Sunday, January 20, 2019

links for the weekend

First a bit of a puzzler read.  Someone at Slate has argued that climate change should kill the "act of God" ... which doesn't seem like the most brilliant idea in terms of insurance issues ... 

But there’s one thing that climate change should kill: the act of God.
This isn’t a theological discussion; the term has actual legal meaning. Act of God provisions protect parties from being held responsible for “unpredictable and unpreventable” circumstances, usually extreme acts of weather like hurricanes, earthquakes, and lightning. They get written into insurance policies, business contracts, and foundational American environmental legislation like the Clean Water Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.
Broadly, two criteria qualify an event as an act of God: 1) No human agency could have stopped the event, and 2) no human agency could have exercised due care to prevent or avoid the event’s effects. In other words, acts of God must be unpredictable, and their damage must be unpreventable. On that basis alone, the act of God is nearly obsolete, or at least it should be. While specific weather events such as hurricanes or fires may seem to be acts of God, our growing knowledge of climate systems challenges any vision of weather divorced from human activity. Humans meddle with the climate, which meddles with weather, and the two can’t be disentangled.
But legislators haven’t yet caught on. They’re stuck with a centuries-old precedent built on outdated understandings of nature. While no one person can be held legally responsible for causing a specific hurricane, it’s just wrong to say that weather events are uncaused or unpreventable by human activity—aka human agency. We can’t prevent all weather, but human action could have prevented the cataclysmic droughts, fires, and floods that lurk in the near future. The public now knows who triggers the growing spate of hurricanes, floods, and extinctions, and it is not God. Scientists have been warning the public about human-caused climate change for decades. In fact, the act of God’s obsolescence is just one symptom of a deeper disease. Our legal and intellectual frameworks have not kept pace with our understanding of the climate.
The act of God’s history illustrates how ill-prepared we are for the pivotal restructuring of thought necessary to understand climate change. The term first slipped into the British legal framework roughly 400 years ago, nearing the outset of the Industrial Revolution and, depending on whom you ask, the Anthropocene, the geologic era when humans became the globe’s dominant environmental agent.
At the Atlantic there's a longish read on progressive activity within the Democratic party with a mention that these days the name William Jennings Bryan hasn't come up for discussion but that if Democrats want to prevail in the current climate they might want to go back and look at some of what Bryan said and did.

Progressive Democrats don’t talk a lot about William Jennings Bryan these days. But in important ways, he embodies the attitude toward corporations to which they’d like to return. In 1896, when the Democrats first nominated him for president, Bryan denounced “millionaires, who steal banks, mills, and railways,” “defaulters, who live in palaces and make away with millions,” and “money kings, who buy up Congress.” Bryan called American politics “a struggle between the idle holders of idle capital” and “the struggling masses, who produce the wealth and pay the taxes of the country.” Many corporations responded by sending their employees—along with their paychecks—“suggestions” that they vote for the Republican, William McKinley.

In Party Ideologies in America, 1828–1996, the University of Texas political scientist John Gerring argues that after Bryan’s loss “the accusation of illicit interference in the democratic process—via corporate contributions or employer coercion—would become a hallmark of Democratic campaigns” through the early-20th century. The party nominated Bryan for president twice more, in 1900 and 1908. And Gerring argues that Bryan’s antagonism toward corporations set a tone for Democratic leaders that continued—to varying degrees—through the 1940s. Woodrow Wilson, in 1912, warned that “the masters of the United States are the combined capitalists and manufacturers of the United States.” Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his 1936 inaugural address, boasted that “we have earned the hatred of entrenched greed,” and promised to battle the “political puppets of an economic autocracy.” Harry Truman, in 1948, savaged the “gluttons of privilege” from “Big Business” who “want a return of the Wall Street economic dictatorship.”


Still, Gerring argues that in the half century between Bryan and Truman, Democrats were far more likely to depict corporations as ideological adversaries than they have been in the decades since. Starting in the 1950s, he argues, “the all-inclusive American People subsumed the figure of the Common Man. References to illicit business practices died out, to be replaced by a resolutely pro-business perspective. The organizing theme of Democratic ideology changed from an attack against special privilege to an appeal for inclusion.” One reason was the Cold War. With America facing a communist foe, it grew harder to fiercely challenge business without being accused of harboring sympathy for America’s enemies. Another was the legacy of the New Deal, which by empowering labor unions, regulating the economy, and expanding the social safety net reduced class anger.
Whatever the reason, Gerring argues that terms such as monopoly and speculation largely left the Democratic Party’s lexicon in the 1950s. The party’s tendency to see corporations as legitimate political actors continued even as the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups began an assault on taxation, regulation, and labor unions in the 1970s. It continued through the century’s end, even as that assault contributed to escalating income inequality. According to one profile, Tony Coelho, who ran the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 1981 through 1986, “built his reputation by finding ways to entice business executives and their lobbyists to shower Democratic candidates with campaign cash.” In the 1990s, the Democratic Leadership Council, which included both Bill Clinton and Al Gore as prominent members, included on its executive committee Enron, Chevron, Philip Morris, Texaco, and Koch Industries. In 2008, Obama received almost twice as much money from employees of hedge funds and private-equity and investment firms as did John McCain. Former investment bankers served as three of his first four chiefs of staff.

and ... 

there are those who think the vote should be restricted to those with knowledge ... 

when people suggest that those who voted for somebody are against intellectualism it might be necessary to ask whether "intellectualism" really refers to the life of the mind or the luxury of the elite.  It's not a shock to consider that many a revolution has turned on the intelligentsia ... with disastrous results a reliably high percentage of the time ... but the question of whether or not those who say they believe in democracy actually believe it is worth asking.  Ellul once wrote that the trouble in our day is EVERYONE will SAY they believe in democracy, especially the actually totalitarian folks. 

Which came to mind because of something Alan Jacobs was blogging ... 

But watching all the flailing and floundering and whining and fit-pitching of our political elite has had another effect on me: it has made me increasingly sympathetic to arguments, like Jason Brennan’s, for the replacement of democracy by some kind of epistocracy. The only thing holding me back: the people responsible for creating the epistocracy are the members of our current agnoiocracy. I envision a Central Committee of this nation’s intellectual elite featuring Jared and Ivanka Kushner, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Laura Ingraham.

As voices of institutionalized establishment film criticism go Richard Brody springs readily to mind and recently he had words about a certain film ...


