Culture Is Not About Esthetics

Aesthetically & economically, maybe there is too much new art. Don’t take this too seriously.
philosophy, psychology, survey, music
2009-07-162015-07-05 in progress certainty: unlikely importance: 7

“The cli­mate of our cul­ture is chang­ing. Un­der these new rains, new suns, small things grow great, and what was great grows small; whole species dis­ap­pear and are re­placed.”


The ig­nited mar­kets by pro­vid­ing a in­ter­face which is vi­su­ally com­pet­i­tive with pa­per, and easy ac­cess to a re­mark­able frac­tion of Ama­zon’s in­ven­to­ry. It’s very nice.

The pric­ing of ebooks is con­tro­ver­sial2; why should an ebook cost as much as the book? The Kindle’s ebooks are small dig­i­tal files, as op­posed to mul­ti­-pound slabs of ex­act­ingly man­u­fac­tured wood and cloth3. The for­mer is de­liv­ered wire­less­ly, while the lat­ter re­quires globe-s­pan­ning trans­port net­works. Surely there is vast over­head for the pa­per, and ebook prices should re­flect their mar­ginal cost of pro­duc­tion of 0 cents?

Not many ex­pect ebooks to be priced in cents, since the au­thor ex­pects to be paid a fair bit for her writ­ing, and the pub­lisher ex­pects to be paid for edit­ing & for­mat­ting it, and Ama­zon is there dis­creetly cough­ing for its share45. So it won’t be 0¢, but why not $3 or less?

The price is not right

In a sense, this is a ques­tion. The right price for ebooks is what­ever the mar­ket will bear. If $3 is not the right price, then con­sumers will not buy, and the price will con­tinue to fall un­til they do.

In an­other sense, it’s a diffi­cult ques­tion as some peo­ple seem to be think­ing in me­dieval terms with the moral con­cept of the ‘’, which is in­ap­plic­a­ble to books. (Just prices are easy to set for ne­ces­si­ties - eg. if any­body is starv­ing to death, then the price of food is not at the just price - but this does­n’t work for lux­u­ries. And most of Ama­zon’s mer­chan­dise must be clas­si­fied as a lux­u­ry. One is not go­ing to die with­out the lat­est video game or nov­el.)


But the pre­sup­po­si­tion of a dis­cus­sion of how to en­sure a profitable price level mu­tu­ally ac­cept­able to con­sumers & cor­po­rate pub­lish­ers is that the pub­lish­ers should sur­vive. That is: if books are not eco­nom­i­cally sus­tain­able at nat­ural e-book prices (eg. $3), will so­ci­ety be worse off? Should pub­lish­ers or nov­el­ists be sub­si­dized67? They cer­tainly are sub­si­dized in many ways di­rect & in­di­rect. Some ar­eas of artis­tic en­deav­our seem to try to prove that art is worth­less and a joke; it’s a lit­tle hard to ex­plain some ar­eas of mod­ern or post-mod­ern art8 in any other way, and who are we to dis­agree with them? But that’s a cheap way out. What about art that is quite se­ri­ous and as­pires to the age-old goals of art?

The more I think about it, the harder I find jus­ti­fy­ing any sub­sidy.

We value high au­thor roy­al­ties be­cause this al­lows au­thors to spe­cial­ize in be­ing au­thors; spe­cial­iza­tion is a good thing be­cause it al­lows au­thors to pro­duce more than they oth­er­wise would; and higher pro­duc­tion is good be­cause we value the fruits there­of.

But higher pro­duc­tion is­n’t al­ways good; pro­duc­tion can be mis­guided or wasted 9. (And strength­ened copy­right law may not be an effec­tive sub­sidy re­gard­less.10)

100 apples in the barrel

“Where words are scarce, they are sel­dom spent in vain, / For they breathe truth that breathe their words in pain.”

William Shake­speare11

Sup­pose we all have 100 ap­ples. Our lives do not re­volve around ap­ples, though we like them well enough. But still, 100 is too many; even if we ate 5 a day, the rest would go bad be­fore we ate them. And of course, it’s un­likely that any of us will go to the green­gro­cers and buy more. Our of ap­ples has plunged to zero12.

From our per­spec­tive, the farmer bring­ing a truck of ap­ples to the green­gro­cers has wasted his la­bor. Let’s hope he’ll find some­thing to do with those sur­plus ap­ples so the re­sources that went into mak­ing them were not wasted - maybe bake some ap­ple pies, or com­post them all.

Now sup­pose this was­n’t a one-time gift. We live in a magic world where every­one gets 100 ap­ples a week. Here the farmer’s en­tire ca­reer is wast­ed. Is­n’t he wast­ing his life? He’s a smart fel­low; no rea­son he could­n’t go do some­thing more use­ful.

We could in­vent ways to em­ploy this farmer. Per­haps every week he breaks into every­body’s kitchens and steals their ap­ples so they have to buy ap­ples from him. Per­haps he’ll run a large mar­ket­ing cam­paign to con­vince every­one that his ap­ples are su­pe­rior to the mag­i­cal ap­ples. Per­haps some peo­ple get but re­ally wanted , and he runs an ap­ple-trad­ing hub, fill­ing in deficits with his ap­ples. Per­haps he lives on gov­ern­ment sub­sidy checks & farms ap­ples as a hob­by. Or some­thing.

But nev­er­the­less, these ap­ple-farm­ers rep­re­sent a . That’s bad.

100 books on the shelf

“Do tech­nol­ogy and eco­nomic growth cre­ate prob­lems? Cer­tain­ly. But as Mau­rice Cheva­lier said about the dis­ad­van­tages of grow­ing old, con­sider the al­ter­na­tive…if you chose to live in Re­nais­sance Flo­rence you would not be able to en­joy and . In ’s Lon­don, you would not be able to lis­ten to Beethoven or Brahms. In La , you would not be able to read or . To live in to­day’s world is not only to have ac­cess to all the best that has come be­fore, but also to have a breadth and ease of ac­cess that is com­pa­ra­bly greater than that en­joyed even by our par­ents, let alone ear­lier gen­er­a­tions.”

, Hu­man Ac­com­plish­ment

Now, can we ap­ply this anal­o­gy? I don’t have 100 ap­ples, but per­haps I have - 100 nov­els.

Not any nov­els, but nov­els. Nor any 100 Sci-Fi nov­els, but the win­ners of the 2 most pres­ti­gious SF awards for the last 50 years: the and s.

Reading them

“Del­i­cacy of taste is as much to be de­sired and cul­ti­vated as del­i­cacy of pas­sion is to be lament­ed, and to be reme­died, if pos­si­ble. The good or ill ac­ci­dents of life are very lit­tle at our dis­pos­al; but we are pretty much mas­ters what books we shall read, what di­ver­sions we shall par­take of, and what com­pany we shall keep­…When a man is pos­sessed of that tal­ent, he is more happy by what pleases his taste, than by what grat­i­fies his ap­petites, and re­ceives more en­joy­ment from a poem or a piece of rea­son­ing than the most ex­pen­sive lux­ury can afford.”

, 1777 (Es­say I: “Of The Del­i­cacy Of Taste And Pas­sion”)

“…in an in­for­ma­tion-rich world, the wealth of in­for­ma­tion means a dearth of some­thing else: a scarcity of what­ever it is that in­for­ma­tion con­sumes. What in­for­ma­tion con­sumes is rather ob­vi­ous: it con­sumes the at­ten­tion of its re­cip­i­ents. Hence a wealth of in­for­ma­tion cre­ates a poverty of at­ten­tion and a need to al­lo­cate that at­ten­tion effi­ciently among the over­abun­dance of in­for­ma­tion sources that might con­sume it…A rel­a­tively straight­for­ward way of mea­sur­ing how much scarce re­sources a mes­sage con­sumes is by not­ing how much time the re­cip­i­ents spends on it.”

, “De­sign­ing Or­ga­ni­za­tions for an In­for­ma­tion-Rich World”, 1971.

“…the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is re­quired to be ex­changed for it, im­me­di­ately or in the long run.”

Thore­au, Walden

Sup­pose I read the 100 at the rate of 1 a week13, or 52 a year. I will fin­ish them in ~2 years.14

It will take an ap­pre­cia­ble frac­tion of my life to read a van­ish­ingly small frac­tion of one small fic­tion gen­re, that it­self has ex­isted for less than 2 cen­turies and been writ­ten al­most ex­clu­sively in 2 coun­tries15.

And what if I want to read the pre­quels and se­quels? Not all win­ners are as pro­lific in se­quels & pre­quels as , but these win­ners in­clude many duolo­gies and trilo­gies (or more)16. I can prob­a­bly ex­pect to lose an­other 2 or 6 years to them. Cer­tain­ly, I can ex­pect it to take an­other 4 years to read the 2 top run­ner-ups for each award. And did I men­tion that these awards have mul­ti­ple cat­e­gories? Many of SF’s great­est works are short sto­ries or novel­las, which com­pete for differ­ent Neb­ula & Hugo awards.

And of course, it’s not like the Hugo & Neb­ula awards are the de­fin­i­tive list of SF ‘books to read’ - treats of hun­dreds of writ­ers, and men­tions thou­sands of works; has more than 4000 en­tries. Like Man­del­brot’s , the more thor­oughly I search, the longer my read­ing list be­comes.

New = bad

“It is worth se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion how great an amount of time—their own and other peo­ple’s—and of pa­per is wasted by this swarm of mediocre po­ets, and how in­ju­ri­ous their in­flu­ence is. For the pub­lic al­ways seizes on what is new, and shows even more in­cli­na­tion to what is per­verse and dull, as be­ing akin to its own na­ture. These works of the medioc­re, there­fore, draw the pub­lic away and hold it back from gen­uine mas­ter­pieces, and from the ed­u­ca­tion they afford. Thus they work di­rectly against the be­nign in­flu­ence of ge­nius, ruin taste more and more, and so ar­rest the progress of the age.”


The list is now 8 years in length; if the SF in­dus­try had im­ploded the day I start­ed, I would not have no­ticed.

I would be bet­ter off, ac­tu­al­ly, if the in­dus­try did im­plode! The last SF or Fan­tasy I read was tril­o­gy. It was good, but I know there are bet­ter18. My read­ing time is finite, and read­ing Mist­born pushed out read­ing tetral­ogy - which I ul­ti­mately en­joyed more. If the in­dus­try had im­ploded be­fore Mist­born was pub­lished, I would have read Long Sun in­stead19.

It would­n’t be diffi­cult to spend the rest of my life read­ing only SF pub­lished be­fore 2009, and it would be more effi­cient as time is the keen­est crit­ic.

The con­nec­tion to other as­pects of mod­ern life and is ap­par­ent: there’s a whereby cheap yet un­sat­is­fy­ing works will push out more sat­is­fy­ing but more de­mand­ing en­ter­tain­ment. Hu­mans suffer from ; we may know that in the long run, Mist­born will be for­got­ten when Long Sun is re­mem­bered, and that once we get start­ed, we will en­joy it more - yet when the mo­ment comes to choose, we pre­fer the choice of im­me­di­ate plea­sure.

Why is this? For that mat­ter, why do so many dis­crete flour­ish around fic­tion and seem to out­num­ber sub­cul­tures based on non­fic­tion top­ics like guns? Why does fic­tion seem to sab­o­tage effec­tive­ness in re­al-life? Rather than en­hance it as seems plau­si­ble and as it could very well do since in­ter­ac­tive fic­tion is ca­pa­ble of slip­ping enor­mous amounts of in­for­ma­tion into one’s mind (eg. What video games have to teach us about learn­ing and lit­er­acy, Gee 2003). Right now, we can only spec­u­late; I sus­pect the an­swer lies at the con­ver­gence of highly ab­stract in­ter­pre­ta­tions of cre­ative ex­pe­ri­ence, mod­ern video-game in­stan­ti­a­tions of , and the neu­rol­ogy of fic­tion20. Robin Han­son sug­gests, based in part on analy­sis of 201 ma­jor British nov­els21, fic­tion is closer to sig­nal­ing and wish-ful­fill­ment - serv­ing to ed­u­cate us about group mem­ber­ship or in­ter­ac­tion, and send­ing mes­sages about what groups one is in (it’s hard to fake a real knowl­edge of , eg.) It’s an in­ter­est­ing area, but not strictly rel­e­vant to the topic of whether new fic­tion should be sub­si­dized and its mer­its com­pared to old (ex­ist­ing) fic­tion.

Generalizing this

“Read­ing any­thing less than 50 years old is like drink­ing new wine: per­mis­si­ble once or twice a year and usu­ally fol­lowed by re­gret and a headache…I defi­nitely have fol­lowed that dic­tum. Maybe a lit­tle too much so, in that I rarely read any­thing mod­ern at all. When it comes to books. I don’t fol­low that rule when it comes to mu­sic or movies or blogs. But on the level of books, there is so much good stuff out there that has stood the test of time, I don’t run out of in­ter­est­ing things to read.”

topol­o­gist Robert Ghrist22

But read­ing only SF is im­pov­er­ish­ing. I al­ways wanted to get into mys­ter­ies and French lit­er­a­ture. But those will take at least 2 decades. Now I’m in my 50s. I’d bet­ter hurry if I ever want to read Eng­lish or Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture, or any non­fic­tion!

So, why do I care what hap­pens to the SF mar­ket? How does it con­cern me that the short story mag­a­zines are col­laps­ing and will train no new writ­ers? I have no need of them. I al­ready have 100 ap­ples.


Or how about the genre of clas­si­cal mu­sic? I once saw a com­plete col­lec­tion of in 160 CDs. I’ve no idea how many hours of mu­sic that is, and am too fright­ened to cal­cu­late it. And how many lis­tens would it take to rea­son­ably ap­pre­ci­ate it? A life­time per­haps.

Why should I care about some pub­lisher try­ing to record an­other CD of the ? I’m not a con­duc­tor, I will hear no im­prove­ment. To me, there is no differ­ence be­tween the world’s great­est vi­o­lin­ist and the 10th-great­est.


Or con­sider an­other medi­um: movies. Have you seen the ’s Top 250 movies? There are ex­cel­lent movies in there. Some are pro­found, oth­ers mov­ing, and not a few pro­foundly mov­ing. Why are you go­ing to watch or ? For en­ter­tain­ment val­ue? But there are movies in that list which are far more en­ter­tain­ing, I as­sure you.

Even if you’ve seen the top 50, there’s an­other 200 to choose from. If you think the IMDB is too fad­dish and In­ter­net-cen­tric, there’s no short­age of other lists - the New York Times would be happy to tell you all about “The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made” (6 years at 3 movies a week). And what about tele­vi­sion? If we ask IMDB about movies by year or all the movies and TV episodes it knows about, it’s happy to tell us: 1,111,244 episodes; 263,524 movies; and 1,920,757 works in to­tal (as of 2011-06-28). We can also look at movie pro­duc­tion over time, where we find that as early as 1917 there were 5,490 movies made. (A cur­rent es­ti­mate for the EU is “1100 fea­tures and 1400 shorts per year”.) So even if we got in at the be­gin­ning, we never had a chance at watch­ing so much as a small frac­tion.

Here’s a thought prob­lem: sup­pose an in­ten­sive study re­vealed, au­thor­i­ta­tive­ly, that re­mov­ing all sub­si­dies and ‘in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights’ would cause movie pro­duc­tion to fall by 95%. Would you re­gard that as a dis­as­ter, some­thing to be de­cried and ab­horred and leg­is­lated again­st? I sus­pect so. Sup­pose the study found that, specifi­cal­ly, this 95% fall was com­posed par­tially of movies never get­ting made, but also par­tially of movies get­ting made and then lost or never dis­trib­uted or never shown at all (per­haps be­cause in the ab­sence of copy­right, pi­rates would un­der­cut them and take all profit­s); would this change your opin­ion much? Prob­a­bly not for the bet­ter - if any­thing, it’s even more hor­ri­fy­ing, in the same way al­most win­ning the lot­tery but miss­ing by 1 num­ber is more sad­den­ing than miss­ing it by 2 num­bers.

But the in­ter­est­ing thing is that this is al­ready hap­pen­ing: less than 5% of movies are avail­able to the pub­lic23, and only around 10% of silent films sur­vive in any sense any­where24. So that 95% fall has al­ready hap­pened; civ­i­liza­tion seems to have sur­vived25. (A re­flec­tion on the ‘movie canon’: if you be­lieve the canon is aes­thet­i­cally in­valid and has not suc­cess­fully picked out the best movies made, then that im­plies any­where up to 90% of the best movies ever made are lost for­ever to you.)

Genres in general

“When will we re­al­ize that the fact that we can be­come ac­cus­tomed to any­thing, how­ever dis­gust­ing at first, makes it nec­es­sary to ex­am­ine care­fully every­thing we have be­come ac­cus­tomed to?”

George Bernard Shaw, A Trea­tise on Par­ents and Chil­dren, 1910

Any field over a cen­tury old has built up a stock of mas­ter­pieces that could fill a life­time.26

Fields that are new, or still tech­ni­cally de­vel­op­ing, may not have enough. For ex­am­ple, video games - even the great­est ar­cade games from 20 or 30 years ago such as or _ has a hard time com­pet­ing against mediocre con­tem­po­rary games. Some­thing sim­i­lar may be true of mod­ern tele­vi­sion pro­grams27 (although pre­sum­ably the de­vel­op­ment and so­phis­ti­ca­tion is fin­ished in still other mod­ern for­mats like movies, which draw the most ca­pa­ble and most mon­ey).

Grant­ing that new/de­vel­op­ing ar­gu­ment, one only de­lays the day of reck­on­ing, and as time pass­es, new fields are nec­es­sar­ily an ever smaller frac­tion of the gen­eral sur­plus of art. After all, while we may not be able di­vide up all art into cat­e­gories of ‘paint­ing’ or ‘Russ­ian novel’, there is some­thing we can count and which is ab­solutely cru­cial to the ar­gu­ment: time. Our lives are only so long, and they are de­nom­i­nated quite pre­cise­ly, sec­ond by sec­ond. We have 500,000 hours28.

Does it mat­ter whether it’s a bal­let or a novel if we de­vote 3 of those hours to it? Art­works may be as non-com­mod­i­fied or in­com­pa­ra­ble or sub­jec­tive as we please, but we can’t get around our own lim­its. For our fi­nite lives, it’s good enough if we call it art. And we don’t nec­es­sar­ily need to as­sume sub­sti­tu­tion of works across gen­res; given enough time, any genre will out­run your lifes­pan. As gen­res mul­ti­ply, it be­comes ever more diffi­cult to ar­gue that some new and small genre is the only one that can sat­isfy one and that it mer­its sub­sidy. (And yet, de­spite the scarcity of our at­ten­tion, we frit­ter it away and value our time at next to noth­ing: some­one watch­ing an hour of TV is so worth­less that after nearly a cen­tu­ry, the most an ad­ver­tiser can afford to pay the TV sta­tion for that per­son’s at­ten­tion is 20 cents.)

Media shock

“The soul has no as­sign­ments, nei­ther cooks Nor ref­er­ees: it wastes its time. It wastes its time. Here in this en­clave there are cen­turies For you to waste… The books, just leafed through, whis­per end­less­ly.”

Ran­dall Jar­rell29

I hope I’ve made my point: we live in an age of ut­ter me­dia abun­dance. Like none be­fore us, we can par­take of the great­est works in all medi­ums of all ages. We do not sip from a foun­tain la­bo­ri­ously sup­plied by hard-work­ing artists & au­thors, nor even guz­zle from a fire-hose hooked up to a print­ing press; we are be­ing shot off Ni­a­gara Falls. The im­pact alone will kill us.

This has been true for a very long time. Even medi­ums dis­missed as dead pro­duce as­tound­ing quan­ti­ties; the Amer­i­can mag­a­zine re­ceives 100,000 poem sub­mis­sions a year. The has been run­ning out of space since the 1970s; it or­dered a 13-acre ware­house with 153 miles of high­-den­sity shelv­ing - and ex­pects this to suffice for just 20 years30. This abun­dance may have been in­vis­i­ble to most peo­ple be­fore the In­ter­net. The largest col­lec­tion a per­son would ever run into would be his lo­cal li­brary, and that is re­as­sur­ingly small. It has a few dozen thou­sand vol­umes, per­haps, of which some­one will want to read only a small frac­tion. A good reader could get through 1 book a day on av­er­age, and so one could en­com­pass the whole in a life­time. Who vis­its the Li­brary of Con­gress and is struck by the phys­i­cal re­al­ity of dozens of mil­lions of items? No one. Be­tween 2002 and 2009, pub­lish­ing an­a­lysts es­ti­mated 6,785,915 were as­signed31. ( es­ti­mates there are >130 mil­lion book­s.) One could­n’t hope to buy more than one could con­sume ei­ther, as books and me­dia are ex­pen­sive per hour. (Niche con­sumer can ex­pect even worse prices; at one point, Amer­i­can anime fans were pay­ing more than $40 for <30 min­utes32.)

