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The Coronavirus Rehearsal: Can Capitalism Survive the Coronavirus?

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The coronavirus impact on the economy is having the effect of achieving something that was only theoretical a few short weeks ago: the necessity to halt capitalism’s perpetual demand for spending, consumption and growth. The coronavirus has offered an opportunity to radically change the capitalist paradigm.

Cash is the lifeblood of an economy. But if it can’t come from free market trade, as is happening now, where will it come from? Will the economy just bleed out and die?

David McWilliams, in the Irish Times, writes that this problem is exacerbated by panic, leading to cash hoarding, much like shopping hoarding. He offers a radical solution, sourced to Milton Friedman, for such situations. “The Central Bank of Ireland should print money and deposit free cash into every citizen’s account and every business account.”

This of course would be a short-term measure, but even the concept opens everyone’s eyes to new economic possibilities, particularly in his analysis of the meaning and worth of cash in a deflating economy.

He points out that the “normal” way to inject cash into an ailing economy is to inject it into the banks, saving the banks, as in 2008, who then dispense it back out into the economy. Notice that banks get “free money” and no one flinches.

This other method, proposed by Friedman, involves cutting out the bank middle-men and putting cash straight into people’s accounts, to offset panic and a cash hoarding wave that would lead to a runaway self-perpetuating loop, bleeding out the economy.

The similarities with runaway climate change are striking.

Obstacles to Growth

What is also becoming apparent through the coronavirus crisis is that the global system of capital has two main problems, identified by Prof Pierluigi Viale, the director of infectious diseases at Sant’Orsola-Malpighi Polyclinic in Bologna, in a different context. In a warning to other countries to act immediately against the virus he identified the two main obstacles to radical action.

“The problem is politics and economy,” he says.

These are also, coincidentally, (or maybe not) the two main obstacles to action on climate change.

Professor Viale said, “It is not easy to convince a nation to sacrifice. I am sure that in a few days they too will start moving, they have no choice. Sooner is better than later”.

The exact same conundrum faces the world in terms of climate change, the only difference being that the time frame for action with climate change is longer, offering space for denial and inaction. But the core obstacles of economy and politics are precisely the same ones.

We saw it here and in Britain and the US in the early days of the virus (ten days ago?!) when the politicians were still prioritising the economy over people’s health by seeking to minimise the deadly nature of the virus.

This again is a mirror of the political classes’ reaction to climate change, putting the economy first, when it is patently clear that you can’t have an economy without a world to run one in.

In this respect, politics and economy, as they are currently shaped by neo-liberals, are actually obstacles to growth in terms of fresh thinking, the very thing required to tackle climate change.

The differences between neo-liberal core beliefs and practical common sense have been thrown into stark relief by the pandemic, with neo-liberals initially revealing their natural ideological preference for the health of the economy over the health of the public.

But this ethical miscalculation was corrected by the nature of the virus itself, which immediately began to demonstrate that public health must precede economic health. That a virus doesn’t observe borders or class preferences. That you can’t have business as usual if public health is under threat. That the economy too will eventually bleed out unless the political class act to protect public health.

The exact same rules apply to action on climate change. Public health and climate health must be prioritised over short term economic measures.  We saw this anomaly here, in its micro form, when the Fine Gael government were pointing to “healthy” growth figures in the economy, yet homelessness was at crisis point and steadily rising and children in hotels were experiencing measurable stunted growth.

That stat-driven type of economic approach has now been revealed as just a clean bureaucratic way of eating your young.

Personal Financial Security

When it finally became clear, even to neo-liberals, that mass closures of businesses for a long period of time – maybe even months – would be necessary to contain the virus, the first realization was; what are people going to do for money? If capitalism can’t create cash, if only temporarily, how are people supposed to live?

The answer came hot on the heels of the question: State intervention, the very thing that neo-liberals and late stage capitalists had been opposing and rolling back and undermining for so long.

Fringe ideas, like basic income, which had gradually been becoming more mainstream with the realization of capitalism’s adverse contribution to climate change, now took centre stage as one of the more practical ideas to deal with the necessary closures to contain the coronavirus.

Long-time proponents of universal basic income such as Andrew Yang called for a change of thinking around the concept of economy; identifying, as David McWilliams has done, “personal financial security” as a key measure to deal with the crisis.

