Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Chalk meets cheese

One of the topics that regularly interests me sufficiently to create a blog post or two is the divisiveness of religion. The fact that, as a species, we seem hell bent on dividing ourselves up into ever more balkanised groups by creating and following intellectual positions based on nothing more than stories is fascinating and scary at the same time; a majority of people on our planet seem to need to identify with a particular sect or tradition and there may well be sound evolutionary reasons for doing it (particularly when you look at the benefits for the in-groups). We can observe this process going on all around us, all the time, ever more splintered and pedantic shards of ideas popping up and becoming recombined in different assortments wherever people gather together and tell their children stories. Sadly, it's one of the top reasons for suffering and conflict in the world, you need only look as far as Protestant v. Catholic, Jew v. Muslim, Sunni v. Shia, Sinhalese Buddhist v. Hindu Tamil ad infinitum to see that people love to be tribal.

Religion isn't the only cause of tribalism of course, I was reminded of this last week whilst watching the Glastonbury festival on TV. The headline act on Saturday night this year was a little band called Metallica, a heavy metal group that have been hammering out head-banging riffs since the early 80's and have risen to the top (30th overall in terms of record sales) of the heap to become a global brand. Glastonbury is supposedly an all inclusive event, the organisers take every opportunity to make this point, i.e. that every shade and flavour of musical taste is represented. The small flaw in this inclusive vision has been that over the 40 odd years the festival has been running the list has never included a heavy metal band, until now. Like women voting and eating prawns on a Friday apparently the inclusion of this band in the line up was "controversial" to some festival fans; a clear contradiction that eerily mirrors the contradiction in religions like Christianity and Islam that preach inclusive things like "God loves everyone", and then discriminate against gay people or people of the "wrong" gender, the evidence is that tribes tend not to encourage inclusiveness.

Metallica are huge and certainly don't need Glastonbury, in fact you could argue that in reality it was the opposite, i.e. Glastonbury needed Metallica. The interest and publicity generated from the billing must certainly have done the festival PR efforts no harm at all. In the end the band were superb; regardless of whether people like the genre or not, it would be hard to deny the professionalism, musicianship and showmanship they delivered; long standing fans were not surprised. The more interesting facet of the event for me were the responses afterwards. The next day I read a number of reviews and monitored the twitter feed, the comments could be divided into three distinct camps, the fans (I include myself in that group) loved it; that group used words like loud, indulgent and unapologetic (in a positive way). Then there were the people who hated it, they said things like loud, indulgent and unapologetic (in a negative way); then there were the people who had their minds changed, they said things like "not as bad as I was expecting", "pleasantly surprised", "might even buy one of their albums now" and so on. In general the positive outweighed the negative by a healthy margin. Some people will never be fans, that's clear, but a lot more people had their eyes opened to new potential; all of which is great for the band, great for the genre and also great for the festival, a win-win-win you could say.

I'm sure there are valuable lessons in inclusiveness, tolerance and open-mindedness for all of us here; I only wish that instead of kidnapping and killing each others children in the name of ancient stories and mythical promises, people in some parts of the world would just stop for a minute, extract their heads from their arses and listen to the beat and rhythm of the other side for a while, who knows where that might lead.


A Heron's View said...

Steve, I think you have an error in the penultimate line of the first paragraph um' Protestant & Catholic are two christian groups.
Now if you had put Christian/Taoism it would make better sense :) ?

Steve Borthwick said...

Thanks for your comment HV, Shia/Sunni are both forms of Islam too; my point was about the fragmentation that religion engenders INCLUDING within single traditions; it seems to be a fundamental property of unfalsifiable ideas and human beings.