Saturday, 15 October 2022

Confusion about cultural hegemony

The confusion, in Western societies, about their past achievements and its possible links to colonialism and racism, is aptly demonstrated by the confusion in the wake of Oxford University's attempt to broaden the music curriculum to include non-Western music, and popular music like rap and hiphop. The truly astonishing nonsense bubbling-up in this mess of emotional reactions, invites for some reflection.

A culture is a mental field of activity and awareness, and is not dependent upon skin colour, amorous taste, shoe size, weight or height, or upon being male or female. A culture can have been developed by groups in the past with homogenous ethnic traits, but that does not mean that these traits are a precondition for the culture, because a culture is immaterial, even when it is expressed through material means.

To think that Western culture, among which its musical culture, is something like a 'white European cultural hegemony', is insane, as is the idea that Western musical notation is 'a colonialist representational system' and should therefore be 'cancelled'. Cultural achievements like this notation system are free for everybody to use, entirely independent of skin colour, amorous taste, shoe size etc. That such achievements were developed in a society which had lots of negative aspects, nobody will deny, and such achievements have to be considered great achievements in spite of such aspects. Every society has positive and negative aspects, and to condemn the West, and especially Europe, for injustices committed in the past, and to think that its positive contribution to humanity, to the whole world, is tainted by association, is forgetting that the people producing these wonders were not responsible for the injustices of their time and society. More often than not did they suffer from them. The whole way of thinking is far below of any standard of intelligence and driven by the zero sum fallacy, even stretching back into the past: 'My misery is the result of your success, and the success of all those people in the past who had success.'

There is a simple truth, very easy to see: to interpret cultural products through the lens of race, is racist, whether this happens from white to black or the other way around. People using the cultural products of the West to convey something like the 'superiority of whiteness' are stupid and racist, but people using them to discredit them as representing 'white European cultural hegemony' are equally racist.

This story will expose the level of confusion caused by a raging spirit of revenge against injustice done ages ago, to be balanced by equal injustice on innocent people of today who have not the slightest responsibility for something been done by other people in the past:

Also interesting is the formulation of 'decolonizing' things, like a music curriculum, as if such curriculum represents colonialism. At a European university, a music faculty specializing in Western music, the subject is perceived as representing a suppressing colonial society:

'The need to decolonize Oxford's music curriculum is long overdue. Many students (as well as several staff members) are consequently baffled at the culture of wilful ignorance and indignant resistance to suggestions of change.' (An angry student at Oxford.)

But what if this 'ignorance' and 'indignant resistance' is nothing other than the realisation that music, as a cultural product, has nothing to do with colonial politics and race? Here we see ignorance going hand in hand with the urge for historic revenge.

Behind this wish for 'decolonialization' is to be expected the hope to have some students' own, private musical tastes for rap, hiphop, pop music and the like to be elevated from the darkness of the urban jungle to the level of 'classical music' which, in their eyes, stands upon such an undeserved high pedestal because of injustices committed in the past by and to people long dead and buried. It may be that this whole 'decolonization urge' is, in fact, an expression of the egalitarian world view which does not want to accept that there are differences in terms of quality and meaning within the cultural field.

But then, one may ask, what about racism as encountered both in music life and music education? Yes, where that happens, it should be forcibly fought, since it undermines every sense of civilization of which Western classical music is such a powerful symbol. But it has nothing to do with the art form itself. 


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