So, last night, Lupe Fiasco was apparently run off stage partway through an anti-war song,* which included anti-Obama rhetoric and had gone on for 30 minutes, where he was performing at an inauguration rally. Ta-Nehisi Coates mentions it and embeds some video of Fiasco’s ousting here.
*Interesting the way an anti-war song morphs into an “anti-Obama” song in the eyes of some writers. As if, you know, war and Obama are essentially synonymous.
The article itself is really nothing more than the embedded video. Now, Coates’ blog is one of the few where I’ll actually check the comments (he curates and responds! One of the few writers who will do that, and I wish more would. It makes for interesting discussion and seems to spur Coates to regularly write interesting follow up articles based on comment discussions, which is great), and given the subject and the minimal content in the original post, I figured there’d be a few interesting tidbits. Sure enough, a rather robust debate ensues primarily centered around two things: 1) Was Fiasco behaving appropriately in the first place?, and 2) what of Fiasco’s politics, anyways?
To the first point, Coates comes down on what I think is the pretty reasonable side of “hey, you booked him, you should know what you’re getting.” As long as Fiasco was fulfilling whatever contractual obligations he committed to, it doesn’t seem like he really did anything that you could criticize. Usually, we applaud artists who take creative risks in the pursuit of artistic expression. That folks are bagging on Fiasco for not playing a “regular set” seems either hypocritical or banal. They remind me of the people who go to older artists’ shows and shout for nothing but golden moldies and complain whenever new material is played. But whatever. To each their own on that one, I guess.
To the second point, some comments come down pretty hard on Fiasco’s politics (as one would expect from the statist, centrist Atlantic crowd). Disturbingly, Coates approvingly endorses this comment, from reader Craig:
“As political as the statement sounds, Fiasco, who grew up on the West Side, says he doesn’t vote or get involved in politics.”
Then, to put it bluntly, shut the f*ck up Lupe Fiasco. Don’t vote? Don’t complain.
I find this one of the most, er, disagreeable sentiments to be found among statists. Unlike other points of major philosophical conflict, which can be debated – passionately! – and in which we can at least assume good faith intent with each other, the point of the “if you don’t vote you can’t complain” line of reasoning is nothing more than a hollow attempt to silence voices who radically and fundamentally disagree with you. Frankly, it’s beneath Coates.*
*As an aside, I wonder if Coates would have been so approving of the sentiment to tell a radical black man to “shut the fuck up” if he knew, say, that “Craig” was white. Obviously, I have no idea who Craig is or what his background is (or if he’s even a he!), but there’s something that should register as kind of gross and icky to tell Lupe Fiasco to “shut the fuck up” for not being sufficiently bought into the prevailing power structures that govern this country.
It’s also wrong on a number of levels. First of all, it creates a catch-22 for those who oppose the state. If you don’t vote, you need to just “shut the fuck up” about, well, everything. Particularly anything related to the evils perpetrated by statists. On the other hand, voting is always – always – seen as an affirmation of the consent of the governed by those doing the governing, the media and – at least – whoever’s side “won.” After every election, for example, you hear talk of “mandates” and “approval” and all that stuff. My Democrat friends always wax on during their voter registration drives about the need for everyone to participate – no matter who they vote for, durn it! – because participation is what grants legitimacy to the system. So, either vote and throw your lot in with the State, or abstain and shut the fuck up. Not a lot of choices there for the person whose political interests lie elsewhere.
Beyond that, and as riffed on by the likes of George Carlin, there’s an argument that the “if you vote you can’t complain” folks have it precisely backwards. By this line of thiking, people who vote are the ones going in with eyes wide open, knowing they’re endorsing war mongers and Wall Street stooges. If voting is the great endorsement those of us who abstain are always told it is, how dare they turn around and complain about the policies of the guy they just elected? They knew full well when they were in the voting booth that they were voting approvingly for this list. To turn around and say they oppose such a policy is meaningless. In the only area Obama cares about – his ability to retain his power – those who “oppose” such policies publicly affirmed them. They have no leverage on Obama now. No way to make the killing stop. And it won’t. Not as long Statists who tell people like Lupe Fiasco to “shut the fuck up” – and thoughtful people like Coates who endorse that kind of message – keep lining up to vote in those same policies election after election, year after year.
Look, if you disagree with all that, fine (I don’t agree with it all!). If you think that we can create an ethical state, and a better future, by working within the system, then let’s have that conversation. But let’s make it a conversation And that means not demanding that those who don’t buy into your value system “shut the fuck up” (or simply dismissing abstentionism as a “cop out” as Coates does in the linked comment) when they don’t do do as you command them to.
Addendum: Now that I’ve posted this, it occurs to me that I’ve probably given Coates the most uncharitable possible interpretation of his comment citing “Craig”. Which isn’t a very Agreeable thing to do, and as such a bit at odds with the mission of this blog. Still, at the very least, the “shut the fuck up” sentiment is such a common and pervasive one that someone as sharp as Coates decided he didn’t even see the need to mention or push back against it and simply expressing it is no barrier to being approvingly cited for sharp work highlighting a radical’s “cop out” positioning. Here’s Coates’ comment that I’m objecting to:
Because it’s money and probably a chance to showcase his anti-Obama politics. I don’t see where he’s actually wrong. Lupe was being Lupe.
I find his cynical apoliticism (which Craig highlights) to be a cop-out. But if you book Ted Nugent you might actually, like, get Ted Nugent.
So there you go. Bolding is mine, I think I probably came down too hard on Coates’ initially, but I think this flirtation with the “shut the fuck up” position to still be pretty stifling for anyone who may actually not vote.