Capable Capable
Capable Capable

Beyoncé at the Louvre

In 1952, using the slang phrase “rock and roll” to describe the heat, beat and sexual overtones of many of the rhythm and blues songs he spun as a deejay, Alan Freed*, aka Moondog, staged the first of his live concerts at the Cleveland Arena. Afterward, all hell broke loose. Freed, the music, the performers and the audience were all condemned by the press, police, parents, priests and holders of the canonical high ground as being too raw, too hysterical, too underground and the devil’s work.

In 2018, Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s most recent work was staged, performed and recorded at the Louvre in Paris against a backdrop of some of the most famous art in the world. While no riots were reported, it is not unexpected that their showmanship and point of view have been described by some as groundbreaking and relevant and by others as inappropriate and presumptuous. But none of us should fail to recognize that their work exposes crucial truths once invisible or considered by some to be objectionable. 

Like it or not, the cultural world we live in, and the actual planet we live on, are changing. Long-held and cherished beliefs, whether religious, cultural or scientific, are giving way, again like it or not, to new facts, conditions and circumstances. Many of these new social facts are inclusionary, multi-cultural, feminist, etc., that is, unconventional in 1776 (and still, now, after almost 2 ½ centuries, a heart-breaking struggle for those at the effect of the politics of exclusion). 

Yet the times are changing, faster than they used to change. Like every other animal on the planet, we must adapt to the world and the climate in which we find ourselves (or die) and hatred, violence and denial, despite the prevalence of their current practices, are not acceptable means if our civilization is to survive and thrive.

I understand the appeal of nostalgia, tradition and the “old school.” No one should be denied his or her right to buy vinyl records, to stay off the grid and to prefer opera to hip-hop. On the other hand, the more we learn of our global world through cultural exchange including, for example, soccer’s World Cup, the easier it may be for us to understand the merit (and what I think is the inevitability) of the diversification of values, attitudes, traditions and practices.

As I suggested in my posts about Philip Roth and J. M. Coetzee, the outside-of-the-traditional mainstream view can be a powerful and, ironically, an involved and inter-connected one. By integrating their art with thousands of years of tradition, the work of the Carters (Beyoncé and Jay-Z), Roth and Coetzee, and countless other talents, bring new associations, belongings and understandings into the light. If we let them, they excite our hearts and minds, give pause to our certainties, attitudes and parochialism and light a fire under our inertia, indifference or lack of historical consciousness.

Autonomy and Life has a similar goal in mind. By providing its students with a philosophy of life that oversees the stubborn resistance and misguided provincialism (often couched in loftier rhetoric) of the oversized ego, they are better able to comprehend and appreciate a more realistic description of the world we live in now.

When we’re less egotistical, arrogant and self-righteous, we are less likely to be cultural dinosaurs, less likely to think that humiliating and disparaging others is a sign of class, prosperity and privilege. We’re more open to being taught, to expanding our horizons, to taking responsibility for how we behave and to contributing to the wellbeing of others. These acquired qualities of character make us more competent when it comes to engaging practical life, even when its fast, changing pace requires us to adapt, to adapt and to adapt yet again.

* Later Freed changed his handle to the King of Rock and Roll and his career soared, but he was brought down by the payola scandal in the late 50s. 


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Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and the leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes.