distance ourselves from lying which, in Exodus 23:7, is placed in the company of murder:
“Keep far from a deceit; and the innocent and righteous you shall not slay; for I will not justify the wicked.”
(מִדְּבַר־שֶׁ֖קֶר תִּרְחָ֑ק וְנָקִ֤י וְצַדִּיק֙ אַֽל־תַּהֲרֹ֔ג כִּ֥י לֹא־אַצְדִּ֖יק רָשָֽׁע׃)
I will now place the Fourth of the Five Precepts (Great Gifts) that need to be adopted if a lay-person is to consider themselves as followers in the way of the Bhuddha is as follows:
“Furthermore, abandoning lying, the disciple of the noble ones abstains from lying. In doing so, he gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings. In giving freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings, he gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression. This is the fourth gift…
With these words recorded for us in the Analects, Confucius tells us that he simply cannot teach us to live if we are dishonest:
“The Master said, ‘I do not know how a man without truthfulness is to get on. How can a large carriage be made to go without the cross-bar for yoking the oxen to, or a small carriage without the arrangement for yoking the horses?”
The reader should remember that my artistic concern with the subject at hand should not be construed as moral in nature. That is to say that my own perspective on lying may or may not align with the world’s spiritual, religious and ethical consensus (it does) but that is besides the point which I am most qualified to make as an artist. I am proposing an in-addition-to approach that has characterized the cumulative nature of civilization. Rather than a process of subtraction whereby one would take away any sort of learning or wisdom (though it does not need revision or improvement), my instinct as a creative person is to add good works to the world. If the copious amount of sham that the world tolerates is any indication of it’s capacity for accommodating large volumes, I will assume that it can make room for good without scrapping any good that has not been improved upon.safely understand as having space for that which is good. The universe is large enough to admit all the good that humanity can muster. I am adding the fact that there exists an artistic consideration in addition to the many others. I hope that the reader will appreciate the essential nature of this consideration.
Bhattachrjee’s article is 3600 words. My engagement with it has been conducted at length by necessity of the behavior in question. Liars require their lies to be veiled and folded. “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive” write Sir Walter Scott in the most famous passage from his poem Marimion. This “tangled web” requires a certain “craft” which must be “mastered” by the liar if an “effective” lie is to be executed. It is a “technique” of sorts and the liar must attain the means to “build a web” if the victim of the lies is to be held in the liars “web.” The liar may construct the snare with the intention of holding the victim for a period of time that is long enough for the “spider” (the liar) to take what he needs from his prey. A liar may also construct the snare with the intent of lying for the sake of lying. These lies appear to have no secondary motive (such as career that is immediately apparent
This metaphor brings us back to the question of intent. Bhattachrjee and many others who will appear in this book, their surety of purpose and zeal cannot reasonably be explained as being motivated by a mere desire for worldly gain. Cash or political power are simply not motifs enough to count as compelling central motifs for the level of zeal and activity we witness in their writing. For those who would like to make reality into whatever they subjectively “feel” is reality, the goal must be more ambitious.
I must now admit to the reader that I, like all people who attempt to live life in possession of basic common sense, simply cannot claim familiarity with the incomprehensible. There is something in the vague notion that Bhattachrjee expresses when he says that “Technology has opened up a new frontier for deceit.” Perhaps the untenable attitude that underlines much of this discourse is that lying (or “personal feelings” about objective reality) just needs to be increased in sheer volume in order for a fantasy-reality of lies and personal feelings of the most adolescent variety to come into fruition: the lie would finally “triumph” as the “new reality” on earth.
“Other studies” says Bhattachrjee in a passage that is worth looking at in full , “have shown that evidence undermining lies may in fact strengthen belief in them. People are likely to think that familiar information is true. So any time you retract it, you run the risk of making it more familiar, which makes that retraction actually less effective, ironically, over the long term, says Swire-Thompson.”
He goes on to describe a process of deceit (this is what he refers to as a “phenomenon”) in full:
“I experienced this phenomenon firsthand not long after I spoke to Swire-Thompson. When a friend sent me a link to an article ranking the 10 most corrupt political parties in the world, I promptly posted it to a WhatsApp group of about a hundred high school friends from India. The reason for my enthusiasm was that the fourth spot in the ranking was held by India’s Congress Party, which in recent decades has been implicated in numerous corruption scandals. I chortled with glee because I’m not a fan of the party.
But shortly after sharing the article, I discovered that the ranking, which included parties from Russia, Pakistan, China, and Uganda, wasn’t based on any metrics. It had been done by a site called BBC Newspoint, which sounded like a credible source. But I found out that it had no connection to the British Broadcasting Corporation. I posted an apology to the group, noting that the article was in all likelihood fake news.
That didn’t stop others from reposting the article to the group several times over the next day. I realized that the correction I’d posted had not had any effect. Many of my friends—because they shared my antipathy toward the Congress Party—were convinced the ranking was true, and every time they shared it, they were unwittingly, or perhaps knowingly, nudging it toward legitimacy. Countering it with fact would be in vain.
What then might be the best way to impede the fleet-footed advance of untruths into our collective lives? The answer isn’t clear. Technology has opened up a new frontier for deceit, adding a 21st-century twist to the age-old conflict between our lying and trusting selves.”
Many passages in the scriptures of the religions that guide human beings warn us against lying. But telling the truth and being able to distinguish it from a lie is a value that is essential to the pursuit of the sciences and practice of the arts as well as to ensuring that the societies in which we live are safe and livable rather than chaotic and unprincipled.
After posting the article, Bhattachrjee writes that his friends “were convinced the ranking was true, and every time they shared it, they were unwittingly, or perhaps knowingly, nudging it toward legitimacy. Countering it with fact would be in vain.” It is here that his language expresses itself most clearly. His idea, expressed in the words that speak of lies that can be “nudged towards legitimacy” expresses a basic lack of comprehension of truth. Truth is true and truth presents itself as self-evident. The proliferation of lies have no bearing on the truth. Lies simply mislead others and may prevent them from seeing the truth until they discover the lie. In fact, lies can be said to exist, by definition, for the very purpose of misleading others and preventing those being lied to from perceiving the truth.
Bhattachrjee closes his article with this question which seems to ask the reader how “we” are to stop the proliferation of lies:
“What then might be the best way to impede the fleet-footed advance of untruths into our collective lives? The answer isn’t clear. Technology has opened up a new frontier for deceit, adding a 21st-century twist to the age-old conflict between our lying and trusting selves.”
Note that it is lies that “advance” according to Bhattachrjee’s thought as expressed through his prose (“the fleet-footed advance of untruths” are his words) just as it is “technology” that has “opened up a new frontier for deceit.” Human beings are absent from his language altogether. But that doesn’t affect the fact (or truth) that lying is simply a behavior that human beings engage in and technology a category of objects that human beings craft, construct and use. As far as technology is concerned, many of these objects are tools that allow human beings to carry out their behavior but the behavior is up to individual human beings to carry out all the same. It should be added that many people prefer to utilize these tools for constructive to constructive ends. I will show the work of two artists that exemplify the make the positive side of this equation in the following chapter when we look at an example of that sort of creative individual through an examination of the work of Shigeru Miyamoto in the following chapter. We will also examine the perceived and real roles that “tools” play in work by looking at the subtle designs employed by Isaac Asimov in examining his early stories in which he writes on the theme of robotics.
As far as Bhattachrjee is concerned, it should have been an easy task to write and compose his essay in such a way as to present a concern for maintaining the integrity of truth and so I must understand his failure to do so as representative of an unwitting miscomprehension of basic boundaries that separate truth from lie. It is most apparent as he poses the final question of his essay which seems to indicate that he wants us to understand his intent as being favorable to preventing proliferation of lies.
“Without the implicit trust that we place in human communication, we would be paralyzed as individuals and cease to have social relationships” continues Bhattachrjee. This is posited without mention or thought of what words like “honor” and “vows” express or why they exist in every society that I have ever studied or encountered.
or even the rational thinking that people exercise in learning more about their faith through meditation, fasting, prayer conclave or any number of other metaphysical avenues of reflection. and beliefs play into forming those beliefs and trusts. He goes on to quote another of his interviees who says the following:
“We get so much from believing, and there’s relatively little harm when we occasionally get duped,” says Tim Levine, a psychologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who calls this idea the truth default theory.”
Levine uses the word “default” revealingly. Assuming, through context, that the word is used to mean “a preselected option adopted by a computer program or other mechanism when no alternative is specified by the user or programmer fact is that truth is “default” by definition, a fact that can be demonstrated by simply observing that The reader will note the use of the word “get” rather than “gain.” This word is used to describe the “benefits” that human beings “get” from “believing.” We are not told what it is we are considering as a candidate for our belief. Whatever the prospective object of our belief might be, the language which I have just quoted makes it clear that the journey towards belief involves trust while the exercise of rational inquiry is not mentioned at all (nor is any process of work that denotes additive, constructive or creative human behavior). The paragraph that I have excerpted above could be rewritten as “Learn nothing. Do nothing. Believe what people tell you and, if the information you learned from them doesn’t turn out to be true then just don’t sweat it. On the whole, everything evens out.”
Pay attention to the words “when we occasionally get duped.” Bhattachrjee communicates this without betraying any signs that he is unwittingly aware that liars are inevitably discovered in their act. The “unwitting awareness is another folded self-contradiction. But it is crystallized in the words above and it is reinforced. We can see this if we with clear eyes. The author could have used the words “if we occasionally get (discover that we got) duped” but opts instead for the words “when we occasionally get duped). Now, in order to realize that one has been duped, one must first uncover a lie. That uncovering is a prerequisite to the knowledge that one has been deceived. ,It is note a fact that one has been duped unless one first uncovers and confirms the lie. This is the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” (due process). Bhattachrjee himself says it and we should take him at his word: the “discovery” is just a matter of time (“when” and not “if”).
It is reasonable to now consider the author at the source of this essay. To do this we do not have to conduct too much research or even turn away from the very same essay that we are reading. As it happens, Bhattachrjee spends a good portion of this essay writing about himself. He tells us of his career in lying (among other things) and explicitly boasts about his exploits as though the admission of guilt is a form of justification that “make his actions okay.” Let us examine how he is able to accomplish this. He is, to use his own words in describing a colleague whom he interviews, “lying for the sake of science.”
Let us begin with this account of Bhattachrjee as a schoolboy in third grade:
“When I was in third grade, one of my classmates brought a sheet of racing car stickers to school to show off. The stickers were dazzling. I wanted them so badly that I stayed back during gym class and transferred the sheet out of the classmate’s backpack into mine. When the students returned, my heart was racing. Panicking that I would be found out, I thought up a preemptive lie. I told the teacher that two teenagers had shown up on a motorbike, entered the classroom, rifled through backpacks, and left with the stickers. As you might expect, this fib collapsed at the gentlest probing, and I reluctantly returned what I had pilfered.
In this passage, Bhattachrjee recalls stealing from a classmate. He replaces the word “stealing” by telling us that he “transferred the sheet out of the classmate’s backpack into mine.” The results of this deflection of accountability for one’s own actions is reflected in Bhattacharjee’s language (remember that he is writing this recollection many years after the incident at hand). I am referring the reader to the use of the word “reluctantly”:
As you might expect, this fib collapsed at the gentlest probing, and I reluctantly returned what I had pilfered.
The reader will now appreciate that his “admissions of guilt” are not really admissions of guilt. What we have just read (the reluctance to return the item that he stole) is an explicit admission of remorselessness. What is more is that Bhattachrjee did not need to tell us this about himself (facts that would make dealing with him difficult to stomach for me and, I think, many others). On top of all this, he tries to further justify his actions through the use of the word “pilfered.” This indicates that the item he stole was of little value; something that Bhattachrjee could not know unless he was certain about the feelings of his classmate towards the object that he is stealing from that classmate. Since it is reasonable to assume that someone who lies and steals from one is not concerned about one’s feelings, we can safely put that notion to rest.
The outcomes of Bhattachrjee’s deception are many. Among them is that his lie fails and his attempt to cause injury to another person similarly fails. Another outcome is that he is unaware that lying is repellent to most human beings and he is therefore happy to illustrate it to a broad readership (in writing). Yet another outcome is to be found in the behavior of reasonable people who know (or learn) these things about him: most will have trouble dealing with him, deal with him while keeping an eye on him as well as not they own backs or, if possible, refuse to deal with him at all.
Another outcome of repeated lying is Bhattachrjee sheer remorselessness and lack of touch with reality. In other words, his personality is an outcome of his repeated behavior.
These are among the reasons why most people don’t make a habit of lying and every group of people on earth revile the behavior. This is even true of most third graders (people who are not yet concerned with following theological paths, demonstrating truth through artistic creation expanding scientific knowledge).
Put aside, for a moment, any consideration of the harm that is often caused by deceitful people. Let us also put aside the embarrassing vision that the reader has just been subjected to reading (these are, remember, the words that of an adult who would write about attempted theft as a secondary issue and pass it off as “transferring”. He also informs the reader of the motive behind his decision to cause injury to the classmate he is stealing from: he felt like doing it because he “liked” the stickers that belonged to someone else. They dazzled him. Put aside all the moral and ethical issues and, for good measure, even the notion of basic self-respect. All of that aside, most people have figured out that lying doesn’t work as a simple means to an end.
