Following on our observation that Song Lyrics are Poetry,

The Platonist is going to blog the Cure.  More specifically, the Cure’s lyrics.

Actually, I would like eventually to blog about a dozen other alternative bands from the heyday of alternative music as well, as part of a project to raise the status of alternative music as an art form.  In short, I want to make the point that alternative music is worthy of inclusion amongst the highest ranks of the western (now global) canon.  (And, I have also finished two major books and am doing this to relax, and, I’ve wanted to do this for twenty years.)

By blogging the Cure, I mean doing a literary analysis of the lyrics.  That is, treating the lyrics as though they were poems, a form of literature, which will hold up to sustained analysis.  Literary analysis is worth doing, as tens of thousands of brilliant literary critics will tell you, because there is much to be learned from literature, and criticism enriches the experience of those who are concerned about the work in question.

We won’t get into the question of why literature and music matters.  This is self evident, because many of the best of us spend most of our free time with these media.  In brief, literature is arguably as useful as philosophy, because it gets at the subtleties of human interaction better than any other medium.  Poetry, in its turn, reveals truths that cannot be expressed in any other way.  And ditto music.

The Cure has been chosen because I believe it is one of the bands of the alternative movement whose lyrics have more qualities of literature than most.  Over the course of blogging, we will see precisely how well this hypothesis holds up.

As I will explain, while I have some knowledge of music theory and music history, my strengths lie much more in the realm of textual criticism.  So the music, while appreciated, will receive incidental treatment.  But I argue that while many have analysed the music, very few serious critics have seriously engaged with the lyrics, with the result that many of the more obvious connotations of the lyrics remain to be discovered and appreciated.

Is it legit to mostly just analyse the lyrics?  The argument is that the modern pop song is a unique genre of art.  It is a thorough hybrid of music and lyrics, and both are essential to appreciating the whole.  For that reason, songs with lyrics can always be better appreciated if the lyrics are understood more fully both in terms of the meaning of the song itself, its relation to other songs on the album, and its relation to the oeuvre of the artist as a whole.

My method will be to go song by song, but also to treat each album as a work in itself.  Since artists before 2000 thought of albums as their principal ”art delivery system” and since albums were taken by both artists and the public as a holistic whole, this approach is defensible.

For the moment, we will blog one song per week, with Friday as the posting date.  Please spread the word, if you begin to like what you see.  The Cure’s earliest lyrics are simpler, but they quickly build to something worth paying closer attention to.  We will begin with their first album, Three Imaginary Boys (1979), and go in order.  We might do some incidental (non-album) songs from each period, as well.  The aim is to continue through Wish (1992).

Ciao for now, and until Friday.  -The Platonist.




It’s suddenly all so clear…

‘Open access’ — this strange idea which sounds so innocuous, or so empowering even, and which has been propagated by certain powers that be so that suddenly gullible academics everywhere are talking about it as though this is an inevitable development– is doublespeak.  It pretends to ”open access” to science publications… to whom?  To a ‘larger public.’  (How many members of the public need access to highly technical/specialized knowledge at this level?)   But it’s actually a move by savvy players to create a ‘knoweledge aristocracy’.  Or, if you like, it is a deliberate use of the language of the free market, by a group of power players who are attempting to mask a monopolistic power grab (This is a favorite tactic of marketers working for large, monopolistic companies).

To explain, some background.

So a U Kansas distinguished professor (A. Townsend Peterson) writes in the Huffington post about the ‘good and the bad’ of open access journals.

The bad:  an obviously flawed article was sent to 304 open access journals by the journal Science, and it was accepted by over half of them.  So duh, this reveals that a lot of open-access journals are for-profit scams.  This seems screamingly obvious.

The good:  A. T. P. then tells us that ”the serious open access journals are very likely an important part of the future of academic publishing, so we should nurture them.”  His direct quote is this:

“These journals likely represent an important element in the future of academic publishing, so we should do our best to protect them and nurture them, while discouraging the predatory and shoddy editorial practices on the part of some. After all, let’s keep our eye on the prize: an open, inclusive, and effective system of scientific communication.”

Who paid A.T.P. to suggest that ‘we should protect and nurture them?’  For goodness sake, shouldn’t we be nurturing, say, our young faculty members?  The future generation of scientists?  How often do senior professors publicly say that?  But back to the main point.  Do we really need these OA journals that are so in need of nurturing?

