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Cultural Barbarians Storm the Arts, Sciences & Education

By       Message Robert S. Becker     Permalink
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Art, Illusion or Both by Pere Borrell, Escaping Criticism

So, imagine how besieged Romans felt, incredulous that marauding 5th C. Goths and Vandals could raze the greatest Empire of all time -- an inventive civilization once overflowing with arts, theatre, technology and public forums.  That tribal mayhem by under-educated, backwoods "populists" turned out well, didn't it -- ten centuries of decentralized, fragmented European government, awash with early "states rights."  The result: what some call the "Dark Ages," with stagnant progress in science or technology; and while top feudal lords and churchmen lived well, serfs made up the vast majority and their lives were nasty, brutish and short.

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Or consider legendary Trojans, whose impregnable walls fell to sneaky, but clever Greeks -- brilliant masters of "Early Wooden Horse Art."  Yet Greeks, so the myth goes, took a decade to demolish Troy, carried off the spoils and grew one of the most sophisticated civilizations ever.   Less heroic by far are today's GOP cultural barbarians, whose love of destructive conquest comes with remarkable obliviousness to the lessons of our own western history.  Is the rightwing today really blind to the direct, unarguable correlation between the patronage of learning -- seeding the life of the mind -- with every sort of human advance, moral and pragmatic?

Republican brilliance was hardly necessary this season, considering inept, punch-drunk Democrats surrendered the field after "08.  Despite the bombshell of Obama toppling Clinton, then McCain, the Democrats' refusal to fight for systemic change devolved into equating "leadership" with mimicking entrenched GOP mindsets on big issues. It's becoming a tragic tale, as if told by an idiot -- and there will be idiots aplenty after a century of calculated culture wars.    


Hating Government Fills Void

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Its return from the dead assured, the raucous right automatically filled the void with its standard "we hate government" rap.  Viola! midterm victories, despite telegraphing every punch to Dems, offering not one jobs program, nor any promised magic in any bottle.  Demonizing government worked so well, the ploy expanded: "we hate evidence, and intellect, too, plus expertise and science."  Take that, wussy, know-it-all liberals.

Naturally, triumphant small-minded, small-government types demand spoils.   But there'll be no small government for war profiteering, corporate subsidies, or anti-terrorist civil rights violators -- that blessing falls only on poverty or social programs and fantasy enemies -- PBS, NPR and NEA, plus the EPA.   Yessiree, having for years punched out evolution and climate change as liberal "hoaxes," the GOP House Demolition Derby in January faced off against health reform, abortion, and legal rape protections. 

Legless Endangered Species

In this torrent of dumbing down, history is declared suspect, a bag of liberal trickery, or grossly distorted, making Reagan a great president.  Why should barbarians fund PBS's professional historians, who may well undermine the deceptions on which the right campaigns? Obviously, not all endangered species have legs, and the future of public broadcasting, trying hard to be truly fair and balanced, looks as vulnerable as polar bears or sea turtles.  I wonder, what breakthrough industry or high tech profit center did willful ignorance last inspire?

If the GOP gets its way, the "Public" in PBS follows Elmo and Ken Burns out the door -- plus the need to redo the NEA motto, "A Great Nation Deserves Great Art."  In fact, history proves great art and science and discovery MAKE a nation great and prosperous and healthy.  Few know-nothings study actual golden ages, like the Italian Renaissance or America after WWII (until Reagan) when centralized patronage, in grants, direct funding and/or tax credits, returned enormous profits in medicine, the Internet, computer chips, and countless more.

Frankly, blowback must come from the educated among us.  Congress votes this week so call your representatives.  Expect no great defense of higher learning (except sterile platitudes) from our greenhorn president: he confronts recession by freezing or cutting federal spending; worse still, reducing low-income fuel assistance is his idea of economy.  Hell, Obama the discredited Constitutional law instructor wants a longer extension of the odious Patriot Act than the Repugs.  Shockingly, this one-time "Democratic" administration proposes $2 billion less in jobs-training while the recession rages on -- why not exit two wars one week earlier?

It's no small irony that rightwing philistines -- sneering at truly creative artists, TV and radio -- fall back on the most inane, indefensible fabrications, lies and conspiracy theories -- manipulations so bizarre they'd shame the nerviest of pulp novelist.  As William Rivers Pitts quips, what a "rich, fantasy life" resides in the insulated, reactionary fun house, full of "deliberate nonsense," where "no lie is too big to be told, no fact is too firm to be bent around ideology, no myth is too absurd to defend to the knife."  Evangelicals who assail "moral relativism" embrace bizarre intellectual relativism with abandon.

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The Great Sneer, Beyond Art

Of course, GOP stormtroopers don't hate the Arts any more than they do abortion, taxes, welfare or gay rights -- the New Deal, a Kenyan president or inconvenient revolutions, like Egypt.  But artists don't produce anything practical, or worthwhile, like tires or toothpaste, tanks or handguns.  And they're hung up on complexity, ambiguity, even questioning authority.  After all, can you package (or sell) the feelings and thoughts and conversation upon exiting a stimulating theatre production?  Where does aesthetic experience or maturation show up on lines of your income tax return? 

At least born-again Christianity assures salvation for the chosen, though Bible-thumpers easily forget Jesus' metaphoric language and complex parables that invite personal interpretation.  Literalism, like fundamentalism, indicts itself, as if the world were black and white. What a final irony -- the high-culture-hating, radical Protestant camp glories in a one-to-one, fixed relationship with God but despises artists who seek their own complex, one-to-one truth in form, theme, history, family, or destiny. 

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For a decade, Robert S. Becker's rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, messaging and frameworks, now featured author at OpEdNews, Nation of Change and RSN. He appears regularly at Dissident Voice, with credits (more...)

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