But the In­ter­net puts the equiv­a­lent of mul­ti­ple Li­braries of Con­gresses at one’s fin­ger­tips. One only has to visit a Bit­Tor­rent tracker web­site and see the en­tries scroll off the screen for hun­dreds of pages, each rep­re­sent­ing a mas­sive col­lec­tion soak­ing up end­less weeks and years. All of it is there for the tak­ing. It can’t be ig­nored. Every­one who wants a par­tic­u­lar web­page or al­bum or movie is forced to see the re­sults of their search queries and muse, ‘if my nar­row re­quest turned up this much - how much must there be in all?’ The num­bers be­come numb­ing if one projects out just a lit­tle way into the fu­ture:

“So far hu­mans have cre­ated 500,000 differ­ent movies and about one mil­lion TV episodes. At least 11 mil­lion differ­ent songs have been record­ed…If the cur­rent rates of in­ven­tive­ness con­tin­ue, in 2060 there will be 1.1 bil­lion33 unique songs and 12 bil­lion differ­ent kinds of prod­ucts for sale.”34

1.1 bil­lion unique songs beg­gars the imag­i­na­tion. When I was a child, I would some­times see how high I could count be­fore I lost track, men­tally count­ing in a blur; over a pe­ri­ods of many months, oc­ca­sion­ally writ­ing down the cur­rent num­ber be­fore bed­time, I man­aged to count to 2 mil­lion. The num­bers be­gan to ap­pall me - ever since I have never seen the word ‘num­ber’ with­out see­ing ‘numb’ in it. But 2 mil­lion is tiny. It is barely 1⁄600 of the raw nu­mer­i­cal count of songs that I will live to see pro­duced.

Even in­di­vid­ual sites or writ­ers now sur­pass the hu­man. Who has the time to read and un­der­stand all of ?35 Who can view every ar­ti­cle and doc­u­ment and pho­to­graph and edit that streams through Wikipedia every sec­ond? I have seen sober es­ti­mates that if one were to start at the first Wikipedia ar­ti­cle and read al­pha­bet­i­cal­ly, the per­cent­age of Wikipedia one has read will go down over time, the ar­ti­cles were cre­ated so fast. Who can watch the 35 hours of video up­loaded to YouTube every min­ute?

This is a sit­u­a­tion that old nos­trums do not ad­dress. We do not need more cre­ativ­ity for the sake of cre­ation36.

Let’s ban new books

“Con­se­quent­ly, it is soon recog­nised that they write for the sake of fill­ing up the pa­per, and this is the case some­times with the best au­thors… As soon as this is per­ceived the book should be thrown away, for time is pre­cious. As a mat­ter of fact, the au­thor is cheat­ing the reader as soon as he writes for the sake of fill­ing up pa­per; be­cause his pre­text for writ­ing is that he has some­thing to im­part…It is only the man who writes ab­solutely for the sake of the sub­ject that writes any­thing worth writ­ing. What an in­es­timable ad­van­tage it would be, if, in every branch of lit­er­a­ture, there ex­isted only a few but ex­cel­lent books!”

Arthur Schopen­hauer, “On Au­thor­ship and Style”

“By this, my son­ne, be ad­mon­ished: of mak­ing many bookes there is no end, and much studie is a weari­nesse of the flesh.”

Ec­cle­si­astes 12:12

With our too too short lives, and so much to see, one does one­self a great dis­ser­vice by con­sum­ing any­thing but the best.

And thus, do not au­thors & artists do us a dis­ser­vice by cre­at­ing medi­oc­rity we, be­ing only hu­man, will at least try? Maybe these au­thors & artists are only cre­at­ing s!

Let’s look back on the ar­gu­ment:

  1. So­ci­ety ought to dis­cour­age eco­nom­i­cally in­effi­cient ac­tiv­i­ties.
    At least, it ought not to en­cour­age in­effi­cien­cy. It may not do this per­fect­ly, but this is still a desider­ata; spe­cial plead­ing for some ac­tiv­i­ty, say­ing that some other ac­tiv­ity or mar­ket is far more eco­nom­i­cally in­effi­cient, is not a good rea­son.
  2. If some good a can be cre­ated to fill a need, and there is an ex­ist­ing & avail­able good b that fills that need equally well, then it is eco­nom­i­cally in­effi­cient to use a and not b.
  3. Con­sumers of new art would be equally sat­is­fied by ex­ist­ing art.
  4. By 2 & 3: it is eco­nom­i­cally in­effi­cient to pro­duce new art.

∴ By 1 & 4: So­ci­ety ought to dis­cour­age new art

In short: old stuff is as good as the new, and it’s cheap­er; so mak­ing new stuff is waste­ful.


One of the ba­sic tac­tics with any ob­jec­tion­able ar­gu­ment is to see whether any of the in­fer­ence steps are faulty. In this case, we can see that there is noth­ing wrong with the log­ic. So we’re left with re­ject­ing premis­es, or ac­cept­ing the con­clu­sion.

Here’s what we can re­ject:

  1. that so­ci­eties ought to en­cour­age effi­ciency
  2. that cre­at­ing some­thing when there’s an ex­ist­ing ob­ject is in­effi­cient
  3. that old books can re­place new ones.

Society doesn’t care?

Now, #1 seems un­ob­jec­tion­able. To re­ject that premise is to ar­gue ei­ther that so­ci­ety ought to dis­cour­age eco­nomic effi­cien­cy, or be neu­tral about effi­cien­cy.

The for­mer is false. There are gov­ern­men­tal pro­grams and poli­cies ac­knowl­edged to be eco­nom­i­cally in­effi­cient, but every­one agrees that their in­effi­ciency is a flaw, and the pro­grams are jus­ti­fi­able not be­cause of, but de­spite the in­effi­ciency - they sup­pos­edly de­liver some other ben­e­fit which com­pen­sates for the cost. If there were some al­ter­na­tive which was effi­cient, it would be bet­ter.

Neu­tral­ity may not be wrong. But vot­ers con­sis­tently elect can­di­dates who promise to grow the econ­omy & make things bet­ter; and gov­ern­ments have a long his­tory of sup­port­ing projects - like bridges & high­ways - whose jus­ti­fi­ca­tions are that gov­ern­ment ought to help make the econ­omy more effi­cient. So it seems wrong as well.

What’s efficiency anyway?

Premise #2 is weak­er. To me, this premise about sub­sti­tutabil­ity seems so fun­da­men­tal that I’m not sure how to de­fend it. If you need a glove, and you have a per­fectly good one al­ready, is­n’t spend­ing $20 on a new glove the same thing as throw­ing your money away? Is­n’t #2 a gen­er­al­iza­tion of this prin­ci­ple?

If you re­ject #2, I’m not re­ally sure what eco­nom­ics you’re work­ing un­der. But there are a few ob­jec­tions we could clas­sify un­der this head­ing, gen­er­ally pos­tu­lat­ing , such as Key­ne­sian think­ing about stim­u­lus spend­ing.

They Snatched Society’s Brain!

"When one reads the verse of peo­ple who can­not write po­em­s—peo­ple who some­times have more in­tel­li­gence, sen­si­bil­i­ty, and moral dis­crim­i­na­tion than most of the po­et­s—it is hard not to re­gard the Muse as a sort of fairy god­mother who says to the po­et, after her col­leagues have show­ered on him the most dis­con­cert­ing and am­bigu­ous gifts, ‘Well, never mind. You’re still the only one that can write po­et­ry.’

[Ran­dall Jar­rell, “Verse Chron­i­cle”37

An in­ter­locu­tor might sug­gest that per­haps the cre­ation & con­sump­tion of new fic­tion or nov­els serves some laud­able pur­pose be­yond swelling li­braries.

Now, what good deeds could only new works pro­duce? Cer­tainly it’s not ed­i­fy­ing & ed­u­cat­ing our youth; it is not as if the ped­a­gogy of Eu­clid­ean geom­e­try has changed much over the last mil­len­nia, nor is 20th cen­tury fic­tion known for teach­ing moral lessons.

But new fic­tion could be an im­por­tant so­ci­etal mech­a­nism for dis­cussing new de­vel­op­ments and for pon­der­ing the fu­ture. SF would be an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of this; the name pre­ferred by con­nois­seurs - ‘’ - points straight to this ben­e­fit, and cre­ators often cite this as the non-en­ter­tain­ment value of their works38. Who but knows that the con­stant un­der­cur­rent of com­put­ers & cloning & space travel in SF has not helped so­ci­ety pre­pare for the fu­ture? Has­n’t SF di­rectly in­spired any num­ber of young men & women to en­ter the hard sci­ences (as op­posed to ded­i­cat­ing their tal­ents to, say, fi­nance), with ben­e­fits re­dound­ing to all hu­man­i­ty? What’s a dead­-weight loss of bil­lions a year com­pared with land­ing on the Moon?

I find this ar­gu­ment un­com­fort­able. It’s ar­gu­ing that fic­tion is jus­ti­fied inas­much as it makes su­pe­rior pro­pa­ganda39; , an age-old use of art and one par­tic­u­larly promi­nent in the 20th cen­tury. It may be pro­pa­ganda in the ser­vice of a no­ble & good cause, and sway­ing some­one to choose a ca­reer in sci­ence is not as evil as into clear­ing Iraqi mine­fields with their bod­ies - but the moral­ity of it is diffi­cult.

And a util­i­tar­ian might cavil about the ben­e­fits.


“The read­ing of sto­ries and de­light­ing in them made Don Quixote a gen­tle­man: the be­liev­ing them lit­er­ally made him a mad­man who slew lambs in­stead of feed­ing them.”

, (“A Touch­stone For Dogma”)

“If some­one does not be­lieve in fairies, he does not need to teach his chil­dren ‘There are no fairies’; he can omit to teach them the word ‘fairy’.”

, 40

Fic­tion can be un­fairly per­sua­sive, by­pass­ing our ra­tio­nal fac­ul­ties41; it may be that we de­fault to be­liev­ing what we’re told and dis­be­lief is only a late­com­er. In­for­ma­tion from fic­tion can sub­sti­tute for non­fic­tion (time con­sump­tion is ze­ro-sum be­tween fic­tion & non­fic­tion) and in suffi­cient vol­ume, dis­credit it, which can lead to di­rect harm - TvTropes’s “Re­al­ity is Un­re­al­is­tic”, which is about self­-re­in­forc­ing un­re­al­is­tic fic­tional de­pic­tions of re­al­i­ty, claims that “…Nonethe­less, the pub­lic is largely con­vinced that cars present a se­ri­ous dan­ger of ex­plo­sion after a crash, which has re­sulted in many, many cases of well-mean­ing mem­bers of the pub­lic pulling in­jured vic­tims out of cars, caus­ing fur­ther in­jury to them, to get them away from the car be­fore it ex­plodes.” (SF, in par­tic­u­lar, is often good in­versely pro­por­tional to how much sci­en­tific truth it con­tain­s.) The au­thor’s mo­tive may be ma­lign as eas­ily as be­nign; read­ers can read a bla­tant al­le­gory of Nazi­ism like Spin­rad’s with­out cot­ton­ing on, and the generic fan­ta­sy/me­dieval and sci­ence fic­tion set­tings/­plots are in­trin­si­cally hos­tile to al­most all mod­ern val­ues (see for ex­am­ple “The Sword of Good”, or Brin on Lord of the Rings & Star Wars). The au­thor’s in­tent may not even mat­ter; one’s de­fault re­ac­tion to be­ing told some­thing is to be­lieve it42, and psy­chol­ogy has found that un­re­lated in­put still affect sub­stan­tially our be­liefs (these effects are known as , , etc). This effects are not triv­ial; in­stances like hy­po­thet­i­cals change what pur­chases you make or whether you dis­like some­one, prime for­eign goals, affect mood, and they can lead to the for­ma­tion of . Prim­ing & con­t­a­m­i­na­tion is very bad news for any­one who wants to think that they are not affected by the fic­tion they read. Peo­ple seem to be­lieve what they dream, the more en­gross­ing a fic­tion the more you blindly fa­vor the pro­tag­o­nist and be­lieve the story re­al­is­tic, peo­ple who watch TV be­lieve43 po­etic jus­tice ac­tu­ally hap­pens out­side sto­ries and the world is more dan­ger­ous than it is and TV (which may ex­plain why it’s eas­ier to brain­wash peo­ple with TV into sup­port­ing the death penalty rather than gay mar­riage), per­haps be­cause view­ers can emo­tion­ally treat char­ac­ters on screen as real44 and re­place­ments for real re­la­tion­ships with neg­a­tive con­se­quences like re­duc­tions in fam­ily size or preg­nancy rates

When we read thor­ough re­search on nar­ra­tives that lead to changes in be­hav­ior and re­duc­tion in stereo­typ­ing, we should not for­get that this makes fic­tion a dou­ble-edged sword.

Every­one tells kids that what they see on TV is­n’t real - of course! But what makes you so sure that you don’t be­lieve what fic­tions you read?

“The hu­man brain ev­i­dently op­er­ates on some vari­a­tion of the fa­mous prin­ci­ple enun­ci­ated in [Lewis Car­rol­l’s] ‘’: ‘What I tell you 3 times is true.’

, Cy­ber­net­ics: Or the Con­trol and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the An­i­mal and the Ma­chine (1948)

As a so­ci­ety, is it good to have our dis­cus­sions and views about in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant mat­ters like space ex­plo­ration hi­jacked by fic­tion? It’s hard to see why fic­tion would yield dis­cus­sion of equal or su­pe­rior qual­ity to dis­cus­sions based on non-fic­tion. Fic­tional ev­i­dence is par­tic­u­larly fal­la­cious. Con­sider dis­cus­sions of ; if one sees any men­tion of fic­tional en­ti­ties like or , one can stop read­ing im­me­di­ate­ly, for the ex­change is surely worth­less. A dis­cus­sion about the non­fic­tional en­ti­ties or , though, might be worth­while.

So ei­ther fic­tion is effec­tive as pro­pa­ganda and set­ting so­ci­etal agen­das, or it is­n’t. If the lat­ter, then the loss is nil; if the for­mer, then fic­tion is dan­ger­ous!

Two sides of the same organ

“It is a good rule, after read­ing a new book, never to al­low your­self an­other new one till you have read an old one in be­tween. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. Every age has its own out­look. It is spe­cially good at see­ing cer­tain truths and spe­cially li­able to make cer­tain mis­takes. We all, there­fore, need the books that will cor­rect the char­ac­ter­is­tic mis­takes of our own pe­ri­od. And that means the old book­s…Noth­ing strikes me more when I read the con­tro­ver­sies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usu­ally as­sum­ing with­out ques­tion a good deal which we should now ab­solutely de­ny. They thought that they were as com­pletely op­posed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time se­cretly united - united with each other and against ear­lier and later ages - by a great mass of com­mon as­sump­tion­s….None of us can fully es­cape this blind­ness, but we shall cer­tainly in­crease it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only mod­ern books.”


“And there never was a time, I be­lieve, when those who read at all, read so many more books by liv­ing au­thors than books by dead au­thors; there never was a time so com­pletely parochial, so shut off from the past…In­di­vid­u­al­is­tic democ­racy has come to high tide: and it is more diffi­cult to­day to be an in­di­vid­ual than it ever was be­fore.”


Maybe there’s a differ­ent ex­ter­nal­i­ty. In­stead of pow­er­ing de­ci­sion-mak­ing, or fun­nel­ing peo­ple into sci­ence, maybe fic­tion serves as kind of a global brain - en­abling cre­ative think­ing and break­throughs that a more sober so­ci­ety will not.

This the­sis re­minds me of the quote from that goes:

“…in Italy for thirty years un­der the Bor­gias, they had war­fare, ter­ror, mur­der and blood­shed, but they pro­duced Michelan­gelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Re­nais­sance. In Switzer­land, they had broth­erly love, they had five hun­dred years of democ­racy and peace - and what did that pro­duce? The cuckoo clock.”47

The ev­i­dence for this idea might be that every great sci­en­tific or tech­no­log­i­cal power was also strong in the hu­man­i­ties, and ex­cep­tions like So­viet Rus­sia only prove the rule by cre­at­ing sci­en­tific en­claves mim­ic­k­ing the freer coun­tries.

But of course, this might be con­fus­ing cor­re­la­tion with cau­sa­tion. What char­ac­ter­izes those coun­tries is a gen­eral free­dom of ac­tion & thought. Some in­cline to the arts, some to the sci­ences. Suc­cesses in both do­mains spring from a com­mon cause, not each oth­er. After all, if the arts could fer­til­ize the sci­ences, one would ex­pect some reci­procity - and the hu­man­i­ties have made 48 of sci­ence’s tech­niques, world­view, or re­sults.

Con­cep­tu­al­ly, I see no prob­lem with a na­tion of sober hard-headed en­gi­neers and sci­en­tists do­ing quite as well with­out the nov­el­ists.

If we think of specifics, the idea of cross-fer­til­iza­tion re­treats. What Eliz­a­bethan plays helped Isaac New­ton? When Ein­stein thought of rid­ing a beam of light, did the nov­els of Thomas Mann play any role? What hath to do with ?

Won’t someone think of the chemists?

One could worry that the fail­ure of fic­tion mar­kets to find a sus­tain­able model might mean the end for non­fic­tion ma­te­ri­al, which in­cludes texts & re­search on things pre­cious to us all such as vac­cines.

After all, many of the same ar­gu­ments seem to ap­ply to the flood of non­fic­tion ma­te­r­i­al. data­base in­cludes 1.023 mil­lion PhD the­ses pub­lished in the last 30 years from just 151 Amer­i­can in­sti­tu­tions;49 and it says says that its full data­base of PhD and Mas­ters’ the­ses runs to over 2 mil­lion, and is in­creas­ing at more than 70,000 works a year. Much of this ma­te­r­ial would seem to be ster­ile and un­pro­duc­tive, as can be sci­en­tific pa­pers in gen­er­al.505152

But this worry is un­nec­es­sary. There are sev­eral pos­si­bil­i­ties.

The non­fic­tion mar­ket could be sub­si­dized. This is quite jus­ti­fi­able. Sci­ence, after all, is heav­ily sub­si­dized al­ready. Why? Be­cause it has enor­mous value 53 and new re­search can’t be re­placed by old, al­most by de­fi­n­i­tion. There’s in­trin­sic value to pop­u­lat­ing new chap­ters and books with new re­sults, value that is­n’t there with fic­tion.

The non­fic­tion mar­ket could sur­vive as the fic­tion mar­ket with­ers away. Fields might lose the sub­sidy of stu­dents forced to buy the lat­est triv­ial­ly-changed edi­tion, but that’s a preda­tory sub­sidy and more valu­able to the pub­lish­ers than the aca­d­e­mic au­thors, so the loss would be min­i­mal.

Accept no substitutes, or, I can’t believe it’s not Octavia Butler

The claim of #3 is that we can, with­out loss, switch every­one over from read­ing con­tem­po­rary fic­tion to not-so-con­tem­po­rary fic­tion. I dare­say this is the premise every­one will ques­tion im­me­di­ate­ly. The clas­sics are an es­sen­tial part of an in­tel­lec­tu­ally bal­anced break­fast, but can they be all of it? That is, would cre­at­ing new works move us to a op­ti­mal se­lec­tion of works, a move large enough that it pays for all the costs in­volved?

This im­me­di­ately seems true, but is it? Why can’t new works just re­arrange rank­ings, and merely dis­place equally good works?

Lost works

In many re­spects, much of fic­tion is worth­less. For ex­am­ple, the me­dieval Japan­ese be­lieved that was miss­ing sev­eral chap­ters. Sup­pose this were true? How ex­actly has the world been harmed? Peo­ple seem to en­joy Genji mono­gatari quite well enough. Would the dis­cov­ery of 3 or 4 con­clud­ing chap­ters im­prove the work? Clearly it would lead to a great deal of work be­ing done, since text­books and pa­pers would have to be up­dat­ed, but how likely is it that the ex­tra chap­ters will make Genji a greater work? Genji is­n’t the most tightly plot­ted work. If an act were cut out of , it would be a poorer play for it, and many po­ems would suffer for los­ing a stan­za; but plays and po­ems are usu­ally writ­ten with an eye to per­for­mance - there’s a pre­mium on length that is­n’t there with nov­els. Con­sider . If 100 pages dropped right out of the mid­dle, do you think any new read­ers would no­tice? Or if a few heroic hexa­m­e­ters dropped out of the , would our en­joy­ment be any less? ‘Even Homer nods’; it is the en­tire work that is valu­able.

Peo­ple might say that they would de­rive much less en­joy­ment from an in­com­plete, edit­ed, or abridged ver­sion, but I don’t know how much we can trust such ut­ter­ances. They might just be mak­ing a rit­ual gen­u­flec­tion to the em­i­nent au­thor, or up­hold­ing a so­cial im­age as a per­son who cares about ac­cu­ra­cy, com­plete­ness, and au­then­tic­i­ty. If we can’t, if there is some ceil­ing of n utilons of en­joy­ment which is reached by many books, then premise #3 is saved.

