The resistance needs a vibrant cultural component. It was the spirituals that nourished the souls of African-Americans during the nightmare of slavery. It was the blues that spoke to the reality of black people during the era of Jim Crow. It was the poems of Federico Garcia Lorca that sustained the republicans fighting the fascists in Spain. Music, dance, drama, art, song, painting were the fire and drive of resistance movements. The rebel units in El Salvador when I covered the war there always traveled with musicians and theater troupes. Art, as Emma Goldman pointed out, has the power to make ideas felt. Goldman noted that when Andrew Undershaft, a character in George Bernard Shaw’s play “Major Barbara,” said poverty is “[t]he worst of crimes” and “All the other crimes are virtues beside it,” his impassioned declaration elucidated the cruelty of class warfare more effectively than Shaw’s socialist tracts. The degradation of education into vocational training for the corporate state, the ending of state subsidies for the arts and journalism, the hijacking of these disciplines by corporate sponsors, severs the population from understanding, self-actualization and transcendence. In aesthetic terms the corporate state seeks to crush beauty, truth and imagination. This is a war waged by all totalitarian systems.
Culture, real culture, is radical and transformative. It is capable of expressing what lies deep within us. It gives words to our reality. It makes us feel as well as see. It allows us to empathize with those who are different or oppressed. It reveals what is happening around us. It honors mystery. “The role of the artist, then, precisely, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through the vast forest,” James Baldwin wrote, “so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”
Artists, like rebels, are dangerous. They speak a truth that totalitarian systems do not want spoken. “Red Rosa now has vanished too. …” Bertolt Brecht wrote after Luxemburg was murdered. “She told the poor what life is about, And so the rich have rubbed her out.” Without artists such as musician Ry Cooder and playwrights Howard Brenton and Tarell Alvin McCraney we will not succeed. If we are to face what lies ahead, we will not only have to organize and feed ourselves, we will have to begin to feel deeply, to face unpleasant truths, to recover empathy and to live passionately. (Chris Hedges, in truthdig.com, September 30, 2013, "The Sparks of Rebellion")
Is there a George Bernard Shaw among us? Or an Arthur Miller? Or a John Steinbeck?
And if there were, would our current slicing and dicing of every issue into micro-bits not blind us to the big picture for many reasons, one being the lassitude and luxury we have enjoyed for so long?
Listening to the McLaughlin Group on PBS, I found a Washington Post writer arguing with former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan about global warming and climate change, the former putting the position that it was one of the most significant tragedies of our time that there was any doubt about both its reality and about the human causes, the other continuing to doubt even while being challenging on his ante-deluvian position on national television.
Twenty to thirty people are currently holding the United States government hostage to their narcissistic parochial and dangerous views of both the president and their country, while the media "reports" on the various meetings or non-meetings that might present a way out of the impasse.
Who is going to write the play that portrays the first black president as imprisoned inside the White House for no other reason than he is black, and there are billions of dollars arrayed against every breath he takes, and certainly every proposals he supports, simply because he is trying to do the job to which he was elected?
And if there were a Shaw or a Miller or a Steinbeck, which television network or movie sound stage would be willing to commit the resources to producing a piece of incisive social commentary that would foreshadow the bleak future we are marching blindly toward, while also disarming those leviathans of the purse of their mountains of financial assets, without at the same time, incurring an even more heavily financed piece that debunks the original? And why television or movie, rather than novel or stage play? For the very simple reason that the generations of people who need to waken to the onrushing hell do not read more than a few characters, and most of those are so incoherent as to be merely gushes of narcissism, faintly disguised as gossip.
The pursuit of mountains of profit, including the purchasing of the legislative and political power to engage in such a pursuit, has so seduced our time that we have sold out our capacity to protest, except in small numbers for very short periods over some single issue brought forward by a politician who actually wishes to thumb his/her nose at an established tradition like, for example, the collective bargaining process of public service workers, by Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin.