“Roma” is a personal film, but the term “personal” is no honorific, and it’s not an aesthetic term. It’s a neutral descriptor, though it often suggests that a filmmaker is inspired by more than the mere pleasure or power of a story—by an urgency that taps into a lifetime’s worth of experience and emotion. The downside is the risk of complacency, the sense that one’s own account of experience is sufficient for dramatic amplitude, psychological insight, character development, and contextual perspective. Cuarón proceeds as if the mere affectionate and compassionate depiction of a Libo-like character were a sufficient cinematic gesture in lieu of dramatic particulars—and as if lending the entire range of characters their individualizing and contextualizing traits would risk viewers’ judgment of them on the basis of those particulars rather than on the basis of the social function of class, gender, and age that they’re supposed to represent. In his effort to make his characters universal, he makes them neutral and generic. For all its worthy intentions, “Roma” is little more than the righteous affirmation of good intentions. [emphasis added]


Put that bluntly, to say that a work is little more than the righteous affirmation of good intentions might be a summation of Richard Brody's critical writings in The New Yorker a good chunk of the time.

Brody's writing becomes more vivid when he's writing about all the "what if" elements of a film that he thinks should have emerged but didn't.  Brody, in a sense, is the critic who writes about those artworks that ought to have been over against the ones he tends to write about, excepting those sorts of films he thinks shouldn't have been made for whatever reason.

We might just live in a period cinema indebted to Braveheart.  Sure, there could be discussions of Gibson's toxic masculinity or delusions of grandeur or whatever but in the sense that any and every period piece drama or comedy is transparently about now rather than then we probably have Gibson's legacy to at least partly account for this.  Josephine Livingstone was riffing on this kind of theme recently.  We might have to come back to Brody and his gatekeeping role later on another topic ... but this has been the semi-incubation time where I've been putting together some other projects.  

In this flattening out of history into sentimental drama, the film resembles Netflix’s The Outlaw King, about the life of Robert the Bruce, a direct ancestor of Mary (his grandson founded the House of Stuart, which was Mary’s last name). As Kanishk Tharoor wrote in The Nation, “historical Robert the Bruce was as cynical and ruthless an opportunist as you could find,” though The Outlaw King shows him leader of a monolithic band of Scots fighting an English occupation. The film frames Robert’s supporters as a kind of fully-formed nation, which is misleading: “Looking through the lens of the present,” Tharoor writes, “we have a way of projecting modern national identities into the deep past.”
Similarly, Mary Queen of Scots smooths over the history of nationalism in Britain, and thus projects an origin story for the British nation-state that is less complicated than reality. The key lies in events that came after Mary’s execution, and after Elizabeth’s own death: In 1603, Mary’s son James inherited the thrones of Scotland (as James VI) and England (as James I), which controlled Ireland. We call this event the Union of the Crowns. The two Acts of Union in the early eighteenth century formally bound the territory into one entity: “United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain.” In a very real sense, the plot of Mary Queen of Scots outlines the genesis of a United Kingdom whose long, long life, as I type this, appears to be spluttering to an end. [emphasis added]
What is “united” about the United Kingdom in December of 2018? On Monday, British Prime Minister Theresa May canceled the Brexit vote she promised would take place on Tuesday, because she wasn’t going to win it. The pound sterling started dropping. A rogue MP grabbed the ceremonial mace from the central table in Parliament and started waving it about. Pete Wishart of the Scottish National Party called Monday “the single biggest political crisis since Suez with the biggest capitulation since Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.”
The timing, in other words, couldn’t be worse for entertainments like Mary Queen of Scots, which inherently has an intense relation to modern politics, but prefers to plumb history for the costumes and sibling-esque rivalries. In Mary Queen of Scots, we don’t see a reckoning with the future of a country united across the Scottish-English border. We see queens cry and fret about their hair.
There would seem to be more to history than that. Relations between Scotland and England could not be at a lower ebb. Scottish citizens overwhelmingly voted to stay in the EU during the Brexit referendum, but they were drowned out by English votes. Although Scotland had an independence referendum four years ago and opted to stay in the U.K., a bad Brexit treaty could very possibly lead to a breakup of the union. Ireland is in an even worse position. Currently under discussion in Parliament is the so-called “backstop,” a last-ditch option that keeps the border in Ireland open in the unpleasant event of a “no-deal Brexit.” A closed border could be disastrous for both the island’s economy and the Good Friday Agreement’s peacekeeping terms.
That the United Kingdom is on the brink of collapse reminds us that its integrity was not preordained—that it was, in fact, maintained by violence. At the U.K.’s political heart has always been the English crown—now the Parliament in London—which has abused countless citizens in the name of centralized power. That legacy of violence runs through Ireland, through Scotland, through civil war, and through the bloody colonialism that ate up so much of the world as part of the British Empire. [emphasis added]
What are the imagined insecurities of a couple of queens, compared to that history? Why is Hollywood so intent on using this period as a blank canvas? Elizabeth I was not a neurotic weakling, and Mary Stuart was not a plucky little upstart. They were politicians who helped found a state whose age-old divisions have plunged a 21st century nation into the grip of disaster. Yes, the costumes are fun. But Mary Queen of Scots uses its queens’ femininity to turn British history into something soft and watchable, when what we need is a long, hard look that is less than flattering.
These are the kinds of geo-political moments that leave me wondering why anyone would think that if the Western cultures would just embrace their legacy of fine arts things would be great again.  It's like the revivalism of Americans who want the old time religion to come back so America can be wonderful again but instead of some form of Christianity the old time religion is European high art traditions that emerged from the long 19th century.  It's a bit too easy for me to skeptically suggest that what is desired in that case is not the religion itself but the end to which it is being embraced.  

