Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
And rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we've been told and some choose to believe it.
I know they're wrong, wait and see.
-Kermit the Frog
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
-John Keats, Lamia
I find the premise of "The Rainbow Connection" to be completely disagreeable. Those who grew up loving this song, and spent their adult years swaying with the dulcet tones of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole mixing it with Somewhere over the Rainbow and finding it to generally fill them with happiness and hope, will probably think I am cold-hearted. However, I think it reveres something that would better be eradicated from the human psyche.
In particular, it says "I, the lovers, and the dreamers are all better than the rest of you because we think there is something unexplainable left in the universe!" Obviously, there are things that have not yet been explained. But this song celebrates the people that revere those things, unwilling to accept the idea that those things have perfectly natural explanations, even if we just don't know them yet.
Keats recognized that rainbows are a well-understood phenomenon (ever since Newton established the mathematics of optics and the diffractive properties of water were assessed), but he mostly likely did not understand that phenomenon himself. He preferred instead to be in awe of the beauty of the rainbow and the effect that such beauty had on his affect.
A scientist, on the other hand, would be much more interested in the conditions in which mankind evolved that lead him to create the concept of "beauty" and to put rainbows in the class of "beautiful things." Would not a scarab, asks the scientist, find a pile of dry dung as beautiful as we find the rainbow? Yet, Keats and Kermit would set themselves on a higher echelon than that scientist just because he accepts that the beauty of rainbows is more an artifact of human visual processing systems and evolutionary history than something mystical that happens when sunlight passes through water. They think that the scientist wouldn't know beauty if it beat him over the head with a baseball bat because beauty is in mystery, and mystery is in the unknown, and the scientist's life's work is to obliterate the unknown.
All of us under its spell,
we know that it's probably magic...
Kermit would argue that he is in a class above because his thoughts are purely creative: he creates dreams and ideas while preserving the mysteries that the universe has presented mankind with. But this is far from true. Kermit also obliterates something: curiosity. By labeling anything as magic, one signals that this is something that can't be explained. And curiosity is the sure knowledge that everything has an explanation, and the relentless seeking of that explanation. Therefore, Kermit is declaring war on curiosity. Isn't it ironic, then, that Kermit claims to be curious about what he and the others who believe in magic and mystery have in common?
Now, don't get me wrong here. Just because I disagree with Kermit (and presumably Williams and Ascher, the songsmiths responsible for this song) doesn't mean I dislike the song itself. It's an enjoyable song, fun to sing along with, and very heartfully rendered by Mr. Henson. I don't have to agree with a song to like it. Another song I greatly enjoy is System of A Down's "Science," with which I vehemently disagree for exactly the same reasons.
Serj Tankian claims:
Science fails to recognize the single most
potent element of human existence.
Letting the reins go to the unfolding
is faith, faith, faith, faith.
But "letting go" is just another way of saying "feigning disinterest." However, people are naturally interested in how things work, especially in so much as having a good model of nature lets us make better decisions and predict the future more accurately. My only answer to Mssrs. Tankian, Malakian, Dolmayan, and Odadjian is: The most potent element of human existence is not faith; it's curiosity. Don't try to deny a part of your humanity: let the reins go to your own human urges, as long as doing so is not, in some other way, unethical.
"WAIT, WAIT, WAIT!" I can hear some of you saying. "You're intentionally ignoring all the symbolism in the song! It's not about rainbows or stars at all! It's about setting out after an impossible dream!" Okay, I must admit that that is a reasonable-sounding interpretation. However, I don't see the similarity between the stated message that it is a virtue to believe that good stuff happens when you wish really hard, and the supposed underlying message that anyone can achieve great things. Believing that your wish will be heard and answered when wished on the morning star has done absolutely nothing so far. Hard work has done everything, so where is the evidence in saying that believing really hard is the right kind of mental work to be doing? I would argue that being curious is the appropriate mental work to do. Knowing what you want to accomplish won't get you anywhere unless you know how to get from point A to point B. The only way to turn a desire into a road map is research, and it is the quantity and quality of that research that results in the most accurate road map. The strength of desire for the goal only correlates with the quality of the plan to the extent that it creates the motivation to do the research. And motivation to do research is just another name for curiosity.
P.C. Hodgell once said "That which can be destroyed by the truth should be." The truth might be that rainbows are only illusions in the eye of their beholder, or that people are motivated by their incentives and personal priorities, not magical voices, but why must the sheer mundanity of these explanations make them any less interesting? Isn't it far better to forgo these mysteries in exchange for an accurate model of the universe? Isn't it far better for the sweet sound that calls the young sailor to be one that will lead him to the greatest expectation of happiness, an expectation grounded in fact, and not to a surprise death smashed against the rocks that a better understanding of the refraction of light (cf. RADAR) could have told him were waiting there?
I don't think that Kermit should have given up his dreams. I just think he might have been able to do a little bit better than the Standard Rich and Famous Contract if he'd spent a little time gathering facts about where to gain leverage and Hollywood politics. But he'd probably rather believe those things are just magical mysteries.