First of all, some people seem to forget that what makes good science prestigious, is that it is reviewed by top peers, at top journals.  The whole function of journals is to winnow the chaff from the wheat, and provide us with the wheat.  If we wanted the chaff, we could just do a google search!  And no real science would get done – every tom, dick, and henrietta could voice their opinion, and with no editorial function, no one could tell the noise from the music.   Continue Reading »

Ok, so I don’t get to post here much now that I am taking an active role in a new programme with 1500 students, where I am one of their principal professors.  It’s fun, but between that and trying to maintain a new book series, new journal, and keep at the leading edge of my global age/professional cohort for research (which is basically required to advance), well, I don’t have much extra brain juice to spend even 20 minutes doing a post here.  It’s sad in some ways, but that’s the stage of life I’m at.  If only I had two selves, one which could maintain a fun, fulfilling professional life, and one which could spend the time writing what I think might actually be the most useful to help move society in the right direction (i.e., things like I write on this blog).

But I wanted to duck in here for a minute and share some of the fruits of my research and thinking over the last 20 years–addressed specifically to the question of how we create an ideal world.  The way is becoming clearer every year.  I think that social science/humanities/arts is actually at a pretty exciting crossroads right now.  We’re learning a lot of stuff, relatively quickly.  There are a lot of useful debates opening up.  If your field seems dry, you’re asking the wrong questions and/or following the wrong debates.

So, without further ado, here’s The Platonist’s list of the 10 things we need to do to create an ideal world.  Note:  this will still not make you happy.  That can’t be automatic in a system which must, by default, also maximize your free will.  But it will maximize your odds of being happy, while maximizing free will (this is seen as requisite to fulfilliment, and meaningfulness, if not happiness).

1.  Population reduced to 1 billion.  This good round number was the population of Earth in 1900, when there were vast swathes of wilderness, but still many populous cities – the best of both worlds.  If we had population 1 billlion, this would mean

a) Environmental problems?  Instantly solved.  We could all basically pollute quite a lot, burn all the wood, burn fossil fuels (cleanly), and have room for all the wind and solar power generators we wanted.  Plenty of space for large animals to roam.

b)  Economic problems?  Also largely solved.  See no 2. Below.

How to do this?  As I have noted elsewhere:  simple:  ensure the birth rate goes just below 2.2 per woman, and viola.  Within a hundred or two years, population can be brought to 1 billion.  How to ensure this rate?  For one thing, education already brings the rate to this level or below, so just keep increasing access to education globally.  Secondly:  a light tax can be introduced, where people with more than 2 kids pay a little more.  On average, this would be all that’s needed.

2.  Have housing regulations changed, so that large, American-style homes are normative.  Tear down old c19th century tiny urban houses.  And stop building tiny new ones.  This solves the following problems:

a)  If all houses were large, the price of housing automatically falls, so that large houses are ‘average’ priced.

b)  Research shows that if people own their own homes, they have more capital.  Crucially, middle-class people have a higher propensity to spend than the wealthy, b/c they have little to save.  Thus, they spend more.  Good for the economy.

c)  Research shows that if people have larger homes, they spend more – they fill their houses with stuff.

d)  Research also shows that if people spend more on stuff for their homes, the price of stuff falls.

3.  At the same time, get rid of planned obsolescence.  Have people buy longlasting, beautiful things.  I’ve written a post about this.  No need to drive business by ‘tricking’ people into buying light bulbs with deliberately fragile filaments.  Find other business models.  If light bulbs can be built which last 100 years (viz, some of Edisons’), then do it!  And people just need to find another industry.  Philips can move into something else.  Making quality goods, for one thing.

4.  Conduct research to minimize the price that people pay for necessities (food, electricity, phone service), to maximize people’s additional revenue to spend on fun things, i.e., vacations; home improvement, books.

5.  Make work humane.  As noted on this site, people could work 20 hours/week (which gives you a sense of having something to do, and a purpose), and earn just as much, given the level of automation now possible, and productivity.  I think many people would find a 5 hour day, 4 days/week, to be a fine full time job.

6.  Conduct research into minimizing income inequality.  Optimize the system so that there is innovation, entrepreneurialism, incentive, but make being ‘filthy rich’ redundant.

7.  Oh and, democracy must be normative, and universal, as the only gvt which actually responds to the people.  All non democratic governmental forms have led to totalitarianism, and are far less good than democracy.  But, continue developing safeguards to keep wealth and corruption from being too rampant.  This can be improved.

