Some Thoughtful Cultural Views: Royal Society of the Arts (UK)

I know that some people don’t really care for philosophy or social theory.  Yet many of those people want to change society.  Change society into what?  Usually it’s the same thing in different forms and usually in the image of what they want themselves as an individual or group.  It is not democratic and certainly without an understanding of social actions and how the world has come to be on a social level in relation to power and history. Is there an understanding of what freedom is for different people and groups;  how contradictions can be worked with instead of with domination? Liberalism is sometimes convenient in its answers to contradiction and conflict.  Usually the this word ‘understanding’ comes into play.  This understanding is usually meant to mean not understanding of differences in history and values and economic class and the lack of mourning and healing that creates the world of nation-states and imperialism.  Understanding is meant to be something that is already known and established be better and to be aligned with, it’s an obedience, often times,  to a  ‘humanism.’  Humanism is a collection of systems of thought and moral values that were born in the western nations in the beginning and through colonization.  Some of its ideals are wonderful.  Others, I would have to say, need questioning and critique.  It needs the inclusion of ‘other.’  The universal anything, needs to be questioned. Universals are usually meant to squash difference, diversity, wonder, and benefits those that speak of it as a priority and dominant.

The RSA, or the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, based in the UK, is a centuries old society that has alternately been courted by the states and the elite, and has been an outwardly bold society that often-times challenges the status quo and ruffles feathers.  It is very neo-liberal in its thought processes and ‘progressive’ as a result.  However, as in all things in the world, nothing is totally one or the other.  Those that dislike liberalism may run up against the problem of what my professor Angana Chatterji has proposed, mainly to ‘try to have human rights without liberalism, you won’t get very far.”

As I am an open critic of everything, I also critique instead of criticize.  By this I mean that I critique in order to get to the causes of oppression and to change some string of assumptions in a thought or event or moral value or ‘truth’ and its dominant position and/or priority over other ideas and ways.  But other ideas and ways are not always better.  But we don’t know unless we release something that’s tight and called ‘truth’ or ‘real’ or ‘right’ from the moorings and safe haven of a conversation ending in: ‘oh okay, if it’s the truth, then there’s no argument.”  Or ‘oh, if it feels good, then it must be okay.”  These positions keep the colonial heritage and global dominance of liberal ideas in play.  But this does not mean that I dislike liberalism.  It means I wish to investigate the underpinnings of socio-economic class, race and ethnicity, sex, gender, sexual preference, size, color, ability, and other factors that have come into play for something to be dominant and made necessary for everyone else.  And if it is necessary for everyone, what does that do in the real world, to those people?  So in saying this, I am not ‘for’ or ‘against’ the Royal Society of the Arts and what it puts forward.  I am grateful for the power it has in the world to put forward some fairly controversial concepts into the world.  I am also a critic of its elitist factors and its very weak stances and convenient analysis of harsher realities of racism, for instance.  However, they do some very interesting work that is worth a look and to reflect upon.

At the heart of liberal institutions is very much the notion of humanism.  That underneath difference, there is the sameness and that sameness is where conversations must happen.  So when critical thinkers such as Jurgen Habermas have put for the idea that if we learned to spend more time together with less differences between each other, and we spoke languages that were more similar and had good communication ,there would be less oppression and troubles.  This, I’m afraid is a liberal idea that I am very critical of.  I hope you know why, when reading this.  It makes humanism, something elite (and mostly white Europeans) have thought of as something that is universal and supposedly underneath.  In this view, then, the block towards understanding, is the messiness of ‘difference.’  It can be couched in the language in many ways.  In some liberal education institutions in the US and the UK, for instance, racism is just a bad thing and as long as we’re ‘good’ people, and see everyone as equal, then racism is gone.  This usually conveniently leads to denial and in some cases, cruelty disguised in nice voices and smiles.  It does not acknowledge racism at that point.  The other factor of humanism is that it is made individual, not historical, cultural, or communal, or national.  So things such as heterosexism, racism, homophobia and other oppressions, are seen as things people perpetrate on each other, but conveniently, structural racism — what institutions and policies and laws do, are not addressed.

There are many kinds of oppression at work in the world.  There is always dominance and resistance.  In my life, I look at anything that moves into any sphere, through my own understanding as well as study and investigation, which can bring oppressions to light.  Usually things that are progressive are suspicious.  If something progresses, how is that done? What is left behind? What is silenced? What is privileged?  Usually the answers point to the typical oppressions in some way, but couched in good feelings and self-congratulations for moving ‘forward’ with progress and having the others ‘catch up’ because they just haven’t gotten there yet because ‘trauma.’  They might as well just call them primitive savages, stupid, unworthy, or ‘not as smart or well-off than us.’  This dynamic can underly much of humanism and liberalism.  But saying this, does not mean, as I’ve said earlier, that this is the only thing going on.  There are some very useful and exciting things going on in liberal and humanist terms.  These we can pay attention to, to analyze and reflect upon and use, if we need, for the justice and freedoms we need in the world.

In this video, the RSA’s media presentation presents ‘The Crisis of Capitalism.”  It’s pretty insightful and has some things to say that I think we need to pay attention to.  Much of what is presented is not new for many people.  However, I hope that one can see the points that we need to critique, to look at.  Firstly, to start us off, the question of ‘new social order.’  We need a ‘new social order?”  One new social order?  Who will govern?  What does that depend on?  Has anyone read ‘Brave New World”?  There are problems with the assumptions.  However, there are great perspectives on the failure of capitalism.  For some, this is a new crisis.  For many, capitalism has never worked and has been an oppression that has made life horrific.  If we want democratic relations and communities in the future, we must acknowledge that which we haven’t thought about and to re-think.  Re-thinking cannot be done completely in an interior.  It has to be done in conversation with ‘other.’

The video below has left out many conversations with certain ‘others’ that must happen for a truly just future. Can we think through this together?  Perhaps you have some things to say.  This video is good and some things are problematic.  This is true for almost everything in life so it’s not special.  Because my life is about social change, I want to pay attention to these things and to organizations such as the Royal Society of the Arts, and to hear/see what is happening and the cultural flow of things and we can see how ruptures begin and new thoughts may change or entrench things in different ways for different people.

This being said, I enjoy the fact that an explicit goal of the RSA is to revive the public sphere, public participation.  From what I have gathered from researching how they are with different kinds of people, I hear that most feel that the RSA people listen to the people and present interesting dialogue and reflection.  But as is the case with most of these organizations, less time is spent with the lower social classes but much is said about them in their presentations.  What effects are they having in society?  In what ways?  I find that the analysis presented here, of capitalism’s crisis, is thoughtful and presented in an interesting way.

The Youtube parent page also has a link to their website.  There are some very well-known cultural workers and philosophers who work on their site and with them to present ideas about life and cultural change from the perspective of a neo-colonial, progressive institution which also has radical elements within it:


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