Not that I am exactly on board with the algorithmically driven radio playlist ... 
A white, chart-topping rapper criticized as “an avatar of algorithm culture.” A young, major-label rock debut dismissed as “an algorithmic fever dream.” A 20-year-old band’s first release after a five-year hiatus bashed as “more like a streaming algorithm than a coherent album.” A mainstream, established pop-rock group denounced as “the machine learning output of the Lumineers, the Chainsmokers, and a SoulCycle playlist.”
Music critics are lamenting the possibility of a machine-driven world that rewards artists not for their originality, creativity, or emotional authenticity, but for their ability to replicate proven, predetermined formulas. Studies show that pop music and lyrics have grown increasingly repetitive and homogenous over the past few decades, and there is a whole graveyard of startups mining streaming and social data to predict the next big hit. Research initiatives like Google Magenta and Sony’s Flow Machines are even training machine-learning algorithms to compose songs on the spot, aiming to be indistinguishable from human songwriting.
This warped reward system, by which musicians climb the streaming charts, can influence every aspect of a song, from the music and lyrics to the artists’ wider visual and social personas. In the aforementioned “algorithmic fever dream” review, for instance, Pitchfork’s Jeremy Larson described musician Greta Van Fleet’s attire at live shows as “hippie costumes they 3D-printed off the internet.” And Corban Goble wrote in his review of Imagine Dragons that the emotional depth of the group’s lyrics was the equivalent of “Instagram-quote culture—the idea that any snippet of thought, removed from context, can build a base of inspiration.”
“After my review got published, I received a lot of emails being like, ‘Why are you talking about all this other stuff, not just about whether their music is good?’” Larson says. “But criticism isn’t just talking about the music: it’s also talking about the context and environment in which the music is created and consumed.”
One could say the same about journalism, where falling budgets and massive layoffs shape, and often burden, its output. Musicians and the writers who cover them are both working in technologically unique and financially fragile economies. Although the two industries can now distribute their core product online at little to no cost, lower barriers to participation have not translated to better financial health. A recent survey by the Music Industry Research Association (MIRA) found that the median income for US musicians in 2017 was just $35,000; the US Bureau of Labor Statistics claims that median annual wages for reporters and correspondents are not much higher, at $39,370. Meanwhile, virtually every major music magazine has been hit with layoffs in the past two years, in part because of the failure of ad-supported business models and the unrealistic expectations of return from venture financing.
On the consumer side, streaming and social-media platforms have transformed the nature of music discovery, which was previously more proactive by necessity—requiring manual effort to open up a newspaper, dig through crates at a record store, or attend a live show. Nowadays, “discovery” can be as easy and passive as scrolling mindlessly through a personalized feed or shuffling an algorithmically -curated playlist in the background of a holiday party, without help from a critic or other human guide.
Because of its inherently passive nature, algorithmic curation has also made one core function of criticism defunct. Traditionally, critics acted as trusted tastemakers and, in the words of Larson, “consumer guides”—drawing upon their decades of subject-matter expertise to convince music fans about which CDs and vinyl records to buy at their local store. Now, streaming algorithms arguably have more influence over consumers’ listening habits, but in a rather different way: they don’t serve as tastemakers so much as “taste-reflectors,” serving up music with the highest quantifiable chance of reflecting a user’s already-existing preferences.
Liz Pelly, contributing editor at The Baffler, recently tweeted about this shift in critical language, pointing out that music press outlets have been leaning more and more “away from investing energy into reviews, interviews, editorial, writing in general . . . and into ‘sessions,’ ‘experiences’ [and] playlists.”
Press coverage of music, in other words, is suffering from the same algorithmically borne disease. The most historically renowned music critics, such as NPR’s Ann Powers and the late Lester Bangs, have been unafraid to “go against the grain” in their recommendations—vouching for artists that would have otherwise been doubted, ridiculed, or marginalized. In contrast, by rewarding familiarity, “algorithmic culture” potentially penalizes the very adventurousness in taste that gave these critics their reputation. “It says a lot about the devaluing of creative work into ‘content’ optimized for the most clicks, plays and views—and into fodder that can be more easily branded,” Pelly says.
It seems as though it's necessary to remember that what's at stake is not criticism as a literary discipline but criticism that is monetized through traditional journalistic means.  The damning remark that gets made about bloggers is they are "just" bloggers, there's no clear reason why anyone should take some blogger seriously.  What does a blogger know that is worth paying attention to?  Well potentially a blogger can know a lot about a topic or a range of topics but there is a halo effect that is often an unstated preliminary to taking a writer seriously.  Algorithms can divorce the process of discovery and consumer contact with the more traditional gatekeeping role that has been played by criticism. There are bad things about that that journalists have been happy to point out ... but it isn't clear there are alternatives.  

Saturday, January 19, 2019

in light of HBC dropping a defamation suit ... let's revisit an old James MacDonald claim that "Congregational Government is From Satan"

Of all the things that congregationally led churches could do to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ I would imagine that filing a defamation suit would be nowhere near the top of a "things to do" list.   Nor, for that matter, would elder-led churches ... in "normal" circumstances. 

But the question of what kind of governance a church like HBC has or could have comes up here.

In the comments at the post Warren Throckmorton noted that he doesn't believe that Harvest Bible Chapel is a congregationally managed church.

In light of the lately dropped defamation suit Harvest Bible Chapel had at one time filed, a question of academic interest is how many churches in the history of the United States have filed defamation suits and how many, among those, had congregational governments. 

Here we are at the start of 2019 and ... has James MacDonald written and published a book called ...

