New Utopias

How Shall We Then Live?



Welcome to New Utopias

Until such time as traditional concert life resumes, my own website www.graham-lack.com will redirect to a blog that is called New Utopias and to which I would like to invite contributors.

The new site is intended as a rhetorical and philosophical discourse on how we have lived to date, and how we will need to live in the future.

There are no strict guidelines, other than to say that the normal rules of a civil world society apply. Contributions to graham.lack@t-online.de will be read before being posted, but no real need to moderate is expected. Comment function is not enabled; the blog is meant as food for thought.

Graham

Haiku

Land is rent from sea;
The beach cedes each red mien from
Stiff black planted limbs.


The poem references the tribute to COVID-19 victims in Brazil as, in early August 2020, fatalities passed the 100,000 mark, and the nongovernmental group Rio de Paz placed 100 black wooden crosses in the sand of the famed Copacabana beach and released 1,000 red balloons into the sky.



Being and Doing: Chamber Music as a Social Contract

By Amadeus Templeton
Guest author

Is everyone an artist? This question is fundamental in that it inculcates individual responsibility, and furthermore delineates an image of humankind, acts as a definition of art, and provides scope for action. This question can, however, only be considered, dealt with, and answered together. 

Take the example of CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). Here, science is searching for the elementary particle in order to study the smallest components of matter itself. 

If we now look at TONALiSTEN (a new organisation for cultural innovation), we glimpse how the artistic community seeks to tease out the creative force in every individual, for the “future of humanity” can only come about if this creative force is released. TONALiSTEN sees itself as at the epicentre of where people from the most diverse fields might work together to discover the answer to the initial question, share individual insights, and open up specific areas for activity. 

By way of transferal thinking, this form of collaborative research, a focused seeking for artistic relevance in a heterogeneous and transculturally shaped society, is particularly well illustrated by the phenomenon of chamber music. 

But this form of music-making is only successful where all participants have the best possible command of their own parts, where they have penetrated and got to the very heart of the function and meaning of their different voices (down to the smallest detail), and where they devote themselves to the success of the whole by skilfully integrating their individual voices into the final sound of the complete score in real time. 

Adeptness of one’s own part presupposes an acquired creative ability, an artistic soul, unstinting practice, a differentiated preoccupation with the score, the thematic material of the work, and the composer’s persona, as well as with the time in which the piece was written. 

On the occasion of the first rehearsal, participants share their understanding of the score that is finally to be delivered, develop an approach that is both conceptual and aesthetic, agree on a working method, generate a common musical language, and aurally imagine the concert in which the work is to be performed on a certain day with the participation of a specific audience. 

A communal musical language can only be engendered where the theory of harmony is used artistically, where all players understand exactly and at every moment exactly what colour and structure any note in a chord should take, and where the preceding and continuing connections to a musical moment in time are crystal clear. That is not all: a common musical language needs to be based not only harmonical relationships, but also absorb the parameters of rhythm, agogic accents, as well as phrasing. Taken on its own, each field requires the same understanding and situational complete skill as described here using the example of harmony. 

In concert, a great moment can come to pass. This defining glory corresponds to that of our experience of freedom. Not only everything but also the resultant all grows out of and hence beyond itself. It is not the musicians who play, but the “it” that plays. Thence does music become “materialised” by the work that took place in rehearsal, and this great moment can realise “spiritual potential” in us and all. Whoever experiences this as a fully sentient individual or – this in the sense of received wisdom – as someone in the line of immediate reception, knows intuitively that the human being generally, and indeed all human beings are capable of these great things, of these great moments that they hold at their disposition. 

If our approach to the answer demanded by the initial question is cast in the vein of chamber music, it becomes clear what conclusions can be drawn from music-making itself: first, a community, i.e. society, can only develop where individuals actively school themselves; simultaneously, secondly, each person must be ready to contribute in a compelling and holistic manner, thus giving rise to a sense of sounding and resounding together. 

Let us make it clear that this kind of sonic communion in no way corresponds to an opportunistic playing along. It is not a type of synchronous or, indeed, synchronized activity that will metamorphose into an artistic musical language; rather, it there is a need to act in the sense of carrying out the demands of a score, of contradicting the other voices if necessary, of agreeing with them, and actually becoming a rhythmic framework, a structure, an accent, or a prominent melody or theme. 

