Objectivity

The world seems to have lost its capacity to maintain a crucial element in our daily lives. We lost it through a compartmentalizing media. We lost it through social networking that devalued people into lists. We lost it through politicizing everything. We lost it through absolute values. We lost it through polarization. We lost our capacity to be objective.

As a man with an English degree who doesn't always follow the New Criticism, I think it necessary to look at the subtext of things. It's beneficial to know the background of a work. One must not only understand others' words but also the context of those words. It's necessary to look at this world as an investigator. We must analyze the things around us so we don't end up lying to ourselves about our erudition. Cursory knowledge is a dangerous thing when we're ignorant of our ignorance. But just as we must probe deeper into everything around us, we must also ensure we do this in the proper fashion. We must discern when it is appropriate to examine with our faith, when to examine with our feelings, when to examine with our foreknowledge, and when to examine solely that which is in front of us.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines objectivity as "external or material reality." It is that which is, the Randian notion of "A is A." When we lose the ability to be objective, we're losing a grasp on reality. In this age of partisanship, one must be able to look at action independent of party and discern if what was done was really right. In this age of social networking, one must be able to see that just because someone finds Dane Cook funny doesn't mean that person is incapable of making good decisions. In this age of popularity in rhetoric, one must be able to judge art without concerning oneself about others' opinions.

In Chuck Klosterman's fourth book (appropriately titled Chuck Klosterman IV), the author refers to the time he interviewed Wilco frontman, Jeff Tweedy. I think I'll just include what he said about an occasion that came to mind instead of paraphrasing it.

"At one point, Tweedy and I were standing in the pantry of his home in northwest Chicago (he was looking for his stocking cap), and he started talking about ho his eight-year-old son was the drummer in a grade-school rock band that played Jet songs. Now, nearly everybody I know thinks Jet is ridiculous; they've become the band hipsters are legally required to hate. So I made some joke (and I have no idea why) about how Jet was terrible and that it was somehow predictable that the only people who would want to cover Jet songs would be second graders. Tweedy didn't understand why I would say something like that. He looked at me like I had just made fun of a quadriplegic and asked, 'Well, don't you like rock music?' And then I felt stupid, because I realized (a) Jet plays rock music, and that (b) I like rock music, and that (c) I actually liked Jet, both tangibly and intangibly. So that was something I realized about Jeff Tweedy: musically, he remembers what is obvious (143)."

Klosterman is noting something about the tormented but prolific musician: Jeff Tweedy has maintained his sense of objectivity. He can look at the world around him for what it is and stand by his view of reality. He can just art independently of public opinion for its own aesthetic and accomplishment. When art is something that is consumed by the masses, sometimes we forget that is still consumed primarily as an individual first. Yet, as social ideas have become more and more important, we seem to be basing our likes and dislikes on those around us. We are unsure how a political event went until we hear from the pundits. We are unsure of the quality of an anticipated film or album until we read the reviews first.

Now, while it may seem like I'm being condemnatory of our social culture, this is not actually the case. I'm saying we need to heed these tendencies in our culture. We must have a sense of solidarity in what we see. We must be able to look at a politician and judge his/her policies. Do not take these words to say that eloquence or character or relatability to be negligible or, for your own purposes, even secondary. But all of these components must be heeded when giving support. The opponent should receive the same level of fair judgment. We must not decide solely on our feelings or our affiliation but on reality. We must be objective.

When seeking out entertainment, we must judge based on the quality of the work. One must not overwhelmingly love the works of Joss Whedon (or condemn all others who do not share the same adoration) without recognizing his failed works (Alien Resurrection , Titan, A.E., and for crying out loud I can understand a story in space, and western, and an Asian themed film but a space narrative in which everyone speaks Chinese?, that's really just stupid and the ball washing must just stop. Pardon the argumentum ad populum but if it were really good, enough people might have been watching it so it wouldn't have been cancelled.) One can admit when a brilliant musician can have a bad album (Lauryn Hill had MTV Unplugged, Stevie Wonder had The Secret Life of Plants, Led Zeppelin had In Through the Out Door, and even Joe Sample had Ashes to Ashes.) We must be able to analyze work for what it is and not because of the adulation or admonition of others.

We are steadily losing our sense of reality because we are steadily losing ourselves. We must be able to find what we like and what we believe as individuals before we even consider revealing these ideas to the world around us. And when we do so, we must not be merely be defined by these likes, dislikes, and allegiances.

I downloaded a lot of The Beatles today. For years, I wasn't all that interested in hearing their stuff. I thought all the fanfare was overrated. But I realized I like a lot of Beatles covers. So I eventually sucked it up and got a bunch of their music and I'm enjoying it. I can look at this work and say it's good. It's not the best ever but it's quite good. I can say that Jack Kerouac's On the Road was too freewheeling and unfocused. I can say TV on the Radio's new album is more focused but honestly not as good as their previous work. This is reality as I see it. Not based on the amalgam of opinions around me but my own. I stand by my reality and I strive more and more to objectivity, at least when it's necessary.

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