“Treating this as a pandemic is one thing,” said Yang. “Treating this as an imminent economic depression and societal catastrophe spurred by a pandemic is another. You should flood the zone with buying power and a sense of personal financial security as fast as possible.”

This concept of personal financial security for all is the exact opposite to the concept of engineered scarcity that the neo-liberal agenda promotes in order to encourage continued and unnecessary consumption and corresponding political weakening of adversaries.

Again, the virus invites, almost as an afterthought, an interrogation of neo-liberal politics that finds its basic concepts desperately wanting when it comes to considerations of the public good.

Once neo-liberalism is disarmed in this way, as it has been in recent weeks, alternative thinking leads inevitably towards solutions based on the concept of social security, which is also a necessary re-think in the inevitable winding down of capitalism to allow for climate recovery.

The coronavirus and the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, offer an opportunity for real change.

It is as if nature was offering a clue as to how climate change might be tackled by winding down capitalism’s excesses.

A New Paradigm

The virus, with its short time frame demanding immediate action, is a slap in the face to capitalist complacency, in comparison to climate change’s slow deterioration, which can be put on the long finger, seemingly indefinitely, until a restriction is imposed by the elements.

When a disease is slow moving – and late-stage capitalism’s contribution to climate change has been described as a disease by some commentators – it is more amenable to denial.

The virus doesn’t leave any space for denial. Even the drinkers and race-goers who attempted to continue as normal were quickly corrected by the speed of the viral spread.

Every measure employed to combat the virus will be needed to combat climate change, but in a less drastic form. The virus has provided a revelation really as to how capitalism might be amended and curtailed to give the climate some breathing space for recovery.

It is as if the entire global system has been plunged into a dry run rehearsal for dealing with and offsetting the worst of the climate change threat.

Old Dangerous Ways

The only problem now, as Naomi Klein has noted, is that the old right-wing orders will be tempted by the virus crisis to behave primitively, by using the opportunity to restrict democratic freedoms and consolidate their economic power.

The old strategies designed to perpetuate the late capitalist business model of endless consumption in a finite system may continue to be pursued; ignoring the valuable lessons demonstrated by the virus crisis and condemning the world to climate catastrophe.

Already in the United States the old corporate models that always result in bailouts for corporations, coupled with opportunistic attacks on social security, are underway in what Naomi Klein refers to as old ideas lying around waiting for the right social conditions to allow them to be enacted.

It could be that the coronavirus is the wake-up call that late-stage capitalism needs to radically amend global financial systems in the interests of climate repair. A last gasp opportunity to change the capitalist paradigm and to question the twin obstacles of neo-liberal politics and economic prioritising that prop up the old destructive system.

But the danger of being duped by wily neo-liberal politicians into exchanging freedoms for a sense of security will likely continue. That’s the game after all.

End

References

Naomi Klein: https://bit.ly/33qJ6Rm

Italian Doctor: https://bit.ly/390rmNO

David McWilliams: https://bit.ly/3d9mLw6

Hong Kong Cash: https://bbc.in/3a1hkxl

Andrew Yang: https://bit.ly/38XolOA

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Arts and Sports

Fintan O’Toole’s recent suggestion in the Irish Times that art should be called sport was yet another jibe at political Ireland’s ongoing neglect of the arts. It seems sport fares better in the funding game. Even greyhounds get a bigger slice of the public pie.

But this neglect may be the fault of the arts sector itself which, on the face of it comes across as politely apolitical.

Another recent article in the Irish Times said that Aosdána was an excuse for low arts funding in the broader sector, Ireland having the lowest arts funding in Europe, despite the oft-heard boast of being the fastest growing economy in Europe.

Aosdána is as quiet as a grave, politically speaking, sending out an inadvertent message to the rest of the arts community that there is a bit of the old I’m-alright-Jackism about the whole thing.

And yet, when it comes to arts funding, the government can point to Aosdána as something supremely progressive. There was an article in the Guardian recently describing Ireland as arts-funding trend-setters because of Aosdána.

But despite this apparent success – Aosdána only caters for 250 artists – the wider arts community is hopelessly under-funded and often more than a little politically obsequious.

