Saturday, August 8, 2009


I think I need to back down off the ledge I worked my way out to there in that last post. It's not the crazy that bothers me so much, but the somewhat fascistic undertones of some of the arguments that upsets me a little to see come out of my own head. There is a long tradition among philosophers to think that, essentially, if everyone agrees with me this world would be sooo much better. Plato's Republic goes on a long tangent about how art, then taking the forms of lyric poetry and drama, has to be directed for the proper education of the young. Not to even mention his idea for the philosopher king, which, no surprise here, Hitler just loved. Hegel elaborated on how the heroes of the dramatic and lyric arts, which were the only true ones in his estimation, had to be totally free from convention in the way that only princes and kings were. More generally, you've got Rousseau's lawgiver, Nietzsche's superman, Hobbes' Leviathan, and the list goes on (not that I put myself on that list, just in that general desire of philosophers for universal principles).

Not the proudest moments for the philosophic tradition, I can tell you. Those middle passages of The Republic always make me a little sad because the rest of the work is breathtaking in it's scope and depth. But it's an infinite chain of being. You don't get to John Rawls, for example, without John Locke, whose own work may have been the philosophical basis for the great democratic ideals of Jefferson, Madison, Adams, etc but who also provided cover arguments for the institution of slavery and the wholesale genocide of the native populations of the then new world.

And that sucks. Seriously sucks monkey ass. And this monkey ass suckiness has its roots in the messy realities of democracy. Plato saw the first, sort of, democracy (neither women nor slaves were given the vote), and it probably was what scared him into fascism. In his work Gorgias, he brings the Socratic method to bear on the sophistic notion that the art of persuasion was more important than real, deep knowledge and understanding. Course, the historical Socrates had to drink hemlock or be banished from Athens because of his method, which was supposedly corrupting the youth and denigrating the gods, whereas the historical Gorgias became quite wealthy charging fees for instruction in the rhetorical practices and living a long full life, even commissioning a golden statue of himself in Athens. And that's how things went down in the world's first, sort of, democracy.

So, I guess the question is, is this susceptibility to demagogery inherent in the structure of democracy? I don't have the answer to this question, but certainly most people seem to like to hear people they agree with do so forcefully and righteously, even if the force and righteousness is presented in a disingenuous, one sided, sophistic way (cough, cough, FoxNews, cough, cough, MSNBC, cough some more).

There are whole long lines of argument reaching in just about every direction that I could follow from that last short paragraph, but I think I'll leave off. I was really aiming at a discussion of how structure affects both the content and form of art. And that's a really long and complicated argument involving a whole range of subjects, not the least of which is the history and development of the various forms and the structures of their dissemination, which is really more so what I'm driving at. The problem of the business of art, kind of thing.

Let me get right to the real heart of the matter here because this has already dragged on, and I haven't gotten anywhere. I think the corporate structure, in general but also particularly in relation to artistic dissemination, has got to be reformed. There is nothing inherent in the idea of a global business such as a corporation which requires that it and the enfolded they (i.e. corporate shills) can only, only consider the economic bottom line (a bottom line that leaves off both social and environmental concerns). Muhammad Yunus and his revolutionary work with microfinance (try it!) and the Grameen bank has shown that social business can be both financially sound and socially conscious. And there is no real reason to believe this couldn't somehow also work in the fields of art.

How exactly this transfers more broadly is not entirely clear without (arghh, tautology) a culture that values social goods at least as much as personal pleasures, but I think that it can. Somehow. Okay, so you're now singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow and rolling your eyes. I can feel it. Alright, that's enough of that. I'm trying to be serious. I'll admit (which I seem to be doing all the time), I don't have the whole thing worked out clearly in my head, but I've got some hints and vague impressions. I do think (and this probably has A LOT to do with the fact that I love scholarly shit) that one first step in the direction of a more democratic corporate structure is in the development of a true inter-disciplinary economic theory, an alternative economics, which is a term that I don't entirely like because it might imply that this theory is somehow subordinate to the more pure economic study (which is not the intended implication but could be taken as such). I feel like somebody has got to break the stronghold of Milton Friedman's ideas of pure capitalism in the realm of modern economics because these are the guys, this Chicago School old boy network, who control the US treasury and others around the world, the World Bank, the IMF, and many large and influential national and multinational corporations.

Okay, so this has really gone on long enough now, and I'm just repeating myself and drifting slightly into what could be construed as conspiracy theory. And the argument isn't pure. The internet is a bit of a democratizing force (within a range, as there's a whole personal infrastructure that has to exist for any given person to have the internet [which is part of this material reality that I'm always going on about how horrible is]), and you can self-publish through blogs and whatnot. This is why it's hard to make sweeping universal arguments about Art, even if you have some particular form in your head when you make the argument.

Okay, it's time to do get some fresh air and exercise. Enough of this nonsense.

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