The fact that our civilisation has still not taken a single substantial step to avert the looming catastrophe of human-caused climate change has provided us all with a strikingly clear demonstration of our species’s capacity for denialism. Or, at any rate, it would have done — were it not that the human animal is perfectly capable of denying its denialism along with everything else.
Since the impending disaster — which, let me remind you, will probably see our civilisation destroyed and our species effectively wiped out — is a threat that pretty well everybody seems able to banish from their minds outside of a few uneasy moments every month or two, it would seem that I’ve got no chance at all of getting people to care about the evidence for the comparative triviality that is the ‘functional extinction’ of our classical music repertoire and tradition. What the psychology of denialism will do in this case will be precisely what it’s shown itself capable of doing in every other: it will ensure that the rate at which my evidence is ignored, minimised, ridiculed, misunderstood, waved away, forgotten, etc, will be exactly equal to the rate at which I supply it — meaning that, ultimately, it won’t matter a jot how much information I’ve actually provided: my entire data-set will have vanished down the memory hole before you can say ‘methane burst from the Arctic’.
Inevitably, I saw the process begin as soon as the first posting in this thread started circulating. In about 1000 words, I’d presented a bit of data from a world that relatively few people know from the inside, and I’d carefully pointed out that it was just one piece of evidence. Back came someone’s contemptuous complaint that all I’d done was present one piece of evidence. See how it works, folks?
Of course, we all know what’s going on: when faced with an idea that makes them feel uncomfortable, most people are far more interested in making it go away than they are in finding out whether it’s true or not. And for that purpose, literally any available straw will be clutched — including the very same straws that are grabbed when the subject of climate catastrophe pops up…
Here’s an example from a dear friend — who, very plainly, would like to see my entire argument buried under the patio so he can go and get on with all the other things he has to do (undeniably valuable things, it must be said). He’s actually sent me two emails on the topic … which just goes to show how much time and energy he’s prepared to put into fighting something that he’s afraid will sap his time and energy. ‘A dying flame? I don’t think so’, he ends triumphantly — after presenting his counter-evidence in the form of two reports of successful concerts he’s attended in the last week. The problem is that, in essence, it’s just the same denialist technique we see employed elsewhere: I’m trying to talk about climate — and he keeps pointing to the weather. Effectively, I’m saying ‘Global temperatures are increasing at a disastrous rate’; and he’s replying ‘What are you talking about? Look at all this snow!’ Or — to return to the biological terminology I originally borrowed — I’m saying ‘I think this species has reached the tipping-point into functional extinction’; and he’s replying ‘Don’t be silly! I see these creatures all over the place…’
And, with all due respect, it won’t wash. Let me run through my friend’s reports of the two events and show you why they don’t add up to as much as he thinks they do.
The first event was a concert of British contemporary music [tiny but dedicated following: ‘same people as always’ syndrome] in London [metropolitan arts bubble], put on by Goldsmiths College [feather-bedded educational institution; student presence]. As I have discovered, it was also free to attend [comment superfluous; audience of 70 (verified)]. The second was a multi-media event [new music combined with projections of paintings: something for everyone] with a rising composer and a well-established painter [guess the main attraction] at the National Gallery [feather-bedded cultural institution; four separate funders credited] in London [metropolitan arts bubble]. The very famous living artist gave a talk afterwards [non-musical celebrity appearance] to a capacity crowd [full audience of 327 (verified); this is Trafalgar Square: if you can’t get 300 people in WC2N, then the world has ended]. At one event, the lead performer said from the stage that he thought this was an incredibly rich period in music history, and that he wouldn’t like to have lived in any other time but now [feelgood statement goes down well, especially with composers present; easy thing to say for a successful insider with a cheque in his pocket]. That performer’s regular concerts at another venue [successful insider] in London [metropolitan arts bubble] are always completely sold out [another hall with a capacity of 300]…
Now, I’m not being gratuitously unkind or dismissive here: I’m not for a moment saying that good and worthwhile events aren’t happening; nor am I ridiculing my friend’s ‘glass half-full’ celebration of two events whose total audience wouldn’t have filled three bendy buses. In fact, if you want to know the truth, I feel a bit guilty, because I know him well enough to see that he requires me to be wrong about all this if he’s to continue his work unperturbed. But someone’s need to feel that I’m wrong doesn’t stop me being right — any more than it’s going to reverse the significance of last week’s other bit of news … which is that the University of London’s ‘School of Advanced Study’ has decided to jettison its Institute of Musical Research: yes, while everyone was looking the other way, the ‘metropolitan arts bubble’ just got that little bit smaller, the ‘feather-bedded’ world of art-musical education and research that little bit colder…
Of course, we can all sit around and dismiss each other’s data until the methane-expelling ruminants come home: anybody can point a finger and accuse the other side of ‘cherry picking’ and ‘confirmation bias’. What’s actually needed here is a picture of our culture’s art-musical climate — or, at the very least, our nation’s — even though the forces of denialism will do their successful utmost to ignore it. Can I provide the necessary overview? You betcha. Watch this space.
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