Tuesday, June 03, 2008

No Foreign Music In America?

Tibor R. Machan

Since some people want to make Americans buy only American farm or other products, the question is why they don’t advocate keeping out of the country all those foreign musicians, opera singers, orchestras, bands, conductors, actors, directors, and all kinds of other non-natives who peddle their trade and wares on our shores. I recall that, for a while at least, Canadian universities had a policy of not hiring teachers from America because, well, there are far more American teachers qualified for the positions in that country and the graduates there would have had to compete in a demanding market. But that is just what is the case with many artists, as well as doctors and scientists--they are taking jobs that might be taken by Americans.

Of course the idea is obscene. Yet that is just what protectionism relating to farming or car making or any other profession or industry amounts to. Globalization means no trade restrictions between countries, none! The labor or professional market place as well as any other should be completely free of government interference except when it comes to explicit, avowed, declared enemies of the country. But don’t even suggest this to Senators Obama and Clinton!

Anyone who whines about cultural dilution is, of course, way too late--for centuries on end such dilution has been going on big time. Professor Tyler Cowen of George Mason University has made this abundantly evident in his great book, Creative Destruction (Princeton University Press, 2004). He showed that in no area does purity prevail, none, not in folk music, not in folk dance, not in cuisine, not anywhere. Indeed, the bulk of artistic creativity--or, indeed, fashion and style--consists of mixing traditions and then remixing them and on and on with the process so pervasive that no one can trace the result to any specific region of the globe, to any “people”.

Very sadly often the call for purity is but a disguised form of hateful prejudice. One of my close relatives who still lives in the country from which I hail used to whine about how foreign elements are destroying the country’s artistic and related heritage. Of course, this was but a disguise because what was really so offensive to this individual was that there were a good many Jewish professionals, artists, intellectuals, and educators in the country that some wished belonged to them alone!

Mind you, there is no harm in wanting to be within familiar surroundings now and then. I recall once my family took a brief trip to the German city of Augsburg while I was working in Lugano, Switzerland, and as we arrived in midtown we noticed how tall, like we were, people there are as compared with folks in Ticino, which is the Italian sector of Switzerland where Lugano is located. And one of us exclaimed that this was a welcome feeling, being among people who were tall like us. And why not? Unless one makes this into some kind of crusade against the not-so-tall, unless one punishes one’s children for falling in love or wishing to marry such a not-so-tall individual, there is no harm in the feeling of comfort among those similar to oneself.

Indeed, in personal relations people quite freely, unapologetically show preferences like this, based on features in people with which they are more comfortable than with others. So long as one’s reason and intelligence kick in and one refuses to extend such mere preferences into some kind of doctrine of specialness or purity, no harm, no foul.

People who come from Germany may well prefer German music, literature, or poetry, whereas ones from Poland or Italy or Syria may be drawn, at least quite often, toward what makes them feel at home. Doing this as a matter of principle is, of course, nuts--one shuts out a great deal of human creativity when one sticks one’s head in the sand along these lines. But settling into familiar surroundings can be a very pleasant experience for most of us.

And for some of us a more cosmopolitan taste feels better since we come from various places that are huge cultural, artistic, and architectural melting pots. Fact is, the world has room for all these varieties of preferences and likes and so long as they are pursued in a civilized, peaceful fashion and nothing deep is made of them so that hostilities strike root, that’s just as things should be.

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