Friday, April 18, 2008

Why I Have Hope

About a month ago Mouse and I were at a music show, and I brought up my standard diatribe about the music industry and how there are no seminal artists for this decade. Every decade has had its share of landmark artists who have defined that decade. Imagine the '50s without Elvis. Or the '60s without the Beatles. Or the '90s without Nirvana. You can't right? But the '00s without ... Coldplay? No offense to Coldplay, but it seems like the decade would be much the same as it is today.

So here I was lamenting the state of the music industry, and to be honest with you, I pretty much assumed that Mouse was going to agree with me. I mean, come on. Isn't it an article of faith among music nerds that the State of Music is a sad one, and that once upon a time music was so much better and so much more original, etc, etc?

So you can imagine my surprise when he disagreed with me. Oh, don't get me wrong. He agreed that there aren't really any "landmark" artists of this decade. But where I saw this as a sad thing, Mouse, because he is much smarter and also more positive than I, saw this as a great thing. Because, in his opinion, it wasn't music going downhill that has led to a decade bereft of 'seminal artists.' In fact, it was because there was TOO MUCH good music that it was now impossible for there to be just a few definitive artists.

Now, you need to read his most recent blog post if you want the full manifesto, but the more I thought about what he said, the more right he seemed. Fifteen years ago, if you wanted to reach more than a few hundred people, you had to be signed to a major record label. Now, any band can reach countless thousands of people through MySpace or iTunes. If you take a look at my iPod, it's crammed to the gills with local LA bands. And these aren't dinky amateur bands. These bands are fantastic, certainly better than most if not all of the stuff you hear on Top 40. How many of these bands would the LA music scene have been able to support 15 years ago? Three? Five? Fifteen? I don't know the answer, but I would almost certainly bet that its fewer than the number that are thriving today.

Isn't it interesting that Mouse and I took the same view of music history and transformed it into two different narratives? One (mine) was the negative narrative, "Music is different and therefore DOOMED!" One (his) was the positive narrative, "Music is different and therefore FLOURISHING!"

That night, I went to bed with a huge smile on my face. By changing the narrative, Mouse had (metaphorically) handed me another world. A world in which our choices are multiplying and the opportunities were boundless.

And then I started reading Break Through. The subtitle of the book is "From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility" which I think is a particularly apt description of the book. In it, Nordhaus and Shellenberger attempt to break free of the "We're all doomed!" paradigm towards a new paradigm focused on possibilities and not limits.

Is global warming a crisis? Yes, no doubt. But in the Chinese language, the word crisis is composed of two characters: danger and opportunity. Let us not focus solely on the danger aspect. Let us remember the great opportunity we have been given. Simply put, we have a chance right now, to remake our society into one that is happier, healthier, and more prosperous than one history has ever seen.

Let us not forget that obesity is a problem created in a society that is largely free from hunger. Let us be mindful that the rapid increase in carbon emissions is the result of thousands of Chinese and Indians escaping poverty. Let us give thanks that young people today have more opportunities than ever before, and that those opportunities are no longer constrained to the white, straight, and male.

In 1962, President John F Kennedy made a very remarkable speech. Against all odds, he challenged the American people to reach the moon by the end of the decade. He knew it would not be easy, and yet he said this to the American people:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

And it was not easy, and it required major investments in both time and money, and yet, somehow, amazingly enough, we succeeded. Within the decade, for the very first time in the history of the human race, a man would walk on the moon.

So listen to me, and listen to me good. If we can walk on the moon within SEVEN years of choosing to do so, we can do anything. We can build a society free from the confines of oil. Much of the technology from electric cars to photovoltaic solar cells is already here. And the technology that hasn’t yet arrived? We can create.

It will not be easy. In fact it will be extremely hard. It will require no less than an overhaul of government policy. It will necessitate the countries of the world to act in concert like never before. It will call for the minds of the finest thinkers all over the world. And yet, a sustainable society is firmly within our grasp.

Let us not waste our time longing for years past. We can never go back, and the past wasn’t as great as we think it was anyway. We will never again be the Jeffersonian “nation of farmers,” no more than we will ever be a country with separate drinking fountains for separate races.

Instead, let us set our eyes on the future. Let us imagine a world with denser cities that encourage use of public transit. Let us imagine gardens on every rooftop of New York City. Let us envision a new economy, not one based on things as pedantic as goods, but an economy befitting the 21st century based on ideas, experiences and service.

We can build sea walls in Bangladesh. We can put a composting toilet in every village of China. We can build tube wells and ecologically sensitive dams in the dry lands of India, and what’s more, we’re already doing it.

I want to quote a passage from Break Through. Shellenberger and Nordhaus write:

When we called on environmentalists to stop giving the “I have a nightmare” speech, we did not mean that we should close our eyes to our increasingly hot planet, the destruction of the Amazon, or continued human suffering. Rather, we meant that we all should open our eyes to the multiplicity of ways we can see and experience the world. Global warming could bring drought, disease, and war─ and it could bring prosperity, cooperation, and freedom. The future is not destined to be dark or bright, fallen or triumphant. Rather, the future is open (240).

Our destiny is not fixed. We can choose to be the generation that eradicates world hunger; we can choose to be the generation that eliminates dependence on oil. We can choose to be the generation that extends the American dream to every child in ever corner of the world.

We can choose to go to the moon. The future is ours for the taking.


equa yona(Big Bear) said...

Man, what a great segue!!! Hope is good, seeing the possibilities is good.. Check out Greenpa yesterday and today. He is calling for us to cut out a BIG capitalist moneymake(hedgefund speculation on food) and believes we can actually do it! Talk about hope! Thanks for the encouragement.

pink dogwood said...

I love this post - I am going to get the book, such a different way of looking at all the problems.

Going Crunchy said...

Rock on! I teach with Covey (some trite 80's lingo but the core philosphy is very valid) and I fequently use the term "changing the lens." Your whole post is about changing the lens through which you see an industry and parts of the world.

We do have a powerful opportunity- - -and the more every person writes, talks, or blogs about it the more we have an opportunity to shift our cultural paradigm. Being "greener" has actually brought more happiness to me in many respects.

I would have to put a good vote in for RATM and Audioslave as being a voice.....and I do still question that we actually did go to the moon...but I'm being difficult myself there......and I love the immediate discovery of music that technology can give us.

Burbanmom said...

GRRREEEAAAT post, Arduous! Sounds like another book to add to my library list. Will check it out! (literally)

organicneedle said...

Someone took her vitamins today! A very refreshing post.

(I will e-mail you later about the Gap.)

erin said... landmark bands anymore...they all blend together. :(

Michael Shellenberger said...

Dear Arduous,

Thanks for this lovely reading of Break Through. I've blogged about it here: