AMERICA! OH AMERICA! - JUD EVANS - ATHENAEUM LIBRARY OF PHILOSOPHY
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Although these pages contain much of a philosophical and literary nature, this is a very personal page and I hope you find it different from my various linguistic and eliminativist philosophy pages. There is much here of what could be described as experiential solipsistical preoccupation, but as much of the contents are diary extracts it is difficult to see how this could have been avoided. This site is a deceptively large one with a myriad of proliferating, bifurcating sections which the internal search engine for the convenience of visitors soon confirms. There's a florilegium of reminiscences about my family, friends, jobs, my army life, businesses, my experiences and my opinions about the world as I look back after a long life.


AMERICA!  OH AMERICA!

Jud Evans


America! Oh America!

This essay is meant from the heart. It's rhetorical and brutal in parts and it's about change. It springs from a long time respect for America and its people.

The musical discussion introduction is an excuse really, because I wish to draw a line under the recent school killings, which at this time are still fresh in my mind, and are painful even to contemplate.

I'd thought to assuage my qualms by dressing this up as a music piece and a vague comment on how personal tastes change as one grows older. The essay could be quite easily spit into two separate pieces. I know that. It's not about the dreadful school massacre. It's about the long-term implications for America. It is not meant to criticise any member of this group. I profoundly respect your opinions. As usual it's for my kids. I like to try to comment on important world events. I see the school killings as a serious event with implications for possible long-term changes in American society. I want my kids to know how I thought about it at the time.

Beethoven used to transmit shivers up my spine. When first I embarked on my musical education, I listened to him purely in a callow attempt to become middle class. I imagined that if I got to know the music of Beethoven, it would somehow unlock a golden door. I figured a portal of musicality would slide open on honeyed runners. I'd step blithely through into a rose garden of genteel ideas and cultivated manners.

I bought records of his symphonies and played them on the 'radiogram' in the mean little  parlour in Eton Street, Liverpool.  Before long, with repetition, the music osmotically penetrated my spirit. My soul cast off the treacly threads of yobbo ignorance. I soared above the clouds in satiated felicity. Unbelievingly I discovered - I actually LIKED it.

As with most beginners I craved visual associations in my music - the better to understand it. I read the programme notes voraciously. They told me what the composer had in mind.
A typical sleeve-note could be paraphrased something  like this:

'In this piece we wander in the countryside. Come follow! Here we stop awhile and experience a thunderstorm. We're sheltering under a tree. Can you hear the raindrops on the leaves? D'yuh hear the timpani? That's the thunder. Listen, here's the sun reappearing through the clouds. Those flute sounds are birds shaking their wings and singing a joyous welcome to the returning sunbeams. Close your eyes tight. D'yuh see it?


All this ethereal guidance helped me as I make my first, stumbling, and novice steps towards musical appreciation.

Even at this stage in my musical development I'd a feeling that Beethoven lacked something. If you'd have asked me, I couldn't have told you what it was. I'm just not capable of putting it into words. I've a feeling that Bach has some quality that Beethoven lacks.

My tastes broaden as I grow older. Composers that I've been unable to relish at the age of thirty suddenly become relevant, interesting, and satisfying. I find Shostakovitch unintelligible in my twenties, but in my forties I come to regard him as admirable and polyphonically fascinating. Finally, in spite a perceived unevenness and a certain prolixity, he takes his position alongside Sibelius and Mahler as part of the musical trinity which will nurture my lyrical psyche for most of my life. Poor old Ludwig van Beethoven slips down my cantabilic ladder. He fiddles away in a lowlier realm, in the company of Tchaikovsky and the other classical pop artists I discard during my scramble for melodic expiation.

A few years on finds my tastes bottlenecking even more. By now I appreciate a small elite group of composers for their case-by-case virtues. However, in spite of the propensities that they represent, I grow to reserve my full ebullience for the composers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In fact, [with the exceptions of the favourites I have mentioned,]  I grow to prefer music written before 1800.

What's more, I can now render reasons for these preferences. This is one of my excuses for discussing my musical tastes at all; for their development is not something independent and isolated, but a direct consequence and integral part of the evolution of my philosophical ideas and the events I experience in the world.

