Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Politics of Altruism

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #52
    In our first article on government funding, "Dutch Warehouses", the question arose:   "We understand that government funding might be good for poets but has it been good for poetry?"

    One of the many problems with taxpayer support is that the scope of politicians rarely exceeds their jurisdiction.  If nothing else, this is one reason why foreign aid is often the second budgetary cut (after the arts).  There is something pernicious and petty at play here.

    Suppose you have an idea¹ that might revolutionize the poetry world, restoring its place in our culture.  You go to your city council and they rebuff you, saying that your initiative will benefit everyone in the world, not just the residents of your home town.

    "Why should this burg's taxpayers have to pay for such a thing?"

     You try arguing that it could "put the town on the map" but, as we'll see, the cat is out of the bag.  They bump you upstairs to the regional capital.  Same story:  "We're here to represent the interests of our constituents only.  Try the feds."  Because it is a global effort, you face rejection there, too.

    This isn't a matter of no one being willing to "take one for the team."  Nota Bene:  No one is being asked to make a sacrifice that does not pay dividends for their citizenry.  It isn't even a "red tape runaround" or "passing the buck" between levels of government.  No.

     It is the politics of altruism.  "Thou shalt not give aid to outlanders!"  For an initiative to pass it isn't enough that it profit the electorate.  It must not benefit anyone else.  I get the sense that, if an inventor in Podunk Hollow, Connecticut, were appealing for monies to cure world hunger or to prevent world domination by invading aliens, our leaders would stop listening at the term "world".

    The immediate effect of this rabid, cut-nose-to-spite-face parochialism is obvious.  Contests, publications and criticism have made geography paramount.  People who know most of their local poets can't name three from a neighboring jurisdiction.  Poetry's already miniscule audience is splintered into myriad fiefdoms.  As for the Internet, even after the last of the technophobes dies out, careerists will have little reason to look at the work of those beyond their borders.  How many poetry bloggers will know or care about the greatest poet of our time if she happened to come from another country?  Or county?  If 2014 is like every other year since Shakespeare's death it will produce, at most, three poems that will stand the test of time.  As a discerning reader or a teacher hoping to find exemplars, why limit your search to your town, university, region or nation?

    If you do not look beyond the mountain you will never see another sunrise.


  1. Government Funding - Part I:  "Dutch Warehouses"

  2. Government Funding - Part II: "The Politics of Altruism"

  3. Government Funding - Part III: "The Results are In"


¹ - One of my favorite humans has just such a plan.  With his permission, I hope to expound on it in a future post.

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Earl Gray, Esquirrel

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