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Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class
Yale University Press, 2015
320 pp., 25.09
Walking through a woods near my mother's place lately, I noticed that on some slopes tiny saplings were growing an inch or two apart. Elsewhere, young trees were competing with each other, and elsewhere still, nothing new had come up through the dead leaves between giant hardwoods.
A biologist could note differences in soil chemistry, sunlight penetration, and drainage, as well as the preferences and strengths of various species; but I bet nobody could predict exactly where, how, and why an immense, valuable white oak would grow. Even its deliberate cultivation would be uncertain: a varmint might snack, a hunter or hiker might stomp, or some other disaster or stress might prevail.
Luckily, in the game lands of northwestern Pennsylvania, a cheerful Darwinism scorns the gloom of chance and the rarity of topnotch inclusive fitness. Like the ladies of Boston who say, "We do not buy hats—we have hats," my mother and her neighbors feel they'll always have trees, by insouciant natural right.
I had two family dogs walking with me. We love them, but if either got cancer, we might not "have" money for a complicated operation. And a new heart or dialysis for a dog—there may not even be such a thing. The baby born with a deadly genetic defect, however, whom I heard about through her grandparents, was in another category: her family would have done anything, given anything for her life.
Try to put art and culture on this same continuum of survival value, and the muddle looks immense. The Parable of the Sower becomes Infinite Jest. Truly, the people cultivating their own talents are as numerous, and as statistically disadvantaged, as young trees, but they are people, making it cold-hearted to insist on a sharp separation between the value of their lives in themselves—a value on which the Judeo-Christian tradition is shy about setting any limits—and the objective economic or social value of what they "create"; ...