Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Capitating Art


Art in a Capitation Nation

Another non-obvious point is that an entire sector may be essential, while any one of its many branches may not be. This is true of the arts. As a whole they constitute an essential service. They are not a frill that can be dispensed with lightly. We conceivably could dispense with one particular art, as English speaking peoples did with poetry, but even that is debatable.
I think the fact that my children, educated in an English speaking school, cannot recite a single English poem represents a loss, a loss that may not be as shocking as species loss and environmental degradation, but it points to a lack of linguistic vitality. We need literature and the arts to reinforce culture, and culture bolsters our will to save ourselves from the many corruptions threatening our collective survival. That ultimately is the mission of artistic expression. Unfortunately, artistic expression itself is becoming as polluted as the natural environment.
Plato made this point, that art is an essential service, in his great utopian works, the Republic and the Laws. For example, in the later, more severe work, the Laws, he held up the extreme permanence of Egyptian civilization as an exemplar. Even in Plato's time the pyramids were the epitome of all that is ancient. The Egyptian civilization remained an independent kingdom until Cleopatra's time, well into the Roman Empire. He attributed their astonishing stability -- which we now would call sustainability -- to the strict control that its leaders kept over artistic expression. A hieroglyphic on a tomb wall did not vary in the slightest over many centuries.
I think that Plato was aware that most cultures would regard the strict censorship of artists in Egypt as a stifling straitjacket. Their artistic contribution rightly is thought of as a kind of suspended animation in most people's minds. However, his main point remains valid today. It is undeniable that freer and more experimental societies, brilliant as they are, all proved short-lived in comparison to Egypt. None, including the Roman Republic, lasted longer than half a millennium, while Egyptian civilization endured for several millennia.

Plato's reason for bringing up the Egyptian question was, I think, that we must consider the overall role of artists as essential to sustainability as a culture. We should not bandy the word "sustainability" about without realizing its full implications. That is, you cannot say sustainability without mentioning the parameters of rep-by-pop and work-by-pop.
The arts do an essential service -- not just cultural but political, religious and educational -- by grounding common experience between young and old, by setting a base line for continuing the best of the past into the future. Too much novelty, or too little, disturbs its ability to do this smoothly. Musical regulation in Egypt froze the forms of music into a sacred, religious expression, and this provided stability. If this is set up properly new art can innovate without doing harm to the past. Plato wrote,

"... if we can but detect the intrinsically right in such matters, in whatever degree, we should reduce them to law and system without misgiving, since the appeal to feeling which shows itself in the perpetual craving for novel musical sensation can, after all, do comparatively little to corrupt choric art once it has been consecrated, by deriding it as out of fashion. In Egypt, at any rate, its corrupting influence appears to have been no-wise potent, but very much the reverse." (Plato, Laws, 657b, Collected dialogues, p. 1254)

We may not want to regulate, limit and censor art as severely as the ancient Egyptians did, but a universal civic society will have to find some way to exercise much more control over all the arts than we do now. For humans to survive permanently, artists more than any other trade or profession can assure that each new generation improves upon the one before. Artistic activities cannot be allowed, deliberately or inadvertently, to corrupt the very sensitive tastes, sensibilities and morals of the new generation. Every artist needs to consider carefully this heavy responsibility. Teachers should train them to effectively censor themselves before corruptive expressions go viral.

Capitation of the artistic labour market can direct art to beneficial ends while avoiding any arbitrary measures or overt restrictions to artists' freedom. As with other essential callings, adjusting work-by-pop formulas are an effective tool for senators and elders to steer artists towards social good and away from corruptive extremes. Thus the senates of households and neighbourhoods can regularly commission young, local artists to make new monuments, poems, songs and other commemorations of their more memorable achievements. Artists can be asked to design eschutcheons (discussed later) and other rewards for excellence. Also, remuneration, reputation and other incentives can be tied to the actual, long-term influence of a work of art in the community.

Such indirect guidance of art and literature may influence neighbourhood culture in the way that central banks steer our complex modern economy. By raising or lowering interest rates central banks adjust the cost of money. This in turn influences much broader economic conditions, such as employment and inflation.
What is the artistic equivalent of the central bank?

I think that the main candidate is the Localized Broadcasting Cooperative, the locally run arts council and production company that we have been discussing in recent chapters. Unlike senates, governments, religions, schools and other outside groups who make use of the arts from outside, the LBC is owned and managed by artists themselves. Just as a central bank is run by an independent insider, a banker, so the LBC is in the best position to apply work-by-pop to posts that artists fill in a neighbourhood.

As we shall see next time, a new profession, unique to hillside communities, will play an important role in applying capitation formulas. This is a sort of philosopher practitioner known as the dialectician. We will discuss the nature of this job next time.


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