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Transcript: Arlene Goldbard, author, The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & The Future

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In terms of helping us to collectively imagine the future that we want to inhabit and instead people are talking about all of these secondary benefits, you know? Kid's test scores go up in school, there's a likelihood that if people buy a theater ticket to go downtown they'll also pay for parking and go to a restaurant so there's an economic multiplier of that. These kinds of numeric arguments have been the mainstay of this failed campaign.

So at the end of this, this very sincere student who is clearly really grappling with this and raises her hand and asks me, so what arguments would you make instead? What would you do instead?

R.K.: Wait, I couldn't hear what you said...

A.G.: Sorry, this student said what would you do instead? If these arguments have been failed what arguments are you advocating for? And I said the same thing I always do which is that we're now spending more than two annual National Endowment for the Arts budgets a day, seven days a week on war and we have been since 2001. That our prison allocations vastly outweigh not only our cultural allocations but in many states educational allocations, too.

So that I feel like what we need to do is pull back and ask the core questions that I ask in my books, who are we as a people? What do we stand for? How do we want to be remembered and does the way that we distribute our commonwealth reflect our true answers to those questions?

We have to engage a much much larger debate than let's all write to our members of congress and get the nine million dollars back that the NEA lost last year, and let's use how much people pay for parking when they go to the theater as our chief argument, let's do that. And the student said yes, yes I see that, and then I watched her face fall.

You know, then about twenty or thirty seconds afterwards, I could read her- I think I could read her mind, it felt like it was kind of an LED display on her forehead where she was saying, yes yes that's true, but I can't imagine making that argument to the people who have been telling me that the delusions that we've been operating under now are real. And that's the kind of response I see, especially from young people often is something seems right and true but they can't quite grasp how to work it into the strong pressure that they've been receiving to adopt the consensus realities, values, and assumptions.

R.K.: Which I think are more derived from Datastan. Right?

A.G.: I think so, too. I mean I've been thinking about this a lot, Rob because it blows my mind a little bit, if just on the face of it. If you have a system that people have been operating for forty years and it's been steadily losing, losing value, every year that you've been doing it and the people who have been doing it consider it successful, it doesn't take that much to break that argument apart, you know? In that case, you just have to look at the numbers.

But if there's a persistent belief in Datastan that the only valid arguments to be made for social spending are market arguments, which is essentially what the ones I mentioned are, then there's a big prohibition in people's minds against bringing things that they know from the bottom up, you know? From their lived experience. From their own subjective lived experience. There's a big prohibition against bringing those arguments onto the table, so we have a problem because people keep trying to justify and explain and point to a change but they're constrained to only use the terms that the old order accepts and validates. You can't do it, right?

R.K.: Right. So keep going. What do you tell this young woman at Harvard?

A.G.: That you have to be brave and change the conversation. You know, a lot of times it becomes, there's a little bit of psychology in it because you have to say what are the consequences. Let's say that you make this argument that you know to be really true from your own lived experience. What's the worse thing that can happen? And you know the answer is that somebody will laugh at me, they'll ridicule me, they'll say that I'm not being realistic.

So then we look at that. How, what are the consequences for being ridiculed as not being realistic. Does it endanger your life? Is there anything, any kind of real suffering that could come to you from this and of course usually not, just the risk of embarrassment that keeps people silent. And then I talk to them about what if all of us in this room because at this point everyone is nodding, right? Everyone who is sitting there in the auditorium has had these experiences, they know the truth of what I'm saying.

They perceive it on the cellular level, so what if all of us who really know it have an agreement that we're going to introduce this into our conversations. Around the dinner table, in our classes, with our friends, when we have the opportunity to enter into some public discourse.

R.K.: Let's be clear, when you say we're going to introduce "this" into our conversation, what is this?

A.G.: Well there's a lot of ways to approach this. Here are a few conversation starters, okay? One is the way that we're being trained to interact with machines right now. So that, for example, that frustrating thing of Press 1, say this word, I didn't hear you, can you go back to the beginning of the menu, that we're all spending our time interacting with in order to try to get to speak to a human being in customer service somewhere when we have a problem with our bill or whatever it is, that's training to be compliant in living in Datastan and living in a world where we accept that it only makes sense to be treated like an artifact of a machine reality.

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