LENNON VS. LENIN

John Cole is rather exasperated with Joel Engel’s fisking of John Lennon’s anthem “Imagine,” which Cole sees as evidence of Republican foolishness and spitefulness.

Yes, Imagine was idiotic. But so was the Macarena. Your point, Mr. Engel?

I like “Imagine” as a song–but it did exemplify Lennon’s utopian socialist philosophy. Lennon was an extremely bright fellow who was writing music we’re still listening to two generations later when he was in his early 20s. In the latter part of the Beatles era, and especially during his impressive if tragically shortened solo career, he very much considered his art part and parcel of his political activism. And he’d be incensed to have his work compared to something like Macerena.

Much of what Engel says about “Imagine” is true: It is an express advocacy of an atheistic, stateless, communistic society. Otherwise, Engel’s essay is a rather sophomoric exercise in the argumentative fallacy known as Argumentum Ad Consequentiam (appeal to consequences). An example:

Okay . . . let’s imagine six billion people who believe that flesh and blood is all there is; that once you shuffle off this mortal coil, poof, you’re history; that Hitler and Mother Teresa, for example, both met the same ultimate fate. Common sense suggests that such a world would produce a lot more Hitlers and a lot fewer Teresas, for the same reason that you get a lot more speeders / murderers / rapists / embezzlers when you eliminate laws, police, and punishment. Skeptics and atheists can say what they like about religion, but it’s hard to deny that the fear of an afterlife where one will be judged has likely kept hundreds of millions from committing acts of aggression, if not outright horror. Nothing clears the conscience quite like a belief in eternal nothingness.

It may indeed be unfair for Hitler and Mother Theresa to meet the same fate upon death, for example, but that doesn’t make it not so. And, regardless of the actual consequence of ridding ourselves of a belief in the supernatural, it’s rather clear from the rest of the song that Lennon wasn’t “imagining” a world of violent grabs for loot.

Engel’s piece is strangely mean spirited and, frankly, not particularly accurate. To say that getting murdered revived Lennon’s career is rather bizarre, given that “Double Fantasy,” his last album, was a huge success even before Chapman’s bullet struck. While John Lennon may have had some beliefs in common with Vladimir Lenin, the former was at worst a naive dreamer who made a lot of people happy with his music. Let’s save the vitriol for the latter.

Update (2106): Doing some fact checking to make sure my memory of the timeline for the release of “Double Fantasy” was correct (it was), I came across this priceless Amazon review:

Jeffrey W. Richman from Boynton Beach, Florida United States I’m sick and tired of low-conscious reviewers putting down Yoko Ono. These are the same morons who skip Revolution 9 when they pretend to listen to The White Album. How many of you imbeciles can write a song as good as I’m Moving On? And while we’re at it, have any of you losers ever been married to one of The Beatles? Yoko Ono deserves a lot more respect than you do.

It’s rather hard to argue with such logic.

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. James, you find all the good lunatics. I’m jealous.