Monday, November 29, 2010

What is the purpose of art?

From the Daily Mail:

A Muslim artist has sparked outrage with his depiction of the ripped-apart bus destroyed in the 7/7 terror attacks.

The artwork shows four angels flying above the bombed bus - the same number of Al Qaeda terrorists who took part in the atrocity which left 52 commuters dead and maimed hundreds more on London's transport network.

Also seen are scores of ghostly souls shooting from the number 30 bus, which was travelling through Tavistock Square when it was devastated by suicide bomber Hasib Hussain.


The artist's defence? Less a Muslim and more a modernist one:
I want to shock.

So the idea that art is there to shock is still around. I look forward to the day when this justification for art is thoroughly discredited.

Art has a number of purposes. It can entertain, commemorate or simply decorate. But high art has a high purpose: to capture and communicate the transcendent moment, when we perceive a value that exists in the world independent of our own will.

To achieve this requires a sensitive power of apprehension in the artist as well as highly developed artistic skills.

The Australian landscape painting on the right is by Hans Heysen. It is clearly not intended to shock the audience, but to inspire a certain kind of elevated response to nature.

This is a more meaningful basis to art, and one that better dignifies artists and their profession, than the mere attempt to shock.

47 comments:

  1. Something is going very wrong isn't it.

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  2. Disagree Mark.

    Art is just a physical form of expression and I suppose that we can rate art by the quality of its execution and its message. Great art gets the message across in a technically appropriate manner. I'm not a socialist or a Nazi but both ideologies, whilst repulsive, were able to produce great art.

    This work fails on first count but succeeds reasonably well on the second,in that it succeeds in offending. Pissing off the "establishment" is an old art trope. So boring so unoriginal. He's the equivalent of a tabloid photographer, he has no moral scruple on how he is prepared to make a buck.

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  3. I saw the piece and it didn't look too egregious to me. But come on, this is not a game to see how far you can push the envelope.

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  4. Art is just a physical form of expression and I suppose that we can rate art by the quality of its execution and its message.

    I agree that we can admire art, in part at least, based on the technical skills of the artist.

    But what rates as a quality message?

    I don't want to be too reductionist, here. No doubt there are a number of possible criteria.

    But one of them, anyway, is the ability of the artist to inspire the audience to some kind of elevated feeling or response.

    And that requires the artist himself to have a certain kind of sensibility or responsiveness to life.

    This is a more demanding view of art than the idea that you ought to succeed as an artist based on your ability to shock the public.

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  5. It's evil art by an evil person. Simples.

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  6. You're all confusing art with craft.

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  7. Well said Mark.

    The real issue is that near all bad art in modern western society recieves some public funding.

    They have no need to sell their work, and as such they only need to suck up to the political and social mores of the public servants who dole out the cash.

    Most of the great art seems to have come from the age when the primary source of patronage was from those who had risen to the top of their societies through contributing to those societies.

    Public servants involved in the arts industry tend not to contribute much at all, and that is being kind.

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  8. Pop art eg Andy Warholl, might be crap but at least it sells itself.

    Having said that pop art is so ghastly ...

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  9. The so-called art of an Andy Warholl sells itself? I think not.

    The art of a Norman Rockwell sells itself. Even the saccharine art of a Thomas Kinkade sells itself.

    But, the “art” of an Andy Warholl must be subsidized by tax monies – extracted from you and me (who would not willingly subsidize such “art”) by threat of force and violent death -- if it is to survive.

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  10. Re: "The real issue is that near all bad art in modern western society recieves some public funding. They have no need to sell their work, and as such they only need to suck up to the political and social mores of the public servants who dole out the cash. Most of the great art seems to have come from the age when the primary source of patronage was from those who had risen to the top of their societies through contributing to those societies."

    Sorry, but this is nonsense. The great artists of, eg the Renaissance, had very wealthy patrons who could well be analogized to the statist elite of the “nationalist” period, ie today. Furthermore, measuring the artistic value of art in accordance with its popularity is like elevating Lady Gaga to Mozart. Such conceptions are the result of the democratic mass-man mindset. I would in fact invert the relationship: the more something “sells”, the more it is just a form of “craft” (a distinction I mentioned previously) not art.

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  11. I thought the Andy Warholl stuff was very profitable. I could be wrong.

