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On Ye and Edgelords

Vultures 1, released by ¥$ (a collaboration between Ye – née Kanye West – and Ty Dollar $ign) has been met with many different reactions, ranging from criticism to acclaim, and from cautious optimism that Ye is “back” in some way, to skepticism that he will ever produce good music again. The release of the album, however, has been overshadowed by Ye’s behavior: prior to the release of Vultures 1, Ye had long been making antisemitic remarks in interviews and spouting hate speech on social media, comments which have cost him endorsements and more than a few fans. At the same time, Vultures 1 has done well commercially, if not critically, with one track reaching the top spot on the Billboard 200, the first time for Ye in 13 years.

The critical reviews have focused both on the music and the surrounding controversies. One of the most notable came from popular YouTube music critic Anthony Fantano, who called the album “completely unreviewable trash.” “Unreviewable” because, according to Fantano, defenders of Ye’s music are not open to listening to any form of criticism, as they consist of those who agree with Ye’s hateful messages, “nihilistic teenagers” who are entertained by the controversy, and those who are too obsessed with Ye to be clear-headed.

While Fantano’s review is noteworthy for its bite, many other outlets have also been critical, and in similar ways:

“On the album closer, ‘King,’ he raps about being called ‘crazy, bipolar, antisemite,’ then puffs out his chest: ‘I’m still the king.’ King of who? Middle-school edgelords?” – The Washington Post

“Kanye West & Ty Dolla $ign: Vultures 1 review – weak lyrics from a witless edgelord” – The Guardian

“West is at best musically compelling, and at worst—more often than not—a wanton edgelord, intent on saying some of the foulest things imaginable.” – Variety

Much of the criticism has to do with the lyrics on Vultures 1, with many critics claiming that they contain the same kind of hate speech that Ye has been making for years, delivered with seemingly no concern for the consequences. Hence the verdict: Ye is an edgelord.

But what is an “edgelord” anyway, and should we think of Ye as one?

According to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary, an “edgelord” is “someone who makes wildly dark and exaggerated statements (as on an internet forum) with the intent of shocking others.” It is very much a concept born from the internet, a place where anonymity allows people to act in ways that they might not normally otherwise. You have no doubt come across people who qualify as edgelords, at least to some degree: they can be found in abundance in some of the internet’s seedier corners such as 4chan, as well as its more mainstream areas, like comment sections, Reddit or Twitter/X.

While Ye has made his share of exaggerated and shocking statements online, there’s no reason to restrict evaluations of edgelordiness to his social media presence. For example, on his latest #1 track off of Vultures 1, Ye compares himself to a who’s-who of problematic celebrities, including Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, and P. Diddy, and adds an extra shout-out to Chris Brown for good measure. Does this qualify as edgelord behavior? According to the dictionary definition, Ye does seem to be making “wildly dark and exaggerated statements” and, given the respective histories of the men Ye is comparing himself to, he does seem to be intending to shock his listeners.

But I think there is a missing component to the dictionary definition, which is that an edgelord’s speech need not be an expression of beliefs they actually hold. The primary intent of the edgelord is provocation, not the expression of something they legitimately think is true. While the expression of belief invites engagement and the sharing of reasons, edgelords merely want to cause a reaction, be it outrage, disgust, or even legitimate attempts to show why their views are wrong; any such reaction achieves their goal.

Since edgelords make statements solely with the intent to cause a reaction, their actions are not as bad as those who believe what they are saying. Put another way: an expression of a hateful statement is worse if it is an expression of a sincere belief than if it is made merely to provoke. This is not to relieve the edgelord of all moral responsibility: the disingenuous expression of intentionally extreme, exaggerated hateful statements is clearly reprehensible. But whereas the appropriate response to the expression of a sincere and hateful belief is to challenge it, the appropriate response to the edgelord is to ignore them. Hence, we do not, I argue, hold the edgelord as responsible for their actions as we would someone who was expressing a sincere belief with the same content.

