Tyrants thrive on popular acceptance. It’s the fundamental insight of Boetie’s Discourse on Voluntary Servitude. Elected or not, civil obedience is the rule of thumb. Think Nazi Germany.

I was reminded of this insight while reading R.J. Smith’s (2012) biography The One: The Life and Music of James Brown. When I got to the part about how he’d routinely beat women, blooding their dresses for example, I threw the book away.

Brown’s domestic violence was well known. Abhorred no doubt, but generally accepted too. A recent review of Smith’s book readily acknowledged that Brown was a terror, but nonetheless claimed that the book was a showstopper that sparkled.

A different adjective came to my mind, inferno. Just because something was tolerated back in the day doesn’t make it any less despicable now – no matter how many times James Brown begs on his knees: Please, Please, Please.


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