People always say about government oppression, “First they take away the guns.” Not true. First they come for the artists. Why is this? Because art in any form it comes in is the subversive element that undercuts all propaganda. ALL. This is why the poets in Central America are so revered by the common people. Why novels in Russia are so important to the Russians. Not to mention music, dance, visual arts etc., etc. around the globe.
Art for arts sake is like Greek fire. It is a weapon. It is “The nail that stands up,” as the old Chinese proverb says, “That must be nailed in.” But as hard as every regime in world history has tried to nail it in, it pops up either there or somewhere else. It is unstoppable. It rises like grass through cement. It does not matter what kind of society there is: Totalitarian, Fascist, fraudulent Democracies, you name it, make no mistake, art, true art is public enemy number one.
Is it any coincidence that Father Daniel Berrigan having served hard time in prison for burning draft files and beating the nosecones on nukes said that it was his awards for being a poet that was the most important thing to him? Berrigan understood what undermines oppression the most. Now when I refer to art I am not just talking craft. Craft is the vehicle by which art is perfected and expressed. But craft alone may not constitute art. Craft is the conscious effort to form the art that comes from the unconscious. Art’s threat lies in the transmission of unconscious to unconscious.
Plato said in The Republic that the flute was singular and therefore should be accepted and controlled in the ideal society. However, he said that the lyre should not be because of its complexity. Ironically, when Plato was on his death bed he asked that someone bring a lyre to play for him. This speaks volumes. Aristotle broke from Plato in his masterpiece Poetics over this. Aristotle spoke about the overall need to, “The almost mystic power of the Arts”. Which brings me to the lament of the 21st Century in America.
This lament is that the Bayh-Dole Act (1980) opened up private corporations legally to marry universities and influence the curriculum, as reported by the Atlantic monthly in an article entitled “The Kept University” in 2000. Though it effected biotechnology the most by controlling the research agenda, it effected the Liberal Arts in ways that are much more subtle. Philosophy and the Arts have been slowly either weakened or watered down. The digital dumbing down of the average college grad by 2016 is astounding in regards to the lack of any kind of artistic dissent. As the Humanities were literally downsized or relegated or even cut out, some students across the country protested, all to no avail.
Don’t think for a minute that this is all accidental. It is a form of Inverted Totalitarianism. The artist must go elsewhere to be an artist. If we concur with Dostoevsky that a society is known for how it treats its criminals, than maybe we should also state that from historical observation both then and now that a society is also known for whether it suppresses its artists or not. For the powers that be know that in order to control a society, first they come for the artists.
Bruce Cockburn – Maybe The Poet (Live)
Stefen Abram on Sep 10, 2014
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