Poor quality thinking is much in evidence these days, especially in the media, both traditional and non-traditional. One recent exemplar is the present day re-interpretation of John Lennon’s song, ‘Imagine’, mostly by the younger generations. For them, it is a ‘terrible song’, ‘an absolutely horrible song’, ‘a shit song’, ‘garbage’ and more. All these young critics exhibit one thing in common, they don’t understand the meaning of the word ‘imagine’ and have no idea what a metaphor is. We all have different tastes in music and whether we like a particular song or not is a matter for personal preference. Accordingly it is not the dislike of the song which is of interest here, but the evident lack of basic thinking skills, not to mind the complete absence of critical thinking ability.
However, there is another common theme to be found among this cohort and that is the belief that everyone else is dumb and the corollary, that they are quite smart. This phenomenon in science is known is the Dunning Kruger effect, which is a cognitive bias [knowledge processing error] in which people of low ability when performing a task overestimate their own ability. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognise their lack of ability.
Take for example a video on YouTube uploaded by a person or organisation calling themselves Geeks + Gamers. They have 223K subscribers which one would expect are also Geeks. People who spend a lot of time away from the real world in imaginary combat. One of the Geeks named Jeremy took to the air to complain about a rendition of the John Lennon song ‘Imagine’, which was videoed separately by Hollywood Celebrates, then edited together and released to or picked up by American TV stations. Here is an excerpt from the transcription of Jeremy’s complaint.
Now again I think John Lennon’s song is a really catchy song. Am it’s a stupid song. It’s a very dumb song but I I I its an enjoyable song, am it wasn’t until later on that I realised how stupid the song was. I mean growing up I just ya know I always thought it was a catchy song then I re started re listening to the lyrics am I like this is a terrible song, this is an absolutely horrible song haha and it makes no sense whatsoever.
Note the stutters, gap fillers and all that kind of stuff, have to be left into a transcription otherwise it would be a rendition.
Jeremy declared at the very start of his video that ‘celebrities are morons’, as he vies to be a YouTube celebrity himself but that point did not occur to him. Neither did it occur to two Irish wannabe celebrities on their podcast uploaded to the Gript.ie website.
Garry Kavanagh and Michael Dwyer it appears were also spurred into a public discussion by the multi celebrity video montage of the song. However, and in equal measure to Jeremy the Geek, have no idea what metaphor was contained in the song and have no idea what the meaning of the word imagine is. Therefore imagine that John Lennon as advocating getting rid of religion. About 6:00 minutes into the podcast.
Michael Dwyer: Yeah ima you know ee ee he he yeah he does the religion thing, no no god below um no god above us, no ah no hell below us no ah above us only sky. It’s easy if you do it so he thinks it’s easy to get rid of religion I think he might find that’s actually a trickery project than he thinks or thought but of course he he ah he ah he is setting this up because he wants to set up the ah the punch which which the real punch which the really hard thing for people is to give up possessions. Now that that’s really hard.
Skipping on a bit Garry Kavanagh declares:
Weird. No need for hunger. Mmm [laughter from Dwyer] Nothing to kill or die for is a bit of a weird lyric that doesn’t sound great […] Mmmm it’s just a shit song
Dwyer and Kavanagh have both interpreted the word ‘imagine’ to mean ‘thou shalt’. Thou shalt give up religion, thou shalt have no possessions etc. One might imagine that most people would be able to easily figure out that what Lennon was doing was listing out all the things which cause human conflict. The purpose was to get us to think about the problems facing humanity, particularly war and look for ways to solve them.
In an interview with the rolling Stone magazine a few days before his murder, Lennon explaining the meaning of the song to the interviewers stated:
Imagine no denominations. Imagining that we revere Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Krishna, Melanippe, equally – we don’t have to worship either one that we don’t have to..
Also he mentioned in the same interview that people were equally entitled to imagine no god. The song in not about getting rid of religon or anything else mentioned in his list.
While the song, literally interpreted has become an atheist anthem, the song is not promoting atheism. I suspect that this is the primary reason of why a much loved and widely understood meaning of the song has become misconstrued today.
Lennon also had previous experiance of his songs and Beatle’s songs, getting reinterpreted, even by people attempting to do some serious scholarly work. As a consequence he gave them a bit of work to do, playfuly writing: ‘I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together’, words which lead in to even more confoundingly wonderful lyrics in the song ‘I am the Walrus’. Goo goo g’joob, to all those trying to interpret that song!
The study of the past, even the recent past, is an endeavour which many people think is easy but lying in wait is a minefield waiting to blow shrapnel into sensitive parts of the body. Even university history lecturers, with a map of the minefield, step on the occasional landmine.
As if on an powerful anaesthetic, Kavanagh and Dwyer wander into a minefield unsuspectingly and set a quite a few off but the pain of their wounds goes unnoticed. They take aim at John Lennon’s famous ‘bed in for peace’ with Yoko Ono. The events took place as part of the couples honeymoon but Dwyer thinks Lennon was ‘in bed with his girlfriend, giving out about the war’. First, she was not his girlfriend and if we put the event in its correct historical context it would be a lot easier to see what was going on.
