Why Nick Cave Aspires to Mercy

“Mercy … Allows Us the Oxygen to Breathe”

David Zahl / 8.13.20

As in all things, leave it to cult musician/hero Nick Cave! The August installment of his invaluable Red Letter Files is here, in which he responds to a fan’s question about “cancel culture” — a term which admittedly appears to have already outlived its usefulness (that was quick!). But if you can see past the hysteria with which that phrase has been weaponized in recent months, his ruminations on mercy and its absence are characteristically beautiful. That he touches, in the process, on some serious #seculosity dynamics is just icing on the cake:

Mercy is a value that should be at the heart of any functioning and tolerant society. Mercy ultimately acknowledges that we are all imperfect and in doing so allows us the oxygen to breathe — to feel protected within a society, through our mutual fallibility. Without mercy a society loses its soul, and devours itself…

Yet mercy is not a given. It is a value we must nurture and aspire to. Tolerance allows the spirit of enquiry the confidence to roam freely, to make mistakes, to self-correct, to be bold, to dare to doubt and in the process to chance upon new and more advanced ideas. Without mercy society grows inflexible, fearful, vindictive and humourless.

Frances, you’ve asked about cancel culture. As far as I can see, cancel culture is mercy’s antithesis. Political correctness has grown to become the unhappiest religion in the world. Its once honourable attempt to reimagine our society in a more equitable way now embodies all the worst aspects that religion has to offer (and none of the beauty) — moral certainty and self-righteousness shorn even of the capacity for redemption. It has become quite literally, bad religion run amuck.

Compassion is the primary experience — the heart event — out of which emerges the genius and generosity of the imagination.

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3 responses to “Why Nick Cave Aspires to Mercy”

  1. Ken says:

    That final sentence — wow! And while most rock is not really my thing anymore, he’s so good he makes me wish I was young and still loved it!

  2. Brad says:

    Ken, you don’t need to like rock to appreciate some of Nick’s music. Check out Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – (The Assassination of Jesse James) soundtrack. It’s beautiful.

  3. Ken says:

    Thanks, Brad. I will.

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