It always appears to me that one's tastes and ideas cannot be simultaneously concentrated and broad. If you love one thing very much, human nature dictates that you will love similar things of the same order less. Consequently, the more I grow to love Bach and Palestrina and Gregorian chant, the less I begin to appreciate some of the music of Beethoven. I now find his music most offensive, and in spite of its superb craftmanship, full of Germanic pretentiousness and inflatus. In response to all the cries of scorn and condemnation that this statement will provoke from Beethoven fans and the art-for-art's sakers, I might as well say that it would take another chapter to support my case. It's a chapter I do not intend to write. I want to move on and expand my train of thought.

Suffice it to suppose for the moment, that it's a fallacy to say that you can judge a symphony, or any piece of art or literature, out of, or divorced from its historic context. You've got to try and distance yourself. We writers know how difficult it is to judge our own work. You've got to go for the overview. Works of literature, pieces of music, sculpture, art, states of society, political and philosophical judgements are not entities governed by their own immutable laws. Other fields of human endeavour connect them. They're part of the fabric of an evolving, world wide, human society.

The difficulty for us all is in distinguishing the trends. Seeing which way the wind is blowing. Perceiving that this type of art, writing, music is in the vanguard of change. Noting that certain types of behaviour, smoking, male chauvinism, meat-eating, wife-beating, homophobia, child abuse, gun ownership is on the way out.

Winds of Change.
Some folk just can't see the winds of change. Some people lack this ability. Some fight to cling to the old ways. Others are innocent victims of brainwashing. A few are just plumb contrary. One by one the arguments troop out. We watch embittered, as just like an alcoholic under duress, the predictable ploys of deflection, denial, prevarication, rhetoric, and personal attack pour out in a futile torrent of self-justification. Others, more trenchant, weave a reasoned web of entanglement and self-denial. There they bask, wrapped in an inviolate cocoon of intellectual sophistry.

'My grandfather smoked like a chimney and he lived to a hundred and one.' 'A woman enjoys a good slap once in a while.' 'I've eaten meat all my life and my doctor says my heart's in fine shape.' 'The kids would've found some other method to kill their schoolmates.' 'A good beating never did a child any harm.'

There are those, in America who claim that most of their countrymen would rather die than give up their guns. Everybody has the right to make their own mind up. All people have the freedom, in accord with principles of justice, to have his or her opinion and make a fool of themselves. Having the right to hold an opinion is one thing, but claiming inaccurate, overwhelming public agreement with your point of view is another. Sadly, the validity of a political or artistic judgement is not a simple reward of personal sincerity.

Some of the supporters of gun ownership are undeniably sincere people, but nobody can be more sincere than the lunatic who maintains that he is the Arch Duke Ferdinand of Austria or Porky the Pig. If mere sincerity were the root and warranty of truth, we ought to reorganise society to make more room for the madman's claim, instead of locking him or her up in a mental home.

Seen from afar, America is hurtling towards the establishment of a nation-wide, unsavoury armed camp. Gratuitous slayings are increasing. Estrangement and isolation among the youth is endemic. Disillusionment and frustration among the black and Latino population is growing incrementally. Ghettoisation bourgeons apace. The development of enclosed housing enclaves for the rich with electrified fences with high-level security features and armed private militiamen on the gates are springing up everywhere. Murder is widespread. Graft ingrained in politics, the media, and industry - even the White House itself.

I've not studied the US constitution, but somewhere I'm sure it mentions something about 'the greater good' - for its citizens I mean. Perhaps it's couched in different words? Patently, the greater good of the US citizenry will benefit if private ownership of guns is banned with immediate effect. The first ones to benefit will be the kids who don't die from accidental deaths. Others will follow - the ones who die from domestic arguments for example. It stands to reason that if someone's in a blind rage and a firearm is to hand - they might use it. Then there are the gang fights. Ok, they'd use knives, but they're not as accurate or lethal. 'Yes,' said the founding fathers, 'for the greater good.'


What about the boring, predictable, hoary old arguments? I mean about what would happen if guns are banned. Let's try another way for God's sake. Give a chance to a different approach. Their way has patently failed. Arms manufacturers and opponents of gun laws use these discredited arguments in Europe and Australia. Statistics have proved them totally and unutterably wrong.

American brilliance and drive has given so much to the world. We foreigners have so much to be grateful for. We in other countries have learned so much from America. Let her now, in her wisdom and maturity listen to us for a change. We're your friends. We like you. We admire you. We want desperately for America to succeed, to grow, to flourish. We see aspects of our own future mirrored in your exciting, turbulent society. We're your shadow in many ways, walking behind you, occupying your social and creative space as you move onward in your relentless quest for individual freedom and social prosperity.




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