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.
My prior posting about the Landmark Forum garnered some response from the starry-eyed (zombie-eyed) evangelists who buy into it. (This was on a different discussion forum, not my blog.) Here are further follow-up thoughts from me.
The Landmark Forum's advocacy of "integrity" is corrupt, and its advocacy of "authenticity" is inauthentic. Their use of these words is not a support of virtue, but a stealth tactic for gaining access to a person's subconscious. The goal of the Forum, as with any cult, is to find a way in to a person--and that means finding the person's key weakness, insecurity, or vulnerability.
The primary way that the Forum does this is to nominally advocate "integrity," so that the victims will self-criticize and reveal the way in which they have been "inauthentic" or failed to follow through pursuing their dreams. One person dreamed of being loyal to a parent but wasn't; another dreamed of working hard to become a great musician, but didn't, etc. When the victim has supplied the way in which he has dreamed but not acted to pursue that dream, then the Forum has its access point. The Forum leader hammers and drills on that weakness until the person breaks down. Sometimes a formerly reserved and private person will be sobbing uncontrollably onstage in front of hundreds of people. The victim gives in to their newly discovered "need" for a solution--and the Landmark Forum is poised to inject its cult programming as that solution.
This process masquerades as "tough love"--but it is not any kind of love--it is mind rape.
In this connection, I recommend this book:
The Rape of the Mind: The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing by Joost Meerloo
The essence of the Landmark Forum is its enormous negation of the victim's individual judgment.
Once a victim has opened himself, once he has taken in and accepted the Landmark programming, that programming tends to be stubbornly locked in place. This programming is partly held as ideas, and those are not too difficult to refute with logic; but it is also largely held as a set of self-destroying mental-emotional habits, such as a habit of ignoring, dismissing, scoffing at facts which work against the Forum, and such as harsh cruelty toward one's own self, and by extension a harsh cruelty to others. All of which is covered with the veneer of a sweet smile and softly open eyes.
Cult programming does not get in through reasoning but through social pressure, self-flagellation, hypnosis, emotional breakdown and humiliation--through shattering the mind. Therefore using logic to escape from the programming is only partly effective. The victim tends to regard the cult mindset as "salvation" and a "solution" and a revolutionary new method of having greater integrity--which is part of its imperviousness to revision. Until and unless the victim is able to grasp and face the fact that he was manipulated and harmed by the Forum's deception, the programming will be stubbornly entrenched. It is a question of whom to trust, and the victim must first learn to have absolute and exclusive trust in his own judgment, before he can find people (outside the Forum) who are safe to form a loving bond with.
On several occasions, I spoke to certain Landmark cult victims and leaders and told them directly and in strong terms what I thought of what they were doing--that I thought the Forum it is a cult which destroys people, that it is manipulative and criminal. I always got the same response: a blithe smile, a patronizing look in their eyes, a disregard of everything I said as though it had not been said at all, and a reply, "Thank you so much for sharing, it's great that you are opening up like this. Before, you seemed so closed off and unconnected."
All of what they do is tailored to gain access to your subconscious, to get you to yield your conscious judgment, to drop your mental self-control, and to give them access to your subconscious inner core. The Forum uses the capacity for human social connection to destroy the reasoning mind. It is not "reaching out." It is not a loving bond. It is not "openness" to human connection. What they want is your openness to their corruption and evil, your willingness to surrender to their control--when they most certainly do not have your best interest at heart. Quite the opposite.
The leaders of the Forum do not themselves actually believe the content of what they espouse. Their tactics and statements are not substantive thoughts but manipulative tricks. They are methods of deceiving people.
I remarked before that the Forum is particularly infamous for destroying marriages. What is it about the Landmark Forum that causes the victims to sever from previous intimate relationships? In essence, it seems the victim suffers damage to the brain's capacity for authentic connection. The victim comes away with a sort of mental vacancy, a robotic quality, with the capacity for empathy and responsive relation to another person cut off. A large part of this comes from the merciless cruelty with which the Forum broke the person down; the victim has internalized a dialogue of harsh self-censure which is an ongoing form of self-harm, and which gets extended to others, driving them away.
One commenter (on my earlier post) mentioned that their name for the victims of the Forum was "EST-holes" (EST was the prior name of the Landmark cult). The name is apt since the hallmark of such people is their harshness, mean-spirited vitriol, negativity, fault-finding, knit-picking--and their enormous dropping of all context of positive values and virtues. Positive values and virtues are the primary enemy and target of a cult which seeks to destroy the reasoning mind in order to gain power over a person through the subconscious.
People with emotional problems or disorders are very susceptible to this, due to their psychological wounds--which the disease of the Forum takes as its point of entry.