Bhattachrjee goes on. He continues with a brag informing the reader that his “naive lying” was not quelled with age and experience but simply worse. Instead of using the word “worse,” Bhattachrjee goes on to inform us, in the most witless prose, that “I got better, trust me.”
I ask the reader if one can imagine a single reasonable and conscious person could bring themselves to trust this man and, if the reader is left with any doubt as to the answer to that question, I hope that the following seals the verdict:
My naive lying—I got better, trust me—was matched by my gullibility in sixth grade, when a friend told me that his family owned a flying capsule that could transport us anywhere in the world. Preparing to travel on this craft, I asked my parents if they could pack me a few meals for the journey. Even when my older brother snickered, I refused to disbelieve my friend’s claim, and it was left to my friend’s father to finally convince me that I’d been duped.”
The author of these words is in sixth grade which means that he is 11 or 12 years old at the time of the story he is recalling and, depending on where he attended school, his math class (for example) is supposed to be studying domain ratios and proportional theory and his literature course is starting to parse Shakespeare. The fact that Bhattachrjee admits to this level of dullness so readily leads to the suspicion that he is unconscious of the implications of what he is saying on the careful reader’s perception of his basic competence as a reasoning human being. The fact that he begins the paragraph above by bragging and ends it by expressing a feeling of victimhood (I’d been duped) rather than self-reflection might register as surreal to the reader. But all of this is coupled with a complete and total absence of a single word denoting accountability or mature rationality in the entire 3601-word “feature”. This fact, in itself, warrants that the reader approach the final part of this analysis seriously.
The final account that we will examine is the following. Bhattachrjee visits a psychologist (and author of a book titled “Predictibly Irrational”). The account begins with the author telling us about an act of malice of the adolescent and petty variety. Both the act itself and Bhattachrjee’s recollection of the act to the reader are unnecessary. Though he is admitting that he lied, the recollection of the incident is not central to the article nor is it the first lie that the author boasts about conducting in his article. The question is “why include it?”:
“On a recent morning, I took an Uber to visit Dan Ariely, a psychologist at Duke University and one of the world’s foremost experts on lying. The inside of the car, though neat, had a strong odor of sweaty socks, and the driver, though courteous, had trouble finding her way. When we finally got there, she asked me smilingly if I would give her a five-star rating. “Sure,” I replied. Later, I gave her three stars. I assuaged my guilt by telling myself that it was better not to mislead thousands of Uber riders.
Ariely became fascinated with dishonesty about 15 years ago. Looking through a magazine on a long-distance flight, he came across a mental aptitude test. He answered the first question and flipped to the key in the back to see if he got it right. He found himself taking a quick glance at the answer to the next question. Continuing in this vein through the entire test, Ariely, not surprisingly, scored very well. “When I finished, I thought—I cheated myself,” he says. “Presumably, I wanted to know how smart I am, but I also wanted to prove I’m this smart to myself.” The experience led Ariely to develop a lifelong interest in the study of lying and other forms of dishonesty.
In experiments he and his colleagues have run on college campuses and elsewhere, volunteers are given a test with 20 simple math problems. They must solve as many as they can in five minutes and are paid based on how many they get right. They are told to drop the sheet into a shredder before reporting the number they solved correctly. But the sheets don’t actually get shredded. A lot of volunteers lie, as it turns out. On average, volunteers report having solved six matrices, when it was really more like four. The results are similar across different cultures. Most of us lie, but only a little.
The question Ariely finds interesting is not why so many lie, but rather why they don’t lie a lot more. Even when the amount of money offered for correct answers is raised significantly, the volunteers don’t increase their level of cheating. “Here we give people a chance to steal lots of money, and people cheat only a little bit. So something stops us—most of us—from not lying all the way,” Ariely says. The reason, according to him, is that we want to see ourselves as honest, because we have, to some degree, internalized honesty as a value taught to us by society. Which is why, unless one is a sociopath, most of us place limits on how much we are willing to lie. How far most of us are willing to go—Ariely and others have shown—is determined by social norms arrived at through unspoken consensus, like the tacit acceptability of taking a few pencils home from the office supply cabinet.”
It is clear that these men are unable to define why “something stops us—most of us—from not lying all the way” It is not clear what Ariely might mean by lying “all the way” but the present author presumes that this is a practice that would entail lying all the time thereby rendering the fidelity of our perception to the lie rather than the truth (this would mean living in one’s own delusions). Bhattachrjee explains that “The reason, according to him (Ariely) is that we want to see ourselves as honest, because we have, to some degree, internalized honesty as a value taught to us by society.”
Then why do all societies throughout the world “teach” (ie enjoin honesty)? Are all societies in the world (and all the religions that have inspired every society on earth and throughout history as we have examined them at even a cursory glance) uniform and devoid of diversity? The answer is that societies and cultures are diverse but universal truths are universal and they also stay true over time.
And finally we arrive at a piercingly clear expression of Bhattachrjee’s lie: that honesty is a behaviors that is taught (internalized honest is “a value taught by society.” This language can now easily be parsed and simply means that theirs is a notion that would have people believe that it is the truth which is taught rather than the lie that is learned as a behavior to conceal and mislead people. That is why they do not see honesty as fidelity to the truth (and reality) but rather as a practice which they engage in because society values it. In other words, they conceal their first inclination (which is to lie) because the rest of society (people around them) don’t like it.
In his Poetics of Music, Igor Stravinsky identified the exact sort of sensation that should be avoided: this is the sort of sensation that befuddles human understanding and is, therefore, useless to anyone who experiences the sensation beyond the initial moment of sensation. “Equally degrading,” says the composer, “is the vanity of snobs who boast of an embarrassing familiarity with the world of the incomprehensible and who delightedly confess that they find themselves in good company. It is riot music they seek, but rather the effect of shock, the sensation that befuddles understanding. So 1 confess that I am completely insensitive to the prestige of revolution. All the noise it may make will not call forth the slightest echo in me. For revolution is one thing, innovation another. And even innovation, when not presented in an excessive form, is not always recognized by its contemporaries.”
Stravinsky is acutely clear and this is evident through the fact that his words are easy to read. They are a sharp contrast of clarity against the adolescent expressions that we are peeling away in Bhattachrjee, Arley and many others in this book. It should be clear now that the familiarity with the incomprehensible is not embarrassing to the men and women we are engaged in observing. Bhattachrjee could have lied with the more deceptive razor of Shakespeare’s Iago had he the intellect to do so. It would not have been hard to end the essay with an illusory “appeal for truth.” Here I would do well to replace the false relation and displacement of self that he expresses through the words “between our lying and trusting selves” with the true relation which is not between “selves” but between behaviors and, in particular “between lying and being honest.”
The answer to why he doesn’t deceive us more “skillfully” (as he might put it) is to be found earlier in his essay. “Much of the knowledge we use to navigate the world comes from what others have told us” says the author. He might consider consider that human beings apply their reason to sift through what is true and what is not. This is a big factor that causes liars to be caught in the act as people have demonstrated through countless stories, observations and, ironically as we can see even by examining Bhattachrjee’s article itself. The reader should read the following and think about what the world looks like to Bhattacharjee:
“But is there anything unique about the brains of individuals who lie more than others? In 2005 psychologist Yaling Yang and her colleagues compared the brain scans of three groups: 12 adults with a history of repeated lying, 16 who met the criteria for antisocial personality disorder but were not frequent liars, and 21 who were neither antisocial nor had a lying habit. The researchers found that the liars had at least 20 percent more neural fibers by volume in their prefrontal cortices, suggesting that habitual liars have greater connectivity within their brains. It’s possible this predisposes them to lying because they can think up lies more readily than others, or it might be the result of repeated lying.”
This attempt at communicating the behavior of lying, when practiced consistent, as a physiological condition is, physiological considerations aside, as much of an expression of the inability to accept responsibility as it is also a statement that hints at the experience of certain difficulties when it comes to perceiving reality as it is.
As I wrote earlier in the course of this examination, Bhattachrjee could have closed his article with a question which seems to ask the reader how “we” are to stop the proliferation of lies but he doesn’t allow the a feigned attempt at concern for the truth to be compelling by virtue of his inability (as it is made apparent through his prose) to understand when he is expressing a lie: “What then might be the best way to impede the fleet-footed advance of untruths into our collective lives? The answer isn’t clear. Technology has opened up a new frontier for deceit, adding a 21st-century twist to the age-old conflict between our lying and trusting selves.”
And so Bhattachrjee doesn’t address that question at all. Instead he makes it clear that the question he “asks” is far from the reason he wrote this essay. He demonstrates this in the second to last paragraph in which he expresses a belief that truth and lies are malleable and that a person can have power over the “legitimacy” of the truth. This is the ultimate lie in his essay: the conceit that tells the reader that it is possible to defraud not simply people but truth itself. By lying with enough volume and consistency one could somehow engage in a process of “nudging” whatever one would like to believe as truth into “legitimacy.” But what effect would that notion have on the truth if it were possible? It would nudge truth into the status of being a lie thus delegitimizing the truth. This would mean that the collective learning of humanity as accomplished through science as well as the observations and functions that have been crafted by humanity through the arts could be rendered “illegitimate” because somebody feels like it. But if the reader should want to pay attention to a single sentiment expressed by Bhattachrjee as emblematic of his apathy to the truth and as telling of his true intent in composing his essay, there are eight words which describe the writer’s idea of what would happen even if a lie was “legitimized” over fact. “Countering it with fact, “ says Bhattachjee, “would be in vain.”
And so, the “incontestable lie” is “born” (even if it only exists as a subjective perception in the minds of Bhattachie and his ilk).
I would like to end this chapter with a look at two ancient texts that have been passed down and preserved for humanity through many centuries of activity. The first is by Michel de Montaigne. Since Bhattachjee informed us that the “ubiquity of lying was first documented systematically by Bella DePaulo, a social psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara” and that was initiated “two decades ago” (the 1990s), I would be remiss if I did not point out that the following was composed in the sixteenth century.
“It is usual to see good intentions, if carried on without moderation, push men on to very vicious effects.” The fact that people who do much damage are often fully convinced of the goodness of their intentions is helpful to realize. “In this dispute,” he continues, “which has at this time engaged France in a civil war, the better and the soundest cause no doubt is that which maintains the ancient religion and government of the kingdom.”
That there are people who take advantage of confusion in order to advance their personal agendas is clear. These “personal agendas” are followed with the desire to accumulate gains which could include the attainment of powers in assuming a certain political office, the recruitment of people to join a terrorist organization, the advancements of schemes designed to capitalize from financial exploitation and profiteering and a dazzling variety of other ambitions. But there are also those who operate without those ambitions and sow destruction while they maintain a sincere belief in the rightness of their cause and the purity of their intentions. “Nevertheless,” continues Montaigne, “amongst the good men of that party (for I do not speak of those who only make a pretense of it, either to execute their own particular revenges or to gratify their avarice, or to conciliate the favor of princes, but of those who engage in the quarrel out of true zeal to religion and a holy desire to maintain the peace and government of their country), of these, I say, we see many whom passion transports beyond the bounds of reason, and sometimes inspires with counsels that are unjust and violent, and, moreover, rash”
These are people who are convinced by their actions rather than using good causes in order to make a pretense of doing good “either to execute their own particular revenges or to gratify their avarice, or to conciliate the favor of princes.” They operate “out of true zeal to religion and a holy desire to maintain the peace and government of their country.” It is within this context that people can be seen to operate on a passion which transports them “beyond the bounds of reason.” Any “unjust and violent, and, moreover, rash” attitude or action that they take is self-justified by a full conviction in the rightness of their cause. The people acting on behalf of “the common good” are more dangerous than those who operate out of narrow self-interest. The former believe in what they are doing and will generally refuse to see the destruction of their approach because their actions stem from a sincere belief that they are involved with a cause. This “involvement” coupled with the equally sincere notion that they are making a positive contribution to the world satisfies a yearning for the sort of deep spiritual meaning that they might reasonably consider absent from their lives. The causes, and therefore the deeper meaning derived from the involvement with said causes, may be illusory but that is inconsequential. Satisfying the yearning for meaning is enough in itself even if this yearning is not actually satisfied with meaning.
This means that, in addition to being dangerous, perpetrators of the misconduct studied in this book will never be satisfied in their destruction.
For the second text I return to the Quran. Many lines in that Book are concerned with reminding human beings that we are accountable for our own actions. Many also speak of the essentiality of truth. The following lines should be read as simply and straightforwardly as possible. Bhattacharjee’s prose depicts lying as natural and preordained state of human behavior. Here is the Quran:
“And believe in what I reveal, confirming the revelation which is with you, and be not the first to reject Faith therein, nor sell My Signs for a small price; and fear Me, and Me alone.
And cover not Truth with falsehood, nor conceal the Truth when ye know (what it is).
And be steadfast in prayer; practice regular charity; and bow down your heads with those who bow down (in worship).”