Silence is Golden

Declan Lynch, writing in the Sunday Indo of July 28th about the recent spat between Colm Tobín and the Irish light-lit fraternity, for want of a better term, remarked on the customary silence of the Irish arts community. There was that word again. Silence. Lynch wrote:

“There is this terrible niceness about the world of books, in public anyway…”

That niceness runs right through the arts sector and is often equated with positive thinking, in conscious contrast to traditional Irish begrudgery. So, criticism becomes perceived as negative thinking; while sweetness, often concealing acid barbs, is the general tone of the arts world.

We saw some of this acid in Marian Keyes retort to Colm Toibin’s relatively innocent remark about genre literature, when she said, “Sez the lad who wrote the Maeve Binchy pastiche and managed to persuade people it was literary fiction…” Ouch.

The point Lynch makes is that the culture is the lesser for the absence of this kind of barbed repartee. In other words, we could do with more stuff like this coming from the arts community. Instead, revealingly, this only happens when someone’s patch is intruded upon. Outside of that, everyone is smilingly nice and polite, daggers concealed.

And there are daggers in the arts community, make no mistake. A sector of diminishing funding and respect, it can become very dog eat dog in the arts funding stakes. And the only ploy people appear to have is to be upbeat and smiling. Smiles, it is believed, will eventually win favour.

This erroneous belief, taken apart in Barbara Ehrenreich’s critique of positive thinking in her book “Smile or Die”, also informs worker/management relations in corporate America. Even as wages go down or stagnate and the unions are destroyed, people keep on smiling that positive corporate smile, in the hope that this will somehow improve conditions. It doesn’t. Things get worse.

The arts in Ireland is employing a similar hopeless strategy, with similarly hopeless results. Neo-liberal politicians will eat those winning smiles for breakfast while smiling back and diverting public funds elsewhere. Politeness suits the stalling games they like to play while they are seriously busy elsewhere, like selling off Connemara to international gold-mining prospectors.

The Political Arts

While the political silence of the arts sector might suggest a sector that is apolitical, the reverse is actually the case. The sector is deeply political. Aosdána’s very structure and foundations are permeated by political thinking. It’s day-to-day business is political.

An idea given the green light by Charles Haughey, some critics believe that Aosdána was intended to impose political silence on the story-makers and image creators of Ireland. If that was its intention, it worked.

And built into the structure of the institution is a quite brilliant political neutralizing dynamic, based on the old principle of divide and conquer. Membership is limited to 250 artists. (It was originally only 200.) Due to the limited numbers, not only does an aspiring entrant have to wait for a sitting member to die [now there’s a plot for a detective novel] but they also have to win the favour of two sitting members to nominate them.

Think of the smiling and fawning and the secretive manipulations that this encourages. The entire structure breeds fear, uncertainty, exclusivity and, perhaps most importantly of all, relative political silence. It creates a divide of haves and have-nots in the arts community, spreading the same political silence in a community where everyone knows instinctively that the only hope in a shrinking sector is refuge in Aosdána.

Even the art produced in Ireland seems politically neutered. Where are the plays pulpit-thumping about social injustice and austerity? Laughably, one of the few “writer/performers” who had anything critical to say about modern Ireland from the Abbey stage in recent years was the economist David McWilliams.

I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised really. After all, we don’t live in a country or a culture anymore. We live in an economy. Economics is the new national drama.

And then there is that annoying subtext running through the culture that art is for kids and students, and that kiddy arts events are designed to provoke childish wonder in adults. To help them rediscover their inner child, I guess. More American positive-thinking bunkum.

This corporate infantilizing of the arts is a betrayal of those who believe arts is for grown-ups; a valuable forum for individual expressions of love, liberty and community; and, in times of oppression, a place where people might speak truth to power.

But for many in the Irish arts community, the development of a relationship with a minister for culture is the prime ongoing work in progress, regardless of who the minister is or what their moral proclivities might be.

This is what happens when arts funding is withheld to the stingy level it is withheld in Ireland: the political establishment makes obsequious beggars of everyone, and political silence is the inevitable result.

Arts funding structures as they currently stand, and the networking that goes with them, don’t make artists, they make politicians; and often these political structures produce arts charlatans, whose true art is networking, jockeying for position around the public money pot, becoming the public face of arts practise.