The permanent readiness to transform one’s own actions in the service of a superordinate statement, which at the same time carries within it the quality of an empathically open question, corresponds to an interplay of forces that signify “futurity”. 

Of course, the ego is necessary where it becomes the instrument of a sociality. The ego becomes a sociality where it reflects on its creative potential, trains this, and is ready to share everything that has now become ability. 

Thus, it is not self-referentiality that validates the person, but the willingness to make sacrifices, which are carried out through the artistic actions an individual. Such artistic activity succeeds where the person has become comprehensively part of a present state, where that individual inspires personal decisions subordinate to the common interest, where that person can imagine future consequences and can inculcate empathy in the sense of acting as a sounding board. 


Amadeus Templeton is a cellist and cultural manager as well as Managing Partner of TONALi gGmbH and TONALiSTEN gGmbH.








Haiku

Stigmatised corpses
Rejected by graveyards are
Swallowed by the sand. 

The poem references recent press reports that most Coronavirus victims in Iraq were not allowed burials that accord to Islamic custom, as many graveyards refused to receive the bodies. The traditional graveyards, whether those designated for the Shiite community in Najaf or the Sunni sect in Diyala, do not allow for the burial of COVID-19 casualties. Also, families of those who died fear being exposed to the virus and believe they might transmit it to others. Vast new cities for the dead have arisen in the desert in recent months.






 


 


 


The Threads of History

 

It is no coincidence that the novel coronavirus emanated from China. We need look no further than the Silk Road, which reminds us with great immediacy that humankind has never occupied isolated worlds, but shares a single space that flourishes because of and despite of our interactions with one another. (Dear reader, let me interject at the beginning that New Utopias has not succumbed to a global urge to write about the present pandemic, but still pursues the no longer rhetorical question of “How shall we then live”.) 

Our dealings have always taken place across vast distances, ones which led to the creation of famous historic routes. Although these have contributed greatly to our culture and enriched life in general, what has become a rampant human interconnectedness and free-flowing movement of populations now presents dangers as never before. 

It was the constant movement and mixing of populations along the Silk Road which had such a profound impact on the history and civilizations of the peoples of Eurasia. The route started at Xi’an, and stretched for 6400 kilometres, passing the Great Wall of China, the Takla Makan Desert, crossed Afghanistan, and continued to Levant. From here merchandise was shipped across the Mediterranean Sea. Revived in the 13th and 14th centuries, the Silk Road was travelled by the Venetian Marco Polo to Cathy, and in all likelihood was the main way that plague bacteria responsible for the Black Death pandemic in Europe in the mid-14th century moved westward from Asia.

Just as an aside, and regarding the nomenclature, the Silk Road was not a single thoroughfare from east to west, and the term 'Silk Routes' has become increasingly favoured by many historians, though 'Silk Road’ is the more common and recognised name. 

We owe to the Silk Road the rapid development of ideas, knowledge, beliefs and culture, of science, the arts and literature, but also of crafts and new technologies. All these were shared and disseminated amongst societies along the length of the route. 

The common good can be recognised here. By way of a significant caveat: wherever people, animals and goods have moved and brought enriching effects, undesirable phenomena such as disease have also been transmitted on a broad scale. Global movement and concomitant inter-connectedness are nothing new. They have always carried the potential to create epidemics. And various pathogens, to include parasites, bacteria and viruses, were transmitted along the Silk Road. The Plague was one of the most notable. This disease is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, commonly carried by fleas; three pandemics occurred in human history, the largest and most horrendous was the second outbreak, which is often referred to as the “Black Death”. 

Vast numbers of people across Eurasia were infected, and deaths are estimated to have been somewhere between 75 and 200 million. The outbreak peaked between 1347 and 1351, and reached the trade ports of Europe by 1346. Many theories try to explain exactly where the 14th century plague originated and how it spread. A plethora of historical citations points to rodents carrying the rat flea Xenopsylla cheopis and hence spreading the disease along the Silk Road, where it then reached Europe having first infected merchants.