Fur­ther, there is a great deal of his­tor­i­cal ev­i­dence that we have lost awe-in­spir­ing works, yet no one but schol­ars par­tic­u­larly lament them. There is the and , to cite two fa­mous mass loss­es, but in gen­eral the great clas­sics sur­vive in sur­pris­ingly few num­bers; sur­vived only in one (fire-dam­aged) copy, and the Ed­das (al­most the sole sources for ) like­wise. The Greek plays suffered sim­i­lar losses (7 of >123, 7 of 90, 19 of 92), and what sur­vived were not al­ways the best works54. And lit­er­a­ture is fa­vored as words can be re­pro­duced; the Greek mu­sic Plato & Aris­to­tle con­sid­ered so im­por­tant, or the Chi­nese mu­sic Con­fu­cius con­sid­ered equally vi­tal? Gone. Greek art is lit­tle bet­ter - who even knows that Greek stat­ues were not aus­tere mar­ble but painted?

But can we as­sume that there’s a com­mon val­u­a­tion for how en­joy­able all books are? is quite differ­ent from . Al­ice may value the for­mer much less than the lat­ter, while Bob wants a nau­ti­cal drama & not a com­edy of man­ners. In this case, be­cause both works ex­ist, both Al­ice & Bob can be sat­is­fied and we reach an op­ti­mum.

But what if the book Bob de­sires has­n’t been pub­lished, but would be soon if there were a mar­ket? He will be sad­dened to have to read of but­lers and har­poon­ers in­stead of the shadow war of . In this bi­nary case, Al­ice will still be fine, but Bob will be worse off.

The full ex­am­ple is not so bad for us, though. It’s plau­si­ble that Bob would en­joy Pi­rates vs. Nin­ja: The Stabben­ing more than Moby Dick if those were the only 2 choic­es. But there are over 32 mil­lion books in the ; is Bob so ex­tra­or­di­nar­ily picky that not a sin­gle ex­ist­ing book would be as or more en­joy­able than Pi­rates vs Ninja?

This is not so im­plau­si­ble; Amer­i­can cul­ture stag­nated in many ways dur­ing the 20th cen­tu­ry. The econ­o­mist con­sid­ers a read­er’s thought ex­per­i­ment:

…what if the law said we could­n’t make any new art (movies, nov­els, mu­sic etc). And per­haps said we ought to rere­lease each year the art that first ap­peared 50 or 30 years ago. How would peo­ple’s leisure ac­tiv­ity and so­ci­ety’s cul­tural evo­lu­tion change?

And replies 55:

After the ad­just­ment process, I be­lieve that mat­ters would set­tle in an or­derly fash­ion, al­though whether we pick the art from 30 or 50 years ago would make a big differ­ence in terms of the re­quired re­jig­gling of our aes­thetic sen­si­bil­i­ties. We would pick out best­sellers from 30 or 50 years ago and some of them would be in de­mand, if only be­cause peo­ple wish to share com­mon cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ences. Over­all it is the more ob­scure books from that era that would likely rise to be the best­sellers to­day.
1979 is barely an aes­thetic leap; could not be a hit to­day? How about ? Is it so ridicu­lous to think that peo­ple still might go hear or in con­cert?

In the same vein, ( for ), who is un­happy with the “slow down”56 of “in­no­v­a­tive cul­ture” (and mu­sic in par­tic­u­lar), ad­mits that:

Most stu­dents I know have an ex­tremely broad ap­pre­ci­a­tion of mu­sic…My step­son is at New York Uni­ver­sity (NYU) and he was telling me how he’s cur­rently into Cole Porter, mu­sic from the 1920s and swing mu­sic from the 40s. So the avail­abil­ity and ac­ces­si­bil­ity of mu­sic on the in­ter­net to­day is truly in­cred­i­ble, and I ap­plaud any­thing that can in­spire in­ter­est or cu­rios­ity in any­one.
But this also means that those of us who be­fore would have been look­ing to­wards the cur­rent cul­ture for in­spi­ra­tion are now often to be found, like my step­son, in var­i­ous back­wa­ters of older mu­sic.
This rel­a­tive lack of need for cur­rent, in­no­v­a­tive cul­ture can cause, has caused, is caus­ing - maybe - the in­no­v­a­tive cul­ture to slow down, much as an as­sem­bly line in De­troit slows down and lay-offs have to be made when the de­mand for a new model re­cedes.57

Pe­jo­ra­tive lan­guage aside ( is a back­wa­ter?), does Tay­lor’s grand­son sound un­happy with old mu­sic? Would he be un­happy if his choices were uni­ver­sal­ized and less new mu­sic were cre­ated as a re­sult?

In-progress works

But, you say, & Wolfe are fine, but dammit you have a hunger for some , and can’t help but be cu­ri­ous as to how the deuce The Wheel of Time will end. OK, fine. There are ~300 mil­lion Amer­i­cans who could­n’t care less if a mar­ket dis­so­lu­tion balked you. And of course, the prob­lem of work­s-in-progress is a prob­lem that solves it­self: Doc­torow must one day die, and if he shuffles off the mor­tal coil to­mor­row, then your sit­u­a­tion was the same as mine - ex­cept with a slightly higher up­per bound.

And even if you were balked, or in­-progress se­ries per­mit­ted to fin­ish, that’s a fixed one-time cost58. It may cost quite a bit to liq­ui­date all the com­pa­nies and shift their as­sets into more pro­duc­tive oc­cu­pa­tions; some peo­ple will never shift. But that’s for you: the long-term ben­e­fits win in the long run.

New book smell

Maybe there’s some­thing in­trin­si­cally bet­ter about new books. Not that they deal with new sub­jects - we ad­dressed that ear­lier - but per­haps it’s about the style, or ap­pear­ance, or ap­par­ent nov­el­ty. Maybe when one looks at , the an­tique lan­guage in­stantly sub­tracts 10 utilons even if it’s still com­pre­hen­si­ble.

But the lan­guage can’t be the rea­son. Maybe Shake­speare and Chaucer aren’t as en­joy­able and this ex­plains why they aren’t as pop­u­lar as they should be given their em­i­nence, but for this to ex­plain why books from the ’50s or ’60s are very un­pop­u­lar or why books from the ’00s sell bet­ter than books from the ’90s - de­spite them all read­ing much the same59, we need to posit large penal­ties and at­tribute to read­ers re­mark­able pow­ers of dis­crim­i­na­tion. (And we could ar­gue that the ex­ist­ing rel­a­tively low level of sup­port for new works com­pared to other forms of recre­ation like pro­fes­sional sports in­di­cates that new book smell is even less valu­able than one might ex­pect just from sales.60)

Could it be due to ‘’? Some spoil­ers, like King Kong dy­ing or Darth Vader be­ing Luke Sky­walk­er’s fa­ther, are so uni­ver­sal as to ‘spoil’ pretty much any­one who would watch those movies. A new work, how­ev­er, has a long lag be­fore the ‘spoil­ers’ es­cape into the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion, and so if spoil­ers de­stroyed the plea­sure peo­ple take in works, one would nat­u­rally ex­pect peo­ple to grav­i­tate to­wards newer works.

While com­monly voiced, this sug­ges­tion can only be part of the pic­ture. Only the very most promi­nent works can be spoiled in­ad­ver­tent­ly; ‘Snape killed Dum­b­le­dore’ or ‘Aeris dies’ were suc­cess­ful spoiler only be­cause the book and video game (re­spec­tive­ly) sold mil­lions of copies and were ma­jor cul­tural events. By de­fi­n­i­tion, there are only a small num­ber of such works. Per­haps a hand­ful of such books or movies or games would be in­vol­un­tar­ily spoiled each year, leav­ing thou­sands of other new works be­ing pro­duced de­spite no an­ti-spoiler ad­van­tage. Fur­ther, if this were the sole rea­son for new works, we would have the odd sit­u­a­tion that peo­ple ap­par­ently are will­ing to spend many bil­lions to en­cour­age pro­duc­tion of as-yet-un­spoiled works, but will do noth­ing else to stem the spread of spoil­ers - even though a in the bil­lions calls out for pre­ven­tion or reg­u­la­tion of some sort. So­ci­ety quite suc­cess­fully stems the spread of other cat­e­gories of un­de­sir­able in­for­ma­tion like pri­vate in­for­ma­tion or in­for­ma­tion on weapons of mass de­struc­tion or child pornog­ra­phy, and spoil­ers would seem to be far eas­ier to sup­press than any ex­ist­ing cat­e­gory of in­for­ma­tion. Fi­nal­ly, and most damn­ing, the min­i­mal re­search on the topic of spoil­ers sug­gests that the net dis­plea­sure caused by spoil­ers is un­clear, with one study find­ing ben­e­fits to be­ing spoiled61 and an­other find­ing harm.

If there is a new book smell, and it can ex­plain why books from the re­cent past are less pop­u­lar than new book, then that means it is noth­ing in­trin­sic about the books them­selves. Which sug­gests that it’s a mat­ter of con­sumer per­cep­tion; mar­ket­ing has a long his­tory of al­ter­ing con­sumer per­cep­tions for fun & profit. There may be no new book smell at all: it may sim­ply be that new ma­te­ri­als ‘crowd out’ pre­vi­ous pub­li­ca­tions in cat­a­logs or lo­ca­tions with lim­ited space62. This would then feed into the habit-for­ma­tion or in­tro­spec­tive views of fic­tion con­sump­tion: one ei­ther hard­ens into lik­ing only the mu­sic one heard as a teenager which is a tiny (com­mer­cial­ly-driven) se­lec­tion of the to­tal cor­pus, or one is sim­i­larly locked into a small sub­set of works be­cause they are the ones pre­vi­ously con­sumed and give the proper sub­jec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence63 (re­gard­less of aes­thet­ic­s).

If new books ceased to be writ­ten, then the pub­lish­ers of the ex­ist­ing books will have to com­pete on other grounds, such as price and mar­ket­ing - which would in­clude fak­ing new book smell. If peo­ple are so fre­quently mis­taken about what they would en­joy most now, surely they can be mis­taken in the fu­ture about new book smell. The mod­ern suc­cess of Jane Austen and of lightly edited ver­sions such as demon­strates that the cen­turies need be no bar.

The experimental results

Ex­ist­ing re­search on things like the sug­gest that much of es­thet­ics might be trained and es­sen­tially ar­bi­trary:

In a 2003 study, psy­chol­o­gist James Cut­ting (2003, 2006) briefly ex­posed un­der­grad­u­ate psy­chol­ogy stu­dents to canon­i­cal and lesser-known Im­pres­sion­ist paint­ings (the lesser-known works ex­posed four times as often), with the re­sult that after ex­po­sure, sub­jects pre­ferred the lesser-known works more often than did the con­trol group. Cut­ting took this re­sult to show that canon for­ma­tion is a re­sult of cul­tural ex­po­sure over time. He fur­ther took this to show that the sub­jects’ judg­ments were not merely a prod­uct of the qual­ity of the works. “If ob­servers were able to judge qual­ity alone in the im­age pairs, their judg­ments should not have been con­t­a­m­i­nated by ap­pear­ance differ­ences in the class­room. To be sure, qual­ity could still play a role, but such an ac­count must then rely on two process­es- mere ex­po­sure and qual­ity as­sess­ment (how­ever that might be done). My pro­posal is that these are one-process re­sults and done on the ba­sis of mere ex­po­sure in­side and out­side the class­room” (Cut­ting 2003, 335).64

A fol­lowup found that in some cas­es, ex­po­sure to art de­creased lik­ing65 (a re­sult seen in some of the stud­ies); ex­po­sure to low­er-qual­ity for­mats can cause the de­vel­op­ment of ac­tive pref­er­ence for the ar­ti­facts of the low­er-qual­i­ty, a phe­nom­e­non we may be see­ing with the MP3 au­dio for­mat66, and one won­ders how much so­cial pres­sures play a role in per­cep­tion, given his­tor­i­cal anec­dotes like Edis­on’s phono­graphs be­ing hailed as in­dis­tin­guish­able by (his con­tem­po­rary, not mod­ern) au­di­ences67. Other stud­ies demon­strate spe­cific con­nec­tions to such con­tin­gent prop­er­ties as per­ceived pres­tige; we’ve all heard of the many hi­lar­i­ous where even in­di­vid­ual judges flatly con­tra­dict them­selves, but there are more val­ue-neu­tral ex­am­ples like the where what you ex­pect is what you get. And fMRI stud­ies are re­veal­ing in­ter­est­ing things like the neural cor­re­lates of pleas­ant­ness in­creas­ing with price or spikes in val­ue-assess­ment re­gions and in­creased ac­ti­va­tion in re­gions which look like sub­jects try­ing to find some­thing to crit­i­cize and jus­tify their prej­u­dice.68

But we can to some ex­tent get a han­dle on what de­gree pop­u­lar­ity or rank­ings cor­re­sponds to any in­trin­sic es­thetic qual­ity by run­ning ex­per­i­ments us­ing very ob­scure works. If there is a very close con­nec­tion be­tween qual­ity and pop­u­lar­i­ty, then that un­der­mines my case: new works are ex­tremely pop­u­lar and often ranked very high (as a per­cent­age of all work­s), so any re­duc­tion in new works would come at a cor­re­spond­ing es­thetic loss­es. But con­verse­ly, the more ran­dom and un­con­nected to qual­ity our rat­ings are, the less we should care about pro­duc­ing new works. We don’t know what qual­ity is, or don’t care, or have some sort of self­-dis­ci­pline prob­lem and can’t make our­selves pre­fer what we ought to, or some­thing.

What do we find in the ex­per­i­ments? We find the re­sults are not com­pletely ran­dom, but they’re pretty close.

The 2006 study “Ex­per­i­men­tal Study of In­equal­ity and Un­pre­dictabil­ity in an Ar­ti­fi­cial Cul­tural Mar­ket” (and also Sal­ganik & Watts 2009), took 14,300 on­line par­tic­i­pants and pre­sented them with a screen full of songs and asked them to rank them. Half were pre­sented with in­for­ma­tion on how pop­u­lar a song was (as mea­sured by down­loads after lis­ten­ing), and half were not. The rank­ings differed dras­ti­cally be­tween the two groups. This is a ma­jor blow to any be­lief that the jew­els will rise to the top, since both groups can’t be right. But which? The re­searchers were clev­er, and fur­ther sub­di­vided the 7,000 shown the pop­u­lar­ity in­for­ma­tion into 7 sub­sec­tions, which were shown the pop­u­lar­ity in­for­ma­tion for their own par­tic­u­lar sub­sec­tion (each sub­sec­tion start­ing with 0 down­loads for each song); each sub­sec­tion pop­u­lar­ity rank­ing clashed with all the oth­ers. In other words, the so­cial-in­flu­enced rank­ings were sub­stan­tially ran­dom. They dis­agreed with the ag­gre­gated in­de­pen­dent rank­ings of qual­i­ty, and with all the other so­cial-in­flu­enced rank­ings. (If 2 con­tra­dic­tory rank­ings can­not be cor­rect, what about 9?) The most as­sur­ance the au­thors can give us is that “The best songs rarely did poor­ly, and the worst rarely did well, but any other re­sult was pos­si­ble.” This matches well with ran­dom­ized mod­els of cul­tural diffu­sion. A 2008 fol­lowup, , found that with a sub­se­quent 12,000 par­tic­i­pants, songs could be made pop­u­lar just by ly­ing to par­tic­i­pants that they were pop­u­lar (although again the best songs tended to re­cover some­what).

One might hope that cul­tural ex­perts like lit­er­a­ture pro­fes­sors and crit­ics would give us true rank­ings of qual­i­ty, and so we could at least trust the canon­i­cal rank­ings, but that seems quite des­per­ate; such ex­perts have more so­cial pres­sures avail­able than a mere down­load count, pro­fes­sional pres­sures, etc. If ethi­cists are not more eth­i­cal (to cite just one of many ex­am­ples), why would we ex­pect crit­ics to be more crit­i­cal?

There is a fun­da­men­tal ten­sion in these dis­cus­sions, be­tween the re­vealed pref­er­ences of peo­ple and a claimed en­joy­ment or es­thetic fac­tor; if the lat­ter re­ally are greater for older works, why do peo­ple choose the in­fe­rior goods? One gen­eral ob­ser­va­tion is that peo­ple in gen­eral may not ben­e­fit from ad­di­tional choic­es, as they suffer . This ties into the ob­ser­va­tion that some stud­ies point to an par­a­digm in which peo­ple do not eval­u­ate choices based on the to­tal ben­e­fits each choice de­liv­ers (with a fixed time penal­ty, ), but rather based on a con­stantly mu­tat­ing time fac­tor which short­-changes the fu­ture for the present (); with hy­per­bolic dis­count­ing, an oth­er­wise ra­tio­nal agent can know he would re­ceive many more utilons from read­ing his Dick­ens nov­el, but be­cause Dick­ens would pay off slow­ly, he would choose the trashy mag­a­zine, again and again, wind­ing up with a lower to­tal utilon score - by his own reck­on­ing! - than if he had just sat down to Dick­ens.69 An imag­ing study70 found that they could pre­dict sales data for songs by mea­sur­ing ac­ti­va­tion in the (a very low-level part of the brain, strongly linked with emo­tions & weakly linked to in­stinct­s), and pre­dict bet­ter than ask­ing the par­tic­i­pants what song they liked. All this sug­gests to me that es­thetic works is one of the rare sit­u­a­tions where tak­ing away choices can make peo­ple bet­ter off.

At the end of the day

“There is noth­ing so ab­surd but that some philoso­pher has said it.”


“The point of phi­los­o­phy is to start with some­thing so sim­ple as not to seem worth stat­ing, & to end with some­thing so para­dox­i­cal that no one will be­lieve it.”

(“The Phi­los­o­phy of ”)

“But I had be­come aware, even so early as dur­ing my col­lege life, that no opin­ion, how­ever ab­surd and in­cred­i­ble, can be imag­ined, which has not been main­tained by some on of the philoso­phers; and after­wards in the course of my trav­els I re­marked that all those whose opin­ions are de­cid­edly re­pug­nant to ours are not in that ac­count bar­bar­ians and sav­ages, but on the con­trary that many of these na­tions make an equally good, if not bet­ter, use of their rea­son than we do.”

René Descartes

We’ve cov­ered quite a bit of ground here. There are a num­ber of differ­ent the­ses I’ve tried to ar­gue for here:

  • There’s more fic­tion than any­one could hope to con­sume
  • Peo­ple would be hap­pier read­ing only the best fic­tion
  • It’s eas­ier to fig­ure out what the good old fic­tion is, than it is new fic­tion
    • there’s also more good old fic­tion than good new fic­tion
  • peo­ple write too much new fic­tion
    • they also read too much
  • So­ci­ety should­n’t sub­si­dize eco­nom­i­cally in­effi­cient things like new fic­tion
    • We might go so far as to sug­gest a on new works be­cause they en­cour­age their own con­sump­tion
  • The uses of fic­tion are much less than one might think, and many of those uses are pro­pa­gan­dis­tic, dan­ger­ous, or both
  • Sub­si­diz­ing the non­fic­tion mar­ket may be jus­ti­fi­able

I hope you’ve been con­vinced of at least 2 or 3 of these the­ses. I want to re­ject the idea that new works should not be en­cour­aged, but the only class of ob­jec­tions that can hold any wa­ter is the non-sub­sti­tutabil­ity one, and I don’t see any solid ar­gu­ments there.

Peo­ple are bet­ter off read­ing the best books, and the best ones are pre­dom­i­nately the ones that al­ready ex­ist, there is more than can be read, and new books have no com­pelling ad­van­tage over the clas­sics. The eco­nom­ics place me against new fic­tion. And when I re­mem­ber how peo­ple are be­guiled by new fic­tion into read­ing crap, I find my­self placed against new fic­tion on es­thetic grounds as well!

I have started with com­mon-sense grounds and wound up some­where strange.


Musical instruments are not about music

To get a rough es­ti­mate of how many mu­si­cal in­stru­ments (like the pi­ano) are we can look through Wikipedi­a’s Cat­e­go­ry:­Mu­si­cal in­stru­ments. Lots of non-in­stru­ments and no­table ex­am­ples of a kind of in­stru­ment, but it makes the num­bers pretty clear - there are hun­dreds of in­stru­ments if not thou­sands, from most cul­tures, even if we com­press the vari­a­tions.

Sup­pose one had a well-de­fined aes­thetic pref­er­ence - a (or at least a with a ) - so we can speak of an ‘ideal in­stru­ment’ for that per­son, an in­stru­ment which gives them the great­est aes­thetic grat­i­fi­ca­tion of all known in­stru­ments.

If we picked a ran­dom in­stru­ment for them from our set of thou­sands of in­stru­ments, the odds aren’t good we’ll pick the ideal one. Thou­sands to one, after all. If a par­ent in­flicted such a choice on their kid, the kid ought to be­lieve the choice is sub­op­ti­mal from his aes­thetic point of view (with a con­fi­dence of >99%). if he cares about the mat­ter, then he should prob­a­bly go look­ing as an adult for a bet­ter choice.

De­pend­ing on how much he cares and how easy it is to ‘search’ through thou­sands of in­stru­ments, he might search quite a bit.

