The problem that the centre-left now faces is not that it wants to make difficult or unpopular choices. It is that no real choices remain. It is lost in the maze, able neither to reach out to its traditional bases of support (which are largely dying or alienated from it anyway) nor to propose any grand new initiatives, the state no longer having the tools to implement them. When the important decisions are all made outside of democratic politics, the centre-left can only keep going through the ritualistic motions of democracy, all the while praying for intercession.
I wish I could leave it at that. But the problem with simply saluting Ai as a political activist is that he insists on pleading his case in the art museums. The Hirshhorn exhibition—which originated at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo in 2009 and will conclude a five-city North American tour at the Brooklyn Museum in 2014—takes its title from a 1964 painting by Jasper Johns, According to What. The Ai Weiwei who admires the conundrums of Jasper Johns, that most beloved of contemporary aesthetes, is very much in evidence at the Hirshhorn in a work such as Surveillance Camera, a white marble simulacrum of one of the tools of the police state (which is also ubiquitous in democratic societies). Whatever the message Ai means to send with Surveillance Camera—and the Chinese autocrats certainly have many cameras trained on Ai—it is notable mostly as an example of made-to-order ironic neoclassicism, and for all intents and purposes it is indistinguishable from the marble rendering of a garbage can by the New York bad boy artist Tom Sachs. (Some may recall that Sachs got the gallerist Mary Boone into trouble a few years ago when he placed live ammunition in a vase in her gallery and invited visitors to take cartridges as souvenirs.) With Ai, one wonders where the political dissent ends and the artsy attitudinizing begins. At least that was what I found myself wondering at the Hirshhorn, where Ai marries his somber subject matter with a slyly luxurious less-is-more aesthetic. I suspect that this synthesis is part of what museumgoers find so satisfying about the show. Some visitors seem awfully pleased with themselves, as if by coming to see Ai Weiwei at the Hirshhorn they are doing the right thing and killing two birds with one stone: acquiring both art cred and political cred.
“The Empowered Man,” by a Utah tea party painter who loves liberty and is not at all making a racial comment.
“There’s something simmering deep inside the soul of all Americans,” the artist says. “We want to know that we’re a free people. That the government acknowledges our individual rights and that fiscal responsibility is an absolute requirement.”
Along with Carhartt jackets and blue jeans.
“Do we have freedom when one half of the country pays taxes to support the other half?” the artist asks.
|FJP:||We've been reading different takes on digital social networks and how/if they impact solitude, loneliness, and offline socializing. Here is a mash-up of the conversations we've been following.|
|The Atlantic:||Social media—from Facebook to Twitter—have made us more densely networked than ever. Yet for all this connectivity, new research suggests that we have never been lonelier (or more narcissistic)—and that this loneliness is making us mentally and physically ill.|
|NY Times:||New communications technologies make living alone a social experience, so being home alone does not feel involuntary or like solitary confinement. The person alone at home can digitally navigate through a world of people, information and ideas. Internet use does not seem to cut people off from real friendships and connections.|
|The Atlantic:||We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information.|
|Slate:||Articles about American alienation may well feel true to those who long for simpler, happier times, but they’re built on fables and fantasies. In fact, there’s zero evidence that we’re more detached or lonely than ever.|
|The New Yorker:||M.I.T. psychologist Sherry Turkle, takes issue with the basic promises of digital connection. She thinks that togetherness, far from being strengthened by technology, has been crowded out by “the half-light of virtual community.”|
|The Atlantic:||But it is clear that social interaction matters. Loneliness and being alone are not the same thing, but both are on the rise. We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy. The decrease in confidants—that is, in quality social connections—has been dramatic over the past 25 years.|
|The New Yorker:||Klinenberg’s research suggests that our usual perceptions about life alone get things backward. Far from being a mark of social abandonment, the solo life tends to be a path for moving ahead, for taking control of one’s circumstances. And, rather than consigning individuals to suffer in their solitude, aloneness may come at a cost to the community. The single life is inherently self-interested: it calls for vigilance on matters of self-preservation both large (financial autonomy) and small (dish detergent), and, in many cases, it frees the solitary from the sorts of daily interaction that help craft a sense of shared responsibility.|
|NY Times:||The Pew Internet Personal Networks and Community Survey — a nationally representative survey of 2,512 American adults conducted in 2008 that was the first to examine how the Internet and cellphones affect our core social networks — shows that Web use can lead to more social life, rather than to less. “Social Isolation and New Technology,” written by the Rutgers University communications scholar Keith Hampton, reveals that heavy users are more likely than others to have large and diverse social networks; more likely to visit parks, cafes and restaurants; and more likely to meet diverse people with different perspectives and beliefs.|
