It was Adrienne Clarkson, Canada's 26th Governor General, and former University of Toronto English professor, as well as former host of CBC TV Arts programs, interviewed this weekend by Peter Mansbridge, who commented on the CBC itself, "The purpose of public broadcasting is not only to make money".....
She referred to her "numbers" of only 400,000 viewers for her arts program as not being adequate for the administration of the national broadcaster, with a sardonic and ironic smile, as if those numbers were not sufficient to justify the existence of the program. Nevertheless, she also noted the account of one of Canada's ballerinas, who first was exposed to ballet as a little girl through the CBC program Clarkson hosted, as one of the important purposes of the national broadcasting service.
"We all need to learn and the public broadcaster, if it is doing its job well, can expose us to things we need to know, and need to learn"....
It is the commodification of the national broadcaster that is putting it under a potential surgical reduction, if not potential elimination under the scalpel of the Harper "philistines"....(my word not Clarkson's). If the Canadian government is willing to spend millions on military hardware, it certainly can spend money to support and sustain and even enhance the mandate and the professional functioning of the public broadcaster, and then to monitor how well it is doing its job in ways that are not restricted to balance sh eets, and the degree to which it sustains itself through the sale of advertising to corporate sponsors.
Not all public services should be judged, as they are increasingly, through a lens of the accountants' cost-benefit analysis, based solely on the numbers of dollars taken in as revenue, and the actual cost of operating the broadcaster.
This idea of not reducing the public broadcaster to a self-supporting institution has application to other institutions and relationships in our culture. Universities, secondary and elementary schools, libraries, and hospitals, while having to monitor their spending of public dollars as an integral part of their operation, are nevertheless a feature of the Canadian tradition and culture worthy of the allocation of public dollars. Providing equal access to the services available at all of those public institutions for all Canadians is another feature of the "Canadian ethos" in Clarkson's view.
Pushed further, the concept of the public good includes the notion that not all transactions between human beings must be commodified. Not all relationships and encounters can be reduced to fiscal transactions, rendering both parties either consumers or providers. In fact, it is the erosion of that principle that infects too many of our 'human' encounters.
In transforming human beings into agents of the economy, through both the earing of wages and the spending of those wages on consumer goods and services, we risk the participating in the nuanced and toxic development of the definition of meaning and purpose to "making money"....and the top five employers preferred by recent graduates from American universities are all financial services corporates. We are in danger of sending the wrong message to our young people, that they will have value and respect to the degree to which they earn a large salary...and the dangers of that message are already being felt.
We are not and never will be reducible to the kind of statistic that renders human beings as mere agents to a false cultural and economic and political mythology as serfs to the profit-motives of the corporations. We are not, and never will be reducible to the agents that are merely focussed on serving the consuming needs of other human beings. We do not live solely or even primarily for the purpose of generating ratings and income, the larger of both, the more "status" we merit.
In fact, it is this very core perception that risks our experiencing a kind of minimalist perception of what it means to be a human being.
We see parents competing for their child's seat in the platinum brand universities; we see executives competing for the largest houses in the most "chic" neighbourhoods, as if only those with the biggest houses, and the largest number of BMW's in the garage, and the largest vacation homes in the Muskoka's and the Caribbean are to be emulated. We are witness the replacement of the arts, traditionally a less lucrative and therefore less pursued vocation, with an exaggerated swarming of young people to the highest incomes, as if this were the best direction for the lives of our young people.
And it is our elevation of the corporate "needs and purposes" to our highest priority, both in our personal and in our public lives that leaves too many people wondering if and how they might fit into the new world.
There is, however, considerable hope in the "Global Citizen" movement featured recently by MSNBC in their broadcast of the concert in Central Park to shine a spot light on the initiatives for health and poverty elimination that have provided meaning and direction and purpose to many lives of the next generation. Similarly, the Clinton Global Initiative, at the 'upper end' of the world's culture, commits high profile individuals to the execution of promises that are dedicated to saving and/or enhancing the lives of those less fortunate everywhere.
This kind of initiative, rather than the pursuit of employment in the top five financial services corporations, deserve to be the focus of all those charged with the role of coaching and guiding young people into their futures.
There will always be enough of the best and brightest for the top income positions in finance; there will not always be enough of the best and the brightest for those positions, equally if not more important to the levelling of society's playing fields, that truly serve and that are not primarily or exclusively dedicated to making money, and the more of it the better.