Congregational Government is From Satan

NOTE: the tone of this post is intentionally aimed at engaging those who are engulfed in this system of church government that neither honors the Scriptures nor advances the gospel.
That’s right! It’s actually the title to a book I have had percolating in my mind for a long time. After almost 30 years in ministry I have come irreversibly to this conclusion: congregational government is an invention and tool of the enemy of our souls to destroy the church of Jesus Christ. So there, I have said the strongest part of the message first; now some commentary.
1) Congregational Meetings Are Forums for Division:
When church life is going well, the leaders of a church struggle to get a quorum for decision making. When things are going wrong, every carnal member lines up at a microphone to spew their venom and destroy the work of Christ in the church. I saw it growing up, and I have seen it since in churches that are fighting to survive and do something courageous for their future. Good people being held hostage by bad people, minorities hijacking the majority because a set of ‘by-laws’ get higher regard than the Scriptures. Satan does want to rip church unity to shreds like a devouring lion (1 Peter 5:8). He is accomplishing that again and again through a system of church government which elevates the fleshly and the worldly—often even those who no longer attend—to a status of influence equal to the most spiritually and biblically-minded in any congregation.
2) Voting Is Not Biblical
The right to vote may be an American right given by the Constitution, but it is not a kingdom right given in the Word of God. It may be a tradition of some wonderful streams of church history, e.g. Baptist, but it is not biblical. There is not a shred of biblical evidence for a congregation voting on what its direction should be, but many church members believe it is their ‘God-given right’ to stand in judgement over the Pastors and Elders that are seeking to lead them. Even Mark Dever, a personal friend, champion for congregationalism, and credible scholar admits, “But the functioning of a purely congregational system is both unwieldy and lacking biblical support. Instead the establishment of a body of elders to serve in the day-to-day leadership in spiritual matters, serving at the pleasure of the congregation, enables us to maintain both the traditional distinctive of congregational life and the clearly biblical structure of elders.”
3) Eldership Is Sometimes Unpopular
Elders are responsible to “shepherd the flock” (1 Peter 5:2), which is often a very dirty job. Calling out sin, dealing with those who have fallen and seeking their restoration (Galatians 6:1-4), these responsibilities put Elders in positions where doing the right often means doing the unpopular. To then force the Elders to submit to a referendum on their actions is crushing to good men and destroys the work of God in a church. Rather, coming under a group of godly men will always be the best opportunity for a church to live in submission to God’s Word and Spirit. In recent years we have seen many churches taken captive by a few vocal people who, like Alexander the coppersmith exposed by Paul in 2 Timothy 4:14, do “much harm.” The Elders spend the majority of time trying to keep these blasphemous enemies of the gospel in line and often finish their term of leadership crushed by the weight of unrelenting criticism.
4) Congregationalism Crushes Pastors
Statistics tell us that Pastors move every 2-3 years and that a pastor typically leaves a church because of 8 people. If you wonder how just eight people can so resist and refuse and ruin the calling of a gifted and trained messenger of the gospel then you have not spent much time in congregational settings. Just one elder’s wife, or one women’s ministry director, or one chairman of the building committee can consume a pastor and erode the support he needs to serve the church well. A lot of the men writing today in favor of congregational government defend it as a tradition, and are so effective as leaders that they are able to suppress the inevitable uprising of carnality—but that is not so in the vast majority of small congregationally-stifled churches. I could retire now if I had banked a hundred dollars for every time a Pastor wept to me on the phone or in person about the crushing weight of a local ‘church boss’ who would not listen to Scripture or reason or God’s Holy Spirit. Many of the Pastors who have come into Harvest Bible Fellowship these past years have come seeking a new model of church government that frees them from the tyranny of the untrained and untrainable.
5) Priesthood Not Eldership of All Believers
A significant plank in the platform of biblical protestantism has been the priesthood of all believers. This is the idea that all of us as followers of Christ have equal standing before God and do not need a clerical intermediary in our relationship with the Lord. Sadly, though, this has led in many congregations to the Eldership of all believers—where each person, regardless of training, giftedness, fruitfulness, experience, etc., considers their thoughts about the future of a given congregation to be of equivalent value. Satan uses this expectation to create in people a demand to be heard, an insistence that their thoughts on the future of a church—no matter how quickly formed, or singularly held—receive validation equal that of a Pastor/Elder. When the vote takes place people are polarized, and factions sit back and wait for the plans they did not support with their vote to fail. (Sadly similar to the way most people view a president for whom they did not vote). It’s impossible to reconcile that process with:
Hebrews 13:17 “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give an account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”
Down with congregational government. Not the people who believe in it or appreciate its history, not the good or bad people who try to function well in a bad system—down with the system itself. It’s unbiblical, unhealthy and too often a tool of Satan for the discouragement of good Pastors, godly Elders, and local churches everywhere.
You are welcome to engage in this discussion. Let’s stick to biblical defenses of congregationalism (which should be a short section) and anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness. I expect also to hear from Pastors who have suffered under its tyranny.

so ... has he published that book?

That last capture shows a different post than the one quoted above.

If you were to go to the link NOW you'd find something still different.

You might have trouble finding "Congregational Government is from Satan" lately. The post seems to have vanished into the internet ether ...

and it doesn't quite look like that book got written, after all.

But in the summer heat of 2011 MacDonald also made a point of writing ...

