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here we go again
I spent... I spent a lot of money today. The thing I wrote for my supervisor today actually works as a diary entry too, so I'm going to post it here:
How is it possible to allow others to believe something you do not believe? How is it possible to respond with something other than rage, frustration, or contempt? It seems immediately apparent that it is impossible to force anything other than a kind of polite toleration on the grounds that it is the “right thing to do”. “I will keep quiet about my real feelings for the ridiculous doctrine of these barbarians, because it will upset them to hear what I really think.” Even that might be too generous a way to phrase it. It will upset them and that in turn will produce responses that will upset me. Back we come to self-interest.
But without ecumenicalism, we also end up in a situation of self-contempt. If I have changed my mind since yesterday, then the person I was then becomes the object of my contempt. Of if I refuse to change when I know it is what I really want, then my present desire to change becomes the object of contempt. A spirit of ecumenicalism is necessary if I’m to have any kind of peace.
Maybe it’s easier for me to discuss this through music. I remember I used to believe it was important for me to know what my five favourite albums were. I suppose it fixed my identity in some kind of definite position; “I am the sort of person who would choose this music as the best”. It meant that whenever I heard a new album that I really liked, it would throw me into a sort of crisis; “Will this displace one of the five? And if it does, which one will it be?” It made it much less enjoyable for me to listen to, because rather than listening to the music I would be trying to decide how good it was, is it better than album 5 on my list, and so forth.
What taught me to question this awful doctrine was – well, two things. One, I spent some time away on holiday with some friends, and so was exposed to their taste in music. And one of them, someone I deeply respect and admire, had what I would regard as simply dreadful taste in music. Unspeakable. But I could see that it gave her genuine pleasure to listen to. It upset my whole notion of judging people according to taste. Should I hold her, someone who in every other regard I would hold to be the most admirable of people, in contempt because she liked something I didn’t? Well, it wasn’t even a question, really. I couldn’t choose to look down on her if I tried; it was simply impossible to imagine. But this upsets the apple-cart holding my five favourite albums. What are they really doing there? Aren’t they meant to be a demonstration that I am a proper person, that my taste is excellent and therefore I am excellent? Excellent meaning, in this case, higher than others, better than others?
The other incident was that I discovered myself becoming enchanted with music that had no place in my scheme of “good taste”. I bought an album by a particular artist out of curiosity, found that I liked it a little, and bought another by the same artist. There was no way I could justify to myself replacing any of the “top 5” with an album by this artist, and yet, by gradual stages, I found myself listening to them almost exclusively. If the top five are so much better than these, I asked myself, then why do I always feel like listening to these, and not them? Doesn’t this show that my real preferences lie elsewhere than the place I would choose, for the sake of my “good taste identity”, to have them?
But to simply replace that “top five” with my new preferences wouldn’t acknowledge what is really going on here; I would still be left with this notion of exclusivity, that I am a member of a special group – only a different group this time. All sorts of reverse snobbery, I imagine, could flow from that.
So, I think what makes ecumenicalism possible in this case is a willingness to honour the response to music, rather than the music itself, or the name of the song or the singer. What moves me today may not move me tomorrow; but the importance of being moved by music stays the same. So, when I hear the abominable music preferred by my friend, then if I am able to attend to her response, then I am, I hope, able to regard the music with something other than contempt, without, I hope, actually having to like it. Because “liking everything” is, I think, both impossible and an inadequate answer. There will always be music I like better than other music, just as there will always be philosophies and doctrines that appeal to me more than others. Simply to declare that one “likes everything the same” seems both dishonest and… not enough. If everything is preferred equally, it seems there is no room for a genuine response to anything.
But; the challenge is always present. There can be no complacent acceptance of one’s own “tolerance”; the answer that is suggested by this attendance to another’s response calls for a sincere, open, and active relation to the strange and unlikeable other.
And yes, if you're wondering, what I didn't include in the version that I sent to my supervisor is that the artist who disrupted my whole sense of musical propriety is Bruce Springsteen.
"My best was never good enough" - Bruce Springsteen
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