Kanye's Open Mind
As far as I’m concerned, the value of a college education ultimately has much less to do with education than socialization. Hopefully we learn something valuable in college in terms of job skills but the most important learning we do involves how we see the world and our place in it.
We enter college an unformed lump of clay and over the course of our four or five or six or more years in university we figure out who we are, what we believe in and what we want to do with our lives and our fancy, expensive, questionably useful diplomas.
This is accomplished largely through exploration and experimentation. As teenagers teeming with energy and excitement, we’re prone to falling in love with people but also with ideas. We discover Howard Zinn and suddenly everything we’ve been taught in history class begins to seem woefully suspect.
We spend a semester as a hardcore environmentalist. We embrace capitalism and decide our future lies in entrepreneurship and learning to love the free market. We follow String Cheese Incident for a summer and wonder what the hell is wrong with us.
The point of all this experimentation is to determine who we will become as adults, what the more or less final version of ourselves will be. But this experimentation and exploration serves another purpose as well. We indulge our vices in a relatively safe, accepting space, particularly where drugs, alcohol and casual sex are concerned. We work through things. Our white-hot love affair with novel and exciting ideas cools down and we become dads and moms and home-owners like the generations before us.
This, I think, is what Kanye West missed out on by famously dropping out of college to pursue a career in music.
Kanye is, somewhat famously, a man in love with ideas. He possesses what Buddhists call “Shoshin”, or a beginner’s mind. That is to say that he approaches everything with the enthusiasm and lack of judgment that a beginner would bring to a subject. Kanye is an inveterate enthusiast. He loves to love things and when he loves things it’s with an excess of guileless intensity and a disconcerting inability to determine whether the object of his affection is worthy of that devotion.
If Kanye had gone to college he could have indulged his passion for new ideas and reckless enthusiasm in myriad ways. He could go through the phases and stages that many, if not most college students pass through en route to becoming the person they already were underneath without anybody particularly caring, let alone judging him harshly for his poorly articulated ideas.
But Kanye did not graduate from college, nor did he stick around for long. He didn’t go through the trial and error period where young self-styled intellectuals experiment with different philosophies and schools of thought before determining their ultimate worldview.
It feels like Kanye is currently having the reckless love affair with provocative political ideas most people experience in college or shortly afterwards except that he’s having it in public, he’s having it online and it’s embarrassing in a way it wouldn’t be if Kanye were a college kid.
College helps you figure out which provocative political ideas have value and which are worthless. Kanye never experienced that, so it makes sense that he would look at the philosophies of people like the jackass who does Dilbert and Candice Owens and become absolutely intoxicated by their ideas, no matter how transparently stupid and wrong and racist they might seem.
When Kanye went on TMZ recently and further humiliated himself by arguing that slavery was, on some level, a choice he backed down in part by positing his “choice” line as just an idea he was throwing out, not a core belief he possesses. I honestly don’t think Kanye has core beliefs and that makes him an easy mark for frauds like Adams and Owens, whose ideas must seem bracingly original and even revolutionary to a dude who’s never been exposed to any like them before.
Here’s the thing: Kanye has such a maddeningly open mind that I suspect that if he were to read The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged, it would rock his world and speak to him deeply, particularly his sense of being different and special and better than everyone else.
I hold out hope that after experimenting with Trumpism and Conservative politics, Kanye will become disillusioned and abandon the terrible path he seems to be on. Because having an open mind can be a wonderful thing that opens you to the dizzying possibilities of our amazing and crazy-making world. Having an open mind and a beginner's mind has helped Kanye become a great artist. But that same open/beginner's mind can also make you a sucker for bad ideas and bogus gurus.
Right now we’re seeing the ferociously negative side of holding onto a beginner’s mind but I have hope that Kanye will outgrow this phase eventually. He’s a mere forty after all, so he’s got still plenty of time to figure everything out.
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