Because of hidden class advantages in the system it is inevitable that only a certain class of people will be funded and represented. That the wider arts community will become narrow and exclusive and will, despite its perhaps best intentions, end up producing art that reflects the interests of the political elite.

Since politicians and bureaucrats are currently scratching their heads about how to “identify” genuine artistic talent to support – presumably by funding a bureaucracy to investigate the question – the answer is plain to see: fund everyone with a basic income and leave the artists to cultivate themselves. It’s what they do anyway, even despite the funded professional facilitators politicking for position between the artists and the public funds set aside for them.

Leading the Way

This is the only reasonable way forward, not just for arts, but in recognition of robotics and climate change and poverty and low wages and inhumane jobs and working conditions. The only reasonable way forward is a basic living wage for everyone.

From there, people can make informed decisions about what they want to do with their time. If they want to work to increase their income by taking on a mind-numbing job, let them do so, to the extent that this pleases them.

But people so inclined or driven to respond to some artistic impulse will likely use the stipend to devote their time to their art, to the benefit of the wider culture.

Given where we are now with climate change and late-stage capitalism, the national campaign for the arts might be best widened to campaign more broadly for a basic income for all, taking cognizance of the growing need for a centralized cultivation of creative and artistic thinking and practise.

Now that truly would be leading the way.

But first…we gotta whup Brexit.

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References:

Basic Income Cheaper Than Expected: Andrew Yang: https://bit.ly/31mlNGn

Aosdána conceals wider paltry arts funding: https://bit.ly/2OFkznS

The Guardian: Ireland Leads the Way: https://bit.ly/2Yri7pw

Declan Lynch: The Awfully Nice World of Books: https://bit.ly/2T5VIrS

Abolish Culture and Call it Sport: https://bit.ly/2YIDO3V

Smile or Die: Book Review: https://bit.ly/31lS5RU

 

 

 

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Fintan O’Toole’s RIC Narrative

Fintan O’Toole’s subscriber only article in the Irish Times on Saturday (Jan 11th) followed on from Fine Gael’s narrative that the protests against the RIC commemoration were directed squarely at the RIC, betraying immaturity on behalf of those who protested and implying a simple and antiquated anti-British bias.

He drew on Sebastian Barry’s play “The Steward of Christendom” as an example of a hope that, culturally, we had matured enough to forgive; seeming to take the general view, expressed by others in what Eamon Dunphy used to call “official Ireland”, that the protests were a result of ignorance and immaturity, and he concentrated his focus entirely on RIC casualties in the 1920s, underlining their Irishness.

There was no mention of Minister Flanagan fibbing about the role of the Expert Advisory Group in the decision to stage the commemoration – just another in a long line of Fine Gael people fibbing – or about the wider strategic political moves related to the Stormont reassembly as the Taoiseach apparently went for some kind of promised united Ireland home run in time for the pending election.

There was no mention of the lack of consultation with the public by government on the proposed RIC commemoration, and no acknowledgment that the reaction had as much to do with present-day anger at Fine Gael finding an outlet, similar to that which occurred with the water charges controversy, for the disasters in housing and health. And there was no mention of the Black and Tans as a factor.

The Good Priest Argument

Instead, the argument Fintan O’ Toole presented was similar in many ways to the “good priest” argument that defenders of the church brought forth in response to the abuse revelations of the 1990s. Similarly, now we have the “good RIC man” argument.

No one would deny that there were good RIC men, and yet this is precisely the argument that O’Toole chose to contest, as if this were the entire substance of the reaction to the RIC commemoration. This from a writer whose subtlety revealed the forces driving Brexit but who now somehow can’t see that maybe the protests against the RIC commemoration were far more nuanced than simply the expression of an old nationalistic prejudice.

That what may really have happened was that maybe ordinary Irish people said No to the establishment. And with their voices now amplified by social media, the establishment heard that voice and not only did they not like it; they clearly didn’t understand it. And worse, appeared to believe that Irish people do not have the right to hold power to account, the very principle under-pinning any healthily functioning republic.

Ireland’s establishment seems not used to being questioned. Rather, it pronounces and expects obedience, a habit inculcated by colonialism and by the church.

