I used to think that nobody cared. That’s not quite true. Lots of people care, but it has to be said that the world is also quite full of people that don’t care. They’re indifferent. They’re not concerned. Some actively hate. Actually, even those people care, but only about themselves. Not other people. Not the environment. Not future generations.
I used to believe that if only people cared more, there would be more love, equality, justice, beauty, truth, happiness and a better environment. I still think that caring more would mean less crime, violence, killing, war, subversion, corruption, surveillance and oppression. What has changed, in my thinking, though, is a realisation that it’s not enough to simply care. What you care about is crucial.
I read this blog post recently: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2012/05/the-simple-antidote-to-a-corporatized-unfeeling-profit-maximizing-world.html
It unsettled me. The article spent some time telling me that Steve Jobs cared about what he was making. He was passionate about it. Well, so what? Those are just machines, at the end of the day. Sure, they might be good machines, but if you make them by being brutal to other people (and there are reports that Steve Jobs could be quite brutal to people), what has the caring been for? What purpose did it serve? Is it just to make a monument to yourself? Is it a way to do something good for humanity, while simultaneously abusing people you encounter? I don’t get it. That’s contradictory. Jobs undoubtedly cared about his company (as an abstract entity, not necessarily the people in it) and his products (probably less so about the money), but what end does that serve if there is no concern for the individual people in the equation? Maybe selective caring was his thing, I don’t know. Selective caring seems to me to be a form of prejudicial discrimination in disguise.
Do you care that the world is full of unaccountable despots, rampant polluters, covert operations doing illegal things, environmental destroyers, gross injustices, torturers, killers under the guise of some oh-so-noble cause, people that spend their working hours devising new and more violent machines for killing, self-centred, asset-stripping, value-destroying profiteers, prisoners, poisoners, people that will allow others that have no access to currency to starve, haters, people that believe art and music are worthless, those that despise beauty, those that hate women, those that hate other races, those that hate humanity? Is it enough to say you care, but to do nothing at all about it?
Is art just a refuge, where you can hide out and not have to think about all of the uncaring behaviour in the world? Is creating disposable artworks of superficiality, banality, political correctness, lightweight and unchallenging, with a focus on insubstantial, evanescent, triviality, just a form of denial and ignorance? Is it just a way you can avoid caring about people and instead care about things – your art, your profile, your audience, your reputation, how your work is received? Do you substitute caring for people with caring about technique, technical details, fine aesthetic distinctions, tools, technology, the work itself? If you only care about your product, but not who you are making it for, then do you really care at all? Are you making it all for your own glorification? If so, why do you care about adulation, when you hold those that praise you and your creations in contempt?
I think we have to care. It’s a survival thing. If we continue to not care, nobody will survive. As Carl Sagan once said, if you can’t drink the water or breathe the air, everything else you are interested in isn’t going to happen. That means unless we care about each other and the place we inhabit, there isn’t going to be any money, glory, victory, peace, security, safety, standards of living, prosperity, freedom or a life worth living.
For once, I think art can only play a limited role. It can train your caring skills, to some degree, but it can also allow you to spend your life isolated in your art and not caring. Many artists do. Some of the most sociopathic people I know of have been renowned for their art. I’ve copped abuse from high profile musicians (yes, some still don’t know that you must never spit at the fans). There are some artists that make jokes about not caring, as if that is a good thing, or funny, or something that people should aspire to, even though they, themselves, would never do what they laughingly suggest others do.
So is your art about you, or about everybody else and your world? Is it to make a better place for your children and grandchildren? Do you ever spare a thought for the people that will inherit this planet, millennia from now? Do the people that openly dislike children, saying they would never have such horrible creatures, or that they prefer animals to children, actually realise that if we all did as they do, there would be no people at all, after a generation? Maybe they think that the elimination of the human race is a good thing. Why do they think that? Do they really hate humanity so much? Isn’t that wilfully overlooking humanity’s more wonderful qualities?
If you post things publicly, you are bound to encounter people that simply have hatred in their hearts. It’s sort of inevitable. I don’t enjoy encountering such people and what they say, but I do care about how they got to be that way. It speaks of a lack of compassion shown to them, or else so much privilege, that they no longer understand its value. It makes me sad. I wish they could open their hearts and receive love. It’s clear that I am unable to reach them.
