Our differences are what makes us unique

On the train ride in to work this morning, I did what I always do: read the paper of the person next to me. (I try hard not to, honest!) What I spied today was a story about a new vice president at Motown, Ne-Yo, who had a quote called out in the text: “I want to get back to a place where everybody’s listening to the same thing.”

How boringly collectivist.

There’s are a couple of factors to consider here in analyzing Mr. Ne-Yo’s statement. First, he’s the VP of a private company, not a director at a government agency; and second, he’s really talking about how black Americans and white Americans are listening to two sets of music, which has its own problems. (We don’t want the United States divided on racial lines.) But I think Ne-Yo’s statement is a prime example of the silliness which has gripped much of the public.

Let’s start off with the idea that people listening to different things is bad. I mean, I can’t even grasp that. Is there some sort of social disorder that will arise if I listen to Disturbed and another person on the subway listens to Lil’ Wayne? Are we somehow going to conflict? Sure, if you got into a really heated argument—which happens more online than in meatspace—it’s possible, but really unlikely. More likely is that we simply ignore each other and vow never to invite the other to our parties.

Ne-Yo’s statement goes even farther than that, though. One of the great beauties of the capitalist system is that it allows people with vastly difference preferences—what economists call “subjective value”—to live together. So what if I dislike rap and hip-hop? I don’t have to buy it or listen to it, I can listen to my hard rock and be cool with that. It allows differences to flourish, people to experiment and discover, and a wondrous variety to develop and evolve. Have you ever heard of any classics of Soviet literature? (I’m not talking about Solzhenitsyn either; I mean the officially approved books that glorified the life of a tractor mechanic.) What he is saying, in effect, is that we shouldn’t have this flourishing of human potential and freedom. We shouldn’t have the system that allows artists like himself to actually act.

This concept of music that Ne-Yo is promoting would be dreadful. If we remained a nation that had everyone listening to the same kind of music, we would never have developed rock n’ roll, jazz, or even rap and hip-hop music. We’d still be listening to cellos all day. He would like to quash the very environment which permitted Motown to develop and promote its own brand of music (which, no doubt, he would like to continue developing and promoting and making berjillions of bucks off of.)

This is the sort of silliness we need to combat as libertarians. It’s far beyond just certain public policies, beyond this act or that treaty. We’re talking about changing society. And as we can see from statements such as this, it will be a long road ahead of us.


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