Saturday, August 11, 2018

links for the weekend: Facebook, social media and lost jobs (Gunn), private schools getting more elite, a UK extinction for double reeds?, and

Facebook is starting to have scandals that have hurt its business

and it's not surprising that some writers belief the nature of Facebook and social media can be taken to be ultimately antidemocratic.

among the scandals are what groups Facebook has managed to give a platform that people feel shouldn't be getting a platform.  As one author has put it the problems that have shown up about Facebook are fractals of the larger problem as to its social role, uses and ends.

Only with the arrival of the smartphone and the social web did it become obvious that, for those concerned with promoting truth and protecting journalism, this was the force to reckon with—this new class of publishers who refused for so long to acknowledge what everyone could plainly see they had built: Facebook is the largest media company in the world and Mark Zuckerberg the most powerful publisher in human history. Twitter is a smaller media company, sure, but still influential in many ways, not least of all because it is known for being the publishing platform of choice among wealthy celebrities, powerful politicians, and journalists. Also: conspiracy theorists.
To recap: What serves the public conversation best, Dorsey argues, is for one media company to reject the idea that publishers are responsible for the quality of what appears on their platforms, to ignore the larger record of information people publish—and instead to rely on other publishers to uphold standards such as seeking the truth and reporting it, holding the powerful accountable for lies and corruption, and doing so in a way that serves the public good and minimizes harm.
I do not envy publishers like Dorsey and Zuckerberg. The scale of the problem they face—and that we all face as a result—is mind-boggling. In journalism, reporters who lie are fired. But no newsroom has a structure like Facebook, with 2 billion individuals publishing stories and no real editors. On a platform where users can publish freely, and provocations and misinformation are incentivized by the very architecture of the platform, what’s a publisher to do? Perhaps a better question is: What is the publisher’s moral or ethical responsibility?

But the word "platform" invites a rebuttal.  And, of course, it got one. Twitter and Facebook are platforms but not traditional publishers as the publishing industry would understand them.
To call these platforms publishers—as The Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance recently did—is to presume that their task is merely to produce content. It is to presume, then, that the internet should be produced, packaged, and polished and that when someone says something bad anywhere on it then the entire internet is beschmutzed. In Europe, it also means that the internet should be regulated, and in a growing list of authoritarian nations—China, Russia, Iran, Turkey—it means that the internet and the public’s speech on it should be controlled.

Among the controversies associated with platforms like Facebook, Twitter and their role in politics is that there's an apparently insoluable tension between the platform as legitimation process and the nature of those messages that are distributed through the platform.  Social media is not the media in a traditional sense, if by "traditional" we mean a publishing institution with fact-checking ability and a social contract corresponding to an "estate".  Sure, the internet has been called a "fifth estate" but the "fifth estate", whatever its strengths, can't be conflated with or taken for the "fourth estate".  All the jokes I've heard megachurch pastors and staff make about the lack of credibility about bloggers in the last twenty years has underlined this point, even when those pastors and church staff made these jokes at their blogs?  Why is that not contradictory? Because social media isn't institutional journalism, to keep it simple. 

In the press the crises associated with social media use are looking like crises that orbit around a central tension between the free-for-all libertarian theory of the press that advocates for social media platforms tend to fall back on and a more traditional array of authoritarian to social responsibility or Marxist theories of the press that people within the institutional press (i.e. magazines, newspapers, whether in online or paper forms) and institutions (schools, churches and their associated leadership cultures) find objectionable.  Anyone who has read this blog in the last ten years may have come across statements by Driscoll about how bloggers are too often not accountable to anyone and not identifiable as beholden to any particular team or tribe.  That's a ridiculous assertion on its face if you try to get specific but it works as a sweeping generalization.  It's just that from 2012-2014 it began to turn out that bloggers who were especially critical of Mark Driscoll often did have an identifiable "tribe", being Reformed (i.e. in some way doctrinally descended from Calvin and Zwingli and their descendants).  So it became dubious for Driscoll to insist that bloggers were not part of a "tribe" while claiming to be Reformed because more detailed investigations into which bloggers were publicly criticizing him would begin to show that PCA and OPC sure seems Reformed!  So here we are in 2018 with Mark Driscoll associating with Charisma House ... .

