Theodore Dalrymple on the delusions and dishonesties of Marxist fathers:
Marxism was replete with heresies and excommunications that tended to become fatal whenever its adherents reached power. There was a reason for this. Marx said that it is not consciousness that determines being, but being that determines consciousness. In other words, ideas do not have to be argued against in a civilised way, but rather the social and economic position of those who hold them must be analysed. So, disagreement is the same as class enmity – and we all know what should be done with class enemies… A genre of apologetic literature grew up in the Twenties and Thirties. I have a collection of it; perhaps my favourite is Soviet Russia Fights Neurosis. How could intelligent people not have laughed? They didn’t laugh, though; they believed it, because they wanted to. What they did not want to believe was the abundant evidence that, from the start, the Bolshevik Revolution was a human catastrophe. Contrary to what many think, Solzhenitsyn revealed nothing in the Seventies that had not been known from the Twenties on. I have a contemporary account of the famine in the Ukraine, complete with photographs of piles of cadavers. Intellectuals devoted great dialectical effort to showing either that the evidence was false or that its meaning was different from that given it by “bourgeois” people.
Nick Gillespie on trimming a little fat from the state:
The shutdown provides the country with a perfect moment to ask why a federal government whose spending habits are an insult to drunken sailors everywhere is paying above-market compensation to hundreds of thousands of “non-essential” workers. The Department of Education is far from the only federal agency where massive numbers of take-them-or-leave-them employees hang their hats. According to Government Executive magazine’s incomplete tally, 90 percent or more of the staff at the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission, Securities and Exchange Committee, and the Departments of Treasury and Housing and Urban Development are considered “non-essential.” And let’s get real: When the Department of Commerce claims that a relatively tiny 85 percent of its workers are “non-essential,” we know we’re being played.
David Marcus on arts funding versus arts diversity:
The NEA and the tax exempt status of many arts organisations are hurting the very art forms they purport to support. They are in fact making American art less relevant to Americans’ lives… It is simply accepted that government support of the arts creates better, and better attended art. In fact, the perverse market incentives enshrined by federal tax expenditures through deductions for arts giving and direct government support have been accompanied by a decrease in attendance and a crisis in theatre… Fewer and fewer people go to theatre even though the federal dollars keep rolling in. These government dollars are not expanding the base of arts attendees, but rather subsidising the entertainment of wealthy, white people. Government dollars are not content neutral, a cultural ground game is being executed by the progressive Non Profit community to ensure that culture remains the sole preserve of leftist ideology… According to the NEAs own numbers the percentage of Americans who attended theatre dropped by thirty percent from 1992 to 2008. In that time the number of 501 (c) 3 tax exempt theatres doubled, from about 900 to about 1800. The total number of tax payer dollars dedicated to those companies also increased. So more companies are getting more money to create theatre but fewer people are attending.
And the playwright David Mamet on the same:
It is only in state-subsidised theatre (whether the subsidy is direct, in the form of grants, or indirect, as tax-deductible donations to universities or arts organisations) that the ideologue can hold sway, for he is then subject not to the immediate verdict of the audience but to the good wishes of the granting authority, whose good wishes he will, thus, devote his energies to obtaining.
The political uniformity and extraordinary conceits of our own pubicly-funded arts establishment have entertained us many, many times. As when the writer Hanif Kureishi told Guardian readers that culture, as represented by him, is “a form of dissent,” while the paper’s theatre critic Michael Billington claimed that a reduction of taxpayer subsidy for loss-making plays is nothing less than “suppression” of that “dissent.” Likewise, when the playwright Jonathan Holmes claimed that he and his peers are “speaking truth to power” – I kid you not – and insisted, based on nothing, that “the sole genuine reason for cuts is censorship of some form” and “the only governments to systematically attack the arts have been the ones that also attacked democracy.” You see, the suggestion that artists might consider earning a living, rather than leeching at the taxpayer’s teat, is apparently indistinguishable from fascist brutality and the end of civilisation. Though when the status quo in London’s dramatic circles is overwhelmingly leftwing, and when publicly subsidised art and theatre tend to favour parties that favour further public subsidy for art and theatre, what “dissent” actually means is somewhat unclear. And reluctant taxpayers please take note: Despite all the years of providing hand-outs, you’re now the oppressor. Yes, Mr Holmes and his peers are “speaking truth to power,” and for that they must have power over your wallet. And your wallet, and yours.