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  12. Ok so lets say a lord, bishop or wealthy burgher patronizes the arts. They at least have to pay for it and live with it once its done. A public servant has no such obligation and they can support a piece on ideological grounds and then walk away never having to see it again. Alternatively perhaps they can convince themselves that it really is beautiful.

    I remember when the new National Museum of Canberra came out. We were all waiting very anxiously for it, because if you ask me much of the architecture of Canberra is quite beautiful or at least nice and we thought it'd make a nice addition (give me a break if you don't like Canberra). When it arrived it was so spectacularly ugly we didn't know if it was good or not. Surely something that ugly had to have something going for it? After a little while we decided that it was just crap. With bad art you think there's something wrong with it. With really bad art you think there's something wrong with you.

    However, if you get the guided tour you'll learn how it subtly strokes every left wing fetish... So I guess that makes it good then.

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  13. Any physical expression of semantic content is art. Art is the physical medium through which we get the idea across.

    The craft of art consists in the physical manipulation of the medium. A good "artist" gets his message across by the skillfully manipulating the appropriate media. All artists are in a sense craftsmen, but not all craftsmen are artists. The artist consciously uses the media to communicate, and the quality of the artist is thus measured by his ability to manipulate the media in such a way as to effectively get the message across.

    In producing a work of art, each artist has an objective or a message he wants to get across. The message in this work is a glorification of the suicide bombers. What offends is the message as expressed through the medium. The question then is, should art expression be limited? i.e censorship. Personally, I have no problems censoring art but then many "conservative libertarians" will have big issues with this.

    Such conceptions are the result of the democratic mass-man mindset.

    Yeah, but the opposite of this is the "elite" mindset. This is the same mindset used by our "arty overlords" to dismiss any legitimate criticism of art, because people who don't share their view simply "don't get it."

    Lady Gaga and Mozart are artists but on totally different levels. Lady Gaga is more like a porn producer, Mozart, like a classical painter.

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  14. Kilroy:

    Jesse_7 said it better than I could:

    ""Ok so lets say a lord, bishop or wealthy burgher patronizes the arts. They at least have to pay for it and live with it once its done.""

    The difference is the spending of wealth that has been earned or inherited to better ones own life compared to the spending of wealth by public officials to better "Art" or "Society".

    The former usually creates pieces with more aesthetic value, the latter spends $300,000 to paint the trees on St. Kilda rd blue.

    The one exception to this is art funded for religious reasons, which is not people reaching into their own pockets. But for the most part due to other pressures religious art usually cuts the mustard, regardless of the religion.

    I can almost make it an iron-clad law. Look through the art that is publicly funded today. It's crap.

    Proportionally Western society pays our artists far more to produce a greater volumn of work than ever before.

    So where are our Masters? Where are the great paintings, plays and songs that the patronage system produced?

    Since the wealthy pay more taxes per-person they are in a sense funding these monstrous creations more than the rest of us, wouldn't it be better to simply cut all public funding to the arts, put part of that funding into training artists in basic technical skills, and then letting them all compete for the patrons dollar?

    Our modern system is more or less a rebellion against the artists lot in history. I have met many writers in particular who believe that writers [in particular] should be given a generous weekly stipend from the state!

    They seriously believe that the entire purpose of society is to support them in their artistic musings.

    I hate Lady Gaga [much to the dismay of my girl] but give me bland mass-culture mush that pays it's own way over inane bullshit that the rest of us subsidise any day of the week.

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  15. Much modern painted art today is bright colours, abstract shapes and lines. It might be visually pleasing but I'm not sure what message its trying to convey. I guess you could say its setting a mood. This kind of art morphs into the background and perhaps isn't that memorable.

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  16. http://gawker.com/5702703/john-boehners-next-target-ant+covered-jesus
    There is also this "art" we US tax payers had to fund. Really as long as it is insulting to Western tradition, Whites and Christians, it is art.

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  17. We have an art show in Australia on ABC, I can't remember the name. The presenter is quite plain but she's "arty". The hair a certain way, certain dress etc. I think its more "arty" to be not too attractive. Being attractive is just too mainstream. The so called art a lot of these arty types turn out is no good, but it is "arty" so it qualifies. One of the images in the opening of the show is of a high heel stepping on an egg. That's your "arty".

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  18. Jesse: "I thought the Andy Warholl stuff was very profitable."

