I myself know nothing, except just a little, enough to extract an argument from … O men of Athens -Socrates
We live in a day in age where information abounds. Arbitrary information, indifferent information, incorrect information — the internet has become a vast cauldron of whatever from whomever. The sheer volume of information, at times, can be overwhelming. If there’s a truth to find, it’s there. If you have a small lump on your foot and want to find out you’re going to die tomorrow, you can find information on the internet to back it up.
On the other hand, media outlets like twitter have become essential tools for reporting on crucial information that major media outlets conveniently leave untouched. The ball is in our court. Several balls. Okay, it’s a giant, fucking ball pool. More information means more sifting, more questioning and more disagreeing. Truth will always be subjective, but mainstream media is now being put in check by the common pleb who may not have any interest at all in sponsored, ad-driven reporting. That’s powerful.
The human race comes from a long line of great thinkers, questioners, pushers of boundaries, but not everyone is prone to negotiated interpretation. Some folks are sleep-walking through life. If it’s palatable enough, they digest it quicker than a .99 cent value item at Burger King. Maybe they just never learned that it’s okay to disagree. Folks muse about the stream of disagreements that permeate the internet all day long, but is it such a bad thing? Has human progress ever arisen from perfect harmony?
Major historical leaps from the American and French revolutions to the Civil Rights and Suffragist movements have all stemmed from a inability to agree over fundamental differences. Change has generally come out of deep ravines of discontent and unrest and a refusal to concede to popular opinion.
Many of us, particularly women, have been trained from a young age that disagreeing is rude. We may have an underlying desire to keep peace, to be liked or to “go along to get along,” so to speak, and certainly there are folks who enjoy being contentious just because the spotlight gets cast upon them, albeit momentarily. Disagreeing just for the sake of disagreeing is daft, (“You know the type loud as a motor bike, but wouldn’t bust a grape in a fruit fight“), but disagreements where folks are able to enlighten one another have the potential to be life-changing.
For instance, I disagree with friends all the time about music. Art and music have always been, and always will be, very subjective. Recently, a friend turned me on to a Nicki Minaj track that I had never heard before. It was actually quite good. I don’t like her shtick and I get disheartened by an industry that forces otherwise talented women to have to put on a sex act to sell records, but nonetheless, the track was good and her talent is undeniable. Will I be buying any of her albums soon? Maybe not, but there’s a humbling process here. You have to open your mind up enough to hear a different point of view. We, as humans, aren’t very good at that. Admitting we don’t know something is not our forte. We don’t like to appear weak. We like what we know. It’s comfortable and safe, but as Socrates says, “A wise man admits he knows nothing.”
The pioneers of music (I’m talking about the Princes, Bowies, Janelle Monáe’s and Kate Bush’s of the world); the artists who were secure enough in their own vulnerability to put out music that they knew would be judged as “weird”. These are the folks who change things. And it’s not a sort of blind statement about fearlessness. It takes great courage to be who you are. It’s frustrating when people say: “They just didn’t care—they did what they wanted.” Everyone is different, but I’ve found that most artists do experience fear (intense fear at times), but they push on anyway. They just figured out a way to muster enough courage to put out a piece of themselves that they know people may not understand. This is far from “not giving a fuck;” They just believe enough in their art to allow it to be potentially ripped apart— knowing that someone out there will welcome it home like a long-lost friend. As an artist, you constantly have to be willing to allow people to disagree with your art.
Knowing that someone gets what you’re doing is a crucial to an artist. It’s crucial to all of us. Criticism and disagreement are also crucial to an artist and generally the biggest impedient to an artist’s progress. What I am coming to learn is, if you do get constructive criticism about your art, make sure it’s coming from someone who’s doing what you want to do and doing it well, not someone who’s stuck in their own blue circle of crippling self-doubt. Constructive criticism from someone who is doing your craft well will likely make you a better artist.
It’s important to shout sometimes, but many of us have lost the fine art of listening. We’ve stepped away from healthy debate to shouting matches where nothing gets heard. I like this—you like that. The end. Except that life is layered with complexities. There are variables to every story, angles to every photo. As cliche as it sounds,“Anaconda” is only one slice of Nicki Minaj—a slice that the media is spoon-feeding us ad nauseam, but a slice none-the-less. If I hadn’t shut my opinions up momentarily with my friend (and believe me I was tempted not to), I would have never seen another angle.
At the end of the day, humans are good defenders. We survive and we evolve, but often our fight or flight responses leaves us little room for new ideas. If we just took a moment to breathe and risk the possibility of not being right all the time, we might realize that we all have a lot to learn from one another.