Thanksgiving Is Ruined
July 31, 2016
Is everything really beautiful?
In its own way? Like a starry summer night? Or a snow-covered winter's day?
Granted, so would have us blithely believe what we understand to be a multiply award-winning hit country-gospel-pop song from two generations ago, with video here.
To listen to the record today is to measure the immense distances we've traveled, and have yet to travel. The song seems like an artifact from an utterly faraway, almost unrecognizable time.
You catch TiR's drift. How quaint the recording sounds, those sentiments feel today. Like a relic from our parents' generation, our grandparents', even.
Beyond quaint -- offensive! Presumptuous. Bigoted. Totalitarian. Creepy! From its monotheistic theological presuppositions to its coercive recruitment of schoolchildren as background singers or, as seen in the video, stage props, For example, did those children freely give consent to participate, if that's even a meaningful question? How traumatized may they have been by the experience of being forced to sing such a monstrosity?
More along these lines in a moment. As a threshold logical matter, how can literally everything be beautiful at the same time? Equally so? If so, then beauty must be a property pretty commonplace, trivial, even empty. If something exist, then it's beautiful? Beauty is no more than is-ness, thing-ness? In other words, every individual thing is a thing? Everything that is . . . is?
How is that information supposed to help or be of use to us? The singer's weasel wording tips us off right away that something phony is going on here deeper down.
Then again, below the showbiz phoniness, yeah, yeah, we get it, we get it. He really means: "Everything contains within itself its own unique particle of special, redeeming, snowflake goodness, which can be found and treasured if you know how to look for it, through the right perspective, an open-hearted viewpoint, blah blah blah. The singer leaves it as an exercise for the listener, after this song ends, to figure out exactly how in practice to do that work. The singer trusts the listener totally to know how to do so in a way that gets it right, fairly, correctly, humanely, respectfully, decently, etc. etc."
Yes, but how on earth do we do the latter work? Wouldn't a follow-up record to explain the complexities have been helpful, or more like a follow-up shelf of LP box sets? The record ends exactly where it should have started. Today's savvier and more historically sensitized listener sees this and knows that events could not have been otherwise. No such instructional album to be used by everybody for all purposes would have been possible, conceivable or maybe even desirable. Thus our dilemma. Thus how cruelly antiquated, how dishonestly simplistic that old tune now sounds.
The above aren't even the most damned and damning of the dilemmas.
No, TiR will go even further -- while of course conceding in advance, on the one hand, our growing contemporary awakening that it's never possible to go far enough about anything and, on the other hand (and perhaps hard to concede 46 years ago), the reality that we can never presume to be certain about which direction we should travel together, or about if "we,""should" and "together" can even be imagined, and that any "agreement" about which road to take is itself probably suspect. Agreement on whose terms, at what cost, in whose interests?
"Everything is beautiful." Ha!
Who are we to characterize how or what "everything" is? Can't everything speak for itself? What if some members of the set of Everything don't want to be "beautiful"? Or what if their ideas of or about beauty differs from ours?
Aren't we unfairly imposing our idea of beauty, the idea that "beauty" even exists, on possibly unwilling others? How dare we aestheticize on such a universal, totalizing scale! As if they, the "things" that make up "everything," are mere objects devoid of independent agency to decide their own fates, identities, and statuses or lack thereof?
Ultimately, shouldn't we simply refrain from trying to say anything at all about "everything"? What indeed does everything include? Does it not presuppose the hegemony of our own oppressive preconceptions and one-sided criteria for defining a "thing" and determining whether we're in fact presented with one?
Listen again to the little ditty from 1970. Does it, can it ask whether everything thinks that we're beautiful? What room or freedom does its worldview afford for everything's utterances,self-expression, avowals or refusals? None! And if none, then by what right dare we set up a conversation that by it's very terms is entirely one-sided, then drag everything into it as a possibly unwilling supposed participant?
TiR is pretty sure that, back in the day, the creators of the record believed it to be a plea for humility, tolerance, universal love, harmony and peace. Nowadays, we're more wised up. The rug's been out from under us too many times. We can see the plea for what it is. Condescending. Obnoxious. Insulting. Entitled. Totally lacking in self-awareness. Manipulative. Guilty, guilt-tripping and shaming. Violent.
What about all that which stands outside of our inevitably limited and biased idea of "everything"? Are the denizens of such a realm, if any, therefore by definition ugly? Who are we to decide what stands inside or outside of the set called "everything," imprisoned as we are too within its border walls, not floating above them? In what position are we to really know the boundaries, then the limit cases, then to cast any judgment on them whatever? Who are we to say?
So shouldn't we really just STFU, about beauty, about "everything," about everything?
In fact, shouldn't TiR really just STFU in general? Including about whether this very blog post is serious, comical, ironical, a combo of these, not entirely sure and trying to figure it out aloud, or whaat?