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Archive for November, 2016

For the context of this post please read – or reread – Part I.

Washington writes: I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations.  Let me now take a more comprehensive view and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy.

 The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

 There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of thegovernment and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true…  But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged.  …there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest instead of warming it should consume.

 It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power and proneness to abuse it which predominates in the human heart is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. 

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For the context of this post please read – or reread – Part I.

Washington writes:  This government, the offspring of our own choice uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support.  Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty.  The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, until changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.

 All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations under whatever plausible character with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle and of fatal tendency.  They serve to organize faction; to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common councils and modified by mutual interests. However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

 …experience is the surest standard by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country, that facility in changes upon the credit of mere hypotheses and opinion exposes to perpetual change from the endless variety of hypotheses and opinion; and remember, especially, that for the efficient management of your common interests in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable; liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is indeed little else than a name, where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction…

 

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For the context of this post please read – or reread – Part I.

Washington writes: …that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue…

 …a solicitude for your welfare…and the apprehension of danger natural to that solicitude, urge me on an occasion like the present to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend to your frequent review, some sentiments which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to me all important to the permanency of your felicity as a people…

 The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you.  It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad, of your safety, of your prosperity, of that very liberty which you so highly prize.  But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed, to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it…watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together various parts.

 …The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.  …the independence and liberty you possess are the work of join councils and joint efforts – of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.

 …While then every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in union…they must derive from union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves which so frequently afflict neighboring countries not tied together by the same government, which their own rivalships alone would be sufficient to produce…

 …Union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the one of one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other…

In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties…one of the expedients of part to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts.  You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart burnings which spring from these misrepresentations.  They tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection…

 …To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a government for the whole is indispensable.

 

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As we draw closer to Election Day (8 November, 2016) it seems to me that it might be helpful for us Citizens to reflect upon some of George Washington’s words.  In order to help us reflect I will be quoting from Washington’s ‘Farewell Address to the People of the United States.’

In September, 1796 a tired and worn out Washington announced his decision not to seek nor accept a third term as our President.  His address inspired and provided us guidance; it also embodied a classic statement regarding Federalism.  As a reminder, the ‘Federalists’ embraced the concept of Unity – of One Nation.  The ‘Republicans’ under the watchful eye of Jefferson, et al, embraced the concept of a Republic composed of a coalition of Individual States (the resulting tension between the ‘Government’ and the ‘States’ has been with us ever since).

Washington was consistent when it came to his principal concern: the safety of the eight-year old Constitution.  Washington believed that the stability of the ‘One’ was (and is today) threatened by the forces of geographical sectionalism, political factionalism, and interference by foreign powers in our domestic affairs (three powerful influences that are seeking to impact this year’s election – Washington knew of what he spoke).

Washington urged ‘We the People’ to subordinate our sectional interests and jealousies to common national interests (he was, after all, a Federalist).  Washington was fearful that our over-interest in sectional loyalties carried the seeds of our destruction via what he viewed as petty factionalism (a fear that continues to haunt us today).

Washington did not deliver his address to a group that had come together to hear him.  His Farewell Address first appeared on 19 September, 1796 in the Philadelphia Daily American Advertiser.  His address was then picked up by other papers and thus over a year or two was made available to most of the population.

In January, 1862, with our Constitution endangered by our Civil War, citizens petitioned Congress to commemorate Washington’s birth (130 years before) by having his ‘Farewell Address’ read aloud in Congress.  It wasn’t until 1888 however that it became the norm to have his address read aloud on his birth-date by a member of Congress.  Since 1985 it has been read in the Senate on Washington’s birthdate.

I find it ironic that our elected officials hear Washington’s ‘Address’ once a year and yet they continue to support and actually enhance the very factionalism that he warned us about.  Washington and our other ‘Founding Fathers’ knew, even then, that ‘compromise’ rooted in ‘care for all’ was the antidote to factionalism – it still is.

Given this brief context let us read Washington’s own words (I have selected a number of passages; I invite you gentle reader to spend some time reading and re-reading Washington’s entire ‘Farewell Address’).

Washington writes: Friends and Fellow-Citizens.  The period for a new election of a citizen to administer the executive government of the United States being not far distant, and the time usually arrived when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.

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The principle of true art is not to portray, but to evoke. –Jerzy Kosinski

As I noted in Part I, it will be helpful to us if we decide what art is before we can determine if that’s useful.  So, back to my current definition: Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient and the artist.

An artist is a person who creates art.  The more folks the artist changes – and the broader and deeper the change – the more ‘effective’ the art is.  If there is no change there is no art.  If no one experiences the art, there can be no change.

By definition – mine at least – art is human.  A machine cannot create art because the intent matters.  It’s much more likely to be art if one is purpose-full.  A cook is not an artist.  A cook follows a recipe and the person is a good cook if he or she follows the recipe correctly.  On the other hand, a chef is an artist.  The chef is an artist when he or she invents a new way of cooking or a new type of dish that creates surprise and joy and pleasure.

The chef is also an artist when he or she ‘adds’ what my mother called ‘a little pinch of creativity and love.’  This ‘little pinch’ can transform the cook into the chef.  When my mother was preparing a meal she would, once in a while, pause, hold her right hand over her preparation and rub her right thumb together with the first two fingers of her right hand.  I was quite young when I first asked her what she was doing.  I can still see her face as she smiled and told me that she was adding that little something extra.  ‘What is that?’ I remember asking.  Her eyes would brighten up a bit, ‘Love!’ she would say.  ‘Love changes everything!’  And so it does, indeed!

Art is also original.  Marcel Duchamp (my son, Nathan the Artist, introduced me to Marcel’s art) was an artist when he pioneered Dadaism and installed a urinal in a museum.  The second person to install a urinal wasn’t an artist, he was probably a plumber.

Art is the product of emotional labor.  If it’s easy and risk free, it unlikely that it’s art.  Emotional labor cannot be ‘purchased’ – emotional labor is freely given AND it emotionally feeds and depletes the laborer simultaneously.

The final element – for me at least – that makes something ‘art’ is that it is a gift.  One cannot create a piece of art merely for money.  It seems to me that making art as part of commerce and consumerism so strips art of truth, beauty and good that it ceases to be art.  With the artist there is always the intent of a ‘gift.’

We enjoy human-created art all of the time.  I am thinking of the wonderful, hand-crafted, wood work that exists in the main rail station in Holland.  This wood work changes the way people feel – it certainly changed how I felt (and felt each time I passed through the station).  This art directly affects ‘contact’ and ‘communication.’  As I stood looking at the wood-work-art I would soon find myself talking about it and its effect upon me to others who had also stopped to take it all in.  The beautiful part is that this experience was ‘free’.

The greatest art is direct, visceral art.  This is ‘interactive art’ – the interaction is mainly internal in response to the art.  If the art involves a human connection that results in the recipient to change then the creator of the art was truly an artist.

 The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude. –Friedrich Nietzsche

 

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