In the late Middle Ages, societies lacked any real ability to prevent the spread of plague or to treat it effectively. There was just no accurate knowledge available on the exact cause of the disease. The best response was to flee. This remained the only effective preventative measure for the population, as any attempted cures for plague had practically no effect. The Black Death did have one positive outcome: because the disease had a habit of returning periodically, it prompted Europe in subsequent decades and centuries to draw up public health measures. One key way to prevent the spread of plague, as introduced by Venice, was to put suspected marine vessels and travellers into isolation for 40 days before anyone was allowed to enter the conurbations of the city. This is still practiced today, and it is from this practice that we derive the term “quarantine”.

More anon . . . 



 


 

God Sends Meat, and the Devil Sends Cooks

"In our truly remarkable and unexampled civil peace, where there are rarely fist fights; where no one is born, is gravely ill, or dies; where meat is eaten but no one sees an animal slaughtered; where scores of millions of cars, trains, elevators, and airplanes go their scheduled way and there is rarely a crash; where an immense production proceeds in orderly efficiency and the shelves are duly cleared – and nevertheless none of this comes to joy or tragic grief or any other final good – it is not surprising if there are explosions. They occur at the boundaries of the organized system of society: in juvenile gang fights, in prison riots, in foreign wars.

Paul Goodman: "Gestalt Therapy" 

Recent outbreaks of the coronavirus have confirmed what has been known for a long time now: conditions in the meat industry (a terrible term) in Germany are scandalous. Cheap labour from various foreign countries endures inhumane living conditions in order that the population can consume vast quantities of cheap meat. It is not only the working environment which must be changed, but also the substandard accommodation for this workforce. 

Now that several hundred Eastern European workers at a slaughterhouse in Germany tested positive for the coronavirus, it is patently obvious that people will pay with their lives for the price of cheap meat. Many companies running abattoirs only retain a small number of actual employees, and rely on subcontractors, who, in turn, draw on cheap labour forces from Poland, Bulgaria and Romania. This is modern slavery. In legal terms, the slaughterhouse itself can not be held responsible for filthy, cramped living conditions for the workers. 

The system of subcontractors started to expand in the 1990s. In essence, workers are not employed directly by a slaughterhouse, but by a third party, a company that pays minimum wages, and also provides accommodation but docks rent, and even charges for use of protective clothing. For their part, the subcontractors argue that the government should set and enforce labour laws and concomitant health standards. In Germany, this, as with much else, remains the prerogative of the respective Federal States. This situation is exacerbated by intensive lobbying both in Berlin and locally by farmers’ unions, who are interested in one thing only: selling as many animals as possible to the slaughterhouses. What happens within and without is none of their business they argue. 

The conflict has escalated. For some time now, the industrial meat-processing sector has been a thorn in the side of politicians - regardless of party affiliation. Now, following the recent outbreaks of corona, the federal cabinet has, according to government circles, decided on a ban on so-called "Werkverträge" (lit. work contracts, but read outsourcing) and the hiring of temporary workers in an "occupational safety programme for the meat industry". As of January, only employees of their own company may slaughter animals and process the meat, according to a recent German cabinet meeting. The regulation is limited to companies whose core business is slaughtering and meat processing. The butchery trade, on the other hand, with its usually much smaller operations, would remain exempt from the ban.

After several Corona outbreaks in German abattoirs, everything moved on apace. Critics blame the shared accommodation for Eastern European workers, which is widespread in the meat industry, as well as poor hygiene standards for the rapid spread of the virus there. Finally, the Federal Government wants to introduce stronger controls to force employers to comply with health standards. Employers should also be required to keep digital records of working hours. The fines for violations of working hours would be doubled to up to 30,000 euros. 

The Federal Government now has a chance to overhaul the entire system of meat production and animal husbandry. The severe price hikes at the expense of animals, farmers, the environment and workers might finally be stopped. What is absolutely necessary is a ban on outsourcing contracts. If up to 90 percent of butchers and meat cutters do not work at the company but with subcontractors, responsibility will continue to be outsourced. The rules have to be tightened in order to stop exploitation. Coupled with higher animal welfare standards and strictly monitored, mandatory labelling of husbandry and place of origin, an animal welfare levy could also help to finance the conversion of the meat industry (that term again) to animal husbandry appropriate to species.



