As a writer attempting to improve humanity, trust in individuals is a necessity.  Additionally, it might seem counter-intuitive to admit that I find Any Rand to be a genius.  However, contrary to both of these facts, Rand’s biggest mistake was her hyper-confidence in human nature.

 

Hopefully, those of you still reading are intrigued, but aren’t making love to your computer.  Rand is neither the villain of humanity, nor the savior of conservatism.  She was simply a social philosopher, which required a political platform.  Here’s the problem with anyone who falls into this category: they must be extreme in order to get their point across.  So, no, I do not hate altruism, nor would I define myself as selfish, as she encouraged.  I simply recognize that Objectivism has an incredible amount of positive aspects in the social and individual realm ignored by both the left and unavoidable faults neglected by the right.  Generally, I try to allow you readers to interpret my views via my articles rather than be so blatant, but I felt that it was necessary, considering the controversial nature of Rand.

 

So, for those of you who don’t know, I’ll try to summarize Rand as quickly and objectively as possible, but I highly suggest you simply read her works.  Objectivism pretty much says be the best you can be, even if it means squashing other people.  Altruism is non-existent, as every action has a selfish, ulterior motive.  Everything should be done in exchange for something.  Following this method will make highly productive people, resulting in a surplus of jobs, resulting in a productive and happy society, in a dog-eat-dog world.  In the following, I will ignore many parts of her philosophy, but will try to highlight the fantastic parts disregarded by liberals and the failures disregarded by conservatives.

 

Here’s where the positive aspects lie: people should be strong individuals.  If it means stepping on other people to get what you want, so long as it’s because you’re simply better and can produce a better result, so be it.  Superior ability should never fold to inferior ability.  Take responsibility for your own actions.  Even if an excuse is valid, it still takes blame off of yourself.  Blaming yourself, in any case of failure (or neglecting to accept failure), will lead you to improve when improvements are necessary and possible.

 

Here’s the failure: Rand had too much faith in humanity.  You would think that someone who wrote an essay called “The Virtue of Selfishness” would have the opposite problem.  She believed that money was a symbol of productivity.  In her world, this would be accurate, being that the most successful are the best.  This is not the case.  CEOs of company’s make giant sums, while the laborers make the bare minimum.  Most employees can work as hard as they can and be incredibly productive and still not make enough to feed their family.  Conversely, they can be completely incompetent or lazy and still get paid the same, if not, close to.  Corporations make mega bucks by taking advantage of paying their workers less than they deserve.  What happens with all that cash from this?  It goes overseas.  It goes into the CEO’s pocket as a bonus.  It gets invested.  Where doesn’t it go?  Into research (which would provide jobs).  Into raises of the lower tier employees who make the company’s product (which would clearly boost the economy).

 

How does this problem occur?  Low integrity.  Rand assumed that the most profitable people would be the best in their business, which would require high integrity.  Instead, the CEOs do everything they can, not to make the best product, but to pinch every penny, to bend every rule, and to find every loophole.  This is the major problem.

 

However, a secondary problem also exists.  Low integrity of the workers.  They’ll get away with doing the bare minimum.  They’ll work as little as possible, while still being able to keep their job.  Part of this is because they recognize the low chance of a promotion or a raise.  Nevertheless, it must also be recognized that the administrators of the company see that the majority of their employees have this low integrity, which gives management little incentive as well as a lot of work to rifle through their employees to see who actually deserves advancement.

 

This is not just a flaw in Objectivism.  It’s a flaw of our society.  Of human nature.  Worse yet, low integrity is being embraced and unpunished.  Less and less people exist that are working, not for a paycheck, but to be great, to create, to better their company, to better society.  Even if they are working for a paycheck, they see the futility in attempting to make it bigger by pushing themselves.  Rand’s philosophy had a major error, but it wasn’t embracing selfishness or cutting out government regulation; it was neglecting the fact that humans lack the integrity to achieve success by competence, and instead attain it by deception.

There are few true musical artist left in the forefront of the field.  A bold statement perhaps, but there has been a transformation over the past half century from musical artist to artisan.

 

First, it is important to clarify what these two creators are, in general terms.  Due to the nature of the field, an artist is hard to clearly define.  For arguments sake, let’s agree that an artist is someone who creates for the purpose of inspiring genuine emotion through their creations, regardless of whether or not the creator or the audience gains that experience.  This still makes the definition difficult, as any human could lie (intentionally or otherwise) and state that they encountered it or intended it in their “creative process.”  (Creative process could be considered another requirement of a true artist.)  I included the “otherwise,” as many “artists” may claim to have felt emotion or have intended to inspire it, but was only the result of mixed perceptions.  A good example would be writing a melancholy song with depressed emotions after the death of a close friend.  Were those emotions inspired or heightened during the artist’s creative process or by events that occurred preceding their work?

 

In contrast, artisans are craftworkers.  Their creations generally serve a specific purpose and may or may not have artistic value.  Take a chair, for example.  Most chairs have three to four legs, a horizontal surface, and possibly a vertical surface, and is designated to be used as a seat.  Not art.  However, there are also magnificent and elegant chairs.  Still not art… But artistic value can be placed on them.

 

So then, what is a musical artisan?  These workers make music (or perform it, as many of the musicians of today don’t even create it), not with the intention of making art or inspiring emotion, but with the motivation of making an assload of money.  That’s the biggest difference.  Emotion.  Maybe the artisans are trying and failing to be artists, because they can’t express or achieve emotions of depth.  Maybe they can’t inspire them in others.  But, more than likely, many of the artisans are in it for the money.

 

That’s the nature of the musical artisan.  But how are they successful?  If music is art, then shouldn’t the subpar artists fail, while the amazing ones are loaded?  Unfortunately, this is not, nor may never be the case.  The goal of musical artisans is to reach as many listeners as possible.  This in itself means that they will be more lucrative.  It also means that they cannot have deep emotional investments in their music.  Instead, they need to make their songs as generic and as simple as possible.  Lyrically, it needs to be something anyone can relate to.  In terms of instrumentation, complexity is confusing and a jumbling of sounds to those without a good sense.  Musical artisans catering to this ignorance and make their sounds textbook and predictable.  It’s not to say that they are talentless, however.  Being able to reach millions of people and make a ton of money doing certainly is a skill.  It just isn’t art.

 

Take a look at your iTunes.  What percent of people would know the “artists”?  How much are they worth?  Can you find out?  You may disagree with my argument, but it’s hard to deny that musicians who are incredibly known and are commercial giants generally do not have the talent that lesser known artists hold.  Of course, there are exceptions; some musicians are highly publicized and lucrative artists, and many musicians under the radar…. Well, let’s just say that their lack talent demands they stay that way.

 

Radio today plays music, but not art.  Billboard Top 40 songs are lyrically and instrumentally generic and offer no enrichment.  Commercial success does not always translate to talent.  The majority of these famed celebrity musicians are not artists, but are merely artisans.

In 2009, The Decemberists released The Hazards of Love, which is hazzards_of_love-178x178probably the most popular of their works.  Casual indie fans have probably heard the single “The Rake’s Song.”  Decemberists fans will have heard the whole album, and probably recognized that it is actually a rock opera.  The Hazards of Love tells the story of a shapeshifting forest-dweller falling in love with a human woman, and his mother’s attempts to separate them.  But what few seem to recognize without a close analysis of Colin Meloy’s lyrics is the intense message the album sends based around the title.  It may seem transparent at a quick glance, but realistically, it describes the hazards that come with love in nearly all of its forms, whether it be romantic, familial, or otherwise.

First, let’s take a look at the story.  A young woman, Margaret, stumbles upon an injured fawn while trekking through the taiga.  As she approaches to assist it, the fawn transforms into a young man, William.  The two fall in love, which ultimately results in Margaret’s pregnancy, but not without enraging William’s mother, the Forest Queen.  The two engage in a heated argument, where the Queen reveals that she “saved” him from humanity by granting him immortality and the ability to shapeshift, only to abandon her for one of its constituents.  In the end, the Queen agrees to give William one night as a human, but must remain in the taiga afterwards.

The Queen, however, has a hidden agenda.  In the aforementioned “The Rake’s Song,” we meet a widower who had murdered his three children in cold blood.  The Queen recruits the Rake to kidnap and violate Margaret.  As the Rake flees, the Queen parts a raging river to assist in his escape, which halts William’s pursuit.  William makes an agreement with the river that, if allowed to cross, he would return to give it his life.

