I used to work for an art gallery selling paintings in San Francisco; later I owned an art gallery that sold paintings there. And later than that, I traveled to Paris to see a collection of paintings that turned out to be not sellable. But I liked Paris and stayed for four years. It felt good to no longer have to sell paintings plus the food was good and the wines in Paris worked well.
When I worked for an art gallery I was a poor painting salesman and to compensate I read a lot about art and I became a poor painting salesman who knew a lot about art. When I'm in a new city with time on my hands I usually go to the local museum. Paris is a wonderful city to visit museums—as is New York—but New York has many more galleries than Paris has.
I'm reading again about art, not to better sell paintings, but because art interests me and I do want to better understand the art I see on Saturday afternoons when I leave the farm stand in the Union Square Greenmarket for a couple of hours to look at paintings in the galleries.
And if it interests me I may write about what I see or what I read.
The End of Poverty?, a full length documentary film, co-produced by Union Square friend-of-the-farm Matthew Stillman, indicts the neo-liberal global financial systems that create poverty, not the people caught up in it; and for me, the film does suggest solutions to diminish this scourage. Like Life and Debt (2001), a film that addressed the impact of globalization policies on the people of Jamaica, this film, which premieres in New York at the Village East Cinema the weekend of November 13th (opening also in Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Austin), questions the rectitude of a world where fabulous wealth is built upon the backs of people living in acrid poverty. And the film names names like the systemic institutions of the World Bank and the IMF while it traces their metastasizing tentacles of financial dominance back to the colonial enslavement of indigenous peoples when the north began to pillage the south for its treasure.
The film makes clear that a neo-liberal financial system (neoliberalism is pervasive and it is the credo of the world's investment banks, like Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and all others; it seeks to transfer part of the control of the economy from the public to the private sector, under the belief that the transfer will produce a more efficient government and improve the economy. Does this not sound like the conservative's argument, against the public option in the current heathcare debate, to privatize) creates poverty, that neoliberalism is a "common enemy", an enemy of all people, an enemy of me and of you, be we rich or be we poor. This film is important to us because the questions asked by it have answers that provide food for the hungry; some of these answers are direct and are about how to end poverty, not about why.
Questions of how, taken from the abstract and reframed as "What is to be done?", lead to the active question, "What can I do?" The film offers several possible answers to the question of poverty and what we can do about it:
1. Forgive international debt unconditionally...
2. Change the tax system in every country of the world...
3. Restore the land to the people who actually work it...
4. End privatization of natural resources...
5. "Degrowth," cut consumption of resources and production of waste...
I support the conceptualization of the above solutions—I do hope these changes can be implemented—but mostly they (numbers 1-4) are external to me: I don't know any world bankers or IMF accountants whom I could bribe with the wealth of compassionate reason; and as for land reform, I doubt if anyone would follow me into the Sierra Maestra mountains as they followed Fidel and Che.
However, "Degrowth" is a small yet powerful solution, it is internal, it is personal, it is something I can do and so can you. Degrowth involves, as novelist Jonathan Safran Foer says about how choice can cure our global malnutrition from industrialized food spawned in factory farms, "These little daily choices that we're so used to thinking are irrelevant are the most important thing we do all day long." In the interview quoted below, Foer didn't use the word "capital" even though his argument glaringly points to it by its omission. In the minds of many American citizens (his potential book buyers) only tiresome Marxists use that word; besides in this day and age who would buy Das Capital, except a used copy from Strand or so he suspects his publisher thinks, I would suppose.
We've found that capital (power) has no outside, no external; there is no escape or freedom from it, and you can not avoid capital by your denial of it; you and I are complicit.