Responding to Satanic Attacks on My Post about Satanic Congregationalism

I got a lot of comments disagreeing with my post last week on congregational government. Most were gracious and kind, attacking my position and not me. Some comments had to be deleted, being so eerily harsh they seemed to come from the back pew of a congregational stronghold or an outtake from the original Thriller video.
For more than 15 years I have joked with our Elders that “I am going to write a book called, ‘Congregational Government is From Satan,’ but no one will read it because the lines are so clearly drawn—people will end up either burning the book or making the cover into a poster to hang in the board room.” My blog on Thursday with that long-contemplated title confirmed my suspicions. Many commented demanding I refute the biblical passages used to defend congregational government, as though I had failed to do so because I was not able. Oh please, it was a rant, not an air-tight argument (as many rightly observed). Ranting is okay on a blog, isn’t it? (Crazy how even some blogs that pride themselves on their hyperbole and sarcasm can’t see it in others.)
Refuting the biblical evidence for congregational government kind of feels like refuting the Scriptures in favor of infant baptism (there’s a great blog idea, “Infant Baptism is from . . . :) ). Let’s admit our traditions rather than trying to prove them biblical. I believe Elder rule is biblical, but boards, and budget approvals, and bands to play music are all things we made up on our own. Communion in rows with silver trays, committees, and Christmas pageantry are also inventions of man. I believe congregational government is worse than a tradition of man. Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10), the devourer of Christians (1 Peter 5:8), and the one seeking a ‘foothold’ through relational conflict (Ephesians 4:26-27). I see only a satanic strategy in a system that promotes democracy above God-ordained authority structure and grants to the church membership (another tradition) the capacity to control the church’s future. Yes, all systems are flawed when sinful people manipulate them, but the absence of a full model of church government in Scripture is not permission to invent our own. Let us begin at the place Scripture does, with a plurality of Elders (not one pastor) making consensus decisions and lovingly shepherding the flock of God with gentleness (1 Peter 5:1-5). Here are the three main Scriptures given in defense of congregational government, and then (rant aside) I want to add some needed qualifiers to what I have asserted.
Does Acts 6:1-7 teach congregation government?
In Acts 6 we have Elders delegating deacon nomination to people within the church. Still, the decision to have deacons, what their qualifications would be and the final appointing (v.3) of those nominated by the congregation all rested with the Elders, NOT the congregation. Further there was no voting, no motions, no individuals standing to voice their objections to the Elders plan. We are told that their decision “pleased the whole gathering” (v.5), but isn’t that confirmation that the Holy Spirit was leading the elders, rather than evidence of ratification by a congregation? We understand that Acts 6 describes the action of apostles who were foundational for the church and not normative (Ephesians 2:20). However, surely the establishment of the office of deacon by the apostles, who were more than mere elders, provides insight on how elders should function in the church today and reveals the congregational role as participating, not ruling.
Does Matthew 18 teach congregational government? 
Matthew 18 details the process of confronting a professing believer who sins against you. It describes an escalating influence upon refusal which adds first one or two participants, then the final stage of ‘telling it to the church.’ Though we are not told, it makes sense that the ‘one or two’ added as a first step would be Elders or every private offense would create discord as it is distributed to innocent third parties (more like gossip) and then to everyone. If the one who offended ‘refuses’ then the offense is told “to the church.” Who is telling? Maybe the offended brother, maybe the Elders brought in, but clearly not the congregation who are in the role of listening. The goal of this is to increase the pressure on the offender to ‘hear you.’ Clearly the congregation has a role in church life. Those who believe in Elder rule should recognize this participation by the congregation and the need to bring them into important church actions. However, a role of participation is a long way from final authority, voting, and Robert’s Rules of Order. Congregational participation under Eldership is not congregational government and the conversation would be advanced if proponents would stop using this passage to defend the most common configurations of congregationalism today.
Does 2 Corinthians 2:6 teach congregational government? 
Paul was wounded by the actions of some in the Corinthian church. He wrote to correct these issues so that he might not be injured again by those who “should have made me rejoice” (1 Corinthians 2:3). The key phrase for those who defend congregational government is in verse 6, “for such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough.” Paul is saying that the pain caused by a member’s criticism was actually worse for ‘all of you’ (congregation) than it was for him, because it resulted in Paul delaying his visit. Paul’s “anyone” of verse 1 was actually injuring the congregation through his action—a frequent result of congregational rule, where a fleshly person ends up negating the blessing that could have come to the whole. The verse is not teaching congregational government, it is describing the “punishment” a congregation might inflict on one who put himself before the whole.
“No!” to Congregational Government “YES!” to Congregational Confirmation
A few other passages which observe congregational participation in the life of the church are used to defend congregational authority—but in what ways should these passages inform our governance? At Harvest we frequently speak of congregational confirmation. We invite the church to submit names of those they believe are biblically-qualified and would serve well as Elders. As Elders we frequently seek, through an insert in the bulletin, the concerns and counsel of the church membership. Every member of the congregation is given opportunity to express their thoughts on any matter of the church’s direction, and receives a prayerful contact from one of the Elders to answer their questions and resolve any issues of disagreement or misunderstanding. We believe that no Elder has a corner on God’s direction for the church and that the Elders together are wise, in significant issues, to seek the confirmation of God’s Spirit through the church membership. However, we would not seek congregational wisdom in a public meeting for obvious reasons, and nothing is ever put to a vote which only polarizes people called to unity.
Solicit wisdom from the congregation? Yes, Elders should do that.
Prayerfully consider the counsel of the congregation? Yes, Elders should do that!
Subject the congregation to a public forum where any member can speak and decisions are made by voting and Elders must follow a mandated percentage of voters? No, Elders should not do that!
I appreciated one of the comments to the previous post which said, “there are only two instances of a purely congregational vote in the entire Bible. The first was when the Israelites decided to go against Joshua and Caleb’s spy report, and the second was when the crowd chose to have Barabbas released instead of Jesus. So the first congregational vote caused the people of God to wander in the wilderness for 40 additional years, and the second one led to the crucifixion of the Son of God—we shouldn’t have a third.”
[WtH: Whoever the commenter was may have skipped the Israelites all wanting a king like all the other nations had. That could be construed as a "congregational" vote, too, by this lazy heuristic.]
While I disagree with the 9Marks post’s rationale for congregational government, even in the moderated form they describe, I do deeply appreciate the exhortations for updated church membership roles, active church discipline by elders, and men who fear God more than man. Further, I think their “congregational government” under elders is not very far from our “congregational confirmation” at Harvest. What I am repudiating is not that, but as stated above, the Robert’s Rules of Order, “every man does that which is right in his own eyes” form of congregationalism that destroys pastors and divides churches.
Internationally we have many wonderful Harvest church plants that are seeking to lead people away from the unbiblical excesses of congregationalism without going to an alternately unbiblical form where Elders lord their authority over the people with no pattern of shepherding or even listening to the burdens and concerns of the church. Elders acting unilaterally and not hearing the hearts of the people they lead is not only unbiblical, it is unloving and not servant leadership as modeled by Jesus Christ. I deeply respect our brothers and sisters, e.g. in Romania, who are taking a fresh look at what the Bible describes as biblical governance and seeking a model which respects biblical Eldership and the voice of God’s Spirit to members of the church.
Congregational government was developed to protect a church from bad Elders, but in reality there is no protection from that. As with Eli (1 Samuel 2-4), if the leaders are bad the church is headed toward Ichabod. Creating an unbiblical system to guard against that danger may comfort the fears of the laity, but it departs from the Word of God.
Scripture provides no antidote for the blessing of God upon prideful selfish shepherds. If the leaders are bad the church is going down, but if the congregation has control, often even good leaders are crushed and quit. I agree that any model of church government is exposed to the carnality of its participants and the attacks of the enemy. But surely we can expect the Lord’s protection and provision most plentifully when we move away from traditions and practices which are rooted in democracy and tradition, not the Word of God.
In conclusion, a testimony from a church that transitioned away from congregational rule:
Dear Pastor James,+
We had an independent, non-denominational church that operated as Elder-Led/Congregational Rule for over 20 years. Our body came away from most congregational meetings very frustrated and many left because of a lack of direction from leadership as they/we were “held hostage” by the 8 or so vocal who would rail against leaders’ decisions and proposals. The church became very stagnant. I am surprised that we still had a church.
Then God revealed to us through an Acts study by Pastor James that Harvest was planting churches and working in church transitions. After contacting Harvest Bible Fellowship and the Lord’s working in all of it, 2 years later we are growing under the leadership of Pastor Kurt Gebhards. Our body now knows the freedom of being in a true Elder-Rule church. We have tripled in size in this time. I believe it did because God has honored biblical obedience in changing from something that did not honor Him before to now submission to those He has placed in authority over His flock.
Thank you Kent Shaw, Bill Molanari and Terri Quaid for your faithfulness in our time of great need, and thank you Pastor James for you steadfastness in teaching God’s Word without apology.
Forever grateful,
Sammy and Kim Starnes
Harvest Bible Chapel Hickor
Here in the post-Mars Hill Church era perhaps it's fitting to say that "if the elders are bad the church is going down."  Well, down Mars Hill Church went, so would that mean the elders were bad?  Hey, wasn't James MacDonald on the Board of Advisors and Accountability for the former Mars Hill Church at one point?  Presbyterian though I be I just don't see how congregational government is from Satan.  
Sometimes I think that if academics wanted to play with a theme they could play with this--if we live in an era that gets called the era of "surveillance capitalism" is it possible that contemporary megachurch cultures and parachurch networks embody the dynamics of surveillance capitalism?  
The thing about congregational confirmation of decisions made by elders is that if the elders as a group lie to the congregation or simply don't present all the information to the congregation, then a lot of evil can be perpetrated.  I recall a time about twelve years ago when a bunch of elders at Mars Hill Church had  a more or less scripted response to congregants with questions about some high-profile firings that said "When dad and mom are having a disagreement the kids don't need to know all the details."  
Literally and figuratively treating dissent as demonic kind of reminds me of someone ... 
So ... in case anyone forgot, James MacDonald made a point of saying congregational government was from Satan and even that folks who dissented from that claim were making satanic attacks on his claim.  

