Saturday, February 20, 2021

Mediocrity's Envy of Genius: The Dirty Secret of Cancel Culture

David Goldman below is obviously right about the idiocy of a "racist" approach to classical music. And Ewell equally obviously misses the point of such music.

Our esteem for Beethoven and other classical composers is no function of anything other than the pleasure that they give us. If they give you no pleasure you should have nothing to do with them. They are not for you. They are not for most people in fact. In the Western world only something like 2% of the population like classical music.

But if you have been so moved by a performance of Beethoven's "Emperor" concerto that you have been moved to tears with the beauty of it then you know what it is all about. I have so wept

And most people have a favorite piece of music of some kind that they like to listen to repeatedly. I do. It is Polina Osetinskaya playing the Bach piano concerto no. 1 in D minor.

The Cultural Revolutionaries at the New York Times this week reviewed the witch hunt against classical musicians, who stand accused of racism simply because the great Western composers happened to be white. Cancel culture is despicable in all of its manifestations, but I take this particular instance personally: I trained in the school of musical analysis founded by Heinrich Schenker (1868-1935). My principle teacher was Carl Schachter, who also taught Prof. Timothy Jackson of the University of North Texas, the target of this particular witch hunt.

It’s all about envy.

My childhood piano teacher kept a recording of Florence Foster Jenkins, the deluded society lady portrayed by Meryl Streep in a 2016 comedy, as a horrible example for youth. Her voice would de-feather a screech-owl, but no-one was allowed to tell her she couldn’t sing. The only classical musician still active who bears comparison to Ms. Jenkins is a certain Philip Ewell, now a professor of music theory at Hunter College, who posts videos of himself torturing a cello until it squeals in pain. Prof. Ewell is African-American and has won his fifteen minutes of fame by denouncing whiteness in classical music.

All this would be of scant interest except that Prof. Ewell has become the scourge of alleged racism in the classical music world, and may have succeeded in extirpating from the academy a grand tradition of musical analysis that began with Beethoven. Ewell also dismisses Beethoven as merely “an above average composer” whose prominence erases the contribution of composers of color. Thanks to Ewell’s rampage against supposed white supremacy in classical music, the living chain of teacher-to-pupil transmission of this aspect of Western civilization may be broken irreparably.

For the strong of stomach (or hard of hearing), I refer to the fugue of Bach’s 5th Cello Suite as performed by Prof. Ewell (at minute 3:25) in a video posted on his personal website. It is hard to find a single note in tune; it is the sort of butchery that would earn an aspiring high school musician a condescending pat on the shoulder and a suggestion that he switch to the triangle. No-one was allowed to tell Florence Foster Jenkins how awful she was because she was rich and connected; it is a complete mystery to me why no-one has had the courage to stop Prof. Ewell from humiliating himself in public. Unlike the deluded Mrs. Jenkins, Ewell surely knows that everyone is laughing at him behind his back. The work he has put into his performances shows that he wants to play well, but is condemned to sotto voce ridicule.

To have played Bach this way is a humiliation. To push it into the public’s face is an act of unadulerated rage: You, my listeners, will have to suffer along with me, the talentless Prof Ewell thinks. This isn’t the Emperor’s new clothes so much as the Emperor as flasher. And Ewell is entirely right; the music world must bite its collective tongue and suppress a laugh on pain of excommunication.

Whatever our musical preferences, these are moments in which we need the classical style of composition. The musical style we inherit from the great composers is a continuing presence in our lives through film. The classical style of composition will never go out of fashion, my teacher Carl Schachter liked to say, because the movies need it; it is the only kind of music that can tell a story. “There are those,” intoned Ewell in a recent blog post, “who would actually take issue with me saying the Ninth Symphony is no more a masterwork that Spalding’s 12 Little Spells simply because we are told by whiteness and maleness that this couldn’t be the case. Beethoven was undoubtedly an above-average composer and he deserves our attention. But to say he was anything more is to dismiss 99.9% of the world’s music written 200+ years ago, which would be unscholarly, and academically irresponsible.”

Wrote the New York Times:

Professor Ewell, who also is on the faculty of the City University of New York Graduate Center, declined an interview with The Times. He is part of a generation of scholars who are undertaking critical-race examinations of their fields. In “Music Theory and the White Racial Frame,” the paper he presented in Columbus, he writes that he is for all intents “a practitioner of white music theory” and that “rigorous conversations about race and whiteness” are required to “make fundamental antiracist changes in our structures and institutions.”