8.  Continue the ‘war on ageing.’  If people had centuries, the world would be far less of a rat race.  People could have a totally more relaxed attitude towards life.  They could take it slow.  War would become even more ridiculous.  (Note:  democracies don’t fight each other, as a rule; so if all were democratic, this would be the end of war–this is basic political science).

9.  Agree on ways to raise collective IQ.  One of the greatest causes of inequality now, with the meritocracy that has to be (meritocracy is def. part of the ideal world – you need a sense of competition, to create meaning), is that there is such a gulf in human IQ.  We need to make the bell curve narrower, and ideally raise our intelligence so that more people have 160 IQ or above.  When you have this intelligence – the world is infinitely exciting and interesting.  As a rule, the ‘profoundly gifted’ have more fun.  Not just b/c they are at the far extreme of the bell curve.  But because they see the universe in so much complexity, and yet can grasp the overarching symmetries, that existence itself becomes beautiful.  A Beautiful Mind = can readily see/grasp/create a Beautiful World.

10.  Promote humanism, justice, beauty, truth – the Platonics – as ideals.  However you like.  But a world without them, is just a mechanical, and a drab world.  The world of the beat poets, the nihilists.

a)  This includes, having architecture be beautiful again.  When artists create beauty, and harmony with nature, they create the deepest peace that people can ever know:  why are the cathedrals so inspiring; the monasteries?  They follow these ideals.

This is all I have time for, but, it’s a recipe which, if followed, would lead us closest to the most ideal world we know how to create.  In fact, this wouldn’t look too different from Gene Roddenberry’s vision for Star Trek:  only:  in the last 50 years, we have become far, far more articulate about how to get there (viz, the list above – almost none of which R could have said, certainly not with the confidence we can say now).



* “Evil” being shorthand for a combination of:  Irrational/Anti-scientific/Angry/Selfish/Cynical/and/or Bigoted.

Now we know that the South has some good qualities; politeness, manners, duty, fairness; I was born there and half my family is from there, so I’m not just “whistling Dixie” with this post.  It is meant to be a serious beginning of a scientific inquiry into the following conundrum:

When one looks at all of the societies in the ‘developed’ world, the US South stands out for routinely electing politicians who are, for lack of a better set of words:  dumb jerks.  Angry, selfish, brutal, cynical, short-sighted, anti-environmental, anti-empathetic, bigoted, irrational, anti-scientific, even anti-economic stability.  Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin (an honorary member, since it’s southerners who respond to her brand of politics, mostly).

Why, alone in the developed world, does the US South do this?  Here’s a short list of probable causes, which it will be remembered, in any social system contribute varying percentages of causality:

1.  Slavery.  People who moved to the US South originally, knew that it was a slave area.   Continue Reading »


So here we go again, another attack on the ‘white maleness’ of authors taught in arts and humanities university courses (this time philosophy courses), by a black woman feminist, who is touting a movement she claims is going round the US like wildfire, under the title “why is my curriculum white?”

Ok, so let’s unpack.

Why is she writing this?  B/c she wants to see the curriculum opened up so that we have a plethora of voices, which are representative of human diversity.  Fine.

She is also arguing that the curriculum is white because when they were set in the c19th and early c20th, all professors were white males.  Yes, ish.

She is also arguing that there are just as many non-white male philosophy masters out there who should be represented.  This might be true, in some contexts.

She is implying that resistance to this agenda is, deep down, due to racism on the part of white males or their unwitting supporters who have drunk the kool-aid.

She can partly get away with this, because the legacy of slavery in the US, coupled with Marxist and post-Marxist criticism in the mid and late c20th, has given self-identifying ‘minorities’ a way to link economic, political, racial, and sexual power, which is simple, clear cut, and, which has a lot of truth, but, which also after hardly any serious scrutiny tends to break down more than one would think.  We won’t go there now, it’s too much for one post.

But the long and short of it is, that, most cultures, when you know the history, have produced ‘sporadic’ philosophy, because they were monarchical, and there was nowhere safe for philosophical schools to hide, out from under the absolute rule of monarchs and their dogmatist enforcers.

