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Reply to Brian Dominick’s Reaction About Artists and Parecon


Brian, I am not entirely sure I am understanding your points. I am pretty sure that I haven’t heard anyone else say quite what you are saying, and that it is not a set of concerns that are going to arise often. Still, I want to try to reply, if not for the broader social value of doing so – for the intrinsic fulfillment – he he.

You seem to be arguing that there is something different about art – and you add commentators and social critics and athletes – from all other work. It has intrinsic value other than the product. Moreover, doing art fills a need for people, again separate from the product, and if some people get to do it in their balanced job complex for remuneration, then they have x free time, the full social average free time. But if others do other work and no art (I am not sure why anyone would be doing nothing artistic, if they wanted to be something artistic – though not high art, I agree) then they would have to give up some of their x free time if they are to do any high art, which would leave them less leisure for play or whatever, which you find unfair.

But the person doing art in their socially valued labor, is probably not doing serious science, or cooking, or car repair – or for that matter, if they are painting, they may not be doing sculpting or violin composition, and if they like any of these, then they have to reduce their x available hours to do them. You think there is some kind of special art need – but why not a research need, a building need, a cleaning need, a serving others need, a mending nature need, a collecting need, and so on?

You say, “I think in a good society, the creative labors of artists (and the like) will be universally honored as virtues in and of themselves, and the act of creativity will be seen as intrinsically valuable to the individual and society alike.” And “Everyone benefits from being creative, as well as from the collective creativity of having tens of millions instead of thousands of artists’ work valued and shared.”

I don’t honestly see that this has bearing on allocating labor. Let’s take doing math, flying a plane, repairing cars, being a doctor, cooking, and so on. In other words any activity that requires conceptual engagement. Do you think these don’t involve features that are in themselves admirable in the same sense? Do you think these don’t involve features that a subset of people are driven to do by their natures to – construction, say, or lawn tending, or experimentation, or even collection for some people, and so on. And isn’t there also, even in non conceptual labor, elements that we need and admire in their own right?

Similarly, do you really think all people have the same interest in, get the same fulfillment from, and even have the same drive for taking nice photos, or painting scenes, or composing or playing music, and so on?

In a parecon we balance job complexes – and let’s say, for simplicity, that we do this for both empowerment effects and quality of life effects (rather than offsetting any differences in the latter with reduced or increased income). If so, then in a parecon society gets the benefit of the output of people talented at and inclined to work at what its members value, and also apportions all that labor and society’s product and benefits fairly.

You may be noting that some people have dispositions that cause them to get more pleasure and other benefits from their work than other people, even though they each are doing balanced jobs. That is true. It is also true for social relationships, parenting, and so on. But then you seem to think it will occur vis a vis their employment for a whole sector of people, systematically, even though they have balanced job complexes – those doing as part of their work tasks that have what you deem an artistic component. I find that a very odd claim.

In the first place, it could be virtually everyone in some sense. In the second place, I can’t see why a person inclined to be an artist would be happier from having been able to be an artist then a parson inclined to be most if not all other things, from being what they prefer and are able to do well. Yes, genius may in a parecon convey a higher liklihood for some types of pleasure and fulfillment – though not monetary, though I think the reverse could be true as often as not, in a parecon, but, in any event, trying to equlibrate fulfillment per se is beyond parecon’s aims, and I think probably rightly beyond human aspirations for a good economy at least in the foreseeable future.

Interestingly, you mention three pursuits as special – art and then also commentating and sports – which happen to be three things you choose to do, or have chosen to do, centrally in your life. Does it occur that others don’t have the same priorities and valuations as you do? Why don’t you think that another person might say engaging with nature, exploring higher math, and building structures are the areas that are special, whereas painting, writing, and flying down a mountain on skies are of no great specialness and certainly not universally sought or needed.

You say, “The same cannot be said for most other kinds of labor” but I think, in fact, it can. Labor, self directed and socially valued and completed well is, in fact, valuable not only for the product, but for the engagement, the accomplishment, the pursuit, and the responsibility. The aesthetic component varies from job to job and can be said to have its own virtues, I agree. But likewise for the experimental component, the theorizing component, the agility component, the speed or strength component, the constructive component, the social component, or what have you.

It is true parecon doesn’t say let’s equilibrate fulfillment, and maybe that is what’s fueling your concern. But to suggest that we ought not have artists as a type of worker – and the idea that we are all comparably artists, or athletes, or commentators, or flyers, of builders, or experimenters, or cookers, or healers, or whatever, by inclination or by talent, and that we can all benefit from and enjoy and get fulfillment from each is simply false, though we could like each get some benefit from each. And I think removing some from the list and leaving others is arbitrary.

Why shouldn’t society benefit from great artistry, culinary talent, theoretical capacity, building inclination, or whatever, plus all people having balanced job complexes? The idea that I am losing something because my balanced job complex includes no painting, sculpting, music composition or playing, etc., is absurdly false, and likewise for most other people, I would wager. On the other hand, I am losing something, I suppose, in some sense, by not being able to play a Wimbledon, but so what? I can play tennis if I want, as you point out, in my free time. And I get to watch Agassi in my free time if I want, too. (And I don’t think, by the way, that Agassi would fly all over the world play on schedules, and be in tip top shape, without remuneration and having to simultaneously do a full other job with no tennis component – by a long shot).

