Kanye West and the Origins of Twenty-First Century Individualism
By John Corry, image from unknown source
April 30th, 2018, 5:07 pm Eastern
People have had a tough time since 2000.
After a rocky start with all that paranoia involved with Y2K, one would find it hard to argue that the twenty-first century hasn’t had its share of difficulties. 9/11, the Arab Spring, social media, the list goes on, and it follows that it varies pretty heavily at this point in 2018 depending on your political leaning. Many find nowadays that there is no hope left–no practical hope–and it seems as if every day more and more people convince themselves to volunteer both their invaluable identities and their thinking into this category. After the plight of the coward, obviously (:! (eyeroll)), this is because its origins go back to a time a bit before most of us alive now were born: the problems we’re seeing today can often be directly derived from the more philosophical and politically affluenced implications of the first and second world wars, and of other landmark discoveries either made just before or ever since then (like evolution and quantum physics, to name two), and from the fact that many people of the time, and ever since, were either too lazy or ill-equipped to handle them all. But the truth is, the groundwork was set long before: in the way the American founding fathers interpreted practical philosophy, to Descartes’ landmark argument for the existence of mind and God; even going all the way back to Plato, Aristotle, and beginnings of modern Western civilization itself, with arguments pertaining to the role or inevitably of ‘the masses’ in society, numbers as the fundamental basis of the universe, and slavery.
But at the center of it all was always the ultimate question mark: the fundamental WTF?: the final question in the equation Man-and/in-the-Universe ((man=universe)=(man≠universe)): the ‘Individual’, or: the question of the nature of the Individual and what she really is, and what ‘role’ she has in Society, if any. It is a question that goes back at least to Plato. ‘If existences are many, they must be both like and unlike, which is impossible; for the unlike cannot be like, nor the like unlike?’ he asked as a young Socrates in his most obscure and arguably often misinterpreted dialogue, Parmenides (127e). Since then, Machiavelli questioned how existence controls itself, and what power (energy?) that gives it, Descartes questioned what existence actually is and how it operates in people and reached the conclusion that it cannot be anything without the capability to understand that it is possible to not understand, in human terms, and Hegel brought the whole thing round full circle with his focused backward dialectic and understanding of time as time as a potential inhibitor of human thought, in turn, setting a little rebel named Karl Marx hellbent on a mission to blur that line (this, if anything, because nobody had yet specifically tried to do that before, and if something specific: because it was just so darn easy (this is not a slight, nor a praise, for or against Marx; it is only to say that if something is that easy (and Marx did make it seem pretty 'easy', every now and again), somebody was going to come along and do it, so it also has something to say about how people work on a metaphysical level both because Marx came so obviously directly from Hegel (and from a more specifically accesible part of Hegel (his form of dialectic) and because of the impact Marx and his ideas have had in the time since))–
And then an even BIGGER rebel named Nietzsche came along, reestablished what it meant to be human, and both confirmed and denied just about everything any philosopher had ever thought at any point in-or-out-of any time, including Marx and all the rest just mentioned just now. Through his eternal recurrence and superman theories, his famous ‘God is dead’ accusation, and much, much more #IfYouWantMeToSellSomethingIDontLikeIWONTDoIt , Nietzsche was the one who made it about people, i.e. he made it about the Individual-in-Society, or: a more personal and intellectually advanced version of Plato’s numerical/infinitesimal ‘one-in-the-many’, or Descartes’ spiritual/intellectual ‘thinking thing’, or even Marx’s confusing, or primal-progressive (in Hegelian terms) ‘“one” versus the “many”’ (quotes there intended as necessary in many ways =P). There was a transition of the potentiality of integrity from the group to the individual, placing the individual both in the group and outside the group, and necessarily defined as such, marking a huge fundamental transition of how people understand themselves in the world, as something both in and outside the world, separated only by moments–not 'timed' (or, therefore, race, or sex, or religion (this is on a metaphysical level here), or anything only possibly described through thoughts we've come to fully understand on a basic level).
In short, and not to be too cheesy here, but: that people could, if they wanted to and if they worked at it, be supermen.
Kanye West has returned to the spotlight after a several month long absence. Before we get into it, a little background here on Ye (‘Ye’, in addition to being a reference to Kanye’s more rather ego-influenced Jesus-esque alter-ego, Yeezus, is also a reference more simply to the back end of Kanye’s first name: ‘Ye’ (like, kan-Ye? Get it?) (or so that's how I always heard it));
After producing two of the most notable tracks on Jay-Z’s pivotal The Blueprint, West has since had one of the most notable hip-hop careers in history, starting with his first five records, all now genre staples: The College Dropout (2004), Late Registration (2005), Graduation (2007), 808s and Heartbreak (2008), and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010). This followed with a mixed-bag collaboration with Jay-Z called Watch the Throne in 2011 and then two somewhat more aesthetically controversial albums: Yeezus in 2013, and The Life of Pablo in 2016.
