Friday, June 21, 2013

If you want justice, work for beauty...

Everywhere I look I see growing evidence that people in our hard-working industrialized nations have become exhausted and angry about living under the dominance of unrestrained capitalism.  "Much like the Occupy movement in the United States," writes Simon Romero and William Neuman in this morning's NY Times, "the anti-corruption protests that shook India in recent years, the demonstrations over living standards in Israel or the fury in European nations like Greece, the demonstrators in Brasil are fed up with traditional political structures..." (see world/americas/ sweeping-protests-in-brazil-pull-in-an-array-of-grievances. html?hp  I would add to this list both the revolutions of the Arab Spring as well as the recent actions in Turkey.

(I LOVE this take on an old tune.)

Two domestic clues underscore this mounting frustration:

+ David Brooks' column, "The Humanist Vocation," speaks to what has been lost in a culture devoted to and obsessed by the bottom line.  "Back when the humanities were thriving, the leading figures had a clear definition of their mission and a fervent passion for it. The job of the humanities was to cultivate the human core, the part of a person we might call the spirit, the soul, or, in D. H. Lawrence's phrase, 'the dark vast forest.' This was the most inward and elemental part of a person. When you go to a funeral and hear a eulogy, this is usually the part they are talking about. Eulogies aren't resumes. They describe the person's care, wisdom, truthfulness and courage. They describe the million little moral judgments that emanate from that inner region.... (But) somewhere along the way, many people in the humanities lost faith in this uplifting mission."

Brooks observes that 50 years ago, 14% of college degrees were given to students who majored in the humanities.  Today it is only 7% and declining. "Most people give an economic explanation for this decline. Accounting majors get jobs. Lit majors don't. And there's obviously some truth to this. But the humanities are not only being bulldozed by an unforgiving job market. They are committing suicide because many humanists have lost faith in their own enterprise." ( see: 06/21/opinion/brooks-the-humanist-vocation.html?ref=todayspaper)

It would seem that the collective imagination of many of our most passionate and poetic minds have also been ground down by the relentless demands of the marketplace.  Turning a profit, making a deal and satisfying the bottom line have become the essential goals of our era.  Small wonder James Gandolfini's brilliant portrayal of mobster Tony Soprano resonated so deeply with so many:  he knew something was missing - he was empty and sad within - but he didn't know what else to do except keep on.  But it never worked because the harder he tried, the worse it became...

+ In Claire Needell Hollander's recent article, "No Learning without Feeling," she makes this case from the perspective of a public school teacher working in a Manhattan middle school.  She notes that it is one of life's sweetest joys "when my students cry, when they read with solemnity and purpose, when the project of making meaning becomes personal."  But given the demands and control of education by business and their allies, more and more emphasis and energy in the classroom has been given over to "teaching to the test." (see

My fear is that we cannot reckon with the disturbance we feel when reading Alice Walker's "Color Purple" is rated too disruptive to the analysis of student yearly progress to be read for a test. My suspicion is that the Common Core enumerates skills and not books because as a country we still feel that real works of art are too divisive. It is more comfortable to remain agnostic - to permit our teens to remain an education-product consumer group - fed skills-building exercises that help adults to avoid the hard truths our children have no choice but to face... The basis for higher-level lea ring - for philosophy, psychology, literature and even political science - is the emotions and impulses people feel every day. If we leave them out of the picture, reading is bled of much of its purpose.

Amen - but so goes the way of education in our era addicted to "soma."  As Neil Postman wrote in Entertaining Ourselves to Death:  George Orwell's prophesy turned out to be wrong (although the fact that a serious conversation recently took place in the Massachusetts State House about implanting cameras into our home televisions that can watch and rate our reactions during TV commercials should be a cause for caution) for we are not a nation of 1984 but instead Brave New World.

Even Pope Francesco I found it essential to speak to this truth in his first 100 days in office:  A savage capitalism has taught the logic of profit at any cost of giving in order to get, of exploitation without thinking of people … and we see the results in the crisis we are experiencing.  The pontiff also decried the “dictatorship of the economy” as well as the “cult of money. (see:

The up-coming NY Conference of IAM - the International Arts Movement - will address some of this in October.  The working title of the gathering is: if you want justice, work for beauty.  They, like myself, see the rising tide of discontent with the status quo as both a post-modern critique of unbridled capitalism - and the bland agnosticism it promotes in both spirituality and the arts - as well as part of the movement of the Holy Spirit in our era.  IAM founder, Mako Fukumura, offers some insights in his address: Lazarus Culture.

The nourishment of beauty - and truth and goodness - are a form of resistance. For what does it profit a woman or man to gain the whole world, but lose their soul?  Small wonder, then, that so much of the resistance from Occupy to Turkey and beyond is simultaneously deep and saturated with soul.
3) wendy fambro @ first church

No comments:

trusting the sacramental wisdom of the seasons: the autumnal equinox

Yesterday a little package arrived: my used copy of Christopher Hill's 2003 book Holidays and Holy Nights - Celebrating Twelve Seasonal ...