Saturday, 13 October 2018

Climate change debates

Climate change is taking-on not the character of a scientific problem that generates unexpected moral dilemmas, but appears to be an ethical problem that necessarily requires moral solutions. Brilliant book review in the London Review of Books that analyses the complexities of the climate change debates by Malcolm Bull. Some quotes:

"Climate change is therefore likely to have a disproportionate impact on the vulnerable and exacerbate existing inequalities."

"The moral argument for preventing further climate change is easily stated. It is not just a matter of protecting the vulnerable from harm, but of taking responsibility for a harm that we in the industrialised North have both caused and benefited from."

"..... what climate change most conspicuously undermines is not the nation-state but democracy, for it requires supranational institutions at a time when there is no supranational democracy, and allows that at a national level the interests of future generations might take precedence over those of the current one. Perhaps, as James Lovelock has argued, climate change means that ‘it may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.’"

"Should the magnitude of past emissions (for which the United States and the EU nations are mostly responsible) have a positive or negative impact on the extent of emissions in the future? And should we discount the costs and benefits that accrue to future generations on the basis that economic growth will probably make them richer than we are?"

"With its unavoidable reliance on virtual representation, and its insistence on appropriate deliberation about technical matters beyond the grasp of the uninformed, climate change politics suggests that technocratic government, the contemporary version of Burke’s natural elite, is the only appropriate solution."

It seems, however, to be the best - on all sides: practical, political, ethical - to reduce emissions as much as possible and if this means reducing the material advantages of the West, that is not a great sacrifice considering that so many of them are entirely superfluous and merely a product of commercially-created needs. 

What are the implications of the climate change debates for culture? Reduction of material needs may induce reduction of cultural production if culture is only considered from an economic point of view. However, if culture is recognized as an immaterial good that benefits the whole of society, a less materialistic society may proportionally spend more of its means on immaterial goods which produce a much more effective return in non-material assets. This would also imply a re-evaluation of meaning in the arts and see them in a perspective of civilizational values. And this would entirely undermine the tenets of modernism and postmodernism in the arts, including music.

The identity problem

"Populist nationalism is a symptom, not a cause of the disorder of liberal societies."

One of the two most important themes of our time is the current surge of nationalist populism (the other is climate change), which will have a strong influence upon culture and how it is perceived. The idea of a cosmopolitcan, liberal and democratic civilization, which is now under threat, is a result of the rationalistic component of the Enlightenment, stressing universal values of humanity across cultural differences. This leaves some emotional needs of the human being in the darkness of isolation, uprootedness, alienation and loneliness, especially the people who don't share in the assets and advantages of cosmopolitism which are mainly material. This flaw of modern, democratic liberal societies is the cause of populism, which is an instinctive reaction now that those flaws have become more visible than ever. The challenge consists in finding a way of channelling the emotional drives that erupt in primitive attacks upon the very institutions that are supposed to protect freedoms and the rule of law.

Very interesting article by John Gray, a review of two books on the subject:

The implications of the current identity debates for culture are hughe, since the arts are, to a great extent, symbols of cultural identity. Nothing demonstrates the dangers of materialist emptiness and nihilism - result of an exaggerated, perverted modern version of Enlightenment values - better than the establishment of the modern art world, with its absurd objects being sold for absurd prices to absurd people.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Art and politics

Art is, in itself, neutral, but it can easily be misused for political ends. History shows many examples and the difficulty is to consider the work of art without including its political message. The glorifying ceiling paintings in the hall of mirrors at the Versailles palace are embarrassing propaganda, but from a purely aesthetic point of view, they are not bad art, although it is superficial and rings with a hollow pathos: