On Art and Commerce and Pseudo-Activism

Let’s talk about art and commerce.

To get the obvious stuff out of the way, first, I am using here a very broad definition of art, so we can simply skip the arguments about what is and isn’t art. Second, those of you who want to make Garfunkle jokes, or any of the other oh-so-original cracks playing off the word “art,” please feel free to do so in the privacy of your own blog.

It is obvious that art and commerce are intertwined, and have been since class society has existed, and will continue to be so as long as class society exists. That does not, however, mean we have to be pleased about it, nor that we cannot do what we can to fight it. Simply accepting it, is to accept money as the measure of quality of a work of art, and I am unwilling to do that.

And yet, here is the problem: among so many people today, particularly people who call themselves progressives, there appears to be a conviction that the most important thing about a work of art is not if it moves the audience, not if it shows us something about life, not if helps us understand people who are unlike us, not if it challenges our beliefs, not if it helps us work through moral issues that perhaps we haven’t considered, but, rather money. Because I keep hearing things like this:

We cannot support this person, he gives money to bad causes. And this person has been accused of having done terrible things, so we must deprive him of money. That person is clearly evil, and must be punished by having his income reduced. This person over here is much more deserving of reward, and therefore the money that would go to someone else should go here instead.

Have you considered that, when you say that, what you are really saying is, “The most important aspect of a work of art is what the artist does with the income it generates”?

That’s it, that’s what you’re saying. This is such a complete capitulation to the values of capitalism, an utter surrender to the most loathsome forms of commercialism, that it astonishes me that anyone who expresses it could consider her- or himself anything but an utter conservative.

There is one writer—I shan’t name him, because I fear some of you would stop reading him—who is, or at least was, a conservative, right-wing Republican. As a writer, he has a sharp eye for detail, a deft hand with touching one’s emotional buttons, and an outstanding ability to express human interaction. I consider his work to be among the most subversive in our field; it takes a real effort to read him and not have one’s view of society called into question, to not see how capitalist society degrades and tries to crush the human spirit, and how we are capable of heroism in resisting it.

To get personal for a moment, I consider myself a red, a revolutionary. If I had the talent and skill to do one tenth as effective a job of calling the status quo into question in my books as he does in his, I’d be satisfied indeed.

Would he agree with this analysis? Hell no. I don’t care. What I care about is that his work challenges society as it is, and encourages everyone who reads it to do the same. If he then takes the money he’s paid and gives it to causes I consider vile, that is more than made up for by the truth he reveals; his work is a thousand times more progressive then the philistines who would attack him.

You are not standing on the moral high ground, it just looks that way because your vision is impaired.


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61 thoughts on “On Art and Commerce and Pseudo-Activism”

  1. One comment: American’s don’t know what “class” means. They are bombarded with “most of you are middle class!!!”

    No, they’re not. If they’re living paycheck to paycheck, if they don’t have *budgetary* authority over others, they’re *working class*. But that’s become a putdown….

    mark, proudly working class.

  2. I haven’t seen many comments of that type, but one thing I have seen is, “There are more artists whose work I want to experience than I can in several lifetimes. Given that, I’ll choose the ones who I don’t consider evil.” (That doesn’t assume that the works are the same, only that the person’s desire to experience them is equally strong.)

    A similar one that I haven’t seen but can imagine is, “I’ll pay for works by artists I approve of and experience the others without letting the artists get any money,” e.g. by borrowing books from a public library.

    Neither of those means the person thinks money is the most important thing about art. I wonder whether some of the people you’re talking about think in either of those ways but leave that part unspoken.

  3. If a piece of art is really good I’ll say it is really good. If I learn that the artist was into vile things that doesn’t change the work itself but it may change my relationship to it.
    Here’s an example—“The Hunt For Red October “ is an enjoyable read (or at least I remember it so). I haven’t read it for a long time since as Clancy became more strident in his conservatism, so did his work. I stopped reading them at some point as they became essentially propaganda pieces. These later works disinclined me to reread the earlier even though the original hasn’t changed.
    If an author really does produce works that are dispute some aspect of vileness, then the work is good. Often (not always), however, the contradiction in supporting vileness seems to seep into the work and this makes me sad as the artist seems to give into corruption.

  4. Jerry: Thank you for a thoughtful comment. In essence, I would argue that you’re saying exactly the same thing. “There are more artists whose work I want to experience than I can in several lifetimes…” In other words, there’s lots of art. This inherently treats it as interchangeable, as a commodity, and if it’s a commodity, why not buy from ethical sources. But it isn’t a commodity, and treating it as one diminishes it. Is Shakespeare interchangeable with Dickens? Is Van Gogh interchangeable with Frans Hals? The value of art lies in the art; your very argument strips that away and bases your decision-making on what happens to the money.

  5. Steve: Need I point out that in your example you discovered things in the work itself? That is entirely different. And, yes, certainly, things we may learn about the artist might make us more aware of what is in the art. If we were to learn, for example, that Dumas was half black (he was), that would put some of his remarks about race in a new context, and we might realize that what we had thought was a racist remark was in fact tongue-in-cheek, and intended to point out the absurdity of racism. And certainly the reverse is possible, as in your example. I am not arguing that we must remain, or pretend to remain, ignorant about the author, and that what we learn might not inform how we respond to the work. But you are placing the work at the center, not money.

