Let me ask you a purely academic question: Hello?
— Dean Blehert

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Protesting Protest Songs

It's like "The butler did it!", these protest songs where, whatever bad thing happens to poor folks, surprise! surprise!--the rich folks did it and also the politicians, and maybe all of us
(either because we didn't know it was happening or because we did, but didn't prevent it or even because, on a day when, somewhere, children were starving , we were on a picnic, enjoying sunshine, beer, egg salad sandwiches and one another).

Such songs should begin, "I suppose you're wondering why I've asked you all here...".

I say these things, and yet, I'm glad to be reminded from time to time of all that cannot simply be left to "the experts" and that I am part of a world that includes much misery. Apart from their glibness, there are only two things wrong with protest songs:

1. If it is wrong to take pleasure in sunsets, food, love, etc., while others elsewhere are suffering, then, since always somewhere someone suffers, it is wrong ever to enjoy oneself, in which case, what's the point? Why feed the starving children, for example, if life is to be a gray miasma of self-conscious sympathy.

2. It is important to point out abuses, but no group (poor, blacks, women, etc.) ever rises above its miseries solely by blaming others for them. Why promote the cult of the victim? It is very tempting to victims -- it's so easy to be a victim, so much easier than looking to see what part of one's condition one can improve and how one's own decisions and actions have contributed to it. But the road out of traps always involves increased responsibility -- on the part of both individuals and groups.

At this point someone says, "But surely a starving infant in sub-Saharan Africa can't be said to have contributed to his own misery!" There are answers to that, answers that address its substance, but really, the question is irrelevant, since our protest songs don't persuade the children they are victims. The songs persuade those who weep over the children (parents, for example) that they are victims, that it's their role in life to weep and supplicate, and our role to feel guilty or send money.

It's probably true that the best thing to do with a starving child is feed and educate him/her, not talk about responsibility. That's called coping.

It's also true that we do not get stronger by blaming others for our conditions in life. We may get paid damages by a court and you we may get vengeance, but we do not get stronger. We end up wedded to the weaknesses that have served us so well.

A little protest goes a long way.

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