There was a time when I used to look at display homes on a Sunday afternoon.
I didn’t want one but was curious about what was offered by builders. They were pimped with every “necessity” for modern family living. Some would say they even looked nice, but I would come away feeling empty in the pit of my stomach.
I soon realised where this feeling came from: no books!
The philosopher Cicero said that “a house with no books is like a body with no soul”.
Books inspire creativity, excite the imagination and stimulate the intellect. They carry stories, ideas and the histories of civilisations.
Books in a home project a household of curiosity, of interest in the other, of a desire to acquire knowledge of the slow kind. From open, enquiring minds comes tolerance and empathy.
The absence of knowledge is ignorance.
Ignorance can be a chosen state (not knowing, while accepting others do know), or it can be the outcome of not knowing what is not known. Ethicists call the former “recognised ignorance” and the latter “primary ignorance”.
There’s a link between ignorance and “news avoidance”. The latest Digital News Report: Australia 2023 released by the University of Canberra found 69 per cent of more than 2000 people surveyed say they avoid the news. This is higher than the global average of 63 per cent. It also marks a 12 per cent increase in news avoidance among Australians since 2017.
Ignorance is bleeding into our ruling classes. It subverts and thwarts excellence (or worse, science) when it suits, it breeds intolerance and encourages populism over elitism. It eschews the grey, complex worlds of the human condition and favours the simplicity of the measurable.
Ignorance has infiltrated our ruling polity because it is now rife in our voting, centrist middle class.
South Australians are retreating to the cocoons of their homes. “Cocooning” is a middle-class phenomenon coined by US futurist Faith Popcorn, who predicted large swathes of the community would, in fear of an ever-changing outside world, equip their residences with entertainment rooms, streaming services, security systems and perimeter walls, and utilise ever more home delivery services. And now we want to work from home!
Cocooners hang out with other cocooners. They are increasing their internet use and decreasing news consumption. “News avoidance” is now a thing.
Today, as well as the angry right, I fear the ignorant centrists. All those for whom the uncomfortable truths of structural racism, climate change, identity politics and uneven resource distribution are not only ignored, they’re denied.
Fattened by unfettered consumption, and mind-numbing dependence on dumbed-down, click-baity digital media, our right and centrist classes languish in a bloated state of self-satisfaction.
As not knowing is ignorance, knowing is knowing. There is no chicken and egg situation here: knowledge always precedes wisdom. Without knowledge there can be no wisdom.
Even if a political leader doesn’t part-take in cultural pursuits, they should nevertheless know that art making is an important facet of a progressive and enlightened society.
In 2019, the Government spent 0.83 per cent of the entire state budget on the arts, a figure that has been consistent for years.
The arts in South Australia are woefully underfunded relative to other states. From 2017-2022, states and territories cumulatively increased arts funding by 22 per cent, while SA was the only state to head in the opposite direction, reducing funding by 9 per cent over the same period.
Many in the SA Government are probably well-motivated, but our polity hasn’t shown a scintilla of wisdom in leading a proactively progressive society. Our civic life needs thriving cultural institutions to counter ignorance and intolerance. We deserve better than what we now have.
This Government has stalled both the proposed new cultural institutions’ storage facility in support of Art Gallery of SA, SA Museum, SA History Trust and State Library artefacts, as well as Tarrkarri, the Aboriginal Art and Cultural Centre. It hasn’t shown any recognition of the need for a concert hall, while North Terrace institutions, and the sector more broadly, suffer ongoing resource strangulation.
But the Malinauskas Government has spent millions of new money on an annual car race, AFL Gather Round, LIV Golf and now the final for Super Netball.
The demise of South Australia’s arts industry is being noticed across the country.
Australia is looking at us with alarm.
We once had a nationally recognised, thriving arts industry, now decimated through funding cuts and a lack of knowledge, political wisdom and leadership.
Our state has become one of those suburban display homes.
And there’s that empty feeling again.
Rainer Jozeps has been an executive in Australia’s arts industry for more than 40 years. After performing in Europe, he held senior executive roles with the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, Adelaide Festival Centre, West Australian Ballet, Australian Dance Theatre and Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.
Jozeps was one of more than 50 signatories to a letter sent to Premier Peter Malinauskas this month urging that the State Government increase funding and strategic support for artists and arts organisations.
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