Rough around the edges

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Things are more interesting and potentially more truthful around the edges. This applies to anyone, from politicians to musicians.

Politicians that speak the truth become outsiders. But politicians who abuse the ‘outsider' status to pander to populist voters squander their authenticity. They can be as thoughtful as Bernie Sanders or as morally corrupt and downright offensive as Trump.

The artist also treads a fine line between a unique creative process to one that can become manufactured. Take the case of MIA; the Internet made her a star and removed her underground status along with it. Another case and point: Diplo, once a revered beat-smith from Florida, now produces hits for Justin Bieber.

The challenge for politicians and artists alike or companies like Apple, therefore, seems to be retaining their edginess despite a growth in popularity. Radiohead may be the paragon of balancing mainstream success while maintaining outsider status. By changing up their sound on each album, they're able to appear credible to both the experimental listener and the person seeking the wisdom of crowds.

So how does a politician or artists push the boundaries without manipulating their uniqueness to the point of appearing fake? It depends on how honest they are in their approach. If the work is worth talking about, it'll spread along with its originality.

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Thinking hard about culture

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Culture is a broad term used to describe the habits and practices of society. Cultures differ because people differ–in looks, tastes, and religion–and when there's a hodgepodge of cultures, they mix to create something novel, i.e. America, which then becomes its own cultural pillar.

As broad as culture is, in say music with its infinite number of genres and subgenres, it can also be limiting. For instance, the three most popular operating systems smartphones run on are iOS, Android, and Microsoft. Given the scarcity of choice, people choose sides, resulting in Apple fans, Google geeks, and Microsoft traditionalists.

But even when there's a variety of choice, a favorite always wins out. Whether it's a preferred operating system, musician, film, or shoe style, some cultures become mainstream. If you copy such trends, you are the benefactor of the wisdom of crowds. If you're an early adopter or renegade, you look for things on the edges which are a plausible reaction to the herd mentality.

Given culture’s categorizations, people always conform to a certain type regardless of how big or small a niche. Culture's resistance to sameness guarantees the durability of uniqueness, and there may be no better modern-day American dissenter than Mark Grief who appears to be against everything.

Read Louis Menand's Cultural Criticism and the Way We Live Now

‘Coercion is natural; freedom is artificial.’

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From Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club:

Coercion is natural; freedom is artificial. Freedoms are socially engineered spaces where parties engaged in specified pursuits enjoy protection from parties who would otherwise naturally seek to interfere with those pursuits. One person's freedom is therefore always another person's restriction: we would not have even the concept of freedom if the reality of coercion were not already present. We think of freedom as a right, and therefore the opposite of a rule, but a right is a rule. It is a prohibition against sanctions on certain types of behavior. We also think of rights as privileges retained by individuals against the rest of society, but rights are created not for the good of individuals, but for the good of society. Individual freedoms are manufactured to achieve group ends.

Democracy is an experiment, one that's meant to keep going. Beware those who try to take it away like this, this, and this.

Radiohead introduces set with Nina Simone

Radiohead kicked off their US tour last night in NYC to promote their new album A Moon Shaped Pool. 

They opened with a snippet from a 1968 interview with Nina Simone:

“I'll tell you what freedom is to me: No fear. I mean, really – no fear.”

Radiohead, like Prophets of Rage (aka Rage Against the Machine + Chuck D), is making their tour political.

Radiohead named their 2006 album Hail to the Thief to mock the faulty ballot recount that decided the 2000 Presidential Election.

With their home country leaving Europe in Brexit and a US election that could result in Trump's favor, we should expect Radiohead's next album to share a familiar rebuke.

 

“Don’t start nothing won’t be nothing.”

For every action there’s a reaction. But don’t provoke someone or something without clear conviction.

If you’re going to ruffle some feathers, do it because you really believe in change. And be willing to take full accountability for your actions.

Unfortunately, you’re not always going to win the fight, and certainly not in the beginning. Snowden called out the NSA for spying on the world and is barred from returning to the United States without a sentencing. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to make a statement about segregation yet found herself in jail.

Obedience is the end of freedom. In order to grab attention, you have to be willing to stake your claim and fight. You have to say what others are afraid to discuss; otherwise, things will just keep moving along as they are.

The audacity of hope is also the audacity to provoke.

Provocation ignites a healthy debate, one that gets others thinking differently about their own everyday beliefs.

What do you believe in? Playing it safe guarantees you’ll live a life of anonymity. But if you want to be remembered you’ll start something great and get people to rally behind your cause. We’re all just puzzle pieces trying to do the right thing.

Turmoil as the new normal

The markets crashed, unemployment is stagnant, we’re losing our primacy to China, and tomorrow is fickle, just like the destructive surprise of Hurricane Sandy.

America appears to be in the dump.  People are living in a constant state of uncertainty and worry.

But we must get used to the turmoil and simply grind it out, even though the future tells us we’ll inevitably move back to second or third best.

The same implosion happened to other hegemons of world order, the Byzantines, the Romans, and the British.  What goes up must come down, no matter how hard we proclaim that our run of dominance is different. China’s global lead will be unique too.

America will remain the freest country in the world by social, economic, and political standards.  The American Dream is still a reality.  And Hollywood will continue to spread American ideals using soft power.

Success or failure, this is not the time for Americans to develop a mediocrity complex.  We’re lucky to have an inspirational leader in place.  It’s time to toughen up and get it done like we always have.

Atatürk, father of Turkey

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Atatürk did it all. From the 1920s – 1930s he gave birth to modern Turkey and transformed its alphabet, culture, education, economy, and its freedoms for women. There’s even a day to celebrate kids only, April 23, much like Father & Mother’s Day.

Walking through Ataturk’s memorial, you get the sense that he played the role of both Abraham Lincoln in uniting the nation and Martin Luther King Jr. in making equality and opportunity coexist. But he also played the role of teacher. Atatürk's library was extensive, full of Western literature including his own books on Geometry and Language. He was incredibly prolific in his writing which manifested in the beauty of his motivational speeches and quotes, like poetry.

There will never be another Ataturk, even the Turks acknowledge that. But Turkey today is still a reflection of Ataturk’s vision and thoughts. Turkey is a beautiful mix of Eastern traditions and Western practice, a culmination celebrated in its arts.

Ai Weiwei: Art through suffering

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You can push a creative man into silence but all this does is fuel his creative output.

China held artist and “dissident” Ai Weiwei in captivity for 81 days. He nearly died.

Weiwei is now turning his jail time experience into a piece of art. For Weiwei, creative expression is more about storytelling than profit.

“Very few people know why art sells so high,” Mr. Ai replied. “I don’t even know.”

Still, his art sells for hundreds of thousands at Sotheby's in New York.

Weiwei lived in New York for 11 years before heading back to China. The creative freedom he learned in New York shines through WeiWei’s work.

Weiwei teaches us to make something lasting, in good times or bad. As Neil Gaiman said in his commencement speech this week:

“When things get tough, make good art. Make it on the bad days. Make it the good days too.”


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