  6. Part of the problem is that our society has made art=commerce in many cases. I choose not to give money to people who hate my family members. I do not think that would be controversial. So when I get upset that a famous author or comedian is TERF and I choose not to give them money I do not want to make a judgement on their art but I also do not want to give them money.

    I do not need to make any judgement about the politics of Shakespeare or Dickens since I am not actually giving them any money. The situation is much more nuanced in our modern capitalist world.

  7. I think people who try to leverage their spending to make political or social statements have good intentions.

    The problem is they are trusting the wrong people when they ask the question: “What can I do to fight against capitalists behaving in ways I don’t like?”

    To which, the real answer is “End capitalism. Any other activity is just a waste of your time.”

    But of course, supporters of capitalism are never going to give people that answer, so they like to invent substitution activities for these people to try that still maintain capitalism but at least superficially might appear to have a negative impact against the particular capitalists that the individual is complaining about.

  8. Thanks for the reply, Steve. To be clear (as they say), I’m saying those things and it’s my argument only in that I brought it up here as something I’ve seen. It’s not the way I decide how to spend my money.

    Of course different works of art aren’t interchangeable. I tried to address that in my earlier comment.

    Maybe it will make this argument clearer to imagine a man who’s terminally ill and has time to read one more novel. He has two favorite authors, innovatively named X and Y. X writes books that move him and challenge his beliefs. Y writes books that show him something about life and help him understand people who are not like him. Each has a new book out that has gotten excellent reviews. In ordinary circumstances he’d never try to decide between them–he’d buy both. But with time to read only one, he has to decide. X has just been convicted of selling drugs on elementary school playgrounds, and our reader decides to buy Y’s book. I don’t see that that indicates that he thinks money is the most important thing about art or that art is fungible.

    Of course things are never that clear-cut. But still people have only limited time and money, and “Of the making of many books there is no end.” People with wide-ranging tastes (not “Heroic fantasy by writers who use ‘thou’, and use it correctly”) may well have to forego some uniquely valuable works of art they’d like to experience. How should they decide? A strong difference in their opinion of the artist as a person could easily be more important than a slight difference in attractiveness of what they know of the work.

    Incidentally, there’s room here for casuistry [*] in an old sense. In the visual arts, the prices of works can really make a difference. Here’s another case. A rich woman has about $20,000 dollars to buy an original work of art for her living room. In that price range, she has found a representational painting by A that brings up profound emotions. She has also found an abstract multimedia work by B that says something new and brilliant about art. She loves both in different ways, and by the way, both look terrific with her color scheme. Now she learns that B donates to political death squads in Central America, so buying B’s work will probably mean another assassination. If she chooses to buy A’s on that ground alone, is there something wrong with that decision?

    [*] A sneaky way of letting me mention that a sentence containing that word, spoken by Pel, is currently my favorite sentence of yours. Actually I couldn’t have named a favorite till I noticed how much I like that one.

  9. Well, it could be worse. We could be judging a work’s value based on sales generated. Kafka and Van Gogh both died without ever knowing their output would eventually reach the heights of esteem it did. Meanwhile, certain contemporary novels are commercially quite successful, but I read the first few sentences of them to see what all the fuss is about, but that is about as much as I can stand.

  10. In the past, I have decided what to read based on recommendation, by picking up the next book along on the shelf, or by random chance. Currently I’m reading Steve’s work because I like his politics.
    None of these methods is foolproof. But the politics one has worked more often than any other, I think.

    If an artist who’s work you like turns out to be a Conservative (capitalised as I’m in the UK), that would change my reaction to it. And that would be the case regardless of whether I knew the artist was giving money to the Tory party or not. Merely knowing they had abhorrent views would be enough.
    I don’t think I buy the “art is art regardless” argument. One’s opinion can change with experience, and frequently does.

  11. If I disagree with someone’s world view strongly enough to think I ought to do something about it, I ask myself, “How can I hurt the guy the most?” And, often, it’s by withholding my money from him or her. It’s not measuring his art or lack of art by money; it’s how to make a point most forcefully.

  12. Jeremy: One of the most important things art does is use emotions and imagery to help us understand the world. The idea of rejecting a work of art because of personal characteristics of the artist is as absurd to me as rejecting a scientific discovery because of personal characteristics of the scientist.

  13. A lot of lousy jerks, freaks, recluses, cads, degenerates, and downright psychos have created amazing art during the course of human history. I am looking for a book recommendation…

  14. If attempting to cancel artists with differing political outlooks is counter-productive pseudo-activism, what would genuine and productive activism with respect to art purchases or art recommendations look like?

  15. Encouraging complete freedom in the arts, in every possible sense. When a work of art is objectionable in some way, either deliberately or not, part of that freedom is to criticize that work. When the criticism moves from attacking the work to attacking the artist, it creates a climate of fear that only inhibits art, especially the most daring and exciting work.

  16. I’ve often pondered this myself, and don’t think I’ll arrive at an answer I’m happy with for some time. I want “free” art, of course. I want artists to feel able to create and take risks. But at the same time I wonder whether a “free” art world eventually devolves into the choice of “we will either scare artists out of making art which promotes harm to the out-group” or “the out-group will become harmed by artists promoting violence in their art.”

