The power of ‘what if’ used to be a ‘secret weapon’, deployed by every intellectual in a tight place, since the world began. The power of the intellect has always snuck under the radar, until modern times. Religious leaders always dismissed it as sinful folly—if not witchcraft, needful of Burning.
Making Logic dangerous and illegal did nothing to weaken its power—while Copernicus remained afraid to expose to the Vatican his “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres)”, this seminal work of Scholarship (an even more insidious form of ‘what if’) became a familiar subject amongst the world’s astronomers and gentlefolk science-enthusiasts.
Even after his death, only Tycho Brahe would stand up for his ideas. And Tycho did not believe in Heliocentrism—he just admired the elegance of Copernicus’ thinking—and took plenty of heat for it. Then Kepler had to face the same stupid fight. Popular acceptance of our modern image of the Solar System was still centuries away.
Truth has that elegance, especially in physics. Pi, for example, is both a constant and a mystery without a solution—is that not elegant? We may have admired Euclid, even if he’d screwed up a few formulae—just for the elegance of the great ones. And friggin Newton—OMG—a mathematical relationship between two masses, and their distance, that explains ‘gravity’—a term we still can’t adequately explain any better than Isaac did, as ‘spooky action at a distance’.
There is elegance in the universe—and only someone whose hackles don’t rise at the idea of ‘spooky action at a distance’ (?!) can be calm and settled, rather than racing furious to find that elegance that can protect us from that in our infinite universe which is ‘spooky’.
Of course, America has ruined ‘what if’, just as it has destroyed every other power of manipulation, and harnessed it to Capitalism. They have diverted ‘what if’ into fantasy, wish-fulfillment, ego-stroking, excuse-making, etc…
The OG ‘What-If’ created the steam engine, MF-ers—what have you done for me lately? Right?!
is a perfect example of the human desire to suspend time (and suffering) long enough to enjoy a piece of joyful music, such as “Simple Gifts”, with ‘advantages’. Copeland composes variations, he ‘plays’ with this beautiful tune, —basically, he ‘daydreams’ in the ‘key’ of that song.
Judy Collins did the same, on a much smaller scale, when she recorded that classic Shaker hymn as part of her Album “Whales & Nightingales”:
“’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
’Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.”
Ms. Collins sings it virtually a cappella, because it is the lyric, far more than the musical ditty, that gives this hymn such power. Copeland’s arrangements reach for that lyric grandeur, within the music—and that, as far as I care, is what makes Copeland a great American Composer.
To me, this hymn has always stood out for two reasons: one—it extols the virtues of simplicity—and two—it never mentions the ‘Supreme Being’. This is a song to Humans, telling them to keep life simple and to eschew grandiosity and authority, per se, which is as Democratic a spiritual sentiment as America has ever brought forth.
We must look clear-eyed at this uniqueness. Many hymns exert the pressure of being watched by the Lord, and the need to Obey, without question. I think we can all agree, here in the 21st Century, that such BS is propaganda, meant to bolster the egoist authoritarianism of insecure, cowardly males throughout history.
True spirituality has never sought authority. Jesus, nor Buddha, ever said, “or else…” We must use this understanding of true spirituality—to slap in the face every jackass who tries to subvert Faith into child-abuse or monetary-gain, much less a rationale for ‘I said so.’.
All that being said, I wish to further point out that THC, marijuana, pot, hash, etc. have been demonized most harshly for one reason: When someone smokes a joint and then faces an ‘authority figure’, they are commonly overcome with laughter at the hilarity of the situation. They see the source of their daily fear—and recognize it as nothing more than a silly person—as silly as they are, but with ‘authority’. This makes anyone laugh, especially after some months of browbeating by said silly person.
Even now, if anyone advocates Legalization, serious people get scared. Authoritarianism is fragile—the least little titter of ridicule can break the whole system.
You watch TV, all you see is a bunch of stoned folks trying to maintain a sense of seriousness and decency—not because it’s true, not because they believe in it—no, no—just because they get Fired for breaking the illusion (and they shelve any errant film, forever, so, no point, really).
