Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sounds of Silence: 2009

"Silence propagates itself, and the longer talk has been suspended, the more difficult it is to find anything to say."
Samuel Johnson, on The Quotations Page

It seems that the quote is from "The Works of Samuel Johnson" Volume IV (on Google Books The quote is from a paragraph that begins:

"It is always observable that silence propagates itself, and that the longer talk has been suspended, the more difficult it is to find a thing to say. We began now to wish for conversation; but no one seemed inclined to descend from his dignity, or first propose a topick of discourse...."

So What?!

There doesn't seem to be any difficulty finding a "a topick of discourse," here at the dawn of the Information Age.

On the other hand, the willingness to "descend from ... dignity" - or self-righteousness, or whatever, is, I think, sadly lacking.
Patriots, Environmentalists, and Crackpots
A marked aversion to people who 'aren't the proper sort' is nothing new. I grew up in the sixties, graduated from high school in 1969, and started doing time in college the next fall. Back then, what I mostly ran into were terribly 'patriotic' people who were, quite sincerely, convinced that 'the Commies' were behind it. 'It' being whatever was troubling them at the moment.

If you watch reruns of M*A*S*H, think Frank Burns, without the humor. And, coming from another direction, there were people who took Paul Ehrlich seriously.

That was then, this is now. The background noise of "Commie threat" has, to some extent, been replaced by "environmental threat" - which I think is as real as the "Commie threat" was. The Soviet Union, China, and North Korea were real. They posed a serious threat to people who had developed the habit of traveling around without authorization, and setting up businesses if they wanted to.

The threat was real. The 'civil rights is a commie plot' claims were, as far as I can tell, bogus. Totally bogus.

Today, there are serious concerns about what's in the air, water, and soil. Where I live, it's not particularly healthy to eat the fish you catch in the lake. But, the 'and we're all gonna die' pronouncements about Global Warming (capitalized or not) and other dooms brought about by vile humanity remind me of the 'good old days' and Commie plots.

It's Not Just Whacked Out Liberals

Check out the list of related posts, below. You'll find references to screwball liberals, conservatives, and ideologies that don't quite fit into mainstream American politics. Every group, I think, has its crackpots.

That's the human condition, and has to be recognized. I won't say "accepted," but that's a topic for another blog.
'Now That the Right People are In Charge - - -
Trouble can start, I think, when one or more of a society's information channels is dominated by people who all feel the same way about the world, and how it ought to be.

When that happens, it's too easy to allow one side's view pass without filtering, while preventing opposing views from being heard. No 'conspiracy' involved: it's just human nature to give ideas which are "obviously" correct pass without review; while scrutinizing those which are "obviously" flawed, or simply sidetracking them.

Back in the fifties, from what I read later, and was told, what we call 'conservatives' dominated American society. The McCarthy hearings and campus radicals of the sixties helped change that.

Now, quite a few of the campus radicals are tenured professors.
The Curious Case of Dr. Gray
Things are different when you're in charge: for you, and for everyone else. Hurricane expert Dr. William Gray may have been yanked from the national spotlight by budgetary considerations. Or, because he had heretical views on Global Warming: and, with monumental lack of good sense, expressed those views.

Dr. Gray isn't making a fuss about it, and I can't blame him. Even if he knew that he'd been blackballed for having the wrong views, he's a career academic: and bucking the system is not how you get your papers published. Dr. Gray's work may make a difference, fifty or a hundred years from now. Right now, he's off the cultural radar.

Let's Give the Marketplace of Ideas a Chance

Quite a bit of me is from the sixties: although I realize that it's no longer 1968.
Sounds of Silence: 2009
So, when I saw that Samuel Johnson quote, I thought of "Sounds of Silence."

The world today isn't exactly what it was in 1965, when Simon and Garfunkle's song entered the culture. But, I think there's still good sense in the lyrics: Not communicating with each other is a bad idea. And, good sense in Simon and Garfunkle's introduction, in a video that's on YouTube.

The video picks up at the end of an introduction to the song:

"...inability of people to communicate with each other: And not particularly internationally, but especially emotionally, so that what you see around you is people who are unable to live each other. This is called 'Sounds of Silence. " (YouTube)

I won't try to sort out what the song "means." There's a variety of ideas on someone else's website. One thing that's generally accepted is that "Sounds of Silence" is about communication: or, rather, the lack of it.

I'm more inclined to accept an artist's word on what a work means, than what a reviewer, 'expert,' or fan says. So, I accept the idea that "Sounds of Silence" was more about interpersonal, than international, communication. And, about a love deficit.

The third verse can, I think, be applied to more than relations between individuals:
...And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence....
(Music Depot)
Run through what's being said and written about the War on Terror, and you'll find plenty of "people talking without speaking," "people hearing without listening."
Expression of Disgust and Exclusion are not "Communication"
People expressing disgust at "towelheads," a politico who should know better describing someone wearing "a diaper on his head and a fan belt around that diaper on his head" are not, I think being helpful. All that they're communicating is that they don't like a specific group of people who aren't just like them. (See post of February 24, 2009)

Conservatives haven't cornered the market for screwballs. A non-conservative politico made a remarkable statement about two years ago:

" 'It's almost like the Reichstag fire, kind of reminds me of that. After the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the Communists for it and it put the leader of that country [Hitler] in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted. The fact is that I'm not saying [Sept. 11] was a [U.S.] plan, or anything like that because, you know, that's how they put you in the nut-ball box -- dismiss you.' " (See post of July 17, 2007)

If you didn't hear about one of Minnesota's up-and-coming politicos' views on the alleged American plot to blow up the World Trade Center and frame Al Qaeda, you may have heard of a professor with a similar view. (See post of July 25, 2007)

And, there's the hoplophobia that's permeated American culture. The term refers to an irrational fear of weapons. For many Americans, it's a more focused fear of guns. And, since "everybody knows" that guns cause crime, hoplophibia isn't recognized as an unusual condition (See post of December 23, 2007)
Don't Like Turbans? Don't Wear One
People aren't all alike. But we're not going learn from each other by insulting each other - however 'cathartic' that is. (Remember when psychobabble was full of that word?)

If people are allowed to express their ideas, I think that the ideas that make sense will endure. The ones that don't, won't. Except among people who are convinced that towelheads are disgusting, or that the CIA blew up New York City's World Trade Center.

And, we'll have a better chance of surviving whatever outfits like Al Qaeda and the Taliban have planned for people whose beliefs they don't approve of.

Sound Of Silence - Simon & Garfunkel (live sound)

Hamp32, YouTube (February 08, 2007)
video (3:19)

Related posts: Background:

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.