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  • Daniel Elder

Updated: May 11

The pen may be mightier, but mustn't forget the sword.


Man holding a notebook and pencil in one hand and a rifle in the other


The society that separates its scholars from its warriors

will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting by fools.

—Thucydides


I. The Muse Under Threat


The past four years, for me at least, have seemed to stand still. Strangely enough it is not an uncommon sentiment among those with whom I speak. It's felt as if active purpose, and true inspiration—life itself, in a way—sit waiting out a storm. I often forget that nearly half a decade has passed, exiled from the cultural vanguard as I am (at first involuntarily, later entirely by choice), and instead existing in something resembling a time capsule. All the while the world outside has shifted at seemingly dizzying speed, governed increasingly single-mindedly by one imperative:


Change.


So many of you proclaim it, so many of you adore and applaud its notion, yet take heed—especially you, Progressives—this word is no safe synonym for good. We who grew up in an unprecedented period of peaceful growth seem to take for granted that this world marches forward relatively unencumbered—after all, we have watched the birth and boom of the tech age, carrying with it exponential gains in the accumulation of knowledge and accomplishment, all in the steadily lengthening record of history. Some of us claim we've fought our last wars, and the future harbors no more need for the sword. But there is another direction of change, a fork in our road at every step; one which our grandparents and their grandparents knew and feared, one which was as constant a companion as progress.


History’s rhyme scheme is blatant yet somehow a surprise to us this past scant decade as we backslide ever quicker into the bloody, ashen hole our forebears climbed out of a century ago. Our resilience has declined generation by generation, and in this land of milk and honey hard-won by our fathers, we've grown discontent. First we rebelled against our parents, then the state. Finally, we revolted against God Himself. In the vast and gaping darkness left behind, through the oppressive silence, once again the honey-laced words of an old tempter have found and permeated every crack in our neglected foundation. Ravenous after his decades-long hibernation he has begun devouring our unguarded souls at a disastrous rate. This tempter goes by many names—Marx being perhaps the most recent—and he walks among us ever-more openly, celebrated in our corrupted centers of knowledge, forgiven of his past atrocities through sheer willful ignorance.


We've forgotten the Bolsheviks. We've forgotten the Red Guard. Now it's nearly too late.


As we in our hubris presume to continue our uncontested march of progress towards some societal utopia, we begin to slip down the well-worn slope towards perennial destruction. How many of you have sensed them, the deep and tortured harmonics of hatred—not this petty micro aggression that so captivates our academic philistines, but of real hatred—ringing on the breezes of late? How many boxes on the checklist of liberal society remain ticked? Watch the signs. Note how utterly familiar history is beginning to feel. Our beloved world of music relies entirely on the health of a tolerant and open-minded society. The alternative is silence, blood, and ashes.


Examine yourselves and note whether in the last few years you’ve found yourself choosing not to admit openly how you really feel about vital issues in music. I can’t afford to lose my job, I have a family to consider, or a dozen other such excuses. So perhaps you remain silent, or you self-censor your true feelings, and allow the loud minority unlimited grounds gained. Have you shrugged and told yourself it’s not all that important, they’re harmless or ultimately, we all want the same thing? Don't be so sure. The ever-present cries of “hate speech,” now mingled in the fabric of our daily life, flimsily disguise Progressivism's disgust for those who merely choose not to embrace its radical shift. We all-too-gradually awaken to a gray tyranny wherein our oppressors hide beneath the cloak of good intentions, pointing deceptive fingers, daring any to resist their stranglehold on truth and speech. This has all happened before, we’ve just conveniently forgotten. As culture is muzzled so are its great creators. We are witnessing the destruction of all we hold dear; of all that binds us in the shared passion of music-making. From here it's only going to get worse.


II. Overcoming Pacifism


What are you doing about all this? How are you preparing yourselves to respond? As I previously noted, I have witnessed an unprecedentedly stagnant four years, in which I've largely lacked the benefit of musical enrichment. I've found myself quite alone, outside the gates which ten years before had opened wide to welcome me. Rather than gnashing my teeth, however, I've focused on rebuilding from the ground up; on what I most fundamentally believe, what is most important in this world of music that I love, and through this I've begun fortifying my resolve. I've stepped outside the cerebral, outside the emotional, and spent the isolated weeks, months, and years learning skills I should've learned long ago—skills that will help me better safeguard these cherished values now under threat.


The world is fast falling into anarcho-tyranny. Just as with the wider world, our microcosm of music suffers from the same—overzealous activists everywhere persecute their perceived threats while neglecting a clearly-declining artistic standard. There is hope, however, in that anarcho-tyranny only succeeds if we submit to helplessness. It needs us pacified. Therefore I reiterate: What are you doing to bolster your courage, your capability, and your resilience? How far are you willing to go, and how much are you willing to risk, to ensure the old societal contract we once shared doesn't die out entirely?