At its heart this seems based on a fundamental disrespect for ordinary people. Fine Gael don’t bother consulting people about anything. They bully stuff through. They do as they please and denigrate the public when the public speaks out. This attitude was best exemplified in recent times by the photo of Dara Murphy and his spouse grinning out of their car in a can’t-touch-me kind of way after the double-jobbing scandal.

Even after the RIC debacle the Taoiseach said, almost like a parent scolding the children, that the Irish public, by speaking out, may have jeopardised the hoped-for united Ireland. How? By speaking out against a careless, condescending government as free citizens of a republic?

The Managerial Class

You often hear it said that problems in the health service, or housing, or insurance, or any other area you care to name that isn’t functioning to its fullest potential, are “systemic”. On closer scrutiny it often seems that the systemic problems identified are due to management being favoured over the actual practitioners. Health funding seems to go mainly to managers; arts funding to administrators, and so on.

What if each area hampered by so-called systemic problems, was only a fractal of an over-riding systemic problem? Namely a problem where managers and administrators are rewarded at the expense of practitioners, at a national level.

In other words, a system where a cultural elite does the managing and commands all the levers of power and derives the most from the system it essentially owns, allowing also the control of the narrative of events, as Fintan O’Toole was controlling the narrative of the RIC controversy, characterising opponents of the RIC commemoration as being mistaken in their understanding of the proposed event.  Or as being intellectually unable to manage the subtleties at play; or as simply anti-British. Or worse, as little more than abusive social media trolls.

Fintan O’Toole’s article reinforces prejudicial ideas that serve the managerial class, leaving the reader with the inevitable conclusion of, Oh I see, the whole RIC debacle is the people’s fault, is it- for being too thick?

A Maturing Republic

But the reaction to Fine Gael’s RIC proposal might equally be framed as the emergence of a people mature enough to speak back to power and hold it to account.

Since the ideal at the heart of any republic is that all are equal, entitled to equal say, and that all ideally participate in building the republic by being unafraid to speak  truth to power, the public reaction to Fine Gael’s mishandling of the RIC commemoration idea would suggest the emergence, not of an ignorant rabble, as characterised by the elite and its spokespersons, but rather the emergence of a young republic finally beginning to come to maturity.

The Many Not the Few https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/for-the-many-not-the-few-fg-ministers-warned-party-has-to-change-its-image-38852381.html

FOT Article: Subscriber Only: Fintan O’Toole: Why do we fear the ghosts of dead policemen?

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The Budget’s Neglect of the Arts

Image result for Irish budget 2019

The budget has not been kind to the arts.

The National Campaign for the Arts said they were “devastated” and feel that the sector is being left behind. Angela Dorgan said, in an impassioned press release,

The announcements today are devastating to Artists’ and Arts workers’  incomes and livelihoods.  We feel that despite rhetoric to the contrary, this budget is sending a message to artists that Ireland doesn’t value them.”

But rather than slip into despondent musings, there is an energising aspect to all this. Maybe it’s time to borrow from fiction and declare “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore.”

Vaclav Havel explained how power works.  “All power is power over someone,” said Havel, “and it always somehow responds, usually unwittingly rather than deliberately, to the state of mind and the behaviour of those it rules over…”

Power is a two-way street and if the Arts are not being supported by power, and if 10,000 people are left homeless by power while property owners get rich, this is because power has been taught and shaped by people’s passivity.

But with regard to the arts it goes deeper than this. Because the arts are gestures of Hope. The workshops where hope is created. Of hope, Vaclav Havel said, “Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed…”

What better summation of the arts could that be? To work on something because it is good. (I am indebted to Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings website for collating these insights.) Arts practise itself is Hope. It takes place in a realm where cynicism is absent.

Angela Dorgan said in her press release that the ongoing neglect of the arts makes it “next to impossible for our young creative minds to live and work here. They’re all leaving and when they’re gone, who will write the songs and the books, who will create for the theatres, who will create the artworks? Where will the Taoiseach and all the Ministers bring their visiting dignitaries when there is no-one left here to create and make great Art?

Good Works

Most people would agree that “good works” are a benefit to society and community. Though I imagine you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of people who could actually describe to you what a good work actually is. Helping the disabled, might spring to mind. Or visiting the lonely. Those familiar Christian ideas of “good works”.

