- This Kindle eBook includes links to musical examples referenced in the text.
- If you purchase the print version of the book, you can get the Kindle eBook for free, through Amazon's MatchBook program.
I'm pleased to announce that the Kindle version of my new book "Emotion in Life & Music" is now available.
I've been holding off announcing the publication of my new book "Emotion in Life & Music: A New Science" because the Kindle edition isn't out yet. (The Kindle edition will include links to musical examples.) But in the meantime, the physical book shot up the rankings to become the #12 book in Aesthetics, and the #1 "Hot New Release" in Aesthetics. If you do want to jump on the bandwagon and get the physical book, check it out here.
My book will be published this month! Stay tuned. Here's the blurb/description:
Emotion in Life & Music: A New Science
by M. Zachary Johnson
What does it mean for music to be emotional?
How can these mysterious feelings be understood and validated?
Some modern thinkers, unable to find an answer, have gone so far as to declare that music must be pure form, without emotion. Yet philosophers from Confucius to Plato and Aristotle, religious traditions from Hinduism and Buddhism to Christianity, all regarded music as a profound form of moral-emotional training.
Can we link the ancient spiritual purposes of music to our modern secular and scientific understanding of man?
This book argues we can, presenting a new theory that music produces the psychological signature of emotion—a motion of the mind with a distinctive set of mathematical characteristics. This theory provides a new way of making sense of musical emotion, a rational framework for understanding and validating it. It thus holds the promise of restoring the importance of music as a humanistic art form, and a vehicle for expressing and rewarding the good.
Tonight I attended a talk in NYC on "Western Civilization on the Brink: Why Defending our Culture Matters" by Dr. Victoria Coates, who just published the book "David's Sling: A History of Democracy in Ten Works of Art." (She also happens to be a foreign affairs advisor for the Ted Cruz campaign.)
The book tells the story of the propagation of Western Democracy through works of visual art through the ages. In the presentation tonight, we heard Dr. Coates talk about a few of these works in vivid detail and in historical context. It definitely got me interested in the book.
The audience (a packed house) seemed to be mainly Western Civ advocates like me, so it was a nice group of people to meet. I highly recommend this book to everyone interested in the heritage of Western culture.
Some complain that Ayn Rand rejected people, and threw them out of her circle and her movement, because they "didn't like the right music," etc. This includes, for example, Murray Rothbard's short play, Mozart was a Red.
In going through some old papers, I found a discussion I had with long-time Ayn Rand fan Betsy Speicher about this. Betsy quoted Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand's executor:
On a daily one-hour show where he was doing an on-air biographical interview with two reporters from the Orange County Weekly, Dr. Peikoff was asked whether Ayn Rand rejected people who didn’t share her tastes in art. Here’s what he had to say, transcribed verbatim:
“If it were true that Ayn Rand kicked out of her circle or denounced or would not tolerate anyone who disagreed with her on things like music and painting, I’d like you to account for my continued existence as a close friend of hers for over thirty years plus being designated as heir.
“I loved Beethoven. I have a vast Mozart collection of which she knew perfectly well. I love Somerset Maugham whom she hated. [ …]
“She knew in great detail of the conflicts--such conflicts or disagreements as there were--and as long as you could specify what you liked in terms that were understandable in reason (and that were not an assault on reason, as I indicated to you before) there’s no such thing. It’s a complete, total lie.”
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As confirmation of this fact, give a listen to Ayn Rand’s “Fiction Writing” course which was taped at her apartment. There is one place where she discusses four love scenes. After the reading of one she asks: “Is there anyone who like this?” Her voice is dripping with utter disgust. There is dead silence on the tape for a while and then you hear Ayn Rand chuckling and saying, “Leonard, you would!”
Betsy has a book of her own out now; here it is: The Whys Way to Success and Happiness
Now that it is painfully clear who the presidential nominees will be, I find it necessary to point out: Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton are both Baby Boomers, just like George W. Bush was. As grateful as I am to my parents (both Boomers) for bringing me into the world, I will be glad when their generation finally retires.
Boomers were the first post-Western or anti-Western generation, the hippie generation, the first generation not of Beethoven, but of "Roll Over, Beethoven." The kids who wanted to tear down the establishment (including every vestige of the Enlightenment), and who used their numbers to that end, now *are* the establishment.
We will be much better off when the Boomers are off the scene, out of the positions of cultural power and influence. And we will have an amazing cultural opportunity when the generational change of power comes. It's not here yet, but it is coming soon.
