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Will Autzen Become Too Woke?

November 12th, 2021 by dk

If you cheer for the UO Ducks tonight in Autzen Stadium or from your living room, you should know there’s been a controversy brewing around the pep band and one of their signature chants. How the matter is resolved may determine the future of human civilization.

I’ll get to societal doom in a moment. But first, a short book report. William Rosen’s “The Most Powerful Idea in the World” (2010) features an awe-inspiring locomotive with steam billowing from its stack on its cover.

Much of the book is about the steam engine, yes, but Rosen deftly guides his readers to a deeper understanding of the industrial revolution. The “most powerful idea” was not the steam engine itself, but England’s ground-breaking patent law. Once successive inventors could have their improvements protected, civilization iterated upwards.

Before patent protection was introduced, there were no incentives to improve previous designs. Inventors were usually wealthy gentry or had patrons who were. Complex machines couldn’t be perfected by most individuals in a single lifetime, so inventions stayed relatively simple. Patents acknowledged and rewarded constant improvement.

The benefits of patented ingenuity are all around us in Eugene.

Soreng Concert Hall: Edgar Soreng didn’t invent the washing machine in 1944. He devised a solenoid with plunger used in every machine to prevent the tub from overflowing. King Estate Winery: Ed King’s grandfather didn’t invent the airplane, but his instrumentation is used to land every plane. Nike: Bill Bowerman applied for his first shoe design patent in 1974.

Now to the doom and gloom. Or in this case, the litter of Glitter.

Gary Glitter has never been to Eugene, as far as I know. His glam rock song “Rock and Roll Part 2” topped the British pop charts in 1972. Also known as “The Hey Song,” it’s been part of the UO pep band’s repertoire since the 1980s. You don’t know the words students gave to the instrumental tune — only the part where everybody yells, “Hey! Go Ducks!” That’s just as well.

Glitter was convicted of downloading child pornography in 1999 and of child sexual abuse in 2006. The NFL instructed teams to avoid using the infectious song in 2012. Should the University of Oregon promote the creative work of a convicted pedophile in Autzen Stadium? Many are saying, “Hey! No!”

Glitter sold the rights to the song years ago, so he’s not getting paid every time it’s played, but that’s cold comfort for some. Any affiliation with a sex offender becomes a new offense. Here is where cancel culture and Rosen’s thesis take us in opposite directions.

Rosen shows that modern civilization couldn’t have happened without a system that protects and compensates each contribution to improving a complex machine. Every part of the whole is protected.

Today’s cancel culture claims that if any part is tainted, the whole must be dismantled. To follow Rosen’s parlance, cancel culture is “the most dangerous idea in the world.” Anything that could be better must be abandoned, including a fan chant at football games. It will only accelerate our surrender back into tribalism.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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