If the graft, incompetence and spin of the institutional press across the spectrum doesn't get addressed the spin and graft that can permeate the fifth estate may be moot.  Distrust of institutional media seems to be high and while I wouldn't say that social media offers a healthier alternative it's out there.  Meme argumentation and appeals to memes are generally terrible history and terrible journalism but they appeal to the moral intuitions of those who create and reproduce the memes.  It seems to be why balkanization is so rampant.  I doubt it will get better.  The institutional press and the platforms of social media probably can't rectify the problem because these are the apparatuses traditionally used to inculcate precisely those vices of the mind. 

Since social media has turned out to be a way for people to get fired based on things they posted online in the past, there are serious questions to be considered about what a person should or should not say about themselves or in jest on the internet.  And yet ... sometimes it seems that the red and blue partisans have made a business of agitating their own bases in ways that they don't like when the favor gets returned.

James Gunn got dropped from directing Guardians of the Galaxy volume 3, for instance, and this gave an author at Slate an opportunity to observe the opportunistic and double-standardized testing approach the right or alt-right can have online about what they do and don't find objectionable.  But then Gunn could grant that his own coarse joking in the past was what catalyzed his getting into trouble in the present. 

in keeping with an ... Atlantic theme ... private schools are getting more elite

You probably don't really have a book in you so don't write it, please. A literary agent writes on the topic of how most would-be "books" are just stories, not book-length projects and very probably not book-length projects that would be something a publisher would afford to run with.

We're living in an era in which men like Bezos and Zuckerberg have billions at their disposal but they are not becoming known for traditional philanthropy

from The Telegraph side of things the "big beasts" of the orchestra may be in danger of going extinct.

That's to say the oboe, the bassoon, the French horn and the tuba are less and less popular as instruments to study now in the UK.

"Oboes and bassoons are generally not known at all in schools. They might have picture on the wall but they haven't seen them in the flesh. This has been reflected in the massive falling off of the number of children learning them.
" The sheer physical size of the instruments, the complications of the reeds, and the expense of lessons has led to these instruments being sidelined", he explained. 
"I think part of it is the perceptions that guitars, saxophones and so on, are seen as being relevant, cool and part of life whereas some of these others are a bit obscure and not what they would want to be identified with," Mr Codd said.
I happen to love double reed instruments.  While it's unfortunate that oboe, bassoon, French horn and tuba are less and less popular in the UK they are still getting played.  One thing I would suggest, blatantly invoking advice that Matanya Ophee gave to guitarists, is that people who play oboe, bassoon, French horn and tuba consider digging into the chamber music traditions the guitar has with these instruments.  There's a lot of music written for oboe and guitar.  The sonatas of Ferdinand Rebay come to mind, and an excellent sonata by David Evan Thomas.  This is reminding me that I'm overdue (like I am with so many other would-be blogging projects) to discuss the discography of the d'Amore Duo.  For French horn and guitar there's chamber music by Christian Dickhut

For bassoon and guitar ... well ... that's a bit of a trickier one.  Yvonne Kershaw has a nice album's worth of arrangements for bassoon and guitar.  Karl Goepfert anyone?  Gasperini's work is probably going to be hard to find. There is work out there, though.  As for tuba and guitar ... well ... it's not a published score but there's this.

and now back to school stuff.  While there's theoretically a case that a good grounding in education can be a bulwark against the propagandistic elements of social media and traditional mass media there's actually not so cut-and-dried case that this should be so.  Ellul described state education as "pre-propaganda".

That there's a case that Harvard has discriminated against Asian applicants has been in the news. 

