The New On-the-Ground Reality | Open Thread
By the end of his talk, Cotter had, in his own quiet way, delivered something of a polemic. He called the art world a "middle-class gated community, protecting its territorial and entrepreneurial interests, and thus inherently conservative," and seemed to wax a bit puritanical when he said "no selling art as pleasure to our over-pleasured audience."I thought a bit about the amazingly honest and urgent art that emerged from the AIDS crisis and how there does indeed seem to be little to match its intensity today, despite an economic crisis, two wars, rampant corruption, widespread poverty, terrorism, and radical fundamentalists of all stripes gaining political power. The 1980s and 90s were not all that long ago. Why are we all so seemingly comatose in comparison? Why are we all so seemingly meek in the face of these outrages?
But he spoke undeniable truth when he praised artists who were actively engaged with the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and early ‘90s, heralding the "exceptional range of new art made in response to on-the-ground reality." We could certainly use a little more of that today.
Indeed it seems that something fundamental has changed since the era when governments were truly afraid their people would rise up and revolt if they didn't assure the basic necessities. Theories I've heard as to why this is so range from the anesthetizing/de-revolutionizing effects of minor luxuries (like TV and McDonalds) to Big Brother-esque information gathering capacities that prohibit revolutionary plans from furtively spreading far and wide enough before the authorities can break them up.
Those days may actually be ending. There is something approaching new anger being expressed in parts of the world. Riots in Greece. Riots in France. Riots in England.
David Seaton (an American journalist living in Europe) recently examined what all this means on his blog:
Up till now the children of the credit bubble have had little to rebel against, all the things that the 1968 generation fought for, especially sexual freedom, this generation have had in abundance. While they enjoyed their freedom or became bored with it they became proficient with computers, cell phone messaging and social nets, all valuable skills for potential agitators. Now as politicians like David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy are attacking their futures, their education and even their future pensions, they have something more challenging than "Grand Theft Auto" to test their skills against. And perhaps they will be able to do something that the students of 1968 couldn't do in those times of prosperity and full employment, make common cause with working people and the older generations.Threats to the basics (health, education and welfare) fully explain the anger in the gay community as well as the power of the art created during the AIDS crisis. But Seaton goes on to explain the wider revolutionary threat lurking...the one that could see larger unrest here in the US. And contrary to the propaganda you hear on Fox News and its like, the threat is NOT socialist sensibilities. Quite the opposite. Seaton:
Now the battle is not just about personal freedom and imperialist wars as it was back them, it is about health, education and welfare: the basics.
I'm astounded at how oblivious Cameron and Sarkozy are to the danger they are running.I have always thought it idiocy (or at least a serious historical ignorance) for the financially comfortable to not recognize governmental security nets for the masses as a small price to pay for domestic tranquility. History is chock full of revolutions spawned by aristocratic lack of compassion, revolutions that brought down vast empires. Still, here in the US we see the GOP hellbent on ending "entitlements" even as they offer only tired and long disproved trickle down theories for how to generate jobs. This is a recipe for revolution if ever there was one.
Regular readers of this blog know that one of my favorite hobby horses is criticizing the blockheadedness of post Cold War politicians who seem to have totally lost their fear of popular wrath.
Those who are cheerfully going about the work of dismantling the welfare state seem blissfully unaware that the welfare state was created by men as, or even more conservative then themselves, (Bismark, for example) in order to avoid revolutionary social movements which would destabilize and jeopardize the entire economic system and society itself. This was a strategy that was so eminently successful that it practically has destroyed revolutionary praxis.
In my opinion dismantling the welfare state at this time is similar to a person who has successfully survived an operation for lung cancer and endured the ensuing chemotherapy and then, finding himself now in remission, decides that it is ok for him to go back to smoking, the very thing that caused his cancer in the first place: idiotic.
The main reason we have the relative calm we have in the US, despite punishing unemployment and rising poverty, is not patriotism or minor luxuries, in my opinion, but precisely those New Deal like safety nets put in place over the last century. In other words, governmental assurances that people will still have some access to the basics--health, education and welfare--the things that without, they are most likely to, well, "Act Up."
Chisel away at those and you greatly increase the odds of costly riots and civil unrest. With over 9% unemployment and states strapped for cash, it's not at all likely there are law enforcement resources up to the task of quelling widespread revolts either, so it would be fool-hearty to put your faith in the police state should things get very desperate.
Consider this an open thread on art, basic needs, and the pending revolution.