    Only because there is in place an infrastructure -- subsidized by forcibly extracted tax monies -- to ensure it. Much as commodity producers are both subsidized directly and the prices of their products given a floor by government intervention in those markets – to the detriment of the tax-payer and the consumer – so, too, with ‘Art!

    Warholl's crap -- or Picasso's for that matter -- could not compete in a free market, on its own merits (for it has none).

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  19. "wouldn't it be better to simply cut all public funding to the arts, put part of that funding into training artists in basic technical skills, and then letting them all compete for the patrons dollar?"

    Sure, but that would make the artists the bootlickers of capitalists and industrialists, or at least that's probably how the artists would characterize it.

    Picture it: You're the artsy, high school outcast.

    The industrialist is the alpha male, chick-magnet quarterback.

    The bureaucrat is the whiny, editor of the school newspaper/president of Amnesty International.

    Now, to whom would you rather go, hat in hand, a begging?

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  20. I should add: Now I would rather go to the industrialist because I know hierarchy is true, and it doesn't make me less of a man just because I'm not at the top of it.

    But before, as a liberal, I would've felt it was the worst humiliation. Then I believed that all humans were equal; if I admitted the industrialist was my superior, I admitted I was less of a man, and who can do that?

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  21. Bartholomew makes a good point about "liberal" views about hierarchy and "equality" (or, as I think is the better term, egalitarianism).

    However, I think a caveat is called for: I really do not believe that most “liberals” object to the recognition of non-egalitarianism entailed by admitting to the reality of hierarchies in society; rather “liberals” tend to object to the fact that they, themselves, are not the Man At The Top.

    And, ultimately, “liberals” are pissed off because they, themselves, are not God.

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  22. There's a difference between believing in objective hierarchy (regardless of your place in it) and just believing in your own greatness.

    Ilion has demonstrated only that liberals believe in the latter, not the former.

    Why the scare quotes, by the way?

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  23. Because so-called liberals are generally among the most anti-liberal of persons one will ever encounter.

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  24. "Ilion has demonstrated only that liberals believe in the latter, not the former."

    The flattened two-level hierarchy to which a “liberal” is generally willing to subscribe –- “ME At The Top … and everyone else answering to ME” -- is still a hierarchy. True, it's not real and it's not objective, but it is a hierarchy.

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  25. But its true intellectuals and artists were at the top of the (moral) hierarchy in the left wing state. Not the fat cat businessman.

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  26. That's the entire (or nearly so) point of a leftist state, isn't it: to more to the top of the queue those who *know* they deserve to rule/dictate because they are so inherently fabulous that it is beneath their dignity to actually compete for position and status?

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  27. ... for, to compete for the position and status they desire would be to implicitly acknowledge that others may be their equals, or may even be their superiors.

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  28. To slightly redirect the conversation I saw P J O'Rourke from the Cato institute on the box the other day. He's funny but a bit of a duffer if you ask me and he looks drunk half the time. He was defending free markets and small Government. Can we say that "free markets" are simply an apology or justification for big business?

    Certainly Cato wouldn't have been in the least interested in free markets or individualism as he was an old school moralist and traditionalist patriot.

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  29. "Can we say that "free markets" are simply an apology or justification for big business?"

    Not is we know what we're talking about and care to speak honestly.

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  30. Ilion wrote,

    "... for, to compete for the position and status they desire would be to implicitly acknowledge that others may be their equals, or may even be their superiors."

    Yeah, that nails it.

    Alright, back to the redirected conversation, Jesse, haha.

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  31. Who me? hehe. Its a serious point though if artists and intellectuals are wanna be head dogs for the left (in practice they aren't of course) and they have their intellectual defenders. Whilst businessmen are the head dogs for the capitalist societies, can't we say that they would have their own intellectual defenders too? We all like the free market but in practice that can give real advantages to large firms. The market isn't totally free of course anyway (even in theory) and its regulated by things like contract law.

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  32. "... The market isn't totally free of course anyway (even in theory) and its regulated by things like contract law."

    Good night! Anarchy is not freedom.

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  33. Mark Look at this article in DailyMail!

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1334841/Why-SHOULD-mums-benefits-countless-children-I-afford-two.html

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  34. There's no point getting worked up. If anarchy isn't freedom you still have to draw the line somewhere as to what regulation is acceptable and what isn't. I'm not sure I really give two figs about the market. I like it because I think its efficient and more efficient then the alternatives, but I'm not sure its a particularly noble or freedom inspiring thing.

