I’ve spent my entire life in the arts in one way or another, mostly by writing music and producing concerts but I also run an arts organization in which capacity I am frequently asked to justify our work as artists in terms of economic benefits like jobs created. I tend to bristle at this kind of thinking because for one thing it’s obvious that the arts sector creates jobs. I mean what sector doesn’t?
Literally everything we humans do creates jobs. From watching television, to drinking beer, to shooting off guns in the woods, to shooting guns at your television while drinking beer in the woods, (just to name a few of my favorites,) there simply isn’t a human activity that doesn’t create jobs. And yet artists are asked to justify our existence based on how many jobs we create? It’s a stupid and insulting thing to ask us to do and it’s misses the entire point. To reduce art and the people who make it to jobs created is so woefully off base that I don’t even know where to begin.
Do I point out that creating art is actually part of what makes us human? That art helps us to see the world through another person’s point of view? That being viscerally reminded on a regular basis that we don’t exist in a solipsistic universe is a good thing? Do I point out the lifeline that the arts give troubled kids? Or that creativity helps us realize that the world can change and that we can change it?
In the same vein it pains me to hear people talk about the economic benefits that immigrants bring. Again I feel it should be obvious and again I feel that it’s missing the point. Even a child can tell you that a closed system will lead to decay no matter how large the system may be. Close it off, add time and you will get decay. That’s self-evident but beyond that there is the question of morality. Is it right to turn desperate people away? Is it right to send people back to a country where horrible things will almost certainly happen to them? Is it right to want prosperity for ourselves and our loved ones and not for others? Is it right for our ancestors to take advantage of America’s formerly generous approach to immigration but then, once safely settled, to slam the door shut?
I’ve been stunned lately by the fervor of the anti-immigration sentiment. I get that it’s driven by fear but what makes them think they have an exclusive right to fear? We all feel fear. Like the impulse to create, it’s part of what makes us human. Everyone reading this has worried about death, illness, money, loved ones or the general uncertainty of life. Honestly when you think about it, it’s crazy that we have no control over how and where we’re born, into what body we’re born and how long we live. It’s a haphazard way to run a universe if you ask me, but that’s the deal. There are no guarantees.
But there is humanity and that idea transcends any one individual. Being a conscious being is a moral responsibility. Unless you’re a sociopath you believe that we have a responsibility to help each other. And yes it’s true that we could do a kind deed to someone and they could murder us in return. It’s true that we could let refugees into this country and terrorists could hide among them. It’s also true that we could turn them away, give into fear and then, finding that we’re still fearful, drive others away and turn on ourselves. Fear isn’t an itch you can scratch. Give into it and it becomes your reality.
Forget about fake news, alternative facts and post truth. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that it’s impossible to know what’s right or wrong anymore. Right and wrong still exist and helping people in desperate circumstances is right. Seeing the humanity in all people is right. Sharing prosperity is right. The universe is a dangerous place and there are no guarantees. We will grow old, get sick and die. But we can live with dignity and we can uphold the highest standards of what it means to be human. Not because it creates jobs. Because it’s right.