If you reread the previous entry closely, you’ll note that while denigrating the logic and exposing the irony of Mr. Toronyi-Lalic’s statement on the social impact of el Sistema, I didn’t actually dispute the statement itself. Rather than risk the copious wrath of the internet, I’ll state from the outset that he’s wrong, of course, but I also understand precisely why he expressed himself in the manner he did.
There’s an element of inflammatory journalistic license in his writing, certainly. Provocative statements, no matter how poorly informed, make for good reading, and good reading makes for good business if you’re in media. Personalities such as Keith Olberman, Rachel Maddow, and on the other side of the political spectrum, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly (apologies to my European readership if these names are unfamiliar) have made careers of strongly expressed editorial, trading off popular outrage and indignation while paying scant service to ancillary considerations such as the truth or reality. Given the attention Mr. Toronyi-Lalic garnered by his statement describing el Sistema as “voodoo,” the approach certainly works.
But I’m still hesitant to condemn him for his choice of words, lest I be accused of a double standard. Recently in the LinkedIn Sistema Global group, two individuals who have made significant contributions to el Sistema worldwide went on the record describing elements of the program as “magic.” Context is everything of course, and they were referring to subtle elements of the relationship between music and social action, rather than dismissing it all outright – but the fact remains that Sistema supporters have similar words in their vocabulary and use them. “Voodoo” has more pejorative (and racial, curiously) connotations than “magic,” but both invoke the supernatural. For my part, I cite the third of Clarke’s Three Laws, and resist the notion that there’s anything mystical about Sistema, just much we have yet to comprehend fully about what is truly a very advanced technology.
And there’s the rub. Sistema can look like voodoo or magic because the specific mechanics of social action through music, while frequently expressed as generalizations that do not justify the exclusive use of the art, are not well understood. Not understood is not synonymous with nonexistent or non-effective. Exactly like a Higgs Boson, we accept the premise, that of music’s potential for social impact, on the basis of logical proposition long before the data manifests to prove the point empirically. Logical proposition is by far the stronger of the two positions, for that matter: the existence of the Higgs Boson was established by gathering data from thousands of particle collisions… but CERN scientists would never have looked for it could they have explained the existence of the universe any other way.
As for Mr. Toronyi-Lalic and his blanket dismissal of Venezuela’s achievements, couched in what is actually a fairly positive review (albeit one replete with gauche attempts at witticisms), his utter irrelevance was firmly established by the subsequent announcement of the expansion of England’s In Harmony programs to four new sites. The government and the people clearly overwhelmingly agree: Sistema may be voodoo, but it works.