The Pursuit of Pleasure: A Nietzschean Trope on Benthamist Ideals (Part the Second)

As we have seen, when it comes to examining moral stances, Friedrich Nietzsche and John Stuart Mill held wholly different views. Mill’s basis for morality rests on the idea of Utilitarianism, an epistemological construct at the heart of which is the "Greatest Happiness Principle". Here, actions are right only in the proportion to which they promote happiness, and wrong when they produce pain. Nietzsche would say that this principle fell under what he would call “slave morals”. 

For Mill, certain kinds of pleasure experienced by human beings differ from each other essentially in qualitative ways: only those who have experienced pleasure in both ways are able competently to judge any relative value. Thus is established a higher moral worth that promotes largely intellectual pleasures among sentient beings, even if their momentary intensity may be less than that of alternative lower, i.e. largely bodily, pleasures.

Master morals, argued Nietzsche, are the morality of elite groups, ones which class their actions as either good and bad, i.e., virtuous and not virtuous. This leads to a concrete classification of people and actions that revolving around the objective truth of all actions being either good or bad. In contrast, slave morals are not borne out by logic. Slave Morals are held by the plebes and determine good or bad not based on merit but based on what masters do. Nietzsche pleaded for a resurgence of “noble morals” and was unstinting in his criticism of Utilitarianism as a system. For him, examining morality through a Utilitarian scope means that we have donned moral spectacles. These, moreover, are not interchangeable, leading him to suppose that we can not make decisions of morality for everyone, as Mill had suggested when arguing the case for Utilitarianism. 

Mill admitted that the achievement of happiness by the individual is easy, but its effect on humanity often difficult to ascertain. And if we are justified morally in seeking in our actions primarily to reduce the total amount of pain we experience as sentient beings, then pain, or even the sacrifice of pleasure, is warranted only when it acts directly in achieving the greater good of all.

There are those who argue that this utilitarian theory propounded by Bentham and Mill makes unreasonable demands of individual agents, calling for them to devote any primary energies to a rational and perhaps even cold-hearted calculation of anticipated effects of human actions. Mill counters this by offering a significant qualification: it is exactly because we lack the time accurately to calculate the consequences of our actions that we must allow ourselves to be guided by a strict set of moral rules. He considered these moral principles to be secondary but maintained that they provide ample guidance for every-day moral life. In especially challenging cases, Mill held up as a gold standard the principle of utility itself. 

So what exactly is it that motivates people to do the right thing? Mill claimed there was universal agreement on the role of moral sanctions and how these would elicit correct conduct from human agents. However, his theory of social order moved well beyond that of Bentham’s, as Mill did not restrict himself to any socially-imposed external sanctions of culpability, blame and punishment – these the obviously painful consequences of improper action. For Mill, we are motivated by internal sanctions such as conscience, guilt and self-esteem. And because we have the ability to show empathy, the unselfish wish for the good of all is often enough to move us to act morally. Whether or not an individual suffers for reprehensible actions taken, or is even punished by others, there is likely to be a reaction best described as self-blame. It is this uncomfortable feeling and the fear of consequent pain which help an individual reasonably to consider before deciding how to act.

Whether the “proof” offered by Mill on the principle of utility is of any value is debatable. Nietzsche viewed the Utilitarians with some contempt. For the record, Mill maintains that the best evidence of the desirability of happiness is that we actually desire this – a circular argument at best, and a fallacious one at worst. Since every human being desires this happiness, it follows that we all desire the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. This is then morally desirable. But on psychological grounds Mill may well have been correct. In seeking pleasure and avoiding pain we create the touchstones by which most of us typically live.


 



 


Two Haikus on the Mutability of Nature

Look death in the eye,
Or stare into the sun, and
One will look away.

A fluffy blue tit,
Thirsty and rheumy-eyed, you
Sedentary bird. 



The second haiku relates recent press reports on the current demise of many blue tits in Germany, where the birds are infected with the bacterium Suttonella ornithocola. Symptoms include feathers that appear to be fluffed up, and an insatiable thirst. Blue tits never really stray far from the nest where they were fledged.  

