Over the past month or so, many people in our course have proposed the question: do we live in an enlightened age? Based on the definition provided by Immanuel Kant, I find our answer to be a resounding no. Kant defines enlightenment as:
“Man’s emergence from his self imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another.”
Furthermore, Kant attributes our failure to mature to the vices of laziness and cowardice specifically. Many students have argued that we do indeed live in an age of enlightenment, attributing their answers to our enhanced communication systems and our changing global world. However, I can’t help but look around and notice that not that much has changed over time, and our greedy struggle for power has continued for centuries and this ignorance of the fact still resonates today. The 1999 studio album by the politically motivated punk band NOFX was titled “The Decline”; it’s composed of one twenty minute track detailing the reasons our country is on a collision course towards a major decline.
I chose this song to support the fact that our society does not fit Kant’s definition of enlightenment in any of the facets outlined. Furthermore, I also claim that Kant’s contention that we do in face live in an age of enlightenment, with diminishing immaturity, is false as well. “The Decline” embodies all of the notions of a society that is indeed not enlightened whatsoever. It outlines the ignorance of our government as well as every day citizens. There is no question that pieces of our world such as technology and global communication have greatly changed over the past century. However, in a political and moral sense, our nation has been stagnate. Racism, ignorance, greed, and gluttony are still enormously present in daily life as we seem to make no attempts to change. We only want to make the appearance of change and the appearance of enlightenment. This song was produced before the second war in the gulf and still echoes pessimistic outlooks that have evolved after its release. As the lead singer of NOFX Fat Mike exclaims in his twenty minute ballot, “Aren’t ever asked, is anybody learning from the past? We’re living in United Stagnation.” The song continues to sarcastically call out our every day ignorance and inability to break through from this immaturity. This point is reiterated when Mike states “Don’t think (Stay), Drink your wine (Home), Watch the fire burn (Be), His problems not mine (Safe), Just be that model citizen.” Nowadays the “model citizen” is someone who sits back on regular basis and doesn’t challenge the injustices present in our society. We don’t question the rationality of our nation, instead we focus on being the best and our global image.
Later in the song, the band states that the status of our nation starts “with assumption, that a million people are smart, smarter than one.” This lyric echoes the teachings of Socrates that speak of truth over majority. Our system is flawed and we as the citizens of the United States are not being properly represented. Our representative form of government has created a system in which those in charge want to keep as much information from you as possible in order to secure their own intentions. This is echoed in “The Decline” when they state “They’re betting you won’t care.” In other words, they are speaking of those in office who depend on our daily immaturity and refusal to gain the courage to question their actions.
Finally, let’s take a look at the conclusion of this quite long ballot against American ignorance and greed:
“The human, existence, Is failing, resistance
Essential, the future, Written off, the odds are, Astronomically against us
Only moron and genius, Would fight a losing battle
Against the super ego, When giving in is so damn comforting
And so we go, on with our lives, We know the truth, but prefer lies
Lies are simple, simple is bliss, Why go against tradition when we can
Admit defeat, live in decline, Be the victim of our own design
The status quo, built on suspect, Why would anyone stick out their neck?
Fellow members, of Club “We’ve Got Ours”
I’d like to introduce you to our host, He’s got his, and I’ve got mine
Meet the decline”
These words began to play over and over again in my head as I contemplated whether or not we lived in an enlightened age. This passage embodied all of the faults Kant describes in man; our cowardice, our lack of will, our ignorance as well as our inherent laziness. Everyone takes care of themselves and sits back and watches the rest be demolished by those with cruel intentions. NOFX begs the question, why would anyone stick out their necks? I think Kant provides a sufficient answer in his detailing of breaking out of immaturity and expressing our independent thoughts and visions. However, I, along with NOFX, do not feel that our nation has broken from this tradition of immaturity whatsoever.
In conclusion, I’ve shared this song in relation to Kant’s What is Enlightenment to give the perspective that maybe not only is our nation not yet enlightened, but maybe we are in fact far from it. While punk music is often overlooked in the overall realm of influential music, I think NOFX has the ability to speak to the youth of our nation while at the same time being able to write lyrics that successfully question the weaknesses of our nation. This band has been playing for over twenty years and almost their entire collection of music echoes political plights and represents the voice of those who simply cannot take it anymore. While many of you may not agree with this perspective, it is important to see situations from all sides and I hope you get the time to look into the musical views of one of my favorite bands in relation to the political writings we have gone over this semester.