In the year 1969, how many people could make a peace protest from their bed? Probably quite a few, but when Lennon and his new wife, while on honeymoon, invited the press to their hotel bedroom and there was a scramble, all expecting to see something sexy going on. Especially as the couple challenged the establishment a year earlier by appearing naked on the cover of their Two Virgins album. Knowing that their marriage would bring attention from the world’s press the couple decided to make it a protest against the abomination which was the Vietnam War. The second ‘bed in’ in Montreal resulted in the songs Give Peace a Chance and Happy Xmas (War Is Over), recorded in their hotel bedroom. The latter song was voted by readers of Rolling Stone magazine in 2011, as the best Christmas song of all time. So John and Yoko were making a serious point and getting the message across, without taking political sides that the Vietnam War should be halted.
Clearly the songs resonated with people and provided much needed support for the various peace movements which at that were under constant threat from the pro military establishment in America. Just a year after the ‘bed in’ protests, 4 students were killed when the American National Guard opened fire on riotous but unarmed group of protesters. In the aftermath of the Kent State University shootings, 4 million American students went on strike. It should be noted that some argued that the killings were justified. Later a student protest marching on Wall St in New York was attacked by a violent mob of construction workers swinging clubs and other implements in what became known as the ‘The Hard Hat Riot’.
The story of the peace movement is not a clear cut as it might appear to the young generation today. The peace movement ultimately triumphed, which obscures from present day view, the weaknesses within the movement, and the uphill battle which it fought against very powerful forces, who opposed the peace movement and supported the Vietnam War.
Into this backdrop many celebrities stood up to the establishment including Mohamad Ali who was sentenced to five years in jail for refusing to be drafted into the military. He stayed out of jail by appealing his conviction but had his boxing licence withdrawn for more than three years. Another anti-war and civil rights protester, Martin Luther King Jr. in his most famous speech concluded,
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.
Lennon expressed the exact same sentiment in Imagine.
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one
Lennon’s protest songs did not appear out of the blue but were reflecting the sentiment of a growing number of people at the time. It is now long forgotten, that the Vietnam War was a fiercely divisive issue. The anti-communist movements, particularly within the US, had many people scared of a communist takeover and they promoted a plethora of conspiracy theories for decades. McCarthyism is its most famous of all these conspiracy theories and people acting on the false beliefs which Senator McCarthy and others promoted, destroyed the careers and lives of the many people they accused of being Un-American.
While some protesters and protest movements chose inflamed rhetoric and or advocated violent confrontation, a number of prominent leaders took inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent strategy of protest. Gandhi in turn, as has been claimed many times, was inspired by the late 19th / early 20th century Irish civil justice campaigner Michael Davit. Davit His movement of nonviolent protest has left the English language with the word ‘boycott’. Named after an English land agent and rent collector for his master, Lord Erne, he was forced out of Ireland after being ostracised by the Land League.
The 1970s in America has been named the ‘Golden Age of Terrorism’ as many disgruntled groups chose to make their point using violence. The Black Panthers for example, carried out 24 bombings, assaults and hijackings. Even though it might seem implausible and directly contradictory to their intended purpose, some anti-war organisations chose to express their sentiment in violent ways. The Weather Underground, is one such example, in 1969 the organised the “Days of Rage” which led to riots, they detonated their first bomb in Chicago in 1969 and in the following years targeted the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol and banks and claimed credit for 25 bombings in 1975 alone.
It will come as a surprise to learn that not all members of the peace movement had peaceful intent and that the 1970s was the decade when modern terrorism took shape. It was starting to build in the 1960s and the worldwide protests of 1968 widespread social unrest which threatened to topple many governments, including that of France. There is no doubt there was building social tension and that the trigger which blew the safety valve of the pressure cooker was opposition to the Vietnam War.
Into this backdrop came a singer, who then carried a lot of influence, especially with the young and asks them to imagine new ways of halting the war. He leads by example and protests in the most nonviolent way, from his bed together with his wife. Now can you understand the power of a simple song, ‘Imagine’.
I am sure none of this history has been taught in schools which must in turn shoulder much of the blame for the preponderance of poor quality thinking so evident in today’s media and society. Perhaps most surprisingly of all is the preponderance of historical ignorance which is to be found in most if not all universities, including many history departments. The quality control measures like peer review have evolved towards impotence and extinction but the universities have yet to wake up to the problem.
Finally in what must be the strangest of all ironies, the two great peace gurus, Martin Luther King Jr and John Lennon were shot dead for no reason other than the murder wanted to become famous. Celebrities murdering a song on YouTube line by line is trivial but wannabe celebrities calling other people stupid, while not looking in the mirror, is blown through a trumpet we call social media. It is time they were forced the wannabes to look at their reflection in the trombone of erudition.