But Arts practise also belongs in the realm of good works. It is not work that is of immediate apparent benefit to the fast buck understanding of the utilitarian, but arts practise percolates through the culture and enriches everyone.

Why does everyone listen to songs? What could be more useless than a song? A bauble of nothing, loosely chained by a few words and a tune, that drifts on the air? And yet everyone keeps at least one song locked away in their heart, like a treasure.

Paul Simon wrote of this in his song Renee and Georgette Magritte, about the surrealist artist and his wife coming to New York. Of all the wonders that they witness, they keep hidden in “the cabinet cold of their hearts”, songs by the doo-wop groups of the time; cheap throwaway, worthless pop songs.

In this song Paul Simon identifies not only the spiritual worth of the apparently worthless bauble of a song or a tune among even the finer arts, but also the mysterious value of art itself in a world ruthlessly defined by economy and the bottom line. But not everything’s value can be measured in cold stats.

He shows, in a song, that in the end the simple popular song is often more valuable to the soul than money. Because the song, like all the arts, contains within it, the seeds of hope and love upon which all humanity invests its private, often unspoken dreams.

 

References:

National Campaign for the Arts Press Release: https://bit.ly/31YUVg8

Brain Pickings on Vaclav Havel and Hope: https://bit.ly/32cTrik

Paul Simon’s Renee and Georgette Magritte: https://bit.ly/2LY9awf

I’m as mad as hell… https://bit.ly/1J0iA26

 

Reality Check- Neo-Liberalism and the Arts

(This article was published on Broadsheet.ie as Art, Truth and Reality.)

There was a Q&A in the Dáil recently (May 14th) between Paul Murphy TD and Minister for Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, on the subject of arts funding. In his statement Paul Murphy said that Fine Gael seem only to pay lip service to the value of the arts, justifying poor funding for the arts as “realism”.

The first sentence of the minister’s response to Murphy’s question, in true neo-liberal eff-you style, featured the phrase “reality check”, followed by some figure juggling, a false comparison with Britain’s Covid-19 welfare payment, and a disingenuous claim that arts workers are receiving the highest share of Covid-19 payments, “after workers from accommodation, construction, administration and the retail sectors.” So, not the highest.

It was a typical and tiresome neo-liberal dodge. But what was clear was that the question concerning the value of the arts, was being answered from a value system in which the arts and humanities don’t really have a place. Neo-liberalism is “reality” and the Arts are… not reality.

Cultural Eco-System

Arts are part of the cultural eco-system known as the Humanities. Neo-liberalism would have you believe that you can pick the “best” from this eco-system, and promote just those choice parts, for dreary profit. But this, like much of neo-liberal ideology, displays the brute ignorance at the heart of that ideology.

You can’t pick and choose which items to promote and flog off in an eco-system. It’s all interdependent. It’s like saying that, in sport, we’ll only have a Premier league and no lower leagues or school leagues.

As soon as you do that, you destroy the system that feeds and nurtures the “best”. The entire eco-system is the “best”. In the Humanities eco-system, it is the activity of the arts and sciences, at all levels, that is of value, not the best-selling “product” that occasionally emerges from arts and science activities.

Creativity is the foundation upon which the capitalist profiteering engine was built.

This cultural power base formed in a slow accretion of various inventions, discoveries and insights across the ages; the result of an accumulation of imaginative activities that are quintessentially human, from which emerged the multitude of creative ideas, engineered into physicality, that gave rise to the modern world and modern technologies.

Neo-liberal capitalism, standing on the shoulders of this complex network of collective accumulated creative triumphs, often seems as arrogantly blind to that eco-system’s contribution to its own power base, as it is blind to the connection between the perpetual growth ideology it champions and impending climate catastrophe.

Neo-liberalism, in the long game of cultural intelligence, may be just a fancy name for stupid.

To Have Or To Be

Erich Fromm, the humanistic philosopher, in one of his later books, “To Have Or To Be”, defined a neat paradigm to illustrate two broad ways of being that are in conflict with each other in the capitalist system.

