Andrew Bird’s Noble Beast, Part 2: “Oh No”

In Andrew Bird’s Noble Beast, Part 1, I raised the question whether in “Noble Beast,”Andrew Bird was “presenting” the biblical anthropology of Blaise Pascal, or the evolutionary scientism of H.G. Wells, or if he was espousing something in-between these philosophies. I should probably begin by explaining what I mean by Andrew Bird “presenting” these views or something in-between. I obviously have no way of knowing of Andrew Bird’s relationship to these philosophies although I am suspicious that “Noble Beast” may be his modification of Pascal’s concept. But his direct knowledge of these views is not required inasmuch as all of us today are prone to thinking about human existence in relation to these two views. This is because these two “worldviews” dominate the thinking of Western Civilization today. Therefore we can knowingly or unknowingly be “presenting” one or the other of these views. A great song by Pierce Pettis demonstrates that our immersion in a culture can preclude much of our self-awareness.

So deep into that landscape, we did not realize
That we had been talking in accents all our lives
Just a vague sense of the world passing us by
Like those out of state tags rolling down I-59

(Pierce Pettis, Little River Canyon)

This is not to say that theoretically we could not have another worldview altogether, or be somewhere between them, or moving towards one or the other, etc, etc; but most of us tend toward conformity to one of the major views in our culture. I actually believe that Andrew Bird may be to some extent ruminating between these two dominant views of biblical anthropology and evolutionary scientism. (Of course there is always the simple possibility that he just has some interest in “science” and that it provides interesting content material for some cool sounding songs!) Whatever the case may be, I will consider, and seek to interpret in a series of blog posts, some of the “as presented”  lyrics of Andrew Bird.

“Oh No”

In the salsify mains of what was thought but unsaid 
all the calcified arithmatists were doing the math
And it would take a calculated blow to the head
to light the eyes of all the harmless sociopaths

oh arm in arm we are the harmless sociopaths
oh, arm in arm with all the harmless sociopaths
calcium mines are buried deep in your chest
oh the calcium mines you buried deep in your chest.

you’re deep in a mine
a calcium mine

let’s get out of here
past the atmosphere
squint your eyes and no one dies or goes to jail
past the silver bridge
oh the silver bridge wearing nothing but a one-sie and a veil.

Written by Andrew Bird, 2009, Fat Possum Records

“Oh No” seems to be about the difficulties and possibilities of escaping from the dominant worldview because of internal and external restraints. “Calcium” is the most abundant mineral in the body, and becomes a symbol of life as struggle for liberation in the context of restriction and possibility.

We humans are a unity, “arm in arm,” yet ironically we are “harmless sociopaths” (a unity of conformist sociopaths!) because we are “calcified arithmatists doing the math” (scientism). To escape, “get out of here – past the atmosphere,” the dominant worldview requires a sort of feigned permission (“squint your eyes“) since leaving the Zeitgeist (dominant worldview) should warrant death or jail! The escape is symbolized by a “silver bridge” and to escape requires a stripping down from our acquired conformity to our more essential condition as newborns wearing “a one-sie and a veil.”

What is the possibility that we will thus escape? Seemingly quite slim as we really need a “calculated blow to the head…to light the eyes.” Is there no hope then? Yes, there is hope because we have “calcium mines buried deep in our chests” signifying that deep inside the heart is the source of life, where “what was thought but unsaid” resides. But the chorus of “your deep in a mine…” is ambivalent in regard to realizing the hope since we can remain frozen in calcification, or be freed because of calcium mine reserves deep within that seek manifestation.

This song is very interesting to me because it seems to be about the need to escape the current Zeitgeist that dehumanizes us as individuals. The main thing in our favor as individuals that provides a possibility of escape is to reject the “scientism” of the Zeitgeist and follow the intuition of the heart. This is near explicit Pascalian anthroploogy:

The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know…

We know truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart, and it is in this last way that we know first principles; and reason, which has no part in it, tries in vain to impugn them. The sceptics, who have only this for their object, labour to no purpose.

Pascal’s Pensées (pp. 80-81). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

The song seems to end on the note of ambivalence with the repetitions of the title. “Oh no…”. This may signify our own silencing of the internal voice, or the external collective voice of our comrades that don’t like us “jumping ship.” In both instances, these could be considered as examples of the human psychology of “diversion” that is our individual and collective practice in response to our inner intuitions of the heart. “Diversion” was a major aspect in Pascal’s anthropology.

To summarize regarding this song in light of the worldviews of Pascal’s anthropology and Wells’ scientism, it seems as though Andrew Bird is here exhibiting that to escape the Zeitgeist of scientism, because of Pascal’s reasons of the heart, would be a good thing. But the song is also recognizing that this it is a radical and therefore difficult thing to do, because of own personal repression of our inner voice and the external pressure of the herd.

What is not clear though. is if the song is consciously presenting Pascal’s anthropology. But the recognition of the reality and struggle of “reasons of the heart”  against “scientific reason” as a factor of the human psychology demonstrates that the song to some extent corroborates Pascal nonetheless.

BMC 3/03/12

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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