Why do authoritarians attack the arts?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Landrum Kelly, Apr 6, 2017.

  1. I'll not defend racist or anti-semitic comments, but I worry when a person can lose life, liberty, or property for saying words that others find distasteful or offensive. Last night I watched a documentary on the US involvement in WW-I, and was appalled to be reminded of the gross abuse of power exhibited in the Wilson government's implementation of anti-sedition laws, as well as the general population's apparent failure to appreciate the danger to the republic posed by those laws. I refuse to support or contribute to a venue for the likes of Dieudonne, and I won't spend a dime on a copy of Charlie Hebdo, but neither would I impose a legal gag on them. It is far too easy for such acts to be abused for political gain, or to muzzle alternative voices. What is equally concerning is that the likes of Dieudonne have sufficient audience that they feel rewarded for spewing in the name of entertainment. If nobody would pay to attend his performance, it might not appear desirable to seek legal sanctions, and thence cross onto the slippery slope of "public order" versus freedom of speech and thought.
  2. I'll defend the making of racist and anti-semitic comments as long as they don't incite violence to the extent that I wouldn't ban or censor them. I want to know what people are thinking and the kinds of hate they're harboring. IMO, allowing this kind of speech gives the rest of us power. I can scream back at them if I need to. And I can point to them as negative examples. I can beware of them because I know who they are. Silencing them doesn't make the hate go away.
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  3. This made me laugh:

    Reading a review by Katja Maria Vogt of a book The Epistemic Dimensions of Ignorance, she writes this at the end:

    "What then about potential buyers who judge this book on ignorance by its cover? They see, alas, not a bearded sage (this would be a book on knowledge, naturally), but a caricature of an ill-informed woman, namely a maiden in distress, clad in a pink, fluffy frock, eyes covered with a blindfold. She gets it all wrong, trying to row a boat on land, with mere sticks as rudders. One may remind oneself of an observation from Fricker's and Medina's essays: stereotypes are not the fault of any one individual. Hence it may be best to think about this in general terms. The proposal that one must care about some issue in order to aim to get things right comes to mind. And one may return to the analysis of how-to ignorance: what is involved in the ability to read an image, if doing so requires some mix of sense perception, aesthetic perception, and perception of morally salient features? Either way, your stunned reviewer left her review sample on her office table for a week or two, soliciting impressions from students, colleagues, and other visitors. If you buy this book, it may be advisable to not leave it on your desk except face down."​

    See the cover that she's talking about here.

    It also made me smile when, earlier in the review, Vogt wrote: "Epistemologists tend to love the first line of Aristotle's Metaphysics: "all human beings by nature desire to know." To this Plato says, "I wish!"
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  4. I like this picture, as referenced by Julie, both actual and implied, as it speaks directly to the pleasure I find in evaluating and presenting images with double and triple entendre. Yet, the image would be far less engaging or meaningful without the book title as counterpoint. Oh, and this comment is apropos to another thread in this forum, so I digress...
  5. Here is a specific example that pleads for discussion in this thread <LINK>. I haven't decided my opinion, yet, on the process and outcome, though I have a fairly strong opinion on the painting in question. I'm very curious to hear what all of you think.
  6. I think it should stay up. My opinion of the painting really has nothing to do with its fate. Here's my thinking:

    The halls of Congress should be especially unfettered in assuring citizens free speech. The painting was done by a constituent of the congressman. Each congressional district chose a winner and all the winners were hung. Whether art is offensive to some, horrendous to some, or disgusting to some, it's reasonable to assume that at least some art hung in the halls of Congress is going to be political. Political speech in particular needs to be protected and free, no matter how revolting some may find it, perhaps especially because some will find it revolting. If all speech were benign and acceptable to all, we wouldn't need to have codified a rule protecting it. It's because there might be speech offensive to some that our Constitution impels us to protect it. It's not about the easy cases where everyone agrees and the world is a bouquet of daisies. It's about strong disagreements, about expressing discontent with those in power and the government itself.

    I can understand the passion and anger of a high school student from Ferguson, Missouri after the events that recently took place there. I'd rather he express himself through offensive political art than through violence. I can understand the possibility of his feeling powerless in the face of the powers that be and his seeking to assert his own power at least to express his anger via this painting. I wouldn't express myself this way, but I'm not him and I haven't walked a mile in his shoes so I'm willing to allow him to vent. At the same time, I can understand reactions of revulsion. Those who are revolted can express themselves loudly and maybe the painter will learn something from such reactions. Maybe we can all learn something from both the artist and the audiences in this case. That would be a better result than banning his paintings from the seat of a democratic government.