This passage does not simply discuss but actively demonstrates the natural sequence of events when it comes to truth and lying. It does so linguistically. The line also reminds human beings of the responsibility that we have to ourselves and one another; a responsibility that we are disrespecting when we shun that which is true:
“And cover not Truth with falsehood, nor conceal the Truth when ye know”
That sentence places truth before falsehood in the course of the sentence itself. This clarifies through the very structure of placing truth before falsehood and then activating the sentence with a verb (conceal) that truth must exist first in order for the truth to be covered with falsehood. In order to conceal, one must first know the clear and unambiguous truth and then proceed to either accept reality or conceal it. Lies simply cannot exist without truth first existing because the liar requires a truth as a raw material ripe for manipulation.
Something that is true is not the only raw material that a liar needs to acquire before he or she has the basic ingredients to make a lie. The liar must also know that the truth is true. True things have to be realized by the liar (as true) before there is anything to pervert into a lie. One cannot pervert a lie into a lie since it is already false to begin with. Truth is prerequisite to the existence of a lie or lies because, by their very nature, lies must exist as relative (in a parasitic way) to the truth. Lies seek to erode the truth. One cannot erode a truth that does not exist as a truth. Only once the liar knows that something is true can he or she can he or she make lies and then they can choose to promote lies that obscure it.
The passage also remains entirely in the grammatical positive. It reads “cover not Truth with falsehood…” rather than “do not cover Truth with falsehood.” This makes the action (of covering Truth) unambiguously active. The command is directed against a behavior and this behavior is outlined and dissected in terms of it’s sequence of events and is clear that the “doing” of the behavior at hand falls upon the person who is behaving. Any sentient person, by most measures of what is meant by the words “sentient person” in societies and nations across the world and across the centuries, should have no trouble understanding this. And, by the simplest extension possible, it should be evident that actions have consequences and that people are responsible for the consequences of their actions when we act.
The liar is, of course, not limited to the avenue of promoting lies or spreading rumor. They can just choose to brazenly disrespect the truth without promoting lies and even while declaring that they know the truth but actively choose not to respect it. It is this behavior that is expressed by the line from the Quran that we have been looking at and that I have underlined here:
“And cover not Truth with falsehood, nor conceal the Truth when ye know”
The final, and most terrible, example of a failure in truth and faith in truth that humanity can study began when Pontius Pilate entered the court of judgment. Here is the scene as recounted by Saint John:
Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews?
Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.
Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.
But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?”
The Quran mentions Jesus with more frequency than any prophet, angel or other entity. Pilate could not have read the words that warn against those who would “conceal the Truth when ye know” as the book was revealed some six hundred years after the proceedings that would condemn Jesus. But he didn’t need to. He was staring at truth face-to-face and admitted to seeing it but did not care to uphold it. The notion that Pilate was considering “the nature of truth” rather than displaying apathy towards what he knew to be true has gained currency since John Langshaw Austen wrote the following words (published in 1950):
“WHAT is truth?” said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer. Pilate was in advance of his time. For “truth” itself is an abstract noun, a camel, that is, of a logical construction, which cannot get past the eye even of a grammarian. We approach it cap and categories in hand: we ask ourselves whether Truth is a substance (the Truth, the Body of Knowledge), or a quality (something like the colour red, inhering in truths), or a relation (“correspondence”)1. But philosophers should take something more nearly their own size to strain at. What needs discussing rather is the use, or certain uses, of the word “true.” In vino, possibly, “veritas,” but in a sober symposium ‘verum.’”
All too many modern-day “philosophers”, like “social scientists” and “conceptual artists” take positions like this they cannot do the work required to demonstrate plausible findings. Conceptual “artists” are not artists but simply people who have an opinion about something. This opinion, I might add, is usually wrong-headed or destructive. This is in no small part due to the fact that true artists cannot contain the need to demonstrate truth within them or respond to a need for a functional object when they love to make it. Social “scientists” who claim that they have made a “science” out of studying the irrational and claiming familiarity with it are not scientists. By what method would anyone study the irrational and chaotic? And to what end would the inquiry be conducted if it was indeed possible?
The only “true” part of Austen’s paragraph above was appropriated from Francis Bacon’s essay On Truth. When I speak of a “true” part I am referring to that which is true and which can be proven to be true in the narrative contained within the Bible (whether or not one believes it and sees it to be true or does not believe it and shows it to be true as a narrative in the text is irrelevant to the present inquiry. One way or the other, the answer is the same.
Let’s consider this from a purely dramatic perspective. Writers who wish to fashion dramatically viable work that can also be seen as “loyal real” in terms of it’s artistic representation present carefully researched imagery and plot on the stage, page or screen for a reason. As a composer of opera, I speak for myself in saying that I would not seriously expect anybody to believe that a character of my creation should be interested in the truth if he already knows it and chooses to disregard it. Nor would I attempt to convince an audience that the same character could be compelled by “an inquiry into the nature truth” if he doesn’t stay for an answer.
Saint John recounts Pilate’s immediate departure upon speaking the words “what is truth” clearly:
“ Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again”
Francis Bacon points out the truth about Pilate in a passage that predates Austen’s by half a millennium and which Austen quotes (as the opening of his text, no less) without thinking to benefit the layperson with a credit to the author (Bacon). The fact that he is parasitically preying on Bacon’s constructive words that, through truth and common sense have survived the test of centuries, in order to pervert those words to a destructive end is a common manifestation of the liar in action as the anti-poetic agent that he is.
And so I will close this chapter by allowing Francis Bacon to have the last word once more. Here is the opening paragraph of his essay “On Truth” which I leave the reader to enjoy. I hope that the reader will decide to read the whole essay and that recommendation is found to be useful. Bacon’s general creative output as well as the works of constructive artists in general will overwhelm the voices that express destruction in attitude and action (amplified as their voices are).
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that” said Martin Luther King Jr. If, as human history testifies, justice is the antidote to injustice and knowledge is the eradicator of ignorance then I must add a purely poetic truth to the moral, ethical, scientific and religious ones that are familiar. This truth, which I find to be self-evident, is that Destruction can only be frustrated through construction. Attention to a study of Poetics in all the arts (by which I mean specificity “the study of making things”) is more essential than the destructive liars would have the “ordinary person” believe. Liars invented the condescending notion of the “ordinary person” with the same destructive intent as their invention of the artist as a pretentiously overblown and incomprehensible philosopher. At the present time, these liars are proliferating their confusions and schisms at a rate that they have never had the opportunity to attempt before (this is as far as all my studies of human history suggest).
Those who value basic humanity, civilization and decency would do well to understand that the tools, old and new alike, which are available to destructive people and which enable them to publish their every reflex with a speed (if not with a zeal) that is unmatched in their history are also tools that are available to constructive and creative among us. The tools are also available to those who would like to enjoy constructive labor and to use products that are fashioned with care and designed with precision. The natural response to the incendiary “anti-poetics” and to the insistent negativity and doom preached by it’s practitioners have a long history of pedaling destruction. I also believe that they always will do so. The best way to assert a constructive approach to life is for human beings to insist on the truths that creativity and positivity are natural to our species. I urge the reader to understand how fully these things are linked to our survival as human beings rather than mere utilitarian shells of human beings. Creativity may not be essential to simply staying alive but it is essential if life is to be worth living.
With that, I leave the reader with the opening of Francis Bacon’s essay On Truth:
“WHAT is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer. Certainly there be, that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief; affecting free-will in thinking, as well as in acting. And though the sects of philosophers of that kind be gone, yet there remain certain discoursing wits, which are of the same veins, though there be not so much blood in them, as was in those of the ancients. But it is not only the difficulty and labor, which men take in finding out of truth, nor again, that when it is found, it imposeth upon men’s thoughts, that doth bring lies in favor; but a natural, though corrupt love, of the lie itself.”
On July 17th, 2017 I was a guest on BBC’s HardTalk program, which introduced my interview in a manner that raised questions:
“Mohammed Fairouz is a US-Emirati composer — a youthful artist who has spent much of his creative life defying boundaries and stereotypes. His work ranges from symphonies to opera, to unique fusions of music and poetry. He’s an Arab educated and resident in the West; an outspoken advocate for creative freedom who nonetheless rails against western cultural imperialism. His aim is to foster cultural crossover rather than confrontation; but can this artist avoid taking sides? ”
The trouble began when the host of the program, Stephen Sackur, issued a falsehood right out of the gate: “He’s an Arab educated and resident in the West.” And then went on to address my musical education in the Arab world just a few moments later without seeming to notice the discrepancy.
The idea that an artist would “rail” as the first assumption of date is curious enough without the destructive assertion that I have declared war on “western cultural imperialism.” I’m not a regular commentator on imperialism in general. Should Sackur have wished to research my single utterance on this topic, he’d have had no trouble finding it. I referred to “the empires of the past” once in my entire career and I referred to them as just that: empires of the past. Here’s the excerpt, from a lecture I delivered at the Aspen Institute a full year earlier in August 2016 (readily available online and through the institute). I provide my statement with context:
“The twin cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai continuing to merge and emerge as one of the most important megalopolises of the 21st Century; China manifesting itself as a major power; India continuing on its path toward massive infrastructural growth and harnessing its immense creative human capital… all these things do not need to translate into the decline of the West unless the West actively chooses this. Western nations can choose, through vacuous and parochial movements that represent the very worst of populism, to relegate themselves to a slow and steady decline. But no terrorist group can do this without the consent of the nations they intend to terrorize.
The alternative is to ditch the nostalgic “sun never sets” mentality and realize the need to play in the sandbox with the other countries of the world. The empires of the past are a thing of the past. The attitudes that informed them now need to be relegated to the past for the sake of the continued influence of Western nations if nothing else. The rest of the world is going to move on and forward in any case. In short, the emergence of important centers of commerce and culture in the Arabian Gulf can benefit rather than impinge on the commerce and culture of European and American cities. The fact that the following decades may bring us to a place where we are faced with the reality of a Chinese Century does not mean that this very same century cannot also be an American Century. In fact, with the increased potential for trade, cooperation and communication to happen at a faster rate than ever before this century could be the greatest, most lucrative and most prosperous American Century in addition to being the same for so many others.”
The host asked why I am quick to condemn societal dysfunction and abuses of power in western nations, but not in “the Gulf Arab states” (as if such a monolithic political and ideological entity existed). This pointed question followed a discussion that focused on my desire, as an artist, to combine musical genres and interrogate cultural boundaries.
Sackur seemed more interested in drawing up generalizations between cultures, however, particularly when he asked me about the status of “LGBT people in the Middle East.”
The instant reaction demanded by the television interview format left little time to discuss complex issues in a nuanced and properly contextualized manner. When I address specific social issues (as opposed to larger geopolitical ones) I try to limit my focus to the nations in which I have had experience and in which I live: the United Arab Emirates and the United States. And I do live a significant portion of my creative life in the UAE with travel occurring between Dubai and New York on a more-or-less monthly basis. I only point this out because Sackur would later inform me that life in the UAE would be “impossible” for me as an “active gay.”
Em not sure what research was deployed to arrive at the conclusion that I am an “active gay,” but my statement (that I did not identify as “gay”) was met with righteous disbelief rather than the sort of dispassionate questioning that we need from our journalistic enterprises. This curiosity could have lead us to subjects of consequence to the commonwealth of humanity. An open discussion of all topics (including sexuality, as opposed to my sex life) would be invaluable in a world where the idea of “civilizational war” has people from Europe and North America believing that they are on a profound collision-course with Muslim-majority nations and vice versa.
No civilized human being wishes for the decline of others or rails against the cultures of others. As for imperialism, that’s none of my current business. It should be eminently clear that we have more urgent things to tackle ahead of us.
Sackur asked me to defend my information by framing it as support for the UAE (artists aren’t lobbyists) and I was then asked to explain why I am so enthusiastic about a nation that the West perceives to enforce torture, lengthy prison terms, and even the death penalty against gay people. I explained my own experiences, but also wanted to provide needed context as well as a critique of how major news outlets have portrayed the Emiratis in this regard. The reality is complex. One cannot simply dismiss reports of judicial overreach in the Emirates by responding with claims that the UAE is misunderstood. A response, especially when commenting on elements as broadly important as culture and society, (of which sexuality is a part), must be more fully considered.
The most urgent reason to attend to the considered and dispassionate work of deep research, however, has little to do with the subject at hand or even with journalistic ethics writ large. It has to do with the ease of a process in which falsehoods become canonized as truths in the digital world.
Let’s examine what such a process might look like using this discussion point as a case study.
The sensibility of understanding anything as involved and multidimensional as culture has to begin with an understanding of facts that are more nuanced than those provided by online open- source materials. And yet these sources, pages like Wikipedia that anyone can edit, usually act as a first stop for so many well-meaning researchers. Here’s was the informational chart that appeared on the Wikipedia page for LGBT rights in the UAE back in July 2017 shortly after the interview:
Concerns that people are being summarily executed for same-sex intimacy in the UAE are profoundly misplaced; even the assumed illegality of same sex activity is more complex than might appear. Article 354 of the UAE Penal Code remains unclear in the original Arabic and in translation. It can be read to “coercive sodomy or intercourse with a female” but can be (and has been, by international sources) interpreted to present a case for the persecution of consensual same sex relationships between adults. But it is quite a stretch to read the law as a criminalization of consensual sex given the syntactical placement of the Arabic word for “coercive” in the document. The death penalty has never been invoked or carried out as a “punishment” for “homosexuality” or “sodomy” in the history of the UAE.
So, claiming that Article 354 provides a legal basis for the persecution of LGBT people is a very steep hill to climb even before looking at the view of the UAE itself. In the linguistic debate over whether Article 354 targets coercive acts, one official UAE discussion after another communicates the official view of the law. This includes articulations of the law at the United Nations which place it as prohibitive of sexual violence against women (http://evaw-global-database.un- women.org/en/countries/asia/united-arab-emirates/1987/article-354-of-federal-law-3-of-the-pe- nal-code-prohibition-of-sexual-violence).
And Article 14 of the UAE Constitution clearly states that “equality, social justice, the provision of safety and security, and equality of opportunity for all citizens shall be the bases of the community.” The provisions of the charter prevail as the most fundamental source of federal law in the Union as stated in Article 151. Clarifying the language of Article 354 explicitly, rather than by deduction, would assure that all citizens are protected equally. That assurance would bring the UAE in line with the aspirations of the Emirati Constitution, rather than distancing it from its most fundamental values.
Then there are things on that Wikipedia chart that are not nuanced at all. Sexual reassignment surgery is not illegal in the UAE. Its legal practice has been public for some time now. The statement that a country oppresses citizens is a serious one that, if advanced by journalists, should be rigorously examined and observed.
I’ve always accepted that people should be able to speak for themselves and so I wrote my own breakdown of the legal code in the UAE in the interests of getting these facts right. The BBC, having expressed interest in genuine dialogue following my interview, did not see it fit to publish the corrective essay. The Independent presented themselves as an alternative and it was published there under the title “The UAE’s position on gay rights is actually surprisingly progressive – and I should know.” Needless to say, the title as selected by the editor, runs contrary to the main thesis of the article. With the content of the essay intact, I allowed it’s publication and, days after it was published in The Independent, the Wikipedia chart was changed to reflect the fact that gender reassignment surgery was legal in the country, a fact that was misrepresented for many years before:
Sources point to “Sharia Law” as being another “main source” of deducing the illegality of homosexual conduct. The Wikipedia page for Sharia (again the first destination for so many curious minds) makes it sound like an ancient and singular set of codified laws that were eventually supplanted by newer (read: better) European models. But Sharia is not a legal system; it is a methodology of legislation. The Prophet Mohammed is one of the “lawgivers” portrayed in sculpture in the forum of the United States Supreme Court in celebration of Muslims’ contributions to jurisprudence, given how different systems and discourses of lawmaking have been to shaping the world in which we all live (https://justablog2011.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/ prophet-muhammad-honored-by- the-u-s-supreme-court-as-one-of-the-greatest-lawgivers-of-the- world-in-1935/).
Sharia law informs various systems of civil law across the world; it has been adapted and molded differently by many different legal scholars in different forms throughout the history of Islam. Like all methods of legal discourse, it must evolve and adapt to the age in which we live. As always, the Quran must be the highest source material. The Book, revealed in the 7th Century CE, does not mention “homosexuality,” which is a 19th Century British medical term. The Quran treats the “people of Lot” in the same way as the people who stayed behind in Sodom and Gomorrah rather than heeding the warnings of Noah, only to be engulfed by the flood. A focus of the punishment is riba‘, which can be defined as corrupt usury and is not the same as homosexuality in historic Sharia. While both the Old Testament and the Gospel (after the version of King James) provide for explicit punishments for same sex acts, the Quran does not.
It should be clear that there are problems we run into owing to language barriers. But then there’s history.
Historically, too, there is ample evidence that inclusion takes priority over exclusion in Islamic societies. Here, the Prophet himself is an example. He led a movement of social justice in which outcasts were welcomed and protected. Mohammed was born into a society in which those who were orphaned or did not belong to a tribe were considered repulsive. He put an end to the pre- Islamic social practice of burying new-born girls. He freed slaves. Islam is a religion of inclusion that welcomes all human beings.
Up until the 19th Century, people in same sex relationships who felt oppressed by strictures of European nations would travel to Arab states because of the more relaxed and welcoming environment that they found there. It is worth noting that today, although the Old Testament decrees “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Exodus 21:24), not a single Western (traditionally Christian) state enforces such practices.
The historical source for modern “Islamic” legislation against same sex relations comes from Sayyid Qutb’s text, First Step Towards Eradicating Sexual Immorality. Needless to say, Qutb, a godfather of radicalism who was executed in 1966 for trying to overthrow the Egyptian government, and his followers would not wish nations such as the UAE well. Our inclusive moderate narrative of Islam (the historically accurate one) is an existential threat to extremist thinking. I have seen the UAE raise its standards time and time again over the course of my life; the country embraces inclusivity as a source of strength.
Over the years, when I’ve written on issues of social and artistic concern, outlets and publications ranging from NPR to the New York Times have (in the past) employed copy editors who have required me to cite several sources to verify my assertions of fact. The exception to this rule was to be found when the sources I was citing were seen as universally established outlets such as the BBC, The New York Times, The Times of London and so on. And yet, in the drive to generate content for consumption 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, many cable news outlets have greeted me to interviews with introductions by well-meaning but overworked and tired interns who have prepared questions that assume that open source materials are accurate. They often don’t even have the time to do research. By the time they would be done with a day of research, deadlines would already be pressing for the next show.
Open source sites such as Wikipedia can be very accurate when dealing with subjects that enjoy extensive peer review but this limits their relative usefulness to a series of popular topics. When it comes to seldom discussed issues such as sexuality in the UAE or legal theory and practice in the Arabian Gulf States, reviews are conducted by a small number of people. Wikipedia has a hierarchy in which it awards articles based on their level of accomplishment but hardly any journalist I’ve spoken with pays attention to that or even knows of the existence of such a hierarchy. They choose to disregard Wikipedia entirely. It is, after all, an every-person’s forum.
But when that well-meaning intern, pressed for time, puts an assumption into the mouth of a BBC anchor, it becomes citable everywhere from The New York Times to the Kenya Star.
And so new facts are born.
The Emirates, with a population talented enough to propel its all-Emirati Mars mission, ends up on a list dominated by nations facing very different challenges: those of blight, war, and the carnage of bad governance (https:// www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/06/13/ here-are-the-10-countries-where-homosexuality-may-be-punished-by-death-2/? utm_term=.c6e- f5d852280).
Herein lies the cultural crux of the problem. The UAE has no concept whatsoever of a “gay rights” movement as it has come to be defined by several different Western nations in reference to their own different experiences. There is no sense in expecting that the Emirates should even have a stance on gay rights as they are currently put. Major international organizations, including the United Nations, that demand their member-nations to vote on LGBT issues need to develop forums with the appropriate linguistic and cultural context for a serious debate first. Emirati cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi did not exist in any semblance of their modern form when the Stonewall Riots occurred. That event was a reaction to social currents in that were brewing in their their own place and time. In 1951, the American poet Langston Hughes penned a poem called Cafe, 3am which describes a scene that would cause the Stonewall Riots to erupt in New York City in June of 1969:
Detectives from the vice squad with weary sadistic eyes spotting fairies.
Degenerates, some folks say.
But God, Nature, or somebody made them that way.
Police lady or Lesbian over there?
The social atmosphere captured by Hughes in his poem of 1951 was to simmer until the riots that erupted against the sadism of detectives nearly two decades later. 1951, the riots of 1969 and everything in between occurred at a time when the Emirates as a nation was still a work-in- progress. The nation existed in the inner-eyes of the men and women who inhabited the Trucial States.
The expectation that social currents that appropriately developed 8000 miles away from the Arabian Peninsula and came to their boil two years before the founding of the UAE should now have some moral or cultural bearing on the Emirates is simply strange.
The idea of attaching letters as descriptors (LGBT etc) can trace itself back only as far as the 1990s. And it wasn’t until President Obama’s second Inaugural Address in January 2013 that we heard a US president embrace gay rights into the narrative of the pursuit of equality and justice in the civilian discourse of the United States:
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.”
That history, having occurred in the United States, is woven into the story of the United States. There’s nothing wrong with that but we must remember that we are talking about the United States’ story here. The aspirations at Seneca Falls were noble ones. But nobility of purpose and universality of ideals do not make a case for confounding discreet historical moments.
The story of a nation like the UAE whose founders enunciated the ideals of equality and participation of women from the very start did not need to account for the considerations of Seneca Falls. The marchers at Selma were driven by demographic and historical considerations that cannot be applied to other nations. The rioters at Stonewall spoke with voices that cannot be artificially translated and coerced to fit into a totally different cultural context. Any ecosystem that doesn’t experience events through circumstance and the forces that shape their own corner of history will rightly question the validity or usefulness of importing ready-made cultural formulations.
Instead, societies will evolve in such a way that is informed by their own histories and circumstances, and that doesn’t necessarily mean adopting a “Western” idea of feminism or “Western” attitudes about what it means to identify as LGBT (“Q,” “I,” and additional letters presumably to be readily embraced by all the world’s societies as soon as they are adopted in the nations of Western Europe and North America). A much better way to measure cultural attitudes about so-
cial issues would be to listen to the songs composed by songwriters of that place, by reading stories from that nation’s authors, and by absorbing the poetry of that country’s poets.
Projection is beyond boring. It robs us of looking at the good, the bad and the ugly in every society on earth so that we may learn from cultural richnesses and mitigate errors by learning from historical blunders.
I recently wrote (http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/05/10/the-middle-easts-new- renaissance/) that “the West often talks about sex as though it invented it.” No single nation or creed, nor any culture or region, can claim to have invented or to have monopoly over right and wrong when it comes to how sex (or jurisprudence, music or any critical thought) is practiced. Today, however, a manufactured civilizational conflict is being marketed with all the pizzaz of a blockbuster movie; and, as far as so much mainstream media coverage is concerned, it’s selling tickets. This manufactured conflict is sustained by false dichotomies. It seeks to organize diverse communities and cultures under falsely unifying rubrics such as “Islam” and “the West.” Human sexuality is, apparently, not beyond the purview of these invented borders.
On one side of the global debate, Edward Said bemoaned the demise of philology as an avenue of study in Europe and the United States. On the other, he identifies the deterioration of ijtihad which, together with fiqh and taqlid, is a vital technique in the methodology of sharia:
“The gradual disappearance of the extraordinary tradition of Islamic ijtihad — the process of working out Islamic rules with reference to the Koran — has been one of the major cultural disasters of our time, with the result that critical thinking and individual wrestling with the problems of the modern world have simply dropped out of sight. Rather than the manufactured clash of civilizations, we need to concentrate on the slow working together of cultures that overlap, borrow from each other, and live together. But for that kind of wider perception we need time, patient and skeptical inquiry, supported by faith in communities of interpretation that are difficult to sustain in a world demanding instant action and reaction.” (https://www.theguardian.com/ books/2003/aug/02/alqaida.high- ereducation)
There is no such thing as “a mainstream” when it comes to human sexuality or any interior thought. In Arabic , for example, no words exist for “gay” or “straight” but we do find over 200 words for “love.” Arabic is also capable of employing a gender neutral. In addition, there is an intricate tradition of Arabic love poetry that many in the West now describe as “homo-erotic.” The reason I state that I am not “gay” is because this is a ridiculously limited statement that endorses a narrative that I never signed on to or chose. “Gay” is a 16th century French word. “Homosexuality” is, like “heterosexuality,” a 19th century British medical term.
Every group of people, including Europeans, were never content to just let a butterfly be and enjoy the miracle of its beauty. At one point or another in their histories, people apply definitions as a way of asserting control over things that they cannot fully comprehend. People feel compelled to put a pin in every butterfly they collected, giving them Latin names and creating categorizations that they could display in museum exhibits. I don’t buy into these definitions. My sexuality is unique. I see a rejection of false binaries, and a corresponding embrace of fluidity among those of my generation who are informed by creativity and the ability to widen their fields of vision and curiosity. Authoritarians quash interior things as “deviant” because an ordered and defined culture is easier to control.
I am not gay. I am not homosexual. By rejecting these labels I am very consciously liberated from the abuse of language because Em not abiding by a letter or term that evolved far from my own understanding of myself. That’s an understanding that is based on my study of the world and how I arrived in my place within it.
Sexuality lives in the psychological interior and is expressed in the place of intimacy born of connection between people in their own inner-world.
“Sexual politics” that are developed for the sake of shaming others, like any politics that is based on destruction, is never acceptable. The right of all people to be protected equally under the law is fundamental to civilization. This right should not be advanced because of the fact that their sexuality is represented by a letter or a flag; quite the contrary. People should not have to form collective packs in order to seek representation or protection. It is up to humanity to come to a full appreciation of the special grace of individual distinction.
Only then will we see an acceptance that sexuality comprises a spectrum. Human sexuality is psychologically driven in a way that only the inner human world can be; there are as many unique sexualities as there are unique human beings with unique personalities. In this sense, sexuality may represent the ultimate and most infinite form of human diversity. That’s what makes it so difficult to legislate, and, by extension, control.