And, while it is true that the occupying of the legislative building by ordinary people received national attention, it is also true that the bargaining process was gutted....and "the men and women come and go talking of"... Michael Jackson, and John Lennon, and Princess Diana...
How do we write a play or novel about the unconscionable chasm between Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon, for example, on how to run down Islamic terrorists in Mali when the ambassador to that country has to sign off on any proposed action and refuses, for diplomatic reasons? (If you want more information, read the current issue of The Atlantic which exposes this opinion divide.)
There is no collective opinion anymore, on anything; there are only multiple and widely dispersed views on everything with no discerning compass worthy of trust that can or will be permitted to chart a prospective course out of the darkness into some shared enlightenment.
Even if there were a Shaw or Miller or Steinbeck, who would read, reflect and join the ramparts in support of the efforts needed to overthrow the current system.
For example, everyone knows that campaign finance reform must be re-introduced, using public money, in order to cleanse the political system of inordinate influence peddling and the concomitant prostitution of the candidates to their benefactors' agendas. Is there a hope in hell that such needed reform will be witnessed in the next century, by politicians whose lips and tongue are red with the wine sloshed from the public troughs yet whose faces bare not a trace of that colour of shame?
We all know that arms proliferation prevention starts with an international piece of paper outlining the terms of such an agreement among and between national signators. We all know that the NRA's grip on too many members of Congress will never permit the US Secretary of State's signing of such a treaty to become national policy.
We all know that corporate profits and tax loopholes that permit and enable such profits, far beyond what could be considered legitimate, will continue, if not actually increase because there are sufficient and more funds to buy the votes needed to achieve such a goal.
We all know that those same dollars will not permit the kind of legitimate votes in Congress that would see a significant bite taken out of the toxic emissions from various industrial operations, including currently operating coal-fired power plants...and does anyone care enough for the constrictions that will block the free breathing of our grandchildren, if we do not pass such legislation nationally and internationally.
I once listened to a very small entrepreneur in a very small U.S. frontier town explain that the local police could only deal with what she termed, "mickey-mouse issues" because they have not the spine or the support to deal with the really big issues, in her case, the trafficking of major drug dealers in and through that town.
"Mickey-Mouse" issues replace the important issues when everyone is reduced to an addiction to a hand-held screen manipulable by the average three-year-old and when everyone shuts his/her mind to the apparent over-run of personal greed and ambition in what were once considered thoughtful fora in local, regional and national governments. We have elected the most easily bought and the most easily bent to a breeze blowing with the full support of a corporate media that sacralizes corporations and their needs and sacrifices ordinary people on that altar.
Even Crysta Freeland, author of "Plutocrats" appearing on a public panel at Harvard yesterday, as part of NPR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook, took positions that put a public face on the problem of the accumulation of wealth by a very few, (120% of the economic gains in the last five years going to the top 1% of the population), without proposing radical and necessary steps to reverse the situation. Even with her respected and authentic research, she is not prepared to become a radical pioneer leader to bring about significant changes.....and she is already a candidate for an important Toronto seat in the House of Commons in Canada, a country where revolt is a dirty word and anyone sounding alarm bells is not merely apocalyptic but dangerous.
When public listening is selective and superficial, and public reflection and contemplation are intermittent at best and non-existent at worst, and when public information flows in nano-seconds regardless of its vacuity, and when fewer and fewer hands control the people who pull the levers of power and those hands are covered in the blood of the sacrifice of public safety nets for the purpose of self-aggrandizement, and when the agents of distribution of public information are owned and controlled by those same hands, and when the schools have become agents of public "decorum" and not public scepticism and inquiry....there is the high potential for an entropy of public institutions based on the apathy of public absence and the extreme, and uncontrolled and uncontrollable pursuit of greed and personal ambition running the system into the ditch, without enough people realizing what is happening or how they have participated, making it possible through their indifference.