The Apprentice and the Docent

The summer of 1972 was marked by the floating of the pound by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Bloody Friday, the worst UK air disaster bis dato, a strike by thousands of dockers in solidarity with the miners, the premiere of Jesus Christ Superstar, the first Gay Pride March in London, the admission of the first women to Cambridge University colleges, the Cod Wars with Iceland, and the hated ROSLA act – the Raising of the School Leaving Age.

I had just left school, getting out when I could, but found myself "kicking out into space", as the composer Percy Grainger once put it. Fortune then entered the fracas that was my personal and family life, for the so-called clearing house scheme had offered me an interview at what is now the University of Chichester. I recognised at once that I had found a mentor. It was Michael Waite, Head of Music of what was at the time Bishop Otter College. And it was he who gently guided me towards composition. And yes, there really was a bishop called Otter. 

Three years passed faster than words can adequately describe. I had learned to sail – the college had a Fireball, had vastly improved my hockey skills, and had even ventured occasionally into the classroom for what was called teaching practice.

But music exerted a stronger pull than education, and after an uneasy year in a minor public school I was an undergraduate once again, at the University of London, studying Composition with Anthony Milner at Goldsmiths’ College before migrating across the river, where I read Historical Musicology at King’s College, becoming a personal student of Brian Trowell.

In the 1970s, Bishop Otter College was a markedly liberal and quite radical think tank. It offered places to those whose career paths were obviously already set in stone, but handed out the occasional wild card to the more refractory – to me in this case, someone who patently lacked direction but in whom it apparently saw talent. Examinations, ones set by the Music Department at least, were designed to test what we knew as opposed to that which we did not. Course work was challenging but set at an achievable level. And the tutorial system ensured originality of thought as well as commitment – there were no line managers in those days.

It is a sunny afternoon in Munich, my present home, and the intervening years were no less marked by my experience in Chichester than the later ones in London. The Technische Universität Berlin offered me the chance to start a doctoral thesis, and I spent eight years as a lecturer at the University of Maryland. One thing led to another, but I realise now how important was that ‘one thing’.

I have good reasons for thinking that musical life at the University of Chichester is as healthy as it always was. Tradition breeds tradition. Leafing through my early compositions (I kept every score and every sketch) I can make out the musical seeds out of which more substantial works were to be generated. The results of good teaching are there for a lifetime it would seem.



This article was first published in the University of Chichester 'Alumnus Magazine' in May 2014. The reason for posting it on New Utopias should, I hope, be self-evident; it was how we (or I in this case) lived then.  







The Dark Arts: Or a Dance to the Music of Time

The task with which British politicians are currently confronted is inordinately challenging and plainly immense. However, to offer care workers a badge, and not the personal protective equipment they need, is politically inept at best and, at worst, derisory, merely adding insult to injury.

To be fair to the current UK Government, infrastructure in the country — at political, medical, educational, social, business, economic and so many other levels — started to crumble decades ago, and politicians can only work with that which they inherited. But if ever there were a time in which conspicuous honesty would be the order of the day, then this is it. Perhaps they might seize the chance to convey to the population just how parlous is the state of nation.

Whether the coronavirus will bring any good to the country is controvertible. What it does do is highlight how much certain professions are valued, or not, as the case may be. I would like to think that the British are, deep down, good people — like all of humanity —, and are still willing to give and give and give. But at some point this virtual treasure chest will become empty, and politicians will no longer be able to rely on this ingrained altruistic response. Of course, the health market (terrible term), like any other, is subject to the whims of supply and demand; thus, as long as there are enough Filipinos to be exploited as cheap labour, British medical care, its NHS will, creaking at the seams, somehow continue to operate — no pun intended.

On another note, it is surely to be resented that the Government has resorted to the rhetoric of warfare: doctors, nurses, and care workers are not on the front line. There is no front line. We are not at war. This is cynical Churchillian language, redolent of a final linguistic hideaway inhabited by politicians caught on the back foot. As for the claim by politicians that the Brits are ‘world leaders’, and ‘lead the way’ in dealing with the pandemic, this is so patently not true. They should count the dead.

Finally, the televised UK Government press briefings are a caricature of the relationship between journalists and politicians. But before I raid the thesaurus for words even more exotic than derisive, misanthropic, sardonic, sneering, scornful, insolent and supercilious, and transform myself into another superfluous, nay supererogatory, keyboard warrior, I shall simply sign off, having vented enough steam.