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Entertainment as Sedation and Stagnation

We've all heard the phrase "Good is the enemy of great". Sticking the phrase into Google yields thousands of results. But, if beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder, good and happiness are also determined by individual perspective. So what is good and what is great?

Good is a state we are satisfied with. We can live with it and are comfortable enough that we won't attempt change or improvement. Great is the state where things are sufficiently better than they were previously. To provide some comparison, I will introduce Poor. Poor is a state where the individual is dissatisfied.

Great gets watered down with time until it is considered good. Good, on the other hand, stagnates. Poor, meanwhile, should provide a motivation for change.

At any time, there should be mixtures of Poor and Great, so that people have motivation to try to make the world a better place, and examples that the world can be made a better place. They must have both hope and challenge. Without either of these two, there is stagnation.

But if time causes advances to be taken for granted, turning Great to Good, Poor can be turned into Good by external methods, too.

The example I'll give is this. Let's say we have someone who has a 38hour/week job. It is a job which sells his potential and ability short. It's a job he does not care about, but it is a job where, if he so desired, he could make a difference, improving his lot and the lot of workmates. Let's say, also, that he is financially comfortable, and so has no particular reason to work for a new and better job. Let's say that each night when he comes home from work, he is tired but not unsustainably so.

Option 1: When he gets home, he sits down, opens a beer and watches TV. (Or takes drugs, or watches movies, or does whatever he needs to do to relax and be mentally ready for work the next day). Even though his happiness decreases through the day, he can get by knowing that, come 5 o'clock, he can knock off and engage in his distractions. That point of comfort sustains him. But it stagnates him.

Option 2: When he gets home, his nightly activities are not sufficiently distracting and relaxing to offer solace through the day. He knows that he can either improve his after-hours activities or he can improve his job.

While we all feel like both of these options at times, it is important that we are dissatisfied at times. It is important that we are not happy at times. It is important that we feel the motivation to improve things.

Which leads me on to effect one of distractions. When we have various forms of entertainment which encourage people to neglect the Poor parts of their life, the Poor is watered down (or up, depending on perspective) towards Good and prevents it from becoming Great. If you are comfortable with two feet on the ground you don't need wings now. (Yes, I appreciate the irony of quoting song lyrics here...)

So what? I hear you say. If you are happy this isn't a problem.

Fine, except that not everyone who enocunters Poor has the ability to turn it into Good, let alone Great. If you improve the world to make your lot better, you will help those who can't help themselves. That is what advances are for, and I'm not necessarily talking about science here. Consider the case where you have some programming ability. If you write a small program to save you time and effort, this can be passed onto others who don't have the skills to do so, and who would also benefit. Consider the case where you are in charge of an office layout. You are the one with decisions about what goes where. Let's say that your desk is in the middle of the room, and there is an obstruction blocking your path to the door. If you get tired enough of it, you will have it removed. This will then clean out the obstruction from the path of your neighbours, too, who don't have the power to have it removed. Particularly useful in case of fire.

"Yeah, but if people want to be entertained, that's their choice. They are not obligated to help themselves or others. They are not obligated to be dissatisfied." Aren't liberal arguments fun!

If an individual wants to patronise entertainment, that is certainly their choice. But let's look at what happens when the state begins to get involved.

Rather than begin with the assumption, as is usually done, that a given body requires a certain amount of resources for an amout of activity, and how much should the Government provide, let's start from the opposite assumption. Let's assume that the Government has a limited pool of resources available for discretionary activities.

By discretionary activities, I am referring to those which are not essential for survival. In a western and representative democracy (ward), this consists of a limited set of a limited amount of military (and police), legislature (and executive) and judiciary and not much else. If these disappear, society is no longer a ward. Everything else comes out of a limited pool of funds. Indeed, anything for the non-discretionary areas over and above the absolute bare necessities is discretionary, too. It would be nice to have free universal health care and free education at all levels and a whole host of other things, but they all drain the resources. Sometimes the resources are better used in other ways.

And this brings us to the crux of the matter. There is a limited pool of resources. To simplify matters, let's say that the Government has a choice between funding medical research into a given disease (which has an incidence of about 200 per 100,000 person-years, but only about one quarter of the population is susceptible) or subsidising an artistic venture (or sports or whatever piece of entertainment funding you see as a waste).

On the one hand, they can try to turn Poor (dying from disease) into Great (curing disease or decreasing incidence), while on the other hand, they can fund something which will distract people from having the level of disomfort necessary to motivate attempts to turn Poor into Great.

"But if that's what the people want, shouldn't the Government follow?" We get into a whole new ball game with this one, as to whether the Government is there to lead or follow. But, given that I am happy to quote people who would oppose this particular post's arguments, here's one from a king of distraction, Larry Flynt. "Majority rule only works if you're also considering individual rights. Because you can't have five wolves and one sheep voting on what to have for supper."

Should the three-quarters of the population who need not worry about catching the disease drown out the voice of those who genuinely need the funding?

And let's be honest with ourselves. The world does not need one more entertainment product. There are enough books and movies and music and paintings and sculptures etc. to keep any given person entertained for the rest of their lives if they choose to be. I will concede that cultural arguments should get a voice, in amongst all the others, but, if the people are not willing to support the culture, then it doesn't represent them, and is not relevant enough for the Government to be expending its limited resources on.

Similarly, do we really believe that entertainment would stop without Government funding? There are enough people who will start a band in their spare time. Who write books at night after work. Who are part of amateur theatre. Who will create rather than spectate while still gainfully employed, and, even engaged in trying to turn Poor into Great.

I'd like to keep on, but its late, I'm tired, and I will respond to comments as they arrive. So I will conclude quickly.

Entertainment is dangerous. It can sedate us, decreasing the necessary levels of dissatisfaction for making the world a better place. Society subsidised entertainment is moreso, because it also diverts resources away from those trying to make the world a better place, and this leads to stagnation.

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