    In a perfect world, criticism of a vile piece of art would dissuade people from adopting its philosophy. In practice, we know there will always be people looking to use a piece of “controversial art” to legitimize a hatred that they will never willingly relinquish.

  17. I will say that I deeply disagree with many of your political opinions, Mr. Brust, but I love how thoughtful you are in expressing those opinions, and I am not only happy to buy your books but I think you’re a terrific human being and wish you all the best.

    I don’t have to agree with 100% of what someone says to be glad they’re speaking.

  18. Art schmart, I have to fart.

    Honest entertainment made because people think stuff is cool brings a lot more happiness than art anyway. People who set out to make art are probably insufferable assholes.

    I don’t consider the Taltos books art and I hope I never do.

  19. This is a subject I’ve been wrestling with since the beginning of the #MeToo movement. Do we judge the art or are we judging the artist? At first, I explored the work of Lovecraft, and while I can argue that he was a reprehensible human being, I find it difficult to “cancel” his work, having found little to no objectional subject matter (racism) inherent in his art. On the other hand, I look at the work of Nazi filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl and would wish terrible things upon her because of her art.

    That being said, I am thankful that Lovecraft’s work now has mostly fallen into the public domain because another artist, Misha Green was able to reinvent his work in HBO’s Lovecraft Country. If you haven’t seen it, he used Lovecraft’s personal racist views as a horror device and created something I’m sure HP would have hated. For me, it’s still a toss-up and has to be handled on a case-by-case basis. In the end, if I know the artist is a predator, it taints how I view the art.

  20. “Do we judge the art, or the artist?”
    Okay, an answer came to me a few minutes ago: suppose someone, rather than having a time machine and going back and killing him, had worked with Hitler on art, and helped him become a good enough artist to make a living. He might not have taken the other path.

  21. Not 100% sure if I understand. When you speak of an author from a right-ish political position, and whose work is “subversive”, do you:
    [1] Deem that his subversiveness reveals his true self and that his political position is a mask?
    [2] Deem that he is expressing a level of self-contradiction?
    [3] Say that such distinctions are irrelevant/NOYB/unknowable?

    Sorry if this question has been hashed to death elsewhere.

  22. Excellent question! I think mostly 2. The way we integrate our belief systems and ideology with our art is often contradictory; I suspect that is as true of me as of anyone else. But historically, there is no shortage of artists who held reactionary political opinions and yet create art with a subversive or progressive essence; and we could almost certainly find the reverse as well if we looked. The most subversive and progressive thing an artist can do today is to simply tell the truth about life; and the awareness that this truth is subversive does not automatically follow from the ability to observe and record and cast the result in images.

    Sorry about the delay in replying; I’ve been shamefully ignoring this blog. I’ll try to do better.

  23. Every now and then I think oh, I should look up Brust’s blog again, he usually has good stuff. And then promptly forget to. Then a friend of mine happened to hear about and pass on to me that you’d be doing a Tsalmoth signing this weekend, which naturally renewed my motivation a bit.

    And then I find this genuine beauty of a post, so perfectly addressing one of the issues that’s been bothering me about the talk I see online for MONTHS. I may or may not agree with all the specifics of it, but the gist of the concept that art is art and ought to be evaluated on its own merits is spot-on. One of my current favorite works is by an author whose political and religious views I disagree with. That doesn’t change the fact that her work is genuinely amazing, emotionally touching, and deeply thought-provoking. So of course I will continue to read it, and buy copies of it to stash away on my bookshelf and reread whenever the whim strikes me.

    I’d already reached the conclusion that “if I only limit myself to media made by people I agree with, I’d have almost nothing to read,” but your post gives me the very important second half of that: “if everyone limits themselves to art made by people they agree with, there’d be almost no new, worthwhile art created.”

    I wish I had seen this months ago, it would’ve saved me a lot of mentally fussing over the matter! And hope to be at the signing Saturday, I can’t wait to read Tsalmoth, but I suppose I will have to abide a few more days. :)

  24. AC: An interesting difference from a lot of the people who do consider their opinions of the artists’ character or politics in making their choices. They often say, “There’s so much great art by people I don’t object to that I could never experience it all in a lifetime” (or in ten lifetimes). Your view is just the opposite. This may have to do with different standards for art and for people.

  25. Fun book! Like others, I was disappointed that it didn’t continue the story after Hawk, but enjoyed seeing Vlad and Cawti getting along (an understated description).

    DrPepperFan: Nice, I’d missed those. This might be another.

    “I’ve landed on solid rock after a long fall” (Hawk Chapter 16, 300).

    “Once when I was a kid, a bunch of Orcas were chasing me up by the East Bank Cliffs, and I ended up jumping off and falling, I don’t know, not all the way down, of course, but far enough so they didn’t want to follow me.” (Tsalmoth, Chapter 13, 220).

    That makes me wonder why Vlad, when he jumps in Hawk, didn’t levitate or turn the air to molasses or something. Would it have kept him in the air so long the bad persons might taken a shot at him? (He could have waited till he was fairly close to the water.) Did it go without saying? Or did he forget he could do those things as a result of his mnemectomy? (The word seems to exist.)

    Now I’m looking forward to Lyorn!

