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On Bending

I had been working on a post on and off about different types of bass strings I like, and some extra-geeky minutiae about work I’ve done on some of my favorite basses, and then the inauguration happened and it all seemed so small. I’ll finish it later. For now, please bear with me as I indulge in that most modern of vices: the political post. I’ll keep it brief and to the point.

I grew up surrounded by immigrants from all over: neighbors, classmates, friends. I was used to hearing many languages in the hallway, smelling many foods. Not all the smells were pleasant at the time (here’s looking at you, bacalao), but it sparked an early curiosity about food that has persisted to this day. And thanks to my father’s work I have a lot of early memories of tagging along on reggae gigs, sitting behind the monitor board or in the control room with my stuffed animal and my snacks. It was only when I started to tour with my own band and see the rest of America that it really hit me how rare an experience mine was. Of course, if your ancestors weren’t murdered by pilgrims or Andrew Jackson, you’re probably an immigrant, but after a while you get absorbed into the American stew. Some of us have cooked down more than others; nationality matters. I’m grateful to have grown up where I did, and to have been taught to see diversity of all kinds as a benefit rather than a threat. “Taught” is key: I don’t like being around people different from me because I’m a virtuous person, I like it because my parents and the other people around me growing up did. I value diversity because it’s been a feature of my life and my life has been good. If I’d grown up around all straight white middle-class people, and my life was good, I might just as easily have grown to value homogeneity instead. Think of all the good things in your life, and what you attribute them to, and think of what you’d value if you had attributed them to something else. It’s not an impossible mental exercise.

I’ve been real sick the last few days, and I was deeply disappointed I couldn’t go to JFK this afternoon and show my support for the refugees, immigrants, and actual fucking legal residents of my country hurt by the president’s executive order. I’m heartened to see so many people motivated to action. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous quotes, the one about the moral arc of the universe bending towards justice. It’s been getting a lot of traction these days. It’s a masterful piece of oratory, and justifiably enshrined in the canon of American rhetoric. The problem with it for me is that Dr. King was a devout Christian, and he spoke from a place of faith I do not share. I wouldn’t call myself an atheist; I do think there is a power greater than us, and that we can be closer to it or further away from it. But I don’t think of that power as being personified, or having any particular interest in humans at all. I don’t believe any all-powerful love will save us, and I don’t believe any all-powerful wrath will destroy us. To believe in a moral arc of the universe is, fundamentally, to believe in a God who will take care of you. I don’t think we get off that easy. If there is an arc we will know it only in retrospect, and we have to bend it ourselves.

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