This was all the while as West engaged as one world’s first entertainers to grow up in the age of social media and post 9/11 Absolutism. As I'm sure many know, but just to recall: he famously declared in 2005 that ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people’ following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He’s been in several Twitter wars with everyone from Jimmy Kimmel to Amber Rose to Wiz Khalifa. He once interrupted a twenty-year-old Taylor Swift receiving her first Grammy in 2009 (for her sophomore record, Fearless) to tell her and the rest of the world that ‘Beyoncé made one of the greatest videos of all time’. More recently, at a concert in November, 2017, he informed his crowd of screaming fans of his admiration for President Trump, soon after, of course, getting himself checked into a mental institution, and, as of several days ago, he’s returned from this short stint as a ‘crazy person’ and has announced on Twitter a solo album and collaborations with Nas and Kid CuDi all to be released in June, among writing what he presumably means by his recently announced ‘philosophy’ book on that platform as well (I'm hoping we'll see on that last one).
As I said, aside from a few moments, I’m not the biggest fan of Kanye’s Yeezus, although I would certainly give it at least a 3/10 (I have to listen to it again). Everything I am off Graduation was the song that got me into him (because that song’s AWESOME)), and I find My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to be one of the best records in all of hip-hop (...total ten), and possibly beyond. It’s original, it’s daring, it’s focused, it’s consistent (this if you’re into hip-hop, of course). 808s and Heartbreaks and Late Registration are both very good as well, as, overall, Kanye has good reason to give himself the kind of praise he does, from a creative standpoint (again: IF YOU’RE INTO HIP-HOP (that part is important)), at least judging by the wealth of his creative output as a whole, even if it is at times a little critically overblown by its creator (to put it mildly).
In a culture which has grown so gradually over the past eighty years towards this deification culture we have now (celebrity, product, identity, individual–it’s all the same under the Form), is it truly so damning for someone to take advantage of it? I mean on a level which perhaps even transcends her understanding for why, or even that, she’s doing it in the first place? But Kanye’s resurgence is taking its form in a question a bit more prophetic: what the hell is he doing??? Is he for real? And is he only doing all this to promote his upcoming releases? Or to put himself back in the spotlight? Immediate evidence could certainly go either way there…
But what is hard to say is specifically what someone may be thinking at any given time. For all its faults, Twitter has become something of an accidental treasure: you really can see how people think with this thing. Trump’s tweeting at the very least shows that he either never learned basic grammar or that he doesn't care, and that he’s either inherently divisive or politically retarded (or, most likely, I personally currently think, a bit of both), Talib Kweli’s (and I’m sorry for this, man, but you’re only exacerbating racism by freaking out about shit the way you do) that he cares far more about yelling at a person than he does changing her mind (or anyone else’s for that matter), and Kanye West’s, currently, says that he’s at least trying to think about shit in 2018 on a deeper level than average sensical perception might immediately draw out (that is not to necessarily assert that that’s all he’s doing (‘trying’), but that trying-to-think is really about all you have to do if you want to be an Individual ('trying-to-think' is the same thing as thinking, don't kid yourself, and given that thinking is an activity done strictly for its own sake before it becomes another activity (one producing a product for example), the more one ‘thinks’, the more one is an Individual in the sense that the Individual is a Complex-Being both simultaneously in and outside (above?) Society (Society here defined as a conflagration of equally potentially individual Individuals impossible to know themselves without knowing each other))). Kanye’s tweets very well may be about simply trying to sell his shit, or they may be the stupid ramblings of a madman (!) but they’re also promoting original thought, and forcing people to challenge what they know about themselves, and about the way the world is working right now–
NEWSFLASH: people disagree with you, and yelling, kicking, screaming, killing, stealing, and hurting are never actually going to do anything about that because all those things are is repressive–they’re not actually challenging the in-time relation of the Individual and/to/in Society (Society, again (only here reworded (see: above)), being the ‘infinite conflagration’, rather than the ‘finite institution’, of Individuals (the Individual being the ‘finite institution’? (this might be a good place for the ammo of Twitter???)))).
if you feel something don't let peer pressure manipulate you
10:01 AM - 26 Apr 2018
And any fan of me wants Ye to be Ye even when they don't agree because I represent the fact that they can be themselves even when people don't agree with them. Drops mic Yeezy shrug
2:37 PM - 25 Apr 2018
This is year one. We can't ad empathy to MAGA by hating. We can only ad empathy with love and time and truly hearing all sides
10:18 AM - 26 Apr 2018
my wife just called me and she wanted me to make this clear to everyone. I don't agree with everything Trump does. I don't agree 100% with anyone but myself.