It's interesting to read how a linguistic legacy in pedagogy can be construed in drastically different ways in geographic and historical context.  Take the use of European languages in African education.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and the Tyranny of Language

Then again, depending on the dialect English, for instance, might be considered legitimate or illegitimate.

But here's the thing, there are definitely stereotypes across the color lines.  One of the most prevalent stereotypes the composer George Walker has said he's faced over the last fifty some years is the assumption that because he's a black musician he must play jazz.  He doesn't, never has.  A comparable stereotype can be that whatever "blackness" is as music is the default expression in certain types of vernacular styles and idioms.  That isn't really the case, either. 

In a thread of thought about cultural appropriation as the enforcement of sumptuary codes that, in earlier epochs and places, tended to be the purview of aristocracies, debates about cultural appropriation at a linguistic and dialectical level have continued throughout our day.

Of course, this controversy also touches on the issue of cultural appropriation. Whether Black English is coherent and whether black people are bidialectal, might we not consider it a kind of encroachment for whites to utilize what is “ours”? Especially when the utilization entails them expressing themselves, in a sense, in something rooted in a culture they don’t belong to?

Perhaps—but we end up tripping over countervailing goals here. We often say that we want whites to understand black pain, the black experience, black difference. We want them to empathize. But upon achieving this understanding, white artists, as artists, will naturally seek to express it through their creations. Are we to decree that they must not? Would this muzzling of basic human creativity, as well as the fundamental drive to share between cultures, be worth something larger?

If minstrelsy of one sort is considered terrible there seems to be another kind of minstrelsy that has gained favor.  No, it's not minstrelsy as conventionally understood but if you didn't read Raymond Knapp's monograph on Haydn and camp and what he had to say about the class enforcing and socio-economic aspects of minstrelsy then this pivot might lose you.  Minstrelsy had a role of delineating the unsophisticated by way of satirizing what the unsophisticated supposedly thought about sophistication in a way that deflated and preserved category distinctions, in Knapp's reading.  There was a type of meta-comedy in making fun of blacks poking fun at the pretense of respectable white society in ways that could, at least in Knapp's reading, simultaneously criticize and affirm the status quo. 

With that preparatory observation in mind, white-bashing can be argued to appropriate the spirit of minstrelsy, paradoxically precisely at those points where its practitioners might aim to subvert the letter.  With that in mind we can shift into the Sarah Jeong tweeting topic, which is another social media topic in the last few weeks.  Let's assume you don't need an introduction to white-bashing.

There may be some utility to white-bashing for both whites and non-whites, discussed over here.

To state the obvious, Jeong is hardly alone in colorfully expressing anti-white sentiment, and it is this broader phenomenon I find most interesting. Honestly, I’ve been around this sort of talk, most of it at least half-joking, for most of my life. (Years ago, I even affectionately parodied it.) The people I’ve heard archly denounce whites have for the most part been upwardly-mobile people who’ve proven pretty adept at navigating elite, predominantly white spaces. A lot of them have been whites who pride themselves on their diverse social circles and their enlightened views, and who indulge in their own half-ironic white-bashing to underscore that it is their achieved identity as intelligent, worldly people that counts most, not their ascribed identity as being of recognizably European descent.
One reason I’ve been disinclined to take this sort of talk seriously in the past is that it has so often smacked of intra-white status jockeying. It is almost as though we’re living through a strange sort of ethnogenesis, in which those who see themselves as (for lack of a better term) upper-whites are doing everything they can to disaffiliate themselves from those they’ve deemed lower-whites. Note that to be “upper” or “lower” isn’t just about class status, though of course that’s always hovering in the background. Rather, it is about the supposed nobility that flows from racial self-flagellation.  

But many of the white-bashers of my acquaintance have been highly-educated and affluent Asian American professionals. So why do they do it? What work is this usually (though not always) gentle and irony-steeped white-bashing actually performing?


That this form of white-bashing fulfills the role minstrelsy played of delineating educational distinctions along class and race lines might not be taken as an appropriate take on minstrelsy, and even if it were it might be that Jeong's tweets could be taken as a "defensive inversion of bigotry". 

Yascha Mounk, writing at Slate, does not buy the idea that a "defensive inversion of bigotry" constitutes a compelling defense of Jeong's material that sparked debate. Mounck presents a case that for those who identify as liberal or progressive there's a self-defeating set of double standards that will be at work in a "defensive inversion of bigotry":

Writing in Vox, Zack Beauchamp argued that it would be a mistake to think that Jeong is prejudiced against all white people: “To anyone who’s even passingly familiar with the way the social justice left talks, this is just clearly untrue. ‘White people’ is a shorthand in these communities, one that’s used to capture the way that many whites still act in clueless and/or racist ways.”  
Even if the use of this verbal register—let’s call it the “defensive inversion of bigotry”—is meant to be subversive in the way Beauchamp suggests, it inevitably mirrors other undesirable aspects of the speech on which it is modelled. As a result, we ourselves will start to engage in speech that is stupid, hateful, or both. One characteristic aspect of discriminatory speech is to hold all people who belong to a particular group responsible for the behavior of some of its members. Another characteristic aspect is to advocate cruelty against a whole group of people. If we start to imitate the harassers, we will quickly fall into the same trap: We will talk as though it’s fine to treat all members of a group poorly because some of them have acted badly, or even rejoice at the prospect of making “old white men,” in general, suffer. And it should be obvious that, in doing so, even ironically, we will violate two of the most fundamental principles to which liberals subscribe: that individuals should not encounter prejudiced treatment due to the group to which they happen to belong and that we should try to alleviate and oppose rather than to inflict and celebrate harm and cruelty.  
For the same reason, it’s not very convincing to point out that defensive inversions of bigotry are often meant to be humorous. While humor was clearly the intent of some—though certainly not all—of Jeong’s tweets, this line of argument conveniently elides what is supposed to make these jokes funny in the first place. If Jeong had tweeted that she gets a lot of joy out of being cruel to little babies, the comedy would have turned on the implicit absurdity, since we presume that nobody has a reason to wish them ill. But as everybody understands, that emphatically was not the nature of the jokes she did make: the reason why it was supposed to be funny when she tweeted that she gets a lot of joy out of being cruel to old white men is that her implied audience does in fact think that they kinda have it coming. So, yes, many of Jeong’s worst tweets were supposed to be funny, but what was supposed to make them funny was the fantasy of inflicting indiscriminate cruelty on a whole group of people—something to which, as liberals and leftists, we have good reason to object. [emphasis added]
In short, the defensive inversion of bigotry may indeed grant minority groups temporary solace. But it is also a massive gift to the very people who are most intent on doing harm to them. Unfair though this may be, anybody who is genuinely interested in taking away power from the alt-right, or in ensuring that Donald Trump can’t victimize minority groups for a second term, has a very good reason not to say things that serve the cause of the bigots who are out to hurt them.
Mounck doesn't go so far as to argue that employing the distanced ironic methodologies of minstrelsy is not the best way to argue against minstrelsy methods.  The irony that a Jeong tweeting in a way to provoke the alt right could take up the methods and aims of the alt right might almost be too obvious to point out, that meta-minstrelsy is probably not the best weapon to counter the spirit of minstrelsy.   I'm more inclined to be sympathetic to the argument and proclamation that Christ died for all sinners, white, black or Asian or Native American and that in Christ there is no slave or Greek, Jew or Gentile, male or female and so on.  Telling those who practice minstrelsy they are partaking of Antichrist won't convince them, of course, but in a sense convincing them isn't necessarily the point, is it?  If they're committed to that set of views on race then a proclamation of the Good News won't phase them because for them whatever "god news" there is going to be is going to be about their ethnicity or race and not Jesus on the cross.  It's not a big shock to me if the alt right abandons monotheistic religions in favor of more nationalist neo-pagan beliefs.  Somebody gave me Kurlander's Hitler's Monsters as a Christmas gift last year ...  and if Anglo-Americans think that casting off the Abrahamic religions in favor of neo-paganism will curb some kind of fascist tendency it's not clear that there's a compelling historical case that that worked in the previous century.   Which would get me to the topic of a George Steiner book ... .

