Go Best, Young Man, Go West

Posted on February 6, 2016

Go Best, young Man, Go West

A new political economy of attention emerges in front of us and sings a siren song from all the world’s screens, pages and stages trying to seduce, shock and addict all of us all the time.

When a single charity, say run by nuns, or a single non-profit organization, say, the Red Cross, take care of the victims of a natural or a manmade disaster, matters seem to settle in a transparent order. People suffer, compassion moves distant others to donate, activists go ahead and help. An overreaching humanitarian organization, say United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, heals the wounds inflicted on civilized world by evil empires. But if charities are numerous and non-profit organizations compete against one another for public attention and sponsoring money, who is to decide which charity or which NGO helps better? Why should I sponsor “Doctors without Borders” rather than “Greenpeace”, a Christian Caritas rather than a Muslim Brotherhood, Animal Rights activists rather than blood donors? Relief in Middle East rather than in Ukraine? All charities and all NGO’s compete for our attention and our contribution, all would like to develop and maintain a good relationship with informed and concerned citizens.

Nor are charities alone. Education and health care follow. Hospitals, medicines, and insurance companies compete for attention and financial support and so do schools, colleges and universities. Every student every morning can flip his or her iPad open and decide which online course to follow, which educational event to attend, which educational menu to choose from. Move on, be mobile, upwardly, horizontally, temporarily. All health care and all educational bureaucracies and networks compete for our attention and our contribution, all would like attract “top talent” and groom “the best and the brightest”.

Generalized mobility and competition strongly support one of our values – freedom. At the expense of another value – solidarity. A great tragedy always involves a clash of values, which are equally legitimate and dear to us. And recent tragic clashes with hundreds of thousands of new migrants, from Syria, but also from Iraq, or from Afghanistan, unfold yet another version of this tragedy in front of our eyes. People die fighting for freedom. But they also die fighting for solidarity. The stage changes – migrants move from the beaches to the border passes, to temporary camps, to local communities, to asylum-seekers’ centers. Debates, originally clouded by political correctness, gradually focus on causes (solving the problems in places migrants are coming from, instead of building new walls and erecting new fences), not symptoms. What can we do to be better informed and more emphatically concerned citizens? Let us look for advice to our artists and writers:

“We have to look for power sources here, and distribution networks we were never taught, routes of power our teachers never imagined, or were encouraged to avoid” says Thomas Pynchon in his novel ”Gravity’s Rainbow”(1974). Well, let’s have a look, then.

February 6, 2016