It seems to me, and I continually encounter this, that people with experience in some area tend to think that area – be it scholarship, art, decision making, etc. – is different. Usually it is that they think others cannot do it and it is so valuable they should get more income for it. In your case you seem to think it is so different it deserves to be cordoned off lest anyone gain the benefits it bestows disproportinately. That’s a new viewpoint…but I think probably related in some way.

At any rate, supposing it was true, society would have a decision. Does it want to say that there are certain forms of activity – in your view everything artistic (and not even just high art, but whatever), and athletics, and journalism – that have a fulfillment quality so necessary to being a person and so high in impact, that balancing job complexes doesn’t touch the asymmetries induced by letting some folks be remunerated for it, so we should forego that option and have the activity only volunteer, losing, thereby, some output, to be sure. (Who decides the apportionment of huge resources to it, etc. and the lost hours for it at least from those best at it…)

Well, though to me it seems that maybe having kids would almost quality as this type activity, or perhaps worshipping, or being a parent, or being a friend, or having sex, say, none of which raises any problem for parecon’s current descriptions, if there are other things that would qualify in the eyes of society – research, art, athletics, design per se, engaging with nature, serving other humans, or whatever – then of course parecon could easily accommodate having these too excluded from being remunerated work. I just find the notion extremely arbitrary and also contrary to society’s and individual’s interests.

You say, “I don’t think we do (or should) revere most non-creative jobs the same way we view creative jobs.” Notice, we have now left art behind. If you want to say in a parecon we should balance job complexes for empowerment and for creativity as well as for fulfillment effects, I would understand, though I think it would be redundant. But it goes way beyond high art and to think it doesn’t is a kind of “artist elitism” it seems to me.

You say, “If we believe everyone should be engaged in creative activities—or at least should be encouraged and allowed to—then why should we remunerate some for it and not others?”

We think everyone should be engaged in socially beneficial activities. But some people in their work get to provide far more social benefit than others do – and get no more pay for it – but one could argue they do or at least might well get more satisfaction. Others, if that want to try to even remotely catch up on that satisfaction meter, would have to devote their off time to trying to benefit society. Is this also an injustice, by your logic? Why not, if not? And if so, what then?

You say, “Professional artists won’t need to make time during their time off in order to exercise their creative instincts. But everyone else will have to? That doesn’t sound even remotely fair to me.”

Actually, I would bet this is way off from reality, even if we only consider, myopically, I think, art. I would bet, instead, that as a sector in society those who do whatever you have in mind as professional art in their balanced job complex would as a group still spend on average more of their off time doing additional art than would any other group that one might name, probably even including “failed wanna be artists.” I am a failed, wanna be athlete, say, but I don’t and wouldn’t in a good society, do as much athletics in my off time as professional athletes would, is my guess. And the same holds for other pursuits.

You seem to think, I am not sure about this, or even anything above that refers to your views, that while we have different capacities to accomplish socially beneficial labors in areas like art, sports, journalism – and of course so many others, I would add – we have the same need to do them in our lives, the same drive, accrue the fame and a necessary fulfillment, and so on, and this holds both before prioritizing our focuses and even after training and learning in the areas. I can’t see why you would feel this way.

You say, “I would say the same for other professions that are relegated to the classification of “hobby” among amatuers—but frankly most jobs, for good reason, don’t find people clamoring to participate in their free time. Athletics is the other field to which I believe this applies equally well.”

Really, let’s ignore for a minute that very few hobbyists engage at remotely the levels of professionals. What about collecting things, which scientists do for pay, but others for hobby. What about cooking? Gardening? Repairing appliances, cars, etc. What about flying, or for that matter travelling or writing travel guides, say? What about designing living spaces, rooms, layouts? What about driving? And on and on.

You say, “so why should some people get to be professional artists, just because their work is valued by society, and others be relegated to amatuer hobbyists?”

It should occur so that society gets the gigantic bounty which thereby ensues, and so that the people with the great talents and inclinations get to fulfill them fully – not sparingly, also. And it should occur, as it will in a parecon, without imposition of hierarchies of command, power, or income – or for that matter, of fulfillment (at least in any systematically collective way).

Now you say, “Really, what we are talking about is some means of evaluating the value of artwork to society, so that people whose work makes the cut are remunerated—all equally and substantially—for their efforts, whereas those who don’t make the cut are not remunerated at all, and are classified as amatuer or hobbyist or whatever.”

Now put in place of artwork – whatever you mean by that – science, flying planes, cooking, and on and on. Why if your view holds in one case, wouldn’t it hold in the others. What’s the difference?

You think I will be oppressed because a parecon will pay people to do things I can’t do well enough, should I even want to do them, to warrant being paid for? Or is it only if the thing happens to be something – I have to say this – that you happen to want to do? And even then, I don’t understand the sentiment.