I once wrote that our artform needs its protectors. I am wholeheartedly convinced that this renewed infatuation with Marxism will strip our entire generation of its contribution to music history. We suffer from a very real competency crisis. How long are you willing to allow the disciples of DEI, of Critical Theory, of Social Justice total control of the helm? Is it worth this quiet but strangled stalemate we've lived with since the fires of 2020 burned through our institutions? And, never forgetting the chaos of that summer, are you prepared for their simmering scorn to explode once again into fully-kindled rage the moment you choose to stand your ground? Trust me, I tried pacifism. The opposition treats anything short of full-throated support as a threat, and that includes neutrality. The ideology that now grips our culture demands conflict to facilitate its conquest, and there is increasingly less room for avoiding the fight. Stop, turn, and face them; in the classroom and the conference room, on the web and on the street.


In our inaction we're running out of time. I've endeavored to maintain a birds-eye view of contemporary politics (though I certainly hold my own allegiances), attempting where possible to avoid the tunnel vision of campaigns and activism to monitor instead the large-scale tenor of speech. Over the past few years the Overton window has shifted alarmingly close to outright violence, with people's avowed support for civil war and genocide slowly approaching the outer limits of hyperbole. Is there still time to slow or change course before we cross the Rubicon? And what do we, as artists, do to face this uncertain future with courage?


I believe the Warrior-Scholar must return.


III. Becoming a Warrior-Scholar


In the recent years I have Penned, in my humble opinion, some of my most poignant work, surely with the help of hard-learned lessons on human nature. Simultaneous to artistic expression, however, I have applied myself passionately to the Sword. Learning to let these two halves coexist takes a type of courage I never thought I'd have to find—the courage to dig into my fullest self, dust out the neglected darker corners, and bring them all together into the light. If we neglect our own destructive potential, we remain helpless to confront others who become lost to theirs. As I've quoted previously:


"A harmless man is not a good man.

A good man is a very dangerous man who has that under voluntary control."

—Jordan B. Peterson


To most effectively foster healthy art, we not only need guardians to protect from illiberal threats (this is not the same as critique, mind you—a very necessary distinction), but we ourselves must be as fully integrated in our psyches as possible. The choice to serve as both creator and protector in one has aided me immensely on the road to spiritual enrichment. To embrace empowerment, and to take on the responsiblity borne of that agency, has a lasting effect even on the musical mind. Because the Warrior-Scholar must exist in harmony, both power and wisdom can evolve in support of one another.


Of the Pen and the Sword: The skill ceiling to both of these is infinite, but just as I endeavor to spend a lifetime perfecting my musicianship, so I now strive to be as competent a warrior as I can be. Now, dear colleagues, is the time to shed our misconception that there are professionals to do that for us. Aside from the at-once sobering and empowering fact that the Second Amendment (United States Constitution) implicitly states that we—you and I—are the last line of defense against tyranny, recent civil unrest has demonstrated just how badly the designated first responders of our society can fail us in crisis. No, just as millions took their first steps in 2020, so I invite you to join me in this journey, realizing that we must shatter the barriers that separate scholars and warriors, and cultivate the fortitude to serve both roles ourselves.


Makeshift armies of farmers and craftsmen have shaped human history, oftentimes because there's simply been no one else. This was my most important revelation—that, just as Thucydides warned, our society has separated its scholars and warriors, and we are now conditioned to delegate our protection to another class entirely. I entered my first defensive carbine course with near-crippling imposter syndrome and wondering how badly I was out of my depth, hearing the military and law enforcement credentials of my instructors, learning about battle belts and chest rigs, IFAKs and radios. It was a natural discomfort borne of this barrier. But then—to have these professional warriors welcome me wholeheartedly into their world, passing knowledge enthusiastically in the cooperative goal of a peaceful society, opened a long-dormant floodgate in my mind behind which a primal, noble version of myself stood waiting. Once the switch was flipped, I was hooked, and in my newfound hunger and thirst I began consuming all the training I could. Just like these mentors have done, I myself extend the hand of welcome to all who want to break these barriers in their own souls. The equipment and the training (in the United States, at least, thankfully) is commercially available and out there waiting, as if to say you are both welcome and wanted here. We are invited to face a fragile future as minutemen, always prepared to deter destruction, to protect peace, and if necessary, to thwart any threat that may arise.



Man with AR-15 holding a notebook and pencil
It takes courage to put down the pen, but a much greater courage to pick it back up again. Finding the right balance between the two has taken me four very difficult years, but has been immensely rewarding.

The need for the Warrior-Scholar is two-fold. One, a free-thinking society needs its guardians in every corner, and music too needs its own from within. Two, I believe that we as artists remain largely unaware of how we quietly starve for a more primal integration. We fail to challenge ourselves to our full potential, instead setting up guardrails in our hearts to protect us from evil. I've written about how badly we lack the depths in art amidst our relentless pursuit of the heights. For us to each take on the responsibility of protecting our artform—building the capability of great violence in the pursuit of greater peace—opens the way to self-improvement emotionally and, by extension, artistically. These dark corners of our psyche must be brought to light and nurtured by the same sun that strengthens our musical passion. That accomplished, a stronger society may emerge, built of balanced, two-fold beings; a society which stands a greater chance of warding off its impending ruin.


Help me bolster this world we love. Let's learn to be Warrior-Scholars together.


Daniel











 



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