ON BEING AN ARTIST AND A CITIZEN

I know most of you think of me as an artist, which of course I am. And it is my great honour to appear before you tonight as that person, the performer.

But I am also an advocate not just an artist on stage in flowing robes. There’s a whole other dimension to me. The truth is, I spend a great deal of my time and energy on civic matters and on issues I believe are fundamental as we navigate our way through time and our rapidly changing world.

If you’re interested, and only if you are interested, I would like to briefly share a few of my thoughts and direct you to a few resources that I have found insightful and instructive in navigating the times in which we find ourselves.

I will confess, in my school-age years I was never keenly interested in history, thinking it was some abstract thing in the distant past which had little to do with the present. Yet once introduced to folk music, I started connecting the dots of how much the political, economic, and social circumstances of the times informed that folk music. I started to understand how history informed the present.

Now that we are living in such monumental times as it concerns climate change and the environment, or the structure of our societies, including our democracies versus autocracies, it falls to us to be prepared to take up a torch of response with determination and wisdom– a wisdom which is informed by a familiarity of history and other cultures which can guide us through what seems like perilous times. If ever there was a time when the adage “bad things happen when good people do nothing” has great significance, it is now.

So, what do we do?

On my part, I have been deeply inspired and influenced by certain writers who have looked at history with a critical eye and thought I would share them with you.

First and foremost is Ronald Wright’s consumable book and lecture series, A Short History of Progress, in which he argues that every time history repeats itself, the price goes up and that successful cultures inevitably fall victim to ‘progress traps.’ Most significantly, he observes that technological progress has become disconnected from moral progress particularly around the time of the Industrial Revolution.

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Ask your local bookseller for ISBN-13: 9781487006983

The 2004 CBC Massey Lectures, “A Short History of Progress” LISTEN

And the Industrial Revolution plays a central role in LA Times tech writer Brian Merchant’s book Blood in the Machine, which shines a spotlight on the concentration of power in Big Tech as they monopolise, kill competition and distort employment on their road to automation. It relates to and reveals the frightening parallels of our time to the Industrial Revolution and encourages us to respond while we can.

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Ask your local bookseller for ISBN-13: 9780316487740

My first hint that things may not all be good on the unregulated technology front came when I read The Shallows by Nicholas Carr who has raised the concern that unfettered use of connection technologies may be causing the human brain to revert to a pre-printing press physiology and is sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply. In other words, it is making us less self-reliant and more dependent on a handful of tech companies and their owners.

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Ask your local bookseller for ISBN-13: 9780393357820

This disturbing practice of manipulation and interference is further amplified in The Power of One, by France Haugen, who as a former employee blew the whistle on Facebook and its unregulated use of algorithms to reward extremism and spread falsehoods. By artificially amplifying differences of opinions, through social media and then making money off of this, social media is being weaponised against society, including family and friends who too often find themselves at grave odds with each other.

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Ask your local bookseller for ISBN-13: 9780316475228

Nearly last but not least, I have highly valued Reset, by Ronald Diebert, which exposes the disturbing influence of the internet on politics, the economy, the environment and humanity.

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Ask your local bookseller for ISBN-13: 9781487008086

The 2020 CBC Massey Lectures, “Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society” LISTEN

Finally, in a time of a grave climate and environmental crisis, I have been inspired by the sentiment from some of the Indigenous people of Turtle Island, (as North America is called) to ‘take no more than you need, and use all that you take’. A wonderful introduction to this world view can be found in Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

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Ask your local bookseller for ISBN-13: 978-1571313560

milkweed.org/book/braiding-sweetgrass

As I become more acquainted with the history and cultures of Indigenous peoples and their tremendous sense of gratitude for the natural world, I marvel at the similarities of the ancient Celts who too had an intimate and personal relationship with the land, sea, sky and all living creatures and I believe we can all learn from them.

Too, I believe we are living in monumental times which demand a depth of understanding and of action from all of us. I can only hope that some of these writers and their works may inform and inspire you not to let “bad things happen.”

I thank you for your interest and for indulging me in sharing these voices with you. I always welcome your feedback at postmaster@quinlanroad.com.

I close with a poem of Rudolf Steiner:

The Bell

To wonder at beauty

Stand guard over truth

Look up to the noble

Resolve on the good

This leadeth us truly

To purpose in living

To right in our doing

To peace in our thinking

And teaches us trust

In the workings of God

In all that there is

In the widths of the world

In the depth of the soul