Wednesday, January 04, 2006

"Nothing human is alien to me"

I'm back! Vacation turned out to involve a lot of childcare, so I couldn't blog much. Here at the office, though, it is easier to slip in an entry.

One of the nicer things I've read all week is the excerpt from K. Anthony Appiah's new book which ran in the NYT magazine. It is a ringing endorsement of culture mixing, nay, even cultural contamination against those who would seek to preserve it. Oh, Appiah is all in favor of subsidizing traditional culture. "I am all for festivals of Welsh bards in Llandudno financed by the Welsh arts council. Long live the Ghana National Cultural Center in Kumasi, where you can go and learn traditional Akan dancing and drumming, especially since its classes are spirited and overflowing." But that is different than blocking the natural flow of living contemporary culture. Foreign words are going to creep into your language. People will flock to see high budget American movies--and respond with movies presenting their own unexpected takes on the genres they saw.

I suppose an economic libertarian might argue that there is no difference between government financing of traditional arts and laws demanding, say, linguistic purity. I'll admit that there are cases where government sponsorship of traditional culture crosses the line over into moronic cultural coercion. Venezuela’s new law saying that 40% of the music on the radio must be "traditional" Venezuelan music is a clear example. (What is traditional Venezuelan music? Inca music? Spanish music?) But it would take a very strong notion of a property right to argue that using tax dollars to support a cultural enterprise that otherwise wouldn’t exist is the same as controlling what people play on the radio.

I’ve been meaning to read more of Appiah’s work for some time. Here is a review of his last book, The Ethics of Identity, which looks quite good. I like this quote from the book: "To value individuality properly just is to acknowledge the dependence of the good for each of us on relationships with others. Without these bonds we could not come to be free selves, not least because we could not come to be selves at all." (21)

No comments: