Entries by tag: fragmentation

Meaning of "consensus" changed unanimously with 16 voting in favor, 40 against, and 149 abstaining
Okay, "consensus" isn't and shouldn't be an exact synonym for "unanimity," but the way I use it and dictionaries define it is far closer to "unanimity" than to "some people sometimes have similar opinions on something with some overlap as to who has similar opinions and some overlap as to what the opinions are." The latter seems to be how Robert Christgau and Glenn McDonald and Jack Thompson and probably a myriad others are using it in response to this year's Pazz & Jop poll.

I'm raising this issue not because I think we should always stick with the meanings that were in effect back when there were hula hoops but rather because the word "consensus" in its hula-hoop days (and potentially still) does something good that the new, added usage could well obliterate, which is to describe the process or behavior of an entire group, as a group.

That in the previous Pazz & Jop both Christgau and I and a handful of others put Neil Young's Americana in our respective top tens doesn't mean he and I and they have some sort of consensus on the album. We're not acting as a group and our coming together in this way doesn't meaningfully constitute a group (though maybe the ten of us could get together once a year for a party or something).

I use "consensus" in two basic ways:

(1) Regarding how a group makes a decision, to decide by "consensus" means that everyone or near everyone in the room signs off on the decision. Not everyone necessarily will be 100 percent happy with all aspects of the decision: it might be arrived at through discussion, argument, negotiation, and compromise. But everyone is on board with it. If someone disagrees strongly with a position or course of action, that person in effect has a veto. The word "consensus" here specifically and precisely distinguishes this mode of decision-making from other forms of decision-making, such as a vote in which the majority or plurality of voters carry the day; or a decision by a manager, or owner. In a consensus decision, the process by which the decision is reached may include straw polls, but a minority or faction can't be overridden in the way that it can be in a decision by majority or plurality vote or in a command decision.

Decisions by juries are often by consensus. Decisions by legislatures rarely are.

P&J isn't an election or a decision (though it has the feel of an odd combination of election and opinion poll), but you can see how talking about consensus or lack of consensus among the voters does violence to this meaning of "consensus."

(2) Regarding people's opinions or attributes, a consensus would mean something like "the general opinion of a community or group." So if 97% of climate scientists think global warming is real and man-made, then there's consensus. 80% wouldn't be enough to claim consensus (IMO), even if those 80% are right and the other 20% have no good reason to disagree.

That 65% of P&J voters didn't put Yeezus in their top ten (and presumably it wasn't number one for most who did, so let's say that somewhere between 80% and 95% of voters didn't make it their number one (I don't want to spend the time getting an exact number)), shows how ridiculous it is to say that the strong showing of Yeezus is a sign of some sort of consensus. (And it'd just be babble to turn this around and say that there's a consensus that e.g. most albums outside the top ten aren't the album of the year.)

I think the reason that "consensus" has wandered to include a new meaning — vaguely, to note that there are some criss-crossing similarities among some individuals, some things in common — is that there isn't some other shorthand that's available to wave at such similarities. So the word "consensus" gets to be the shorthand, even if this new meaning takes out the far more useful old meanings. But a shorthand is no good if there isn't real, actual consensus as to what the shorthand is short for. If there isn't general understanding, you shouldn't use the shorthand, unless there's at least some common sense of how to take the disagreements further. (E.g., there's certainly no general agreement as to whether Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are real hip-hop, but people know that there's no general agreement here, and using the word "hip-hop" doesn't paper over such disagreements.) In any event — this is a somewhat different complaint — "consensus" is becoming a buzzword, people waving at ideas they've not actually worked out, trying to quickly communicate thoughts they don't yet have.

The Tiger Eats Its Tail And Thereby Achieves Consensus (my comments on Christgau's comments on P&J)
Posted this comment over at rockcritics.com:

Xgau likes to imply ideas rather than spell them out, which I find frustrating. When he says "the atomization of taste known as the long tail may have a cutoff" I think he means a cutoff in time (it's the atomization not the tail that's being cut off), and what he means by cutting off the atomization is that the trend towards more things in the tail and fewer things in the nontail will slacken and eventually reverse. What it is that's being atomized isn't as clear: year-end lists? poll results? critical taste? consumer taste? And — though he doesn't state this at all — I'm pretty sure that one of the things on his mind is that there needs to be enough concentrated critical support for talented but commercially borderline artists so that at least some of these artists will earn a living and a few will get significant attention. Something like that. And this means that the critical "consensus"* has to include support for artists who aren't getting enough consumer support. And also on his mind might be that consumer support for musical artists can't be totally atomized or no one would earn a living at music.

But I don't see where he's really laying out the issues, at least not the way I would, which is:

(1) Of all the people with musical talent and potential musical talent, almost all the money and attention go to a very tiny tiny tiny few. I don't have a number, but I doubt that 1% or even .01% expresses how tiny it is. Most everyone else is subsistence or earning a living through something else. And therefore lots of people don't even get to develop their talent.

(2) This isn't going to change hugely (here's my piece on cumulative advantage), but I'd think the task is to get more people out of the "tail"** and into subsistence and more people out of subsistence into the middle. And the way to do this isn't by getting critics to get less diverse in their musical interests but by getting the country in general to start diminishing economic inequality rather than what the country is doing now, which is to increase it. With more disposable income in the lower reaches, this gives the commercially marginal a chance to get middling and a chance for some of the noncommercial musicians and would-be musicians to become at least marginal.

Taste not atomizing, Robert Christgau & Frank Kogan unite in vagueness, "consensus" means what?Collapse )

Dave, did you ever read my recombinant dub piece?
Dave (and anyone else), did you ever happen to run across the recombinant dub piece I did for the Voice back in '02? "Recombinant dub" isn't entirely what the piece is about, it's just the name for one of the concepts in it, one of the poles of attraction in a multi-poles-of-attraction environment. Also, I actually discuss no dub music in the piece, "dub" just being a metaphor and catch-all.

I thought you might be able to make something of my metaphor in relation to what you started working on last year in relation to "cultural center" versus "less of a center." The metaphor might work like this, as a way of posing questions:

What if you're a moviemaker shooting a city scene? You shoot a street scene, dialogue between three main characters, a few other people involved with or taking account of the main characters, though not speaking, the rest of the people there as setting, as are the buildings, cars, etc. So now you reshoot the scene, everything the same, except you've taken out the three leading actors and their dialogue. And you then look at the film to see what you've got: what seems to hold its own, what seems to jump to attention, what seems to appear for the first time, what gets its meaning altered, what seems to continue unchanged.

working the metaphorCollapse )

People will cluster into cultural "regions" based not on physical proximity but on mutual attitudes
At the very end of my Why Music Sucks broadside of February 1987 I wrote a paragraph that in retrospect might seem supernaturally prophetic. Whereas now, such a paragraph, with a few of the words changed, would be the common, received wisdom. However, despite almost every sentence of it being right, I think it's fundamentally wrong. But see for yourself:

People will cluster into cultural "regions" based not on physical proximity but on mutual attitudes, tastes, hobbies, beliefs, etc.Collapse )

[This paragraph was something of an elaboration on a more interesting passage I'd written the previous year for an aborted book on punk rock: "It is a social achievement that parents can't understand their kids' slang or that one child will become a punk and another a Mormon and a third will go into interior design (and discos and cocaine) and none will have much to say to the others. Each incomprehensibility is a kind of vengeance."]

The Fulfillment Of My Dreams
Tom posted this on his Blue Lines tumblr (the main motive being to make a funny about rolling joints, I think):

The Trade-OffCollapse )

But given that 2009 has the capacity to do better what I and people like me were already doing in 1989 (even though 2009 isn't as different in kind as that list implies), with many more people doing it and with everybody having the capacity to do it more often, so that 2009 might be considered something of the fulfillment of my 1989 dream,* how come the convo in 2009 isn't smarter than it was in 1989, how come my writing isn't far better now than it was then, how come my ideas haven't developed exponentially rather than circling around the same old same old, how come the music isn't better, etc.?

*1986, actually

Clueless Uncle In Pieces?
Remember when we all used to listen to Conway Twitty?

Buncha questions about whether culture really is getting more fragmentedCollapse )


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