Thursday, August 9, 2012

Trade me

'A new music centre and auditoriums for the performing arts will ensure the city's cultural needs are catered for.' This apparently innocuous sentence, published as part of a news report 10 days ago, embodies the worldview that has come to dominate our age. It is a worldview that sees virtually all aspects of society in terms of economic equations; a worldview that shunts everything—not just business transactions but healthcare, education, art, private life, even emotions—into compartmentalized boxes that can then be treated as somehow tradeable with each other. The world, in short, of The Market. Thus the vast complexity and contingency of a country's or city's culture can be reduced to the life-killing formula of 'cultural needs.' It's easy, once you get the hang of it. If you can identify something as a 'need,' then you can argue that that need can or should be met. Box two fits into box one; or rather, supplier meets buyer, enabling a trade or transaction to take place. This may be fine where soap powder or sugar are concerned, but it reduces culture to a form of consumerism. It takes what's organic and constantly changing, constantly defying precise definition, and reifies or commodifies it for the sake of a dehumanizing simplism. Let's see now: I have a 'cultural need,' so I will go out and fill that need: problem solved! Or should I say, 'catered for.' Transaction completed. Deal done. May I raise a small voice and suggest, heretically, that life isn't like that. Of course it isn't: we know that, we feel it. But public and political discourse, increasingly, denies what we know and feel and positions us all as consumers and buyers not in society (an outmoded concept) or even in the world (too mushy) but in the marketplace.

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