It has only been in societies which contained a strong democratic/republican element, i.e., in the ancient Mediterranean, and in W. Europe from the high middle ages to the present, that we’ve seen ‘explosions’ of philosophy, where generation after generation, men (they were usually men, but, moreso than anywhere else, there were women trained in philosophy as well) were trained in rhetoric, so they could sit on the town councils, where a real culture of philosophy developed.

Thus, Athens, Florence, London, Germany at variuos times have produced more philosophy in one century, than any other culture apart from the others named above.  You can find Chinese philosophy:  a lot of it  but – not usually done in the same style of continuous revision, continuous dialogue, high standards of critical independent thought, free from monarchical influence, and continuous pushing of the envelope.  This becomes obvious when you compare the origins of the scientific history writing in China and Greece, as a recent book has done. Continue Reading »

As a PhD who graduated now 9 years ago, I know a lot of youngerish PhDs in the humanities as well; and I can state that out of 6 people I know personally who have gotten long-term/tenure track academic jobs in history or politics in the last 5 years, and who were active both on the North American and European markets, that 6 out of 6 have in fact gotten jobs in Europe.

It’s a relatively small sample, and a personal sample, and thus biased, but, it gives me pause; especially since 5 of the 6 are in fact North Americans.  The one European in the sample was looking actively in the US and Canada and had several temporary appointments there, and many connections, but still got a job in Europe rather than North America.  

So, in brief, it looks like the disintegration of the American academy, especially regarding entry-level professor jobs, is really taking its toll:  many of the best, brightest, and most motivated people in the humanities are saying sayonara to the US:  it is no longer the land of opportunity:  its managers have gone too job-cutting happy, and there is no scope to become middle class there any more, as a teacher or professor, unless you’re a mathematician, or hard scientist, in which case you have to put up with ridiculously long hours and continuous fatigue in order to pay for your middle class or upper middle class lifestyle.  

Guess what?  When you cut the professoriate into ribbons, there will be no professoriate left, and your talent will flee.  In my personal experience, this for the moment means that talent is fleeing to those more progressive parts of Europe where they still have jobs for people, and are willing to hire foreign talent in order to improve their own programmes.  And it’s working.  The programmes in the Netherlands where I am working are definitely getting better by the year, in part because they are deliberately mimicking the American system, and increasingly hiring foreigners from English-speaking universities, which have traditionally dominated the global top 100 rankings.  

So yeah, this is also helping the rest of the world to catch up, as the US crashes and burns.  Hey, don’t want any humanities faculty?  Well, you know from the rest of this site how essential this has always been (or its equivalent) to a free society, with human rights, etc.  The rest, as they say, is history…


Why live?

That is the question, isn’t it?

It’s a pretty fundamental one.  If you answer no to that one, the rest of your flow chart doesn’t mean much.  At least, not in any way that us alive in this cosmos can register.

Do I believe in an afterlife?  I strongly suspect that there are links with our cosmos/universe that we don’t entirely get.  Does that mean that our souls continue on in a recognizable form, that we ourselves recognize, after death?  I would really like to think so, although of course it seems pretty far fetched at first.  There are some reasons to believe that the universe is not randomly created–intelligent design people aren’t entirely evidenceless; and that leads me to hope that, somehow, our universe is a birthing place for new ‘gods’, that is, souls/creatures which eventually have an existence/life beyond our universe; or which can travel through it and spacetime.  If there is a god/gods, then they obviously want us to do things mostly ourselves.  But we’ve said this a bit before.  And I would go so far as to say that the theologians at work today have come up with some pretty interesting stories, which do engender hope; I am talking partly about John Polkinghorne, and Alister McGrath, and Thomas Torrence.  These latter make a case for a specifically Christian theology, but again, this need not be incompatible with other theologies entirely.

Of course, our current state of scientific knowledge would tell us that indeed life is meaningless; we are manifestations of DNA wanting to reproduce ourselves; we have no more purpose than cancer cells, which mindlessly propagate (and then die) as long as we are in a situation where we are not annihilated entirely.

And so many intelligent people have been, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, quite cynical as to the ‘meaning of life.’ They point to the billions on the planet, the existence of toil, suffering, filth, pain, loneliness, debility, ageing, corruption, cruelty in the lives of so many.  The internet is full of people copulating; cities are full of horrible buildings; television and movies are full of gore and torture.  Freud was right:  we are bestial, murderous animals.

So why bother?  If we’re, as a doctor friend pointed out, about 15 cents worth of chemicals, why do it?

Continue Reading »