A Short Piece
Sociopolitical options and human nature
Imagine a single person playing violin in a room by himself. Two blocks down the road, there is a woman playing violin alone, and three blocks down from her, a different woman is playing a flute. This continues for hundreds of miles with hundreds of musicians. None of the musicians can hear one another; none of the musicians wonder about themselves in the presence of one another. Musicians may feel loneliness, but there is little existential anxiety.
This is soloing. This is isolationism. This seems to align more with human nature.
Imagine there is a concert hall. Hundreds of musicians are gathered with flutes, violins, cellos, horns, and the like. There are similarities, sure, but most musicians are playing something unique. The celloist wonders why the violist is the most popular; the trombonist wonders why the oboe gets a solo; the pianist wonders why he must bear so much pressure and be the only pianist. The concert starts. They play together. Musicians don’t feel alone so much, but there is much more existential pressure (which can seem like loneliness).
This is harmony. This is pluralistic society. This seems against human nature.
There is a concert hall. Hundreds of musicians are gathered, all playing the violin. Nobody wonders which instrument the people in the audience came to hear. Nobody feels like they picked the wrong instrument; in fact, they feel confirmed in the instrument they picked. The concert starts. The violinists all play the same notes at the same time.
This is singularity. This is tribalism. This seems to align more with human nature.
Human civilization seems to be a story of moving from tribalism through the possibility of harmony toward singularity, against which civilization reacts with a retreat through the possibility of harmony back into tribalism. Eventually, when the tribes feel like they are missing out, they leave their tribes, and pass through the possibility of harmony into singularity.
History, as far as I can tell, entails very few examples of sustained harmony, because both tribalism and singularity seem to feel more existentially confirming. When we are alone, we don’t feel existentially challenged; when everyone is like us — when there is “cheap diversity” versus “costly diversity” (to allude to Bonhoeffer) — we feel confirmed.
Reviewing this piece, HighRootsMusic made an excellent point suggesting that the language of “harmony” might be confusing. In music theory, harmony is arguably when two or more notes are played at the same time, and it’s entirely possible then that an orchestra play together “in harmony” and sound horrible — would this really be “a harmony” (as in, “good”)? An excellent point, and personally my concern in this piece is on the “existential state” of the musicians themselves and the possibility of living and performing together. My focus here is not on “the quality” of the music(for indeed an orchestra could produce a cacophony), but on if the musicians keep playing together without hating being there, storming off stage, quitting, being at one another’s throats, and/or the like. In this schema centered on social cohesion, if the musicians keep playing together and come to terms with themselves existentially to keep playing, then “the harmony” is maintained and “good” (in that sense), even if the produced music sounds awful. This suggests that even if we create a “harmonious world,” it would not follow that we have necessarily achieved “the best of all possible worlds,” per se, because we could have harmony but also poverty, technological mediocrity, sickness, and the like. Yes, sociological harmony is a good thing, but it isn’t everything: there are still matters of economics, technology, and the like which must be addressed. Mainly, my concern is this: What should our goal be? Erasing and escaping difference or learning to live with it?
Do we think the world will ever be able to stay in harmony, or will the existential anxiety always prove too great to keep history from repeating? Assuming we can change, I think “the dialectical life” plays a critical role, but what is meant by that will have to be addressed elsewhere.