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Welcome To The Grey Zone

Words:

Edd Norval
May 3, 2018

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've read about Kanye West's 'twitter breakdown'. Yet in his recent interviews he comes across as eloquent and sound-of-mind. However you view the situation, rubbishing someone as 'crazy' is unproductive - art is supposed to challenge.

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"Most people didn’t vote for her, not because she’s a woman, they didn’t vote for her because she offered no palpable change whatsoever. Same old stuff. Trump represents a change. A terrifying change, but a change none the less. Hilary represented, well she represented very little actually because she protects corporate interests because she doesn’t call the police when questions from the debate are leaked to her in advance - I noticed we barely reported that. Not everyone that voted for Trump is a sexist or racist. How many times does the vote not have to go our way before we realise that our argument isn’t won by hurling labels and insults."


This is a part of the above video, a rant by British comedian Tom Walker as his left-leaning satirical news reporting character Jonathan Pie. The video was shared overwhelmingly across social media - people nodded their heads in unison. 'Yes, he's hit the nail on the head!'


What Pie was getting at is that nothing is clear-cut and that we must take a nuanced look at problems and engage in constructive debate, less they repeat. No on likes to admit that they have done something wrong, so they stick with people that share their views. By-proxy if more people agree with you than with your enemy then you're right, or at least you appear to be. The black and white at either side is comfortable - it's where people agree on things and get along - it's Order. It's also where very little happens. The grey area is Chaos personified - it's the scary place where malevolence can present itself after unexpected tragedy. Chaos is also where creativity and change reign.

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It's becoming clear that what Kanye is saying isn't that Trump is great, he's not qualified to make those assessments as he has shown a lack of grasp of the politicians policies. What Kanye is saying though is embrace the chaos. It makes total sense that someone like him would feel at home there. Here we have one of the most creative artistic geniuses of our time. He's a renowned complex figure, Dali-esque in his contradictions. Since his days on Def Jam Poetry Slam up until his most recent album, he's not only reinvented himself, but the whole of hip-hop. If you look at his presence in a wider lens - you can see that he's also changed the world of fashion.


Without Kanye's impact on the genre it's safe to imagine that there would be no entry point for Kendrick Lamar or Asap Rocky. Kanye marched through the forest with a chainsaw chopping down all that stood in his way. It's on his path that so many others have walked. A similar effect can be spotted in the fashion industry.


Chaos is not bad nor good - it is a formless entity that engulfs everything - it's the horrible gut-wrenching uncertainty we experience after a break-up or an accident. It's when life seems meaningless and where there seems to be no escape. Likewise it is the ripe grounds upon which seeds of vast change are sewn. This change might be negative, as Pie points out, 'a terrifying change' with regards to Trump's presidency, yet it seems that Kanye is using Trump as his own ideological pawn to allow his own ideas to manifest. Using his name means that people will listen to his idea - the idea that sometimes Chaos arises and sometimes it'll be bad, but not all the time. Just because it hasn't worked this time, don't be afraid of change in the future - one day it'll work out and one day it might be beautiful.

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There is nothing easier than vilifying those that hold opinions counter to your own. It is because of the Left's success in the Culture War that the Right has been portrayed as tasteless thugs. This is again, as Pie points out in his video - a binary way of thinking that disregards all nuance. The left do things wrong too, Communism killed millions as did fascism - that is something we can agree on. Maintaining this binary thought-process means limiting policy to traditional characteristics of the left/right dichotomous spectrum. These are modern times, nothing like our life now has existed in history before - so why allow our minds to gestate in archaic models of thought?


There is right and wrong on both sides. Kanye seems to know that. His emphasis is on freethinking, defying expectations. Trump has only become such an integral part of the Twitter fiasco because focussing on him is the easy way out. Instead of engaging with challenging topics or embracing Chaos, we've vilified Kanye as a sort of ring-wing troll. That misses the mark. In his recent interview with Charlamagne Tha God, Kanye repeatedly refers to Tupac Shakur - a man that was also extremely controversial in his lifetime for presenting forward-thinking ideas (like Kanye, sometimes badly). Tupac has managed to transcend the negative and has been elevated into a quasi-religious figure similar to Bob Marley - a prophet of peace.


The term 'freethinker' that Kanye has been repeatedly referring to comes from a religious context. It is one who refuses to accept the dogmas, rites and rituals of a given religion. They don't demonise the entire thing per se, but they can see the problems, the grey areas, they are willing to venture into the stormy sea of Chaos to make positive and long-lasting changes. These people were also routinely vilified and hated. You see, some things change, but people - at their very core, remain very similar. We naturally seek stability and comfort.

In his interview, Kanye and Charlamagne are full of nuggets of wisdom. So why has this become further fuel to the fire? Why aren't people using this as a tool to learn rather than to demonise? Is it fear? Fear from what?


One of those things seems to be expectation. We like to think that we are free from the conditioning of the behaviours that pervade society, yet here it is, a chance in time to actively engage with people who are our pre-eminent contrarians. We don't though - we just stand in line and regurgitate the same reactions.


On Trump's policy, Kanye remains (purposefully?) ignorant. It's the Trump Effect, that someone has been able to break into a political system full of black and white, categories, right and left-wing, that endeared him. It's Trump as an idea not Trump as a man or as policy. Great artists have always embraced chaos - look at Picasso, Warhol or even The Beatles. As the hands of time brush over the past, we are quick to forget the ugly edges and instead see it only as a blurry whole, no longer a memory in sharp focus - but lets do it now, as it is happening. It stands to reason that at this moment, with the ugly sides ('slavery is a choice') in such painful clarity that we can only see his glaring miscalculations of phrase - a common infection of celebrity. We are too caught up in a moment to step back and see the thought-process in its entirety, but it is exactly this that we need to do.


It's unfolding before our eyes in real-time, it's unrefined creativity and thought being channeled in a way that we've never seen before. Our response? We call it a breakdown. Just like our response to Trump - we failed to try to understand how the phenomena developed, our part in it and how we could effect change. Kanye's holding a mirror up at our face and we don't like what we are seeing.


Bertrand Russel, in The Value of Free Thought, How to Become a Truth-Seeker and Break the Chains of Mental Slavery states that, "The person who is free in any respect is free from something; what is the free thinker free from? To be worthy of the name, he must be free of two things: the force of tradition, and the tyranny of his own passions. No one is completely free from either, but in the measure of a man's emancipation he deserves to be called a free thinker."


Kanye may still be a slave to his own passions, his impulsive nature on social media, but he's someone that is trying to make the world look at something in a new way. America's political situation is nuance-upon-nuance - it's the zone of grey. He's unafraid to point that out, even if he's not doing so perfectly. Shouldn't we try helping him out instead of standing from a safe distance and laughing about it?


Kanye himself understands he's freewheeling ideas, "I think we're in a place now where bravery is more important than perfection." So be brave and embrace Chaos - it might be ugly now, but one day it could be beautiful. We don't have to be what anyone else wants or expects of us - we create ourselves - we are our own master. There's nothing more freeing than that idea.

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