A New Year Letter
Now that I am seventy-eight, it is more fitting to give than to accumulate more presents. A New Year Calendar for the months and days of 2008 is at /calendarsolv.htm
This New Year Letter is about the two most serious and treatable problems of 2008 - population growth, and whether heavy-beat ambient music is an unmonitored global experiment that needs research. Unsustainable population growth makes most other major problems insoluble or worse. Battering noise could be making people less intelligent to cope with the problems. A third serious question is only for those who ask it. - How can you bear to live in this world when it should be a paradise of wonder?
"You can't take it with you' is a fact of life, but 'you can't leave it behind you' is a disappointment, surveying the buried papers and research that sum up my life.
World Population growth from six billion now to eight or nine billion in 2050 is an increase of around a third. In the face of this, the public worry in the West about coping economically with 'population decline' that will still keep Western numbers above fifty years ago.
World population growth continues at the same time as concern and conflict about increasing shortages of water, fertile land, fossil fuels and fish stocks; and about the escalating destruction of forests, of all other creatures except ourselves and other pests, and of our own civilisations destroyed by our war and general barbarism. Associated with population increase are megaslums, pollution, and social disorders, carbon emissions, and the increase in numbers of the poor and ignorant.
Too many diverse interests drive population growth. Yet unless something is done humanely to stabilise it, the old Darwinian forces will cruelly reduce numbers as they have in the past, for humans as well as for other forms of life when they outbreed their resources. In the past five years, even in the West, quality of life has started to deteriorate sharply. Ordinary people are being solaced by entertainment to avoid awareness of what is happening to the quality of their water, air, space for living, access to nature, food sources, job happiness and non-destructive pleasures. (See Adult Arithmetic for how fallacies operate.)
List the problems that face us in 2008 - no need to repeat them here - and our response must be, as we stand at a peak of knowledge and technological achievement, why are we not being more intelligent about solving them? It is easy to conclude from looking at developments in mass media, education and life-styles that we are en masse just as stupid as ever, if not more so? Why?
We should try to deal with everything that may be reducing our functioning intelligence - that is, ability to work out what needs to be done in any situation, to be curious, observant, knowledgeable, to put ideas together, reason and act. This requires that amazing human achievement, language. Many ways to become more stupid are deliberately chosen. But supposing there are influences that we cannot avoid? I think there should be research, or research uncovered if there is any, for I cannot find it on Google, Eric or Ovid, about the effects of something that has not happened in the world before - unavoidable ambient music wherever we may be.
Everyone can see screen images taking over from language, and to some degree you can think in graphics. I am suggesting that music may also be affecting language and thinking.
Beat music could be defined as music in which the drumming could well be done by a hammer machine, without a human quality. Two hundred secondary students at a highly privileged school recently completed a survey about music and their lives. It was more surprising than I expected in the exceptional degree to which music accompanies their waking hours, their preferences for very loud music, and the proportion who give among their reasons for liking it, that it prevents them thinking and is an escape form their problems. A replacement for language and thinking.
At this stage it may look as if yet another Puritan is saying, what you like is bad for you. Not so. Our drives are innate, but we learn the ways to satisfy them - our pleasures our culturally formed. Our culture might as well form pleasures that are non-consuming and non-destructive.
My question is about noise and beat. Even public radio broadcast talking today can have a background of noise and interrupt speaking with what might be considered 'unintelligent music', that is, with no appeal to the mind, because it is repetitive, loud, and primarily a plain beat on one or two notes to one rhythm. What is the research on how the brain responds to this hammering, in the short term, and in the long terms? Why does the world's youth resonate to it?
The only research I have been able to find is about damage to hearing, and recommendations to wear earplugs in its vicinity. Yet more serious than deafness is to stun thinking, to blow the mind away (and other terms of approval for mental damage.)
Music with percussion is replacing or overcoming speech at every stage of life. Even babies are lulled with music but not lullabies, silenced with dummies not babytalk, entertained by television not play. The logo for a program for 'age-appropriate music classes for children 4 months to 5 years' is primarily a drum. Of the 200 students surveyed, only 10% hated very loud music or 'don't really like it', 58% liked it very much indeed, and the remainder did not mind it, or liked it sometimes. They like it at concerts and parties, while studying, and increasingly as company wherever they go with their i-pods and now their mobile phones. It blasts them in public places. For most of the students, sport and music blotted out other hobbies and interests of the past. All were extraordinarly knowledgeable about what is around - and the categories of modern music seem endless, with most dominated by beat, in hardcore punk, heavy metal, death metal, black metal, techno, back beat drive, soul, blast grind core, power violence, skink, d-beat, scissor beat, banana beat, break beat, big beat, beat juggling . Almost all characterised by electronic percussion, with the unrelenting bang-bang-bang of the drums.
Let us change the current metaphors for happy minds - no longer think it good to blow your mind away - but cherish our most valuable resource and source of free enjoyment - our precious brains. We could have Brain Olympics and Skill Olympics that are not trivial pursuits, but rise to the real challenges that face us on every side. (Inventions that are needed. )
Let us have New Year Revolutions 2007.