The Rake begins to move in on Margaret,  but is halted by the spirits of his murdered children, who most likely kill him.  William arrives and escapes with Margaret.  As the river slowly rises to claim William, the lovers once again profess their love, and drown in each other’s arms.

So, Meloy has definitely given us an interesting love fable.  But as a humanist, why do I find this album worth analyzing?  Of course, it’s the presentation of the eponymous theme.  At first glance, it appears as though William and Margaret are the only characters subjected to love’s horror.  But take a closer look; every character faces or has faced the hazards that come with the risk and sacrifice required for any kind of legitimate love.

So, let’s take a look at what this means for each of the characters.  As stated, Margaret and William’s love is the obvious focal point, and is the only unbroken bond.  Margaret pours her trust into a non-human, and William pours his trust into what he has been raised to despise, despite knowing the rage it will ensue in his adopted mother (whom he loves in a familial way).  William trusts that Margaret and his love is true and pure, risking his relationship with his mother.  Even just before death, the couple keeps their trust and look forward to escaping their love’s main hazard of being broken apart.

The Queen gives William her complete love, though he is of the human world.  Her love’s hazard is that he will be taken away from her again by humanity, the major evil in her world.  The Queen’s selfishness inspires her to break apart William and Margaret’s love so she may keep his love to herself, thus betraying the trust William had in her.

The Rake is probably the most interesting and complex of those that fell pray to the hazards of love.  He had stopped his immoral habits to marry his true love, sacrificing his hedonistic life style.  He, like William, entrusted his life in his lover.  However, after his wife’s death, the already corrupt Rake became deranged after his trust was (unintentionally) betrayed.  Here, his falling victim to a hazard of love created a chain that twisted his children’s fate.  His children, though young, placed their complete trust in the Rake.  The Rake, in his disturbed state, took advantage of their trust and love to easily take their lives.

So, after a closer look, it becomes apparent that every character risked or sacrificed something key to their identity in order to unite with their lover.  Each and every character was forced to succumb to those risks.  William and Margaret sacrificed their lives, the Queen sacrificed her integrity (through adopting a human), as well as her son, the Rake sacrificed his lifestyle, and the children sacrificed their lives.  With the exception of the story’s heroes, these characters end emotionally contorted, being led to kill.  As William and Margaret’s love remains pure, they are able to die together, and ascend to eternal love without the dangers involved

The Hazards of Love is a great album musically and lyrically, creating appropriate tones that match the emotions and events of the tale.  On the surface, it is a Romeo and Juliet forbidden love story.  However, the conflict comes from villains who have had their love tainted.  Additionally, the tale’s supporting characters, the heroes’ unexpected saviors, the ghosts of the Rake’s children, have also faced the hazards of love.  As great as the album is to a common listener, it is absolutely worth reading, as one would read a play, for it’s deeper, emotional context.

Last week, The Flaming Lips released their fifteenth studio album, The Terror.  In interviews during its production, frontman Wayne Coyne expressed his excitement for the finished creation.  His excitement stemmed from how enthralled the band became during the process.  This garnered a lot of attention and anticipation from devout Flaming Lips fans.

 

While a great album in it’s own right, The Terror differs greatly from the band’s most famed, The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots.  Though they keep their classic avante-garde style, their newest studio venture focuses on high production, trance tones, and psychedelia.  While the aforementioned albums were unique in their own way, both had a high emphasis on lyrics.  The Terror, however, has an extremely low focus on vocals, which results in a low emphasis on the poetic words of Coyne.

 

The album starts off with an upbeat, fiery tempo with “Look… The Sun is Rising.”  However, despite the positive sound, one cannot seem to shake an ominous ambiance.  Perhaps this is generated by the album’s title.  However, while the tempo slows greatly for the majority of the rest of the album (with occasional variances), that dark undertone never seems to disappear, but never seems to fully surface.  The exception is finale track, “Sun Blows Up Today.”  The ending piece is an extremely happy song, both instrumentally and, superficially, lyrically.  Then look at the title and listen again… the song is really about running away from Earth because of the sun’s explosion.  This is much more stylistic of The Flaming Lips.

 

It’s hard to describe any single track, without discussing the entire album.  While the it is an artistic masterpiece, it absolutely doesn’t have any standout songs.  Without a doubt, it’s meant to be heard as a whole.  If I were to categorize The Terror, I would absolutely argue that it’s highly psychedelic trance.

 

Despite it’s heavy production made possible by modern technology and it’s use of the newer genre of trance, The Terror is actually very reminiscent of a few bands from the sixties, at the dawn of psychedelia.  Add some heavy synths and continuous playback to Fifth Dimension, by The Byrds, and you might get the latest Flaming Lips album.  Or, strip it down a few production levels, and you might get some new Emerson, Lake, and Palmer tracks.  But more than anything, it seems to relate to Pink Floyd.  Had Pink Floyd (including Syd Barrett) arose in the 21st Century, we might have a similar album.  Seriously.  Mix the continuous playback, and heavily synthesized interludes (plus some of the experience-based talen) from Wish You Were Here or Dark Side of The Moon with the extreme psychedelia of Piper At The Gates of Dawn, pepper in some modern technology and producing techniques, and you get The Terror.  (I’ve been trying to set it to the “Wizard of Oz,” but so far, no luck.)

 

Despite how much it easily relatable it is to previous bands, I absolutely recommend giving this album a listen (and even a purchase), as it still bears many distinctions.  Not all the tracks are quite so simply categorized.  Some, while still falling into a sixties-meets-trance genre, aren’t comparable to anything previously recorded.  While I wouldn’t say there’s any one track I’ll listen to on a regular basis, I can definitely see myself jamming out to The Terror.  Admittedly, it wouldn’t be something I put on just for the sake of listening to music, but would be perfect for background tunes during conversation or when trying to do a passive activity, like reading.  If you like trance, psychedelia, or wish the sixties culture emerged in modernity, give The Terror a good listen!

Though it’s being discussed to the degree that may now be wearing on people’s tolerance, I feel that it would be untrue to this blog’s name if I did not comment on the happenstances earlier this week.  It goes without saying that what took place in Boston was a tragedy.  As of today (4/17/2013), there are no suspects or motives.  However, this does not change my statements, as every Western citizen knows that no assertions are grounds that justify violence.  It is terrible that some human beings believe (or have been conditioned to believe) that causing death, injury, chaos, and mayhem are acceptable means of crusading.  I believe the pen to be stronger than the sword, but, just as a pen can cause physical harm, a sword can still cause emotional pain.  This is especially true when the blow is inflicted on others, specifically on humanity and a sense of security as a whole.

 

The incident on Monday caused cuts on many’s faith in humanity.  Westboro’s stance was an additional slash in that regard.  For most, those injuries to individuals’ faith will heal as they laugh with friends, read inspiring quotes, and allow the passage of time.  Mr. Rogers’ quote seemed to help many.  A big help for me was a tweet by NBC Sports Network.  However, there is a minority that will have deep scars from this incident and its aftermath; scars that may take much longer to heal.  They may never heal.  Some may always have lessened trust in people, may always think twice before acting in terms of humanity, or may have a permanent tumor that throbs in disgust towards their human brothers.

 

For me, I refuse to be frightened by acts of terror; I refuse to let the attackers win.  I recognize this as a horrific act, but poses no threat to my trust of the human race.  It is no worse than many other attacks that have happened recently or in the past, done by extremists, foreign nations, or America.  What has betrayed my faith is the reaction of many individuals.  Not of Westboro.  Their statement was so extreme it is farcical (in addition to everyone already noting their degeneracy).  I’m speaking of the response of everyday people.  Many posted pictures and videos on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks of the terror, aftermath, and casualties that resulted from the explosions.  I saw pools of blood, severed limbs, crying faces, and chaotic reactions.  These are completely unnecessary and disrespectful.  Please, share information of the attack and inspiring quotes and facts so that others know what happened and have a degree of comfort.  But the everyday, average person should be empathetic enough that the text should give them understanding of what happened.  Do not make them live vicariously.  Enough people felt the pain of physically being there, and while that experience is irreplaceable and unavoidable for those present, lesser degrees of that scenario do not need to be shared with others.  One can understand horror without experiencing or witnessing it.

 

Think of the victims.  Would they want those pictures of them to be seen immediately?  Those moments captured the greatest amount of terror, pain (physical and emotional), and panic of their entire lives.  Why would they want others to see it?  Why would they want to see it?  Maybe someday they will be iconic, like photos from the Kent State shooting, but let the media post them for those that require that sort of kickstart of sympathy.  They can be avoided, or at least anticipated by those who would prefer to not see the footage.  But why would anyone want to scroll through their newsfeed to unexpectedly see those photos, when they are trying to lighten their heart after discovering of the tragedy?

