Friday, April 19, 2019

Became an Economic

Earlier this week, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris was badly damaged by fire. To lose (or nearly lose) a living part of our past, a medieval monument to the blood, sweat, and tears of generations of workers—from the original builders to the ladies who just last week scraped the wax from around the base of the votive candles—seemed to me one cosmic insult too many, hurled from an indifferent universe upon our already angst-ridden psyches in these uncertain times.

As donations came pouring in for rebuilding, so did the sneers on social media, which came down to one theme: Why don't we spend billions alleviating world hunger or extinction or some other very real and very close-to-home social ill, rather than using private or corporate money to rebuild this relic of a patriarchal, domineering, abusive, and at times in the past few centuries downright criminal organization?

It almost seemed to bring a twisted joy to some, the cleansing flames gutting this image of human greed and pomp and privilege and cultural appropriation and hypocrisy...

Wait, what?

I realize it didn't help that "billionaires" (our new expletive and social scapegoat) were the first to donate large sums, thus making themselves targets for this vitriol of self-righteousness.

Come with me as I jump ahead a few nights. I was sitting at a reading at a local poetry center, an organization that was created by one family donating several tens of thousands of dollars, the interest from which would support readings, workshops, a poetry journal, and other events for the benefit of the community. Small potatoes, compared to Notre-Dame, but those tens of thousands of dollars could feed all the hungry in this rural county in which I live, and house a few homeless vets for a year or so in a local boarding house, and do other positive things in this area.

Why not, then, un-endow the poetry center and turn those funds loose to make the world a better place?

A world without art. A world in which we'd starve for something more than physical sustenance. Easy for me to say, full of eggplant rollatini as I am. But seriously, all the people I saw posting about letting Notre Dame remain a pile of ashes were people who themselves support the arts in numerous ways, either creating it themselves or buying it for their own comfortable homes. I am certain they also donate to charitable causes that help make people's lives better. Would they really advocate doing this in place of and instead of and before any more money can go to arts organizations or endowments for symphonies, historic renovations, museum, poetry?

Am I the only atheist who desires to see Notre Dame rise from the ashes?

These are cynical times. Most of my friends wonder how the corrupt and craven political shenanigans to which we are exposed every day will affect us in the long term. I think we saw this week, how our critical thinking skills are giving way to a moral relativism that is inconsistent with the better (secular) angels of our nature. We cannot live by bread alone. We need poetry. We need art. We need to lift our eyes to sunlight streaming through stained glass, even if we do not believe the saintly doings depicted in that glass (as we do not "believe" the novels we read or the plays we see, although we return to them time and time again for glimpses of "truth").

These are cynical times. I hope I didn't add to that this week. I hope when I teach medieval poetry again in the Fall, that a new generation of stonemasons and carvers are busy with their work. And that no one is hungry, and no streets run red with blood, and no vulture waits for an abandoned child to die.