Thursday, January 17, 2019

another phase of semi-incubationi

Been writing some longer form projects in the last month or so and not necessarily for here. 

There's also reading, a good chunk of reading if I can manage it, I'm trying to tackle.  Looking at revising some existing projects.  The essay(s) I've written about ragtime and sonata forms can be better and include more musical quotations.  I want to tackle that in addition to the as-yet-unnamed projects.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

a piece from March 2018 by Fahad Siadat on the future of choral music

I've been reading articles at the Future Symphony Institute over the last few years and I'm sympathetic to the proposal that what we generally think of as classical music is continued as a realm of creative activity.  I do love the arts a good deal, even if I confess to being ambivalent at best about the nature of the arts as industry in the contemporary West.  It's not that difficult to find articles in which someone insists that orchestras are too parochial and staid and should be open to new music and to be aware that that's not necessarily disinterested rhetoric.

It's possible to see advocacy for new music as advocacy for new music over against the symphonic warhorses that reflects a "we should have our turn".  But the symphony was not always the most prestigious pinnacle of musical prestige.  Let's take Scott Joplin, the American composer of ragtime who died before he could complete or publish a piano concerto he was sketching and who was known to have composed musical-dramatic works such as "A Guest of Honor" and Treemonisha.  There's an effort under way to update the text of Treemonisha while attempting to keep the music.

Though I admire Scott Joplin's music I am not sure that attempting to update his opera is necessarily the way I would go.  As a guitarist I have other interests.  But I cite this effort to show that in Joplin's lifetime the most prestigious musical form in the high art traditions he was working toward were the piano concerto and opera rather than the symphony.  If you've read Douglas Shadle's Orchestrating the Nation it's not hard to speculate that Joplin knew enough about the concert music America of his time to realize that symphonies had pitiably short lives in the United States.  My own take is that as a form of popular song ragtime evolved into jazz which evolved into R&B and rock and that American popular song even now has a residually ragtime feel once you've internalized ragtime to the point where you can hear how it's riffs and gestures evolved.  I think there's still plenty that can be done to move Joplin's work and musical legacy into more explicitly contrapuntal directions and to assimilate it into more complex large-scale forms. 

Yet for all my interest in chamber music and music for classical guitar, that gets to a theme that has run through the Future Symphony Institute writings and writers that I've been thinking about. 
As a guitarist whose primary musical experience in educational and performance terms was in choirs, I admit that there's something about the Future Symphony Institute I don't quite connect to ... namely the symphony part.  Why are we invited by way of the institute's name to consider the future of classical music to be a symphony in an orchestral sense?  I'm not saying there won't be symphonic music in the future or that I don't like symphonic music.  As a guitarist and composer I feel, if anything, that guitarists and guitarist composers can only benefit from immersion in symphonic music, chamber music, keyboard literature and so on.

But I was also choral singer in school (Tenor II and/or Baritone as needed) who had the pleasure of singing Byrd, Tallis, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Poulenic, Messiaen, and Alice Walker arrangements before I ever got around to writing (or playing) my first guitar sonata.   If you think about Western music as a continuous line of musical activity across the Western world over the last 1,200 years maybe as much as a quarter to as little as a sixth of that time has gone by in which instrumental music was thought of as the apotheosis of musical art in the West.

Which is to say that if people think the future of classical music is the symphony that might be an ultimately reactionary stance. The foundations of what we think of as the Western art musical canon emerged in vocal and choral music and evolved to include instrumental traditions over the course of centuries before what we can properly think of as the symphonic literature evolved.  And when I say symphonic literature you probably didn't reflexively think "Oh, right, we totally need a Vanhal revival right now!"  You probably just asked "Who's Vanhal?" if you're not already steeped in musicology discussing 18th century composers.  Now maybe we will, in fact, get a bit of revived interest in Vanhal symphonies but, who knows?  My jocular point is that a great deal of symphonic music is as unknown or more unknown now than it ever was in the lives of the composers who made it.  It may be axiomatic that the higher the pinnacle of a musical culture the more parochial it must inevitably be about what repertoire it presents and preserves. 

But I have been thinking for a few  years now that the future of what's colloquially known as classical music may be returning back to vocal idioms.  On that note ... here's some of an essay at New Music Box about the state of American choral music.

Here’s a common experience I have as a publisher of choral music: I’ll receive a piece with all the hallmarks of a composer who knows what they are doing. The piece is well engraved, follows the rules of voice leading, is idiomatically written for the voice—and is dull. But then I’ll do a little sleuthing and find samples of this same composer’s instrumental music, which will often by contrast be lively, engaging, and innovative. Nothing drives me battier than to see this separation between the two mediums, and I’ll often write an impassioned reply to the composer asking why they are so apparently willing to stifle their creative voice when it comes to choral music. Nine out of ten times, they respond with something akin to “thank you for giving me the permission to write the music I want to write.” These experiences have lead me to the belief that while there is plenty of newly composed music for choir, it is not part of the same contemporary conversation around new music as its instrumental and solo counterparts.

It’s no shocker to say that the choral and instrumental worlds have evolved quite separately over the past century. Highly chromatic or atonal music is rarely written for choirs, and the deep exploration of timbre found in instrumental pieces from later in the 20th century has mostly been ignored in favor of the pervasive choral sound inherited from the English cathedral tradition. Not only have the two worlds evolved separately, but their cultural importance is weighed differently as well. Using the Pulitzer Prize as one limited metric, it’s worth noting that, until The Little Match Girl Passion in 2008, an a cappella choral piece had never won the prize. This fact is confounding if we consider that choral music is the single most popular activity among adults in America. [emphasis added] It is estimated that 32.5 million adults in America sing with a choir on a weekly basis and that ensemble singing is the most popular arts activity among adults in the United States. While the majority of choirs are religious or school ensembles, it is conservatively estimated that 12,000 of US choirs are community and professional groups. That’s 10 times the amount of community and professional orchestras in the United States. It’s entirely possible that the Pulitzer committee shares the same perspective as much of the new music world, that choral literature is not in the same “high art” category as its orchestral counter-part. And to be fair, the largely avocational nature of choirs contributes to the cultural sense that, as a whole, it need not be taken as seriously as instrumental music.