For music programs to require mastery of German, he has said, “is racist obviously.” He has criticized the requirement that music Ph.D. students study German or a limited number of “white” languages, noting that at Yale he needed a dispensation to study Russian. He wrote that the “antiracist policy solution” would be “to require languages with one new caveat: any language — including sign language and computer languages, for instance — is acceptable with the exception of Ancient Greek, Latin, Italian, French or German, which will only be allowed by petition as a dispensation.”

Last April he fired a broadside at Beethoven, writing that it would be academically irresponsible to call him more than an “above average” composer. Beethoven, he wrote, “has been propped up by whiteness and maleness for 200 years.”

The grudge that mediocrity bears against genius is the purest form of evil. Thomas Mann’s postwar reworking of the Faust legend tells of the failed composer Adrian Leverkuhn who, in the final phase of syphilitic dementia, has written a cacaphonous cantata “to take back Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.” Leverkuhn had made a deal with the Devil and suffers the consequences. If the Devil has any taste in music, he won’t be in the market for Ewell’s soul.

Black Americans have a splendid history in classical music. The great Marian Anderson, who sang the national anthem at both the second Eisenhower inauguration and the Kennedy inauguration, had the voice of the century according to Toscanini, as well as sublime musicianship. Hear her in this arrangement of Brahms’ song “Of Eternal Love.” The soprano Kathleen Battle is the best coloratura of my generation, a far cannier interpreter than, say, Joan Sutherland. Battle used high intelligence and unerring musicianship to turn a rather small natural voice into a virtuoso instrument. Anderson became an icon of the civil rights movement by showing that a black contralto could produce authoritative interpretations of the Western classics. Ewell’s envy-ridden rampage is a disgrace to her legacy.


The deletion of womanhood: Once, it was just noisy protests from a tiny minority. But now a new age of intolerance threatens our very identity, argues BEL MOONEY

George Orwell must be grinning grimly in his grave. In the terrifying, controlled world of his masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, ‘Thoughtcrime’ is any belief that goes against accepted political ideology.

And ‘Doublethink’ means simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct — a crime against intelligence that is now mainstream.

A row has been sparked by draft maternity rights legislation that has failed to include a single use of the word ‘woman’ or ‘female’. Instead the draft bill, set to give ministers access to maternity leave, talks only about ‘persons’.

Why are public-sector institutions so willing to erase the lived reality of my sex? How have we reached the point where intelligent people, charities, businesses and governments are forced to accept without question that ‘Trans women are women’?

Like any civilised person, I believe in tolerance and kindness, and understand that some people do wish to live as the opposite sex. But there I should stop, because Big Brother is watching my thoughtcrime. You are not allowed to question the orthodoxy — or offend the bullying thought police who wear liberal masks.

To placate a vociferous minority within a minority, doublethink reigns supreme. As a result we are witnessing attacks on both the identity of women and on language itself.

But there is something equally worthy of serious thought. I believe the ‘woke’ obsession with the rights of the trans community — which has now penetrated every level of society (as far as the President of the U.S. and the First Minister of Scotland) — is doing terrible harm to the very people it claims to speak for. People who don’t want to fight. People who aren’t baying for revolution. People who just want to be left alone to live anonymous, peaceful lives.

But reason is challenged by meaningless slogans, and when the thoughts and identities of ordinary men and women are challenged and disallowed, it becomes open season on hate. When precious words such as ‘woman’ and ‘mother’ are threatened, then angry, intolerant voices are raised. And that hurts trans people, too.

Last week, a British hospital became the first in the country to introduce ‘trans-friendly’ language guidelines to follow when dealing with trans people who decide to become parents.

This includes replacing the word ‘woman’ with the phrase ‘woman or person’ and swapping ‘breast milk’ for ‘breast/chest milk’. ‘Maternity care’ should be called ‘perinatal care.’

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust revealed the new phrases in an attempt to alleviate ‘mainstream transphobia’. Its statement contains gems such as ‘…not only pregnant women, but also pregnant trans, non-binary and agender people’. If you’re confused as to how an ‘agender’ person can get pregnant, then you’re not the only one.

It is easy to dismiss this nonsense and just get on with your life. But note that only an estimated one per cent of the population in Britain identifies as trans or non-binary, and yet precious NHS resources are being used to tell midwives how to address mothers-to-be.

The term ‘pregnant people’ was first used around four years ago, when the United Nations was lobbied to start using it on the grounds that trans people might feel excluded by the term ‘pregnant women’.

Wait! In order to become pregnant, a body has to be fitted out with ovaries and a womb — right? And if you have those perennially useful bits of machinery, you are called a woman.