The biggest lie in the whole Forum is its criticism of its victims that they are "running a racket." That is the exact phrase used in the Forum to criticize people, whenever they talk in a way that "makes excuses" for their "lack of integrity." Again, in a healthy, non-malicious, non-cult situation, refuting a person's excuses for not pursuing their dreams would be a proper, rational process. But that is not what this is. The process gets plausibility from the notion that you shouldn't make excuses for personal failures, you should own them and take responsibility; but in the context of the Forum, this leads not to constructive behavior, but to the propagation of the cult at the expense of its victim.
The Forum is engaged in subterfuge, using virtue to destroy virtue, using reason to destroy reason. The surface plausibility is what disarms the reasoning mind, while the Forum continually presses itself forward, drilling into the soul of the hapless victim who naively believes the Forum is interested in helping.
This method of subterfuge hijacks the language of the good and uses it to destroy the good. It is based on the good's one vulnerability--the use of words for their actual substantive meaning without realizing that a different kind of person uses the same words only for manipulative purposes, not to convey content of thought.
Any time you question or challenge or criticize the Landmark programming you are "running a racket." Well--there is definitely someone in that conversation that is "running a racket", but it is not the victim; it is the cult leader. This is an epic example of projection--of attributing one's own problem to other people.
One method employed by all cults to solidify the cult programing is ritual evangelism--getting victims to recruit others into the cult. This is a full-on mania with those infected with the Forum.
Getting a person to push ideas, actions, and institutions--as moral slogans without his own full, independent rational understanding--is a way to entrench his unthinking belief in them and devotion to them. This is another way of bringing the cult into the person's subconscious self-concept while bypassing what they think.
"We are what we habitually do," taught Aristotle. It is activism creating self-identity, entrenching beliefs as a mark of pride and as definitional to who you are as a person.
One does not have to be weak or unintelligent to fall victim to this scheme. It uses ape-level parts of the brain to have influence, and we all have those parts. But it is only the strength of the higher-order brain functions, reason and logic, including the rational processing of emotion, which can ultimately ward off such evil.
The Landmark cult is not sincere. It is playing a game, a deadly one, with people's souls. There is nothing innocent or well-intentioned about it.
I recently replied to an online discussion in which the Landmark Forum came up, to provide some information from my own research. I'm re-posting that reply here for anyone who may find it useful.
The Landmark Forum presents itself as a businesslike self-help program, but that is a veneer for a cult left over from the 1970s. They employ cult techniques such as group pressure tactics (including public ridicule and shaming to break people down), insider technical jargon, and hypnosis without notice or consent. Here is an expose about the con-man who founded it, Werner Erhard, which has been suppressed but is available through Wikileaks. (Because the Forum rakes in *a lot* of money, they have an army of lawyers to suppress and counteract negative/critical publicity.)
This book, along with many others about cults, mentions the Landmark Forum: "Combatting Cult Mind Control"
The Landmark Forum is particularly notorious for destroying marriages. Ask any older, experienced psychotherapist, who will have dealt with many clients whose psychology and relationships were harmed by the Forum. Here's one example from the many complaints online:
"My wife has totally disconnected and filed for separation. Sure I've been less than perfect. I admitted everything I did and she will not even talk to me. She kicked me out of my house and away from my two babies. The only thing that is different with her is she has been doing Landmark Forum for the last few months. Is there anyone out there who has gone through the same thing? We have been together for 14 years and she has totally become another person who is not even talking to me. I feel like I am talking to a robot !!"
The Forum finds vulnerable people, exploits their insecurities, and drills in the Landmark/EST/Werner Erhard cult mentality. Their ideas are Kantian "create the reality you want by thinking it" BS. It is one of the offshoots of Scientology. It destroys people and is pure, deadly evil.
For more, see my follow-up post The Landmark Forum is "Running a Racket"
Historian/actor Dave Malinsky has been helping me out as a reader of the manuscript of my book Emotion in Life & Music. He's been a great help, not just for giving me deadlines, but as a sounding board for the text. As a result, my progress accelerated a great deal. The main outgrowth of this is--in addition to the book being nearly finished now!--the book is 1) much more focused, and 2) more broadly humanistic for a general audience rather than in-depth technical for a specialist. Therefore, the book has a new subtitle and table of contents.
Emotion in Life & Music:
A NeoHumanist Manifesto
M. Zachary Johnson
1 - Emotional Life
2 - The Psychological Signature of an Emotion
3 - Objectivity & Emotion
4 - Emotional Integrity
5 - The Hierarchy of Emotion
6 - Love of Intelligence
Stay tuned for publication details!
Here's an excerpt from my book in progress, "Emotion in Life & Music: A New Science." This is from the early part of the book, which establish the need for the ideas I present later.
The Need to Validate Musical Emotion
Everybody takes his own taste in music for granted.
