The metaphor of commodity and transaction seems to have permeated art, health and education just to name a few. Like so many ways people see life, this metaphor confuses me. I am a naive. I still wonder how it is that humans can own things like trees and houses. For me, ownership is often a convenient fiction. I wonder if this is a result being raised in a fundamentalist household and consequently buying all the obvious lies of the life and teachings of Jesus.
You know. “Consider the lilies” and all that. Not to mention the story of the man who built up warehouses full of stuff whose soul would be “required of him” that night.
So Christianity obviously fucked me up from the start. Now I don’t believe in God, but I do believe in the truths I learned. I can see that not many people do.
And somewhere along the line, I developed an intrinsic love of beauty.
So I am definitely a naive in the world of creating and owning beauty and things that are worthwhile. It does cross my mind that I’m not that good at beauty (music, poetry, writing), but nevertheless I enjoy and believe in what I do. In fact it’s more than that. My connections with music and poetry are essential to who I am. I think I have found the “niche of mediocrity” Somerset Maugham mentions. Here is a bleak little poem from my youth:
Niche of mediocrity
“Hundreds, thousands of youths…. enter upon the hard calling of the arts with extravagant hopes; but for the most part they come to terms with their mediocrity and find somewhere a niche where they can escape starvation.” Somerset Maugham
Fire the last lean line
Farting from the mouth
Shelling quiet and obscene.
Were we the last ones
Or the first ones to
Taste the leaving leave the tasting
Of love licking and
Leaping into charred charmed arms
Of the skeletal
Muse, the bony dame
Drooling and quiet as a
Curse. Shall we dance shall
We lean our coiled and
Tired bodies pinning flesh on
Fantasy? The death
Is broken. Tireless
Ginless loveless caress. O
Take me slowly. Gray
Is the animal.
Dead is the frail and spent day.
Okay so maybe it’s a dopey poem. The “F.X.E” is the fictional poet of Anthony Burgess: Francis Xavier Enderby. I was twenty-six when I wrote that poem. I am reading it out of an old journal.
So my life metaphors are definitely not the economic ones that dominate the underlying assumptions of our legal code and public discussions.
For example (and these articles are what brought it to my mind):
Brad Templeton seems to understand copyright law the way I do. I have understood for years that photocopying of copyrighted material is illegal. Technically it’s illegal to make photocopies for pages turns for musicians. I do this anyway. My teachers did it. But I know it’s illegal. Similarly, when I was running a big Roman Catholic church music program and using music in the bulletins, I knew that just because it was in the hymnal that I had permission to use, I didn’t really have the permission of the copyright holders who were often the makers of the words and/or the music. I followed the letter of the law for a while. I remember contacting the widow of the person who wrote a famous hymn that I had seen reproduced over and over. She told me I was the first one to call her and ask for permission. This made me understand that there was the law and then there was the practice.
Anyway, here’s links to three Templeton articles that explain why you are probably breaking the law with some frequency. By the way, though I have been known to act legally, I disagree totally with the law as it stands. But that’s just naive old me who thinks that “only God can make a tree…..”
I put them in that order because that’s order I looked at them. I haven’t actually read much of the last one.
And then there’s health.
Peter Steinfels has a good article on the underlying assumptions of the health care debate, at least as seen from the point of view of philosopher, Daniel Callehan:
I haven’t finished reading this next article but it has me thinking about how we have commodified quality of life:
Health Care Isn’t Health (Or Happiness) by David Goldhill
This guy has some very interesting comments. Like that we have based our health care system on the idea of insurance. And that by doing so we have distorted the notion that insurance is something which covers many peoples’ risks but few people’s disasters. If that doesn’t make sense, read the article.
And don’t get me started on education.
All of this is just to say, that I don’t see life and art as basically transactional and ownership based. I’m willing to admit that I’m totally in the minority. And probably confused. But like the song says:
Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin? from Trainspotting, the movie