It has to be said that some artists are the biggest monsters I’ve ever encountered. It seems incongruous to me that somebody capable of producing things of such sublime, uplifting beauty can, at the same time, be putrid of heart and ugly of mind. It jars. I can’t get my own head around it. It’s as if two different people inhabit the same body. Maybe their art is a form of redemption. Maybe the need to create transcends the need to destroy, at least for moments. Maybe nobody can be completely uncaring, selfish, ruthless, callous, heartless, judgemental, lacking in sentiment and sociopathic all of the time. Maybe it’s as hard to be like that as it is to be consistently loving, forgiving, accepting, merciful and compassionate. You can see this same contradiction at the heart of organised religion. On the one hand, they raise up spectacular edifices, in the praise of God and all He created, while turning their backs on the starving, the poor, the downtrodden and those suffering injustice. It’s weird.
Was it always like this? Is it worse than ever or better now? Is it possible for humanity to evolve into a species with the wisdom and caring to actually survive? Are we already evolving, albeit slowly? All of these questions rattle around in my head, in the wee small hours of the night.
I don’t have the answers, but I do know that it isn’t enough to just care, though it is crucial that you do care. What you care about needs to be more than yourself, your money, your power, your place in the pecking order. It needs to be about more than your own gratification, more than your short term goals and more than profit, status, advancement, self-aggrandisement, domination, control, suppression of competitors and advantage. It has to be more sophisticated a thought than thinking you can control everything at will, suppress dissent with violence and get your way by force. The big picture, here, is that the use of force, surveillance, spying, black operations, threats, menaces, violence, lies, deception, corruption, killing, contamination and control of the water, food, air and medicines, propaganda, control over what people think, when they think it, what they are permitted to think and the bounds of acceptable discourse – these all lead to a downward spiral that culminates in extinction. Guns aren’t going to help you, once you are extinct and no flag ever stopped a bullet. But that’s the only place this spiral can lead and nobody is safe, however much you think you are one of the beneficiaries. Compliance and sponsorship of these things affords you and your dearest no protection whatsoever, as loyal Soviet apparatchiks found to their cost, during Stalinism. There is no safety in imagining that somebody else can sort it all out, without you having to take a stand or display any courage at all, or in thinking that by saying and doing nothing, at least you will be ok. It doesn’t work like that. You can’t hide from it.
Our only hope is to care about each other and where we live, to care about waste, to care about injustice, freedom, egalitarianism, equality, humanity, truth, beauty, edification, imagination, inspiration, invention, encouragement, enlightenment, rational science, intuition, insight, creativity, love, humanity, the other creatures we share the planet with and about the thoughts and ideas we cultivate in our own minds. Art can provide valuable insights into how to achieve those things, but it isn’t enough. It’s a kind of blueprint, but not an end in itself. If you are an artist, you can play a part in helping humanity learn to care enough to survive, but you can equally assert you have no choice but to sit on the sidelines, claiming you are an unconcerned, uninvolved, unconnected, passive, innocent bystander.
The only problem with that is that you aren’t.
Actually, for the avoidance of doubt, I need to clarify this. I think that humanity, as a species, is at least as amazing, beautiful, noble and worthy of preservation, objectively speaking, as tigers, elephants and bears. Maybe more so. I think there is an insidious and sinister industry telling us all that in order to save the planet, we must accept the extinction of humanity, or at least large swathes of it. This line of thinking is evident in many of the green manifestos. However, the people that espouse this idea are wholly and self-evidently insincere. How do we know? Because they do nothing to participate in their own extinction. They continue to eat, breathe, rest, look both ways when crossing the road and brush their teeth. If they really meant that we should accept the extinction of humanity, they would be the first to volunteer. It’s the same with those that wage war. They are never the ones to fight and to die, or to return horribly maimed. As a single example, the Blairs and Bushes, as families, remain entirely intact – not a single dismembered limb, post traumatic stress disorder, third degree burn or loss of sight amongst them. Other people’s children? Not so fortunate.
So what they really mean, these people espousing the line that humanity is not worthy of continuation and wouldn’t be missed, is that everybody else should become extinct, but not them. Well, at the root of that thought is just another form of extreme self-centredness – the idea that if it weren’t for all these other people, there would be more for them. We are taught, via incessant propaganda, to self-loathe and to remain self-centred and isolated. No other species on the planet self-loathes or seeks to bring about its own mass annihilation. It’s an idea we are fed from cradle to grave because disunited, we are easier to rule. And who benefits most from that?