Art may seem like a odd substitute for War, but there’s reason to not dismiss the idea out of hand. We already know that Art can be a powerful economic engine, legions of starving artists and musicians notwithstanding. For proof just look at the movie and music industries. What may be more of surprise is that Art has played a role on the battlefield as well. In the days of the Roman Empire –which lasted for well over a thousand years –conquered cultures were kept in thrall to the Empire as much by the superiority of Roman art and culture as by the threat of force. As much as having Roman overlords may have rankled, few barbarians truly wished to trade in their refined Roman existence for a return to crude tribal living. Similarly, on the other side of the world, the Chinese Empire survived being repeatedly invaded and conquered by barbarian hordes because Chinese art and culture were so advanced that the invaders inevitably assimilated into the host culture instead of the other way around, as the physical conquerors became the culturally conquered.
But how does Art do versus our criteria?
- It makes jobs that challenge individuals and nations to their limits: The answer here is both yes and no. No, certainly, with regards to nations –no country faces its greatest challenge in maintaining itself at the cutting edge of artistic advance. Yes, on occasion, with regards to individuals. True, a hobbyist painter or casual guitar player isn’t experiencing much of a challenge, but dance and acrobatics challenge the physical limits of the human body, special-effects laden movies challenge the limits of technology, conceptual art challenges the intellect, “diva” songs challenge the human vocal range, and so forth and so on. Any artist at the top of their field is probably at or near the limits of what is humanly possible in one way or another.
- It distributes jobs: Here we find a deficiency. There’s no real structure to distribute Art jobs in the way we found in other ECS candidates. Furthermore, as with Sport, we’ve become segregated into producers and consumers with regards to Art. Legions of musicians and artists starve while a small handful of celebrity entertainers serve as the primary artists in the lives of millions. This is a trend that would need to be reversed before Art could actually serve as a legitimate Employment-Creation System (ECS).
- It makes jobs meaningful by:
- serving as a test of ideologies: Here art does surprisingly well. Didactic art, which explicitly promotes a given ideology, is rarely a success, but every piece of art, no matter how innocuous it may seem, presupposes some philosophy, some viewpoint about the world. The way an artist solves artistic problems actually says a great deal about his or her views on how to solve general problems of life. In addition, art cannot be as easily alienated as technology. You can imitate a foreign art form, but you cannot create valid original work in the same vein until you internalize the ideology that gave birth to the artwork in the first place
- being definitive: The killer subclause strikes again. An artistic triumph cannot be definitive in the same way as a physical triumph, because Art is too subjective. There is no common standard for Art, and no two observers can be relied upon to agree at all times on the merits of any piece of art. Each region prefers its own art, yet even two siblings who grew up in the same household can have opposite artistic tastes.
Things seem bleak. With Art, Science and Sport all striking out as potential substitutes, we are left stuck with War and Consumerism as the dysfunctional institutions that are destroying us, but that we cannot do without.
And so this is the end. Or is it? If a natural substitute for War and/or Consumerism existed, it would likely already be in use. But what about a synthetic substitute? Each of our candidates was strong in some areas, and weak in others. Could we add together the best of each, and create a new system capable of getting the job done?
We’ll take a moment next week to explore the nature of identity, and then return in two weeks to see whether or not we can go ahead and construct a synthetic Employment-Creation System capable both of rescuing Capitalism and putting an end to War.
NEXT WEEK: Identity