Where does it comes interest in music ?
My interest in all this things stems from the same concerns that got me into ecology and sustainability, the desire to transform society so its better than it is now. This is really what concerned me most when I was studying in College. So how could I justify my desire to play music? The world is in a terrible state, I care about nature, so what can I do to make a difference somehow?
I was very interested in Environmentalism, in Ecology as culture. And so I wanted to work in this areas but I felt that science often seems to limiting or too narrowly defined compared to what I wanted to achieve and thats what got me interested in environmental philosophy. I heard about a philosopher, Arne Ness who was in Norway, a philosopher who was protesting the damming of rivers, protesting energy dependence on fossil fuels and things like this. He was protesting as a Philosopher, because he believed that if we could think differently about humanity and nature and how they are connected, we could change the world. He called this idea “deep ecology” and over the ensuing decades it wove itself into the fabric of the global environmental and sustainability movement.
This seemed immensely powerful to me at the time, you didn’t just have to use science and policy, you could also use philosophy. Really thinking change the ideas at the roots of our civilisation.
So now we are talking about thirty years later or so. At the time I had a more negative view of everything, that there was no place for someone like me in society. I would have to change everything! Not such an unusual position for an arrogant twenty-four year old. Of course after a while you learn that of course society has plenty of room for critics, plenty of room for people who want to try to do new things and that we all find our necessary paths eventually. I’m far more optimistic now, and much more at peace. If you keep doing what you care most about long enough to get good at it, you can touch people and your work will find its place.
It is our task to find out where we are best at doing and hopefully that we use it for the good of society. So I wanted to be an environmentalist I studied environmental philosophy, got a PhD, got a job (only after applying for 150 positions and only getting one interview! And I had already published two books by that time!) But somewhere along the line I began to think that actually maybe I am better at being a musician, and I must find a way to better integrate music into my work. So over the years I found that I could combine these things and I hope this combination can be my unique contribution to this issues, to work on these issues in a way that a lot of people don’t think of doing.
I wouldn’t call my basic work science or philosophy—I am either teaching philosophy or writing books which I am not so sure if I am too philosophical because they are not so technical, they are more for the general public and playing music that combines it all, for whoever wants to listen to it. In my job I am professor of philosophy and music, and this position gives me quite a lot of time to pursue my own interests. As a professor you are paid to think, what could be better than that?
I am often teaching courses on globalisation or environmental ethics we deal with the practicalities of environmentalism. One of the things I try to instill in students to make sure that whatever side you are on you don’t fall victim to too much ideology. There is a lot of ideology going on in progressive thinking saying things like: mainstream bad, but we are good . Traditional science reductionist—bad; holistic science—good. This oppositional thinking stops you for thinking for yourself. When stuying, you have to be ready to question everything—even your most sacred assumptions. Holistic thinking really advances when there is debate, disagreement, and discussion. Everyone shouldn’t agree with all the same things. Some environmentalists should be in favour of GMO’s and other should be against. Some should be in favour of nuclear power while other are against. Some are vegetarians, others are vegan, and some eat meat. Some are off the grid and some are on the grid. It shouldn’t be all one ideology, thats too much like religion. When you turn philosophy into religion, you discourage people from original thinking. You encourage polarization and dualistic thinking. This is why there is so much denial of climate change in America, the situation has been polarized, politicized. Republicans shouldn’t be denying climate change, they should be saying that climate change is real, but government can’t solve the problem, only business and enterpreneurial approaches can. That is not exactly my position, but I would like to have the other side getting involved in the debate, not denying there is a problem because they think that believing in climate change means signing on to one particular total view. There must be a plurality of views on how the world should change, that’s something Arne Naess always promoted and I do share his position on this
In the BBC film I appeared in, Why Birds Sing, you notice a lot of scientists seem angry at me saying because they think that I want to bring music into the study of bird song, they say I am just bringing my human subjectivity into something that should be studied more objectively. But one scientist, Ofer Tchernichovski says science can’t explain beauty. No one form of human knowledge is enough for everything, and that is what I feel is the most important ideas in my book Why Birds Sing. You look at bird songs and poets have said one kind of thing about bird song, naturalists saw something else, musicians heard something else, composers wrote something else, and scientists analyzed something else. and no one approach is complete. Human understanding requieres them all, and they may disagree. There will be some conflict, the conflict is where it gets interesting.
this is the second part of an Interview with David Rothenberg