The Young People Aren’t At The Symphony Or Opera Anymore

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The other day I was talking with an old friend about the situation of the arts in Chicago at present.  She was complaining about how the Gen Z generation does not support the Chicago Symphony, the Lyric Opera or all the wonderful theater companies here in the Windy City like the Goodman Theater or the Steppenwolf Theater.  Of course, as we both agreed, this lack of support for high culture is not exclusively a problem of Chicago, but can be found in cities all over the U.S.  The value or import I would assign to these high culture institutions is not something that I can easily name.  Suffice it to say that these institutions are buttresses to supporting the level of civilization we want our country to be able to aspire to in every area of life.  We are beginning to see what it means to lose institutions that are major sources of cultural transcendence and cultural refinement.  Crude aggressive behavior is not simply manifest today in obviously criminal actions, but also in everyday interactions that are becoming increasingly abrasive.  High culture has provided models for refined conduct since the beginning of civilization.  If high culture disappears, there really is nothing that can replace the positive influence that it imparts to us.  Nothing! 

So, the question is why are young people losing their interest in these important cultural manifestations.  Perhaps it is because these manifestations are not supported by the stimuli that people receive in everyday life.  What I mean is that they have been brought up in fields of experience that have been molded by modern technology.  Areas of understimulation from the frictionless remote screens that people are constantly sitting in front of as well as the cars, buses, trains and planes they ride in and the escalators and elevators they go up and down in.  And increasingly Internet of Things technology, where one can arrive at his home in a car, press a button on a device, and not only does he open a garage door, but he turns on the lights in the house, turns on the air conditioner, turns on his stove, turns on his television and any other machines that he has connected to the IoT.  Then there are areas of overstimulation like some other electrical devices that people use and are used around them.  Noisy devices like electric razors and vacuum cleaners within the home.  And noisy devices like construction site equipment, leaf blowers, and honking horns on the street.  In addition, there are other areas of overstimulation from modern technology like air pollution from smokestacks, water pollution from industrial waste, and soil pollution from insecticides and other chemicals, all of which act as an abrasive stimulation that poisons the body.  There is also people pollution as a result of overcrowded cities.  Young people are constantly being assailed by stimuli for which their nervous systems were not built.  And their responses are both abrasive behavior and numbness, responses which are harmful to themselves and to other people.  Numbness is harmful to others because it contributes to presenting the people around them with a vacuumized field of experience. 

One of the responses of young people today to this pathological stimulation both around them and within them is certainly not going to be an appreciation of the humanities, of high culture.  On the contrary, people become coarsened when they are constantly exposed to coarse stimulation.  Now we must remember that coarse behavior is not something automatically associated with the lower classes and refined behavior is not automatically associated with the upper classes.  Shakespeare’s plays were something viewed by upper-class and lower-class people alike.  And Shakespeare’s tragedies were about upper-class people who sank into the coarse behavior of their tragic flaws and paid a terrible price for it.  In terms of cultural production, the lower classes in England produced some of the most elegant refined folk songs ever produced.  I am talking about the Child Ballads which often told very long stories about people who paid terrible prices for their coarse behavior.  In other words, in the old days, most people aspired to refinement, whether or not they were always able to achieve it.  And in the case, both of Shakespeare and the Child ballads, the medium contributed to the message.  It was not only that they told stories about the advantages of refinement for people, but they also were artistic examples of refined writing.

Anyway, the message here is that refined art and the humanities in general cannot thrive in a living environment of abrasive coarse stimulation.  Refinement is basically flowing blendable continual organic stimulation that is shaped and sculpted by defined discrete stimulation.  One has the advantage of bonding that comes with the organic stimulation without the aggressive component.  Coarseness traditionally referred to what is basically raw organic stimulation where the aggressive component is still present.  Today, coarseness is derived from the sensory distortion generated by modern technology.  And until we find a way to mitigate the effects of this sensory distortion, I’m afraid that the support for high culture in the United States will continue to disappear.

Acerca de Laurence Mesirow

Durante mi estadía en la Ciudad de México en los años setenta, me di cuenta que esta enorme ciudad contenía en sus colonias distintos "medio ambientes vivenciales", que iban desde muy antiguas a muy recientes; desde muy primitivas a muy modernas.Observé que había diferencias sutiles en la conducta de la gente y en sus interacciones en las diferentes colonias. Esta observación fue fundamental en la fundación de mis teorías con respecto a los efectos de la tecnología moderna sobre los medio ambientes vivenciales y sobre la conducta humana.En México, publiqué mi libro "Paisaje Sin Terreno" (Editorial Pax-México), y luego di conferencias para la U.N.A.M. y la Universidad Anahuac. También, presenté un ensayo para un Congreso de Psicología.Ahora que mis hijas son adultas, tengo el tiempo de explorar mis ideas de vuelta. Le agradezco mucho a y en especial al Sr. Daniel Ajzen por la oportunidad de presentar mis ideas.

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