    We must not shut him down. We can ignore him, speak out against him if we feel offended, paint our own pictures in support of the police if we feel moved to, but his voice cannot be silenced, especially within the halls of the very government there to protect his right to a voice.

    I did consider how I'd feel if it were a similar depiction of a black person, a Latino person, a gay person. One important difference is that the police are an arm of the state and I think we owe critics of the state even more deference in terms of latitude of protected speech. The police have the full power of the state and the government behind them. They're in a pretty powerful position. The young high school student from Ferguson, Missouri is in a bit more precarious position when it comes to power.

    The police don't have to like what this kid has created but it's up to them, the government, and all of us to defend his right to express himself. By doing so, the government is not endorsing his expression itself or the sentiments behind it. The government is protecting its own viability and role as the ensurer of its citizens' rights. The government can express its outrage over the painting while also demanding it be allowed to hang within its very walls. That, as ironic as it may sound and as much as almost anything I can think of, would show the greatness, strength, and durability of our system of government and would honor what our founders fought so hard to create.
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2017
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  7. David, what's your thinking on the matter? I understand if you haven't come to a conclusion, but What in the story strikes you so far and what are some considerations you've been mulling over?
  8. Fred, I wrestle with finding a balance between understanding the reality of being a young black man in America (something I know I won't ever comprehend fully in the first person), and hoping we can all become as color blind as it is possible to be. The degree to which racial issues have become politicized bothers me greatly, and I don't see how the double standard regarding racial attitudes helps in any way. If you or I, as white men, were to proffer a work of art as outlandishly bigoted towards any racial, ethnic,or other group as that being discussed, we would be pilloried, and I don't know of anyone who would defend us. Neither our intent nor the background of the work would be of any consideration. For me, the painting is as overt a statement and expression of hate as a burning cross. I acknowledge but do not in any way defend the social conditions that inspired the painting, but I don't see how it seeks to improve those conditions. Rather it seems to add fuel to the fire of hate. Now, I'm not suggesting in any way that this art should be suppressed, but I remain unconvinced that providing a place in the Capitol for its display is the right answer.

    By way of contrast, Picasso's Guernica remains an extraordinary and effective declaration regarding the horrors of modern war, and its effects upon non-combatants and innocent civilians, yet Picasso's work does so without creating an overt and enduring characterization of the German pilots, and by extension, Germans in general, who carried out the raid, as it might have chosen to do. Instead, the artist focuses on the plight of the victims, leaving open the possibility of resolution.

    As I work my way through this, perhaps the imputed intent of the artist is what makes the difference, at least to me. Therefore, if I have misconstrued the intent, then my interpretation is wrong, and I am willing to reconsider my perspective. Perhaps it comes down to condemning acts instead of condemning people? In the world of photography, which approach is more effective? Is it the documentary photo of the old slave with scars of lashings on his back, or a caricature, if it exists, of the white master holding the whip? There is much behavior in the world that deserves vilification, but far fewer people who deserve to be labeled as villains. I think, perhaps, the issue for me is that Pulphus' work appears directed at people at least as much as it is at behaviors. I find the judge's allowance for "editorial discretion" to be, on its face, reasonable, perhaps even appropriate, but I'm willing to hear arguments to the contrary. The choice to display a piece of art by any entity, governmental or otherwise, is "speech", and therefore the message of a piece of art may well be disconsonant with the position of the entity, and therefore not appropriate for display in that place or under those conditions. Note that the painting was not destroyed or confiscated, but only removed from a specific display venue.

    Again, this is an ongoing evaluative process for me. In this case, the kinds of behavior I had earlier described as de-facto censorship, and that others had defended as "editorial discretion", are turned around and decried as overt censorship. I continue to hold that the exercise of editorial discretion CAN have the same net effect as overt censorship, whether by design or not, and we should therefore acknowledge this and understand its impact. In doing so it may be possible to mitigate outcomes we, as a society, see as damaging or undesirable.
  9. The difference I mentioned would be a key here, which is that the police are not a racial, ethnic, gender, or sexual group. They are an arm of the state. The other groups you've mentioned who we might denigrate in art are minorities who in many cases lack mainstream political power. The police are an embodiment of mainstream power. That's why I think an artist might well be pilloried for denigrating a minority but dealt with differently by at least some viewers for denigrating the police.