Kyle Gann once wrote a blog post called "make way for the guitar era", or something close to it.  As a guitarist I'm happy to consider the possibility that the last century has, in fact, been the era of the guitar.  It might not have been the era of the classical guitar in the way that Andres Segovia wanted us to think about the classical guitar and probably "just" the classical guitar, but it was arguably a guitar era, an era which is in some sense already past us here in the 21st century.  But for the classical guitar it could be hoped that the instrument and the musicians who compose for it and play it are on the cusp of some interesting things.

We may have been back in the era of song at the level of popular song and also in terms of a proliferation of choral societies.  Yet if the standards of the best music have been refined in the last few centuries from instrumental models then a great deal of choral and vocal music will not pass the muster of "deep" or "serious" because the music does not conform to the ideals extracted from the most established instrumental works in the long 19th century.

As I've written dozens of times by now, I think that what would most benefit the "high" and "low" musical arts is that they would actually interact again.  The respective trenches of popular music and classical music, and even the subsidiary trenches dug within these respective trenches, seem at times to be too well set.  Whatever the future of what we call classical music may be I am not suggesting there won't be symphonies or orchestras at all, but a world in which there was no practically existing thing as a symphonic art and practice certainly existed in the Western past and it's possible that the future of classical music may not actually be all that much in the symphony, it may be in choral and vocal music, at least in the United States. 

a back and forth at Slate in which it's asked whether the pop narratives have drowned out the music in 2018

Dear Music Club boos,

Rawiya’s question about whether “stories” are more important than music now nudged up against a thought that I had several times over the course of 2018. While 2018 was a better year than 2017 for Taylor Swift, for instance—because of her nemesis Kanye’s fall from grace, and because of the emergence of “Delicate” as the true signature Reputation single, after last year’s misfires—it would be hard to deny that her most important release this cycle was her October election endorsements. She finally realized that trying to stay politically neutral (a policy Nashville would have drummed into her young) was costing her more than it gained, making her seem programmed and out of step with her generation.

Online videos were often much bigger events than albums or songs—personally I don’t think Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” stands up so well without the video, but that clip was an earthquake. I know middle-aged folks who hadn’t paid pop music any mind for years who got obsessed with it (one even went to a Gambino show, his first concert in years, as a result). Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “Apeshit” video had a similar effect, as did Drake’s “Nice for What” video, and Janelle Monáe’s “Make Me Feel” and “Pynk” videos (less so the full-length “emotion picture” that went along with Dirty Computer), and Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock and Future’s “King’s Dead,” and Cupcakke’s Rabelaisianly NSFW “Duck Duck Goose” clip—and of course, all of “Beychella.” Not to mention the music-oriented movies: A Star Is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Greatest Showman (whose soundtrack is the best-selling album of the year in the U.K. and no slouch in the U.S., but generally ignored by critics), and to some degree Black Panther, Sorry to Bother You, etc. This hierarchy of the visual over the aural is nothing new, but it’s another part of the dynamic.

To extend the question further, can we really still maintain the illusion that people like music better than they like Instagram? Or Fortnite, for that matter? Even the degree to which a year-end music discussion compels us into analysis of the details of streaming illustrates how much more energy tends to accrue to talking about platforms than to talking about music. I’m not raising this as a Luddite protest, because on a basic, Marxist level, debating those centers of economic power and social capital probably does deserve priority—it’s just less satisfying to the aesthete in me, which is a lot of me.

Another excerpt, in this case mentioning that in the midst of pop narrative and music and video it can be possible for work that is maybe a bit underwhelming for someone at a musical level compensates at the level of cinema ... and that ... might not necessarily be a great thing.  Here's an author admitting that Donald Glover, however compelling he is as actor and screenwriter, has not quite "gotten there" as a songwriter yet but ... 


Speaking of virality, one of the most talked-about and frequently watched songs of 2018 was Childish Gambino’s “This Is America.” While I’m an admirer of Donald Glover the actor and screenwriter, I’ve never much warmed to Childish Gambino’s music. Early works like Camp and Because the Internet felt like topiary with nothing behind it, elaborate hedges of winks and smirks for people who like rap to be good for a laugh. With “Awaken, My Love!” in 2016, Gambino seemed to put away childish things and declare that the joke was over, but just because you’ve decided to take music seriously doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve gotten better at it, and I found “Awaken, My Love!” to be a lavishly produced exercise in paint-by-numbers re-creationism by a guy who still couldn’t sing or write songs.

And then this year came “This Is America,” which used a stunning music video to pull a characteristically underwhelming song to the top of the Billboard charts this past spring. (Pace Chris, with whom I rarely disagree, but in this case the best explanation for the song’s underperformance on radio may be the most obvious: To my ears, it’s just not very good.) “This Is America” was widely touted as a career pinnacle for Childish Gambino but almost always with the insistence that song and video were inherently inseparable, which felt like a bunch of people besotted with Glover’s work on Atlanta moving the goal posts on his musical alter ego’s behalf. Making a great television show doesn’t make you a great musician, and hiring Hiro Murai to direct your music video—a terrific filmmaker long before he started working with Glover—doesn’t necessarily prove you’re a poly-artistic visionary, it just proves you’re well-connected and, it must be said, rich. (For a sharper and far more eloquent rebuttal to the “This Is America” hype than mine here, see this great essay by Israel Daramola in Spin that Chris mentioned as well, one of the finest pieces of cultural criticism I read this year.)

Even if he was slumming it Donald Glover as Lando was an absolute blast!  One of the only things about the Solo movie I actually liked. And his almost sleepy turn in Spiderman: Homecoming was still pretty entertaining to me. Why do you keep trying to upsell me, man? I said I wanted something subtle.  May Glover continue to have a long and illustrious career in acting.

But I admit that I, too, thought the song "This is America" was ... alright.  I mean, I realize how cosmically unfair it has to be to compare the song to "Living for the City" and find it wanting!  Or Duke Ellington's "Koko", let alone his "Come Sunday" on which Mahalia Jackson sang.  But one of the things about virality is that it's possible for something to go viral as a total work of art in a Wagnerian sense that is in many respects so much more than the sum of its parts that there's a halo effect about the parts that, once you separate them, turn out to be ... maybe not quite what you thought they were. 

Of course being interested in music criticism and arts criticism in spite of my at times ambivalent feelings about it, I am, of course, going to link to the Daramola.