  26. I had a long and, it seemed to me, thoughtful reply to this blog post.

    Then, I realized that there was a simple answer to the question being posed. I expect it’s one that won’t satisfy Mr. Brust, really, but I think it rings true of human nature.

    It’s simply this – we care about what an artist or other creative does with his or her money because most of us put a pretty fair chunk of effort into acquiring the money that we spend on entertainment or patronage and even when we don’t express the thought out loud, we generally want to believe that our patronage is making a difference in the world.

    Believe me, I’ve had this internal discussion with myself. This past winter I visited my folks in Utah and a restaurant we visited was featuring some fabulous art pieces by a semi-local artist that were even at what I considered to be reasonable and worthy prices. Now, I could have simply purchased one and called it good.

    Instead, I researched the artist, initially in an effort to discover what other work he had created and see if I might even visit his studio. (Alas, it wasn’t possible on that trip.) In the course of this research, though, I discovered that this artist’s political leanings were the polar opposite of my own. To the point where I asked myself, “Is this a person that I want my money to support?”

    And, believe me, I also asked myself whether I OUGHT to be asking myself that former question at all? Wasn’t it enough that I loved this man’s art? Did it matter that he might turn around and use the money I paid him to support causes that I definitely would NOT support?

    I still don’t have an answer. I just know that I put a lot of work into earning and acquiring my small personal bit of wealth and I feel a responsibility for using it to make the world “better” according to my personal yardstick for what constitutes “better”. This guy is an artist, yes, but if he was a plumber or a mechanic or a ditch-digger and I learned that he was also a closet Nazi, I would still hire a different plumber/mechanic/ditch-digger rather than pretending it’s important that the ditch doesn’t care about the philosophy of the guy with the shovel.

    You seem to be saying that art should be independent of the artist while also saying that artists should be compensated for their art without consideration of their personal character. I judge EVERYONE by what I know about their personal character. Even artists. It’s just that for 99.999% of the world, I don’t really know anything about their character beyond what they tell me. It’s not that I’m giving some special condemnation to an artist for being “evil” or for spending their money supporting “evil” causes. I’d condemn ANYONE who I knew was potentially going to accept some of my wealth that I had worked hard to acquire, and then that person turn around and do “evil” things with it.

    The fact that the same man or woman also created a piece of insightful artistic expression that said something profound about the human experience would be beside the point. This – “Have you considered that, when you say that, what you are really saying is, “The most important aspect of a work of art is what the artist does with the income it generates”?” is an incorrect statement in my opinion because my judgement of the character of the artist is independent of my judgement of the art.

    In fact, in asking the question about the artist, I have already answered the question about the art – That is, I wouldn’t be having the quandary over supporting the artist unless I already felt that the art itself was worthy of that transfer of wealth. It’s a red herring, IMO, to conflate my judgement of the artist with my judgement of the art. The two are separate considerations, ironically because art can only live in a vacuum if the artist is someone like Banksy who deliberately distances himself nearly completely from his art. Otherwise, consideration of the artist behind the art is simply unavoidable, no matter how good the art may be when it IS considered in a vacuum.

    Now this is longer than the previous reply, so I’ll wrap this here. So, the ;tldr here is – Art doesn’t receive money. Artists receive money. Judging how an artist will use MY money once I exchange it with him is my choice and has nothing at all to do with the art; especially if I am willing to deprive myself of that art in order to insure that MY money is used in what I judge to be a “good” manner. This is nothing special to artists, any more than it’s special to gas station attendants or life insurance salesmen. I wouldn’t buy insurance from an “evil” insurance salesman any more than I’d buy art from an “evil” artist.

  27. Scott: Thanks for taking the time to make a thoughtful comment.

    Your remark, “we care about what an artist or other creative does with his or her money because most of us put a pretty fair chunk of effort into acquiring the money that we spend on entertainment or patronage” in the first place, clearly has nothing to do with human nature, as it is extremely recent phenomenon. Even twenty years ago, one would not have heard, “This is a bad person, let’s not buy his art” except from maybe a few outliers. Many of my Jewish relatives purchased, read, enjoyed, and got a great deal of value from reading the work that notorious antisemitic pro-Nazi Ezra Pound. One cannot put a dollar value on the spiritual enrichment of one’s life.

    To take perhaps the most extreme example, there was massive outrage among African-Americans, socialists, and progressives at the release of what may be the most objectionable film in history, “The Birth of a Nation.” There were protests and demands that it be shut down (quite correctly, in my opinion, though free speech absolutists differ with me). And yet, if you look at the history of those protests, nowhere will you find a hint of someone saying, “D. W. Griffith should be prevented from making movies,” or, “Griffith should be denied income.” The protests were directed at the film, not the filmmaker.

    Let us conduct a thought experiment. Suppose a certain New York City Jew named Abel Meeropol had been found to be a serial sexual harasser. (Please note: He wasn’t! I’m making that up!) The word got out, and spread, and, according to today’s pseudo-lefts, he should have been denied income for his songwriting. The result of that, if successful, would be that his songs were squelched. The result? Billie Holiday would never have sung “Strange Fruit” and literally millions of white people would not have become viscerally aware of the horrors of lynching in the deep south. Much of the support for the Civil Rights movement had its seeds in Billie’s amazing rendition of that song. Will you tell me the Civil Rights of millions of people are less important then whether some guy gets a paycheck?