Strange­ly, you don’t see much of this. Most peo­ple seem pretty happy with their cur­rent in­stru­ment and even mu­sic nerds don’t spend as much time as one might ex­pect sam­pling in­stru­ments and pon­der­ing their mer­its. How to ex­plain this? into learn­ing the in­fe­rior in­stru­ment? Maybe the aes­thetic differ­ence be­tween an av­er­age and the ideal is­n’t that great (de­spite a theremin sound­ing very differ­ent from a syn­the­sizer or a key­board or a pi­ano, or even vi­o­las and vi­o­lins sound­ing quite differ­ent, and the of an­tique high­ly-re­garded in­di­vid­ual in­stru­ments go­ing for hun­dreds of thou­sands or mil­lions of dol­lars to per­form­er­s)? Or maybe it’s…. sta­tus.

Maybe peo­ple don’t search through all man­ner of rare in­stru­ments be­cause mu­si­cal in­stru­ments aren’t about aes­thet­ics as much as they are about so­cial and and pres­tige. There can only be a few pres­ti­gious in­stru­ments (per­haps less than 10; surely not as high as 20), after all, and we all hear them quite a bit. By the time a kid hits mid­dle school, he’s spent many years watch­ing movies and TV where there’s a lot of in­stru­men­tal back­ground mu­sic and he’s learned whether he likes pi­ano bet­ter than vi­o­lin or cel­lo.

There’s just not many op­tions to think about. If you as­pire to WASPy high so­ci­ety, you learn pi­ano; if you as­pire to pres­tige among young peo­ple, the gui­tar or drums. And so on. This is so in­grained it can be diffi­cult to see; West­ern so­ci­ety does not, that I know of, have any stan­dard ex­pres­sion like the (which man­dates a scholar know the and such rules of eti­quette as the or ). But nev­er­the­less, the are not pres­ti­gious and sim­i­larly one can point out the mid­dling sta­tus of the (which only avoids be­ing low by its use in the blues and jaz­z). Note that in the stereo­type of Asian par­ents in Amer­ica forc­ing their kids to learn in­stru­ments, the par­ents are not choos­ing odd­ball in­stru­ments you’ve never heard of (you know, one of the thou­sands of in­stru­ments not in­cluded in your stan­dard West­ern-style or­ches­tra), they’re choos­ing ones as fa­mil­iar as dirt:

Let’s go back to her crazy list of why her par­ent­ing is bet­ter. #9: vi­o­lin or pi­ano, no other in­stru­ments. If Chua is so Chi­ne­se, and has full ex­ec­u­tive con­trol over her kids, why does she–and the real Chi­nese par­ents out there–­make their kids play vi­o­lin, play Bach and not Chi­nese mu­sic? They’d be happy to ed­u­cate you on the beauty of Chi­nese mu­sic, I’m sure, but they don’t make their kids learn that. Why not?

She wants them learn­ing this be­cause the West­ern cul­ture deems clas­si­cal mu­sic as high cul­ture, and there­fore any­one who can play it is cul­tured. Some­one said Beethoven is great mu­sic so they learn that. There is no sense of un­der­stand­ing, it is purely a tech­ni­cal ac­com­plish­ment. Why Beethoven and not Beethoven’s con­tem­po­raries? The par­ents have no idea. Can her kids write new mu­sic? Do they want to write mu­sic? It’s all me­chan­ics. This is­n’t a slan­der on Asian mu­si­cian­ship, it is an ob­ser­va­tion that the par­ents who push their kids into these in­stru­ments are do­ing it for its sig­nifi­cance to other peo­ple (e.g. col­leges) and not for it­self. Why not gui­tar? Why not paint­ing? Be­cause it does­n’t im­press ad­mis­sions coun­selors. What if the kid shows some in­ter­est in dra­ma? Well, then kid can go live with his white friends and see how far he gets in life. That’s why it’s in the WSJ. The Jour­nal has no place for, “How a Changed My Life.” It wants pi­ano and vi­o­lin, it wants Chua’s col­lege-re­sume world­view. –“Are Chi­nese Moth­ers Su­pe­rior To Amer­i­can Moth­ers?”, The Last Psy­chi­a­trist

William Weir in The At­lantic, “Why Is It So Hard for New Mu­si­cal In­stru­ments to Catch On?”:

As com­poser Edgard Varese put it in 1936, “It is be­cause new in­stru­ments have been con­stantly added to the old ones that West­ern mu­sic has such a rich and var­ied pat­ri­mo­ny.” So what hap­pened? Why has there been such a drought of new in­stru­ments-e­spe­cially in rock and pop, which thrive on nov­el­ty?

In­ven­tor Aaron An­drew Hunt blames it in part on the “mu­sic in­dus­trial com­plex.” He cre­ated the Tonal Plexus in 1996 and has since sold, by his count, “not many.” With 1,266 keys, the in­stru­ment is de­signed es­pe­cially for mi­cro­tonal com­po­si­tion, so it would be a tough sell at just about any time. But Hunt said the deck is par­tic­u­larly stacked against new in­stru­ments now that a stan­dard reper­toire has been locked in, as has the pop­u­lar idea of what a proper in­stru­ment is. “The biggest bar­rier is the in­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of West­ern mu­sic and the mass mar­ket­ing of all the in­stru­ments,” he says. “The prob­lem is that no one can break though this mar­ket­ing bar­rier and this ed­u­ca­tion bar­rier be­cause it’s be­come this ma­chine.” In the past, sup­port from the es­tab­lish­ment has made a differ­ence in whether new in­stru­ments find a mar­ket. The re­search and back­ing of uni­ver­si­ties and cor­po­ra­tions like RCA helped make the syn­the­sizer hap­pen. In Hec­tor Berlioz, the sax­o­phone got a ma­jor boost from a ma­jor com­pos­er. But many in­stru­ments have risen from very hum­ble ori­gins. The steel drum evolved from fry­ing pans and oil cans after the Trinida­dian gov­ern­ment banned other mu­si­cal in­stru­ments. Folks of lim­ited means also turned house­hold ob­jects into mu­sic mak­ers with wash­boards and turnta­bles.

Or Amy Chua her­self:

That’s one of the rea­sons I in­sisted [her two daugh­ters] do clas­si­cal mu­sic. I knew that I could­n’t ar­ti­fi­cially make them feel like poor im­mi­grant kids. … But I could make sure that [daugh­ter #1] and [daugh­ter #2] were deeper and more cul­ti­vated than my par­ents and I were. Clas­si­cal mu­sic was the op­po­site of de­cline, the op­po­site of lazi­ness, vul­gar­i­ty, and spoiled­ness. It was a way for my chil­dren to achieve some­thing I had­n’t. But it was also a tie-in to the high cul­tural tra­di­tion of my an­ces­tors.

It’s sim­ple logic that the less pop­u­lar an in­stru­ment, the eas­ier it is to be­come world-class in it - be­cause the “world” is small­er. I was shocked to one day down­load an al­bum of Stu­dio Ghi­bli mu­sic as played on a nose-flute (Sound Of Nose­flute 4 (Song Works Of Stu­dio Ghi­b­li)), and even more shocked that the ti­tle im­plied there was a whole se­ries of nose-flute al­bums; but in ret­ro­spect, it makes sense: is it eas­ier to make a ca­reer as a nose-flute per­former where you are com­pet­ing against per­haps a few thou­sand peo­ple at most, or as a con­cert pi­anist where one’s com­pe­ti­tion is mea­sur­able (if at all) in the mil­lions?

Stan­dard­iz­ing on just a few in­stru­ment and turn­ing them into s also trag­i­cally turns them into an arms race (and anec­do­tal­ly, ad­mis­sions offi­cers have be­gun to dis­re­gard them be­cause of their pop­u­lar­ity72):

On the whole, dis­ci­pline makes life eas­ier and bet­ter. On the other hand, who the fuck cares about the pi­ano and vi­o­lin? If all tiger moth­ers push the pi­ano, say, the win­ner-take-all race for pi­ano be­comes ut­terly bru­tal, and the tiger-moth­ered pi­anist will likely get less far in the pi­ano race than a bun­ny-moth­ered . That just seems dumb! Gam­ble on the ! The West­ern ethos of hy­per­-in­di­vid­u­a­tion pro­duces less of the sort of hugely in­effi­cient po­si­tional pileup (not that there aren’t too many gui­tarists) that comes from herd­ing every­body onto the same rut­ted sta­tus tracks. It also pro­duces less dis­ci­pline and thus less vir­tu­os­i­ty, but a greater va­ri­ety of ex­cel­lence by gen­er­at­ing the cul­tural in­no­va­tion that opens up new fields of en­deavor and new sta­tus games. It’s just way bet­ter to be the world’s best ac­ro­batic kite-surfer than the third best pi­anist in Cleve­land. –“Amy Chua”,

The de­fense for these prac­tices?

There are defi­nitely as­pects of my up­bring­ing that I’d like to repli­cate. I’m never go­ing to be a pro­fes­sional pi­anist, but the pi­ano has given me con­fi­dence that to­tally shapes my life. I feel that if I work hard enough, I can do any­thing. I know I can fo­cus on a given task for hours at a time. And on hor­ri­ble days when I’m lost and a mess, I can say to my­self, “I’m good at some­thing that I re­al­ly, re­ally love.” –“Q&A: elves, dirt, and col­lege de­ci­sions”, Sophia Ruben­feld-Chua

The point of learn­ing the pi­ano is NOT about ac­quir­ing the skill of play­ing the pi­ano so that the stu­dent can earn a liv­ing as a pi­anist. It is about build­ing the char­ac­ter of the per­son. Here is the thing about char­ac­ter – you can’t build it by ex­plic­itly set­ting out to build it. Char­ac­ter is not a skill like ty­ing your shoelaces. If it must be put in terms of “skill”, char­ac­ter is a “meta-skill” – a foun­da­tional hu­man skill that is nec­es­sary to per­fect any num­ber of me­chan­i­cal skills. And the only way to de­velop this meta-skill is to de­velop at least one highly so­phis­ti­cated me­chan­i­cal skill, such that the stu­dent may ac­quire the meta-skill in the course of build­ing the me­chan­i­cal skill.

So, once again: the point of learn­ing the pi­ano is NOT about ac­quir­ing the skill of play­ing the pi­ano. As Ruben­feld-Chua put it, it is about ac­quir­ing gen­uine con­fi­dence and iron dis­ci­pline. With such con­fi­dence and dis­ci­pline, she can move on and do any­thing she wants in her life be­cause there is no task in life in which con­fi­dence and dis­ci­pline hin­der suc­cess. THIS is the whole point of Tiger Par­ent­ing, and the rea­son why Tiger Par­ent­ing is so suc­cess­ful. –“Con­fu­cian­ism and Ko­rea - Part V: What Can Con­fu­cian­ism Do For Amer­i­ca?”, The Ko­rean

The cyn­i­cal ques­tions al­most ask them­selves. Would Sophia love pi­ano so much if she had­n’t had ? How un­likely is it that pi­ano would just hap­pen to be the per­fect in­stru­ment for her? And like the old ar­gu­ment that learn­ing Latin was worth­while be­cause it sped up sub­se­quent lan­guage learn­ing, are even the ba­sic facts cor­rect - does the build­ing-char­ac­ter prac­tice ac­tu­ally build char­ac­ter? have gen­er­ally failed to show any no­tice­able im­prove­ment in their in­mates, and sol­diers fre­quently dis­cuss the diffi­culty of adapt­ing to civil­ian life (de­spite decades of self­-dis­ci­pline)73. Were we to grant the char­ac­ter-build­ing na­ture of pi­ano, that raises a fur­ther ques­tion - don’t other in­stru­ments build char­ac­ter as well, and so why not learn the flugel­horn and gain both ben­e­fits - char­ac­ter and use­ful skill build­ing? Why must we all pile into the same high­-pres­tige oc­cu­pa­tions like be­ing a rock star or ac­tor74? This may be good for the tiny sub­set of “in­sid­ers: pi­anists, con­cert pre­sen­ters and pi­anophiles” who are ac­tu­ally able to no­tice the differ­ences and value highly small im­prove­ments, though even they seem to be a bit jaded and no longer very in­ter­ested in tech­ni­cal pro­fi­ciency75 - but every­one else?

But hey, there is one ben­e­fit to all this hu­man cap­i­tal poured into nar­row sta­tus sig­nal­ing. We get a ton of anime op­eras76 and mu­sic played with clas­si­cal in­stru­ments on YouTube!77

Good and Plenty

Ex­tracts from Good and Plen­ty: the cre­ative suc­cesses of Amer­i­can arts fund­ing, by Tyler Cowen 2006, ISBN 978-0-691-12042-3. See also Saun­der­s’s The Cul­tural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Let­ters (o­rig­i­nally ti­tled Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cul­tural Cold War) and the CIA in­volve­ment in Dr. Zhivago, dis­cussed in The Zhivago Affair (ex­cerpts).



Art lovers some­times write or talk as if eco­nomic costs do not mat­ter. They tend to eval­u­ate regimes in terms of the qual­ity of the art that is pro­duced, with­out con­sid­er­ing the op­por­tu­nity costs of that art. More and bet­ter art is equated with a bet­ter so­ci­ety. We are never told how many bags of potato chips, or how many an­tipoverty pro­grams, we should sac­ri­fice to re­ceive an­other great artis­tic per­for­mance, or how we might hope to find out such an an­swer. The eco­nomic ap­proach re­flects the view of the com­mon man that art is not every­thing, or even the most im­por­tant thing.

The Fed­eral Writ­ers’ Project of the New Deal sup­ported Saul Bel­low, Richard Wright, Ralph El­lison, and Zora Neale Hurston, among other in­di­vid­u­als who later be­came noted writ­ers (see chap­ter 3). Many lit­er­a­ture lovers then con­clude that the pro­gram was a good one. The econ­o­mist, in con­trast, could point out that the Fed­eral Writ­ers’ Project spent $27 mil­lion for about one thou­sand books and pam­phlets, at a cost of $27,000 per pub­li­ca­tion. Trans­lated into dol­lars for the year 2000, this amounts to $337,500 per pub­li­ca­tion, or $337.5 mil­lion for the to­tal. While some of the pub­li­ca­tions were of very high qual­i­ty, they cost a great deal. It is hard to be­lieve that offer­ing in­dis­crim­i­nate lit­er­ary ad­vances of $337,500 per work is a worth­while in­vest­ment, even if it pro­duces some first-rate books. , writ­ing in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, ar­gued that pro­po­nents of arts sub­si­dies typ­i­cally fo­cus on what is seen and ne­glect what is not seen, namely the other projects and out­puts that would have been funded with the mon­ey.78

These art­works ben­e­fit rel­a­tively small num­bers of peo­ple, in­clud­ing the artist, but the ben­e­fits are [sub­stan­tial] for each re­cip­i­ent. Most of the ben­e­fits lie well above the thresh­old of no­tice­abil­i­ty, and thus they in­crease hu­man hap­pi­ness. The less ex­treme form of the ar­gu­ment, rather than find­ing a free lunch, re­lies on ant­ie­gal­i­tar­ian in­tu­itions. We take small amounts from many in­di­vid­u­als to give con­cen­trated ben­e­fits to a few, and in­deed often to the rel­a­tively wealthy. The dis­tri­b­u­tion of good­ness in so­ci­ety be­comes less equal, but our peaks of aes­thetic achieve­ment be­come more beau­ti­ful. Sub­sidy sup­port­ers do not like to pub­li­cize this re­al­i­ty, but these ant­ie­gal­i­tar­ian in­tu­itions are cen­tral to many of the ar­gu­ments for sub­si­dies.

Ac­cord­ing to fig­ures for U.S. sym­phony or­ches­tras, 33% of their in­come comes from pri­vate do­na­tions; en­dow­ments and re­lated sources ac­count for an­other 16%. Con­cert in­come gen­er­ates 42% of rev­enue, and di­rect gov­ern­ment sup­port pro­vides only 6%. Look­ing at non­profit arts in­sti­tu­tions more gen­er­al­ly, in­di­vid­u­al, cor­po­rate, and foun­da­tion donors make up about 45% of the bud­get. 12% of in­come comes from foun­da­tion grants; this is two and a half times more than the con­tri­bu­tion of the NEA and state arts coun­cils com­bined. While these num­bers fluc­tu­ate each year, they pro­vide a rough mea­sure of the rel­e­vant mag­ni­tudes.79

That be­ing said, the U.S. gov­ern­ment sup­ports the arts far more than these fig­ures would in­di­cate. Let us now turn to in­di­rect sub­si­dies in more de­tail, start­ing with the role of the tax sys­tem. Amer­i­can pol­icy pro­vides sup­port for artis­tic non­profits but lets donors de­cide which in­sti­tu­tions will re­ceive the funds. The gov­ern­ment is re­moved from the role of judg­ing artis­tic qual­i­ty, yet cre­ative ac­tiv­ity re­ceives a spur nonethe­less.

The tax sys­tem pro­vides the most [im­por­tant] arts sub­sidy in the United States. Rough es­ti­mates sug­gest that Amer­i­cans do­nated over $29.4 bil­lion to the cat­e­gory Arts, Cul­ture, and the Hu­man­i­ties in 2003. This amounts to about $100 for each in­di­vid­ual in the United States. In con­trast, in­di­vid­ual pri­vate phil­an­thropy to the arts is vir­tu­ally nonex­is­tent in most Eu­ro­pean na­tions. If we look at in­di­vid­ual donors, Amer­i­cans give al­most ten times more to non­profits, per cap­i­ta, than their French coun­ter­parts give.80

We do not know, for in­stance, how much very large changes in tax rates would affect do­na­tions and non­profits. Nonethe­less if we take this fig­ure as a work­able and avail­able es­ti­mate, the U.S. gov­ern­ment is mak­ing a fis­cal sac­ri­fice in the range of $26 bil­lion to $41 bil­lion to sup­port the arts.81

The es­tate tax also boosts arts do­na­tions. To avoid pay­ing taxes on be­quests, many in­di­vid­u­als leave money to non­profits and arts in­sti­tu­tions.82

Eu­ro­pean gov­ern­ments do not offer com­pa­ra­ble tax ben­e­fits to their arts. France, for in­stance, lim­its tax de­duc­tions to 1% of tax­able in­come for in­di­vid­u­als and 0.1% for cor­po­ra­tions. Other coun­tries, such as Ger­many, have al­lowed tax de­ductibil­ity in law but made the de­duc­tion un­work­able through bu­reau­cratic re­stric­tions. In par­tic­u­lar, in­di­vid­ual donors had to give through com­plex in­ter­me­di­ary in­sti­tu­tions and en­dure heavy pa­per­work. In 1999 Ger­many took steps to move closer to the Amer­i­can mod­el, but the fun­da­men­tal na­ture of Ger­man arts pol­icy has yet to make the tran­si­tion. France is be­gin­ning to make sim­i­lar steps. Eng­land al­lows tax de­duc­tions but also makes the re­quire­ments more diffi­cult than in the United States. Typ­i­cally a tax­payer has had to agree to make pay­ments for at least seven years to earn the de­duc­tion. Fur­ther­more, the do­na­tions have not al­ways been de­ductible at the top mar­ginal rate, but rather at a lower rate.83

For these rea­sons, some Eu­ro­pean arts in­sti­tu­tions, es­pe­cially in Great Britain, find their lead­ing pri­vate donors in the United States. In the mid-1980s, J. Paul Getty do­nated $62.5 mil­lion to the Na­tional Gallery in Lon­don, the largest do­na­tion the in­sti­tu­tion has re­ceived.

Cor­po­rate giv­ing, like pri­vate and foun­da­tion giv­ing, has been in­flu­enced by pub­lic pol­icy de­ci­sions. Cor­po­ra­tions have re­ceived tax breaks for sup­port­ing the arts since 1936. As with in­di­vid­u­als, the ev­i­dence sug­gests that cor­po­ra­tions give more to the arts when they re­ceive tax ben­e­fits for do­ing so.84

Con­sider the Min­neapo­lis Art­space group, which wanted to ren­o­vate a de­crepit ware­house and turn it into artists’ apart­ments and stu­dios. They started by go­ing to the State Hous­ing Fi­nance Agency and ap­ply­ing for low-in­come tax cred­its, avail­able for ren­o­va­tion pro­jects. These cred­its are paid for by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment but al­lo­cated through state gov­ern­ments. The project had an es­ti­mated value of $20 mil­lion, which meant that the avail­able tax credit was about $900,000 per year. This sum is paid out yearly for ten years, or $9 mil­lion in to­tal. Art­Space used these tax cred­its to get a bank loan of $7 mil­lion and then set up a cor­po­rate part­ner­ship, in essence sell­ing the tax cred­its to the cor­po­rate part­ner for cash. Art­Space also fi­nanced 20% of the $20 mil­lion cost from the his­toric tax cred­its avail­able through the De­part­ment of the In­te­ri­or, again sell­ing these tax cred­its for 93¢ on the dol­lar. Eleven mil­lion of the $20 mil­lion to­tal was now in hand, and con­struc­tion could be­gin. County and state tax pro­grams served to com­plete the fi­nanc­ing, and the re­main­der was raised from pri­vate foun­da­tions, again with an im­plicit tax break for the do­na­tions.85

In fis­cal year 2002, U.S. li­braries had bud­gets of over $8 bil­lion, most of which came from gov­ern­ment sup­port, usu­ally at the lo­cal lev­el. This is the largest and best-de­vel­oped pub­lic li­brary sys­tem in the world.86

Since the 1920s, U.S. for­eign pol­icy has en­sured that for­eign mar­kets stay open to Hol­ly­wood ex­ports. In 1926 the De­part­ment of Com­merce added a Mo­tion Pic­ture Sec­tion. After the Sec­ond World War, Amer­ica used for­eign aid and its mil­i­tary mus­cle to dis­cour­age Eu­ro­pean cul­tural pro­tec­tion­ism, es­pe­cially in Italy, France, and Eng­land. The strug­gle con­tin­ued through in­sti­tu­tions as­so­ci­ated with the Gen­eral Agree­ment on Tar­iffs and Trade and then the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion. The State De­part­ment also sup­ported the carteliza­tion of Hol­ly­wood ex­port efforts through the ma­jor stu­dios. Hol­ly­wood cur­rently re­ceives ex­port tax sub­si­dies, which of course sup­port the pro­duc­tion of films at home. Note that this sup­port has in­volved an im­plicit trad­ing of fa­vors. Hol­ly­wood might not have re­ceived gov­ern­men­tal as­sis­tance in open­ing mar­kets had it not strongly sup­ported the Amer­i­can role in World War II.

