Musician, producer and composer Dave Painchaud writes about current events, politics and the culture at large.

Updated: 5 days ago

Recently I had a moment of whiplash when I saw something that I held near and dear and also realized that sometimes things that are relatively old can be completely new, relevant and have something to say... again!

In my case I ran into an old BBC series on the history of science and knowledge from the mid-1980's hosted by James Burke called The Day the Universe Changed. Burke was the BBC's top science guy for many years - he had covered the moon landings for the BBC and was considered a first rate explainer of all things tough to wrap your head around. He was all of that - the BBC got that very right - but he was also so much more, His knowledge of the history of science was, and is, nothing short of extraordinary. I discovered the series as a single man living in Manhattan when it was rerun on The Learning Channel in the early 1990's (which at that time was actually all about providing programming that lived up to its name). At that point the series was probably about 6 to 8 years old - so not terribly out of date. Burke was absolutely captivating. I couldn't get enough of his shows and eventually recorded them via VCR tape (as one did in the time of stone knives and bearskin), so I could re-watch them and really get a feel for the material which was sometimes dense. Not since I was a kid when Carl Sagan had me totally knockered with Cosmos had I felt this strong about anything on television.

Burke had one main thesis for the entire show: that we are what we know... and that when the body of knowledge changes... so do we! The series then goes on to explain how, often by accident, great discoveries, advancements and developments that changed the world (the printing press, sanitation and public health, geometry in its applied sense, evolution, relativity) caused us to regard the world differently and eventually behave differently as a result. Rather than look down on previous generations as being too dumb to know better, Burke argues that they're intelligence was fine, but... they had to deal with the body of knowledge they had and that we wouldn't have done any better in similar circumstances! Shortly after postulating this in the first episode he'll take you all the way back to the Ionian Greeks and Thales of Miletus - arguably the father of science and philosophy who demanded that we ask questions... about everything! And without religious taboos! If you want to check it out (and you really should do so) you can see it right here.

Look, the entire series is wonderful - you'll be blown away, I think, by the fact that the ideas hold up so well - in fact some of them hold up even better than Burke could have imagined! For instance at the beginning of episode two, Burke is driving through the Tunisian desert - there’s nothing around for many miles when he encounters a traffic light right there in the middle of the desert and... he stops for the red light. Why? I mean, what’s the point when there’s nobody there? And Burke explains that it’s not because he’s been brainwashed or had his rights taken away, it’s because he’s part of society - there’s a social contract - with rules. And because he follows the rules he has a moral right to expect the good things that come from being a member of any society. Those are important and relevant ideas right now. Following the rules is, in essence, siding with civilization. Not doing so, which we’ve done before and was a decision that was advocated by a certain Carthaginian after the sack of Rome, actually helped lead to the Middle Ages at one point, and is a similarly bad decision now. So, what you do at the traffic light... matters.

I think it's fair to say that many today reject the social contract because they don't believe that the people offering the contract... are fair brokers... about anything! They're trying to make an essentially immoral and unethical act - the rejection of society - an ethical/moral choice. On the short list of the unsustainable... this has to be a killer of an idea! You can't possibly make it work... It doesn't stand up to scrutiny... but those offering it could care less. This is misdirection designed to get the credulous... angry. And it's worked. But the actual idea? No matter how hard you try to shoehorn that huey through the grinders of logic it will never make it through.

So, in these days in which we try to make sense of what we've just been through in the last four years and how people can believe the patently crazy, it might be a good idea to go back and relive how we got to be logical in the first place, because those arguments - even if made for mid-80's British TV - still are telling us some things and might help us find our rational feet again!

Updated: Jan 13

Welcome to the new online home. As we ended 2020, the idea of revamping my web presence kept coming back at me like an itch I couldn't scratch. I knew I should do it, but I also wondered if there was any real value in a website or in blogging. I mean, haven't these ideas become rather quaint? Nobody really "surfs the web" - nobody's done that since all this was a new thing and we were all trying to figure out what the hell this was. Now, increasingly we realize that there are a series of ecosystems and even more readily recognize that there is just as much trouble connected to the internet as the glorious utopia we were promised by people in tech and programming who really thought that's what it was going to be.

So, what's the point? The more I dwelt on that, the more I started really drilling down on what I had learned in my experiments in outreach. As a studio musician, composer and producer I want to find people who would be interested in what I do and how I approach it either as a performer or as a composer/producer, and I had a little bit of experience with this on social media. I was on many of the major platforms and I noticed that the nature of the platform had a lot to do with who you interacted with and the amount of interaction there actually was.

Facebook was about family and friends - many of whom were local to me, but also a way to connect with old college buddies and people I had known but who hadn't been in my orbit in a long time. So, what you post there and the way you talk about things is different, since these people generally know you, rather than how you'd communicate in a place where people don't. It didn't take long to realize that a lot of people were saying things in print they'd probably never say face to face, which was interesting, and showed just how dangerous things like politics were on a site like that - especially when people really needed to express themselves. My feelings about Facebook probably mirror many people's thoughts in that I think Zuckerberg is a deeply odd duck who simply cannot be trusted - he's made a thing that undoubtedly works but can also be easily perverted into all sorts of awful things and he's also a monopolist. Look, there's not a lot of really nice things you can say about him other than he's undoubtedly very bright, but I think we knew that going in. Used carefully, Facebook can work wonderfully as a way of staying in touch with people you know and learning about all sorts of cool things primarily within your own existing orbit. It's a wonderful tool created by an untrustworthy guy and run by an untrustworthy company. That doesn't mean don't use it - just know the lay of the land. In other words, they're all data mining. If you want to avoid that you could move into a cave, I suppose.

Twitter actually finally became "a thing" for me this year due to the convergence of Covid, which provided a lot of time to really dive into it, and the fact that it was an election year. Twitter works best for me as a sort of tickertape - like the old wire services, it's especially good in reference to breaking news (and I've been a newshound since the advent of CNN). I don't do much in regards to music there. I'm pretty much all politics all the time and I've managed to find a bit of community meeting all sorts of people from a variety of backgrounds watching the craziness we're living through. I know, bloggers, college professors, authors, pollsters, historians and all sorts of people that share a point of view and enjoy making real time predictions that often sort of sound like:

"What do you think he's going to do next?"

"I don't know... but I'm worried..."

One of the cool things about Politics Twitter is these predictions being made about what will happen next. One can't help but start to keep score and realize... some people have a clue! And some.... DO NOT!!!! That does tend to change everything. Suddenly... there's skin in the game! And some people really are "plugged in" and "in the know" and can get you the skinny just a little faster than traditional news. I have no idea if my Twitter crowd will actually follow me here all that often, but occasionally I imagine some will and that would be great. For the longest time, my Twitter experience was "screaming into the void" but eventually I found some humans and contacts there.

The toughest one to figure out is YouTube. Everyone told me I had to use it, but... I had concerns. Why am I making films when I'm not a filmmaker? I could go on and on, but I've started to figure out that lousy production values aren't a sin there and are, in fact, part of the scene and "honesty" the medium considers part of its DNA, so I have done a few things there, but it's the hardest place to find an audience.

Then there's Instagram - an unexpected favorite. Instagram is all about photos... and hashtags! And a lot of those... are musical. So I follow a lot of musical hashtags and get exposed to all sorts of things going on in the genres I like. It's also where I scream into the void least... and have started to learn how to make more friends and contacts etc through the use of it.

What's the answer? Well, I don't claim to have found it, but... I'm getting closer. Look, to some degree the subject matter - what you're all about - provides a ceiling on just how visible you can be either in the society at large or online. I'm not saying there isn't an audience for everything, because there is (didn't George Carlin once say that if you needed a left nostril inhaler, there was probably somebody out there that would sell it to you?), but that doesn't mean that audience is that big, and that sort of decides whether you can pick up the critical mass required to start to go viral. I would imagine 16 year old teenage girls doing videos on makeup tips do better than 50 year old historians discussing the Boar War. I don't think that's an outrageous assumption. This is true in book sales and what gets watched. Do we mouse click on the best stuff? On the stuff that's good for us? Uh... close to never! So, it's fair to realize there is a ceiling to your subject matter. I live for instrumental music - jazz, ambient music, what most people call "classical music" and all sorts of electronic stuff. Does that stuff have a degree of popularity? Well... yeah, but the music industry has been in the toilet since Spotify came along and took all the money, so... Music is not in a terribly healthy place right now. That seems fair.

There's another factor though, and this one is far more hopeful, and I'm almost a little ashamed I hadn't picked up on it earlier. Google, YouTube, Facebook/Instagram give more visibility to things in which there is greater interaction. In other words social media rewards users... that are actually social. If I comment on 50 posts a day on Instagram - and I mean an actual comment, not a fire emoji - people will follow me back. it's pretty much guaranteed. If I can do 100 comments even better. For this to work you need to do it daily. Whenever I pick up my Instagram habit, I get followers. Does this work everywhere? I haven't noticed that it has, but I'm guessing some variant of it does.

So, why have something as antiquated as a website? Because I think you pretty much have to - you have to be able to point people... somewhere, and if things start to pick up anywhere where I have a presence they can come here and hear some music, see a video, read my stuff, learn a little about what I'm all about and get links to all my other social spaces. So... even though it's taken a week and half and been a bit of work... I think there's value in kicking this thing off and hoping that I will scream into the void less and make contact with likeminded humans in a viral way more, but if I don't... I'll just keep screaming into the void... because I kinda like it.

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