“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
I notice patterns everywhere and all of the time. It’s how my brain works. As a musician this ability has served me well.
There have been numerous books about art vis-à-vis science, for example “Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time & Light”, by Leonard Shlain. Shlain’s book sets out to show that, throughout history, art presaged or prefigured insights in the field of physics.
This morning I saw a pattern that started with different effects of allowing computing to shape our reality. Specifically I thought of quantization, which forces music to be “in time”, auto-tune, which changes vocal performances as to be “in tune”, and the fact that computers cannot create a curve… if you look closely every video game shows a curve, or a circle, as a series of minute straight lines. The higher the resolution the shorter the straight lines are and the more convincing the curve becomes. But it will never be a curve. It might become unobservable to the human eye, but it will not be a curve as long as computers are binary.
Computers change or correct the timing and the tuning of music, and make us conform to their inability to create a curve? Did computers change the way we work? The answer is unequivocally yes. Did computers change the way we process information? Yes, retaining data has been offloaded to computers in most cases. Our memory and our brains are changing. This has been proven. What about the binary nature of computing, has that changed us? I would say yes, without a doubt. Computing is lacking the messiness of the human mind. To a computer everything is either on or off, one or zero, bit or no bit, correct or wrong, this way or that way… and isn’t that the way we have started to look at everything? There is no place where this isn’t more obvious than in politics. The lines are being drawn more clearly, more distinctly, and more absolutely than at any time I can remember. There are no nuanced discussions on social media – or maybe I don’t spend enough time on social media anymore to discover them. It seems that we are losing that gray area, the art of the compromise, the center that can combine the best from the extremes.
I think the most worrying aspect of this pattern is the possibility that we are trying to think and act according to the computer’s binary view… of course this may just be a phase of development and messy will become the new beautiful.
I have been thinking about the role of art in our lives. That Chinese hermits still felt compelled to scratch poems into the dirt or write them onto stones with water tells me that art is essential to us in a way that our culture may not acknowledge or foster.
China has a tradition of hermits that goes back millennia. The author Red Pine wrote a lovely book about this subject, entitled “Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits”.
(the following are a few thoughts that went through my mind this Thanksgiving as I was snowed in. Since I was by myself I had time to write them down)
On this Thanksgiving day I want to acknowledge the gentle people. I think of the many native peoples who were erased from this earth , or enslaved. I think of visionaries and geniuses who were killed or imprisoned because they thought differently. I also think of women, who did not have access to education and, in too many places on this planet, still don’t. It also brings to my mind the many recluses and hermits who walked into the woods and mountains, to get away from humanity.
For millennia a brutish man could be very successful. This kind of man would offer a sense of security to a mate and could therefore pass on his genes. Because there was always a war, there was always an opportunity for a man of strength to become a hero. Those heroes might have been much more brave than they were intelligent, they were brutal, even psychopathic, but they were considered heroes nonetheless. The bully has been a pretty successful model of a human, at least in terms of Natural Selection. The gentle people paid the price, all over the world. Our genetic programming does not favor the gentle people and in many cases their DNA was lost to humanity. I fear that if human DNA was programmed by Gods, it was a junior God’s first project and he or she didn’t have a lot of experience and very little foresight.
Humans are this planet’s most powerful and utterly dominant predator. Now our survival will depend on turning bullies into gentle people. Can the competitor become a collaborator? We believe that we are better now, more civilized and less violent, but in truth we have only exchanged the physicality of swords and fists for the power of computers, the internet, and social media. The bullying is now done with a keyboard. Instead of practicing sword fighting or aiming a gun at a target, we aim zeros and ones at each other. The effect is worse. Nobody sees the wounds, there is no smell of blood. The victims live to suffer another day. The old bully wore a uniform and carried weapons, the new bully weaponizes words and monetizes data. The old-fashioned bully took his chance in a fight that he might, albeit rarely, loose. There was always that slim possibility that his victim might get the upper hand. Bullying by keyboard involves no such risk of bodily harm. Anyone can do it.
We CAN revolt against natural selection. The planet will heat up, millions of species will be erased. We need to change OURSELVES. We need to grow, despite our programming and against our programming! The great human hack of the 21st century… to become a new species, homo sapiens 2.0.
 Estimates, of course, vary greatly, but up to 100 million people lived in the Americas before the Europeans arrived… 90% of them were killed. While most died from the viruses the Europeans brought with them, many of them died in the most carelessly cruel way. And that’s just the Americas…
Pantone announced that Classic Blue would be the color of 2020.
I like blue. It’s, perhaps, my favorite color. I have worn more blue clothes than any other color. But is it a good color at this point in time? To have the blues means one is sad or down. In German slang the words “Ich bin blau!”, I am blue, mean that I am drunk. I think a green color would have been more appropriate, considering everything that’s going on with the environment.
Likewise I wasn’t impressed with Pantone’s choice for this year, 2019, Living Coral:
In 2018, when coral reefs were bleaching at an alarming rate, the announcement seemed like a rather tone deaf idea.
Makes me wonder, how do they arrive at selecting the color of the year? In any case, they could do better, I think.
When I am on tour I usually carry a plate, a bowl, and a set of utensils, wrapped furoshiki-style in a cloth, in my suitcase. In some venues the caterers use plastic, even though we ask them not to in our contract rider, and I can avoid the waste by bringing my own. A pair of chopsticks is always in my backpack. For about a decade I have carried around an older version of these chopsticks, made by Snow Peak – see also this post about their coffee mug. There is an old post from May 2007 … and a photo on Flickr – remember Flickr?? These new Snow Peak chopsticks are made with metal handles and bamboo tips, but my older model used discarded baseball bats instead of bamboo. I like them because they collapse, which I didn’t figure out right away… (Matt, didn’t you show me this?)
Snow Peak also has silicon tipped steel chopsticks, and a quick search on Amazon will show that you can buy 5 pairs of stainless steel chopsticks for about $7. In other words, there are many alternatives to those throw-away chopsticks, made out of bamboo or wood, that are used in most Asian restaurants – except in Korean restaurants, where they use steel chopsticks. Consider taking your own chopsticks next time.
More about chopsticks…
Chinese chopsticks are the longest and are very useful for snatching that last dumpling from the lazy susan in the middle of the table. Japanese chopsticks are the shortest, perhaps because in Japan one usually lifts a bowl up when taking food from it, which means reach isn’t important. Korean chopsticks are unique in all of Asia, because they are flat and made from metal.
And why oh why do restaurants still serve water with a plastic straw, without asking? That happened to me several times on tour last month – I learned to request “no straw” before even sitting down. If you love straws, why not bring your own?
PS: I often eat potato chips with chopsticks, especially when I don’t want to mess up my hands because I am reading a book…. :-)
Bandcamp vinyl campaigns… interesting idea.