Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, July 6, 2017

John Stuart Mill and "The Story of O.J."

Individuality is essential to the soul. To paraphrase John Stuart Mill, "Individuality produces well-developed human beings." The individuality of man must shine and shine brightly, for in one man's individuality do all men find a light. A light that leads all mankind forward and to a better place. I believe that Shawn Carter speaks to that level of individuality that has moved mankind forward. 

On his latest album, "4:44", Carter takes an introspective look at the culture. On the first single off the album, "The Story of O.J.," Carter described the track as "a song about we as a culture, having a plan, how we’re gonna push this forward. We all make money, and then we all lose money, as artists especially. But how, when you have some type of success, to transform that into something bigger." 

"I told him, "Please don't die over the neighborhood

That your mama rentin'
Take your drug money and buy the neighborhood
That's how you rinse it"
I bought every V12 engine
Wish I could take it back to the beginnin'
I coulda bought a place in Dumbo before it was Dumbo
For like 2 million
That same building today is worth 25 million
Guess how I'm feelin'? Dumbo"

- Shawn Carter

Essentially, Carter is using his individuality to speak to the masses about taking care of our own and he does so in the aforementioned beautifully worded verse. And for those individuals who do not understand what he is saying...well, he makes it abundantly clear later in the song.

"Y'all think it's bougie, I'm like, it's fine

But I'm tryin' to give you a million dollars worth of game for $9.99"

-Shawn Carter

For some time now, Carter has actively spent his time, energy and money on helping to advance the culture. It is in this vein that he and Mill are kindred spirits. Both Carter and Mill refused to have their individualities crushed for the greater good of society. They believed that society is a better place when we do not always conform to the standards of man, but rather live our lives by the spirits of our individual souls. Souls that at their very core bleed for humanity and its continued existence and evolution. 

P.S. - Forgive the latest of my post, my wife has been in the hospital since Sunday. 


  1. Emerson's statement in "Self-reliance" seems to the point:

    “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men – that is genius.”

    I don't know exactly what he meant, but one interpretation might be that to be truly yourself is to be so self-possessed that you don't worry about whether your own "mind" accords with others... you meet others' indifference or misunderstanding as their loss, not your deficiency. That's independence. But we still have to reckon with the inescapable interdependence of lives lived fully with others. It was Mill's "genius," I think, to realize that we can be fully realized individuals only when we acknowledge and respect the individuality of others and are willing to hear them out.

    1. If that is the case, why has the civility of our nation become a seemingly epic trash fire?

    2. But that's just it: in the absence of social civility we fail to achieve authentic individuality as well, becoming merely a collection of sparring and insufferable egoists. Mill tried to warn us. He'd be entitled to say I told you so.

  2. P.S. I hope she's okay, and I hope you have help at home!

    1. She is better and we are back at home now. Friends and family have checked in on us.

  3. Chap,
    I'm sorry to hear about your wife having to go back to the hospital. Hopefully, she is getting better. I know that she's happy to have you there for support.
    I have been reading Mill's Subjection of Women and I struggled to understand what he was saying about stability, but it seems to make more sense after reading Dr. Oliver's comment and your question on the "civility of our nation."

    Here's his quote, "So long as an opinion is strongly rooted in the feelings, it gains rather than loses in stability (this is the part I had difficulty with) by having a preponderating weight of argument against it. For if it were accepted as a result of argument, the refutation of the argument might shake the solidity of the conviction; but when it rests solely on feeling, the worse it fares in argumentative contest, the more persuaded its adherents are that their feeling must have some deeper ground, which the arguments do not reach; and while the feeling remains, it is always throwing up fresh intrenchments of argument to repair any breach made in the old." Today partisanship is so strong that either side, instead of thinking about whether the argument from the opponent merits consideration, seems to immediately divert to another issue or refuse to address the opponent's argument. For example, a continuing issue is black lives matter; now someone wants to sue them. For many white people, the immediate response after Ferguson was all lives matter and cops lives matter, not just black lives, but few white people or police have to worry about being pulled over just because of the color of their skin. White people can drive in Belle Meade after dark and probably not warrant a second look, but if a black person is seen there after dark, there are immediate suspicions on why he or she might be there. Whether than trying to understand how members of the black community in Ferguson felt, the first effort was to try to find a robbery by a black man, or random looting and use those to bolster support for police action. So when feelings connected to a subject are so intense, there isn't space available to have an open discussion where individuals with an open mind can allow their mind to be changed when they listen to an objective, informative, and well-reasoned presentation. Hopefully, that will happen one day.

  4. Mill wasn't saying we should form our opinions in the absence of feeling, but that we must educate ourselves so that our feelings are amenable to, and correctable by, strong arguments inconsistent with our preconceived notions. Otherwise, we're like antagonists on opposite sides of a tug-o'rope unwilling to relax our grip and open our hearts and minds (and ears).

  5. Chap, just out of curiosity do you believe that Jay could have risen to the heights of popularity that he has risen if he had come out on "Reasonable Doubt" with the same message as he did on "4:44"? Because while I do respect Mr. Carter's new found direction with his voice and using his platform to speak out on issues that empower his people, he spent most of his career (both as an artist and pre-artist) doing things that tore down his community. So the point I'm making is J.S. Mill conveyed a message of individuality without first having to corrupt a generation, and here we are generations still talking about him. So could Jay have been "4:44" Jay from Howard University and we still be talking about him generations later? Who knows maybe he'll continue down this course of enlightenment and be like Malcolm.

  6. AND PS...where I'm from Friendship is essential to the soul...not individuality hahaha