10:20 AM - 25 Apr 2018
Once again, these could very certainly be the simple musings of an insane person. But, then again, so could anything ever written by Plato, or Hegel, or Marx, or Aristotle, or Hume, or Locke, or Descartes, or especially Nietzsche, or any other philosopher ever lived, died, or said anything ‘important’ (not to compare Kanye absolutely to those guys, just to say that he deserves to be heard). The thing about insanity is that it never shows itself upfront until it’s too late; true insanity saturates, quietly and in the background, until it’s saturated the mind so much that it can no longer be held back, and ultimately takes it over completely, without the mind ever even knowing what hit it. The more people seize the opportunity to challenge their inevitable insanity (and trust me, we are all insane in some way <3), the better we’ll be at figuring out which things we're thinking are actually insane, and which things are simply something new.
Trust me, I wasn’t one to give Kanye the benefit of the doubt when he announced the release of his ‘philosophy book’ either (I’m a pretentious ass?), but now that I’m seeing it, I gotta say that I’m in FUL agreement with the guy #SoFull #Totally , and that his ‘book’ is actually INSANELY on-point: it is the in-time Realization (an in-time realization being fundamentally impossible to put into words, and therefore must be done/shown by action) of the Individual IN Society.
Or, essentially: Nietzsche’s superman.
(Nietzsche’s superman theory (and this is very dumbed-down, I would highly suggest clicking on that link (and here are some more) is essentially the assertion that people have the potential to themselves be ‘gods’, in the sense that ‘gods rule the universe’, for dire lack of a better phrase, but it was not to debate whether or not people had a ‘ways to go' in order to get there (that was assumed, if you’ve read probably literally any of Nietzsche outside of this and/or Thus Spake Zarathustra). The only way that the ‘Individual’ could understand herself (or: Plato’s ‘One’, in existence, for relational purposes), as both singly integral to the system as equal as the necessity of all other Individuals as equally integral (though not as intellectually-fundamentally as in-time perception could or would then allow), was through the rise and fall of a type of infintismaly-temporary-yet-ever-and-always ‘deification’ of both man as man and other-man (or: above-man (or: ‘God’ (or: Descartes’ perfect being by which humans must compare themselves to in order to know themselves)) (again, this is very much so my paraphrase here), a type of basic half-and/in-half, as a singular force (or: understanding-of-non-understanding-through-a-singularity/non-understanding-of-understanding-through-a-multiplicity on a subconscious, generally metaphysical, yet pertinently non-general, level). This deification is done out-of-time, or: ‘in-the-moment’ (the Greeks’ Kainos (and as opposed to the in-time chronos ('chronology?))), and therefore impossible to recreate without metaphor or an unnecessarily long explanation such as this (sorry ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) (Wittgenstein)).
One of Ye’s more interesting tweets was that of a picture of a portion of a text conversation that he had with John Legend on the first day of Ye’s Trump-tweet-storm on April 25th, 2018. It started with a text from Legend telling Ye that he should be careful with what he says and that a lot of people look up to him, blah, blah, blah (I’ll put it below), and Ye’s response was essentially to tell Legend he was only using that rhetoric to stop Ye from thinking his own thoughts. That may or may not be true (I say make up your own damn mind about it), but I think the more interesting thing was why Legend may have been saying anything in the first place (and why isn’t he saying anything to Talib??). All Kanye was doing was saying: ‘think for yourself!’ ‘Be an Individual!’ ‘Don’t let others intimidate you into holding in your thoughts, because the more you do that, the crazier and more off-base you’ll become /> moreover, I’m a creative artist/performer, so if you want to see how all this plays out: here, watch me, and I’ll do my best to show that I wish you good luck in the process.’
This is a complicated time in history (for the millionth time). People have never been this connected, we've never been understood on a wide scale like this, and philosophical norms around for over 2500 years are finally being re-examined and fleshed out–sharpened–on a broad scale, even in the mainstream arena (relatively speaking) (and albeit far less so than in the ‘underground’). Trump is a player in all this, but he’s not a God, not the God, just as Kanye isn’t a 'God', as much as he may wish he was, but, given mankind’s tendency to need something perfect by which it can compare itself to (Descartes), it makes a lot of sense that people would occasionally be prone to use metaphor and personal experience to get out their insane, offensive, disgusting, or divine–right-or-wrong–thoughts into the open (Nietzsche (ish)).
Thinking for yourself is not a right, it is a fundamental physiological, psychological, and economical duty (Hegel, MLK Jr., Rousseau, Mill, Von Mises, Malcolm X). Accepting reality as simply nothing more than what it is, with no potential to grow, is antithetical to the evolution of man’s understanding of both science and the ethics of morals (Marx, Aristotle). WE are in charge of our own destiny inasfar as reality is a moment-in-time, and inasfar as human beings are Individuals-amongst-other-Individuals (Sowell, Arendt, Watts).
It's 2018, we're all potential philosophers now.
‘Everything I’m not made me everything I am.’ (Plato, Socrates)