    I don't have them at my fingertips but I've certainly heard of cases where people have been offended by gay art that was not racially sensitive or some black art that was deemed denigrating of homosexuality. So I don't think it's only white men who get in trouble for offensive expressions. A lot of women's art has been the object of scorn when it's understood to be man-hating. Again, it's not just white men who are taken to task.
    i don't think this artwork seeks to improve conditions at all. It expresses anger. It's a lashing out. A lot of art is a human exclamation! Art may, but is not required to, improve conditions, unless one sees in human expression itself an improvement of conditions due to honesty. This kid genuinely feels this way. It's not necessarily likeable, but it is honest, and there's value in that. In a lot of other art, we see idealized sunsets, beautified and grossly saturated landscapes, etc. They are "acceptable" but how do they improve anything? I'd maintain that brutal honesty of a kid's impression of the police is of some worth to society, if only because it might lead some to wonder why he has those feelings and how to deal with that. I don't think many yiung, black men would necessarily feel there can be more fuel added to what they experience as a raging hell already, which is how they are treated in general by urban cops, even if certainly not by all urban cops. ACT UP was accused of adding fuel to the fire by their rhetoric and protest methods, even by other gay people, and yet they brought AIDS into the conversation and were responsible for increases in research and access to drugs when the government remained mostly mute on the subject. So, they did both. They added fuel to the fire AND saved lives! But, again, from the kid's perspective, he's not taking on the full throttle of the social conditions. He's simply screaming, much like Munch did in his famous painting.

    All this being said, I'm generally receptive to if not always in agreement with many of your points. I agree especially about vilifying behaviors rather than people, though even that can sometimes be used as an excuse and shown to be a distinction without a difference. When I'm told that I'm loved even though my gay acts are hateful, the so-called love being sent my way rings just a little bit hollow. If my acts and behavior are hated, I tend to feel hated, no matter the qualifications given by folks claiming to love me despite my supposedly evil acts. I'm not sure an average high school kid can be expected to make such fine distinctions between people and behaviors. Art is art and a lot of art generalizes because it only shows glimpses of things. I'm not sure I read a few policemen represented as pigs to mean all policemen are pigs. And I think I tend to read it more as, what's going on with law enforcement and the justice system with blacks in America is odious. The policeman as pig, and I'm not defending this, is a recognizable symbol of dissent, like it or not. Symbols are used in art, sometimes to express extremes.

    I think in articles and essays and research books, there may be an implied duty to be a bit more sanguine and even-handed in approaching how we talk about volatile subjects. Art is different. It has a volatile side. It often does portray internal violences that artists are grappling with. I think that's what this painting is likely about.
  10. Yes, the police are not a "protected" group, and are considered an arm of the State, but they are also a large, diverse group of individual human beings. Gross generalizations of any group, be they racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, social, etc, is a disservice to both the group members and society at large. That does not mean artists should never use caricature as a communicative device, but we need to acknowledge that doing so comes with its own risk of bigotry.

    For anyone who has ever tried to be a responsible parent, the requirement of loving the person and not necessarily that person's behaviors is a common experience. Some succeed better than others. I have adult children who exhibit behaviors contrary to what I believe is in their own best interest. We don't make those behaviors obstacles in our relationships, and they live their lives confident of my love for them. Still, they know and respect that certain behaviors are unacceptable to me in my home, and in turn I respect their rights to live their lives independently. It's a fine balance, and requires constant vigilance, patience, and compassion to maintain. I wish I could be better at it.