Some trade sub­si­dies arise through the fail­ure to en­force laws. The U.S. gov­ern­ment has helped make Amer­ica a cen­ter of the art world by rel­a­tively lais­sez-faire im­por­ta­tion poli­cies. Im­ported art­works, un­like most other forms of com­merce, are ex­empt from im­port and ex­port du­ties in the United States. This pol­icy has stim­u­lated Amer­i­can art col­lect­ing and has helped make New York a cen­ter of the art world. Note that in 1883 Amer­i­can artists lob­bied suc­cess­fully for a heavy tax on the im­por­ta­tion of art­works, fear­ing com­pe­ti­tion from Eu­ro­pean cre­ators. The fa­mous Ar­mory Show of 1913 in­tro­duced mod­ern art to the United States and stim­u­lated an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of painters. The show be­came pos­si­ble only when this tax was re­pealed shortly be­fore its stag­ing.87

The U.S. gov­ern­ment has sub­si­dized postal mail­ings since the be­gin­ning of the Postal Ser­vice in the late eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry. News­pa­pers, which car­ried lit­er­ary in­stall­ments and in­formed the pub­lic about the arts, re­ceived es­pe­cially fa­vor­able treat­ment. Start­ing in 1851 the Postal Ser­vice offered sub­si­dized rates to book mail­ings. The pe­riod 1874 to 1885 brought fur­ther rate changes that gave a huge boost to the mail­ing of mag­a­zines. By the end of this time mag­a­zines were cheaper to mail than were ad­ver­tis­ing cir­cu­lars. The re­sult was a mag­a­zine boom, which gave writ­ers a new way to reach au­di­ences and make a liv­ing. Be­tween 1885 and 1900, the num­ber of mag­a­zines with 100,000 cir­cu­la­tion or more rose from 21 to 85; by 1905 the fig­ure was 159. By 1903 Ladies’ Home Jour­nal had gar­nered more than one mil­lion sub­scribers.

The first artist-in-res­i­dence in an Amer­i­can uni­ver­sity was Amer­i­can painter John Steuart Cur­ry, who worked at the Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin in the 1930s. The pi­anist Gun- nar Jo­hansen joined him there in 1939. Robert Frost re­ceived sup­port from the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan, which in fact offered him a stipend for life. For the most part, how­ev­er, the artist at the uni­ver­sity is a post-World War II de­vel­op­ment, most of all from the 1960s. [Mor­rison, Jack. 1973. The Rise of the Arts on the Amer­i­can Cam­pus. New York: Mc­Graw-Hill]

Cre­ative writ­ing pro­grams, often at state or state-sub­si­dized uni­ver­si­ties, train Amer­i­can writ­ers or help them con­nect with pub­lish­ing hous­es. John Barth spent the first twenty years of his ca­reer at two state uni­ver­si­ties, Penn State and SUNY Buffa­lo. A study of the New York Times Book Re­view found that 31% of the re­viewed au­thors earned their liv­ing from the aca­d­e­mic world (although this fig­ure in­cludes non­fic­tion books as well).88 Uni­ver­si­ties sup­port the arts in many ways, not just through ful­l-time fac­ulty hires. In the world of clas­si­cal mu­sic, al­most every com­poser serves as a guest com­poser at a uni­ver­sity for some pe­riod of time. Uni­ver­si­ties also are a venue for clas­si­cal mu­sic per­for­mances. They bring per­form­ers to au­di­ences, in­clud­ing to smaller towns such as Ann Ar­bor, Michi­gan, and Bloom­ing­ton, In­di­ana. The re­cent boom in world mu­sic is due, in part, to the con­certs held at uni­ver­si­ties. The Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Davis alone spends $7 mil­lion a year on the per­form­ing arts.89 Roughly two dozen uni­ver­si­ties are cur­rently ac­tive in com­mis­sion­ing new art­works. The list in­cludes Ohio State Uni­ver­si­ty, the Uni­ver­sity of Iowa, the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan, and the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, all state schools. The Uni­ver­sity of Iowa is ar­guably the leader in this re­gard, hav­ing com­mis­sioned more than eighty works since 1986.

The uni­ver­sity po­etry an­thol­ogy - re­quired read­ing for many in­tro­duc­tory sur­vey classes - pro­vides the pri­mary mar­ket de­mand for the writ­ings of po­ets. Con­tem­po­rary po­ets re­ceive roy­alty in­come and some mea­sure of fame from these vol­umes. Uni­ver­si­ties also sub­si­dize many lit­er­ary mag­a­zines. De­Paul Uni­ver­sity has pub­lished Po­etry East, and South­ern Methodist Uni­ver­sity has pub­lished South­west Re­view. Uni­ver­sity presses pub­lish many works, in­clud­ing fic­tion, that com­mer­cial houses re­ject.

The Col­lege Art As­so­ci­a­tion lists over seven hun­dred art mu­se­ums at Amer­i­can col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties. Yale, Chicago, Berke­ley, Michi­gan, Howard Uni­ver­si­ty, Bob Jones Uni­ver­si­ty, and Williams Col­lege are among those with the best-known col­lec­tions, but many smaller in­sti­tu­tions fill im­por­tant nich­es. They cover ar­eas - such as ethnog­ra­phy, ce­ram­ics, or prints - that get crowded out of many larg­er, nonuni­ver­sity mu­se­ums. They also show many lo­cal artists, or artists in spe­cial gen­res, who oth­er­wise might not re­ceive ex­hi­bi­tion space.90 Col­lege ra­dio sta­tions, and the col­lege tour cir­cuit, are crit­i­cal to the suc­cess of in­de­pen­dent rock bands and do much to help mu­si­cal di­ver­si­ty. A com­mer­cial ra­dio sta­tion, for in­stance, might play only five hun­dred or so songs a year. WHRB-FM, at Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty, es­ti­mates that it plays sev­enty thou­sand to ninety thou­sand songs a year.

Sub­si­dies to higher ed­u­ca­tion re­main [sub­stan­tial]. In 1995, the United States had over 14 mil­lion stu­dents en­rolled in higher ed­u­ca­tion and ap­prox­i­mately 915,000 fac­ul­ty, spread out over 3,706 in­sti­tu­tions. Pri­vate schools re­ceive large sub­si­dies; fed­eral di­rect sub­si­dies to higher ed­u­ca­tion cost $11 bil­lion year­ly, with an­other $18 bil­lion al­lo­cated to re­search sup­port, mostly go­ing to pri­vate schools. Fed­eral sup­port alone (not in­clud­ing stu­dent loans) ac­counts for about 14% of higher ed­u­ca­tion ex­pen­di­tures. Henry Rosovsky (1990, p. 262) es­ti­mates that 20% of Har­vard’s bud­get comes di­rectly from gov­ern­ment funds.91

If we take the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors to­geth­er, Na­tional Sci­ence Foun­da­tion fig­ures from 1995 in­di­cate a to­tal in­come for re­search uni­ver­si­ties at slightly over $87 bil­lion. Six­teen bil­lion of this to­tal comes from state and lo­cal gov­ern­ment ap­pro­pri­a­tions, and $12 bil­lion comes from fed­eral grants and con­tracts, for slightly less than a third of the to­tal.92 Tu­ition rev­enue re­lies heav­ily on fed­eral and state sub­si­dies. In 2000 fed­eral di­rect and fed­er­ally guar­an­teed loans amounted to about $41 bil­lion, cov­er­ing more than six mil­lion stu­dents.

Non­profit uni­ver­si­ties are tax-ex­empt, and their char­i­ta­ble bene­fac­tors can deduct do­na­tions to uni­ver­si­ties from their tax­es. These var­i­ous tax de­duc­tions are es­ti­mated to be worth at least $11 bil­lion to uni­ver­si­ties each year.93 His­tor­i­cally uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges ben­e­fited greatly from the Land Grant Acts of 1862 and 1890. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment gave free land to uni­ver­si­ties with few re­stric­tions. The area of this land was equal to the size of Switzer­land, and helped schools such as Cor­nell, MIT, Yale, and Texas A&M, among oth­ers.94


Gen­eral di­rect sub­si­dies:

Much of the Smith­son­ian bud­get comes from Con­gress (in fis­cal 2004 the net bud­get au­thor­ity was $488 mil­lion); ad­di­tional gov­ern­ment con­tracts and grants can run up to nearly $100 mil­lion per year. The en­dow­ment has stood as high as $755 mil­lion. Un­like most other gov­ern­ment arts pro­grams, the Smith­son­ian re­ceives [sub­stan­tial] pri­vate funds; in 2003 the Smith­son­ian raised over $200 mil­lion.95

The Na­tional Gallery of Art, one of the pre­mier art mu­se­ums in Amer­i­ca, re­ceived $79 mil­lion in 2003 from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment (this al­lo­ca­tion is in­de­pen­dent and not on Smith­son­ian ledger­s)…The Mel­lon fam­ily gave much of the art; it has been spec­u­lated that the gift was in re­turn for the IRS stop­ping a tax fraud suit against Mel­lon.

The CPB [Cor­po­ra­tion for Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing] ap­pro­pri­a­tion for 2004 is $380 mil­lion. That be­ing said, pub­lic tele­vi­sion re­lies on many other sources of sup­port. In a typ­i­cal year the fed­eral gov­ern­ment sup­plies no more than 15% of the pub­lic tele­vi­sion bud­get through grants and an­other few per­cent­ages through di­rect con­tracts. State and lo­cal gov­ern­ments, often work­ing with pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties, put up 30% or so.

The In­sti­tute for Mu­seum and Li­brary Ser­vices (cre­ated in 1976, and for­merly the In­sti­tute for Mu­seum Ser­vices) spends $262 mil­lion a year (circa 2004) on mu­se­ums, zoos, botan­i­cal gar­dens, and most of all li­braries. The Arts and Ar­ti­facts Fund in­sures for­eign ob­jects lent to Amer­i­can mu­se­ums and en­ables many art ex­hi­bi­tions. The Kennedy Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts re­ceives a di­rect con­gres­sional ap­pro­pri­a­tion, cur­rently in the neigh­bor­hood of $17 mil­lion

Since that time the com­mis­sion­ing of sol­dier and civil­ian artists has been com­mon, even in peace­time. The army has no per­ma­nent art mu­se­um, but many of these art­works are on dis­play at var­i­ous army bases, in­stal­la­tions, mu­se­ums, and the Pen­tagon, and some­times go on tour. The navy has an art mu­se­um, based at the U.S. Naval Acad­emy at An­napo­lis. The mil­i­tary art held by the gov­ern­ment in­cludes works by such no­table artists as Ja­cob Lawrence, Regi­nald Marsh, Ho­race Pip­pin, and Thomas Hart Ben­ton.96 The USO (U­nited Ser­vice Or­ga­ni­za­tions In­c.) en­ter­tains sol­diers by bring­ing in movie stars, mu­si­cians, and other celebri­ties. Dur­ing World War II the USO em­ployed 5,424 salaried en­ter­tain­ers and had a to­tal show at­ten­dance of 172 mil­lion. The USO is not for­mally part of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, but it is char­tered by Con­gress and en­dorsed by the pres­i­dent, who is typ­i­cally the hon­orary chair­man. The USO to­day is smaller than dur­ing pre­vi­ous wars, but it still has 120 cen­ters around the world and serves an av­er­age of 5 mil­lion in­di­vid­u­als each year.97 The De­part­ment of De­fense bud­get con­tains an al­lo­ca­tion for mil­i­tary bands; this sum is now in­fa­mous for ex­ceed­ing the en­tire NEA ap­pro­pri­a­tion. On at least one oc­ca­sion these bands sup­ported art in the con­ven­tional sense; John Philip Sousa was con­duc­tor of the Ma­rine Corps band from 1882 to 1890 and drew his later pri­vate band mem­bers from this time. The mil­i­tary band ap­pro­pri­a­tion dates back to 1790; a 1995 es­ti­mate cites eighty-five mil­i­tary bands in to­tal, with an ag­gre­gate bud­get usu­ally in the neigh­bor­hood of $200 mil­lion.98

There is no com­plete es­ti­mate of to­tal arts ex­pen­di­tures at the lo­cal lev­el. Nonethe­less the U.S. Ur­ban Arts Fed­er­a­tion con­ducts pe­ri­odic polls of its mem­bers. It fore­cast 2003 ex­pen­di­tures of $338 mil­lion at the lo­cal ur­ban lev­el. The sin­gle largest spender is the New York City De­part­ment of Cul­tural Affairs, which in 2004 spent $118.8 mil­lion; the San Fran­cisco Arts Com­mis­sion was next at $25.5 mil­lion.99

In most Amer­i­can [op­era] hous­es, in con­trast, only a few op­eras are staged a year. Even the Met has a sea­son of less than eight months, shorter than the sea­son in a typ­i­cal provin­cial Ger­man opera house. In Ger­man opera hous­es, 50% of the singers em­ployed are Amer­i­can; these houses thus com­prise a [sub­stan­tial] por­tion of the de­mand for Amer­i­can singing tal­ent.100

The au­teur films may not turn a com­mer­cial profit, but Eu­ro­pean sub­si­dies often sup­port greater di­rec­to­r­ial in­de­pen­dence, thus al­low­ing the au­teurs to demon­strate their tal­ents. In other words, Hol­ly­wood uses Eu­ro­pean cin­ema as a train­ing ground for tal­ent, which it then hires on the cheap. For all its past com­plaints about Eu­ro­pean sub­si­dies and un­fair com­pe­ti­tion, Hol­ly­wood ben­e­fits from those sub­si­dies. First the sub­si­dies keep the Eu­ro­pean film­mak­ers com­mer­cially weak and limit their threat to Hol­ly­wood. Sec­ond, and more im­por­tant for this con­text, the sub­si­dies al­low Eu­ro­pean cin­ema to serve as a re­search and de­vel­op­ment lab­o­ra­tory for Hol­ly­wood.101

Nor has twen­ti­eth-cen­tury French his­tory pro­vided a re­as­sur­ing case for di­rect sub­si­dies. Ar­guably no state in his­tory has spent more on the arts per cap­i­ta, since the 1960s, than has France. Late-twen­ti­eth-cen­tury France did not, how­ev­er, at­tain world lead­er­ship in many artis­tic fields, in com­par­i­son to the nine­teenth cen­tury or the pre­war era. French cul­ture has be­come highly bu­reau­cratic and dri­ven by Parisian in­sid­ers, rather than by con­sumers or by up­-and-com­ing cre­ators.


Fund­ing for the New Deal pho­tog­ra­phy pro­grams came from the De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture and the Civil­ian Con­ser­va­tion Corps in ad­di­tion to the WPA. These sub­si­dies helped make the 1930s a golden age of doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­phy, sup­port­ing such no­table pho­tog­ra­phers as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Rus­sell Lee, Ben Shahn, John Va­chon, Mar­ion Post Wol­cott, and Arthur Roth­stein. As with so many of the New Deal pro­grams, the mo­tive was often nonartis­tic. The USDA pho­tog­ra­phy pro­gram, in par­tic­u­lar, pro­duced pro­pa­ganda for New Deal pro­grams. They en­cour­aged pho­tog­ra­phers to de­pict fed­eral bu­reau­crats as sym­pa­thetic friends of the farm­ers, and as con­cerned with help­ing or­di­nary Amer­i­cans make a good liv­ing. Ac­cord­ing to one ac­count, The gov­ern­ment al­ways ap­peared as friendly ad­vi­sor, and the changes it in­tro­duced were best.102

…The WPA did not lead to a per­ma­nent arts agen­cy, but gov­ern­ment ex­tended its hand in the arts through for­eign pol­i­cy. Pol­i­cy­mak­ers saw the arts as a pri­mary weapon in the Cold War against the So­viet Union and a means of spread­ing the Amer­i­can way. Once again, arts pro­grams were dri­ven by nonartis­tic mo­tives. Cul­tural im­pe­ri­al­ism has dri­ven gov­ern­men­tal sup­port, and de­struc­tion, of the arts through­out his­to­ry. The Ro­man and Chi­nese em­pires viewed ac­cul­tur­a­tion as a means of spread­ing their rule, and en­cour­aged the arts to­ward this end. The Eu­ro­pean colo­nial pow­ers, es­pe­cially France, sought to carry their cul­tures to their colonies. The set­tle­ment of the Amer­i­can West and Mid­west, and the cor­re­spond­ing treat­ment of the na­tive In­di­ans, was a form of cul­tural pol­i­cy, often en­forced by vi­o­lence.

The United States gov­ern­ment in­sti­tuted com­pre­hen­sive cul­tural con­trol in Ger­many, Aus­tria, and Japan. In Aus­tria and Ger­many, the U.S. In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices Branch con­trolled the pre­sen­ta­tion of vir­tu­ally all cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing films, the­ater, con­certs, ra­dio, news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines and books, ad­ver­tise­ments, cir­cus­es, balls, and car­ni­val fes­tiv­i­ties. The Amer­i­can oc­cu­piers saw cul­tural con­trol as es­sen­tial to de­naz­i­fi­ca­tion and the re­con­struc­tion of a healthy so­ci­ety. Broad­cast­ing sov­er­eignty was not re­turned to West Ger­many un­til 1955. In Japan cen­sor­ship and con­trol cov­ered every form of me­dia and en­ter­tain­ment, at one point sup­press­ing Tol­stoy’s War and Peace, as well as any Japan­ese cul­tural prod­uct that might ap­pear mil­i­taris­tic.103

As the Cold War de­vel­oped, politi­cians sup­ported the per­for­mance of Amer­i­can arts abroad to counter So­viet pro­pa­ganda about the vi­tal­ity of com­mu­nism. They be­lieved that if Amer­i­can cul­ture could be shown to be strong and cre­ative, democ­racy would look good. The Re­pub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tion of Eisen­hower spent more on cul­tural out­reach pro­grams, in real terms, than was later spent on the NEA. These pro­grams were spread out over sev­eral agen­cies (see be­low), but the best avail­able es­ti­mate of their scope is as seen in ta­ble 1104. For pur­poses of con­trast, note that NEA ex­pen­di­tures hit a max­i­mum of just over $175 mil­lion in 1992. If we con­vert the 1953 ex­pen­di­ture on for­eign cul­tural pro­grams to 1992 dol­lars, the sum is roughly $690 mil­lion.

At its peak, the United States for­eign pro­pa­ganda ma­chine spent $2 bil­lion a year, em­ployed a staff of more than ten thou­sand, and reached 150 coun­tries. These op­er­a­tions were larger than the twenty biggest United States pub­lic re­la­tions firms com­bined.105

This act called for the spread of in­for­ma­tion abroad about the gov­ern­ment and cul­ture of the United States, thereby cre­at­ing the Office of In­ter­na­tional In­for­ma­tion and Ed­u­ca­tional Ex­change (OIE) and the United States In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice (USIS). The Voice of Amer­ica (VOA), ex­panded in the late 1940s, trans­mit­ted ra­dio pro­grams, often of a cul­tural na­ture, as did Ra­dio Free Eu­rope and Ra­dio Lib­er­ty. In 1953 the United States In­for­ma­tion Agency (USIA) was cre­ated to spread a fa­vor­able Amer­i­can im­age around the world.106 …typ­i­cally they sought to pro­mote en­ter­tain­ing cul­ture, if only to keep their au­di­ences and thus their bud­gets. Through pure ac­ci­dent, this was the most cus­tomer-driven Amer­i­can arts pro­gram in his­to­ry. State De­part­ment and USIA pro­grams sent lead­ing Amer­i­can or­ches­tras, singers, jazz mu­si­cians, mu­si­cal shows, and in­stru­men­tal­ists on tours of the world, at U.S. gov­ern­ment ex­pense. The United States gov­ern­ment ran its own 120-piece sym­phony or­ches­tra and a swing dance band, both said to be among the best of their kind in Eu­rope.107 The later do­mes­tic arts pro­grams, such as the NEA, pale in com­par­i­son. Over nine­teen years (1948-1967) the Mar­shall Plan had a Me­dia Guar­an­tee Pro­gram that dis­trib­uted 134 mil­lion copies of Amer­i­can books to Eu­rope. In 1970 the United States In­for­ma­tion Agency was pub­lish­ing 140 mag­a­zines with a to­tal cir­cu­la­tion of ap­prox­i­mately 30 mil­lion; dur­ing the 1980s the USIA op­er­ated 135 li­braries in eighty three coun­tries (in­ter­est in that agency peaked un­der the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion). A 1969 es­ti­mate noted that 25 mil­lion peo­ple vis­ited these li­braries an­nu­al­ly.108

By 1980 there were 101 gov­ern­men­t-spon­sored ra­dio sta­tions, often di­rected to­ward the Iron Cur­tain. In one year, 1983, Voice of Amer­ica alone re­ceived $1.3 bil­lion in gov­ern­ment funds for mod­ern­iza­tion. In the 1980s the sta­tion was es­ti­mated to reach 80 mil­lion lis­ten­ers a day, ex­clud­ing Chi­na. The pro­pa­ganda broad­cast by these sta­tions usu­ally in­cluded cul­ture; the USIA has claimed that half of VOA broad­casts are de­voted to cul­ture and ed­u­ca­tion, rather than to pol­i­tics in the nar­rower sense.109 Jazz pro­mo­tion, through VOA and other gov­ern­men­t-spon­sored ra­dio sta­tions, has been one of the most suc­cess­ful Amer­i­can arts pro­grams. Willis Conover em­ceed the VOA Mu­sic USA pro­gram for twen­ty-five years and was the sin­gle most in­flu­en­tial am­bas­sador for Amer­i­can jazz in East­ern Eu­rope. A Cold War sur­vey in­di­cated that Conover was the best-known liv­ing Amer­i­can in Poland. Amer­i­can jazz spread as far as the So­viet gu­lags, where pris­on­ers started their own bands. These jazz pro­grams can be thought of as a form of artis­tic famine re­lief.110

The State De­part­ment funded tours by Leon­tyne Price, Dizzy Gille­spie, Mar­ian An­der­son, and the Martha Gra­ham Dance Troupe. Gersh­win’s opera Porgy and Bess, with a pri­mar­ily black cast, toured for over a decade with gov­ern­ment sup­port and re­ceived an en­thu­si­as­tic re­cep­tion around the world.111 The United States, of course, re­ceived So­viet cul­ture in ex­change. Amer­i­cans were able to see the Moi­seyev Folk Dance En­sem­ble, the Bol­shoi Bal­let, and the Kirov Bal­let, in ad­di­tion to nu­mer­ous clas­si­cal pi­anists and vi­o­lin­ists.112 Cul­tural out­reach pro­grams con­tinue to­day, but their scope has de­clined. Even be­fore the end of the Cold War, the bud­get of the USIA and the cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties of the CIA had been pared back. The fall of the So­viet Union only con­tin­ued this trend. The USIA, how­ev­er, still runs artis­tic am­bas­sador pro­grams that sup­port per­for­mances by U.S. artists abroad. The Arts Amer­ica bud­get, for in­stance, has run in the neigh­bor­hood of $3.4 mil­lion an­nu­ally for the last five years.

The re­cently es­tab­lished Ra­dio Sawa re­ceived a $35 mil­lion grant from Con­gress to broad­cast pop­u­lar Ara­bic mu­sic, and news from an Amer­i­can per­spec­tive, in the Mid­dle East. The sta­tion has reached num­ber one among lis­ten­ers un­der thirty in Am­man, and is very pop­u­lar in Bagh­dad and Kuwait. It is es­ti­mated that the sta­tion reaches 86% of the tar­get au­di­ence (sev­en­teen- to twen­ty-eight-year-olds) each week. If any­thing, the sta­tion has been crit­i­cized for con­cen­trat­ing too much on mu­sic rather than too lit­tle.113 Con­gress also has al­lo­cated $62 mil­lion for an Ara­bic-lan­guage TV sta­tion, Al Hurra (Free One), to broad­cast through­out the re­gion. In ad­di­tion to news and doc­u­men­taries, the sta­tion offers movies, mu­sic, and cul­tural com­men­tary.114

Al­bert Ai­ley’s dance com­pany used gov­ern­ment spon­sored tours to stay in busi­ness. Gov­ern­ment sup­port al­lowed Dizzy Gille­spie to as­sem­ble and main­tain an ex­pen­sive big band, which led to some of his most im­por­tant mu­sic.115

Given pro­gram se­cre­cy, the ex­tent of CIA in­volve­ment is diffi­cult to gauge, es­pe­cially since the money was usu­ally laun­dered through pri­vate foun­da­tions. A 1976 con­gres­sional study of foun­da­tion grants in the mid-1960s found that of the 700 grants in­volv­ing more than $10,000 (1963-1966, and not just for cul­ture), at least 108 in­volved CIA fund­ing. Half of the large grants for in­ter­na­tional ac­tiv­i­ties dur­ing this same pe­riod in­volved CIA fund­ing. The New York Times es­ti­mated that the CIA sup­ported the pub­li­ca­tion of at least one thou­sand books, in­clud­ing such odd choices as trans­la­tions of the po­etry of T. S. Eliot. Frances Saun­ders (1999, pp. 1, 129) de­scribes the effort in terms of vast re­sources, and de­scribes the CIA as Amer­i­ca’s Min­istry of Cul­ture dur­ing this pe­ri­od. Michael Jos­sel­son, head of the CCF, was a CIA agent dur­ing that time.116

…The for­eign-pol­icy mo­ti­va­tions of these cul­tural out­reach pro­grams led in­evitably to cen­sor­ship and se­lec­tive pre­sen­ta­tion. For in­stance, the Amer­ica House in­sti­tu­tion brought books and records to Eu­ro­pean au­di­ences, but only on a se­lec­tive ba­sis. Sher­wood An­der­son, Leonard Bern­stein, Pearl S. Buck, Aaron Cop­land, John Dewey, John Dos Pas­sos, Theodore Dreis­er, W.E.B. DuBois, Al­bert Ein­stein, George Gersh­win, Dashiell Ham­mett, Nor­man Mail­er, Arthur Miller, Rein­hold Niebuhr, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Mickey Spillane, Vir­gil Thom­son, and Frank Lloyd Wright, among oth­ers, were all cen­sored from Amer­ica House. (Note that some of the banned cre­ators, such as Cop­land, had re­ceived sup­port from ear­lier New Deal arts pro­gram­s.) From Eu­ro­pean lit­er­a­ture, Boc­cac­cio, Flaubert, Sten­dahl, and Thomas Mann were kept out as well. Most iron­i­cal­ly, Thomas Paine’s Com­mon Sense and Thore­au’s Walden were banned, de­spite (be­cause of?) the sta­tus of those books as paeans to lib­er­ty. For a while, the USIA re­fused to fund the ex­hi­bi­tion of any art pro­duced after 1917, the year of the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion.117

Fur­ther read­ing;

New Book Smell

The book trade shows the im­por­tance of sym­bolic de­mands. To put it blunt­ly, most peo­ple do not read the books they buy. In Jan­u­ary 2000 Mar­cel Proust’s Re­mem­brance of Things Past was num­ber 544 on the U.K. best-seller list, yet few of its buy­ers fin­ish a sin­gle vol­ume. Many of them never start the book. High­brow best sell­ers by au­thors such as Stephen Hawk­ing and Camille Paglia are read by only a small frac­tion of their pur­chasers. Most cook­books are never used. Pop­u­lar-fic­tion best sell­ers and self­-help books are widely read, but much of the book trade is about sell­ing im­age and sym­bols, rather than words on pa­per.118 Non­read­ing buy­ers are not al­ways wast­ing their money out of stu­pid­i­ty, as an elit­ist per­spec­tive might sug­gest. Rather most peo­ple buy books for rea­sons other than the de­sire to process the in­for­ma­tion. Peo­ple buy books to put them on the coffee table, to show their friends, or as a mea­sure of ex­pres­sive sup­port for some idea or celebri­ty. Buy­ing a book bears some re­sem­blance to in­di­vid­ual vot­ing, root­ing for a sports team, or do­nat­ing to a char­i­ty. Per­haps most of all, peo­ple buy books to sup­port their self­-im­age as a kind of per­son who likes a cer­tain kind of book. For these rea­sons, books as we know them will not go away any­time soon. Book su­per­stores have rec­og­nized this fact, and they offer the book-buy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, re­plete with Star­bucks coffee, sin­gles night, live con­certs, high ceil­ings, styl­ish in­te­ri­ors, and celebrity lec­tures. Su­per­stores have in­creased the sym­bolic val­ues as­so­ci­ated with book shop­ping, and in a man­ner that dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies and the In­ter­net can­not eas­ily repli­cate…One of the biggest early web suc­cesses in the book mar­ket came when 400,000 peo­ple down­loaded Stephen King’s Rid­ing the Bul­let in the first twen­ty-four hours it was avail­able. Yet most of these peo­ple ap­pear to have taken more in­ter­est in the down­load­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and par­tic­i­pat­ing in a new trend, than in read­ing the work. One in­dus­try source es­ti­mated that three­-quar­ters of the down­load­ers did not read the book.119

…the free pub­lic li­brary does not put the book trade out of busi­ness. Books must be re­turned to the li­brary within three weeks, and the li­brary book ex­pe­ri­ence is usu­ally lack­ing in glam­our. The book trade can co­ex­ist with freely avail­able book copies, pro­vided the book­sellers bun­dle their wares with at­trac­tive sym­bols and ap­peal­ing com­ple­men­tary ex­pe­ri­ences.

…That be­ing said, le­gal prod­uct sup­pli­ers hold some key ad­van­tages in pro­duc­ing cer­tain kinds of au­ra. Aura often comes through the as­so­ci­a­tion of a prod­uct with given in­sti­tu­tions, given celebri­ties, or a given his­to­ry. This fa­vors prod­ucts sup­plied by iden­ti­fi­able in­sti­tu­tions with well-estab­lished rep­u­ta­tions. Book su­per­stores, con­cert halls, and art mu­se­ums have auras be­cause in­sti­tu­tions have in­vested re­sources in mak­ing their venues at­trac­tive, in­ter­est­ing, or oth­er­wise fo­cal. Out­law or hacker sup­pli­ers, who wish to re­main anony­mous or at least low pro­file, are un­likely to make com­pa­ra­ble in­vest­ments. They can­not eas­ily turn au­ra-pro­duc­ing in­vest­ments into rep­u­ta­tional or fi­nan­cial gains for them­selves.

In other words, cus­tomers often do not want prod­ucts sup­plied by anony­mous in­sti­tu­tions. This truth lim­its the dan­gers from copy­right-dam­ag­ing Web sites. If the copy­right-dam­ag­ing in­sti­tu­tion is truly anony­mous, and thus im­per­vi­ous to le­gal sanc­tion, it will have a hard time pro­duc­ing au­ra. Other copy­right-in­fring­ing in­sti­tu­tions have a cen­tral and trace­able iden­tity and thus can de­velop aura more eas­ily and effec­tive­ly. These same in­sti­tu­tions, how­ev­er, usu­ally can be reached by the law.

…It is a mys­tery why fans spend al­most all their mu­sic money on prod­ucts of very re­cent vin­tage. Un­til we un­tan­gle this puz­zle, and we have not yet, we will not un­der­stand how In­ter­net mu­sic is likely to affect con­sumer wel­fare. Most con­sumers are not in­ter­ested in buy­ing much mu­sic from 1950, re­gard­less of its ob­jec­tive qual­ity in the eyes of the crit­ic. Mu­sic from 1650 is even less pop­u­lar. Few peo­ple search the his­tory of mu­sic for the best record­ings and fo­cus their buy­ing on those. Rather, in any given year the most re­cent record­ings dom­i­nate the charts. At a typ­i­cal mo­ment, all the Bill­board Top 40 sin­gles, or al­bums, come from the most re­cent two years of recorded out­put. Every now and then there is a Bea­t­les re­vival, but such events are the ex­cep­tion rather than the rule. Con­sumers evince an over­whelm­ing pref­er­ence for mu­sic pro­duced in the very re­cent past.

Most likely the mu­sic mar­ket is about more than sim­ply buy­ing good mu­sic, as a critic might un­der­stand that term. Peo­ple buy mu­sic to sig­nal their hip­ness, to par­tic­i­pate in cur­rent trends, or to dis­tin­guish them­selves from pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. Buy­ers use mu­sic to sig­nal their so­cial stand­ing, whether this con­sists of go­ing to the opera or lis­ten­ing to heavy met­al. Oth­ers value par­tak­ing in nov­elty per se. They find new­ness ex­cit­ing, a way of fol­low­ing the course of fash­ion, and the mu­sic mar­ket offers one handy arena for this pur­suit. For some peo­ple mu­sic is an ex­cuse to go out and mix with oth­ers, a co­or­di­na­tion point for danc­ing, stay­ing up late, drink­ing, or a sin­gles scene. Along these lines, many fans seem to en­joy mu­si­cal pro­mo­tions, hy­pe, and ad­ver­tis­ing as ends in them­selves, and not merely as means to hear­ing mu­sic. They like be­ing part of the next big thing. The ac­com­pa­ny­ing mu­sic can­not be so bad to their ears as to offend them, but the deft­ness of the har­monic tri­ads is not their pri­mary con­cern.

In other words, the fea­tures of the mar­ket that mat­ter to the critic may not be very spe­cial to con­sumers at all. Most of all, con­sumers seem to care about some fea­ture of new­ness and trendi­ness, more than they care about mu­sic per se. So how much does it mat­ter, from a con­sumer’s point of view, if weaker copy­right pro­tec­tion re­shapes the world of mu­sic? Un­der one hy­poth­e­sis, the spe­cific mu­sics of our day are eas­ily re­placed or, in eco­nomic ter­mi­nol­o­gy, highly sub­sti­tutable. All other things equal, peo­ple will buy the new, but they could get along with al­ter­na­tives al­most as well. For in­stance per­haps ravers could use Gre­go­rian chants to de­fine their cul­tural sta­tus. In­deed one chant CD (Chant) had a very long and suc­cess­ful chart run. Young rave and techno fans were among the largest buy­ers of this record­ing.

…Con­sider two fur­ther ex­am­ples. First, in the for­mer So­viet Union, dis­si­dent rock and roll bands per­formed many pop­u­lar-cul­ture func­tions and com­manded a fer­vent fol­low­ing. These bands fell short of the ob­jec­tive crit­i­cal qual­ity of their West­ern coun­ter­parts. Still they pro­vided con­sumers with many use­ful ser­vices, in­clud­ing a means to sig­nal re­bel­lion against the So­viet state. Sec­ond, in 1941, the ma­jor ra­dio sta­tions re­fused to carry the cat­a­log of the mu­sic pub­lisher ASCAP, in a dis­pute over fees. At that time ASCAP, the lead­ing mu­sic pub­lisher and clear­ing­house in the United States, dom­i­nated the mu­sic mar­ket. The sta­tions in­stead played BMI mu­sic, which was more ori­ented to­ward rhythm and blues and offered less Tin Pan Al­ley, croon­ing, and big band. Ra­dio lis­ten­ers seemed to take the sud­den change in stride; there is lit­tle ev­i­dence of a se­ri­ous prob­lem. Mu­sic fans con­tin­ued pretty much as be­fore, ex­cept for the change in styles and as­so­ci­ated mu­sic pub­lish­ers.120

…Fur­ther­more pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions al­ready have claimed older mu­sics, mak­ing them less well suited for so­cial differ­en­ti­a­tion. Per­haps mu­si­cal taste is a game of se­ces­sion and re­pu­di­a­tion more than any­thing else. So the mu­sic of Chuck Berry no longer fits the world of 2005, and can­not be made to fit it. Crit­ics still love the mu­sic, and some niche con­sumers will be drawn to its mer­its, but it can never hold the cur­rent place of Brit­ney Spears. That is why hit reis­sues are rare.

“Pericalypsis”, Stanislaw Lem

Pg157-168, , (trans­lated by Michael Kan­del, 1979)

Joachim Fersen­geld

(Edi­tions de Mi­nu­it, Paris)

Joachim Fersen­geld, a Ger­man, wrote his Per­i­ca­lypse in Dutch (he hardly knows the lan­guage, which he him­self ad­mits in the In­tro­duc­tion) and pub­lished it in France, a coun­try no­to­ri­ous for its dread­ful proof­read­ing. The writer of these words also does not, strictly speak­ing, know Dutch, but go­ing by the ti­tle of the book, the Eng­lish In­tro­duc­tion, and a few un­der­stand­able ex­pres­sions here and there in the text, he has con­cluded that he can pass muster as a re­viewer after all.

Joachim Fersen­geld does not wish to be an in­tel­lec­tual in an age when any­one can be one. Nor has he any de­sire to pass for a man of let­ters. Cre­ative work of value is pos­si­ble when there is re­sis­tance, ei­ther of the medium or of the peo­ple at whom the work is aimed; but since, after the col­lapse of the pro­hi­bi­tions of re­li­gion and the cen­sor, one can say every­thing, or any­thing what­ev­er, and since, with the dis­ap­pear­ance of those at­ten­tive lis­ten­ers who hung on every word, one can howl any­thing at any­one, lit­er­a­ture and all its hu­man­is­tic affin­ity is a corpse, whose ad­vanc­ing de­cay is stub­bornly con­cealed by the next of kin. There­fore, one should seek out new ter­rains for cre­ativ­i­ty, those in which can be found a re­sis­tance that will lend an el­e­ment of men­ace and risk - and there­with im­por­tance and re­spon­si­bil­ity - to the sit­u­a­tion.

Such a field, such an ac­tiv­i­ty, can to­day be only prophe­cy. Be­cause he is with­out hope - that is, be­cause he knows in ad­vance that he will be nei­ther heard out nor rec­og­nized nor ac­cepted - the prophet ought to rec­on­cile him­self a pri­ori to a po­si­tion of mute­ness. And he who, be­ing a Ger­man, ad­dresses French­men in Dutch with Eng­lish in­tro­duc­tions is as mute as he who keeps silent. Thus Fersen­geld acts in ac­cor­dance with his own as­sump­tions. Our mighty civ­i­liza­tion, he says, strives for the pro­duc­tion of com­modi­ties as im­per­ma­nent as pos­si­ble in pack­ag­ing as per­ma­nent as pos­si­ble. The im­per­ma­nent prod­uct must soon be re­placed by a new one, and this is good for the econ­o­my; the per­ma­nence of the pack­ag­ing, on the other hand, makes its dis­posal diffi­cult, and this pro­motes the fur­ther de­vel­op­ment of tech­nol­ogy and or­ga­ni­za­tion. Thus the con­sumer copes with each con­sec­u­tive ar­ti­cle of junk on an in­di­vid­ual ba­sis, whereas for the re­moval of the pack­ag­ings spe­cial an­tipol­lu­tion pro­grams are re­quired, san­i­tary en­gi­neer­ing, the co­or­di­na­tion of efforts, plan­ning, pu­rifi­ca­tion and de­con­t­a­m­i­na­tion plants, and so on. For­mer­ly, one could de­pend on it that the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of garbage would be kept at a rea­son­able level by the forces of na­ture, such as the rains, the winds, rivers, and earth­quakes. But at the present time what once washed and flushed away the garbage has it­self be­come the ex­cre­ment of civ­i­liza­tion: the rivers poi­son us, the at­mos­phere burns our lungs and eyes, the winds strew in­dus­trial ashes on our heads, and as for plas­tic con­tain­ers, since they are elas­tic, even earth­quakes can­not deal with them. Thus the nor­mal scenery to­day is civ­i­liza­tional drop­pings, and the nat­ural re­serves are a mo­men­tary ex­cep­tion to the rule. Against this land­scape of pack­ag­ings that have been sloughed off by their prod­ucts, crowds bus­tle about, ab­sorbed in the busi­ness of open­ing and con­sum­ing, and also in that last nat­ural pro­duct, sex. Yet sex, too, has been given a mul­ti­tude of pack­ag­ings, for this and noth­ing else is what clothes are, dis­plays, ros­es, lip­sticks, and sundry other ad­ver­tis­ing wrap­pings. Thus civ­i­liza­tion is wor­thy of ad­mi­ra­tion only in its sep­a­rate frag­ments, much as the pre­ci­sion of the heart is wor­thy of ad­mi­ra­tion, the liv­er, the kid­neys, or the lungs of an or­gan­ism, since the rapid work of those or­gans makes good sense, though there is no sense what­ever in the ac­tiv­ity of the body that com­prises these per­fect parts - if it is the body of a lu­natic.

The same process, de­clares the prophet, is tak­ing place in the area of spir­i­tual goods as well, since the mon­strous ma­chine of civ­i­liza­tion, its screws hav­ing worked loose, has turned into a me­chan­i­cal milker of the Mus­es. Thus it fills the li­braries to burst­ing, in­un­dates the book­stores and mag­a­zine stands, numbs the tele­vi­sion screens, pil­ing it­self high with a su­per­abun­dance of which the nu­mer­i­cal mag­ni­tude alone is a death­blow. If find­ing forty grains of sand in the Sa­hara meant sav­ing the world, they would not be found, any more than would the forty mes­sianic books that have al­ready long since been writ­ten but were lost be­neath strata of trash. And these books have un­ques­tion­ably been writ­ten; the sta­tis­tics of in­tel­lec­tual la­bor guar­an­tees it, as is ex­plained - in Dutch - math­e­mat­i­cally - by Joachim Fersen­geld, which this re­viewer must re­peat on faith, con­ver­sant with nei­ther the Dutch lan­guage nor the math­e­mat­i­cal. And so, ere we can steep our souls in those rev­e­la­tions, we bury them in garbage, for there is four bil­lion times more of the lat­ter. But then, they are buried al­ready. Al­ready has come to pass what the prophecy pro­claimed, only it went un­no­ticed in the gen­eral haste. The prophe­cy, then, is a retro­phe­cy, and for this rea­son is en­ti­tled Per­i­ca­lypse, and not Apoc­a­lypse. Its progress (ret­ro­gress) we de­tect by Signs: by lan­guid­i­ty, in­si­pid­i­ty, and in­sen­si­tiv­i­ty, and in ad­di­tion by ac­cel­er­a­tion, in­fla­tion, and mas­tur­ba­tion. In­tel­lec­tual mas­tur­ba­tion is the con­tent­ing of one­self with the promise in place of the de­liv­ery. first we were onanized thor­oughly by ad­ver­tis­ing (that de­gen­er­ate form of rev­e­la­tion which is the mea­sure of the Com­mer­cial Idea, as op­posed to the Per­son­al), and then self­-abuse took over as a method for the rest of the arts. And this, be­cause to be­lieve in the sav­ing power of Mer­chan­dise yields greater re­sults than to be­lieve in the effi­cacy of the Lord God.

The mod­er­ate growth of tal­ent, its in­nately slow mat­u­ra­tion, its care­ful weed­ing out, its nat­ural se­lec­tion in the purview of so­lic­i­tous and dis­cern­ing tastes - these are phe­nom­ena of a by­gone age that died heir­less. The last stim­u­lus that still works is a mighty howl; but when more and more peo­ple howl, em­ploy­ing more and more pow­er­ful am­pli­fiers, one’s eardrums will burst be­fore the soul learns any­thing. The names of the ge­niuses of old, more and more vainly in­voked, al­ready are an empty sound; and so it is mene mene tekel up­harsin, un­less what Joachim Fersen­geld rec­om­mends is done. There should be set up a Save the Hu­man Race Foun­da­tion, as a six­teen-bil­lion re­serve on a gold stan­dard, yield­ing an in­ter­est of four per­cent per an­num. Out of this fund mon­eys should be dis­pensed to all cre­ators - to in­ven­tors, schol­ars, en­gi­neers, painters, writ­ers, po­ets, play­wrights, philoso­phers, and de­sign­ers - in the fol­low­ing way. He who writes noth­ing, de­signs noth­ing, paints noth­ing, nei­ther patents nor pro­pos­es, is paid a stipend, for life, to the tune of thir­ty-six thou­sand dol­lars a year. He who does any of the afore­men­tioned re­ceives cor­re­spond­ingly less.

Per­i­ca­lypse con­tains a full set of tab­u­la­tions of what is to be de­ducted for each form of cre­ativ­i­ty. For one in­ven­tion or two pub­lished books a year, you re­ceive not a cent; by three ti­tles, what you cre­ate comes out of your own pock­et. With this, only a true al­tru­ist, only an as­cetic of the spir­it, who loves his neigh­bor but not him­self one bit, will cre­ate any­thing, and the pro­duc­tion of mer­ce­nary rub­bish will cease. Joachim Fersen­geld speaks from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, for it was at his own ex­pense - at a loss! - that he pub­lished his Per­i­ca­lypse. He knows, then, that to­tal un­profitabil­ity does not at all mean the to­tal elim­i­na­tion of cre­ativ­i­ty.

Ego­ism man­i­fests it­self as a hunger for mam­mon com­bined with a hunger for glo­ry: in or­der to scotch the lat­ter as well, the Sal­va­tion Pro­gram in­tro­duces the com­plete anonymity of the cre­ators. To fore­stall the sub­mis­sion of stipend ap­pli­ca­tions from un­tal­ented per­sons, the Foun­da­tion will, through the ap­pro­pri­ate or­gans, ex­am­ine the qual­i­fi­ca­tions of the can­di­dates. The ac­tual merit of the idea with which a can­di­date comes for­ward is of no con­se­quence. The only im­por­tant thing is whether the project pos­sesses com­mer­cial val­ue, that is, whether it can be sold. If so, the stipend is awarded im­me­di­ate­ly. For un­der­ground cre­ative ac­tiv­i­ty, there is set up a sys­tem of penal­ties and re­pres­sive mea­sures within the frame­work of le­gal pros­e­cu­tion by the ap­pa­ra­tus of the Safety Con­trol; also in­tro­duced is a new form of po­lice, name­ly, the Anvil (An­ti­cre­ative Vig­i­lance League). Ac­cord­ing to the pe­nal code, whoso­ever clan­des­tinely writes, dis­sem­i­nates, har­bors, or even if only in si­lence pub­licly com­mu­ni­cates any fruit of cre­ative en­deav­or, with the pur­pose of de­riv­ing from said ac­tion ei­ther gain or glo­ry, shall be pun­ished by con­fine­ment, forced labor, and, in the case of re­cidi­vism, by im­pris­on­ment in a dark cell with a hard bed, and a can­ing on each an­niver­sary of the offense. For the smug­gling into the bo­som of so­ci­ety of such ideas, whose tragic effect on life is com­pa­ra­ble to the bane of the au­to­mo­bile, the scourge of cin­e­matog­ra­phy, the curse of tele­vi­sion, etc., the law pro­vides cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment as the max­i­mum and in­cludes the pil­lory and a life sen­tence of the com­pul­sory use of one’s own in­ven­tion. Pun­ish­able also are at­tempted crimes, and pre­med­i­ta­tion car­ries with it badges of shame, in the form of the stamp­ing of the fore­head with in­deli­ble let­ters arranged to spell out “En­emy of Man.” How­ev­er, grapho­ma­nia, which does not look for gain, is called a Dis­or­der of the Mind and is not pun­ish­able, though per­sons so afflicted are re­moved from so­ci­ety, as con­sti­tut­ing a threat to the peace, and placed in spe­cial in­sti­tu­tions, where they are hu­manely sup­plied with great quan­ti­ties of ink and pa­per.

Ob­vi­ously world cul­ture will not at all suffer from such state reg­u­la­tion, but will only then be­gin to flour­ish. Hu­man­ity will re­turn to the mag­nifi­cent works of its own his­to­ry; for the num­ber of sculp­tures, paint­ings, plays, nov­els, gad­gets, and ma­chines is great enough al­ready to meet the needs of many cen­turies. Nor will any­one be for­bid­den to make so-called epochal dis­cov­er­ies, on the con­di­tion that he keep them to him­self.

Hav­ing in this way set the sit­u­a­tion to rights - that is, hav­ing saved hu­man­ity - Joachim Fersen­geld pro­ceeds to the fi­nal prob­lem: what is to be done with that mon­strous glut which has al­ready come about? As a man of un­com­mon civil for­ti­tude, Fersen­geld says that what has so far been cre­ated in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, though it may con­tain great pearls of wis­dom, is worth noth­ing when tal­lied up in its en­tire­ty, be­cause you will not find those pearls in the ocean of garbage. There­fore he calls for the de­struc­tion of every­thing in one lump, all that has arisen in the form of films, il­lus­trated mag­a­zi­nes, postage stamps, mu­si­cal scores, books, sci­en­tific ar­ti­cles, news­pa­pers, for this act will be a true clean­ing out of the Augean sta­bles - with a full bal­anc­ing of the his­tor­i­cal cred­its and deb­its in the hu­man ledger. (A­mong other things, the de­struc­tion will claim the facts about atomic en­er­gy, which will elim­i­nate the cur­rent threat to the world.) Joachim Fersen­geld points out that he is per­fectly aware of the in­famy of burn­ing books, or even whole li­braries. But the au­tos-da-fé en­acted in his­tory - such as in the Third Re­ich - were in­fa­mous be­cause they were re­ac­tionary. It all de­pends on the grounds on which one does the burn­ing. He pro­pos­es, then, a life-sav­ing au­to-da-fé, pro­gres­sive, re­demp­tive; and be­cause Joachim Fersen­geld is a prophet con­sis­tent to the end, in his clos­ing word he bids the reader first tear up and set fire to this very prophe­cy!

  1. “A Sad Heart at the Su­per­mar­ket”, Daedalus, vol. 89, no. 2 (Spring 1960)↩︎

  2. “E-books spark bat­tle in­side the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try”, Wash­ing­ton Post, 27 De­cem­ber 200↩︎

  3. Sur­pris­ing­ly, the cost of print­ing a first edi­tion of a book is only about 10% of the pub­lish­er’s fi­nal whole­sale price, and ship­ping is­n’t much more. The money is go­ing into other things. The New Yorker breaks the costs down as fol­lows (em­pha­sis added):

    Tra­di­tion­al­ly, pub­lish­ers have sold books to stores, with the whole­sale price for hard­cov­ers set at fifty per cent of the cover price. Au­thors are paid roy­al­ties at a rate of about fifteen per cent of the cover price. A sim­pli­fied ver­sion of a pub­lish­er’s costs might run as fol­lows. On a new, twen­ty-six-dol­lar hard­cov­er, the pub­lisher typ­i­cally re­ceives thir­teen dol­lars. Au­thors are paid roy­al­ties at a rate of about fifteen per cent of the cover price; this ac­counts for $3.90. Per­haps $1.80 goes to the costs of pa­per, print­ing, and bind­ing [$1.80 of $26 is ~7%], a dol­lar to mar­ket­ing, and $1.70 to dis­tri­b­u­tion. The re­main­ing $4.60 must pay for rent, ed­i­tors, a sales force, and any write-offs of un­earned au­thor ad­vances. Book­stores re­turn about thir­ty-five per cent of the hard­cov­ers they buy, and pub­lish­ers write off the cost of pro­duc­ing those books. Profit mar­gins are slim.

  4. I sus­pect, as does au­thor (“Why the com­mer­cial ebook mar­ket is bro­ken”), that book pub­lish­ers and Ama­zon are tak­ing a con­sid­er­able per­cent­age of the ebook rev­enue, since in this ar­ti­cle, Ama­zon ex­pected a news­pa­per pub­lisher to agree to give Ama­zon 70% of the sub­scrip­tion fees; Ama­zon has mo­nop­oly con­trol over the Kindle, and it is rea­son­able to think that they are sim­i­larly de­mand­ing of book pub­lish­ers. From “Priced to Sell: Is Free the Fu­ture?”, 2009-07-06, by :

    At a hear­ing on Capi­tol Hill in May, James Mo­roney, the pub­lisher of the , told Con­gress about ne­go­ti­a­tions he’d just had with the on­line re­tailer Ama­zon. The idea was to li­cense his news­pa­per’s con­tent to the Kindle, Ama­zon’s new elec­tronic read­er. “They want sev­enty per cent of the sub­scrip­tion rev­enue,” Mo­roney tes­ti­fied. “I get thirty per cent, they get sev­enty per cent. On top of that, they have said we get the right to re­pub­lish your in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty to any portable de­vice.”

    The idea was that if a Kin­dle sub­scrip­tion to the Dal­las Morn­ing News cost ten dol­lars a mon­th, seven dol­lars of that be­longed to Ama­zon, the provider of the gad­get on which the news was read, and just three dol­lars be­longed to the news­pa­per, the provider of an ex­pen­sive and ever-chang­ing va­ri­ety of ed­i­to­r­ial con­tent. The peo­ple at Ama­zon val­ued the news­pa­per’s con­tri­bu­tion so lit­tle, in fact, that they felt they ought then to be able to li­cense it to any­one else they want­ed.

  5. A ar­ti­cle takes the op­po­site view: that Ama­zon is los­ing a great deal of money on each ebook:

    Ama­zon pays the same whole­sale price for Kin­dle books as it does for real books - gen­er­ally 50% of the list price. For a typ­i­cal hard­back that re­tails for $26 - say, E.L. Doc­torow’s Homer & Lan­g­ley - Ama­zon pays $13 and then sells it for $9.99 on the Kindle, tak­ing a $3 loss on each sale. (The longer-term strat­e­gy, pub­lish­ers fear, is that once the Kin­dle gains [sub­stan­tial] mar­ket share, Ama­zon will ne­go­ti­ate lower whole­sale prices for dig­i­tal ver­sion­s.)

  6. I’m us­ing ‘sub­sidy’ in a broad sense. In­tel­lec­tual prop­erty laws are sub­si­dies; stronger IP law or more vig­or­ous en­force­ment is more gov­ern­ment sub­sidy of the pro­tected ren­tiers; uni­ver­si­ties hir­ing pro­fes­sors of cre­ative writ­ing or Eng­lish and en­abling them to write their books on sab­bat­i­cals or sum­mer va­ca­tions, and pub­lish­ing them at or be­low cost - those are sub­si­dies as well. Tax breaks are sub­si­dies, etc.↩︎

  7. IP has other effects, some of which di­rectly re­duce artis­tic pro­duc­tion, since so much art is based on ex­ist­ing art. This point has been made at length by many au­thors such as , but a short ex­am­ple from Tyler Cowen’s Good and Plenty:

    Leg­is­la­tion in 1976 brought copy­right pro­tec­tion to new ex­tremes, namely the life of the au­thor plus fifty years, and for a com­pany sev­en­ty-five years from pub­li­ca­tion or one hun­dred years from cre­ation, whichever is soon­er. The re­newal process was elim­i­nated al­to­geth­er. Over time the large cor­po­ra­tions of the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try have cap­tured Con­gress in this mat­ter, and the copy­right pe­riod has now been ex­tended eleven times in the last forty years. The most re­cent ex­ten­sion was the Sonny Bono Copy­right Term Ex­ten­sion Act of 1998, which ex­panded copy­right pro­tec­tion to the life of the cre­ator plus sev­enty years, rather than fifty. Cor­po­rate copy­rights also were ex­tended twenty years to a to­tal of nine­ty-five years, as were copy­rights for all works pro­duced be­fore 1978. The cam­paign to change these laws was led by Dis­ney, which had feared the forth­com­ing ex­pi­ra­tion of copy­right on Mickey Mouse and other lu­cra­tive car­toon char­ac­ters.6

    Copy­right can re­strict out­put in other ways as well. Many artists bor­row heav­ily from each oth­er, often with­out pay­ing roy­al­ties or re­ceiv­ing per­mis­sion. Dis­ney char­ac­ters are fre­quently drawn from Eu­ro­pean fairy tales or Amer­i­can folk­tales, with­out pay­ment of any li­cens­ing fee. Some of Bob Dy­lan’s songs are so close to the works of Woody Guthrie that Dy­lan would lose a law­suit, had Guthrie re­ceived con­tem­po­rary copy­right pro­tec­tion. Of course Guthrie bor­rowed heav­ily as well, most of all from blues mu­si­cians. This did not stop Dy­lan, once a pop­ulist 1960s rad­i­cal, from join­ing the lob­by­ing effort in fa­vor of copy­right ex­ten­sion.7 Copy­right also makes it harder for rap artists to sam­ple mu­sic. Look­ing back into his­to­ry, many Shake­speare plays draw their plots from other works; , for in­stance, was based on . Large sec­tions of Chaucer’s po­etry are bor­rowed from other writ­ers, through ei­ther trans­la­tion or para­phrase. Blues, jazz, coun­try mu­sic, and rap are all based on wide­spread bor­row­ing of melodies and riffs, usu­ally with­out any ac­knowl­edg­ment and cer­tainly with­out any pay­ment of li­cens­ing fees. It is de­bat­able whether these artis­tic forms could have de­vel­oped as we know them, had to­day’s copy­right laws been en­forced all along.

  8. The ex­am­ples are le­gion; from “Buy­ing the Con­cept of Art” (‘Talk­ing Phi­los­o­phy’, ):

    Since I have taught Aes­thet­ics since 1994, lit­tle that oc­curs in the strange world of art sur­prises me. One of the more re­cent trends is the sell­ing of the ideas of artists, as op­posed to the sell­ing of an ac­tual work of art. For ex­am­ple, Lawrence Weiner put a $160,000 price tag on his idea of “2 Metal Balls + 2 Metal Rings (Set Down in the Groove).” For the $160,000 you do not get any balls, rings or a groove. Rather, you would re­ceive a cer­tifi­cate that per­mits you to write the phrase in a room or cre­ate/­com­mis­sion the sculp­ture that you think it hap­pens to de­scribe.

    Works, if that term can be used, were also sold by Sol Le­Witt be­fore his death. While he did cre­ate art ob­jects, he also cre­ated “works” that were just vague in­struc­tions for cre­at­ing a piece. For ex­am­ple, “Al­ter­nate Yel­low Ink and Pen­cil Straight, Par­al­lel Lines, of Ran­dom Length, Not Touch­ing the Sides.”

    Tino Se­h­gal tops both De­Witt and Wein­er. Se­h­gal does not even offer a cer­tifi­cate or set of in­struc­tions, he ap­par­ently just makes odd things oc­cur and per­mits no record­ing of the event. These “works” are sold for cash in front of wit­ness­es, but no doc­u­men­ta­tion is pro­vid­ed. One of his “works”, which was pur­chased for around $100,000 is the con­cept of a mu­seum se­cu­rity guard slowly un­dress­ing. Nat­u­ral­ly, the money does not buy an ac­tual se­cu­rity guard or an un­dress­ing, merely the con­cept as put forth by Se­h­gal.

    Or “Woman Pays $10,000 For ‘Non-Vis­i­ble’ Work Of Art”:

    Franco and Praxis also warn that, “When you con­tribute to this Kick­starter pro­ject, you are not buy­ing a vis­i­ble piece of art!” Yes, after con­tribut­ing real mon­ey, buy­ers will not re­ceive any tan­gi­ble piece of art and will in­stead be pre­sented with a writ­ten de­scrip­tion of their pur­chase. With prices rang­ing from $1000 to $10,000, you might ask your­self, “who would ac­tu­ally will­ingly do­nate money for pretty much noth­ing?” An­swer: Mon­treal web pro­duc­er, so­cial me­dia mar­keter, model and ac­tor Aimee Davi­son.

    Davi­son’s ex­pla­na­tion is at least some­what sen­si­ble:

    Al­so, I wanted to note that I bought Franco et al’s art be­cause I want to pro­mote the ben­e­fits of big­ger brands spon­sor­ing new me­dia artists and so­cial me­dia art (or In­ter­net pro­ject­s). My pa­tron­age is fund­ing Fran­co’s project but it is equally a spon­sor­ship; it is a mar­ket­ing tool to pub­li­cize my own pro­jects. Spon­sor­ing a so­cial me­dia art project al­lows a brand or in­di­vid­ual to at­tach their name to a project wher­ever it ap­pears on­line, co-cre­ate, gain agency and cred­i­bil­ity in the so­cial me­dia sphere and share in the buzz, au­di­ence, and cul­tural im­pact of a work.

  9. cf.↩︎

  10. The aca­d­e­mic lit­er­a­ture is mixed; for ex­am­ple, some find lit­tle to no detri­men­tal effect to In­ter­net-borne copy­right in­fringe­ment: from , Ober­holz­er-Gee & Strumpf 2010 (me­dia cov­er­age):

    Data on the sup­ply of new works are con­sis­tent with our ar­gu­ment that file shar­ing did not dis­cour­age au­thors and pub­lish­ers.2 The pub­li­ca­tion of new books rose by 66% over the 2002-2007 pe­ri­od. Since 2000, the an­nual re­lease of new mu­sic al­bums has more than dou­bled, and world­wide fea­ture film pro­duc­tion is up by more than 30% since 2003. At the same time, em­pir­i­cal re­search in file shar­ing doc­u­ments that con­sumer wel­fare in­creased sub­stan­tially due to the new tech­nol­o­gy.

  11. ↩︎

  12. Or be­low; I dis­like clut­ter.↩︎

  13. A rate which, if sur­veys are to be be­lieved, puts me in a quite rar­efied per­centile; eg “One in Four Read No Books Last Year” (), and men­tions the av­er­age for Amer­i­cans was 4 books a year, and the me­dian among those who read at least one book was 7, roughly 1 every 7 weeks.↩︎

  14. An­other writer (Linda Holmes, “The Sad, Beau­ti­ful Fact That We’re All Go­ing To Miss Al­most Every­thing”, NPR) con­sid­ers if you read 2 a week:

    If we as­sume you start now, and you’re 15, and you are will­ing to con­tinue at this pace un­til you’re 80. That’s 6,500 books, which re­ally sounds like a lot. Let’s do you an­other fa­vor: Let’s fur­ther as­sume you limit your­self to books from the last, say, 250 years. Noth­ing be­fore 1761. This cuts out gi­ant, enor­mous swaths of lit­er­a­ture, of course, but we’ll as­sume you’re will­ing to write off thou­sands of years of writ­ing in an effort to be rea­son­ably well-read.

