A Millennial New Year’s Resolution

This was written, of course, in January 2000.

I don’t do New Years’.  I especially didn’t do this New Years.  Though the chance to join in worldwide celebration of an error in addition (our calendar is such that there wasn’t a year zero – 1 A.D. came right after 1 B.C., so actually we’ve just begun, not finished, the 2000th year A.D.) (and A.D., well that’s a whole mess of mistakes, not the least of which is marking time across the entire planet according to a religious myth) – what was I saying, oh yeah, while joining with humanity worldwide to celebrate, indeed to proclaim in song and dance, our F in arithmetic had its attraction, I declined – because even if they’d gotten it right, the arbitrariness of it all is pretty insulting.  I mean, I’ll celebrate and reflect when I have good reason to – but our fascination with base ten is a mere evolutionary happenstance, and to rejoice at the occurrence of multiples of ten serves merely to reassure us that we do indeed have ten fingers and toes.

Nevertheless, I ended up watching several hours of the “2000” telecast.  Not the midnight champagne and crowds part, but the performance parts throughout the day: I realized early on that it would probably be another thousand years before so much art was given so much air time.  Certainly I’d never see Jean-Michel Jarre on tv again.

But pretty soon the irony (and the heritage schlock stuff) spoiled it, and I stopped watching.  I’m referring, of course, to the fact that  on every other day of the year, the decade, the century, the arts are marginalized.  In every way.  But now, now it’s the millennial new year’s eve, now you want us.  Now you want the choirs, the symphony orchestras, and the composers; now you want the dance troupes and the choreographers; now you want the costume designers, the stage designers.  Now you let us out of our attics and closets – and expect what?

Entertainment?  If you truly think us entertaining, then you’d televise our performances throughout the year, right alongside sports and sitcoms.

Glorification?  If we weren’t living in the attic, we’d turn down your commission for a Coronation March – and try again to make you understand that we seek to edify more than we seek to glorify.

Certainly we are an inappropriate choice to re/present the achievements of the past thousand years.  Better to put Conrad Black on the stage.

Perhaps it’s not the chronicler you want, but the visionary.  Well, if you think the arts so adept at articulating, nay, formulating a vision, why don’t you ever invite and/or value our input?

It would be no lie to say that, especially in the last century, business has been calling the shots.  And while many calls have been good ones (I’m so very grateful for the production and sale of CD players), we are, overall, in pretty bad shape.  We’ve done serious damage to our ecosystem; too many people don’t have access to good food, good water, and good healthcare; and too many people do have access to horrendously lethal weapons.

So when I, as an ethics prof, was invited by a business prof to come talk to his policy class, I jumped at the chance.  Up and down.  But then it suddenly occurred to me: why is it only business and economics programs that have courses in policy-making?  No wonder they’re calling the shots; no one else is being trained to do so.

So there’s a resolution for the new millennium.  Humanities programs should have courses in policy-making.  Historians would be great policy consultants.  And philosophers, there are our policy analysts – with their concept clarification skills, their sharp ability to identify assumptions and implications, and their obsession with consistency and clarity.  Social science should do the same.  I note that at our university, social welfare has a course titled ‘Social Policy’, but what about sociology and psychology?  The economics policy course lists, as topics to be considered, poverty, inequality, healthcare, education, and pensions.  Surely sociology and psychology have much to say about these things!  Also listed are regional development and agriculture.  So what about the input of the natural sciences?  I see that environmental studies has a policy course, but that’s it.  Every discipline should have a course that teaches its students how to be of value to business, how to make their discipline’s value and importance understood by business, how to make their discipline’s interests heard by business.

Failing that, and we can call this the back-up resolution, business students should be taught to actively solicit the input of non-business interests  Call it the burden of being in control.  Any decision-making team should be as diverse as possible – that’s just good management, isn’t it?

But – and this is important – all votes must count equally.  For example, one could argue that science already sits at the boardroom table, but let’s face it: only the blueprints that are profitable make it into production.  And psychology has a chair, but they’re just being used – by marketing.  Clearly, the monetary vote is trumping everything else.

Maybe if we had artists in there, our cities wouldn’t be so ugly (all that stone and concrete, all those walls – so many lost opportunities for sculptors and painters).  And maybe if we had nurses and teachers and poets there, our policies would pay attention not only to economic value, but also to the value of health, freedom, and joy.

(Oh for crying out loud.  I’ve written a Millennial New Year’s column.)


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