That is, far from wanting great physicists, go players, kayackers, mystery writers, tennis players, musicians, biologists, and on and on, to have to operate only as volunteers and hobbyists in these fields – as I would likely have to in a parecon, either due to incapacity to produce at a high enough quality or due to simply not having the time to cultivate all possible capacities – I want society to promote their doing their best (up to not disrupting other values like self management, etc.) so that I can enjoy, greatly, the results.

You say you want to draw “those `especially talented’ artists (which I think is a bogus classification in the first place) into the mainstream productive industries—the ones no one would choose to participate in as a hobby!—and collectively spare the rest of us untalented hacks that much more time to engage in artistic pursuits during our off hours.”

Well, what can I say – the idea that there are no talent differentials bearing on artistic output is beyond my comprehension. What is it that is bogus – the idea that
Picasso has more capacity to produce painting of merit than I do? Such differences are real, not bogus, just like other differences among people bearing on all kinds of other pursuits. And the idea that even the art lover without much talent would in their life benefit from your proposal, much less all society’s members, seems to me so obviously false, that it is hard to see how you could make the claim.

“Then everyone in society gets the basic materials and facilities for creating artwork—some of which will be widely valued for its particular, individual beauty or contribution, and all of which will be valued for what participation in creative endeavors adds to society as a whole, even if the product is ugly crap.”

So we allot from the total social product the amount of inputs that great artists need to develop and ply their trades (or great athletes or great anything else) to everyone – with most of it then being squandered or not used at all? And do we do this, as well, for ballfields, tennis courts, kitchens, airplanes, atom smashers, telescopes, and so on? And if we don’t do it, but instead make allocative choices – how, if not by participatory planning?

“So there’s an idea for the professional artists (and pro athletes) of today to really be threatened by!”

Yes, and this is what distinguishes – greatly distinguishes – your view from that of artists who tend to claim their area is special. Your claim is attempting to serve wannabe but not so talented artists, and then, you claim, society, whereas their claim is attempting to serve, they argue, society, and then talented artists. It is a huge difference, I agree – and your claim doesn’t have the side effect of pissing me off when I hear it in nearly the way, I have to admit, the typical artist’s claim infuriates me when they are pleading specialness. But, somewhat…

Then you say, “Here’s the thing—unlike certain fields, such as science or engineering, where it is at least conceivable that people would not want to toil without pay but in which talent and skill do make a big difference…”

All fields involve differences due to innate and learned attributes. Do you really want to deny that?

And most fields, not just art, will have people who would do them a lot, but not at full scale, without pay – unless they were getting their income as a gift, that is. Artists with great talent have to eat, too.

You say, “with art, if we don’t pay people to be artists, but we do enable and encourage them to be artists, 99% of them will do it anyway, and will create wonderful work anyway.” I think you are proposing to oppress people with talent thinking it is on behalf of those lacking talent – and you are proposing it all in one area for reasons that elude me – when in fact your choice would oppress those who lack talent too.

You say, “Same for athletes. And if it proves that, given the resources and encouragement, scientist will pursue discoveries and engineers will seek innovations without needing to be directly remunerated for doing so—then they too should be moved into this category of “unpaid” jobs.”

Why not just take all onerous and rote labor – ignoring that some people may find it the most fulfilling and enjoyable part of their work day, not the least – and combine it into paid jobs of diverse character. Then let’s have all the rest of te tasks that need doing to meet needs be volunteer work – all conceptual, design, decision involving, art involving, and so on. How would allocation of resources occur? How would society determine relative values? How would society benefit from focus on those better able to produce, producing? Does the crank scientist get to ask for a widget smasher, or a highway to uranus? Does the crank artist get to decide the layout of the new museum? And so on and so forth.

Maybe others will find something in what you are saying. I admit that I don’t. But here is the thing that matters, and I find reassuring. What you are saying has no bearing on parecon’s merits. Because parecon could accommodate your inclinations – depending on precisely what they are – I believe, with no problem.

You say, “The key is shifting the focus to who is valued, instead of whose product is valued. Do we value the elite minority, hoping that we gain what we need as a society from the small group we can afford to remunerate for their efforts in a given field?”

This seems absurdly out of whack with parecon, to me. The point is, we of course value product. Do you deny that? We don’t translate that real valuation to the producers of product in that we remunerate not for output but for efffort and sacrifice. We value people, in that sense, equally. You distinguish artistic activity as ultra special – and then think that you aren’t extra valuing those who do it well. I fail to understand this too.

By all means, for every paid industry I value the output – or a parecon society does, at any rate – or the remunerated roles wouldn’t be there. I and any parecon also value those providing the output, remunerating them equitably, providing them conditions of self management, etc. We need many things – like say, clean towns, schools, food, mined resources – easily as much as we need art.

You say, “Or do we focus on providing resources and facilities and training to everyone, as an investment in the overall contribution of people in various fields?”

So everyone gets the amount of resources and training that the most accomplished productivity in each and every field requires? This is why diversity is a value in parecon – this is utterly and completely impossible to do. Moreover, if I do more art to suit your personal belief that it is uniquely enriching and I will be irretrievably diminished if I don’t, I will have less time to do physics, or building houses, or doctoring, etc. and both I and society will lose.

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