The inner-self overlaps with expressive urges and manifests itself in so many facets of our lives, from poetic expressions of sexuality to scientific inquiries into the machinations of attraction. Here, as ever, we find that diversity is richness and strength. Rather than work to appease authoritarian power structures, letter-driven sexual sloganeering, sex under a flag, or the status quo, I believe that we can also work (in the truer sense of that word) towards change that is fueled by thoughtfulness and a commitment to widening our field of vision. The goal should be to open ourselves to all the advancements that humanity has made in replacing the politics of shame with the dialogue of pride, while at the same time protecting our right to a private life so that we can communicate our sexual expression freely without stepping on anyone else or being imposed upon ourselves.
Human genius and creativity might find its most intimate and personal form of expression in the inner-most corridors of the human psyche. By respecting the intimacy of sex and not intruding upon our fellow human beings, we are not only insisting that organizations from political lobbies to governments to “human rights” organizations cannot take a perceived moral high ground over others and call for legislating one monolithic form of sexual experience as being “correct.” We are also endorsing the idea of allowing our fellow human beings room to experience and express themselves to their own chosen partners more openly and honestly. We are allowing people to be individuals; just as they were born to be. And most importantly by allowing consensual and conscious sex to express itself outside of civic common-spaces, we are respecting nature as a whole. In so doing, we turn away from the audacious folly that would have us imagine that we could impose human codes of understanding and ethics on something much larger and older than our species itself.
The UAE is taking strides (http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/dubai-united- arab-emirates-uae-american-political-figures-a7640041.html) in studying robotics (http:// www.mbzirc.com), tackling climate change (http://museumofthefuture.ae), advancing sustainable energy (http://www.masdar.ae), space exploration (http:// www.slate.com/articles/technolo- gy/future_tense/2017/03/ why_the_united_arab_emirates_is_building_a_space_program.html), cultural contributions (http://saadiyatculturaldistrict.ae) and many other areas. The UAE is able to pursue these endeavors by listening to and building on progress in western nations as well as nations across the world.
The accumulated knowledge of the past is the common domain of all humanity and as it is impossible to limit the flow of knowledge to those who seek it, there is no way to prevent the UAE from learning the lessons of great thinkers in western nations and using those lessons to grow just as there is no way to prevent people in Europe or North America to learn from the successes of the Emirates and, in turn, grow themselves. The choice is theirs.
My generation is faced with the menace of existential misunderstanding as many people from the Middle East, Europe, the Asia-Pacific, and America are sowing the seeds of division and investing in false dichotomies. My understanding of the role of art has never involved “fusion” or “crossover.” It’s not hard to see and feel what unites us in music and those are the universals I seek to illuminate and articulate. Well before I had thought of giving an interview to the BBC, I wrote the following in the UAE’s leading daily, The National:
“For clarity, it is worth saying that the ideal situation would involve the West collaborating in the vision for a shared future. Nobody wishes for the decline of allies in the United States or Europe.”
3. “Journalism that Stands Apart”
Zola, Mencken, Vidal
The National is a newspaper in Abu Dhabi which I find valuable as a source of news. I have read their reporting from the United Arab Emirates, the Middle East in general as well as their analysis of world news for nearly a decade. This is why I was surprised to find an article (https://newrepublic.com/article/112542/national-abu-dhabis-brief-experiment-press-freedom) in the New Republic that proclaimed, two years after the founding of the paper, that “The National wanted to be the Times of the Middle East. It failed.” I suspect that nobody at The National actually said that they wanted “to be the Times of the Middle East.” Even so, how childish it is to say that a paper has failed just 4 years after it’s founding. Donald Trump says that the New York Times is “the failing New York Times” and then cites a legacy that they’ve been building up for well over a century; a legacy that they are now happy to squander. No matter what you think of him, he has a point and it has resonated deeply with people who feel betrayed by the infantilization of the public by a paper that they increasingly despise because readers feel duped.
When I do write essays, I’ve found that they can run the whole gammut from quite short to quite long. An essay of mine can certainly be long. I’ll allow it but I find myself making those judgements on length with more information at hand about the intent, content and eventual formal structure of ha e essay; all of which I don’t have the ability to think it’s thoughtful and I certainly worked hard on it and, I hope, showed an analysis of importance (meaning one that is drawn from thoughts that are larger than just my own). People are taking in so much useless data these days. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking them to take the time to read something longer when it’s worth their time and composed with integrity. Op-Eds in the New York Times have been getting shorter for over a decade; more and more space has been expended on pictures and dramatic multimedia. Nowadays you can’t get away with publishing anything that’s over a couple thousand words. Readers are adults and they feel the sting of condescension when they are treated like children. Many editors say this is due to lack of space or due to the need to save money. In an inappropriately informal interview, the Executive Editor posted a “q&A” with readers outlining a whole slew of terrible reasons as to why the paper shut down their copy desk and, with it, fired the copy editors. The Exec Editor says:
“That system was designed for print, which allowed for much more time in producing a story. It also did not contemplate a world where not all the best journalism would involve the written word.”
Our goal with these changes is to still have more than one set of eyes on a story, but not three or four. We have to streamline that system and move faster in the digital age. If the Supreme Court issues a major ruling at 10 a.m., our readers expect to hear about it within minutes. And they’d like an analysis not too long afterward. And maybe a video on the history of the case that led to the ruling. Or a multimedia analysis of what the ruling says about the court’s leanings so far. Hey
So we have to change our editing system to accommodate the changes in journalism. And we have to hire more journalists who can do all the tasks I just described. The only way to do that is by streamlining editing and using the savings to change the staff.”
Less time means less attention. As the radio example in my essay shows, the techniques of collecting and disseminating information may change but the desire to seek out and verify the truth should never change. What Banquet has done here is to produce more busy work at no gain as far as informing readers is concerned. The only thing that rushing the publication of material does is to ensure that more misleading statements or provocative falsehoods fall through the cracks. Ethics are better observed when writers know that they have to clear a dedicated copy desk and this is a copy desk that has long labored anonymously to keep reporters away from the temptation of sacrificing integrity of the publication for the quick high of showing off a bravura verbal performance on the page. Nor is “space” the issue in shortening analyses and making sure that articles read more and more like comic strips. As Banquet says above, they are actually putting more material out into the world than ever before; so it isn’t about treating space economically. It’s about laziness. I have found that readers will actually read longer pieces of analysis if those pieces are engaging and relevant to them. And no matter what the word count, people won’t read things unless the language is clear. Copy editors were so helpful in this regard.
I know many of these writers. They’re good people who work very hard to save egotistical writers from themselves. Once they realized that they had been put through a two year charade, they penned this letter to Dean: https://www.poynter.org/news/new-york-times-copy-desk-top-editors-you-have-turned-your-backs-us
It’s a hard read but it’s worth it. They eventually pleaded with the Executive editor despite the fact that they put their lives and families on the line and were treated in such a way that was totally devoid of any respect (an internal memo referred to the entire copy desk as “dog urinating on fire hydrants”); I think the plea was important because of issues of precedent that the Times is setting here:
“We worry that if we do not speak out, you will feel emboldened to make similarly sweeping staff reductions elsewhere in the company without debate. We worry that the errors and serious breaches of Times standards that copy editors catch each day will go unnoticed — until we are embarrassed into making corrections. We worry, in short, that the newsroom has forgotten why these layers of editing were created in the first place. But we still believe in The Times.”
“We ask that you believe in us.”
Needless to say, their letter did not yield any response. They are all out of their jobs and the effects have been noticeable. Even more importantly, readers who are invested in reading good journalism Ares being let down and misguided. The readers know the importance of a great paper to their society. In those letters between Dean and the readers one even writes this: “If The New York Times fails to capture mistakes in this era of fake media attacks, will your new cuts not have an impact on your reliability? I would rather have you raise my rates than make these cuts.”
The readers were literally offering money to keep the quality and integrity of the paper up. The readers were turned down. The copy editors were all let go. The paper publishes mistakes on a daily basis and, even worse, is ruining people’s lives by rushing to publish unsubstantiated reports with no safety net of a copy desk to stop them.
Still, I suspect that Dean Banquet thinks that this has been a success because, today, the The New York Times reported that their subscription earnings have surpassed a billion dollars (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/08/business/new-york-times-company-earnings.html?mtrref=www.google.com&gwh=CB624BF0AEF18F988C167387F7D1E8B8&gwt=pay).
That’s a profit margin that was earned by capitalizing on the integrity of a name that generations of good journalists built up through investing in a currency of trust. That currency is being devalued by one misguided, foolish and arrogant cadre of egoists. Profiteering off the backs of good men and women who lost their beloved copy desk and their livelihoods after years (and in some cases decades) of tiring work isn’t behavior anyone wants to be associated with. Those silent journalists worked hard because they believed in the name of the paper as more than just a brand. They believed in it as a symbol of the currency of excellent built through a dogged devotion to the truth; that’s what once earned the trust of readers. Dean Banquet squandered that trust shamelessly.
4. “Small Asks”
The novelist Margaret Atwood fhttps://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/am-i- a-bad-feminist/article37591 823/) recently described the tools that the #metoo movement has used to amplify their voices. The technique is in the hands of everyone but only as technology. When it is filled with vigilante miscarriages of justice and truth the consequences for the rule of law are clear:
“.. .they used a new tool: the internet. Stars fell from the skies. This has been very effective, and has been seen as a massive wake-up call. But what next? The legal system can be fixed, or our society could dispose of it. Institutions, corporations and workplaces can houseclean, or they can expect more stars to fall, and also a lot of asteroids.”
“If the legal system is bypassed because it is seen as ineffectual, what will take its place? Who will be the new power brokers? It won’t be the Bad Feminists like me. We are acceptable neither to Right nor to Left. In times of extremes, extremists win. Their ideology becomes a religion, anyone who doesn’t puppet their views is seen as an apostate, a heretic or a traitor, and moderates in the middle are annihilated. Fiction writers are particularly suspect because they write about human beings, and people are morally ambiguous. The aim of ideology is to eliminate ambiguity.”
Atwood cited a specific case with which she was familiar. Her recounting deserves to be read and considered in full but I raise it to offer the example of the following paragraph as it illustrates an exchange that is emblematic of the “uncritical Critic” in action:
“A fair-minded person would now withhold judgment as to guilt until the report and the evidence are available for us to see. We are grownups: We can make up our own minds, one way or the other. The signatories of the UBC Accountable letter have always taken this position. My critics have not, because they have already made up their minds.”
Atwood got the extreme responses that she had predicted; from threats of harm to assaults on the 78 year old artist that described her as a “blood-sucking monster.” But the engagement that stood out for my purpose was this one: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/margaret-atwood-takes-to-twitter-to-respond-
to-cri ticism-of-metoo-globe-op-ed/arti cl e3 7599626/):
“”If Margaret Atwood would like to stop warring amongst women, she should stop declaring war against younger, less powerful women and start listening,” one user responded.”
This is abruptly followed by a sign-off: “Atwood could not immediately be reached for comment”). Those words assume a tone that reveals that the report confuses itself for standard journalism. The pivot places Atwood’s writing on the same plane as the backlash she faced. The equivalence places the words contained in the books of a decorated novelist on the same plane as every letter of abuse and accusation that the online assaulters immediately unleashed upon Atwood. People, acting with the “advantage” that the internet could afford (“from the distant safety from their target as well as the added advantage of presenting concepts simplicity afforded by internet anonymity communities of apps and swarms of comments sections frothed with ideas from the notion that Atwood was waging a “war” on less powerful women than herself to the conviction that she should be punished because of a deficiency in readers who somehow interpreted the novelist’s opinion article as affirmation that she was lending a supportive voice to sexually abusive behavior. If the writer of the report had read the words of Atwood that I have underlined in the passage quoted above, there would be no need for the additional attempt to contest her position on the rule of law. There was certainly no need for the reporter’s attempt to bring an air of journalistic objectivity to the table.
This only serves to create a false equivalence between the act of a one of best writers engaging in what she does best (writing) on the one hand and the abuse with with her essay was met on the other.
The decision by the Metropolitan Opera in New York City to suspend James Levine, its longtime musical director (1976-2016), from any further conducting engagements is the latest victory for the New York Times and the champions of the new repression.
The sexual misconduct campaign in the US is metastasizing and in its reactionary sweep and recklessness borrowing elements from the McCarthyite purges of the 1950s, the New England witch trials of the 1690s and even the Inquisition of the late Middle Ages.
The Times is leading the gutter press in actively soliciting allegations, claims or rumors about alleged sexual misdeeds and heresies—heterosexual and homosexual alike—committed by prominent individuals. The newspaper has devoted considerable resources to tracking down such stories for the purposes of blackening a given personality’s name and eviscerating him or her. The allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein, it is now obvious, merely served as a prelude and a pretext.
Four individuals have accused Levine of impropriety in incidents that happened from 30 to nearly 50 years ago. That unproven allegations about sexual interactions, which might have happened decades, or even a half-century ago, should be used to destroy Levine is nothing less than horrifying. The life work of a musician who has played a central role in the history of America’s most important opera house is being buried beneath an avalanche of muck dredged up and reported in lurid detail by the Times. Should we all stand and shout “Bravo” for yellow journalism of this sort?