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  35. I mean P J O'Rourke said the Berlin Wall came down because people in the Eastern Block didn't like Bulgaria blue jeans. And that's true enough but it wasn't just standard of living issues there. I'm sure many of the people objected to the absence of real freedom, like having your neighbour spy on you in your apartment block, or being unable to disagree with the accepted lines.

    PJ says Blue jeans brought down the Berlin Wall so everybody buy blue jeans. But if you ask me that's a lot of hot air and overplays the role of business.

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  36. It was obvious from your previous post that you don't "really give two figs about the market" -- which is another way of saying that you don't give two figs about either civilization or liberty.

    Where the Bourgeois Virtues Are Found


    "There's no point getting worked up."

    Do you want to know what you can do with such passive-aggressive womanly behavior?

    You don't care about *my* liberty; you're all primed to follow the next Pied Piper who plays the "corporatist" tune (he'll probably call it "communitarianism"), a la Il Duce -- you might as well be a "liberal" for all the good you mean for me and considering where your mind is at.

    So, hell yes, I’m going to “get worked up!”

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  37. What bull the market is just economics and since when has that been the essence of conservatism? Where does honor, duty, loyalty and tradition fall into economics? I said I support or like the market in the same way I support or like my car. It gets me from a to b. I don't love it though or worship it.

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  38. I completely agree, Mark. Art should convey something much more noble than it currently does (at least for what is currently considered "art").

    While some pieces in traditional art were meant to shock, or at least to provoke a certain expected response on the part of on-lookers, it was never to such base purposes. Take for instance Delacroix's depiction of battles or hunting scenes. Today, they would just have a canvas with three circles and two squares, filled with gaudy colours, and tell you it is art. This is ridiculous.

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  39. Economics is the study of market mechanisms; it is morality neutral and is simply an aspect of Natural Law. Disparaging economics because you do not like neofeudalism/corporatism is like disparaging paint because you do not like the art created with it.

    He was defending free markets and small Government. Can we say that "free markets" are simply an apology or justification for big business?

    No, we cannot say that. And you can accuse the men at Cato for being many things, but corporatists they are not. When they say "free markets", they actually mean "free markets". Including the government's responsibility to ensure a fair and competitive marketplace by breaking up monopolies and cartels, and promoting transparency and the widespread dissemination of market data.

    Certainly Cato wouldn't have been in the least interested in free markets or individualism as he was an old school moralist and traditionalist patriot.

    For republicans, liberty is traditionalism.

    ??
    The Greeks were very interested in market theory, and wrote extensively upon the topic. Aristotle's Rhetoric is full of it, for one. Remember that not all markets are monetary in nature. There are marriage markets, legal markets, demographic markets, agricultural markets, housing markets, governmental markets... competition is everywhere.

    Besides, Cato the Younger was a Roman Senator, who regularly had to vote and debate on economic policy. He was a champion of republicanism, which is the governmental underpinning of libertarianism. Many of his most famous speeches centred around promoting liberty, individual freedom, and the rule of law. At any rate, the Cato Institute is not named directly after Cato, but rather after Cato's Letters which date back to the mid-1700s.

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  40. A free market isn't just a mechanism its an ideal, hence the emphasis on "free". Like I said before every market is regulated to some degree. You will not find a period in history in which this was not the case.

    If markets are morality neutral, which we can agree on, then if market "ideology" dominates then we are in danger of living in a morally neutral society. Yes today we talk about marriage contracts and marriage markets and we also talk about maiximising our "happiness" as if it was another product we could buy. You might be concerned about the government but if you ask me market values and economics dominate our societies rather than governments for many people, and so if any examination of society is undertaken it cannot exclude it.

    Cato the younger walked around bare footed. He absolutely despised monetary interests as a priority and that was his chief complaint. I don't know the details of the Cato institute very well which was why I asked the question. On the issue of them wanting a smaller government, that was consistent with Cato's philosophy because a large government takes away the initiative and arguably the virtue of the people and is naturally a corrupting influence. It was an aspect of Roman traditionalism to want a small government, however, this did not mean that they thought it acceptable for business to do whatever it wanted.

