Wednesday, 29 August 2012
One law for the lion and ox is oppression.
- William Blake
When we speak of equality, we have to know whether we are speaking of a human concept, or a gift of Nature. Revolutions have turned upon equality; wars have been fought either on it's behalf or against it; political thought - especially in the developed West - cherishes it as a founding principle of democracy. Notwithstanding the sad fact that in the reality of human life equality is an ideal seemingly destined to remain as such and no more - for there is arguably no true equality in the world today - that ideal underpins much of our thinking and our rhetoric, along with its similarly unrealised and idealistic complement: freedom. Search, and you will be hard pressed to find any country that really understands and faithfully practices these two fundamental democratic principles. Nevertheless, scratch the surface of humanity deeply enough and they will emerge, but only if one recognises what they really mean, and what they represent.
There are those among us who will tell you that equality and freedom should not be thought of as gifts of Nature tacitly at work within the evolving spirit of mankind, expressed in ways that are more aptly felt as inspiration than enshrined in writ or repeated by cant; rather that they are 'rights' and as such ought to be enforceable and enforced by man upon his fellows wherever and whenever the opportunity, or the ‘necessity’, may arise. Baudrillard wittily observed that the French “invented” Nature in the eighteenth century, and hence theirs was obviously the only “true” revolution.1
The paradox seems to be that were equality not an inherent gift of Nature - like Descartes’ notion of the idea of infinity given by an infinite Being - we would never think about it at all: But by talking about it so much, we mostly fail to notice where it actually lies or what it really is, and consequently - by a curious irony - we think or talk it out of existence. Like religion, the cult of equality seems to be an unavoidable expression of that which is beyond expression; and, like religion, is often guilty of the same kind of misprision.
In accordance with a growing cult of egalitarianism, in the latter half of the last century notions such as talent and genius became widely unfashionable, even politically incorrect. Then they re-emerged in perverse form with the monetarist-inspired Art Boom, giving birth to the grotesque of the artist-celebrity in place of the hitherto discredited and suppressed artist-hero. In this century the resulting hybrid of politically-correct, market-led education has so far failed to understand and therefore fully appreciate what is implicit to the notion of ‘talent’. But despite all this abuse, true talent and even - let’s just say it - ‘genius’, persist. And they will persist, despite all our efforts to quantify, re-distribute, deny, erase, replicate, synthesise or manufacture them.
Like Nature’s other gifts talent does not respond to our illusion of control, but emerges when and where it will. Then it is up to the gifted individual to work to develop and utilise it according to his or her capacity, and to society to recognise, nurture and support it if it so wishes. This should not be difficult in an enlightened society: but enlightenment can only come through following Nature and the silent dictates of our inner being, not through the illusion of property or the liturgy and dogma of synthetic equality.
There is only one true equality: it is that Nature gives freely and unconditionally to everyone according to their capacity and receptivity. There is only one true freedom: to enjoy those gifts with gratitude, and without mediation. Talent is just such a gift. It is something we can work to develop in ourselves and learn to recognise and encourage in others. It cannot be developed or fulfilled without work, nor can work by itself replace it. In the dichotomy between Nature and nurture, talent is both. There is nothing wrong in making money from talent; but as soon as this becomes the goal real talent is diminished.
Although we may try to explain it in a number of ways according to our limited knowledge, artistic talent remains essentially a mystery. Mysticism is the very creativity of life itself. Life and talent are both gifts. They can be felt deep within us. To discover our talent, and to use it, we need the courage to dive deep within, and to seek and follow our true inner nature.
But beware of the counterfeit: Blake again - The weak in courage is strong in cunning.2
1 Jean Baudrillard, Fragments.
2 Both quotations are from Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the second from “Proverbs of Hell”.
Copyright © 2012 Brian Grassom
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