Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Did Music Create Human Rights?

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The first successful labor strike took place at Deir el-Medina—the same place where songs of personal expression were born. Mere coincidence?

Ted Gioia writes at The Honest Broker:

The first songs to express personal emotions and individual aspirations appeared more than 3,000 years ago in Deir el-Medina, a village on the west bank of the Nile. By seeming coincidence this was also the location of the first successful labor protest in history, when artisans launched a sit-down strike that forced “management”— Ramesses III in this instance—to increase grain rations. Is it just by chance that a major musical innovation and a historic expansion in human rights took place in the very same (and tiny) community? 

Perhaps only a few dozen families lived in this setting, yet they spurred a profound change in both arts and politics. But this wouldn’t be the last time that new ways of singing would be linked to the growth of personal autonomy and individual rights. The same thing happened in ancient Greece, in Christian medieval societies, under the Abbasid Caliphate, during the 1960s US civil rights movement, and in many other historical settings. In fact, song has been our most enduring tool for the advancement of freedom.

We take for granted that songs express personal feelings. But that wasn’t always the case. And we shouldn’t minimize how empowering this kind of music can be. Having the right to sing about what you feel legitimizes your worldview to an uncanny degree. First you claim a stake to your own music, and soon you demand other freedoms. That’s how the process has always worked.

Just consider how often rebellions and dissident movements take place in the same communities that produce innovations in music. During the height of the troubadour movement in the south of France, the sociopolitical environment was so threatening to authorities, that the Pope went to war against the residents of this region—the first time in history that a Crusade was launched against Christians. Greil Marcus has suggested that the Cathars, the heretical movement that made this intervention necessary, anticipated the later punk ethos. At first glance, that seems like a strange, exaggerated claim—could medieval punks really have existed? But a holistic view of the converging musical and ideological shifts of that time and place make it a plausible hypothesis.

In fact, the whole first thousand years of Christianity witnessed an extraordinary suppression of peasant songs. These were attacked repeatedly in sermons, laws, and various official pronouncements. The censorship was so severe that almost no love songs or lyrics of personal emotion in the vernacular languages have survived from that long period. It’s hard for us, nowadays, to grasp why a love song might be threatening to those in power. But, viewed from another perspective, the power of a love song in promoting personal autonomy makes perfect sense. After all, these romantic lyrics proclaim the lovers’ determination to take control of their destiny and happiness—and if they are willing to do it in this instance, what prevents them from demanding independence and self-determination in other matters as well?

The same is true in modern times. Consider the case of . . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more.

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2021 at 10:59 am

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