Ladies and Gentlemen, after more than 15 years of work, I just finished my book "Emotion in Life & Music." (Only a little line-editing remains.) Get ready for the bomb to drop.
Today we live in an age in which people deeply accept metaphysical Subjectivism—the idea that reality is not an objective absolute, but a fluid and arbitrary construct of mind. On this premise, people think reality is either personally unique—you live inside your own self-created reality—or socially constructed—society somehow congeals its version of reality, which holds for only the members of that society.
People are drawn to this assumption of "Subjective Reality" because it enables them to make excuses for whatever irrationality they want to get away with.
One manifestation is what I call “subjectivist distancing”--a tactic for avoiding engagement with particular facts and arguments by dismissing them as “merely based on personal experience” and therefore irrelevant to anyone other than the speaker.
This is the pattern of "subjectivist distancing": A reality-oriented person offers facts and logical arguments. The subjectivist instinctively dislikes the absolutism and the challenge of that substance—and he seeks to distance himself from it by finding some way in which the reality-oriented person “just had a bad personal experience.” The subjectivist wants to avoid grappling with the specific facts and logical arguments offered, and he does so by ignoring them and implying that his opponent's judgment must be clouded and biased by his own subjectively constructed perception.
Here are some examples of Subjectivist Distancing from my own personal experience.
Each school year, I have a conversation with my graduating students—who will be going off to college the next year--about the nature and dangers of academia. We discuss the origins of academia in Plato's philosophy, embodied in his Academy, which was then re-created in the medieval Christian monasteries, which were eventually opened up to the public to become Universities. I warn the students about the dangers of living in a bubble cut off from the realities of life, without productive work to make a living, with all the concrete details of grocery shopping and paying bills managed by the great Parent which is the university—all riding on money that comes from commerce and industry, whether via private donors, government subsidies or grants, parental payments, or from debt which will be repaid by the student's own future work. I warn of the brainwashing indoctrination that students are subjected to, and explain in detail which ideas a pushed and how they are pushed. I warn about the dangers of false prestige, and the way “school pride” fuses your sense of self, your identity, with the institution and its doctrines.
One student, whose parents are piled high with academic credentials, and who was proud of being accepted to the prestigious Princeton University, found my message especially uncomfortable and fought me on it steadily. She particularly wanted to find out if I had had a bad experience in college—she half-heartedly acknowledged the facts I cited, but insistently pressed me about whether I had just had “a bad college experience.” When I told her that, yes, I did have a bad college experience, she was finally satisfied; she concluded—as she wanted to--that everything I said pertained only to me, was only relevant to me, that she did not have to deal with it or answer it, because my viewpoint was tainted by “personal experience.”
Another example: Several of my recent blog posts have condemned the Landmark Forum as a deadly and evil cult. I got a number of objections to those posts from people who had “completed” the Landmark Forum and wanted to shoot down what I said and reassert that they had “gotten value” from it and “suffered no ill harm” from it. Their objections were (quoting from one Landmark supporter): 1) “have you completed the Landmark Forum yourself, or is everything you have posted on the subject second or third-hand?” and admonishing me to “disclose that you never completed the program you are posting about and have no actual first-hand knowledge of it.” And 2) “You've not offered any sort of evidence except your perception/opinion of what is going on.”
Notice the double standard: if you do not have direct “personal experience” with the thing you are discussing, then your viewpoint is dismissed as not based on first-hand observation; but if you do have “personal experience” with it, then your judgment must be clouded and tainted by your own false private reality. There is no square inch of the human brain which is not destroyed by the premise of metaphysical Subjectivism.
My third example is about religion and worldview. I had a conversation with a Catholic friend—a very intelligent person with wide knowledge of science and the arts, but who was rigidly committed to the Catholic faith. I explained that I couldn't accept religion because it doesn't make any sense. We had fairly extensive conversations in which I pointed out the fallacies in the concept of God as an omniscient and omnipotent being, in which I pointed out the horrific implications of such things as original sin and the Ten Commandments (self-abnegation being the main theme). I was defending Ayn Rand's philosophy on the grounds of logic and facts.
But the final note of the conversation, pressed by my friend, was her assertion that I seemed to have had a difficult childhood, and therefore I needed a philosophy like Objectivism—whereas she had had a fairly good childhood, so she didn't have that need. She brushed aside the question of truth and rational validity to reassert the Subjectivist metaphysics: your reality is one thing, just for you, and my reality is another thing, untouchable by any of your observations or arguments.
This is how Subjectivism attempts to insulate irrational beliefs from challenge--to keep them impervious to reality. The subjectivist keeps threatening facts at arm's length from himself using, guarding against the thing he fears: objective reality.
I had not intended to write a lot about the Landmark Forum, but I got a direct challenge from someone who "completed" the Forum's program. He wanted me to analyze how a person can be harmed without knowing it (see the exchange below).
First, let me make my main point with a different example.
Some of the people I went to college with, who are raging Progressive-Liberals espousing Environmentalism, Multiculturalism and Political Correctness--adamantly deny that they were influenced by the ideas pushed by the University we attended (U Michigan). I hear the same denial from people who went to other schools as well. Students in academia today are thoroughly brainwashed (the brain is saturated in certain ideas and narrative, which are hooked up to the person's self-esteem through school pride)--and yet they come out of it thinking that the ideas are just self-evident, that they have "always known" them. They hold these convictions mostly as emotions, and if you challenge their emotions they feel invalidated.
They refuse to see the influence that was exerted on them. They are adamant that their experience in academia was a positive and constructive one, and they do not want to hear anything else.
But the ideas in your mind come from somewhere, and if you do not know where, you are at the mercy of others who may (and will) hijack your mind for their own agenda.
Now, to the defense of Landmark I received. This was following my prior posts Some Information about the Landmark Forum and The Landmark Forum is "Running a Racket"
Challenger: "Maybe I missed it, but have you completed the Landmark Forum yourself, or is everything you have posted on the subject second or third-hand?"
Me: "I attended a variety of Landmark events myself, researched the subject, and spoke to numerous people who have been affected by it. Thankfully, I did not "complete" the Landmark Forum, so my brain is still intact. Are you a Landmark fan?"
Challenger: "I completed the Landmark Forum and the est training many years ago and, despite various bad ideas which were offered (like the bad ideas taught in our schools and universities), I got value from it and had no permanent ill effects, nor did anyone I know who participated (and there were many). If you are going to write these hyperventilating and exaggerated posts, it would reflect some "integrity" if you disclose that you never completed the program you are posting about and have no actual first-hand knowledge of it."
Me: "I can see the ill effects in what you just wrote."
Challenger: "You should post about it."
So, you asked for it:
First of all, why the emphasis on whether you "complete" the program? This issue of completing the program is very important. A true self-help program does not require you to "complete" their program as a primary thing--the goal of a genuine self-help program would be to provide you with the tools you need to do work yourself, which is an open-ended, ongoing process. To "complete" the transformation at the Landmark Forum means something very significant--it means that your core identity has been finally transformed to comply with the cult. Like in military boot camp where they break you down and build you up again--only in the middle of that process the Landmark Forum inserts its insidious programming into you.
This comment is very typical of Landmark Drones, and very revealing: "despite various bad ideas which were offered... I got value from it and had no permanent ill effects, nor did anyone I know who participated."
The challenger said that my criticisms are "hyperventilating and exaggerated"--To which I respond: You don't catch flack unless you're over the target. But he is perfectly, totally, absolutely, 100% certain the Forum had "no permanent ill effects" on himself or the others he knew--To which I respond: Methinks thou dost protest too much.
Notice that the challenger does not dig in to a single concrete criticism I made. The criticisms have no reality him, and the "value" of the program is for him an impervious and unassailable axiom--it cannot be reached by facts, reason, or logic. It is a cult emotion.
This adamant insistence brushing aside all concrete complaints or criticisms and reasserting subjectively "but I got value from it" is how you know the Forum is installed in that person's subconscious with their tacit consent and approval.
This is the key to all cult programming--the victim's denial that he was influenced. When you have blinders installed, and you look at the world through those blinders, you don't notice the blinders and never think about where they came from. Until and unless you do.
One attendee to the Forum described to me the way in which the attendees were hypnotized - the person did not use that word, but the sequence included the whole bit with closing your eyes, don't make any sounds and don't move, listen to the soothing voice, hold it for a certain time, and then "snap out" of it when the leader claps or snaps the fingers. You cannot remember what happened when you were hypnotized. What was said during that hypnosis which the victims don't remember? I sure would like to know--but I can assure you I will not be attending the Forum to try to find out. Further, did the Forum tell people that they were going to be hypnotized? Did they ask permission to do that? Not in any report I have heard and not in any of my own observations sitting in Landmark events.
