Sitting in a small Indonesian noodle cafe this afternoon in central Berlin, music was playing that I vaguely enjoyed. I say vaguely because, often, my musical knowledge is too limited – particularly to jazz and classical genres – to know if it’s something more than the song I like. Perhaps I simply like the genre, or the lyrics, or the guitar effect. Whatever it is, I don’t have the experience or knowledge to specifically identify what I like about it. Thus, vaguely.
There’s a lot of music I hear when I’m out and about that I find catchy or (again, I’ll use the term) vaguely to my liking. Thus I use what many people do, a smartphone app that will recognise the tune.
I pull out my phone and use the app, as I have many times before, and it recognises the song.
“Good,” I think to myself, “I’ll look it up on YouTube when I get home.”
I do, and I enjoy it once again. Then I read the top comment.
“Just passing by to dislike all his videos.”
Mob online justice. But justice for what?
As it turns out, the song I’d heard was one by Willy Moon, the singer who recently made hugely gross and demeaning comments – along with his wife – to a contestant on the New Zealand talent-finding show X-Factor. I don’t follow such shows or entertainment news generally, but the story was big enough to be hitting hard news sites which I frequent, albeit in the fringes, and I had read of the atrocious act well before hearing the song.
So here I was, having just found a nice meal and a nice song to match (the first two of which I’d enjoyed in a while, and both of which made me nostalgic for home somehow – probably just because I miss music, food, and company I enjoy back in Melbourne), and discovering that one half of that enjoyment had come from a despicable source.
Has my enjoyment been faked or tarnished? Faked, no. But tarnished? Certainly.
So what does one do in this situation? Can I unhypocritically continue to enjoy Willy Moon’s song?
While in no way directly related, it turns out that a much more serious iteration of this dilemma has been faced by others before us; the dilemma of what to do with the ‘good’ that stems from an abject source is not a new one. And, incidentally, I had only just seen – with my own eyes – the physical location of this abject source earlier the same day.
Before going for dinner at the Indonesian noodle place where I heard Moon’s song, I had come from a tour of a former Nazi concentration camp: Sachsenhausen. I’d never visited a camp before, and I can’t say I enjoyed any part of the harrowing experience.
Sachsenhausen, while not the first Nazi concentration camp built, was the nearest to Berlin and site of the headquarters which oversaw the entire Nazi apparatus of concentration and extermination camps from the mid-1930s to the end of World War II.
Passing the original foundation blocks of the barracks which held different political dissidents, ‘asocials’, ‘incompetents’, ‘gypsies’, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and – of course – Jews, nearly brought me to tears. Seeing ovens and hearing of the Schutzstaffel’s thought-processes of ‘efficiency’ when it came to the murdering of tens of thousands (at this particular camp) was almost too much to bear.
The last stop in our tour was at the pathology and medical building. Here, captives would be subjected to cruel experimentation to further the Nazi war effort and reinforce the depraved ideology which drove it. Many experiments were entirely unscientific and warped by the equally unscientific idea of Social Darwinism. A rare few, however, generated genuinely ‘good’ data.
Though what ought we do with such data? Some of it, particularly that on the treatment of hypothermia, could be used to save lives in the future. Is saving lives by the means of others’ killing and inflicting unthinkable suffering on innocent people corrupting our act of saving a life? Some may say so, but not I.
That’s because I think it’s ultimately the motive you have in your action – what you want to achieve – and the predictable results of that action that count. If you use this data with an intention to do good, to save lives, with the full knowledge of how it was generated, you have not done wrong. Rather, you have merely attempted to achieve the most moral outcome from what is available.
As Kristine Moe wrote, we should not let “let the inhumanity of such experiments blind us to the possibility that some ‘good’ may be salvaged from the ashes.”
If we can bring ourselves to recognise some ‘good’ to come from something as horrific as Nazism, can we bring ourselves to recognise some ‘good’ to come from Willy Moon?
Maybe. Except, there is one very important distinction here. By using data from Nazi experiments, we do not explicitly support Nazism. Listening to an artist’s song on YouTube or buying their works, however, does explicitly support them. And there, perhaps, lies our answer.
I, for one, will not be enjoying any more of Willy Moon’s songs, even if I vaguely ‘enjoyed’ one of them.