    This is not far-fetched. What artist is out there now, with a potentially world changing work, that today could be covered over if he was convicted of some crime after trial-by-internet? Art moves us, changes us, and does so sometimes in spite of the author, as in the example in the OP. We need more art, not less. We need to broaden our understanding of our world, not find excuses to restrict it.

    “I judge EVERYONE by what I know about their personal character. Even artists.” Of course. As do I. Nor am I saying we shouldn’t. A person who commits morally reprehensible actions does not get a free pass by being an artist, any more than a terrible work of art gets a free pass because it was created by a saint. Those who commit foul acts should suffer consequences. However, to say that those consequences should be financial merely reveals the degree to which one has uncritically accepted the cultural of capitalism. Because that culture really exists does not mean we should surrender to it. Just the opposite! The end result of this, if successful, is to silence the artist. To silence the artist is to punish–the entire community that could be enriched by that artist’s work!

    We are not making the world better by restricting the consumption of art based on what happens to the money we paid after it leaves our pocket. We are, in fact, making the world worse merely by reinforcing the notion that commerce is the final arbiter of art. Maybe in capitalist society commerce IS the final arbiter of art. But I am unwilling to say that is a good thing, and so long as I have a voice, I will continue to argue against it.

  28. I think that I’ve finally resolved this, at least for myself. Not appreciating (that includes buying) art because you don’t like the person – there has to be some sort of cutoff. For example, I would not buy anything from Kratman, who’s a literal fascist (Baen author).

    But… this isn’t art, but Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, and unlike Washington, who freed his slaves when he died, did not. Does this mean we should toss the Constitution and the Bill of Rights?

  29. “, I would not buy anything from Kratman, who’s a literal fascist (Baen author).” So was Ezra Pound.

  30. Steve, you make a lot of really good points and as I mentioned this is not a cut and dry issue for me, so I’m willing to acknowledge that you could very well be in the right here.

    I do question the way you characterize a personal thought of “I’m unsure that I want to support this person” as “I want to punish this person.” It sounds like you’re taking “cancel culture” and applying it as a one size fits all villain to every decision that affects a consideration about an artist and/or his art. I consider that an unfair characterization of the thought process most people go through in making a decision like that.

    Free speech is not free of consequences merely because one has the freedom to speak. If an artist, or a ditch digger, is using his art to earn money or to satisfy a patron that provides shelter and the means to live a life, then at that point the artist is inextricably bound up with his art. If you’re not Banksy, or Emily Dickinson, or otherwise living a life that is deliberately disconnected from your art then it is unavoidable for the artist’s life to become entangled with his art, IMO.

  31. Sorry about putting my comment on Tsalmoth in the wrong place. Is it OK if I copy it to the right one?

    I don’t think boycotting artists’ work because of their character or views is all that new. In the ’60s many American Christians boycotted the Beatles when Lennon said they were bigger than Jesus, and many American soldiers and veterans then (and some still) boycotted Jane Fonda for going to Hanoi.

    The first to be “canceled” in English-speaking culture may have been Oscar Wilde. Not only did people refuse to read his books after his trials, but the British Museum stopped circulating them and theater managers stopped producing his plays. The best source I can find is https://books.google.com/books?id=-A8lZ-IvlgAC&pg=PA103 but that boycott seems to be the reason Wilde died in poverty.

    And though I read books by people with all kinds of political and religious beliefs (including Ezra Pound), I drew the line at the posthumous novels of L. Ron Hubbard, and I don’t think I was the only one.

  32. Steven – Ezra Pound – yes, but if I want to read him, there’s used books, and library books. Kratman is writing *now*.

    And Jerry, re LRond. I read alllllll of Battlefield Earth when it came out. Given that this was his magnum opus… he was *literally* writing a section for each and every pulp mag – air adventure, detective, jungle adventure, spy adventure, and I’m sure I”ve managed to blot out, er, forget more, glued together, there’s no way I’d *want* to read mediocre pulp adventure in the style of LRond.

  33. Jerry: Sure, no problem. “I don’t think boycotting artists’ work because of their character or views is all that new. In the ’60s… ”

    You are absolutely correct; I was sloppy in my formulation. I meant it was new from people claiming to be progressives; as you point, there is a long history of that from the right wing.

  34. I’ve been thinking about this some more (which means obviously it’s given me a lot to think about!) and I find myself wondering: what do you think of the broad attitude of “if you like the art and can afford to do so, you should try to support the artist?” As in, when that attitude is taken independently of any judgment of the artist’s personal attitudes and such, but rather the idea that if you have a choice between having a thing for free and paying for it, if it’s something you enjoy or find value you in, it’s better to pay for it if you have the means to do so?

  35. Hrm. To be honest, I’ve never thought about it. I wish we lived in a world where it didn’t come up.

  36. Don’t we all…

    Granted, the question originated in the issue of pirating vs buying, with the presumption that pirating is stealing, but I also see it a lot in regards to, for example, webcomics. Where all the content is published for free by the creator, no strings attached, though there may also be extra goodies and incentives via patreon or such. It makes me wonder if part of the “boycott artists whose views you don’t like” you’re talking about might have originated in this attitude/question, where there’s already a choice between “enjoy the art for free” or “pay for the art you’re enjoying” to be made. I’ve seen people comment on wanting to, for example, subscribe to more artists’ patreons, but simply being unable to afford them all, and therefore having to pick and choose favorites.