Be that the case, then we must choose accordingly in our home within the corporate bowels of capitalism and one choice will be where and how we spend our money. Corporations with whom we do not trade are degrown by the dollar that we spend (grow/invest) elsewhere. An example might be buying fair trade coffee rather than free trade coffee making sure the coffee farmers and field hands earn a fair, living wage. Another example is local and it occurs when you buy fresh produce from a small farm at the Union Square Greenmarket rather than days-old produce from Whole Foods across 14th Street. Obviously your dollars encourage the small farm; but in like kind, their absence at Whole Foods encourages this feel-good chain store to trade with the world more fairly, to become more transparent, to become a truly responsible capital coproration, even to live up to its rosy, warm advertising, in order to recapture those lost dollars. Corporations become aware of changes in public awareness in a financial language they understand: their real and projected bottom lines as reflected by changes in the public's spending patterns.
That dollar is a vote and it is more active than a ballot cast to elect a representative who may or may not represent our fair wishes, like the well-intentioned, admirable and inspiring, Mr. Obama. A dollar spent is immediate; it represents us directly. It isn't channeled indirectly to sway or support the compromised opinion of a politician. By not giving our money to corporations systemically infected by the financial policies of the World Bank and the IMF we can cut their consumption that produces people as waste: the needy, the sick, the hungry; in short, the impoverished—us, for whom the bell tolls—north and south, neighbor and not. Nobody is bigger than the collective you and I with our trillions of choices; nobody is too big to fail (think of global warming) and if they are, they have already failed...I could go on, but I'd rather you go on, that we go on together. Go see the film, feel it and be changed by it as I was. The End of Poverty? Think Again
What is politics without poetics—hunger without food—let me leave you with a favorite poem, disliked by many for various and good reasons, but few can argue with its semantic music.
Thou hast nor youth nor age
But as it were an after dinner sleep
Dreaming of both.
HERE I am, an old man in a dry month,
Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain.
I was neither at the hot gates
Nor fought in the warm rain
Nor knee deep in the salt marsh, heaving a cutlass,
Bitten by flies, fought.
My house is a decayed house,
And the jew squats on the window sill, the owner,
Spawned in some estaminet of Antwerp,
Blistered in Brussels, patched and peeled in London.
The goat coughs at night in the field overhead;
Rocks, moss, stonecrop, iron, merds.
The woman keeps the kitchen, makes tea,
Sneezes at evening, poking the peevish gutter.
I an old man,
A dull head among windy spaces.
Signs are taken for wonders. “We would see a sign!”
The word within a word, unable to speak a word,
Swaddled with darkness. In the juvescence of the year
Came Christ the tiger
In depraved May, dogwood and chestnut, flowering judas,
To be eaten, to be divided, to be drunk
Among whispers; by Mr. Silvero
With caressing hands, at Limoges
Who walked all night in the next room;
By Hakagawa, bowing among the Titians;
By Madame de Tornquist, in the dark room
Shifting the candles; Fräulein von Kulp
Who turned in the hall, one hand on the door. Vacant shuttles
Weave the wind. I have no ghosts,
An old man in a draughty house
Under a windy knob.
After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities. Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
What’s not believed in, or if still believed,
In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon
Into weak hands, what’s thought can be dispensed with
Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think
Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.
The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours. Think at last
We have not reached conclusion, when I
Stiffen in a rented house. Think at last
I have not made this show purposelessly
And it is not by any concitation
Of the backward devils
I would meet you upon this honestly.
I that was near your heart was removed therefrom
To lose beauty in terror, terror in inquisition.
I have lost my passion: why should I need to keep it
Since what is kept must be adulterated?
I have lost my sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch:
How should I use them for your closer contact?
These with a thousand small deliberations
Protract the profit of their chilled delirium,
Excite the membrane, when the sense has cooled,
With pungent sauces, multiply variety
In a wilderness of mirrors. What will the spider do,
Suspend its operations, will the weevil
Delay? De Bailhache, Fresca, Mrs. Cammel, whirled
Beyond the circuit of the shuddering Bear
In fractured atoms. Gull against the wind, in the windy straits
Of Belle Isle, or running on the Horn,
White feathers in the snow, the Gulf claims,
And an old man driven by the Trades
To a sleepy corner.
Tenants of the house,
Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.
T. S. Eliot, Poems 1920