Sunday, March 05, 2006
Love&Art on Bow Street
I think we are all well aware of what the dangers of individualism are. We hear them all the time. We get beat up by them all the time. We have cautionary tells to guide us, or better, keep us in line. In line. That's the thing. And that is what this is about.
The group, that is any group, family, institution, community, town, government, peer, company, workers, partiers, you name it: the group, they will you tell you that first and foremost the individual "just does what he or she feels like doing(without regard for the group), that he or she is SELFISH.
Most of us accept this as gospel. We might even accept it with shame: "Yes, I am selfish."
We might go a step further and live with that shame and accept that we are bad and that we might never change.
What gets lost in all of this, and I'm probably cutting to this too soon, but feel compelled, is that no one ever questions the group's selfishness. SELFISH. The group is, let's face it, selfish on a LARGE scale, but because it wields the power of the group, it goes unchallenged and unchecked. The only example we have in our entire culture of the negative and selfish nature of the group is when we speak of adolescents and "peer pressure." When we say those words everyone knows what I'm talking about. "Peer pressure" is the most frightening pair of words in the mind/life of a parent. Maybe as scary as the word "war." Scarier.
So if the idea of the group being selfish seems like some paranoid ridiculousness to you, think "peer pressure" and go from there. Think of all the billions of selfish and destructive things the "group" has come up with (individuals don't make war, for example, groups do.) Some of them are the most ridiculous things one could ever imagine. Let's make everyone take two years of say, algebra, so that they can become well versed in the practice of mathematical equations; and then let's make it critical to their future in life that they get it, and if they don't let's relegate them to low-paying jobs in the service industry because, yes, we've made mathematical equations the bar that will decide who moves on and who doesn't. Now tell me how many people you know use algebra in their lives EVER. It tells you what group has selfishly imposed itself on everyone else, and did exactly what it felt like doing.
Where am I going with this? Art. Art has always been tarred as selfish. A selfish act by the selfish individual. Decadent. It does nothing for the team. Useless. The word art has never crossed this president's mind or lips. It serves no purpose in the military industrial complex that is this administration's sole agenda. Art is the voice and will of the individual. The only one, by the way, who will say that the emperor is not wearing a stitch. It is also easier for the group to justify any means to survive. Any means. It can lie with many mouths. In fact, I don't think we can count on the group for the truth. Too much at stake. The truth is the domain of the individual. Now don't get me wrong. The group does good. It is a given, it is a necessity, it is a reality. Group and individual, individual and group. They gotta get along.
But the group is an entity, guilty of the same things individuals are, just in larger numbers. Every individual has to be able to fend off the group in a given situation, just like with peer pressure. It might be about conforming to group expectations or group thinking. It might be about performing for the group expectations and group thinking. Many so-called individuals only represent and mouth group expectations and thinking. There was a time not that long ago, for example, when women and minorities were expected to think and act according to the dominant group's expectations and thinking.
Every young person that considers a life of art is bound to be greeted with a great deal of opposition from every quarter. Some of these greetings will attempt to attack their personal character for the choice they are making. Do I think that it is selfish to be an artist? Obviously the selfishness of the group does nothing to justify selfishness in the individual. What I do think is that we each have a life and that it belongs to us, no matter how much we might owe any group. If a life of art is an individual's choice, then who can argue with that? Art contributes to many peoples lives. I won't say everyone's. That would seem to be enough, however. It takes all kinds to make the world go round. Breadmakers, bridgebuilders, bankers, baseball players, and yes, bass players. We have room for it all. No accusations or recriminations. Go fourth and multiply is fine if you like math, but waxing poetic can outshine the stars.