    On the Cato institute arguing against cartels and monopolies, ie not merely being the intellectual defenders of big business or an established interest, then that's great. On the issue of them claiming the free market won the cold war I don't agree. The free market is one of the aspects of the west, it is not "the" aspect.

    However, as you said this thread is on art and not the market and so we don't want to stray too far off it.

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  41. Discussing the free market when discussing the art market isn't a significant derailment, I think. Not like Booth Bunnies.

    A "free market" is the goal of pure libertarianism. But a "free market" is not necessarily defined as one "completely free of intervention" (which would be anarchy), but rather reaches its pinnacle when all resource allocations are optimized. This is considered a public good (even by the Catholic Church) because an efficient market tends to lead to increased wealth for the populace, simply by reducing waste. The problem with government is that state intervention tends to lead away from a "free market", and toward an inefficient market. State intervention also adds an additional level of complexity, which -- as you noted -- leads to increased corruption.

    There are, however, state interventions that have proven themselves to produce greater efficiency in the market, and I (and Cato) are all for that. School vouchers, sound patent law, monopoly and cartel reduction, freedom of information laws, trade associations, certain forms of publicly-financed technological advancement (like the Internet or databases), etc. But politicians prefer to actually provide services, rather than smooth out the bumps in the market, because provision increases dependency. It is the type of government involvement, not government involvement itself, that is our main concern.

    He absolutely despised monetary interests as a priority and that was his chief complaint.

    Well, so do I. It is possible to think economically and still place the highest value on more noble things. But economics and mathematics are the languages of the world, and I am in the world, even if I am not of it.

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  42. Its a fair argument. The free market is certainly very important. It also arguably leads to a freer society. The link given by llion refers to the Bourgeois value of respect for others, and there are many others that can also be mentioned, and these are all very valuable. It is the nature of human life though to not work at the ideal or balanced level but to go from one level of too much to another. When I say I don't care a fig about the market its because it is morally neutral and materialistic. I care about things that speak to me and morality and society do, whilst mere stuff doesn't. We absolutely can't deny that market place values, individualism (to the extent of not caring that much about society), resource maximisation and general distrust of our own (we're all competitors in a market and not fellow citizens or brothers), are absolutely issues for our society.

    When we say the market should be "free", we're not simply stating a practical fact that it should be as little regulated as possible to allow for maximum efficiency. We're stating a moral fact. It should be free and tampering with it is immoral, unjust, leading to slavery. That I absolutely disagree with even if tampering with it may be inefficient. Tampering with the market may or may not be immoral but the market and a free one in my opinion is not necessarily a moral good.

    Personally, without going too far off the market issue, I don't really see the government as such an enemy. Yes it should be limited but government also has the stewardship of society and that is something I care about. If too much government is bad for society then I'm against it, if too little is bad for society then I'm in favor of more. Yes government will always be inefficient and in practice will work in less than desirable ways. Yet our government and society is still the freest on the planet, yours and mine. And we benefit from both this freedom and from the overall political stability (ie no civil wars or coups) that our countries have.

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  43. Yes, it is still the freest. But these things can change, and we are rapidly moving to an oligarchic police state (neofeudalism). It has become quite obvious to everyone that our government is tyrannical, and that the rule of law no longer applies to everyone equally.

    As for stewardship, most government exists to serve only itself. The amount of government necessary for serving the general populace and the common good is relatively small.

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  44. Alte,

    I'm reminded a little of the joke in the Simpsons where Homer storms into the bureaucrats office, calling him a "watercooler dictator", only to find someone boringly helpful. In many instances state bureaucrats are nothing more than that. Obviously we've all experienced the negative side of the State. They have a very large amount of power and when wielded against you its quite terrifying. Nonetheless there are political checks and balances built into it the system which whilst imperfect are still there. There are also practical positive sides too and most people wouldn't want to give up all the benefits of the state.

    I'm happy to argue against the state. In this case I was primarily arguing against instinctual support for the free market. Which is also clearly an influence on society.

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  45. In many instances state bureaucrats are nothing more than that.

    Yes, I am aware of that. My father is ex-Army and my parents are both federal bureaucrats, despite my protests. They are both very boring and very helpful.

    The CIA claims that they are "just following orders". The low-level employees at Goldman Sachs are "just doing their job". Even boringly helpful people are in the wrong, if their work helps to prop up an unjust system. Starve the beast, I say.

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