When you love a piece of music, it seizes you, it grabs hold of you, it consumes you. The reaction is immediate and soul-filling. Your favorite music, perhaps more than any ordinary emotion, feels absolutely inevitable and self-evident. And because music is such an intense pleasure, it feels particularly irresistable--as though it would be impossible, nay, inconceivable, to not embrace it.
And yet we find that different people have radically different taste in music.
You say that a certain piece is beautiful, uplifting and inspiring, but someone else finds the same piece boring and sleepy. A young person regards some song as powerful and envigorating, but his parent finds it obnoxious and irritating. One man says that this symphony is intensely passionate and heartfelt, another says that the same music is sappy, gushing, and ridiculously "heart-on-sleave."
When we encounter such disparities of taste, we are often surprised, even shocked or blindsided. The thing that had felt so unquestionable and obvious is suddenly revealed to be highly questionable and far from obvious.
And yet, when one wants some answers and some resolution to this dilemma, the mind is blank. What is the basis for those reactions? And who is right?
People don't know.
With music, we take our own likes and dislikes for granted--just as the boy took for granted the smell of his own house, just as a person takes for granted the "wallpaper" of his own mind. There is much more going on, which we need to become aware of.
We are right to enjoy music in the moment, and to give in to it fully as an emotional experience. But when we resist analysis after the fact, we commit the same fallacy as the solipsist: we fall into subjectivism, small-mindedness, bias, and unnecessary ignorance.
Notice that without answers in this domain, we end up in one of two places. Either we become dogmatists, trying to command our own taste as superior, on the basis of some sort of authority, unproven prestige, or "Will of the Group"; or we become subjectivists, throwing up our hands and declaring it's all just a matter of opinion, we can't know, and that's the end of it. In either case, reason surrenders and becomes passive, instead of engaging with the substance of the question.
The same shock of disparity we experience on a personal level has played out in world history, as different cultures first became aware of one another. For most of history, people encountered only their own local culture--its language, food, art, style of music and dancing--and they took that cultural package for granted. As far as they knew, it was the one and only, eternal way.
But as explorers and traders reached ever more distant lands, people began to learn about different cultures--including very dramatically different ones. With this information, they faced the realization that their own culture was not the only possible one. What they had taken for granted all along was not a given, after all.
In this historical progression, we see the same two errors of dogmatism versus subjectivism. Some sought to conquer and eliminate other cultures, imposing their own ways, on the basis of nothing more than the crudely primitive assertion of, "My tribe is best--obey!" Others concluded with "multiculturalism"--the idea that there are no common, cross-cultural standards, and that to think in terms of any universal value-judgments is chauvinistic and unfair. This is an enormous false alternative.
Neither dogmatism nor subjectivism, neither oppression nor multiculturalism, gives us answers.
Neither provides us with the objectivity, the self-knowledge, or the validation that human nature so profoundly requires.
So let us, for a change, seek out precisely these things.
* * *
Musical taste is not like what sort of ice cream you like or what baseball team you root for. It is an expresion of the core of who you are--of your deepest identity as a person. Music is not just "ear candy"--it is a statement on the meaning of life.
Musical expression and taste are intimately connected with all the questions of personhood: personality, mental health, moral character, cognitive style--everything that makes an individual unique.
So we all face, as an inescapable logical fact, the question of what your taste in music says about who you are. If some music you love is bad, does that make you a bad person? Does it mean there is something wrong with you? If you like something noble and grand, does it don you an air of superiority over the next guy? If you love some music that no one else around you can stand, does it mean that you are just crazy, or are you actually right while everybody else is wrong? How do you process contradictory "guilty pleasures"--which one may feel in spite of his better judgment?
Musical taste is an expression of your unique character as a person, and your own implicit self-concept. It is an enormous affirmation of who you are inside.
So when that affirmation is challenged, what can you do to meet that challenge?
We need to bring objectivity. We need to rise above the emotions we have been locked into--not to negate them, but to understand what they are, and where they come from.
An objective theory of music allows for the person-to-person and culture-to-culture variation which does exist, while finding the universals, the common fundamentals of human nature. It identifies the laws of musical emotion, which are the framework within which we can understand and validate individual taste. It points the way to some standards of value: of what is the best man can aspire to, and to what we should grant the highest honor.
I've been noticing something on Youtube for years now with various pieces of music. Here's an example. Now please tell me based on this: What do you mean by "popular music"? (FYI I can find a lot of more extreme comparisons, this is just what I was looking at today.)
My friends at the American Revolution Round Table (NY), the Bowling Green Association and the Lower Manhattan Historical Society got together to reenact the New York City Stamp Act Protest on its 250th anniversary. This was the first act of colonial rebellion against British power, and it took place at the exact spot of the original protest. I made this miniature documentary of the event. It was a lot of fun!