Consider, for example, two tweets: both contain the same words, and both are generally considered to be hateful and extreme. In one case, the tweet is made by an edgelord, whose intent is to rile up others and see how much attention they can get. In the other, the tweet is made by a person who legitimately believes what they are tweeting, and attempts to engage others in discussion, however wrongheaded. Both are doing something wrong, but arguably the person who is sincere is worse. For instance, once the edgelord’s intentions are discovered, they are dismissed: they are rightly deemed immature, arrogant, and not worth anyone’s time. But the person who is expressing themselves sincerely is reprehensible, a holder of truly awful beliefs.

The concept of an edgelord, of course, does not have solid boundaries. For example, there are cases of edgelord behavior in which one will make an intentionally provocative statement that is an exaggerated version of a less-extreme belief they sincerely hold. In these cases, it can be difficult to determine how we should react. The extent to which one is morally responsible for their edgelord behavior is also dependent upon other variables: for example, the immature teenager who understands which words are provocative but is unable to appreciate the harms they cause is, perhaps, less responsible than the fully-grown adult who should really know better (although again, the teenager still deserves criticism).

Regardless of the murkiness of the concept, we can now return to our initial question: is Ye an edgelord? I think there is reason to think he isn’t. This is because, given his behavior, Ye’s statements, lyrics, and other actions do seem to be expressions of beliefs he actually holds. This is both in terms of his expressions of antisemitism, but also in his comparisons to controversial figures: he does legitimately see himself among these figures, either akin or superior to them in the sense of being “uncancellable.”

Ye is clearly trying to be shocking, and if that was the extent of his actions one may well have reason enough to condemn his music as that of an edgelord. But Ye qualifies as something worse: someone who intends to shock, but also means a lot of what he says.

Third-Party Voting in 2020

photograph of citizens filling out voting ballots with "Vote" sticker on booth

In the weeks leading up to the election, many high-profile celebrities have made last minute political endorsements and pleas for individuals to vote. On October 25, Jennifer Aniston shared an Instagram photo of herself dropping her ballot in the mail. In this post, she shared she had voted for Joe Biden, and in a short PS added “It’s not funny to vote for Kanye. I don’t know how else to say it. Please be responsible.” Kanye West officially announced his presidential bid on Twitter back in July. While he is only on the ballot in 12 states, he has spent over $5 million on his campaign and traveled around the US to give campaign speeches. Perhaps this is part of the reason he did not take lightly to Aniston’s comments, facetiously quipping “Friends wasn’t funny either” in a now deleted tweet. While many might not consider West a serious candidate, he has spoken at length about his stances on political issues from abortion to police reform.

While it may not have been her intention, Aniston’s post points to a larger moral issue not only about the issues at stake in this election, but about voting in general.

Is it wrong to vote for a candidate you know has no chance of winning? Is it okay to vote third party or to cast a protest vote?

From Ralph Nader to Jill Stein, third-party candidates are treated with extreme hostility by Democrats, especially when elections are a toss-up. It seems that every year, a substantial number of voters on the right or left cast votes for candidates that they know have no chance of winning. For some, these votes are out of ‘protest’ against the two-party system which does not represent their interests. To others, it is a joke, or perhaps a statement of their apathy toward or lack of faith in our political system as a whole. Five million votes were cast for third-party candidates in the 2016 election. It is fair to say these candidates were not serious, as they were not even given a space on the debate stage. While this might not seem like a lot compared to the overall sum of 138 million votes, some argue that votes for third-party candidates cost Hillary Clinton the election, as the number of votes for Jill Stein were far larger than the margin that Clinton lost by in swing states such as Michigan and Florida. Some have pointed out the flaw in such criticisms, because they assume that third-party voters would have voted for Clinton as their second choice.

However, the 2020 election is also very different from the 2016 election. In 2016, barely any major polls predicted Donald Trump’s victory. Those casting third-party votes may have underestimated the consequential power of their actions. Donald Trump was also a wild card back in 2016, because though he made plenty of campaign promises, he had no political record to attest to his potential behavior in the White House. In 2020, both Trump and Biden are established politicians with a record. Though it’s been four years, the lingering effect of the largely unforeseen election upset has left virtually no national poll in a position to underestimate Donald Trump. Those choosing to vote outside of the established norm are well aware of the potential consequences of failing to register a preference for one of the two likely candidates.