 

It’s not just the fact that they were posted that frustrates me; it is also the mindset of that led to the posting.  People believe it to be respectful, helpful, and sympathetic, but really, it’s the opposite.  The fact that posters believe it to be the right thing to do displays a clear lack of either judgement or thought.  They think that human beings need to see horror.  That’s not okay.  There was a misconnection in their thought process, or it stopped too short.  The media often discusses how our society is becoming desensitized and declares that events such as Monday’s tragedy as a result.  I disagree.  The absence of sympathy the posters have and the mindset that leads them to believe that others share this absence is the true result of desensitization.  

 

Please, do not post photos of tragic incidents.  Instead, post the facts, send your positive energy, whether it’s thoughts, prayers, or what have you.  Comfort those who need to be comforted.  Post something inspiring.  The tragedy this week was awful: do not expect people to need to see it to understand the horror.

Everyone (except maybe policy makers) knows that education needs to be drastically reformed.  I could discuss the ineffective standardized tests, the lack of critical thinking taught, lazy teachers, and poor funding causing serious problems with our nation’s academia.  I could find statistics showing how young adults now are less efficient in math than young adults from twenty years ago, or how proficiency in any STEM subject has dropped greatly by high school graduates, or how some parts of America still hold literacy rates below eighty percent.  But only one number is necessary to show how our current education system is ripping our economy to shreds.  That number is the 2008-2009 high school graduation rate of 75.5, the most recent update from the National Center for Education Statistics.  Compare that to the 68.0 percent from 2000-2001, the rate before the enactment of No Child Left Behind, and only lower in previous years.

Realistically, the comparison looks fantastic!  In just eight years, the high school graduation rate was boosted 7.5 percent.  Of  course, then you have to look into a lot of other factors, particularly, the quality of that education and, consequently, the meaningfulness of that degree.

That’s where I’ll end my rant about No Child Left Behind.  Anything I could say about it has already been said.  But here’s the underlying economic problem that would get the Occupy movement aroused.  The increased high school graduation rate has lowered the abundance and pay of jobs almost across the board.

It’s a very simple concept.  There are more high school degree holders.  As a result, there are less jobs for high school dropouts, and graduates have to compete against more people for a job.  As a result, more people go on to get a bachelor’s degree, which means they have more competition to get a job.  When they can’t get a job matching their tier of education, they get desperate to pay back their enormous debt from college and take a job they’re over qualified for, kicking some of the high school graduates out of work.  Now we have bachelor’s degree holders competing for jobs a high school graduate is qualified for.  Count the number of problems this has caused: dropouts can’t get a job, high school graduates are lucky to get one, college graduates are working below their skill level, which makes them produce less than they’re able, and they are getting underpaid, making their massive debt the only destination for their earnings.  This trend continues upwards.  So it all boils down to supply and demand.  There’s no demand for the huge supply of high school graduates.

This may sound cruel, but America is forcing success out of students who need to fail.  The quality of a high school education and the meaning of a degree has become so depreciated, an employer can’t be blamed for their lack of trust.  If a student can’t pass their classes, whether it’s because of a lack of effort or intelligence, then they should fail.  A tenacious person, the kind we want succeeding in society, will stay in school until they get their degree.  Others will give up and dropout.  That needs to happen.

Now, those dropouts remain a problem.  The goal of No Child Left Behind is, theoretically, to have a 100 percent high school graduation rate.  But as it stands, there are still dropouts, and they are worse off than in a dog-eat-dog, intellectual Darwinism society.  Currently, they are society’s lepers.  Before the graduation rate jumped, high school dropouts were only competing with each other, and some high school graduates for jobs, and not B.S.’s and B.A.’s.  Additionally, this large number of degree holders has allowed employers to create requirements to hold jobs that really don’t utilize any skills beyond a high school education.

So, here’s the summary: too many students are graduating high school.  The quality of that education and meaningfulness has decreased, and has created a surplus of potentially subpar workers at the second lowest scale of education.  This has knocked the whole system off axis.  Coupled with a poor job market and the outrageous cost of college education, graduates of any level are found unemployed and in poverty.  As brutal as it may seem, people cannot be forced to succeed and need the possibility to fail.

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