|The New Yorker:||Given our digital habits, the question isn’t whether we should use technology to ease our loneliness. It’s how.|
|FJP (Jihii):||Ah, key question. So, where do we stand? I'll quote Michael.|
|FJP (Michael):||What do I think about social media? For my personal use it’s a bit of a time suck and I have to remind myself to step away from it, head outdoors and wrap my mind around something more substantive than the flurry of information I find myself in. For professional use it’s integral to the FJP’s ability to build audiences and engage with them. I can’t think of how we would be able to accomplish what we do without it. Societally, I’m a big believer in tools and platforms that allow people to connect, organize and share information. Social media increases the speed with which people can do so more than any other tool in history. This is great. My fear with it though is that people will increasingly build information silos around themselves and only hear and expose themselves to information that they want to hear, and from a partisan perspective from which they’d like to hear it. (http://bit.ly/HsAnMN)|
|FJP (Jihii):||So yes, the power is in our hands, social media users. How do you choose to use your social networks? I think the key point is to continually check ourselves and reflect on just that.|
|PS:||Sorry for the lack of links. This post format won't allow it. Here are links to the articles. (Note that both the NY Times piece and Slate piece are by Eric Klinenberg.)|
|The New Yorker:||http://nyr.kr/InwNEz|
— George W. Bush, Decision Points
I have said enough to put the character of Anglo-American civilization in its true light. It is the result ( and this should be constantly kept in mind) of two distinct elements, which in other places have been in frequent disagreement, but which the Americans have succeeded in incorporating to some extent one with the other and combining admirably. I allude to the spirit of religion and the spirit of liberty.
The settlers of New England were at the same time ardent sectarians and daring innovators. Narrow as the limits of some of their religious opinions were, they were free from all political prejudices.
Hence arose two tendencies, distinct but not opposite, which are everywhere discernible in the manners as well as the laws of the country.
Men sacrifice for a religious opinion their friends, their family, and their country; one can consider them devoted to the pursuit of intellectual goals which they came to purchase at so high a price. One sees them, however, seeking with almost equal eagerness material wealth and moral satisfaction; heaven in the world beyond, and well-being and liberty in this one.
Under their hand, political principles, laws, and human institutions seem malleable, capable of being shaped and combined at will. As they go forward, the barriers which imprisoned society and behind which they were born are lowered; old opinions, which for centuries had been controlling the world, vanish; a course almost without limits, a field without horizon, is revealed: the human spirit rushes forward and traverses them in every direction. But having reached the limits of the political world, the human spirit stops of itself; in fear it relinquishes the need of exploration; it even abstains from lifting the veil of the sanctuary; it bows with respect before truths which it accepts without discussion.
Thus in the moral world everything is classified, systematized, foreseen, and decided beforehand; in the political world . everything is agitated, disputed, and uncertain. In the one is a passive though a voluntary obedience; in the other, an independence scornful of experience, and jealous of all authority. These two tendencies, apparently so discrepant, are far from conflicting; they advance together and support each other.
Religion perceives that civil liberty affords a noble exercise to the faculties of man and that the political world is a field prepared by the Creator for the efforts of mind. Free and powerful in its own sphere, satisfied with the place reserved for it, religion never more surely establishes its empire than when it reigns in the hearts of men unsupported by aught beside its native strength.
Liberty regards religion as its companion in all its battles and its triumphs, as the cradle of its infancy and the divine source of its claims. It considers religion as the safeguard of morality, and morality as the best security of law and the surest pledge of the duration of freedom.
— Alexander Tocqueville, Democracy in America, pp.42-43
For these matters, if we endeavor to find those responsible, we are utterly incapable of putting our finger on a specific person. This is an invisible black hands. For their own reasons, they violate our constitution, often ordering by telephone that the works of such and such a person cannot be published, or that such and such an event cannot be reported in the media. The officials who make the call do not leave their names, and the secrecy of the agents is protected, but you must heed their phone instructions. These invisible black hands are our Central Propaganda Department. Right now the Central Propaganda Department is placed above the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and above the State Council. We would ask, what right does the Central Propaganda Department have to muzzle the speech of the Premier? What right does it have to rob the people of our nation of their right to know what the Premier has said?