All Are Worthy

Posted on 23 December 2014

My parents visited me not long after I moved back into my Melbourne house. For two and a half years I lived in a rented house in Adelaide hoping I could find better opportunities as a larger fish in a smaller pond. The Melbourne house was rented out during this time. My real estate agent assured me things were fine with the property, but never allowed me to personally inspect whenever I was in town. Upon return I found all sorts of serious damage to the place, costing close to a thousand dollars in repairs.

My mother refused to believe that middle class people would behave in this manner. One thing the renters did that wasn’t destructive, but I wish they hadn’t, was build a fernery on the side of the house. They put up an awning, installed a misting system, and planted a bunch of non-native ferns. My mother started creating this story whereby our ex-renters were growing cannabis in the fernery, and if they were middle class, they had earned it illegitimately.

Who Is Good?

Our culture runs a lot of narratives about who are good people (usually white middle class folk) and who are bad people (usually poor people of a different ethnicity). When a white middle class person commits a crime, it is seen as a-typical. Sometimes it elicits shock, because “our sort don’t do that kind of thing.” People will try to crawl out of their cognitive dissonance by adding to the story, inserting details meant to re-inforce their world view.

With the turmoil brought on by events in Ferguson, we are seeing quite clearly that this isn’t solely about an African/European divide. This is about a rich/poor divide. People are surprised President Barack Obama isn’t doing more. But remember, Obama is rich. The mindset that has infected the US and many other countries is that those with money are good and deserve their wealth, and those without money are bad and deserve their poor luck (you have a lot to answer for John Calvin).

To further entrench people in their poverty is the rags to riches “land of opportunity” myths. If you work hard enough, smart enough, and have a positive outlook, you too will achieve wealth. This puts the destitute in a number of diffcult positions. First, they become subject to victim blaming: we don’t have to care about you, because you are at fault for your situation. Second, any number of aspirational people make authors of “how to get rich quick” books wealthy by swallowing the story. They judge and separate themselves from their compatriots, voting for greater and greater benefits to the rich as they count their imaginary dollars. They damage their own ability to overcome their situation while damaging other’s as well.

Art: Luxury—Necessity?

The system is seriously messed up. If you have the bad luck to care about creativity and care about the state of humanity and the planet, you have a hard road in front of you. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it, but you should probably steel yourself for the journey. Western culture has skewed ideas of who should be given status and remuneration and who shouldn’t. It’s very likely you aren’t going to be someone accorded sufficient respect to earn a living.

The arts are seen as a luxury item that only the rich should afford and the poor should do without. Nevertheless, we are surrounded by storytelling, music, and visual aesthetics non-stop every day. Even the chair you are sitting upon has a consciously selected shape and colour.

The arts don’t seem to many directly relevant to the necessities of life such as food, clothing, and housing. Nevertheless, going to a gym may not seem directly relevant, but it serves to maintain physical health. The arts are similarly crucial to mental and emotional health. Mental well-being is deeply undervalued, because it’s portrayed as something you should be able to just manipulate. As long as your body isn’t being killed, you’re fine. I spend time with refugees at a detention centre. Artistic activities have helped some from committing suicide. We are not meat robots.

Arts are crucial to our social well being. The arts reveals us to ourselves. If only the stories and the vision of the rich are portrayed, we neither understand or achieve emotional connection with people from other walks of life. This is what made Charles Dickens’s works revolutionary in the mid 1800s and John Steinbeck’s works in the 1940s.

Topsy-Turvy Values

Equally treated with low esteem are our teachers, lecturers, and mentors who are training the next generation of workers and citizens. Treated with even less respect are mothers. Giving birth to, feeding, and caring for children…you would think should be the most highly valued of occupations. You would not have life without these people, but they largely go unpaid, and more frequently face poverty in order to raise little ones. Why are we allowing such topsy-turvy values?

If you are a poor starving artist, you have done nothing wrong. There is nothing wrong with you as a human being. You have every right to create. You have every right to expect support for creating. You should not be punished for choosing a field of endeavour you enjoy. Rather the divide between rich and poor needs to be reduced and everyone should have greater access to meaningful employment.

After simply having wealth, our culture’s highest value is an ability to sell. When one person sells another, that is known as slavery. When you are forced to “sell yourself” in order to get by—that’s still slavery. You’ve just eliminated the middle man. No one should have to do that: not women to men, people to employers, and not artists to those in power.

Your Right to Create Your Culture

People would miss art if it were removed from their lives. They would miss even more the artists who create it and help us all to be more humane. We need to re-assert everyone’s right to build a culture and express a viewpoint. We need to knock down the barriers between ethnicities and social classes. We need people seeing one another with all honesty and recognising that bright spark of consciousness we all share. You cannot dehumanise another without dehumanising yourself. However with recognition and cooperation, we can become greater than we are.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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