What is worth more – art or life? And should we talk about things that have been talked about before?

— Anh NGUYEN

Two incidents that caught my attention lately.

What is worth more – art or life?

A fascinating philosophical question was uttered by the Just Stop Oil activists after throwing tomato soup on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers painting at the National Gallery, London. The action was controversial enough, one can criticise or advocate for it, asking if this manifestation actually sends an effective message or instead, harms the cause. To which we have no ultimate answer: it might have sent a message to some populations AND/OR it might have harmed the image of environmental activists to some other populations. 

One can also point out different contradictions in the story (oil was used in the activist’s hair dye and t-shirt prints; throwing a can of soup while saying that “some families can’t afford soup”; the painting is known to have protective glass, therefore, none is harmed, so it’s not really vandalism etc.). But none of these arguments really matter here – as they let us spiral down to either a personal attack or a criticism of the used medium of expression (straw man fallacy).

The only thing that could become an actual interesting conversation is the question “what is worth more – art or life?”, to which we don’t have an immediate answer either because we haven’t defined “worth” here – is it in terms of financial parameters or other intangible values? Also, we have to assume that we share a definition of “art” and “life”. Such a complex question placed in a messy context. Such a question in which art was put there like a giant red herring in a climate urgency discussion! It is so messy, it is exciting, it is “art” itself. 

So what is worth more – art or life? We will have more clues in their next question “Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and people?”. The trap here is an established reality in which caring about a precious painting is mutually exclusive to caring about our planet and people (false dilemma fallacy). 

I guess the answer is that we can do both – caring about our paintings – the epitome of human craftsmanship, soul, aches and epiphanies, as well as our planet and people (and non-people). 

Should we talk about things that have been talked about before?

I had a quick chat with a friend, during which I invited them to write for our blog, to which they said “I don’t see the point of writing something if it’s already been (well) said by someone else.” This point of view is understandable when one sees theories and “trendy” subjects like degrowth or the economy of the commons have already been presented… repeatedly in many publications. And we ended up having 1,000 books that say the same thing was expressed slightly differently. 

I would argue that it is precisely the point – repetition. The fight against Climate Change and Biodiversity loss, in fact, has gained much traction over the last 5 years, indubitably thanks to the non-stop flow of content, debates, and dialogues from millions of citizens, scientists and activists around the globe. 

Repetition and things expressed slightly differently to work for different populations is also a way to get the message across. Despite a thousand books from specialists and experts explaining degrowth, I am interested in your version of degrowth. I would like to see how you understand and explain the notion, so I can gain new insights and pieces of evidence from your perspective, which other specialists or experts didn’t provide. 

I can only hope that there will be more and more repetitions on these topics of environmental and social transitions until some of them actually become a reality. 

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