    Anyway. Sorry if that’s too much of a tangent. Thoughts, you know, they happen sometimes.

  37. What the heck is “Nonce verification failed?” Trying again (sorry it it appears twice)

    One thing I would emphasize is that most artists of all kinds are not exactly wealthy, and that money spent buying their art will mostly go to feeding them and their families, paying their rent, buying clothes, etc. And no matter their politics, everyone producing quality goods deserves support for their efforts. No matter someones views, they are human beings worthy of having a reasonable quality of life. It is the height of elitest snobbery to say they should have more “demeaning” jobs. No jobs which improve the quality of life of the community are demeaning. (The only demeaning jobs are in such industries as the MIC, big pharma, medical insurance, finance, and, unfortunately, more and more in the “activist” community.)

  38. Isn’t “wokeism” a total yawn, Steven?

    I think the problem for *me* is how starchily, puritanically *moralistic* most of the devotees of this (Democratic) worldview, many of them really young, actually are.

    (You may be able to divine my attitude to THAT outlook, me being a Lokean! )

    But then, they DON’T “get” other aspects of morality or humanity or justice, such as fair process, anyway.

  39. @ Jerry Friedman

    That was a great point about Oscar Wilde being the first victim of “cancel culture”: again by “moralists” who claimed he groomed young men and made them gay!

  40. Really? “Wokeism” is a total yawn? Kindly define “wokeism”. Do so in a way that does not demonstrate that “antiwokeism” isn’t the ultra-“moralistic” (re sex, for example) thing that every antiwoker is about.

  41. I am a person who has been poor my entire life. Most I’ve had in my bank at one time is 486$. I go days without food sometimes, I have been homeless multiple times. The only thing I enjoy in life, as regular media like tv and movies etc make me miserable, are books.

    When you read a book you’re accepting part of a writers world view into you. To not spend time, money, etc on people who have bad intentions for mass groups that you are a part of can only ever be a morally neutral thing.

    You are saying money has been mixed with art and it’s a shame, but the reality is that you cannot remove politics from art and this has always been the case. Conservative book bans , boycotts of all kind, refusal to give money to causes you don’t support- those are one of the few ways an individual can consume in a way that feels ethical to them

    Ive been here for a long time and I love your writing, but this kind of wishy-washy spiritual art stuff is bullshit.

    Capitalism is here, capitalism will stay here

    I encourage everybody to support artists that they enjoy , and to continue to not support artists who you do not enjoy. That is the way of the world and the way it has always been.

    Book-share with people who have different opinions of you, but never ever put money into something you know is going to be put toward a bad cause. To believe you can separate art from product is naïveté at its finest.

    @gays, queers, etc – any money you put into a conservative they’ll use to destroy you. You know that, do not let yourself be brainwashed into thinking otherwise.

    My uncle is an extremely rich pos millionaire with multiple businesses. He puts a huge portion of his money into “non-profits” that have goals to get rid of certain groups from our society, example: Moms for Liberty.

    Everybody… take care of yourselves. Don’t boycott needlessly, allow others to consume what they want, and read nonfiction, read history, read about religion and the economy and how people – even the author of this and myself – want to change your mind and influence you.

  42. Thanks for taking the time to make a thoughtful reply.

    “When you read a book you’re accepting part of a writers world view into you.” Sure. And that would be a reasonable argument if writers–or anyone else–were pure, without contradiction, and fully aware of everything they did. But that is an absurdly simplistic view, and contradicted by all of human experience with art. The most personally reactionary writer can (as I mentioned above) produce work that is deeply subversive, and vice versa. To reduce it to the political or personal opinions of the artist is to demonstrate no understanding whatsoever of the role art can play in helping us understand our world, and in enriching our lives, in helping us understand people who are different from us, in bringing human beings together across national boundaries, religious boundaries, racial boundaries, and even class boundaries. To abandon this potential, instead replacing a careful analysis of a work of art with a simplistic formula based on what this or that artist says, or uses the income for, is to simply turn it into another commodity, like a can of peas.

    ” the reality is that you cannot remove politics from art and this has always been the case.” Of course not. Nor would I wish to. Nor am I arguing for doing so. I am arguing against simplistic, uninformed, mechanical applications of politics to work that is often nuanced and can profoundly influence us in the ways the author might not to know or approve of.

    It is the right-wing who bans books, and tries to deprive artists of income because they don’t like them. To see those who claim to be progressives doing this is a complete capitulation to the backwardness of the right-wing and I will have no part of it. They say to themselves, “If we make people afraid to express opinions that threaten the status quo, then we can shut down discussion.” Are they right? Maybe. But the question is: do we want to shut down discussion? Do we want to use fear to prevent people from expressing opinions? To do so pretty much defines the role of the right-wing. I oppose it with my entire being. I would hope you do, too.