Israel Daramola // May 8, 2018

Donald Glover is always doing a bit. When he first started performing as a rapper named Childish Gambino, it seemed like an excuse to record updated backpack rap full of dopey punchlines and Asian girl fetishizing. Despite the Gambino persona gathering a legitimate audience over time, it was hard to separate him from his persona as the goofy and unthreatening black guy in Community, Girls and Derrick Comedy. This would be frustrating to any black performer obviously but Glover himself did not seem intent on making the distinction clear. His 2012 standup special is full of wincing moments like him bragging about dating, what he calls, “the blacks girls of every race.” This comedy, present as well in those early Childish Gambino records, heavily relied on his “otherness” from the rest of rap and street culture in a way that read as condescending (see much of the Culdesac tape and 2011’s Camp). Gambino could be as coarse, misogynistic and offensive as the rap he distanced himself from, but at least he could make literary references. At that point in his career, that was enough. Childish Gambino was mostly successful even though it was panned, with Glover collaborating with rappers-by-trade and scoring a radio hit with the lead single (“3005″) from his sophomore album Because the Internet. In the age where Drake, J. Cole and Big Sean were rising stars, nerdy rappers bragging about finally becoming cool was a successful enterprise; Gambino, and Glover himself, fit in perfectly.

By 2016, in the post-Trayvon, post-Ferguson, #OscarsSoWhite era of black activist art, Glover emerged with Atlanta. It’s a good show that benefits from prestige television’s elevation of Lynchian weirdness and high-art storytelling. Glover finally got the black acceptance that eluded him for so long by making a show about real black people, but in a bizarre world that felt new and progressive for television. Glover made the most of this new framing of his career. Two months after Atlanta debuted, he released Awaken My Love!, a watered down Funkadelic album that differs from the rest of his catalogue. Perhaps Glover, who had just become a father, connected with the familial funk and Afro-futurism’s promise of a better, blacker tomorrow. Or perhaps he saw an opportunity in the new age of “woke” black identity art. With his new song and video, “This Is America,” Glover-as-Gambino seems to make use of his new goodwill to attempt a more sonically and structurally ambitious social commentary. The visually stunning and well-choreographed video displays the kind of ambition that leads people to use the word genius, but in a way that is predictable for something so heavy-handed.

Neither the video or the song are aware of what they think they’re aware of. The former deals in shock and violence to distract you from the fact that the latter is a B-grade attempt at a Kendrick Lamar song, capitalizing on the culture’s growing numbness to seeing black people being murdered while claiming to be making a point. Glover depicts violence done to black people in graphic detail–at one moment even showing himself gunning down a black choir in what feels like an allusion to the Charleston church murders–while rapping about partying and making money. The juxtaposition of the two things is obvious and feels infuriatingly cheap. It is pandering to the current cultural climate’s need for art, particularly black art, to be serious, woke, and important without actually having anything to say. At worst, it’s an arrogant finger wag at the culture’s money-hungry attitudes and vapid partying in the midst of racial violence; at best, it’s a lazy critique of capitalism and America’s gun problem. Its argument against treating the death of black people as callous and inconsequential is to depict the death of black people as callous and inconsequential.

"B-grade attempt at a Kendrick Lamar song" ... ouch!  I think, maybe, I can hear what Daramola means, though, since I have heard a little bit of Lamar's work.  I'm still a lot more partial to Linton Kwesi Johnson myself, in terms of Johnson's harmonic palette (back when I was in high school I tried out listening to reggae and discovered I was indifferent to Marley but was drawn to Johnson and to Judy Mowatt who has what I consider to be an Aretha Franklin level voice but whose songs have been comparatively unknown).   So ... I kinda get that Glover's songwriting chops are not at the level of his cinematic work. 

And yet... if I compare even that to ballads by Vance Joy, John Mayer, Jason Mraz and the like I'm not sure I'm going to fault Donald Glover of a finger wag.  I'm getting really, really, really tired of bro-balladry on an endless cycle of I-V-vi-IV loops.  Phrygian cadences are a cliche in Spanish classical guitar music and folk, perhaps, but there's a case to be made that letting the cliches of different styles intermingle is what keeps styles from getting stale.  My frustration with both popular music and what's known as classical music is that it seems in the respective trenches the styles have too often become too self-contained and that the metrics and algorithmic approach to monitoring listening habits can further entrench rather than diversity listening patterns and, with that, compositional approaches.  I'm not too worried that active musicians are likely to fall prey to this in a direct way but ... this lets me transition to something I read at The Baffler.

The Baffler being The Baffler, it had an end-of-year rumination on one of the other traits of our contemporary pop music culture, that if technology isn't neutral and our listening habits get shaped by the technologies we use, then streaming listening culture may be changing our cognitive approaches to music for the worse. 


The week that “Psychopath” was released, it was quickly serviced to official Spotify playlists including Pop Rising, Indie Pop, Pop Right Now, Fresh & Chill, Swag!, Indie Stage, Front Left, Left of Center, Easy, Get Popped, Pop Relax, Chill af, as well as dozens of New Music Friday playlists around the world. The next week, Spotify began removing it, and by mid-May it was gone from pretty much all official playlists. Even someone like Matt, who wholeheartedly loves Spotify-pop, agrees that it’s an environment that devalues music: “It’s disposable AF. It’s too disposable. New Music Friday has seventy-plus songs every week. Who is actually supposed to hang on to any of those songs? There’s too much!” This is a symptom of the attention-driven platform economy as well: the churning stomach of the content machine constantly demands new stuff. In such an economy, music that doesn’t take off is dropped once it has outlived its usefulness—either as a brand prop or as playlist-filler.

What is considered useful to streaming services? Music that streams well. This is all part of what independent artists are up against today: a supposedly neutral platform that manipulates them into creating value on its own terms (more recently in the form of free #Wrapped advertising), one that cares more about playlist streams than creating a sustainable situation for artists. The problem is not the chill-pop musicians, but a self-replicating system that continuously rewards the same styles—the ones that users will stream endlessly, whether they’re paying attention or not.

Maybe ... but that sounds more like a function of the listening habits of people who habitually listen to radio.  I stopped seeking out radio listening experiences decades ago.  I'm pretty sure that you're never likely to hear the string quartets of Ben Johnston played by the Kepler quartet on your local radio station ... although if you do, that's great! 

So, a few things from a Slate music round-up I meant to get around to earlier but I just didn't feel like it.  But, seeing as there's a weekend after the holiday season has come and gone, I'm trying to get a little bit back into this thing I've done called blogging.