You listen closely to Aaron Copeland. You can hear the human desire to ‘step out of time and live in the music’. You can hear it in Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’ (used in Platoon (1986)).
You can see it in Van Gogh’s ‘Wheatfield with Crows’,
or Matisse’s ‘Water Lilies’.
You can even observe it in other mammals, which annually congregate at trees whose fallen fruit has fermented sufficiently to give these little monkeys a cheap high. They fall off branches, become emotional, and generally enjoy a break from life—then pass out. We humans desire no less.
The history of mankind, being authoritarian-oriented, has never really celebrated intoxication as the necessary vacation we all know it to be. But if we’re going to bother counting the Centuries of our Civilization, shouldn’t there be some progress to show? Twenty-One Centuries of trying to be decent people—still no luck, of course, but that’s hardly the point—we should by now have at least recognized the human persona as being complex enough to include intoxication, both as a release from stress, and as a social lubricant, —as a healthy part of a natural lifestyle.
Shout ‘addiction’, shout ‘temperance’, shout ‘self-control’—you’ll never get through to an honest adult human facing the stresses of being alive in this era. Sophistication about the human psyche is the only route to publicly healthy interactions between people who are ‘not the same’. Simple.
Marian Anderson (Feb. 27, 1897 – Apr. 8, 1993) was an American contralto. Throughout the forty years of her performing career (1925 – 1965), Marian Anderson was a pivotal figure in the United States and Europe—and her impact on all our lives, remains, and continues..
In 1939 the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to allow Anderson to sing in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. Anderson, undeterred, performed an outdoor concert, Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, on the Lincoln Memorial steps.
On January 7, 1955, Anderson became the first African-American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. In addition, she worked as a delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United States Department of State, giving concerts all over the world. She participated in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, singing at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Marian Anderson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, the Congressional Gold Medal in 1977, the Kennedy Center Honors in 1978, the National Medal of Arts in 1986, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.
To acknowledge that Ms. Anderson is a great lady is no hardship—any hardship was on the side of those who discounted her humanity, her artistry, and her character, simply to insist on an obsolete simplemindedness-which has somehow become their ‘pride’. These kinds of misunderstandings should be ironed out in Kindergarten, not perpetuated as some ‘noble’ tradition. Nevertheless.
I begin with the admirable Ms. Anderson’s CV (lifted ad-hominem from Wiki—sorry ‘bout that!) because my story intersects, in a meaningless, but personally significant way, with hers. Not a big thing, but it sticks in my head.
Okay, my Gramma Duffy was a proud member of the DAR, a stiff-necked New Englander, who could trace us back (on my mother’s side), through Camden whalers, privateers, (and even Pirates), all the way to Elder Brewster. There was a bunch of Mayflower whatever-their-exclusive-club-was-called, also, that perhaps some DAR members could only wish for.
But Gramma said she couldn’t stand them, too stuffy. I suspect she had no great savour for the DAR Teas, either. Personally (and it may just be my upbringing) but it all sounds like a bunch of elitist BS, like many clubs, and I follow Groucho’s advice on membership.
In April 1939, while Fascists overseas were advocating Final Solutions for Non-Aryans, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt announced her resignation from the Daughters of the American Revolution, in protest of those ladies’ refusal to admit Marian Anderson to perform in their Hall. Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR both arranged for the alternate location, the famed steps of the Lincoln Memorial—which has ever since been a gathering place for important Civil Rights protests.
This was in the papers, and Gramma followed First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s example (as did many others) resigning forever from the DAR. Now, this was 1939, okay. Membership really did have privileges, then—and the farther you go back in history, the greater the privileges. It was no idle whim to quit the DAR. It was a solemn thing. My mother followed her example, and my sister.
Today, it struck me that I, a white man, have generational tales in my bloodline—about the evils of racism. I wish we had a jacket or something—my family has been opposing racism and exclusion for generations. It is as much a tradition with us Yankees, as it is for you simple, deep-down-south-folk.
And that is why Racism is having its ass kicked—you Proud Boy Scouts think you’ll never quit? Guess what?