In what may seem to be surprising, and coming from an unlikely social critic, a New Year’s Day public comment calling for citizen engagement and action was both harrowing and hopeful.
This year, all manner of disasters may loom, according to artist, musician and producer Brian Eno. But as lousy as last year seemed, he said 2016 may have been less of a hint at a Dark Age to come than the winding down of a 40-year decline in the social contract we’ve enjoyed — an informal pact that implied shared prosperity and responsibility, civility and, yes, hope.
Citing author Ayn Rand and political leaders Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom (UK) and U.S. president Ronald Reagan, Eno said this social decline emerged from an individualistic ideology that “sneered at social generosity and championed a sort of righteous selfishness.”
“Oh. Huh,” you might think. “The Boss, maybe, or Bono or Beyonce. But Brian Eno?”
Yes, skeptic! (Plus, his perspective makes sense, apart from the source.)
Eno, 68, is known for playing synthesizer with Roxy Music in the 1970s; recording solo albums; collaborating with recording artists including David Bowie, David Byrne and Robert Fripp; and producing records by John Cale, Devo and Talking Heads and also Laurie Anderson, Coldplay and U2. But Eno also is a visual artist, journalist and activist, writing regularly for The Observer and Prospect Magazine, both in the UK, and has been involved for years with the Labor Party and the Liberal Democrats there.
This month — conceding that factors like income inequality, persistent discrimination and an increasing power held by rich plutocrats can lead to prejudice and “knee-jerk nationalism,” Eno said that decades of losing employment opportunities, workers’ rights, affordable access to health care, and education that’s adequately funded for K-12 and reasonably priced beyond all have contributed to more and more concentration of wealth and power at the top.
The global promise of “trickle-down economics” never occurred – over years of promises and claims by various administrations in different governments.
“No wonder people are angry and turning away from business-as-usual government for solutions,” Eno said. “When governments pay the most attention to whoever has the most money, the huge wealth inequalities we now see make a mockery of the idea of democracy.”
Now, what’s needed, he continued, is a soft revolution, a discreet and quiet transformation requiring everyday people to think about where we are and how we got here.
“People are rethinking what democracy means, what society means and what we need to do to make them work again,” he said. “People are thinking hard, and, most importantly, thinking out loud, together. I think we underwent a mass disillusionment in 2016, and finally realized it’s time to jump out of the saucepan.”
It will be challenging, requiring thinking and organizing more than “tweets and likes and swipes,” he said, “ — thoughtful and creative social and political action.”
Eno suggested paying taxes in a fair-share support of the common good, backing good journalism, demanding public education for its community and social good, not as a propaganda mill or profit center controlled by “ideologues and bottom-liners.
“Inequality eats away at the heart of a society,” he continued, “breeding disdain, resentment, envy, suspicion, bullying, arrogance and callousness. There’s so much to do, so many possibilities; 2017 should be a surprising year.”
Music to our ears?
Contact Bill at Bill.Knight@hotmail.com