While it’s clear that voting for a hopeless candidate in this election will generate a predictable outcome, is it possible that our vote can be morally assessed by more than the consequences we believe it will produce? Principled voting, often as a form of protest, has been labeled negatively as immoral, selfish, and wasteful. Voting as a statement is certainly not widely accepted in American culture, but that does not mean it has no moral basis. Under the “expressive theory” of voting, rather than seeking consequentialist ends, individuals vote in order to express their loyalty to a political party or an ideology. Voting might also be a way to keep in line with our principles and avoid hypocrisy. To go even further, could voting, or refusing to, be a way to keep our hands clean of any ills done by political leaders who will undoubtedly go on to make moral mistakes during their four years?

On the other hand, maybe our decision to cast a protest or principled vote is a reflection of one’s total alienation from the parties in power. Studies have shown that most of us naturally turn to consequentialist moral decision making when under pressure. Principled stands, such as voting based on value rather than strategy, are often chosen when we perceive there is little at stake.

The perception that little is at stake in a presidential election has been labeled by many as one of inherent privilege, as there is often much more at stake for historically marginalized groups when it comes to which party holds the key to the presidency. Voting is still bafflingly inaccessible to many Americans based on inequities attributable to race, socioeconomic status, and criminal history. In order to combat this lack of access to civic influence, many on the left have appealed to altruistic intuitions. Altruistic voting is the concept that we should vote not for our own selfish interests, but for the welfare of others. Those who advocate for altruistic voting see politics as a method to enhance the collective good. In her aforementioned Instagram post, Jennifer Aniston appealed to altruism by urging her followers to “really consider who is going to be most affected by this election if we stay on the track we’re on right now… your daughters, the LGBTQ+ community, our Black brothers and sisters, the elderly with health conditions.” It is fair to say that for many, this election has come to represent much more than merely who will sit in the Oval Office for four years.

Many critics of altruistic voting point out the fact that its consequential justifications are not consistent with its low probability of consequential change. Regardless of practicality, is a good moral basis for voting? One could see the nobility in choosing to put one’s selfish concerns aside for the betterment of society. However, there is often no clear moral choice when it comes to voting, as perfect candidates rarely exist. While you may seek to vote for the candidate who will protect a woman’s right to choose, they might also have a questionable record in terms of criminal justice reform. Even if one plans to take an altruistic approach, there is no guarantee, in a system which consistently demands choosing the “lesser of two evils,” that one will truly discern who to vote for.

How we moralize voting is hinged on what we really believe a vote means. Does it mean we wholeheartedly believe in the candidate on the ballot? Does it mean we think they are the most rational choice? Or is it simply another way to express who we are and what we believe in? How we answer these questions will reveal whether or not we believe voting Kanye 2020 is unethical.

Cancel Culture

close-up image of cancel icon

“Cancelled” is a term that millennials have been using in the past few years to describe people whose political or social status is controversial. Celebrities, politicians, one’s peers—even one’s own mother could be cancelled if someone willed it. If a person is labeled as cancelled, they are no longer supported morally or financially by the individuals who deemed them so. It’s a cultural boycott. But is cancelling really as simple as completely cutting someone off because of their beliefs or actions? The term itself—being cancelled—presents a larger argument. What does it accomplish? Is this “cancelling culture” something that can be beneficial or is it just a social media fad?

In 2018, rapper Kanye West not only endorsed the controversial President Donald Trump, but also said that slavery was a choice in an interview with TMZ. West received a ton of backlash from the black community and some people declared Kanye West cancelled and vowed to no longer listen to his music. On one hand, canceling Kanye West can be viewed as something positive depending on one’s political stance. It questions the impact that celebrities have in a political realm and it holds celebrities responsible for their actions by placing them under scrutiny on a viral scale. But at the same time, is Kanye West really cancelled? People still listen to his music. Even after his slavery comment, his most recent album debut at the top of the Billboard chart. West has also been hosting what is now known as Sunday Service, where West and a group of singers go into a remote location and perform some of his greatest hits. Social media has been loving it, so much that Sunday Service was brought to Coachella. It’s current sentiment about West that brings into question the impact of cancelling someone.

