Monday, March 26, 2007

The World According to Nouns

Awhile back I was reading a very long interview with ex-Minuteman Mike Watt where he goes into detail about the meaning of each song on Double Nickels on the Dime. The lyrics on that album have meant a lot to me, but I could never figure out quite what they were getting at as a whole. What he mentions about the song I lifted the name of this site from I found particularly interesting:
The world according to nouns - are there any thoughts left in the head that don't have a word assigned to it?...Some people think it's kinda corny and cheesy, having to talk about it in the first place with the language and that shit....You should be aware of this, especially when you're a young person. To find out where a wall is, you push. You've heard so many people talk about where it is. You're like "I wonder if it really is there."
Nouns are particularly important because they can be so vague. While adjectives describe things, nouns define them. Even something as concrete as a chair can bring to mind different images of different types of chairs. And (to borrow from the song) what about something more abstract like the state? Americans have a general sense of what the state is, but how do people from a different part of the world view it? And it's comforting to think about it as a fact of life, but that ignores everything that went into creating the idea of a state and instilling it in people's heads in the first place. And even when that idea had been created, where did the current incarnation come from? How has it become what it is today?

What about with music? Let's say I'm a record store clerk who has the Double Nickels on the Dime lp in his hands, and I put it in the punk section. But what does punk mean? Certainly people have expectations of a specific sound from the mention of the word, but where did those expectations come from? How has the perception of this genre of music changed over time?

The Minutemen embraced the word because of it represented a DIY way of life and expression. Yet they sounded very far from what most today consider to be punk (stuff along the lines of The Ramones/The Sex Pistols). Which brings the question, can punk have different meanings? (as they say in Do You Want New Wave Or Do You Want The Truth?, "can a word have two meanings?") Has punk gone from a way of life to a crass commercial term? Does it make it more likely for their message and the value of their music to be misunderstood by people who have more narrow conceptions of what the word means?

You get the idea. The point of asking these questions is not to just talk about how we should understand language. That's pretty boring for me to write, especially because I don't know that much about it. The point is that looking at things from this kind of perspective - where there are no walls or barriers and nothing is certain and everything should be questioned, is absolutely fucking essential. If only because so many people give it no thought and take it for granted. They think the wall is there, but is it really there? You have to think about the heavy, confusing shit to develop a more clear understanding of how the world works. But to do that, you actually have to care.

And getting people to care seems to be the largest obstacle. It is hard to get a handle on all of this shit (I can hear D. Boon yelling "I'm fuckin' overwhelmed!"). Many people will try to be open-minded and look outside their world but I don't think they really see where other perspectives intersect with their own. It's more that they feel a need to be accepting of others' differences to be a better person but still believe that those people are fundamentally different.

It's like this post-modern view that we are defined by our differences. We are supposed to accept these differences as what makes everyone special and unique. I don't buy into that PC shit at all. It's what's the same about everyone that makes us special. The true strength of humans is the endless powers of ingenuity and creativity and our capacity for love, truth, and understanding. It sounds corny, but it's absolutely true. And I don't care about nor have time for anything else.

I had a lot of doubt when I first considered doing this blog. I thought if I even could somehow get people to read and understand what I'm saying, they would find it annoying and monotonous and say stuff like "why does this matter?" After all, hasn't this been the kind of thing that's been rammed down everyone's throats by every Emerson/Thoreau wannabe? Didn't all of that shit come out in the 60's until it was overtaken by the market? Doesn't it just sound now like the played out recruiting language for some mindless cult? Isn't the world we live in now fundamentally more complex and different? Don't irony and cynicism speak more to our generation?

Maybe this is hard for some people to believe, but we still live in the same world that people occupied 10000 years ago. People still eat, sleep, shit, learn, talk, and have sex. The only difference is that the capacity for learning and understanding has greatly increased. I have never been able to understand why, with the limitless resources the internet has, there are so few people online taking advantage of it. For the first time in...forever, people have actual freedom of speech and the ability to be heard from anywhere, yet very few seem to know what to do with it at all. Why not test it? Why not take a risk so you can learn something new about the world?

We're so used to having a ridiculous number of options that it's easy to concentrate on satisfying the short term and never look past that. So maybe people just don't feel an impulse to express themselves as long as they can have all they think they need. Or maybe some people figure there's no point in expressing themselves because they think they can never do it as well as someone else. Maybe they're afraid of being proven wrong or inferior. Maybe they just don't want to completely pour their hearts out only for no one to see it or care. Maybe they're just so tired of putting up with the bullshit that they've given up and become jaded and bitter. All of these are understandable, but none of them should stop anyone from confronting this and soldiering on.

"The world according to nouns" is the world most people occupy. It's pop culture, it's buzzwords, it's advertising, it's the "blogosphere". It's the only thing most people give a fuck about. People talk about it because it's a world so familiar to everyone and it's so easy to get caught up in all of it. It becomes people's lives and deludes people into thinking they know what they want out of life. It's stuff that can sometimes be important but is more often a barrier to larger, universal truths.

It's probably important to say right now that I am not being original here. I'm not going to congratulate myself for rehashing ideas that more educated and intelligent people have defined in very eloquent terms over the years. This has been repeated many times by everyone from Jesus to Emerson to Ghandi, but it bears repeating until everyone on earth understands exactly what it means. It is not hippie bullshit, it's a completely sincere and rational acknowledgment of the reality of the world. So if I had to sum up the purpose of this "blog" and any subsequent form of expression I'll ever do, it is the following:

We are all connected. Everything is connected. It's ok be smart. It's ok to be sincere and actually care about things. Irony is a tool, not a way of life. It's ok to like anything. Categories and labels should only ever be used to describe something, not define it. Don't let yourself be swept up in the culture's obsession with identity. Instead, do everything you can to discover yourself. Then make it a point to be yourself regardless of what anyone else thinks about it. Do what you believe you should do and be passionate about it, but also use your head and be rational. Realize that our society's definition of success is only temporary and doesn't make you a better human being. Don't wallow in guilt or shame. Instead, take advantage of your privileges by being a decent human being and finding a way to help others express themselves. This shit has always been relevant and it will always be relevant.


I'm done talking about that for right now. I mean, it's always going to be around but I don't want to give off the impression that this blog is going to be filled with a lot of heavy-handed speculation about expression. At least hopefully not in the same incredibly self-conscious and corny way I did here. I actually find things funny and have a sense of humor, as hard as that is to believe from the above.

My interests are mostly in music and comedy, so that's mostly what I'll cover. I'm not the smartest person in the world and I'm often pretty wrong about stuff. There also only may ever be one person who reads this thing. But I'm not going to let that stop me from doing anything. Being incredibly innocent and naive can be a very good thing.

Anyway, I have a lot to talk about, way too much free time, and absolutely no expectations. So this should be fun.

Stay tuned, kids, and remember to always jam econo!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You misspelled Gandhi. Fag.