Artists As Foragers

William Easterly in yesterday’s Post:

For so many of my generation, growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, Lennon was a hero, not just for his music but for his fearless activism against the Vietnam War. … The closest counterpart to Lennon now is U2’s Bono, … championing … the battle against global poverty. But there is a fundamental difference between Lennon’s activism and Bono’s. … Lennon was a rebel. Bono is not. Lennon’s protests against the war in Vietnam so threatened the U.S. government that he was hounded by the FBI, police and immigration authorities. … Bono, by contrast, … does not challenge power but rather embraces it; he is more likely to appear in photo ops with international political leaders – or to travel through Africa with a Treasury secretary. … There is something inherently noble about the celebrity dissident, but there is something slightly ridiculous about the celebrity wonk. (more)

If you thought artists had special insight into politics, policy, or their underlying morality, and so sought political info from them, you would not presume to know the info they had to convey in particular cases. You would wait to hear from them if they thought any particular power should be supported or criticized. Instead Easterly here is disappointed that today’s artist celebrities criticize today’s policies, not its powers, because he thinks artists should always criticize power. Artists are so much not info sources to Easterly as allies he wants to rely on to support his anti-power political side. Why?

Artists are iconic foragers, seen as promiscuous, leisurely, non-materialistic, non-domineering, well-traveled, etc. In our great political conflicts between forager and farmer styles, we expect artists to take the forager side. So Easterly complains that the politics of celebrities like Bono doesn’t seem sufficiently forager-like. The great divide continues.

More Easterly quotes:

In the 19th century, the celebrity activists were not musicians but writers. Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and other authors loudly supported the abolitionist crusade against slavery. … Mark Twain denounced American imperialism and atrocities. …

Bono … believes ending poverty is a matter of technical expertise – doing things such as expanding food yields with nitrogen-fixing leguminous plants or solar-powered drip irrigation. … Bono is not the only well-intentioned celebrity wonk of our age – the impulse is ubiquitous. Angelina Jolie, for instance, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (seriously) in addition to serving as a U.N. goodwill ambassador. Ben Affleck has become an expert on the war in Congo. George Clooney has Sudan covered, while Leonardo DiCaprio hobnobs with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders at a summit to protect tigers; both actors have written opinion essays on those subjects in these pages, further solidifying their expert bona fides.

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