If a trans man gives birth, their name may have become masculine, but the body is still, in many respects, female. The organs used to conceive, gestate and ultimately give birth are female, ie. they are something only women have.

Likewise, women don’t have prostate surgery and men don’t have hysterectomies. That, I’m afraid, is the driving force of nature, and it’s called biology.

It should be noted, too, that there have been just a few UK cases of trans men who retained their uteruses and have given birth, but that’s enough for a total rethink of the vocabulary used.

Just wait for other hospital trusts to follow Brighton, at heaven knows how much expense. The madness is everywhere.

What possessed my favourite charity Sands (stillbirth and neonatal death) to use the term ‘birthing parent’ instead of ‘mother’ last year? As a founder-patron of this valuable organisation, I was as upset as the many women who protested. Because when you have a stillborn child you are still a grieving mother, and to erase that term becomes a double heartbreak.

I’m pleased that Sands retracted its wording, yet their error (probably a result of over-zealous attention to minority groups) did much damage.

And here I must repeat my vital point — a lot of the damage caused by well-meaning wokery is done to trans people themselves.

The great 17th-century philosopher John Locke, often called the father of liberalism, wrote this about minority views: ‘…if they do not tend to establish domination over others …there can be no reason why they should not be tolerated.’ Exactly. This is ‘live and let live’ — the principle of general consent.

But it falls down when terms such as ‘birthing parent’ and ‘chest milk’ are used — because those crimes against language and meaning do seek to establish domination.

I believe it is disrespectful and dehumanising to lump all trans people together. It removes sympathy, understanding and respect from those people who choose to undergo painful medical and cosmetic procedures to help their process of change, and who nonetheless accept their own valuable difference.

Those quiet, necessary voices are drowned out by the aggressive self-absorption of militants.

I call myself a feminist and yet I have nothing in common (except biology) with screaming harridans who loathe men.

So it is absolutely vital to underline the distinction between the serious problems and struggles of those with gender dysphoria (a sincere, often desperate, wish to live as the opposite sex) and the aggressive hectoring of the trans brigade. I was horrified to read some of the obscene abuse directed at J. K. Rowling last year, which began when she mocked use of the phrase ‘people who menstruate’ instead of ‘women’.

Rowling identified the double insult to female identity and to accuracy in language — and was vilified by other women (mainly on the Left) who shockingly collude in the expression of visceral dislike under the guise of virtue.

To avoid potential hurt, major charities seem to feel they have no alternative but to bend over backwards to accommodate everybody — everybody, that is, except the quiet majority of men and women which acknowledges sexual differences and rather likes them.

The powerful ideology of ‘inclusion’ excludes our feelings, as well as reason.

How can we fight the propaganda? By proclaiming that the idea of womanhood has meaning. Not that it’s superior, just that it exists.

The fundamental experiences and understandings we learn from childhood will not be erased. If we allow a man to call himself ‘woman’ for as long as it suits him, whenever he likes, the meaning of the word is negated. And all the struggle and pride inherent in that definition is cancelled.

Of course not all women want to be mothers, or can become mothers, or are good mothers. What’s more, some men display wonderfully ‘motherly’ qualities, and homosexual men and women can become marvellous parents.

But the words ‘woman’ and ‘mother’ contain identity. Something indescribably precious within human consciousness — a nurturing, a caring, a sense of self-sacrifice, a profound joy, an unconditional love. Yes, of course there are exceptions — but they only prove the rule.

I have known many women who, after having a first child, feel their lives transformed. Yes, they may become tired, ratty and disappointed, yet in embracing motherhood they step up to join a long line of miraculous women.

They inhabit a glorious bundle of timeless ideas, from the Great Goddess, the essential feminine, the mother ship, the motherland, the matriarchy, the grandmother, the mother. So it was — and so it will always be.

No politician, no health authority, no civil servant, no kneejerk virtue-signaller can be allowed to tell me that I am not a woman, a mother and a grandmother. When what we cherish as sacred truth is seen by others as a heresy, it is time to stand up and say ‘No’.


UK: The totalitarian creep of hate-speech laws

The Law Commission wants people prosecuted for speech used within their own homes.

UK home secretary Priti Patel’s recently announced intention to reform so-called hate-speech laws is most welcome. At the Free Speech Union, we have been calling for this for a while – especially because demands for even greater speech control have increased over the past year.

But some of the most extreme demands for censorship now come from quangos the government itself sponsors. Like cultural ‘sockpuppets’, these organisations are paid by the state to find reasons to control even more of our lives.