    “Capitalism is here, capitalism will stay here” That is quite a remarkable assertion, given that no other human institution in history has proven to be eternal. Certainly other economic forms—primitive communism, feudal monarchy, slave societies–each had their day and then passed away–I see no reason to believe capitalism, of all things, is the last, ultimate word on how goods are produced and distributed! Capitalism is currently destroying the planet, tobogganing us toward WW III, letting a treatable pandemic kill us off because it would hurt profits to do otherwise, and giving us rising fascist movements that threaten our most basic rights; you had better hope you’re wrong.

  43. “When you read a book you’re accepting part of a writers world view into you.”

    Well, no. I really, really like both the Neuromancer trilogy, as well as Walter Jon Willams’ Hardwired. I DO NOT want their worldview, or rather, I take those novesl as warnings. Accepting that part of their worldview would mean thinking, like the GOP, that 1984 is a playbook.

  44. I’d just like to point out that the right isn’t going after Roald Dahl, Mark Twain, Harper Lee, PG Wodehouse, or Ian Fleming with self-righteous redacting fury. It isn’t the right creating those fell creatures known as sensitivity readers, who spread their chilling effect on written art through every publishing house they infest like a disease (YA and SFF are, from what I can gather, particularly sick).

    The right, as is tradition, has had its highly caffeinated disgust reflex pranged and is reacting by removing overmany books from schools. The left, as is tradition, has no halting condition and can’t take yes for an answer so continues to push boundaries. Personally though, for example, I don’t consider a book detailing how to use Grindr appropriate for middle schoolers, and would support the termination of any teacher, librarian, or board member that gave it or made it available to students.

    If one is a lefty, it might be worth it to think on which boundaries one is willing to tear through in the putative name of progress, and whether limiting preteens’ access to certain books at a school they are required to attend is actually more censorious than rewriting Dahl or requiring a YA author to write her race.

  45. Ah, yes, teachers lecturing middle schoolers on how to use grindr. Yep. And where did you hear about that, other than neofascist websites?

    Sorry, but propaganda from funnymentalists doesn’t fly, it drops into the toilet where it belongs, and gets flushed.

  46. So you’d be against such a book’s availability to twelve year olds? Good.

    This Book is Gay, specifically Chapter 9: “The Ins and Outs of Gay Sex.” Pierce Middle School library, Tampa. There are other books and schools, throwing as many silly portmanteaus as you can manage at me doesn’t change fact.

    The immediate reflex is to deny it’s happening. Next will be it’s happening, but not all that much. Eventually you’ll get to it’s happening and it’s a good thing, because that is what’s required of you. The march of progress.

  47. Nope.

    Now let’s see, you’ve verified this book is there, and have read it cover to cover, and can verify that it’s porn, not what it is and why?

    Of course you haven’t.

    I absolutely would want middle schoolers learning that, along with birth control, given the number of 13 and 14 and 15 year olds getting pregnant (like the 15 yr old that Lauren “trailer trash” Boebert’s 17 yr old son knocked up (aka statutory rape).

    When my twins entered college over 20 years ago, they told me they were required to take a sex ed class, and the first day, the teacher asked the class of young women “I suppose the only sex ed you had was when you turned 16, and your mother took you aside and told you ‘don’t do it, but if you do, use protection’?”

    My daughters were the *only* ones in the class who did not agree with that statement.

  48. One, I’m left wondering if “nope” is in answer to my question, or just a general juvenile “nuh-huh” directed at me.

    Two, I’m curious if you apply the same evidentiary standards you require of me to people you agree with. (By the way, “The benefits are obvious: quick, easy, and uncomplicated sex.” is a direct quote from said book regarding sex apps)

    Three, I’m impressed at the immediate shifting of goalposts from preteens learning about gay hookup sex apps to teenagers receiving general sex ed.

    Four, I’m truly sorry your daughters went to a college where every other girl in the class was apparently either homeschooled by fundamentalists or had equivalent abysmal public schooling.

    Lastly, I’m disappointed that you’ve yet to apply any of your apparently bottomless disdain and rushes to judgment to the actual meat of my initial post. This quibbling is over a throwaway point. Would it help if I used a different example of the right overreacting to a genuine problem?

  49. Nope was my response to you “good”. Since you want to quibble, the full answer is “I disagree with you strongly, and believe you *WRONG*.” Is that clear enough?

    And “shifting goalposts”? At what age *should* children learn about sex? Let’s see, 200 years ago, when 90% of the population lived on farms, and many in very small houses, they *all* knew what the animals were doing by the time they were 8, and what their parents were doing soon after.

    But you seem to be against children learning *before* they start experimenting. Learning when they might still be at the “they do that? yuck!” stage, so it gets into their heads *before* they start, like Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, who was a woman’s crotch in Batman’s shoulder muscle (and no, I’m not exaggerating, I saw the book).

    And my twins went to a major university in VA, and no, I have grave doubts that any of their classmates were homeschooled, and as for “abysmal public education”… go on, tell us how many cities have, or states allow, actual sex ed in the public schools. I can tell you about the speech I gave in Austin, TX in ’94, where there were many dozens of speakers, and half against ANYTHING OTHER THAN ABSTINANCE (or don’t you remember that was the GOP’s motto under W?).

    Oh, and I’d love to see the rest of the paragraph about grindr, not merely one sentence fragment.

