You have to change the world because you have no choice. In the current global economy, hope is in pretty short supply and there is a lot of despair. Despair costs lives. We know that being a corporate cubicle dweller is the road to damnation. We also know that leaving the cube for some fantasy escape job that only pays just enough to live on won’t cut it either. How many times have you heard about people leaving their nine to five jobs to travel the world, only to run out of money and have to take a job that doesn’t challenge them at all? People whisper, “She’ll get bored with that”. It’s true. She will. Escaping one form of boredom for something that doesn’t challenge you is no solution at all.
Then there are the people that escape cube world for an artistic life, but they try to live that life in a world that hasn’t been changed. They struggle. They starve. No matter how hard they work, they only just scrape by. That isn’t the solution to despair either. They can’t live in a vacuum sealed bubble, isolated from the realities of the real economy. The economy comes and affects them on a daily basis. As much as they enjoy the freedom that comes from immersing themselves in their art, they still have to exist and live in a world that (arbitrarily, actually) requires they spend money to do so.
When I was young, we lived in a world threatened by nuclear annihilation, which could have happened at any tick of the clock and almost did, on several occasions. Yet, at that young age, we still believed we could change the world and that a bright future was attainable. There was hope. Now, the children of those people see defeated, desperate, disillusioned, worn down, stressed parents that are just getting by, or else stuck in cubicle world and living a soul destroying existence, bereft of happiness, joy, challenge or improvement. They see their own standard of living, dependent as it is on their parents’, steadily getting worse. Thanks to austerity and the prolonged economic recession, the export of jobs to nations willing to work for peanuts, the vanishing middle classes and the lack of any real prospects of getting a job or a house to start a family in, after they have paid their student debt, young people don’t have a lot to look forward to.
How do we treat the plight of the young and their resultant depression? We medicate it or ignore it. We rob them of the right to feel and experience. We blunt their spark and ambition with anaesthetics. We don’t lift a finger to help until it’s too late, often. We tell the kids that the problem is with them, their attitude, their outlook, their negativity and their unwillingness to put up with the world the way it is and suffer the way they are meant to. Never once do we acknowledge that they’re in despair for very real and valid reasons and that the responsibility of society is to change that ambient environment, not blame the victims. They couldn’t help being born at a time when everything was so comprehensively messed up economically and politically. They didn’t ask to be born into a world where empathy bypasses seem to be fashionable.
The consequence of these bleak futures is that young people, unlike their parents who have found a way to at least cling on in quiet desperation, are instead developing eating disorders, depressive illnesses, self harming and suicidal tendencies. All of this manifests because nobody changed the world.
If prices are too high to allow people to live a decent life, then change the prices. There is enough work that needs doing and plenty of people willing and able to do it, but no money to pay for it. Where is all the money? It’s concentrated in the accounts a tiny minority of humans who feel they have no duty to change the world so that the work can take place. We can change that at a stroke. While all money is only valuable because people believe in it and power accrues to those with the most money, if everybody stops believing in the money, then those people no longer call the shots. Another agenda for humanity can prevail. A fairer, more equitable, better life for all can be had, just by changing the world, by changing our minds. It’s not somebody else’s responsibility, it’s yours. It’s ours. It’s something we all have to do.
So if you think you can hide your head in the sand, pretend to be relentlessly and artificially positive about a bad situation, post kittens on your social media pages, avoid engaging in politics or discussions about religion and don’t feel a responsibility for changing the status quo, which results in millions of people living lives of despair and ultimately killing or maiming them through the effects of depression, you’re wrong. As a human being, whether through your art, or your work, you have a compelling and pressing responsibility to change the world, because the world, as is, is unacceptable for so many. What you can’t do is grin and bear it, pretend everything is ok, when it isn’t and maintain and conserve the institutions and structures that have failed us so self-evidently, because we lack the imagination and will to replace them with something better. You can’t live a life of servitude and disappointment and expect your kids to thrive. By the same token you can’t live on an island of self created success and ignore the landscape into which your children will be thrust and forced to survive.
If you care about anything at all, you have to care about changing the world. That may be through your art. It may be somehow else. However you do it, you can no longer ignore it.