It is not evident, based on the Times account, that the three alleged incidents in the state of Michigan involved criminal behavior at all. Two individuals were 17 at the time, and the third was 20. The age of consent in the state is 16. The alleged victim in Illinois was 16 when the incident occurred, below the state’s age of consent, 17.
Even if it were argued that the latter episode might have involved illegal activity, Levine has not been charged with any crime. The statute of limitations, which after all exists for a reason, has long since passed. And were Levine charged, he would be entitled to be presumed innocent until convicted by a court of law.
In any case, none of the incidents appear to have anything to do with Levine’s tenure at the Metropolitan Opera, so it is unclear why the opera’s board is investigating these events, let alone why it has suspended Levine.
The New York Times reports that Peter Gelb, the general manager of the opera house, “dismissed rumors circulating online that the Met had reached settlements in the past with the families of abused victims as untrue.” Gelb stated, “Since I’ve been at the Met there has not been a single instance of somebody coming forward to make a complaint, ever, about Levine in recent Met history.”
The Metropolitan’s action is a self-righteous indulgence of hysteria which was incited by the New York Times’ practice of sniffing the bed sheets of private citizens in search of “sexual malefactors.” As it publishes new denunciations each day, the newspaper calls on the public to keep it supplied with reports of sexual heresy.
The Times is appealing to the most backward, antidemocratic elements, as is revealed by the content and tone of many of the comments posted in response to its reports.
In a manner that has not been seen in modern American history, individuals are being compelled to answer for their entire sexual history. From the initial lurid accounts of the alleged predations engaged in by Weinstein, the operation has now gone on to encompass inquiries into whom Levine, now 74 years old, may have masturbated with when he was 25.
The various media outlets are clearly selecting major figures who they believe may be vulnerable to attack and “working backward,” so to speak, operating on the basis that someone is bound to have either real or imagined grievances against the targeted individual.
Given the fact that until recently homosexuals were forced in many cases to conceal their sexual orientation and lead double lives, and that this, in fact, remains the situation for prominent gay people in various fields today, the particular vulnerability of homosexual performers and celebrities is obvious. The venomous attack on and “disappearing” of Kevin Spacey was not accidental. The theater, film and arts are being especially targeted, with an unmistakable whiff of the Nazi assault on “degenerate art.”
Moreover, NBC’s Matt Lauer was pilloried in the media for his alleged “womanizing.” Efforts to ban extramarital and premarital sex may not be beyond the realm of possibility. Back to the good old days! And women would suffer the most from such a social reversion.
Levine is simply “collateral damage” in this larger campaign. In an unprecedented and utterly ruthless manner, one or the most significant, gifted figures in American and international music is being systematically, publicly humiliated and ruined.
In the 1890s, Irish writer Oscar Wilde was destroyed by the exposure of his homosexual encounters with young male prostitutes. Wilde was sentenced to two years’ hard labor and the conditions in prison contributed to his early death. In his sentencing statement, Sir Alfred Wills, the judge, asserted that “You, Wilde, have been the center of a circle of extensive corruption of the most hideous kind among young men,” and described the sentence as “totally inadequate for a case such as this.” When Wilde attempted to speak, as the trial transcript reads, “And I? May I say nothing, my Lord?” he was drowned out by cries of “Shame!”
One friend of Wilde commented that the great playwright was guilty of only a “chronological error,” that is, he was damned for what would not, in a more enlightened time, have been either condemned or viewed as “immoral” or criminal acts. Decades were to pass before the crucifixion of Wilde by the pillars of official morality came to be viewed with shame and profound regret. What is now happening to Spacey, Levine, Geoffrey Rush and others before our very eyes is essentially no different. They have run afoul of the would-be guardians of public morality at the wrong moment.
While it is at this foul business, perhaps the Times should raise concerns as well about Renaissance painter Leonardo da Vinci, arrested in 1476 for practicing “wickedness” with a 17-year-old apprentice. Leonardo faced the possibility of burning at the stake. One can only imagine how the Times would have dealt with rumors circulating in Florence about Michelangelo’s relations with the model for his David. Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini engaged in sexual relations with young working class men. Bourgeois Italy and the Catholic Church violently denounced him. Why not write these and other sexual “deviants” out of the respectable artistic canon? It is beyond disgraceful, and testifies to its political bankruptcy, that the global pseudo-left (International Socialist Organization, International Viewpoint, etc.) goes along with and, in fact, cheers on this sinister moral crusade.
There will be many other victims as this drive escalates, and most of them will be unknown and unable to fight back. The Times, Washington Post and the rest are legitimizing the reactivation of vice squads in search of violations of “decency.” Homes will be invaded and bedrooms entered, and cell phones and computers turned into omnipresent surveillance mechanisms, enabling the authorities to follow who is having sex with whom, in real time.
The fear of exposure creates a mood of terror, which is the aim of the operation: to intimidate, to clamp down on opposition and dissent, to shut people up.
All of this opens up new avenues for moral and political blackmail. Obey the interrogators or else!
The Times is offering itself up here as the authoritative, intrusive moral bedrock of American society in these troubling days of “fake news” and “Russian propaganda.”
Who can be certain of escaping the relentless inquisitors? Scores are being settled, some personal and some political. The Gods are athirst. No doubt, Levine has picked up enemies in the course of his lengthy career. He has held on to his post at the “Met” longer than some would like. He has no shortage of rivals who would like to see him gone.
In the case of Lauer, his “tough” questioning of Hillary Clinton during last year’s election campaign made him many enemies in the hierarchy of the Democratic Party. More “shocking” revelations are to come. Even New York Times columnists—not to mention the warriors of identity politics—now applauding the witch-hunt may at some point be called to account for long-past and secret transgressions.
These efforts follow vague and various agendas but they share a consistent leaning towards destruction as their common factor. This is real repression.
Speaking for myself, I cannot and will not pretend to have answers regarding the innocence or guilt of any given defendant in any of the cases brought forward under the general aegis of this movement. Making judgements that should be made in the serenity of an impartial courtroom is not my business nor is it the business of the vast majority of voices that have been “weighing in” on cases that they have nothing to do with.
What I do know is that humanity has witnessed this before. Generations of artists and historians have recorded it and the testimony of their witness has been preserved for the present day as an example that we would do well to heed. The pain caused to been world-breaking for the victims of one of the worst species of injustice: the tyranny of being convicted, socially dismissed and removed and harmed beyond any justification as a punishment for crimes that have not been or cannot be
This is the Democratic Party, above all. Seeking to divert attention from the social devastation, the looting of the national Treasury through “tax reform” and the danger of horrific world war, the Times, Post and the others seek to whip up a frenzy about “sexual predators.”
How do people who buy into this phenomenon feel about all this? Pretty good, actually.
The proponents of #metoo declared their movement as a “moment of reckoning.” A diverse array of men, from Harvey Weinstein to Charlie Rose and Lewis C.K, Woody Allen have been taken from us without being charged with anything in a court of law.
The media trials and smear campaigns that Benazir Bhutto said were so effective at guaranteeing instant-convictions (provided that the essential ingredient of confusion is added) are operating in overdrive. On a day to day basis, allegations against others are proven false and yet more accusers come out to point fingers at yet more people. The press is literally going from one office to another looking for any information they can find on anyone.
The press, avid for marketshare, and even more desperate for relevance is so vigorously looking for a dark image that they’ll take it anywhere it can be found; from anyone and without proof. And they have shown a practice of continuing to seek more dirt even as one rumor is just being discredited. A sad part of the equation is that some journalists and public figures alike seem to think they are doing some good. But the worst part is that enough of the public has demonstrated an appetite for dirt so as to make dirt a viable part of the marketplace.
Art hasn’t been spared by those who embrace everlasting childishness. It has, in fact, been most vigorously attacked because of the notion (that could only persist in children or early adolescence at the latest) that art makes us better people; a conviction that was uttered by the director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra as an assertion of “goodness” and “innocence.” Nobody has taught Andriss Nelsonns (https:// www.bostonglobe.com/lifestvle/names/2017/ll/20/bso-andris-nelsons-savs-sexual-harassment-
isn-problem-classical-music/RS4BiGKOcT4nLUWP9szsGP/story.htmn that artists are not priests or clergy. There is no moral clarity to be found in the infinite diversity and complexity with which the composers he conducts explore aspects of what it means “to be.”
Giants like Chuck Close have had retrospectives reflecting a lifetime of work shut away from the public because of the accusation of children with hurt feelings (https://www.nvtimes.com/ 2018/01/26/arts/design/national-gallery-of-art-cancels-chuck-close-thomas-roma-sexual-miscon-
The dead are not spared either. The fact that a grown woman would start a petition asking the Metropolitan Museum of Art to remove an icon by Balthus’ (Therese Dreaming) (https:// www.thepetitionsite.com/157/407/182/4 is embarrassing. The fact that her petition is confused as to it’s goals even as it aims to censor a work by a dead master from the last century is embarrassing but not as embarrassing as the fact that it garnered over 11,000 signatures and certainly not as embarrassing as the New York Times’ decision to print an op-ed titled “We Need to Talk About Balthus.”
For her part, Mia Merrill (the lady who started the petition) makes it clear that she considers the removal of a work of art to which she objects a “small ask”; as though no-one else matters:
“Ultimately, this is a small ask considering how expansive the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection is (they can easily hang up another painting), how overtly sexual the painting is (the Met’s description of the piece provides no background on Balthus or his reputation), and the current news headlines highlighting a macro issue about the safety and wellbeing of women of all ages.”
I have become intimately familiar with the pains taken by curators in order to realize their curatorial ideas with integrity and intelligence. I have had the privilege to work with curators such as those who partnered with me as I composed a song cycle on commission from the Meteopolitain Museum of Art in New York. I developed my work in close conjunction with the curators and saw how their tireless labor lead to an ambitious exploration of objects, texts and other priceless items retrieved over several painstaking years yielded an experience of Jerusalem in the Middle Ages that could simply not have been evoked by other means. The painstaking decisions of the sort that they (together with many professionals in all the arts) make every day are of no concern to Ms. Merrill (“they can easily hang up another painting”). Her next statement (“the Met’s description of the piece provides no background on Balthus or his reputation”) makes it clear that the onus of learning about things is up to other people who are tasked with doing the work of “providing background.” It would occur to a grownup that the task of learning is (joyfully, for those of us who have the opportunity to do so) upon us. The Met makes it easy. A link is readily available online.
(complete with audio for the reading-averse): https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/489977
Past generations had to acquire a book to learn about the art they were about to see before making a trip to a museum and seeing those works in real life.
No matter, too, that James Levine, one of America’s greatest conductors, has not been convicted of any sexual assault in his life and no matter that those complaints that have reached the ears of police officers saw those police officers deeming that the reports warranted no grounds for charges to be raised, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-james-levine- sexual-misconduct-no-charges-20171208-storv.htmn
It didn’t stop the New York Times from printing the words “Levine” and “Sexual Abuse” in a headline lhttps://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/03/arts/music/james-levine-met-opera.htmn even though the Times must know that Levine would be distanced from his job by a Metropolitan Opera House overly-eager on creating a pleasing PR image to investors and board members. The Ravinia Festival, where young musicians and audiences stood to gain the most from Levine’s excellence as a teacher of works that he has studied throughout his life, wasted even less time and fired Mr. Levine outright lhttp://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/vonrhein/ct- ent-levine-cso-statement-1206-story.htmn.
To be clear: the Ravinia Festival did not fire James Levine on their own. Mr. Levine was fired in the public square and who needs the serene judgement of the courts and the legal framework of a police force as foot soldiers and practitioners of the law when we have the public square and the sureness of our feelings (which we also, incidentally, get to vent)?
The press, gets off without charge. The accused (whether innocent or guilty) are branded and convicted without the basic rubric of a court hearing. The Times might print a correction but nobody reads corrections. And the damage is senseless. Everyone, they know, wants to believe dark lies and conspiracy theories. Marketshare has taught them that much.
But there is an even larger indictment of the accusers here: what makes them so driven as to force themselves to find negatives that don’t exist in people they don’t know. The inner line of reasoning leads to the same childlike unaccountability as that which absolves Ms Merill from the responsibility of learning and places it upon the museum to prepare her for her visit. “How could he get to where he is with no extra help? He’s not that special. Certainly not more special than me” goes the narrative. The narrative, of course, makes people feel better about themselves.
Never-mind that producers like Harvey Weinstein have not been arrested, let alone convicted, of anything. In his case, one of his accusers, Rose McGowan is someone who we are told to cheer (for her courage) despite the fact that she has an actual record of arrest. When she issues statements that used to be considered death threats, there is actual outrage that Twitter suspended Ms. McGowan’s account.
Ms. McGowan was promoted through appearances on television news networks. These appearances were almost entirely uncritical. One example of this was an interview on CNN during which Christiane Amanpour preemptively declared McGowan “brave. Ms. McGowan took to attacking Mr. Weinstein’s physical appearance and, later in the interview, used the platform to issue a death threat to the producer.