  50. If that “nope” was in answer to my question, then the most charitable interpretation would be either you didn’t understand my question or you understood but decided – without knowing anything about said book *even its title* – that I was mistaken about its contents. Uncharitable would be that you leapt to the conclusion that I was a fascist boogeyman and being a fascist boogeyman, any thing out of my mouth from “I like pie” to an explanation of the ultraviolet catastrophe you must take upon yourself to oppose. Literal interpretation of said “nope” would mean you outwardly support children learning about hookup apps.

    You’ve also decided to set up and argue against positions I didn’t voice, namely: Sex ed is Bad and Public Schooling is Abysmal (by the way, you pointing out that schools are not teaching sex ed reinforces the latter position). You flat out said I have no idea what I’m talking about regarding a book, even though you just learned about it from me. You’ve refused to apply yourself to any of my points that actually relate to the topic at hand: “Art and Commerce”.

    And finally: Your initial retort called me a… “funnymentalist” spreading neofascist propaganda from rightwing websites (as an aside, look the book up on Wikipedia and Snopes; for all their faults they are certainly not bent right). I should have known better than to engage after immediate namecalling, but historically those on the left have had less reactionary, more inquisitive, and certainly less judgmental minds… I now believe I’d be better off discussing this with Harvey the Rabbit.

    Good day to you sir, and Happy 4th of July.

  51. I think it might be worthwhile to define our terms. skzb’s original post appears to be aimed at the obnoxious practice of individuals “canceling” works of art by not purchasing them, not because of their own merit or lack thereof, but because the author has publicly espoused a disfavored political view.

    Then we have the Nathan S. “train of thought,” which is that graphically sexual materials should be removed from school libraries and school curriculum. And also works about the country’s history of racism and struggle for justice, since they are so divisive and all.

    Finally, there are actual bans as imposed under totalitarian regimes. All copies rounded up and burned, and if a person is caught with one, they are put to death.

    DeSantis is pretty slick because he cloaks his policy in the language of the second type, but you know he and his followers would really like to graduate to type three if they could swing it.

  52. Good perspective, Kragar. I think what bothers me the most about this is that those engaged in cancelling artists for their personal activities or political views are besmirching the honorable term “leftist” with their McCarthyite tactics.

    It is good to remember that when we (meaning traditional leftists) protested the film, “Birth of a Nation” as the piece of racist, reactionary filth it was, no one suggested that D. W. Griffith should be prevented from making films, or suggested boycotting any of his past or future work.

  53. By the way, I looked up the book. I see that it’s got 4.5/5 stars on Amazon, and overwhelmingly positive reviews.

  54. Money is power. This isn’t capitalism at work; this is what money was, long before capitalism or feudalism or even empire. In a future, stateless, classless, moneyless society, there may be no money, or there may be something that exists as another intermediary of power that is money in all but name, but in the society we have, what money is, what it has always been designed to be since the first coin rolled out of the first press, is power.

    As with any form of power, you can do many things with money. You can cause things to be created or destroyed, cleaned or tarnished; cause people to be healed or hurt, educated or indoctrinated; cause ideas to be spread or silenced, refined to make them more effective at conveying their author’s intentions or twisted against them.

    As with any form of power, money exists because we agree it does. Just as a government ceases to exist when its people stop following its commands or a religion does when people stop worshipping as required, money stops existing when people stop taking it as a token of exchange.

    As with any form of power, money attracts other forms of power. It is no coincidence that the celebrities, the people elected to government, the wealthy, the religious leaders, all end up with ties to each other, becoming one inbred spiderweb of influence, capable of sending power along its various threads as needed.

    And as with any form of power, money is dangerous unless entrusted to the right hands.

    This Republican you speak of, I doubt you would ask me to serve in an army under his leadership. I doubt you would ask me to vote for him in an election. I doubt you would ask me to join his religious congregation. But you do ask me to buy his book.

    Perhaps the power I would give this Republican by buying his book is less than a vote would impart (although I could argue the point: the fun thing about money, compared to a vote, is that any given single unit of money always has incremental value, whereas a single vote often doesn’t). But, either way, what I am doing is giving this person more power to reshape the world as he wishes it to be (which, him being a Republican, is probably even less like the world I want to see than the world we live in now is). And that power will attract yet more power, as power always does.

    And that, giving him a greater ability to, most likely, wreck the world further, is not a consequence you can do anything about without making money not a form of power (and therefore making it not money).

    And let’s back up a moment and say that happens. I buy the book, and five minutes later, snap, we’re in the post-state utopian place where money is meaningless paper. What did I actually give him? Honestly, nothing. In simplest terms, I (unintentionally) defrauded him, giving him something worthless for his product, with the understanding that it was actually worth something.

    So it seems to me, in the case you present of someone with abhorrent politics but worthy art, I’m left with three options.

    The first is giving more power to someone who has proven that they can’t be trusted with it. This, as far as it can be avoided, is unacceptable to me.

    The second is not to consume the art. This, you say, is unacceptable to you. Fair enough.

    The third option is to consume the art without providing recompense for it. Which is to say, copyright infringement. Piracy. Defrauding someone of their intellectual property. But nothing more than would have happened anyway, should the revolution come and do away with money.

    Would this be an acceptable compromise, in your opinion? To pirate the works of authors whose politics I can’t countenance?

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