Won’t Parecon Curb Our Talent and Creativity?
Would Parecon by its internal dynamics sacrifice talent? Would it subordinate quality to equity?
In our experience, every time participatory economics is described, musicians, writers, painters, performers, playwrights, actors, dancers, and many other creative artists raise a ruckus. This sector of workers feels immediately profoundly threatened. They worry that parecon will sacrifice the benefits of talent, or, even worse, will mistreat the talented, particularly in the realm of art and creative expression. We need to address their concerns.
Parecon takes for granted and celebrates the fact that different people have different inclinations and capacities in a very wide range of ways. Some are artistic, some not. Some are mathematical, some not. Some have great bodily coordination or strength, some not. And even among people with special competence in any one area—say some particular mathematical facility, music composing abilities, or whatever else—there will be a wide range of abilities. There are Einsteins and mediocre physicists, Mozarts and mediocre composers. Additionally, there is no cause to be upset by any of this variation. Diversity of orientation and talent means life is far more varied and rich than it would otherwise be. We all benefit from the existence of diverse talents and ranges of talent, both because we can enjoy its products and vicariously enjoy the processes as well.
We contend that parecon celebrates and creates a context conducive to the full discovery and development of diverse talents— not solely in a few lucky people born “well,” but in everyone, and not solely where the talent can yield profits for elites but wherever it can have social benefit. At the same time, by its remuneration norms and balanced job complexes, parecon precludes such differences in talents from imposing hierarchies of power or wealth that corrupt sociality. We get to have our cake baked, and baked to perfection, and we get to eat it, and we suffer no nasty side effects.
So why do artists balk at parecon, sometimes?
Musicians, writers, and other artists of diverse kinds have two different negative reactions to parecon. One is no different from a reaction that a surgeon, lawyer, professor, or engineer might have (or a professional athlete, for that matter). That is, they say “wait a minute, you are saying I will have to do my fair share of more onerous work, and I would rather not.” This is an understandable but unworthy sentiment. It is like capitalists saying, “wait a minute, you are implying that I must forego my golden-egg machine, my ownership.” Correct. Parecon says both that owners must forego their ownership and that coordinator class members must forego their monopoly on empowering work and take on a balanced job complex, and we have argued at length why—for example, to remove class division, to attain equity, to allow and promote self-management, and so on.
A different concern of artists, often mingled with the above class defensiveness, is that somehow they will not be allowed to engage in artistic pursuits at all, or at least as they prefer, even if they are happy to work in a balanced job complex, which many artists already largely do, by the way, cleaning up for themselves, pre- paring their tools, and so on. Their worry is that the participatory economy will decide that music or video or movies or art or whatever else should not be produced other than in cases where there is a great immediate public demand for it. They worry that experimentation, exploration, and investigation of new avenues that are initially not widely understood, much less appreciated, will be ruled out in a parecon. But this concern is unwarranted, for artists and others too.
Consider people who produce bicycles or who do surgery. If they could not experiment with new designs and methods, we would never get new features on bicycles or new surgical procedures. And it is the same for making computers or conceiving tools for building houses, software, or furniture. Progress in any domain, not just art, requires not only innovative thinking, but the opportunity for it to be discovered, refined, tested, implemented, and appreciated.
Likewise, innovations in bicycles or in surgery do not have to be only for all riders or for everyone who needs an operation to be worth pursuing or adopting. There could be an innovation that greatly benefits a small number of people that most other people don’t utilize at all but that is worth pursuing, of course, if the social benefit that the few gain is more than the social cost of the innovation.
No one encountering a description of parecon worries that bicycle workers or surgeons will be precluded from thinking about how to make advances in their fields under a parecon. This is just a part of each job. Of course a bicycle worker who has an idea for an innovation doesn’t automatically get to spend a lot of time pursuing it at work, nor does a surgeon, for that matter. If others in the field think it is nonsense and refuse to respect the undertaking, the person with the idea may have to pursue it in spare time or sometimes not at all. But even though everyone knows this can sometimes lead to errors, everyone also knows it is a very sensible approach. Who better to judge whether an innovative idea deserves support than others in the same field, especially given the shared motivations and institutional context?
Do you really mean to say that an artist is no different than someone innovating bicycle parts of doing surgery?
Everyone job is unique, and so is every person, of course. But for our purpuses here, what is profoundly different about artists, one wonders? In a word, the answer is, however surprising to some it may be, nothing.
Consider video, literary, or any other type of artistic work in artistic workplaces. It could be schools. It could be conservatories. The artists and others involved—film makers, painters, whatever—would have councils, like other workers, and of course they would undertake balanced job complexes. They would get effort ratings. If they needed inputs, new equipment, or whatever else, the requests would be part of their workplace plan.
Will a musician be kept on as an employee if he or she wishes to pursue some unusual idea? Unless it is lame-brained, why not? Why should we be confident of this? Because not only the artist’s fellow artists but the whole population has no trouble understanding the desirability of wide-ranging artistic exploration.
The problem many artists have with parecon is an odd kind of projection. They project from the current situation—where there are right-wing and profit-seeking sponsors who undeniably bend artistic endeavor to commercial ends and subordinate it to narrow tastes—to parecon, where decisions would be made by their fellow artistic workers and the broad public in a context that would lack such commercial drives, profit-seeking, and narrow-minded con- formist ignorance. The concern is misguided, as we conclude from all the experience and reason we have.
But let’s suppose, against all contrary argument, that there is some truth here. Suppose that in exchange for security, respect, classlessness, an end to subordination to profit, a redirection of production and consumption—some excellent and deserving artists sometimes have to pursue their creative dreams in their off-hours because they cannot get their fellow artists and consumers to recognize that their ideas are socially/aesthetically worthy. Even in this unlikely eventuality, we are, at worst, on this score and this score alone, back to where we have typically been in capitalist and otherwise hierarchically organized societies all along.
It is therefore hard to see how it can be even a slight, much less a serious problem to trade from a system where profit-seeking capitalists arbitrate what art is worthy, to a system in which fellow artists and consumers are the judges. And the same broad analysis as for artists holds, by the way, for innovative mathematicians, or for special athletes, and so on.
Parecon fosters quality and justice for humanity via balanced job complexes plus remuneration for effort and sacrifice for socially valued productive labor. In other words, parecon does not pursue equity by trying to attain a common denominator of accom- plishment. Quite the opposite, parecon promotes the fullest possible development and utilization of diverse talents in creating the richest and most diverse art attainable, but it also preserves equity of remuneration and circumstances, as well as self-management. Each of these aims, we might add, is essential to maintaining an environment in which artists can best express themselves and the public can best appreciate their labors.