The Late Show With Stephen Colbert Describing the interview, Vox, a media outlet that caters to the narcissism of youth with open pride, dutifully “analyzed” (‘https://www.vox.eom/culture/2018/2/l/16959448/rose-mcgowan-stephen-colbert-interviewt the overwritten pretense as rationalized and even artistic. Behavior that would have been dismissed by any generation of human beings prior to this one as petulant childishness are elevated through the now-familiar technique of concerted confusion and child-like self-referentiality:
“I just have a different personality than you,” she added. “I don’t follow protocol. And I will talk about WHAT I WANT.”
In other words, Rose McGowan truly does not give a fuck — and it is the oddest thing to watch.
When I first watched her interview with Colbert, I found myself resenting her. I felt she was being pretentious and self-aggrandizing, and wondered if she was also possibly high. Why was she telling me incoherent stories about turning down Courage Street? Was that a metaphor? Was it literal? Who could say?
But the more I sit with the interview, the more I think my resentment is born of a knee-jerk discomfort with watching a woman reject social norms on a talk show. Talk shows are designed to be spaces where famously charming people impress us with their charm, and where women in particular are expected to behave according to a specific social code to win the goodwill of us, their audience. Rose McGowan is clearly not interested in impressing anyone. There’s a weird disconnect between the medium and her persona, and that is incredibly awkward to see.
There’s also value to it. Watching someone with the immense, polished charisma of a TV star willfully reject that charm — and the entire idea that charming an audience is necessary or even something to be sought — is like watching a high-concept art project. It’s like celebrity as Dadaism. It’s worth getting comfortable with that discomfort.”
There’s that “wave” technique of serving up reductions that can be offered to the public as one or two “big concepts” to sell rather than a diverse and complex array of issues and concerns that must be taken one by one (the way the world is). Why bother with difficult things if you don’t have to? Why bother with “social code” if you think that societal decorum and adult behavior (not doing and saying whatever impulsively comes to you) was developed and followed generation after generation with the simple purpose of impressing or charming you (the audience)?
The first thing that differentiated Bill Cosby’s April 2018 trial from previous trials was the fact that it was public. Cameras and press abounded. Let’s look at this story and the atmosphere of the trial.
The Los Angeles Times conveyed more than just the verdict through the mouth of Cosby’s prosecutor:
“‘Bill Cosby, we have three words for you,’ said Gloria Allred, a crusading feminist and lawyer who has represented dozens of Cosby accusers in civil actions. ‘Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.’”
Allred is on a mission that she does not hide. It is up to the responsible citizen to ask why the proceedings in a court of law should be influenced by the presence of any ideology and, especially, strongly partisan ideology (“a crusading feminist”).
Mr Cosby arrived to a greeting from Rochelle, 39, who leaped topless over a barricade in front of him. Rochelle then began to scream and shout. Cosby was confused and a throng if cameramen erupted getting images of the scene before she could be apprehended by police. Her body was covered with ink and sharpie markings that denoted the names of Cosby’s accusers as well as slogans like “Women’s Lives Matter”
The assembled crowd that had gathered for the trial were a fixture of the scene outside the court house. Videos of Mr Cosby’s departure from the courtroom show a sizable crowd who can be heard yelling “Burn in hell!” and “Rot in jail!” among other things.
“In the months after the jury in Cosby’s 2017 criminal trial deadlocked, the #MeToo movement erupted, with scores of powerful men brought to account over charges of sexually harassing or assaulting women, often in the context of an implied threat to block victims’ professional advancement unless they submitted. The trial unfolded against that explosive backdrop, with jurors pledging to be impartial despite this being the first high-profile test of the movement in criminal court.”
In the 2017 trial, just one woman was allowed to testify to an episode similar to the 2004 assault that Constand described. Prosecutors were more optimistic with this case as lawyers for Constand, now 45, were allowed to bring in five other women who told similar stories of being manipulated by Cosby…”
There is no doubt in the minds of the accusers and their representatives that they are accomplishing something much greater and graver than one simple trial of the moment. Upon arriving at the verdict, Allred goes to the extent of telling us (herself) that she has just made history:
“Allred, who traveled to Pennsylvania to await the verdict, called it a historic moment.”
A report in Amsterdam News tells us that the process of bringing Cosby to court is seen as “a form of vindication no matter the trial’s outcome.”
“Many of his accusers see the charges as a form of vindication — no matter the trial’s outcome. Heidi Thomas, who accused Cosby of assaulting her in 1984, told CNN that she was ‘thrilled’ to learn he would be charged with a crime. ‘Is it going to become something that eventually will send him to prison?’ she wondered. ‘Wow. That would be the ultimate victory. I don’t know.’”
The word “vindication”
1 The action of clearing someone of blame or suspicion.
‘I intend to work to ensure my full vindication’
count noun ‘today’s news is a complete vindication for us’
1.1 proof that someone or something is right, reasonable, or justified. ‘the results were interpreted as vindication of the company’s policy’
Allred went on to speak openly about the fact that the conviction she was seeking left her “surprised and shocked.” Her reasons for this included the following:
“… the first criminal trial, the jury deadlocked. Secondly, it’s a very high burden of proof. Guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” against Cosby was not conclusively proven her own surprise at the outcome “In my experience — 42 years as an attorney — that generally in a criminal case involving rape and sexual assault, the testimony of one woman alone without any other accusers against a celebrity or powerful person is often not enough,” Allred said before the jury came back. “So in a he-said-she-said, generally it’s the he-said who prevails with his denial. Of course, here it’s a she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said against a he-said. That’s my feeling about a how a woman’s word — women even under oath — may not be considered to be of as much value. What does it take for women to be believed?”
Mr Cosby’s defense team provided evidence to support his case while Ms Allred’s commentary reveals that her view of the judicial process is one in which “a he-said-she-said” accounting of the events would result in a situation where “generally it’s the he-said who prevails with his denial.” Apart from revealing Ms Allred making it clear once again that this trial is linked to a certain perceived “social movement,” her idea of imposing these invented series of anecdotal proceedings (pitted, as they are in her articulation, against women) in place of “innocent till proven guilty” due process must be noted. Nobody should presume to enter a court with pre-ordained ideas that of whose argument prevails. The accused is entitled to due process.
Ms Allred added that “Of course, here it’s a she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said against a he-said.” Completing the picture is the introduction of the arena as the battlefield on which a “war on rape” has been fought or started. One of the “warriors” is compared to Joan of Arc by one of her cohorts:
“Standing with her was Lili Bernard, one of Cosby’s accusers. Bernard called Constand “the Joan of Arc in the war on rape.“
The Guardian wrote that Mr Cosby’s display of emotion over the death of his lost son as well as his plea for justice and mention of his fatigue (he is an 80 year old man who walks with a cane and is almost entirely blind) was represented as a cynical play for cheap “sympathy.” Later in the article, the paper quoted Allred telling us what the trial meant to her (as she has been saying all along):
“Allred celebrated a momentous victory ‘We are so happy that finally we can say, women are believed, and not only in a hashtag ‘#MeToo’, but also in a court of law,’ Allred said. “After all is said and done, women were finally believed, and we thank the jury for that.”
“Women were finally being believed”; not “Justice was done.”
But the truly disturbing implications lie in the following words: “not only in a hashtag ‘#MeToo’, but also in a court of law.” This is an explicit acknowledgement of the idea that a movement run on feelings and heresay has just managed to obtain it’s first success in court. The abuse done to justice in the Cosby Trials will become clear and, once clear, will not be soon forgotten. The appropriation of innovative legal strategies that prioritize feeling and recollection over reason and evidence should disturb the spirit of any sensible human being.
A few days after the conviction, Allred was at the Daytime Emmy Awards where she took to the red carpet holding up a arts-and-crafts style sign that said “Bill Cosby. Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!” When the time came for her to give away the award for Best Legal/Courtroom program, Allred came onto the stage shouting “Bill Cosby. Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!”:
5. Alternative “Justice”
Let us examine the specific “Small asks” which have been made by those who insist on them (and see them as reasonable):
In the case of Bill Cosby: “I want to see a serial rapist convicted.”
In the case of the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Take down the Bathus painted”
In the case of Chuck Close: Retrospective Cancelled (FIND ASK)
In the case of Rosanne: Show Cancelled; many people out of a living (Don Lemom: “Roseanne is paying the price for “racist hate speech.”; Roseanne was cancelled and many people put out of home and meal because of something that someone said in a “free country.”)
In the case of James Levine: Fired from Met and Ravinia (FIND ASK)
In the case of Louis CK: Career ended; work which he already finished in the past is now banned on several digital platforms and in stores across the country. (FIND ASK)
In the case of Video Games at the Supreme Court: Expose all works in an entire artistic discipline to being restricted, banned and criminalized if they are deemed to be “patently offensive to prevailing standards in the community.” Also mentioned is the placement of a fee that essentially functions as a penalty to those artists who make games that do not meet community standards for decency or artistic “seriousness.” Would also ask for government sanction to restrict those works which are judged by “any reasonable person,” who “considering the game as a whole, would find appeals to a deviant or morbid interest of minors.”
California’s argument would fare better if there were a longstanding tradition in this country of specially restrict- ing children’s access to depictions of violence, but there is none. Certainly the books we give children to read—or read to them when they are younger—contain no shortage of gore. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed. As her just deserts for trying to poison Snow White, the wicked queen is made to dance in red hot slippers “till she fell dead on the floor, a sad example of envy and jealousy.” The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales 198 (2006 ed.). Cinderella’s evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves. Id., at 95. And Hansel and Gretel (children!) kill their captor by baking her in an oven. Id., at 54.
High-school reading lists are full of similar fare. Homer’s Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops by grinding out his eye with a heated stake. The Odyssey of Homer, Book IX, p. 125 (S. Butcher & A. Lang transls. 1909) (“Even so did we seize the fiery-pointed brand and whirled it round in his eye, and the blood flowed about the heated bar. And the breath of the flame singed his eyelids and brows all about, as the ball of the eye burnt away, and the roots thereof crackled in the flame”). In the Inferno, Dante and Virgil watch corrupt politicians struggle to stay submerged beneath a lake of boiling pitch, lest they be skewered by devils above the surface. Canto XXI, pp. 187–189 (A. Mandelbaum transl. Bantam Classic ed. 1982). And Golding’s Lord of the Flies recounts how a schoolboy called Piggy is savagely murdered by other
to a parental veto. In the absence of any precedent for state control, uninvited by the parents, over a child’s speech and religion (JUSTICE THOMAS cites none), and in the absence of any justification for such control that would satisfy strict scrutiny, those laws must be unconstitutional. This argument is not, as JUSTICE THOMAS asserts, “circular,” ibid. It is the absence of any historical warrant or compelling justification for such restrictions, not our ipse dixit, that renders them invalid.
Opinion of the Court children while marooned on an island. W. Golding, Lord of the Flies 208–209 (1997 ed.).
Grimm’s Fairy Tales
Hansel and Gretel
Lord of the Flies
In the 1800’s, dime novels depicting crime and “penny dreadfuls” (named for their price and content) were blamed in some quarters for juvenile delinquency.
moving picture machine . . . tends even more than did the dime novel to turn the thoughts of the easily influenced to paths which some-times lead to prison.” Moving Pictures as Helps to Crime, N. Y. Times, Feb. 21, 1909, quoted in Brief for Cato Institute, at 8. For a time, our Court did permit broad censorship of movies because of their capacity to be “used for evil.”
California claims that video games present special problems because they are “interactive,” in that the playerparticipates in the violent action on screen and determines its outcome. The latter feature is nothing new: Sinceat least the publication of The Adventures of You: Sugar-cane Island in 1969, young readers of choose-your-own-adventure stories have been able to make decisions that determine the plot by following instructions about which page to turn to. Cf. Interactive Digital Software Assn. v. St. Louis County, 329 F. 3d 954, 957–958 (CA8 2003). As for the argument that video games enable participation in the violent action, that seems to us more a matter of degree than of kind.
As Judge Posner has observed, all is interactive. “[T]he better it is, the more interactive. Literature when it is successful draws the reader into the story, makes him identify with the characters, invites him to judge them and quarrel with them, to experience their joys and sufferings as the reader’s own.”
JUSTICE ALITO has done considerable independent re-search to identify, see post, at 14–15, nn. 13–18, video games in which “the violence is astounding,” post, at 14. “Victims are dismembered, decapitated, disemboweled, set on fire, and chopped into little pieces. . . . Blood gushes, splatters, and pools.” Ibid. JUSTICE ALITO recounts all these disgusting video games in order to disgust us—butdisgust is not a valid basis for restricting expression. And the same is true of JUSTICE ALITO’s description, post, at 14–15, of those video games he has discovered that have a racial or ethnic motive for their violence—“‘ethnic clean-sing’ [of] . . . African Americans, Latinos, or Jews.” To what end does he relate this? Does it somehow increase the “aggressiveness” that California wishes to suppress? Who knows? But it does arouse the reader’s ire, and the reader’s desire to put an end to this horrible message. Thus, ironically, JUSTICE ALITO’s argument highlights the precise danger posed by the California Act: that the ideas expressed by speech—whether it be violence, or gore, or racism—and not its objective effects, may be the real reason for governmental proscription.
Here is another example of a problematic situation on which we will end:
The Act is also seriously under inclusive in another respect—and a respect that renders irrelevant the contentions of the concurrence and the dissents that video games
Of course, California has (wisely) declined to restrictSaturday morning cartoons, the sale of games rated for young children, or the distribution of pictures of guns. The consequence is that its regulation is wildly under inclusive when judged against its asserted justification, which in our view is alone enough to defeat it. Under inclusiveness raises serious doubts about whether the government is in fact pursuing the interest it invokes, rather than disfavoring a particular speaker or viewpoint. See City of Ladue v. Gilleo, 512 U. S. 43, 51 (1994); Florida Star v. B. J. F., 491 U. S. 524, 540 (1989). Here, California has singled out the purveyors of video games for disfavored treatment—at least when compared to booksellers, cartoonists, and movie producers—and has given no per-suasive reason why. The Act is also seriously under inclusive in another respect—and a respect that renders irrelevant the contentions of the concurrence and the dissents that video games are qualitatively different from other portrayals of violence. The California Legislature is perfectly willing to leave this dangerous, mind-altering material in the hands of children so long as one parent (or even an aunt or uncle) says it’s OK. And there are not even any requirements as to how this parental or avuncular relationship is to be verified; apparently the child’s or putative parent’s, aunt’s, or uncle’s say-so suffices. That is not how one addresses a serious social problem.
Artworks do not “alter minds.”
Works of art require critical engagement in order for someone to be audience to them. A person who is playing Metroid, for example, needs to engage with that game in order to interact with it. This is not passive interaction but active interaction. Even the most minimal form of interaction counts as interaction. Art is not a drug. Characterizing any artwork as “mind-altering material” betrays a lack of understanding with regards to the basic function of art as well as the nature of artistic knowledge. One takes LSD and then allows that drug to interact with their body; they will cause this interaction and then experience it passively whether they like it or not. If an audience member is totally passive, they cannot interact with the work at hand in any way. Minimal interaction is required in order to interact with art in any way whatsoever. When playing Super Mario Bros, one can play casually and even seem to be playing the game “mindlessly.” But as long as they pick up the controller and interact with the game, they are not being passive. Even sending a signal from the brain to the hand is caused by mind. Moving one’s finger is an action which is done deliberately (as long as one is in control of one’s faculties). Moving one’s finger in order to push a button on a control pad (the “A” button on a NES controller) and then seeing the result of that interaction (Marion Jumps) is to be counted as engagement with the game at hand. If one is sitting in a movie theater or a concert hall, one has no choice but to interact with the artworks at hand. The interaction happens by sheer virtue of the fact that the person hears the music. The person may not think “critically” about the music. The person might not think about the music at all. But the person hears the music whether they like it or not. That is not a passive function. Hearing, Seeing, Playing and other words of the like are all verbs. The only way that a person may find to have the LSD experience (passively letting the chemical interaction happen) when a work of music is playing is if they blocked their ears completely and did not even hear the sounds which are organized (by any sort of musician). If one hears the music, one is going to hear the thing which was made by another human being. It is entirely possible that the person will interact with the patterns and basic mood of the music even if they are not paying attention to it. They will hear what is there and interact with the organization of sound consciously or subconsciously.
The statement that art is capable of playing a “mind-altering” function accomplishes a few things.
Firstly, it communicates that those whose minds are “altered” are not to blame for their bad behavior, mistakes or crimes and that the art could somehow “make you do it.” Think, for example, of a situation in which someone is driving under the influence (of alcohol or drugs). That is an offense because the person is not capable of controlling their vehicle because they are under the influence. If an ordinarily calm person takes PCP and then lashes out against someone else (or harms themselves), it is understood that the assailant is acting in this way because they are not in control of their actions. They are under the influence.
Only a young child would mindlessly imitate something that they saw in a movie or on the stage or read in a book (or in a video game or an artwork in any other form). Anyone who is fully aware of their actions is able to think about their actions and must be held responsible for their actions. Young children have things purchased for them by adults. Older children and teenagers who have money of their own will usually have guardians who are aware of what they are purchasing and more often will still have things purchased for them. By the time a child is free of a parent or guardian, they are assumed to be not simply aware but fully in control of their actions.
Secondly, the idea that art could be “mind-altering” depicts art and the artist as deceitful and manipulative. It also ascribes ulterior motives to the artist. The implication is that the artist must be out to get something (like power or a political office) or that they are currying favor or lobbying for a certain person, group or government. The assumption that is communicated here is that the artist is a polemicist or propagandist.
Thirdly, the artist is depicted as one who is capable of “mind-alteration” and therefore must be treated as suspect. This is due to the fact that works of art would even have the capacity to control ones mind or behavior. A work of art can change a person by informing that person or causing them to realize something which they did not realize before. Art cannot change “the world.” I would like to now recall Leonard Bernstein’s comments within the current context:
“The point is that art never stopped a war and never got anybody a job. That was never its function. Art cannot change events. But it can change people. It can affect people so that they are changed…because people are changed by art – enriched, ennobled, encouraged – they then act in a way that may affect the course of events…by the way they vote, they behave, the way they think.”
In order for this change to happen, the audience member must engage with the artwork and experience it in a reasoning and reasonable way. A person who is sufficiently impressed or moved by a work of art that it would cause them to change their behavior or the way in which they think must be engaging with that work as a reasonable and mature person. One must find reason to be changed (to learn something, feel something or notice something new) in order to be changed by a work of art. This is a change of heart or a change of mind. There are certain criteria that people must meet in order for such changes to be considered let alone made. In order to access the parts of a work fo art that must be accessed before any change happens, people must come to understand that there is more than one point of view in the world. They must also understand that many different points of view (including potentially ones own) can all exist, be argued and be valid at the same time. The prerequisite to a change of heart and mind is the capacity for mature and critical thought. By characterizing art as “mind-altering,” one is allowing that the artist can control thoughts as a propagandist or brainwasher.
And so, the statement extends beyond the characterization of artworks (en masse) as deceitful and self-interested. It also characterizes the artist’s work as unworthy of rational engagement. How can one engage rationally with something which can alter one’s mind? One cannot nor is there any reason for such an engagement. On the part of the audience, the change would happen through a concerted attempt at brainwashing and not through engagement. On the part of the propagandist, the change would happen as intended: through the generation of propaganda. Neither the persons who are targeted by propaganda nor the propagandists themselves seek rational engagement.
I will now share two examples from my own experience. The first involves a song-cycle of mine called “Pierrot.” The lyrics can be found online and at my website. They contain no vulgarities nor is there a single profanity to be found in the entire cycle (by this I mean words which are universally understood to be profane such as swear-words etc). I did not authorize the album for release because of the insistence of the producers who demonstrated a zeal to “protect” their listeners by sheltering them from profanities that did not exist in the work itself. The producers “saw” the profanities even as the text was before us and plain to read. And so, rather than accept the facts of the situation, they held to their own understanding of the situation and refused to remove the “Parental Advisory” sticker (below).
The album was cancelled not because I have anything against the advisory sticker when applied correctly but because I was unwilling to advertise an advisory against explicit content where there was no explicit content to be found. Had there been explicit content in my work, I would have been pleased to include the sticker in question. I do not have any feelings about explicit content and I admit that advisories are helpful (where applicable). But I must stress that the issue at hand had nothing to do with explicit content.
It is a vital necessity, however, to understand and delineate between content which is there and content which is supposed or perceived to be there. I was not about to essentially advertise that I, as a composer, was unaware of the content contained within my own work. I would have been making that very admission had I allowed the album to proceed with an Advisory against content which does not exist. This is also “content” which listeners would clearly be able to hear does not exist. Those listeners would correctly wonder what I was talking about and, eventually, whether I knew what I was doing.
Let us take, as a second and final example, the following email which I received from an executive director at a major American orchestra. In it, he expresses concern about certain things which he sees as being expressed in my work Pax Universalis:
“Hello Mohammed and James. I’m just back from an orchestra conference and had time to review the program notes.
I need to say that this is a delicate matter. I do have some concerns that are reflected in the revised program notes. And am happy to discuss with you over the phone as email is a poor substitute to explain the revisions.
But I will attempt here by saying – I value the theme of ‘universal peace’ deeply and because of that wish to remove text that would detract if not be inflammatory of that fundamental aim of this commission due to what our audience may perceive as a political commentary. Words such as Pax Americana and American weapons of war and reference to the Saudi royal family about dying children when they are currently engaged in a Middle Eastern war where children are dying I’m concerned will only incite anger and angst when listening to this new work, which is quite the opposite of what we all wish.
I do hope you accept my comments in the vein in which they are given – to insure that our audiences truly appreciate your music and the central point of a universal peace that we can all aspire to. Again, I’m happy to talk over the phone with you should you find that helpful.
We do very much look forward to your world premiere to open our season and to your participation with our music director at pre-concert talks.”
Santa Rosa Symphony
t: (707) 546-7097 ext. 213
f: (707) 546-0460
For reference, I am including the program note (a descriptive essay which composers often write in order to accompany their musical work at hand). One will find that the “reference to American weapons of war” which the director is speaking of is a reference to a speech by an American President (JFK). The intended subject of the dedication is not a member of the Saudi Government nor is he connected to the political structure of the country. The reference to the “dying children” is a dedication which he suggested. He wanted me to consider that, instead of dedicating the work to him, we should to keep the children who are dying as a result of wars in our mind. I agreed with his suggestion which, as he put it to me and as the director in question could see, is a dedication to “the children who are dying as a result of the wars raging in all parts of the world.” He then added that “if only peace would come, these children would be alive.”
Note the explicit reference to the children who are collateral damage of wars which rage “all over the world.” The statement which he makes in the following sentence is just plainly factual: If only peace would come, these children would be alive.” Indeed they would.
The reader will keep in mind that this is a work in which the executive director finds much to be frightened about (he goes so far as to say that it will “incite anger and angst when listening to this new work). It is also essential to note that the work is a purely instrumental work. Even in the program note, there is no “story” to describe the work nor is there a “message.” The only “subject matter” at hand is the general theme of peace and the reference to joy.
As an aside, I would also like to add that, as a professional composer, I am also fully aware of how to induce anger and angst through music when I wish to do so (when appropriate to the work at hand). When I write music that evokes those approximate sentiments, I know exactly what I am doing. This is a standard that should be expected of any professional in any field.
Following the commitment which I made at the start of this book, I will now offer my example and leave the matter to the reader’s discretion. I’ve always believed that the proof is in the pudding. In closing this lesson, I have included the program note in question as well as the work (which the reader is welcome to hear in it’s entirety).
I will leave it up to the reader to hear the work for themselves. You may then decide for yourself as to the meaning behind the impulses that result in tapping feet, bobbing head or any other manifestations of the pulse contained within my work.
Decide for yourself whether these musical impulses are ones that move you to joy or if they are, indeed, ones that “incite anger or angst.”
PAX UNIVERSALIS (2015)
Orchestra (3322.4331.timp+3 perc,hp,pno+celesta, strings)
Commissioned by the Santa Rosa Symphony Orchestra
I wish to dedicate this work, by gracious suggestion of His Royal Highness Prince Turki Al-Faisal, to the children who have fallen victim to global conflict.
His Royal Highness adds the following statement: “A most worthy subject for this dedication and sentiment are the children who are dying as a result of the wars raging in all parts of the world. If only peace would come, these children would be alive.”
As a composer who is uninterested in the idea of “music for the sake of music” or “abstract” music, the genre of the tone-poem has always held a special place in my heart when it comes to purely instrumental music. I’ve always regarded the symphony orchestra, with it’s diverse strands of different instruments with their different colors, origins and dynamics, as an ideal collective of human beings who come together for the exulted purpose of creative labor. The ideal counterpoint of these different voices coming together but not losing their individuality (their own purpose for being) seems like an ideal model for the cultures of the world to live in counterpoint with one another. Rather than losing their individual voices, they enhance the whole collective; they form a beautiful tapestry of counterpoint. This is Beethoven’s symphonic community of “Alle Menschen werden Brüder”.
So when I received a commission to write my first tone-poem for orchestra after four symphonies, several concertos and other orchestral works, I chose for my subject what JFK described as “the most important topic on earth: peace.” But peace is too general a notion to describe the highest aspirations of symphonic forces raising their voices in counterpoint. This peace had to be one, like Beethoven’s, of universal human brotherhood.
“What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek?”, JFK continues, “Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave.”
In the decades since JFK delivered that speech, our greatest diplomats and artists alike have discarded of the myopic idea of a Pax Americana or a Pax Britannica etc. The best have been working for the only sort of sustainable peace and that must be a peace of harmony and counterpoint, the type of peace embodied in the highest ideals of the symphony orchestra and the inspiration that humanity can derive from the music that this special community can produce: a universal peace, a Pax Universalis.
“I am talking about genuine peace,” continues Kennedy, “the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children — not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time.”
Pax Universalis is my most consistently joyful work to date and stands as a ode to this vision of peace and the hope that we will one day achieve it. The extroverted Andalusian musical elements of the work are a reference to the lost Islamic Golden Age of Al-Andalus, the closest we have come to reaching ideal peace on Earth in the Arab and Islamic imaginations. Prince Turki captured the immense sense of joyful meaning of this age of harmony when he said aloud what many Muslims worldwide have daily on their minds: “The loss of Andalucia is like losing part of my body.”
– Mohammed Fairouz (2015)