As to the Jeong-style tweets ... a traditional religious conservative might say the reason this sort of course jesting and cruel joking is bad is because fools are not interested in gaining wisdom or understanding but in telling other people what they think (Proverbs 18:2). While it's common enough to invoke Ephesians 5 about sexual purity could we not also consider that the warning against coarse joking and obscenity doesn't have to be restricted to sexual topics?  It's possible for a religious conservative to be against crude humor about any and all races because that can be gleaned from biblical texts.  Sure, it's easy for Americans and Europeans to joke about Puritans and the bad elements of their legacy but I am not always convinced that the level of cruel humor we have suggests we've arrived at a healthier alternative.  But I'll set that off to the side.  What has been on my mind in the last month or so as I read about these online controversies about humor and race and cultural appropriation is that, as some have already pointed out in the last few years, it's begun to look like these are, for want of a nicer way to put it, an intra-aristocratic set of concerns.   

I wonder if the affluence is one of the keys here in these debates about who gets to say what for what reason with which understanding of interpreted intent.  Ever since I began to read the word "privilege" bandied about in internet discourse and debate it has seemed as if those with the privilege of the literacy and internet access with which to talk about "privilege" have underestimated the amount of privilege they have in being able to broach the subject of privilege. I even began to wonder if it was in some sense an intra-aristocratic battle, not that we officially have levels of aristocracy in the United States but the lack of those formal categories as publicly accepted categories certainly doesn't mean that these categories aren't constantly discussed at an informal/non-scholastic level.  It may be one of the signal debates and tributaries of literary activity in an ostensibly post-literate age. 

in light of Ethan Hein's up-and-down post about Cage there's a new piece at NewMusicBox by a composer who provides a case study of how, however white John Cage's legacy might be seen to be he's an inspiration to an African American woman who composes.

When I made the decision to pursue music, I understood at my core that I did not want to fall into the stereotypes of what “black music” was expected to sound like. I knew that my natural form of expression had another voice that deserved to be cultivated. I knew that focusing on a “classical” practice exploiting Negro spirituals would feel forced and disconnected from the Roman Catholic faith that was integral to my rearing. I often found myself recoiling into the works of John Cage, Morton Feldman, Arvo Pärt, and Arnold Schoenberg. I was a frequent loner in music school because my tracks were largely independently driven. These men gave me a place to start experimenting with a different voice. Then one day, I met a friend and colleague who would change my life in more ways than I could imagine—a person who challenged me to question my perceptions of how I was treated, making me realize that I deserved more basic respect than others were giving me in my personal and professional life; a person who made me realize that the only way to be the truest artist and most authentic version of myself would be to embrace all parts of myself, to put in the work to better myself, but to accept my humanity and stop beating myself up for not being the perfect little black girl everyone wanted me to be; and, most importantly, the person who introduced me to the work of Pamela Z.

I wonder if academia is where everyone is expected to be "the perfect little _______." and where, paradoxically, everyone has an incentive to protest against "being the perfect little _______."  If it's that way then why would anyone go into the academy? 

Do authors step back and wonder whether or not this could constitute a case for those who spurn the academy to keep spurning it?  It's not that academic life sounds like it's all bad.  I wanted to be part of it at one point ... twenty-five and thirty years ago.  But I have read more and more from academics and gotten a sense that I dodged a bullet by not being able to partake of that life and it's got nothing to do with a lack of love of learning. 

I really do want to tackle writing about that George Steiner book but if you've read everything I posted today you'll understand why I don't feel like writing more for today.

No comments: