On Pink Floyd and “rigid schooling”


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I visited the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (above) in December 2014, during a Christmas visit to Cleveland. One exhibit was on Pink Floyd, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996.  You can see their full bio at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum | RockHall.com:

The group carried rock and roll into a dimension that was more cerebral and conceptual than what preceded it. What George Orwell and Ray Bradbury were to literature, Pink Floyd is to popular music, forging an unsettling but provocative combination of science fiction and social commentary.

Which could be another way of saying they were like some prophets in the Bible. Those old-timey prophets also made “‘unsettling and provocative’ social commentaries.” Pink Floyd’s variation on that theme was undoubtedly Another Brick in the Wall. That hit was actually “three songs set to variations of the same basic theme, on Pink Floyd‘s 1979 rock opera, The Wall.”

Part 2 of the 3-part set was “a protest song against rigid schooling in general and boarding schools in the UK in particular.” See Wikipedia, which added –  as a side note – that both the single and album were “banned in South Africa in 1980 after the song was adopted by supporters of a nationwide school boycott protesting racial inequities in education under the apartheid regime.”

See also Pink Floyd’s The Wall:  A Complete Analysis:

Pink Floyd’s the Wall is one of the most intriguing and imaginative albums in the history of rock music… [T]he Wall traces the life of the fictional protagonist, Pink Floyd, from his boyhood days in post-World-War-II England… From the outset, Pink’s life revolves around an abyss of loss and isolation… Every incident that causes Pink pain is yet another brick in his ever-growing wall[, including:] an out-of-touch education system bent on producing compliant cogs in the societal wheel…

“Compliant cogs in the societal wheel?” That sounds like what Harry Golden was about. (In his “sanity amid the braying of jackals,” he was definitely not a “compliant cog.”)

Which brings us back to prophets like Isaiah (at left). Isaac Asimov said such prophets – 3,000 or more years ago – were also the “spokesmen of protest” and the “radicals of their day:”

The priesthood then, as always, was primarily interested in the minutiae of ritual. This was something that could easily be followed by anyone and generally presented no difficulties. It might be a tedious way of gaining God’s favor, but it was not really painful… The prophets, however, were likely to disdain ritual and to insist, instead, on a high ethical code of behavior, something that could present serious difficulties.

See Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel (1981), page 527, emphasis added. He noted it’s both extremely difficult to perform that higher good, and to learn just what that ethical good might be. Which is another way of saying going by the book isn’t always the best course. It’s always a good place to start, and it’s always easier to do. The problem comes when that’s all you know.

For example, William Shakespeare had Juliet tell Romeo, “You kiss by the book.” But I don’t imagine many people like to get kissed “by the book.” See also SparkNotes: Romeo and Juliet: Act 1, scene 5, which said that the comment could be taken two ways, one involving Juliet’s “lack of experience.” Or it could be interpreted like this:

Juliet’s comment that Romeo kisses by the book is akin to noting that he kisses as if he has learned how to kiss from a manual and followed those instructions exactly. In other words, he is proficient, but unoriginal…  (E.A.)

In other words, going by the book can mean you do something “in the correct or proper manner.” Or it can mean “completing a task according to the rules or without cutting any corners to save time.” On the other hand, going by the book tends to degenerate into learning by rote. (Learning “by memorizing without giving any thought to what is being learned.” As in, “I learned history by rote; then I couldn’t pass the test that required me to think. If you learn things by rote, you’ll never understand them.” Emphasis added.)

That in turn can degenerate into some of the synonyms for “unoriginal:” banal, trite, hackneyed and/or uninspired.  See also Rote learning – Wikipedia:

Rote learning is a memorization technique based on repetition… [Alternatives] include meaningful learning, associative learning, and active learning… Rote learning is sometimes disparaged with the derogative terms parrot fashion, regurgitation, cramming, or mugging

Bartolomeo Montagna - Saint Paul - Google Art Project.jpgWikipedia added that “students who learn with understanding are able to transfer their knowledge to tasks requiring problem-solving with greater success…” So maybe that’s why the Apostle Paul (at right) took such care to distinguish the dead letter of the law and its “life-giving spirit.” (In 2d Corinthians 3:6 he said followers of Jesus were ministers “not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”)

See also letter and spirit of the law. And maybe that’s what Pink Floyd was protesting: Rigid teachers who seem to lose sight of the spirit – the originality – of what they were supposed to be teaching.

For another perspective, consider this from The Zen Way to the Martial Arts:

Every martial art – judo, kendo, aikido, etc. – has its own forms, actions, procedure. Beginners must learn the kata and assimilate and use them. Later, they begin to create out of them, in the way specific to each art. (E.A.)

Or take the Bible… (Please!!) Some people think it should be taken literally, and only literally. But others think it should be interpreted broadly, and maybe even – gasp! – liberally. That way applies “to more things or in more situations than would be the case under strict construction.” See liberal Interpretation and also On Jesus: Liberal or Fundamentalist?

Taking the Bible example a step further, maybe the “real goal is to help you grow and develop,” and not to give you “an effective instrument of aggression and domination.” (Which Pink Floyd may have been protesting as well: The misuse if not abuse of the Bible.)

All of which brings us back to the main point, like something Buddha once said:

Do not believe on the strength of traditions even if they have been held in honor for many generations…  Believe nothing which depends only on the authority of your masters or of priests. After investigation, believe that which you yourself have tested and found reasonable, and which is good for your good and that of others. (E.A.)

(But see also 1st John 4:1, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” E.A.)

So maybe that’s what Pink Floyd was saying with “We don’t need no thought control.” Teach us how to create out of the basics. Teach us how to become both proficient and original. But don’t try to turn us into “compliant cogs in the societal wheel…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame – Image Results.

The image of Isaiah is courtesy of Book of Isaiah – Wikipedia. The full caption reads:  “detail of entrance to 30 Rockefeller Plaza showing verse from Isaiah 33:6 Rockefeller Center, New York.”

 Re: “take the Bible… (Please!!)” See Henny Youngman – Wikipedia.

Re: “Buddha … on the strength of traditions.” See How to Meditate  A Guide to Self-Discovery, Lawrence LeShan, Bantam Books (1975), at pages 101-102.

Re: “Every martial art … has its own forms.” See Deshimaru, Taisen. The Zen Way to the Martial Arts, trans. Nancy Amphoux, Arkana Books, 1991, at page 116. See also page 3:

Many people these days come to the martial arts as if to a sport or, worse, as if seeking an effective instrument of aggression and domination. And, unhappily, there are studios that cater to this clientele… (E.A.)

Re: “The real goal.” See How to Meditate, at page 38, vis-a-vis Zen meditation in the martial arts: “The real goal is to help you grow and develop … not to become a better archer or karate expert.” 

Re: “thought control.” See Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2 – Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” (lyrics). On the other hand, the members of the chorus singing “we don’t need no education” sound precisely as if they do need a bit of education. See double negatives and also Wiktionary on “ignoramus.”

Re “compliant cogs … societal wheel.” See also Whoso would be a man, must be a noncomformist.

The lower image is courtesy of Gautama Buddha … Goodreads. See also Gautama Buddha – Wikipedia.

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