Over at Artblog, Franklin Einspruch offers a few words from Frédéric Bastiat:
Socialism… confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.
As Franklin adds, “What goes unsaid here [in debates about arts funding] is that our objections are to a prior assumption by believers in state power, namely that because some undertaking is worth doing, that the state ought to be doing it.” This echoes some of the exchanges I’ve had, where darlings of the Arts Council have assumed, or wanted to believe, that its critics want a world devoid of any cultural activity more elevated than Rude Tube. Because we’re just beastly and mean. And because if the state doesn’t give £70,000 to Greenpeace - in the name of art - then naught but tumbleweed will roll across a denuded cultural landscape. And if the state doesn’t hand £20,000 of taxpayers’ money to East End hookers so they can “self-advocate” – and no, I’m not joking - then an artless darkness will settle forever on the minds of the nation’s young.
When taxpayers dared to grumble about the Nowhere Island art project, in which a pile of random sand and rock was relocated by barge at a cost of half a million pounds, their complaints were dismissed by the leftwing journalist Laurie Penny as “anodyne and inconsequential.” According to Ms Penny, who took part in the project and enjoyed a two-week holiday at public expense, if we don’t continue bankrolling random dirt relocation, “we have no business speaking of social progress.” The people I’ve argued with about this, including many beneficiaries of Arts Council largesse, have tended to invoke nebulous and lofty ideals, and the words “social justice,” as if their own self-interest played no part in their defensiveness and indignation, even among those who’ve spent decades sucking on the public teat and who show no sign of stopping, no flicker of embarrassment. Because dirt relocation, the tearing up of grass and other commercially unviable “art” is now part of the welfare state, apparently. It’s what some grown men and women aspire to do with their time. And with the money you had to earn.
Despite the usual noises on the subject from our egalitarian betters, the ideal of seemingly endless taxpayer subsidy doesn’t sound terribly egalitarian. Or indeed democratic. If anything, what comes to mind is a caste system, in which the lumpen taxpayer is forced to bankroll self-anointed Brahmins, who profess their modish leftism while extolling the virtues of a non-reciprocal and parasitic relationship. Readers may recall the overlording ambitions of the film-maker and socialist Mr Ken Loach, a man so modest he wants greater public funding of independent film-makers – people much like Mr Loach, in fact - and the public funding of a chain of independent cinemas in which these publicly-funded films could then be screened, even to empty seats, having first been selected by publicly-funded people much like Mr Loach. Our socialist film-maker tells us that he needs free access to our wallets because, “Those of us who work in television and film have a role to be critical, to be challenging, to be rude, to be disturbing, not to be part of the establishment. We need to keep our independence. We need to be mischievous. We shouldn’t take no for an answer.” However, he and his peers will take our money – and not through voluntary ticket sales, as is generally the custom, but with the force of government and taxation. That being what independent, challenging, anti-establishment types do.
There is of course an air of grandiose entitlement, an urge to circumvent indefinitely the preferences of the public, who are nonetheless expected to serve as patrons, albeit patrons with no say in how or on whom their earnings are spent. And no right to ask for a refund should things go badly wrong. Mere commercial forces and popular appetite must not impede work of such tremendous cultural importance that no bugger wants to see it. And if we’re to take seriously Jonathan Holmes’ pretence of “speaking truth to power,” one has to wonder who has more power in the current funding formulation. The taxpayer, who is forced to bankroll projects regardless of personal interest or objection, and regardless of the pretention and inanity of any particular demand, or those who take the taxpayer’s money and expect to go on doing so?
As usual, feel free to add your own links and snippets in the comments.
And hitting the tip jar will only encourage me.