Can West be un-cancelled if he does something that most of social media enjoys? Is cancelling someone then just based off general reactions from social media? If one person declares an individual cancelled, does that mean everyone should consider them cancelled? The obvious answer would be no, but the act of “cancelling” almost works like the transitive property. If you don’t cancel someone that everyone else does, you yourself might risk being cancelled. Can cancelling be just another way to appear hip and knowledgeable–staying up on trends and the news but challenging those who create them? If so, cancelling could simply be interpreted as social media users wanting to stay relevant and maybe even go viral. If such a situation is the case, it would only take agency away from the act of cancelling.

Although cancel culture is heavily associated with celebrities, the hierarchy of who is cancelled can become a bit more complex. Per Billboard, it was revealed that Philip Anschutz, owner of entertainment conglomerate AEG, the company that overlooks Coachella, has supported anti-LGBTQ and anti-climate change foundations. Anschutz has also shown support to the Republican party. Coachella is one of the most highly coveted events to attend for millennials, and LGBTQ rights, climate change, and liberalism rank high in their agendas. When major news outlets first began writing about Anschutz and his support for anti-LGBTQ and anti-climate change foundations back in 2017, it was also revealed that Beyoncé would be headlining Coachella as well as popular rap artists such as Kendrick Lamar. Janelle Monáe, a popular hip-hop/R&B singer who identifies as queer, has also performed at Coachella. What do we make of this? Yes, Anschutz is “cancelled,” but is Coachella? Some vowed to no longer support Coachella after learning of the foundations that Anschutz supported, but when tickets went on for sale after it was announced that Beyoncé would be headlining, they sold out in three hours. So… probably not. But is Janelle Monae “cancelled?” Kendrick Lamar? Is it even possible to “cancel” Beyoncé?

The benefits of cancelling Anschutz seem minimal when there is still mass support for Coachella. Perhaps in such a case, cancelling does seem like a social media fad because one could interpret cancelling Anschutz as a way of easing their own conscience. After all, individuals who support LGBTQ still go to Coachella. But again, cancelling could be a way for social media users to prevent themselves from being cancelled. Condemning controversial topics on social media might make one appear favorable and keep them from being shunned on social media. But maybe such an idea is a key to “cancelling” and its overall impact on the social sphere. Yes, cancelling can sometimes have a large impact in some instances. Public pressure on companies and celebrities can often influence their decisions. But sometimes, “cancelling” can be just some random social media users venting their frustration in the endless void that is the internet. Maybe once and awhile, their words go into the void and resound with another user and gain virality. But is Kanye West or whoever else is cancelled really seeing these cancelling posts? Some of them only have a few retweets, so they are unlikely to get too much traction. In addition, saying someone is cancelled can often be used a joke. The distinction, especially on social media, between a user being serious and being facetious can often be blurred. Therefore, it is difficult to ascertain the agency that cancel culture truly has. However, it does attest to the power of social media and the users who pump content into it.

Seeking Responsibility in the Deaths over Designer Sneakers

A large collection of Air Jordans sneakers in glass boxes.

It seemed as though everybody wanted to “be like Mike.” Children and adults alike aspired to leap from the free throw and dunk with their tongue hanging out or win six NBA Championship titles. But for those who weren’t 6’6” and drafted by the Chicago Bulls, like most people, they had to buy Michael Jordan’s shoes if they wanted to be like him. With the rise of sneaker culture came a violent side-effect: the fact that people are willing to harm and even kill others for a pair of coveted Jordan sneakers.

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The Ethics Behind the Kanye West-Taylor Swift Feud

A photo of Taylor Swift at a press conference

The Kanye West and Taylor Swift feud has recently reignited with the release of Swift’s music video for her song, titled “Look What You Made Me Do.” And with this renewal of their feud, it is important to understand the basic issues with both parties; indeed, the intersecting forms of of oppression both artists face must be taken into account when picking a side in the ongoing Swift-Kanye feud.

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