The fact that Landmark Drones get so adamantly defensive about the Forum, and counterattack the critic with personal attacks rather than substantive engagement--is an indication that they are not truly settled and okay with it. Why would you care if I criticize it if you are so sure it is good? Something inside the Landmark Drone is nagging at him, independently of me--and that is why when I criticize the Forum, he himself feels criticized. His identity, his sense of himself, is enmeshed with the cult.
This is, furthermore, the same pattern as religious dogmatism--the man of "faith" holds his bible or other book as an absolute, and unquestionable given. You can list all the facts in the world which are contrary to it, you can point out all the logical fallacies in the religious doctrine--and yet the person's "faith" is impervious to all of that. He will cling to it no matter what. Because it is held in his subconscious, tied to his own self-worth and self-concept, in a non-rational, emotional form arising from social interaction. It is the same cult psychology.
Rape denial, the victim's repression of the memory of being raped, is a known phenomenon with physical rape. Imagine how terrifying it must be to have to face the fact that you were raped. It is a traumatizing experience. The mind has automatic mechanisms for blocking and repressing such painful memories. They seem too overwhelming to process.
What about with mind-rape?
When you see that blank, robotic stare in the eyes, like a Stepford Wife, and the Landmark Drone dismisses your concrete criticisms to replace them with "I got value from the Forum"--you are looking at a victim of mind-rape. And the victim is in denial, repressing the memory of being violated.
"Americans do not believe in evil," Ayn Rand once observed. This is a great insight about America. Our gullibility and vulnerability comes from our naïveté. It is a combination of American benevolence and good will, with biased and distorted perception of reality.
Ayn Rand grew up in Russia, where evil is both acknowledged to exist, and thought to be important and powerful--all as one mixed package of tragic fatalism. And yet she herself had the wisdom to sort morality more finely. She held as a truth a different idea: that evil is unimportant and impotent--that 1) what matters is the good, and the evil should be attended to only as long as it is necessary to fight it; and 2) evil means destruction, not creative power, so its only power is parasitic on constructive creativity. But notice this is very different from believing that evil does not or cannot exist, denying that evil can be real.
This lesson--the American fallacy of disbelief in the reality of evil--has become especially apparent to me in a few recent concretes. First, I recently blogged about the Landmark Forum as an evil cult which destroys people, explaining in detail what is evil and destructive about it. I got a number of responses from readers saying "Can it really be that bad?" or "But I think it works for some people." People wanted to challenge whether I "just had a bad personal experience" which couldn't be generalized to apply to everyone. An undercurrent here is: people read such an analysis of evil not just with skepticism, but with a rigid assumption that something that bad cannot be real, it must be some sort of exaggeration or hot-headed personal vendetta. There is a strange, distinct note of prudish disapproval in an American's typical response to a denunciation of evil--as though it is "oversimplified," inappropriate, even sinful, to use harsh words naming evil for what it is.
Among typical Americans, there is no comprehension of the reality of an actually evil motivation--which is what makes Americans, as I said, so gullibly vulnerable to it.
The second recent example on this topic was people's responses the issue of potential terrorists coming to America (Europe, etc) masquerading as refugees. Many people have a primary concern to protect the innocence of refugees and muslims in general (which is taken as self-evident and axiomatic), and to denounce anyone who might be concerned about terrorist deception. There is again, no comprehension that a person might actually, in reality, be deceptive and malicious. And it is this unwillingness to accept the reality of evil that (again) makes Americans vulnerable to it, unprepared for it, and unconcerned with fighting it.
As a third example, which drives home the lesson in a powerfully emotional way--take the movie "Lone Survivor," which I just watched. It is about American soldiers in Afghanistan, who let 3 prisoners go free on the premise of following the "rules of engagement" and avoiding allegations of military crimes--and on the root premise: these guys must be innocent, realistically they just couldn't be evil, they must have a motivation as wholesome as our own and we just haven't seen it yet.
Americans have a tendency to distort the premise "innocent until proven guilty" to become "innocent, even after proven guilty--innocent regardless of proof."
This bias of "evil can't be real" in addition to being flatly false, is in total disregard of the safety of Americans, and of the actual risks in the real world. It is a fantasy premise that bad guys just need to be persuaded and treated nicely, and they will stop having malicious intent, which they never really wanted to feel anyhow.
"Lone Survivor" is a great dramatization of the consequences of this false and naive assumption.