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Saturday morning quotes 7.19:What we want

November 24, 2018


Those of us who value and study history know that among the many appealing tidbits of our cultural past, there lay disturbing events and elements that describe the true but sometimes unpleasant nature of our species. Although we are told that history outlines a progressive evolution of homo sapiens, unfortunately, the same stories of amassing wealth and power and manipulation of the narrative seem to crop up again and again.  In fact, it has been clearly demonstrated that a greater portion of the brand of history taught in the US public school system consists of warm and fuzzy details cherry-picked and polished to conform to a particular point of view.

“Few people know that mammals evolved at the same time as dinosaurs, more than two hundred million years ago.  They did not arise later and drive dinosaurs to extinction by their superiority.  They lived, rather, for one hundred million years as small, rat-sized creatures in the interstices of an ecological world ruled by dinosaurs.  In no way did they challenge or displace dinosaurs.  Then, some sixty-five million years ago, dinosaurs were wiped out (along with many other forms of life) in one of the great episodes of mass extinction that have punctuated the history of life.  The small mammals survived and took over a world emptied of its former rulers.”

– Stephen Jay Gould (1941 – 2002), Professor of Geology and Biology, Harvard University

Some of those small mammals evolved over time and eventually a select dexterous few became players of plucked strings, as depicted in the 1517 illustration at the top of the page.  Interestingly, the noble simian lutenist appears to be playing complex overtones at the top of the instrument’s range, while the tangle-fingered button pusher seated at the keyboard drools and stares blankly at the putti occupying the space where a score ought to be.  Meanwhile, the glamorous spokesmodel lovingly indicates her preference for the diminutive lutenist with outstretched digit.

Actually, this interpretation is exactly the opposite of what publisher Andrea Antico (c. 1480 – 1538) was attempting to portray in Frottole intabulate da sonare organi Libro primo, Rome, 1517, a collection of popular vocal music arranged for keyboard with ornamented variations.  Antico wished to elevate the status of the keyboard to that of the much more popular position occupied by the lute and, in a pre-Darwinian age, he drives his point home by depicting the lutenist as a monkey.  Our point is that the message morphs somewhat depending upon who delivers it and how the information is contextualized, or spun.  This is the very foundation of what we call “sales talk”.

Despite plenty of examples from Plato, Buddhism, Islam and the New Testament, on the whole, humans haven’t really evolved to the point where an egalitarian concept of equality, peace, fairness and justice is the default position of human interaction.  Instead, nearly all systems of governance allow aggressive elements with bad intent to rise to positions of authority.

“Criminal cabals arise to prey upon the public goods produced by larger scale institutions. Elites take advantage of key locations in the fabric of society to extract disproportionate private rewards for their work.”

– Robert Boyd, Peter J. Richerson, “Culture and the evolution of human cooperation“, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences, published 5 October 2009.

If we pause for a moment and reflect, love of money is in fact the root of all evil.  It is difficult to balance concepts of equality, peace, fairness and justice when the primary goal of economics is amassing wealth, and when economics rule the system of government.  It has been thus for the whole of the 20th century to the present time; at least since 1925 when Calvin Coolidge stated that “the chief business of the American people is business.” As usual, the story behind that quote is a bit more nuanced.

“There does not seem to be cause for alarm in the dual relationship of the press to the public, whereby it is on one side a purveyor of information and opinion and on the other side a purely business enterprise. Rather, it is probable that a press which maintains an intimate touch with the business currents of the nation, is likely to be more reliable than it would be if it were a stranger to these influences.”

“After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world. I am strongly of the opinion that the great majority of people will always find these the moving impulses of our life.”

– President Calvin Coolidge, “The Press Under a Free Government”, an address to the Society of American Newspaper Editors, January 17, 1925, Washington, D.C.

In his address, Coolidge demonstrated a bit of moral grounding when he went on to state:

“Of course, the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence…But it calls for additional effort to avoid even the appearance of the evil of selfishness. In every worthy profession, of course, there will always be a minority who will appeal to the baser instinct. There always have been, probably always will be, some who will feel that their own temporary interest may be furthered by betraying the interest of others.”

– President Calvin Coolidge

But that very same year, business was actively engaged in using propaganda to revise the notion of “quality of life” by planting the seeds of envy, evident in this quote by Paul Mazur, a banker with the now defunct Lehman Brothers, who authored the standard textbook on retail business, Principles of Organization Applied to Modern Retailing, Harper, New York, 1927.

“We must shift America from a needs, to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”

– Paul M. Mazur,  “The logic of department-store organization”, Harvard Business Review, April, 1925, pp. 287-296.

A few years later, President Herbert Hoover reinforced this notion when he told a group of advertisers and public relations specialists:

“You have taken over the job of creating desire and have transformed people into constantly moving happiness machines. Machines which have become the key to economic progress.”

– President Herbert Hoover, 1928

We don’t want our readers to be “constantly moving happiness machines”, just human beings exercising intelligent choices and spreading goodwill through music.  In that spirit, we are asking our readers to not participate in the spending frenzy happening this weekend, and we have chosen what we consider to be one of our best recorded efforts and made downloads available for whatever price you choose for Saturday and Sunday.



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