Monday, October 06, 2008

How to Improve the World (Will You Make Matters Worse?)

Spend your time with people who are visionaries.

Don't waste time with people who don't want to make the world a finer place.

Don't waste energy on people that drag you down. Don't believe anyone who tells you that just because they couldn't do it you can't either. Don't believe the past; learn from it, but don't let it dictate terms.

Life's too short to waste any time on anything that doesn't help make the world a finer place.

Entertainment (and sports is also just entertainment) is designed to make you stop thinking, stop imagining, stop having visions. It's designed to numb you out. Arguing for sake of arguing is pure entertainment: it deters solutions. It numbs you out. It makes you waste time. Can you imagine never watching a movie or television, or reading a book or magazine, that didn't light your enthusiasm and heart and mind on fire, all equally? Can you imagine not watching anything that didn't make you better, instead of just make you feel better for the moment? That's the only kind of art I want to make anymore. Life's too short to indulge even my own entropic inertia. Never imagine that self-pity isn't a form of entropy. Entertainment is entropic: art is anentropic.

Spend time, even if it's just documentary time, with people who have made their places in the public eye who then turn around and give back. Visionary inventor Dean Kamen once said, "I take a lot from the world, so I have to give a lot back." That he doesn't question his need to give back it's what amazing, and should serve as a role model: not that does give back, but that he doesn't even consider that he might not have to. Of course giving back is essential. It's not even questioned, he just does it.

John Cage titled his multi-part collection of connected ideas, his public diary, How To Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse). Cage was a committed anarchist, following the model of Henry David Thoreau. A bit of an idealist. Cage's title was sly humor, a deflection against his own ego ever getting inflated. In one sense, he was pointing out that intervention often makes things worse than they were. But that happens more often when the intervention is thoughtless, impulsive, emotional, and ill-conceived. A thoughtful intervention can be a gift of mana from heaven. Give me a long enough lever and I will move the world. In another sense, Cage was saying, no, undercut this, you have to do something to improve the world, even if all you do is be a role model. Cage's way of living was entirely open and receptive, and as a result, his interactions and ideas ended up being a way of giving back without ever being explicit. His life was a role model, his art was his activism.

There's no reason you can't make your living doing what you love to do, are passionate about, feel a calling to do. There's no reason to believe that life and work are separate: rather, life and life's-work. There's no reason to not be a visionary. Some will call you irrational and unreasonable, and they'll be right about that. And they'll be wrong about everything else.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

So, I have to be a visionary or you won't come play at my blog, eh? You may end up sat in the middle of the sandpit on your own if you're not careful. I would love to be a visionary. I'd settle for being a seer. Best I can come up with is voyeur, Art. I like looking at things and I'd rather they didn't look back at me and want stuff from me. I'm being facetious but I'm also being serious too. I'm not the idealist I once was and I'm not sure actually I ever was although I would have liked to have thought I was. Nowadays I don't have the energy. I can't assimilate all the good stuff and so when my brain is in neutral I do boring stuff like answer e-mails and read my news feeds. I've left it too late I fear.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Hah! No, I'll come play. You might not think you're a visionary, but we know better. Everyone gets tired and world-weary, believe I know that only too well.

And I've just come back from the mountains, where the air is crisp and clean, and where you can see a long way. A momentary fresh perspective, we'll see how long I can make it last.

The risk of looking closely at the world is indeed that it starts to look back. That's why Nietzsche warned about staring into the abyss too long; and he ought know. Far better to stare into the light between the mountains and rivers.

And what I wrote is also something of a reminder to myself, maybe more than anyone else. You know? That personal daily battle against entropy. For the moment I feel as if my head were above water, and I can breathe. So, something to remember and something to aspire to, even if one can't oneself always make it up that hill.

10:53 AM  
Blogger David Parachinni-Mariaschin said...

And when you believe you truly are on the right path, for the right reasons; and when one small strand leads to a new worldview where everything true before now seems false; what then? Tyrants and dictators often act under the guise of "improving the world" and often their conviction is true.

6:41 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

An interesting if negative spin, David, on what was intended to be focused on the positive.

Those same dictators used the media for mass attitude manipulation. Bread and circuses while Rome burns, was the phrase during Nero's era. The contemporary entertainment media is all pretty much bread and circuses, as is the news media. The news media have been subsumed into entertainment, of course. That's not a news flash, as it were.

I've written before that absolutism is always a problem, no matter where it turns up. None of what I said here contradicts that. Stating something emphatically is not a dictation when anyone is free to disagree, just as I am free to disagree with anyone who wants to drag me down. It's about attitude more than politics.

10:56 AM  
Blogger David Parachinni-Mariaschin said...

I didn't want to turn something wonderful into something evil, but just express my own doubt. If you want to give to the world, you have to make a choice between what it needs and what it doesn't. I still wonder how to avoid error in that choice.

9:12 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

No worries, and I meant no offense in return. It is an important question. I'm not sure how to do it, either, but I suspect it lies in always paying attention to one's private agendas. In paying attention to one's shadow, to one's own personal prejudices. I guess I think, again, that it works better and better the more consciously you live and work with it.

9:50 PM  
Blogger Rachel Fox said...

Feeling a bit...dejected, embattled so this was just what I needed to read (the post not the comments). Onwards, upwards, sideways...but onwards anyway.

3:32 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

The English/world band 3 Mustaphas 3 had as their motto a funny but also serious phrase:

Forward in all directions!

8:44 AM  
Blogger Rachel Fox said...

Excellent instruction.

9:43 AM  

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