Such demands for speech control are now cultivating a culture of grievance. Indeed, as David G Green writes in We’re (Nearly) All Victims Now (2006), ‘many people want to be classified as victims’.

As Green explains, the idea of group victimhood – the patronising assumption that ethnic and other minorities are destined to oppression and need special legal protections – is incompatible in the long-run with democracy because it undermines the legal equality on which a democratic state depends.

One quango, the Ministry of Justice-sponsored Law Commission, is especially keen to sweep more people into these categories of victimhood. The commission is currently working on chilling proposals for a ‘hate-speech bill’ (expounded at length in a 533-page consultation). The proposals are, in reality, an attempt to push a new anti-free speech bill on the government.

The proposals include expanding the current number of ‘protected characteristics’, currently comprising race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and transgender identity. As things stand, hate speech includes ‘demonstrations of hostility’ to one or more of these groups. If you’re found guilty of, say, sending a malicious communication to a member of one of them you might receive a stiffer penalty than for committing the same crime against someone else.

The commission has proposed to expand the number of protected characteristics, suggesting all women could be a protected group, as well as ‘age’. Even ‘sex workers’ could become a protected identity. If the commission gets its way, you could be convicted for ‘stirring up hatred’ against any of these groups.

Green suggests that as the apparatus of the state becomes more coercive, ‘group victimhood’ becomes an understandable ‘strategy for gaining political power’, or at least a necessary defence. The commission’s other proposals show why designation as a victim may be the only way to be safe from a state that seems determined to grant different rights to different groups.

The commission does not simply want to protect more groups from ‘hatred’. It also wants to expand the prosecutorial net so that it includes people who have stirred up hatred by disseminating ‘inflammatory images’, referring repeatedly to Muhammad cartoons, like those in Charlie Hebdo. To enforce these rules, the state will need to ramp up its surveillance of the population. Police already have online ‘portals’ to help us inform on each other for speechcrimes. But the commission believes there are still too many ‘barriers’ and wants to make denunciation even easier.

A totalitarian state cannot tolerate privacy, even and especially within the family, the last redoubt of dissent. Hate-speech laws do not yet cover what you say in the privacy of your own home – you can’t be prosecuted for stirring up hatred at your dining table or in the bedroom.

The commission, however, finds this idea of privacy intolerable. So, if it gets its way, any words you use in your own home that are ‘likely’, even by accident, to ‘stir up hatred’ against a vast array of ‘protected’ groups – including ‘punks’, if you can believe it – could get you sent to prison for seven years. These proposals will make parents fear their own children – and children fear their siblings.

There is a 20th-century precedent for turning families into mechanisms of surveillance. Stalin’s 1936 Soviet Constitution guaranteed free speech as long as it ‘strengthened’ socialism. In 1948, Moscow fought ‘blanket support’ for free speech in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, pushing an amendment stating ‘freedom of speech… should not be used for the purposes of propagating fascism, aggression [and] provoking hatred’. ‘Fascism’, noted a Canadian participant, ‘was appl[ied] to any person or idea which was not communist’, expanding with terrifying speed to mean almost any dissent.

Similarly, our state has made sure never to define ‘hate’ clearly in law. Last year, ex-policeman Harry Miller was questioned by police, recorded in a crime report and deemed guilty of a ‘non-crime hate incident’ without any legal process, then publicly denounced by a chief constable – all for retweeting a feminist verse that contained a joke about transgenderism. Stalin’s head of psychological warfare Dmitri Volkogonov would have approved. ‘Who could have imagined how many [wreckers] would be discovered?’, he wrote. ‘It was almost as if they were not living among us, but we among them!’

As the Stalinist collectivisation of agriculture required food terror, the collectivisation of thought required mind terror, the ever-present threat of denunciation. In Koba the Dread, Martin Amis describes how collectivising farms, itself made possible through suppressing dissent, created a world-historical catastrophe without precedent in peacetime. Four million children were killed. In Ukraine, where five million died, the Italian consul in Kharkov described the Kholodnaya buildings, where a constant population of 8,000 discarded children ‘lies dying on straw’. As the starving masses turned against their masters, this terror famine became the crucible of intra-family surveillance.

A story taught to all Soviet children involved a 13-year-old Ukrainian peasant named Pavel Morozov. At the height of the famine, they were told, Pavel heroically denounced his own father Trofim for cooperating with ideological enemies of the state (aka ‘fascists’). Trofim received the inevitable sentence: nine grams (of lead). Stalin, making plans to rename the Moscow Palace of Culture in Pavel’s honour, whispered: ‘What a little swine, denouncing his own father.’ To grasp why Russian civil society has struggled to recover from Stalinism is to understand that there is no greater poison to the human capacity for trust than the knowledge that one’s own child might be a spy.

Chillingly, the commission’s plan to invade the private sphere, by scrapping the ‘dwelling’ exemption, has appeared at the same time as the government’s Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) Bill, which will formalise state powers to employ children as spies against parents suspected of crimes. It is not just the police or intelligence sources that will get this power, but quangos too.

The British state is not Stalinist, of course – not yet, anyway. But the commission’s proposals tell us that parts of it are beginning to think in totalitarian ways. When the Law Commission publishes its consultation response later this year, what the government does with it will tell us a lot about its intentions for free speech.


Proof NO ONE is safe from the woke war on free speech

The police phone call to Margaret Nelson came one Monday morning around breakfast time. It was as unexpected as it was unwelcome.

An officer from Suffolk police was investigating an anonymous tip that the pensioner had committed a hate crime by posting on Twitter her personal view that you die the same sex as you are born.

The force later dropped their inquiries — apologising and saying they 'got it wrong'.

Yet controversy surrounding this 76-year-old former teacher did not end with that police call two years ago.

She is at the centre of a fresh Twitter brouhaha because British soft drinks giant Innocent took umbrage over her tweets too.

The new complaint against Margaret originated from an anonymous person — just as the original one did: a Twitter user called only Andrew?, and using the tagline @leftist_rage. Andrew? had asked Innocent why it followed her account — she is something of a Twitter star with more than 9,000 followers — when it was run by a 'clear transphobe'.

Innocent, a company majority-owned by Coca-Cola, thanked Andrew? 'for the heads up', then made a public statement apologising. A formal announcement from the company under a headline 'We stand against discrimination' declared that Margaret's comments on trans people were out of line with 'our values on inclusivity and respect'.

Innocent said there was a duty 'on all of us' to make sure 'everyone can live happy, free lives in a world where that is a reality'. And who wouldn't dream of this utopia?

Andrew? — who has just 45 followers — later boasted on Twitter of persuading Innocent to castigate Margaret publicly: 'Hehe! I did that' said this shadowy character with obvious glee. This week he was back online wondering why Margaret wasn't banned from Twitter.

Yet others were less impressed with Innocent's dramatic response. Debbie Hayton, herself a trans woman, was incensed, writing in the Spectator magazine: 'This, it seems is how the internet works. A false accusation of transphobia is made. And a person, an ordinary pensioner in this case, is condemned.

'Non-entities on the internet make false accusations all the time: what's astonishing — at least where 'transphobia' is cited — is the way corporations react. You might be forgiven for thinking Innocent ignored the allegation, or maybe even challenged it. But you'd be wrong.'

Margaret Nelson normally tweets about far-from-controversial subjects: her quiet life in a Suffolk village where she lives in a neat bungalow, her two cats, how lockdown has treated her (she is rather enjoying the peace), and how milk used to be delivered to the doorstep in bottles with foil tops that birds would peck into to get at the cream. Her quaint views and memories have been increasingly popular during the pandemic.

But, occasionally, she taps out a post on more contentious issues. A self-avowed feminist, she is also a humanist celebrant who conducts funerals and is, therefore, she says, interested in death. Which is what led to her brush with the police.

In response to what she calls a 'transgender person's' tweet that 'Trans women ARE women fact', she reacted indignantly: 'These absurd beliefs are nonsensical and deny the evidence to the contrary.' In another post, she wrote: 'Death doesn't misgender. You die as you were born.' And then the police phoned her.

This week she told the Mail she had got off lightly. 'They [the police] act as conduits for complaints from trans activists who spend a lot of time trawling through the internet on the look-out for anything to complain about.'

As for being slapped down by Innocent, she brushed it off. 'I am not transphobic,' she said.

'But I do regard the transgenderism ideology as destructive, negatively affecting . . . women whose rights are being ignored and everyone else who is expected to walk on eggshells. I don't have to worry about losing my living over it as others have.'

If this seems like a Twitter storm in the proverbial teacup, think again. Such is the effect of the new culture war sweeping Britain — in which vigilantes like Andrew? scour people's every comment to deem whether or not they are offensive — a new service, Counterweight, has been launched to support people caught out by it.

Led by British author and self-confessed Left-leaning liberal Helen Pluckrose, Counterweight has been described as a citizens' advice bureau and anti-woke helpline.

Her small team, based in London and the U.S., has advised 300 or more tripped up by the woke gospel. 'They come from every walk of life and it is happening to people every day.'




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