    Yes, agreed wholeheartedly. I understand and accept, at least academically, the expression of emotion through art, even when that emotion is hate or anger. I don't believe every institution or individual is obligated to provide a venue for every such expression, regardless its validity. Editorial discretion and all that... But, neither am I in favor of suppression. There are many today who seem to think that free speech is fine so long as it conforms to their idea of what is acceptable, and everything else is hate and should be suppressed. (I know, this is nothing new, but the shoe seems to be on the other foot much of the time.) It's a fine line, and one that bears ongoing examination and adjustment. I hope I never stoop to true bigotry, though I've already been labeled a bigot by those whose ideas disagree with my own.
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2017
  11. Agreed. I'm also thinking that all generalization is not gross. I'd put stereotyping people in the category of gross generalization. Stereotyping is often degrading and can be harmful. At the same time, I do recognize certain "cultures" that build up within many communities. Even though not all gay men of the 70s and 80s were individually associated with sex, drugs, and disco, having lived in San Francisco at the time I think it would be fair to say that was the culture of gay men at the time. I never much cared for disco myself and will plead the fifth on sex and drugs, but still was part of or at least can recognize that culture despite my individual differences. I do think there is a certain culture among urban police that is unfavorable, to say the least, toward young black men. I think statistics, research, and anecdotal experiences bear that out. We can argue that but I think there's little arguing that this high school artist, right or wrong, perceived that culture of injustice toward black men and that went into his anger and his painting.
    Thanks for this. These ideas about unconditional love and the separation of a loved one's behavior from their person is a good counterpoint to the so-called sinner--told his sin and not he as a person is hated--being somewhat skeptical and taking it personally regardless. Not sure how a policeman would feel being told his behavior was porcine-like though he, himself, wasn't a pig. I think it's the "pig" part that's offensive whether it's applied to his actions or his being. The artist was probably not just exclaiming, as I was thinking in my previous post. He was likely being intentionally provocative, even nasty, as well. He probably felt provoked by the nasty events that occurred in his home town.
    Agree with this, too. But the government, in this case Congress, should be neutral on content when it comes to displays of constituents. They should know they are giving voice to all views and they should know that doesn't mean they countenance those views. What they are supporting is the free speech of their constituents, not the views expressed.
  12. I know first hand what it is like to be attacked. Currently, my art is being suppressed in town as I go through
    rounds and rounds of hypnotism. Prior to this it was heart attack guns and microwave guns. My guess is I am
    too smart to be in public, so they are trying to brainwash me and intimidate me. It has been a nightmare. Someone
    pointed out MK-Ultra, and it seems there are many elements of this program in what I am experiencing. It is insane.
    Something needs to be done about this. I think there are many high level artists suffering from this sort of program unfortunately. The public is highly unaware of the huge control element in the arts in all fields. Many of us who are being tortured are too afraid to speak up. I don't think there are too many artists talking about this from first hand experience because they are deeply afraid. I refuse to live like this. I do not want to be mind controlled in order to show my art publicly.
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2017
  13. "The extremist reactions to so-called art by so-called extremist Muslims have about as much to do with Islam as these cartoons have to do with Monet or Renoir." Phil.

    But the extremists like to travel on the vehicle of religion to justify their cult believes...they don't even need religion just a cult brainwashed believe.

    I remember reading about a group of middle class Americans students being brainwashed into believing that their suicide would enable them to meet Aliens on the" Hale Bopp Comet "and travel the universe.

    "March 26, 1997 brought the grizzly discovery that 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult had committed mass suicide, believing their souls would be transported to a spaceship trailing the Hale-Bopp comet"..

    You just haven to wonder how easily led we are by forceful personality types...when all common sense fades away.
  14. "The extremist reactions to so-called art by so-called extremist Muslims have about as much to do with Islam as these cartoons have to do with Monet or Renoir." Phil.

    But the extremists like to travel on the vehicle of religion to justify their cult believes...they don't even need religion just a cult brainwashed believe.

    I remember reading about a group of middle class Americans students being brainwashed into believing that their suicide would enable them to meet Aliens on the" Hale Bopp Comet "and travel the universe.

    "March 26, 1997 brought the grizzly discovery that 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult had committed mass suicide, believing their souls would be transported to a spaceship trailing the Hale-Bopp comet"..

    You just haven to wonder how easily led we are by forceful personality types...when all common sense fades away.
  15. Look at the very many cults which exist today.without any base, in the very basics of common sense..... you have to wonder why we,so easily give away our free thinking minds.

    Some bloke In America climbed a mountain like Moses got some tablets written in gold by the bloke upstairs and lost them. Some bloke told folks we are really Aliens and will be born again to a higher plain of existence providing we pass the lie detector test and reveal all our nasty behavior so we can be blackmailed. Another religious bloke said if we murder a lot of unbelievers we will all go to heaven and have at least seven wives we can shag for ever and a day until we bored...hey, eternality is for a long time. Another bloke said if you kill a lot of folk for your country you will get a medal to show your wife and mates.

    Truly we are a sad lot.

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