Music: A pleasant aesthetic pastime.
Some anthropologists go so far as to argue that music is a fundamental component of being human, as per its role at the center of any concept of culture we might formulate (see Ethnomusicology. Brain scientists measure its pitter-patter on the child's cognitive and didactic apparatus or its healing potential in human beings of all shapes and sizes(see Music Psychology and The Institute for Music & Brain Science). And still others, notably radical Wahhabi Islamists, hold that music is to be avoided for its tendency to corrupt one's otherwise moral, God-given self. Yet our daily Western encounter with music tends to center around three spheres: its actual creation, its live appreciation, and its recorded appreciation--hence, our stated definition of music as a pleasant aesthetic pastime.
From the above examples, however, we see clearly that music holds a moral dimension as well. For it is an essential component of our humanity. Morality, conceptually speaking, is tied to our manners and behavior; our ethical character if you will. Ethical character, bound up in a system of mores shared throughout a society, differentiates us from animals bound only to their insatiable instincts. One can argue over the death rituals of elephants or, more pertinent to our discussion, the songs of birds and dolphins, as examples of culture in the non-human kingdom. While the merits of such arguments certainly deserve to be heard, there is no evidence of any codified practice in these examples. This is quite simply because animals don't have a system of writing through which codification is possible.
Now this element of codification in the practice of morality, and for that matter music, brings us to one of the original purposes of writing: justice. Although we may point to primitive cave paintings as the initial stage in the development of a shared symbolic, the formalized application of any such system did not come about until bureaucratic necessity arrived. There is no doubt a relation between the two; after all, it was the priests of Babylon who maintained the integrity of both the myths and the money. The myths themselves establish the temple of Babylon as the economic hub, for how else are the gods to eat?
[After having defeated Tiamat, fashioned the heavens and earth from her corpse, and built Babylon upon the earth as "the abode of [his] pleasure...]
When Marduk heard the words of the gods,
His heart prompted him to fashion artful works.
Opening his mouth, he addressed Ea
To impart the plan he had conceived in his heart:
"I will take blood and fashion bone.
I will establish a savage, ‘man’ shall be his name.
truly, savage-man I will create.
He shall be charged with the service of the gods
That they might be at ease!
The ways of the gods I will artfully alter. (10)
(From the Enuma Elish tablet VI, 1-10)
So to ease the pain of the gods, Marduk creates man. Now, the easiest way for man to fulfill this task (and therefore to avoid the wrath of Marduk, slayer of Tiamat; king of the gods; all round badass) would be to deposit the grain at Marduk's home on earth, the temple of Babylon. Of course we can't just have the farmers dumping willy-nilly, how could we ensure that the gods got fed? And if the gods didn't get fed, how would we know who to blame? Luckily for us, a class of priests developed in Babylon who were gifted, thank Thoth, with the technology of writing. This of course develops into all sorts of texts, whether the Torah or the Code of Hammurabi. But whatever these texts may say about the cosmology of the society producing them, there's no way to escape the code of normative laws found within (see Leviticus).
We began this essay with music, and now we're talking about Jewish priests, what gives? If you don't quite follow, it is most important to keep in mind the natural link thus described between Aesthetics, Morality, and Justice. Although music does not immediately appear to fall into the categories of justice and morality (as it is indeed an aesthetic pleasure), we see that aesthetic pleasures themselves fall under the rubric of morality and justice. For where we might take justice to display normative values, and morality to indicate the individual's ability to actually live in accordance with such values, we must take aesthetics to unite the two. For it is through the aesthetic that the values of justice are promulgated to society writ large, and it is through an aesthetic act of interpretation that the moral act is reconciled with the socially just promulgation. (See John Wall, "Imitatio Creatoris: The Hermeneutical Primordality of Creativity in Moral Life" in the Journal of Religion, Jan 2007. And of course, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method or The Relevance of the Beautiful.)
But again, music. Aside from the introduction, in which we mentioned anthropological studies of music and conservative Islamic law's treatment of music, we've yet to truly delve into its relation to Morality and Justice. To do so, we shall raise a spectre haunting pop-culture: illegal downloading.
Copyright law, according to the RIAA, finds that the unauthorized sharing of music over the internet is illegal. It infringes upon, they claim, the legal rights of the artists who created the music (not to mention the pockets of the executives who benefit from the sale). The RIAA is essentially arguing that this (immoral) behavior threatens aesthetics, by reducing the profitability of creating music and therefore the motive to do so. Now, ignoring for a moment the complexities introduced into aesthetics by economics--i.e. music made purely for the sake of money tends to be utter shit--we must consider the implications of this argument. It is a formal acknowledgment that aesthetics can be jeopardized by immoral actions, hence why we have justice to ensure the future existence of music.
I would very much like to buy this argument. For, given the utter proliferation of crap on our "public" airwaves, I've come to understand that music is indeed threatened. Luckily, of course, the internet has arrived to release the pressure valve and connect prospective artists to their awaiting communities--many artists who would no doubt be cowardly turning back on their musical careers if the RIAA wasn't ensuring them the $0.15 for every CD the major record labels weren't selling on their behalf...
Irony aside, the worst of this is in the RIAA's complete and utter hypocrisy. For, no doubt, if the RIAA was truly interested in protecting the aesthetic interests of our music community, it would concern itself with the past as much as with the future. I speak, of course, of the crass abuse of perfectly memorable songs, carried within my heart from childhood, being exploited for the purpose of crappy commercials. Today I saw a Target ad with a cover of "Hello, Goodbye." For shame. Although one could blame M. Jackson for abusing his ownership of the Beatles archives, I don't hear anyone at the RIAA making a stinkg about this.
Were the RIAA to be equally up in arms with such poor taste (I mean, fuck me, the screen actually carried the text "goodbuy"), maybe I could empathise with their position on illegal downloading (well, probably not). But this blatant hypocrisy demonstrates how little they give a fuck for the aesthetic principles they so nobly claim to be standing on. There is no justice in this, only perverted legalisms warped to the benefit of ill-bred Mammons.
Worse still, by raising the principle of relation between Aesthetics, Morality, and Justice while pissing on it, they do it no small disservice. For they reduce it to a sophistical jest. How can individual humans reconcile their moral and righteous characters through aesthetic means when they're taught to approach the entire enterprise cynically?!
Music is a profession, in which money is to made. That is the message that 'the media' promotes. And justice is that money is made from its sale. Music is to be sold, prostituted. And those who share it, whether live or online, are the real criminals. Fuck that. Let the downloading commence you pompous assholes. Money can't buy me love.