He wrote that humanity is oriented either towards “Having”, which is capitalism; or towards “Being” which is, broadly, the orientation that defines the Humanities. This might explain why many creative people often feel they don’t quite belong in what people like Josepha Madigan are content to call “reality”.

The arts, far from being airy fairy fringe activities, are actually central to the human project. Through the arts, progress is imagined. This has been the case since cave paintings gave every tribe member the opportunity to study the animals they would hunt, aiding in focusing their attention and creating an inner mental picture of the target; the artist providing details that the non-artist may not even see in “reality”.

When artists unwittingly play the capitalist game and set out to justify themselves on capitalist grounds, accepting the capitalist restrictive value system as “reality”, they surrender the one quality that makes art truly invaluable: the ability to explore and think freely and objectify the “reality” that society has chosen for itself.

But in neo-liberal reality, the space occupied by the Humanities is perceived as being without real value. This is dangerous, because it must soon follow that predictions and warnings arising from humanistic studies will be deemed as equally without value as the activities that produce them, effectively blinding the culture to its own future, depriving it of the core intelligence it has always relied on for survival.

Pretty soon no one is working any more until they get paid a capitalist wage or are funded by a government throwing scraps to the sector, and practices become rusty. Artists may gravitate towards sycophancy, further weakening the cultural objectivity the sector is supposed to provide. The grassroots of creativity begin to wither and die from neglect, not unlike the manner in which a coral reef might die.

Creative Obsolescence

Neo-liberal Capitalism is as wasteful of humanity as it is of any of the other raw materials it crushes and processes to turn its quick profits. In terms of the use and exploitation of native talent, the capitalist system treats human beings like objects of mass production. It squeezes individuals into tight restrictive imagination-killing “jobs” – because the concept of a job is a capitalist value – and in doing so wastes all that is potentially creative in that individual.

When you devalue the Humanities by assessing their usefulness in a bogus value system, as neo-liberals do so casually and so routinely, you not only devalue that cultural eco-system that includes the arts, you also simultaneously promote ignorance and forgetfulness; the most extreme form of this regression being the Trump administration.

This ushering in of ignorance is a natural end-game for such a market-driven ideology as neo-liberalism.  From neo-liberal capitalism’s point of view, ignorance and forgetfulness are good for markets, since you can re-package and re-sell as new what was already known and then forgotten about.

Neglect of creativity, through under-funding and undervaluing, may be neo-liberal capitalism’s unconscious way of building obsolescence into, not only the products of human creativity, but into human creativity itself.

In this context, asking What use are the Arts? Or attempting to convince neo-liberals of the value of the arts, may be the totally wrong approach, since this approach takes place in the restrictive confines of neo-liberalism’s narrow understanding of “reality”.

Maybe it’s not so much that society needs to support the Arts, nor that the Arts need to become “realistic” by neo-liberal capitalism’s values; Maybe it is that society, if it hopes to avert climate disaster, needs to reorient, as Fromm recommends, and become more like artists and creatives.

Ways of Seeing

The autistic savant Temple Grandin said in a Ted Talk that the world now more than ever needs all kinds of minds, all kinds of imaginations to solve the problems we are facing. She knew that in the so called “normal” world that her kind of mind, and minds like hers, were being side-lined, measured only by their monetary potential. But she is a genius in visualising physics. She sees the arcs of physical movement in the natural world as vividly as you or I see objects in the living room. She can visualize the invisible. And yet she is ranked as second-best in a world measured by economic profit alone.

To not support the arts and sciences is to fling away as useless the potential of the human imagination, the same one that invented the civilization now apparently owned by a couple of hundred billionaires.

The real question to be asking, more glaringly obvious since the advent of the coronavirus, might be, what use is neo-liberal capitalism?

End

References

Dáil Q&A

https://www.facebook.com/paulmurphytd/videos/696198661215396/

Erich Fromm

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25490.To_Have_or_to_Be_The_Nature_of_the_Psyche

and https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/03/23/erich-fromm-the-art-of-living/?mc_cid=172a2247ee&mc_eid=254c695846

Temple Grandin https://www.ted.com/talks/temple_grandin_the_world_needs_all_kinds_of_minds?language=en

and https://www.hbo.com/movies/temple-grandin

The Neo-Liberal President

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2020/03/anthony-fauci-donald-trump-coronavirus-claims