    Of course, by the time you’re 80, there will be 65 more years of new books, so by then, you’re deal­ing with 315 years of books, which al­lows you to read about 20 books from each year. You’ll have to break down your 20 books each year be­tween fic­tion and non­fic­tion - you have to cover his­to­ry, phi­los­o­phy, es­says, di­aries, sci­ence, re­li­gion, sci­ence fic­tion, west­erns, po­lit­i­cal the­ory … I hope you weren’t plan­ning to go out very much…We could do the same cal­cu­lus with film or mu­sic or, in­creas­ing­ly, tele­vi­sion - you sim­ply have no chance of see­ing even most of what ex­ists. Sta­tis­ti­cally speak­ing, you will die hav­ing missed al­most every­thing.

    , “The Year of Read­ing Differ­ently” 2011:

    All of this has re­stricted the read­ing time I have been able to de­vote to our ex­ist­ing col­lec­tion of books - the only one of my vows I was re­ally look­ing for­ward to. I be­gan by re­vis­it­ing Eve­lyn Waugh and Gra­ham Greene, and hon­esty com­pels me to ad­mit that I have got no fur­ther. In­deed, I find that I am in no great hurry to get fur­ther…Here is a cheer­ful con­clu­sion: on the ba­sis of the ex­per­i­ment to date I am per­suaded that, if I have to, I can go on re-read­ing my ex­ist­ing li­brary with­out ever get­ting bored - I es­ti­mate I have enough good lit­er­a­ture in the house to last me for the rest of my life.

  15. Amer­i­ca, and Great Britain. France con­tributed a lit­tle to SF with , and Japan’s SF is co­pi­ous (but un­in­flu­en­tial). Be­sides that, fur­ther sources of SF can be named on one hand. Poland offers us , Rus­sia has… some­one, no doubt. And that’s about it. SF is­n’t pro­lific even in the An­glo­phone First World, much less the rest of the globe.↩︎

  16. By a rough count of , 14 of the 43 win­ners were part of some fran­chise or se­ries of works. To ac­count for Hugos, we dou­ble that to 28 for the 2 awards; if each is part of a tril­o­gy, we need to add 84 more works to our read­ing list, for an­other 2 years.↩︎

  17. , sec­tion 51, foot­note 41↩︎

  18. And the rea­son I was read­ing Mist­born at all was cu­rios­ity as to how his nov­els might go - and Wheel of Time is it­self an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of a mediocre work that sucked time that could’ve gone to some­thing bet­ter, but which I could not quit be­cause the cu­rios­ity would kill me.↩︎

  19. See the later dis­cus­sion of hy­per­bolic dis­count­ing and ex­per­i­men­tal re­sults with songs.↩︎

  20. “Your Brain on Fic­tion”, An­nie Mur­phy Paul 2012, NYT:

    Re­searchers have dis­cov­ered that words de­scrib­ing mo­tion also stim­u­late re­gions of the brain dis­tinct from lan­guage-pro­cess­ing ar­eas. In a study, led by the cog­ni­tive sci­en­tist Véronique Boulenger, of the Lab­o­ra­tory of Lan­guage Dy­nam­ics in France, the brains of par­tic­i­pants were scanned as they read sen­tences like “John grasped the ob­ject” and “Pablo kicked the ball.” The scans re­vealed ac­tiv­ity in the mo­tor cor­tex, which co­or­di­nates the body’s move­ments. What’s more, this ac­tiv­ity was con­cen­trated in one part of the mo­tor cor­tex when the move­ment de­scribed was ar­m-re­lated and in an­other part when the move­ment con­cerned the leg.

    The brain, it seems, does not make much of a dis­tinc­tion be­tween read­ing about an ex­pe­ri­ence and en­coun­ter­ing it in real life; in each case, the same neu­ro­log­i­cal re­gions are stim­u­lat­ed. Keith Oat­ley, an emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of cog­ni­tive psy­chol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Toronto (and a pub­lished nov­el­ist), has pro­posed that read­ing pro­duces a vivid sim­u­la­tion of re­al­i­ty, one that “runs on minds of read­ers just as com­puter sim­u­la­tions run on com­put­ers.” Fic­tion - with its redo­lent de­tails, imag­i­na­tive metaphors and at­ten­tive de­scrip­tions of peo­ple and their ac­tions - offers an es­pe­cially rich repli­ca. In­deed, in one re­spect nov­els go be­yond sim­u­lat­ing re­al­ity to give read­ers an ex­pe­ri­ence un­avail­able off the page: the op­por­tu­nity to en­ter fully into other peo­ple’s thoughts and feel­ings.

    …Ray­mond Mar, a psy­chol­o­gist at York Uni­ver­sity in Canada, per­formed an analy­sis of 86 fMRI stud­ies, pub­lished last year in the An­nual Re­view of Psy­chol­ogy, and con­cluded that there was sub­stan­tial over­lap in the brain net­works used to un­der­stand sto­ries and the net­works used to nav­i­gate in­ter­ac­tions with other in­di­vid­u­als - in par­tic­u­lar, in­ter­ac­tions in which we’re try­ing to fig­ure out the thoughts and feel­ings of oth­ers. Sci­en­tists call this ca­pac­ity of the brain to con­struct a map of other peo­ple’s in­ten­tions “the­ory of mind.” Nar­ra­tives offer a unique op­por­tu­nity to en­gage this ca­pac­i­ty, as we iden­tify with char­ac­ters’ long­ings and frus­tra­tions, guess at their hid­den mo­tives and track their en­coun­ters with friends and en­e­mies, neigh­bors and lovers.

    It is an ex­er­cise that hones our re­al-life so­cial skills, an­other body of re­search sug­gests. Dr. Oat­ley and Dr. Mar, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with sev­eral other sci­en­tists, re­ported in two stud­ies, pub­lished in 2006 and 2009 [see also their 2008 re­view], that in­di­vid­u­als who fre­quently read fic­tion seem to be bet­ter able to un­der­stand other peo­ple, em­pathize with them and see the world from their per­spec­tive. This re­la­tion­ship per­sisted even after the re­searchers ac­counted for the pos­si­bil­ity that more em­pa­thetic in­di­vid­u­als might pre­fer read­ing nov­els. A 2010 study by Dr. Mar found a sim­i­lar re­sult in preschool-age chil­dren: the more sto­ries they had read to them, the keener their the­ory of mind - an effect that was also pro­duced by watch­ing movies but, cu­ri­ous­ly, not by watch­ing tele­vi­sion. (Dr. Mar has con­jec­tured that be­cause chil­dren often watch TV alone, but go to the movies with their par­ents, they may ex­pe­ri­ence more “par­en­t-chil­dren con­ver­sa­tions about men­tal states” when it comes to film­s.)

    Fic­tion, Dr. Oat­ley notes, “is a par­tic­u­larly use­ful sim­u­la­tion be­cause ne­go­ti­at­ing the so­cial world effec­tively is ex­tremely tricky, re­quir­ing us to weigh up myr­iad in­ter­act­ing in­stances of cause and effect. Just as com­puter sim­u­la­tions can help us get to grips with com­plex prob­lems such as fly­ing a plane or fore­cast­ing the weath­er, so nov­els, sto­ries and dra­mas can help us un­der­stand the com­plex­i­ties of so­cial life.”

    (See also Kidd & Cas­tano 2013 but note that it has failed to repli­cate in the large Panero et al 2016, which strongly sup­ports self­-s­e­lec­tion as the mech­a­nis­m.) Jus­ti­fy­ing fic­tion on prac­ti­cal ben­e­fits is a pow­er­ful jus­ti­fi­ca­tion - if it’s true. But these claims of ben­e­fit are a lit­tle ques­tion­able, be­ing largely cor­re­la­tion­al. More gen­er­al­ly, the ques­tion is one of “”: the typ­i­cal re­sult in psy­chol­ogy is that if you spend time learn­ing or train­ing on some­thing, you will im­prove sub­stan­tially on that, im­prove a lit­tle or mod­er­ately on things which re­sem­ble that closely (“near trans­fer”), and im­prove hardly at all on any­thing else (“far trans­fer”). So no mat­ter how much of a men­tal work­out you get play­ing chess, it won’t “trans­fer” to, say, learn­ing Eng­lish vo­cab­u­lary. Any­thing which might cause far trans­fer would be un­usual and ex­cit­ing (such as ), but the task is tan­ta­mount to in­creas­ing IQ in nor­mal healthy peo­ple - a holy grail which re­mains out of reach half a cen­tury lat­er. (Even years of school­ing, spend­ing hours a day on a va­ri­ety of sub­jects, fails to in­crease chil­drens’ IQ more than a few points at best.) So, what does read­ing fic­tion trans­fer to? Does it only lead to “near trans­fer” like higher WPM or ap­pre­ci­a­tion of lit­er­a­ture, or does it also lead to more “far trans­fer” like bet­ter and re­al-life so­cial skills?↩︎

  21. The post “Data On Fic­tional Lies”, dis­cussing the pa­per . It’s worth not­ing that things like find that in real life, be­ing Ex­tro­verted and low on Agree­able­ness cor­re­late with suc­cess; the lat­ter, at least, is more char­ac­ter­is­tic of an­tag­o­nists than pro­tag­o­nists:

    Fol­low-up tests showed a [s­ta­tis­ti­cal­ly-]sig­nifi­cant Va­lence * Salience in­ter­ac­tion effect on Ex­tra­ver­sion (F1,374 = 11.40, p = 0.001) and Agree­able­ness (F1,374 = 16.65, p < 0.001). On Ex­tra­ver­sion, pro­tag­o­nists score [s­ta­tis­ti­cal­ly-]sig­nifi­cantly lower than an­tag­o­nists (-0.26 vs. 0.44, F1,377 = 22.18, p < 0.001). Al­so, pro­tag­o­nists score lower than good mi­nor char­ac­ters (-0.26 vs. 0.01, F1,377 = 5.57, p = 0.019) and an­tag­o­nists score higher than bad mi­nor char­ac­ters (0.44 vs. -0.26, F1,377 = 7.33, p = 0.007). On Agree­able­ness, pro­tag­o­nists score [s­ta­tis­ti­cal­ly-]sig­nifi­cantly higher than an­tag­o­nists (0.37 vs. -1.15, F1,377 = 149.73, p < 0.001), and good mi­nor char­ac­ters score higher than bad mi­nor char­ac­ters (0.33 vs. -0.25, F1,377 = 8.34, p = 0.004). Al­so, an­tag­o­nists scored [s­ta­tis­ti­cal­ly-]sig­nifi­cantly lower on Agree­able­ness than bad mi­nor char­ac­ters (-1.15 vs. -0.25, F1,377 = 5.57, p = 0.019). Fol­low-up tests also showed that va­lence had a [s­ta­tis­ti­cal­ly-]sig­nifi­cant main effect on Con­sci­en­tious­ness, Emo­tional Sta­bil­i­ty, and Open­ness to Ex­pe­ri­ence. Good char­ac­ters score [s­ta­tis­ti­cal­ly-]sig­nifi­cantly higher than bad char­ac­ters on Con­sci­en­tious­ness (0.17 vs. -0.29, F1,374 = 10.59, p = 0.001), Emo­tional Sta­bil­ity (0.17 vs. -0.51, F1,374 = 22.10, p < 0.001); and Open­ness to Ex­pe­ri­ence (0.17 vs. -0.32, F1,374 = 11.88, p = 0.001). In real life, higher lev­els of Agree­able­ness, Con­sci­en­tious­ness, and Emo­tional Sta­bil­ity are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered to be de­sir­able, so it is not sur­pris­ing that good char­ac­ters score higher than bad char­ac­ters on these fac­tors. How­ev­er, Ex­tra­ver­sion and Open­ness in real life are more de­sir­able in some sit­u­a­tions and less de­sir­able in oth­ers. Why bad char­ac­ters score higher on Ex­tra­ver­sion and good char­ac­ters, on Open­ness, is con­sid­ered in the Dis­cus­sion sec­tion.

  22. “Ap­plied topol­ogy and Dan­te: an in­ter­view with Robert Ghrist”, John D. Cook 2010-09-13.↩︎

  23. “…But trag­i­cal­ly, some of the world’s strangest movies will never be avail­able on DVD at all. The data­base es­ti­mates that only 4.8% of all films ever made are cur­rently avail­able to the pub­lic. Though the In­ter­net has been in­valu­able in find­ing strange and for­got­ten relics, some films, whether through ac­ci­dent, dis­as­ter or per­ceived dis­in­ter­est, have been lost or tem­porar­ily dis­placed.” –io9, “Weird and Won­der­ful Movies That You’ll Never Get to See”↩︎

  24. “Pan­do­ra’s dig­i­tal box: Pix and pix­els”, quot­ing Jan-Christo­pher Ho­rak, Di­rec­tor, UCLA Film and Tele­vi­sion Archive.↩︎

  25. Of course, one could ar­gue that there is some­thing uniquely op­ti­mal and spe­cial about the cur­rent ex­ist­ing level of movie pro­duc­tion, such that this in­vis­i­ble 95% fall is ac­cept­able but an­other 95% fall would be cat­a­clysmic. I hope the reader un­der­stands that this is a deeply un­trust­wor­thy po­si­tion to take (and they should read the Bostrom link on the ‘’) - I’d par­ody this ar­gu­ment as “oh, that 95% fall is OK be­cause it still leaves us a num­ber of movies which is big­ger than some-num­ber-I-made-up-just-now-based-on-the-in­for­ma­tion-y­ou’ve-pro­vid­ed-me; but an­other 95% fall, well, that’d just be mad­ness!”↩︎

  26. This seems to go un­rec­og­nized some­times in lit­er­ary fields, with its close at­ten­tion to the rare land­marks of lit­er­ary his­to­ry; re­marks in pg 3-4 of Graphs, Maps, Trees: Ab­stract Mod­els for a Lit­er­ary His­tory (2005):

    …what a min­i­mal frac­tion of the lit­er­ary field we all work on: a canon of two hun­dred nov­els, for in­stance, sounds very large for nine­teen­th-cen­tury Britain (and is much larger than the cur­rent one), but is still less than 1% of the nov­els that were ac­tu­ally pub­lished: twenty thou­sand, thir­ty, more, no one re­ally knows - and close read­ing won’t help here, a novel a day every day of the year would take a cen­tury or so.

  27. See , and the au­thor’s es­say-sum­mary “Watch­ing TV Makes You Smarter”; see also the .↩︎

  28. , or, ; ↩︎

  29. “A Girl in a Li­brary”, lines 32-29; The Sev­en-League Crutches↩︎

  30. “Vast book­store opens as famed li­brary runs out of space”, BBC News, 2010-10-06↩︎

  31. Their 2010 re­port is pro­vi­sional about the 2010 ISBNs, and so I ex­clude them. Over 2002-2009, the num­ber of ISBNs per year in­creased dra­mat­i­cal­ly: 247777, 266322, 295523, 282500, 296352, 407646, 561580, 1335475, and 3092740. Nearly half the to­tal came just from 2009! In a re­mark­able tes­ta­ment to the growth of elec­tronic and print­-on-de­mand pub­lish­ers, Bowker es­ti­mates for 2010 that ac­counted for 1,461,918 ISBNs.↩︎

  32. Nor was this the ex­treme for that pe­ri­od. “Re­mem­ber when you had to pay 50 bucks for a two-episode VHS tape from Japan, plus ship­ping? Or, shud­der, a hun­dred dol­lars to im­port a LaserDisc for a two-episode OAV that turned out to be to­tal garbage? Those were dark times, my friend.” (Anime News Net­work)↩︎

  33. Not un­rea­son­able a fig­ure, given how many al­bums and other works are re­leased every year; from Ober­holz­er-Gee & Strumpf 2010:

    While al­bum sales have gen­er­ally fallen since 2000, the num­ber of al­bums be­ing cre­ated has ex­plod­ed. In 2000, 35,516 al­bums were re­leased. Seven years lat­er, 79,695 al­bums (in­clud­ing 25,159 dig­i­tal al­bums) were pub­lished (Nielsen Sound­Scan, 2008). Sim­i­lar trends can be seen in other cre­ative in­dus­tries. For ex­am­ple, the world­wide num­ber of fea­ture films pro­duced each year has in­creased from 3,807 in 2003 to 4,989 in 2007 (Screen Di­gest, 2004 and 2008). Coun­tries where film piracy is ram­pant have typ­i­cally in­creased pro­duc­tion. This is true in South Ko­rea (80 to 124), In­dia (877 to 1164), and China (140 to 402). Dur­ing this pe­ri­od, U.S. fea­ture film pro­duc­tion has in­creased from 459 fea­ture films in 2003 to 590 in 2007 (MPAA, 2007).

  34. pg 281 of Kevin Kel­ly’s (2011).↩︎

  35. From his 2006 in­ter­view:

    As you can see from my com­ments that I’m ad­dicted to writ­ing, I love the idea of com­mu­ni­cat­ing ideas to other peo­ple. I think, in every case, the books that I’ve writ­ten were things where I had learned about some phe­nom­e­non that I thought was just too good to keep to my­self and so I wanted other peo­ple to share in the joy of read­ing it. So it turns out then that I have more than 20 books in print now and that’s, you know, so many that I doubt that there’s any­body in the world who’s read more than half of them. And I some­times think what tragedy it would be if there were ten peo­ple in the world like me be­cause we would­n’t have time to read each oth­er’s books, you know, it does­n’t scale up.

  36. See also Robin Han­son’s brief es­say. “The Myth Of Cre­ativ­i­ty: In­no­va­tion mat­ters, but re­leas­ing your in­ner bo­hemian is­n’t the an­swer”↩︎

  37. (1946-02-23); reprinted as “Bad Po­ets” in Po­etry and the Age (1953)↩︎

  38. To take an ob­scure re­cent ex­am­ple; Sleep Dealer In­jects Sci-Fi Into Im­mi­gra­tion De­bate”, , 2008-01-24:

    is re­mark­ably top­i­cal for a film set in the fu­ture (al­beit one de­scribed by Rivera as tak­ing place “five min­utes from now”). Cen­tral themes in­clude out­sourcing, cor­po­rate own­er­ship of wa­ter, re­mote war­fare, con­fes­sional in­ter­net di­aries and mil­i­tary con­trac­tors who are ac­count­able to no one. It’s the rare po­lit­i­cal film with­out any ref­er­ence to con­tem­po­rary pol­i­tics; like and other big-brained sci-fi flicks, it’s about ideas, not sell­ing mer­chan­dise. “I love gnomes and gob­lins and elves,” said Rivera, who’s made a name for him­self tour­ing mu­se­ums and fes­ti­vals with his award-win­ning shorts. “But what I’m re­ally in­ter­ested in is spec­u­la­tive fic­tion. I wanted to use this film to ask the ques­tion, ‘Where are we go­ing?’”…That ironic jux­ta­po­si­tion started Rivera think­ing: What if tech­nol­ogy could ex­tract the life force from the Mex­i­can pop­u­la­tion and send it north?

  39. A loaded word, I ad­mit. But fic­tion is fun­da­men­tally lies - sto­ries about things that never were and never will be - and ‘con­vinc­ing some­one to do some­thing they would­n’t’ve based on lies or rhetoric for some ul­te­rior pur­pose’ is as good a de­fi­n­i­tion of ‘pro­pa­ganda’ as I can think of.

    The nicer word is ‘in­spi­ra­tion’. (Although one per­son’s in­spired man is an­other per­son’s in­flamed zealot. Lenin was pretty in­spired.) That this is one of the roles of SF has long been ac­knowl­edged by au­thors; Asi­mov in his 1963 es­say is­n’t clear about whether in­ter­est in SF causes sci­en­tific achieve­ment or just pre­dict­s/­cor­re­lates with it, but in 2011 no longer even feels the need to jus­tify the the­o­ry:

    In early 2011, I par­tic­i­pated in a con­fer­ence called Fu­ture Tense, where I lamented the de­cline of the manned space pro­gram, then piv­oted to en­er­gy, in­di­cat­ing that the real is­sue is­n’t about rock­ets. It’s our far broader in­abil­ity as a so­ci­ety to ex­e­cute on the big stuff. I had, through some kind of blind luck, struck a nerve. The au­di­ence at Fu­ture Tense was more con­fi­dent than I that sci­ence fic­tion [SF] had rel­e­vance - even util­ity - in ad­dress­ing the prob­lem. I heard two the­o­ries as to why:

    1. The In­spi­ra­tion The­o­ry. SF in­spires peo­ple to choose sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing as ca­reers. This much is un­doubt­edly true, and some­what ob­vi­ous….

    NASA seems to agree, spon­sor­ing its own fic­tion col­lab­o­ra­tions, much as such an ini­tia­tive both­ers some peo­ple, and at­trib­utes such a be­lief to Chi­nese gov­ern­ment offi­cials:

    Fic­tion, how­ev­er, “shows you that the world does­n’t have to be like the one that you live in. Which is an in­cred­i­bly dan­ger­ous thing for the world.” He re­lated a story about be­ing at a sci­ence fic­tion con­ven­tion in China in 2007 and ask­ing one of the gov­ern­ment offi­cials as­signed to watch over the pro­ceed­ings why China was now al­low­ing such a con­ven­tion. The offi­cial an­swered that while China has a world­wide rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing ex­cel­lent at con­struct­ing things that oth­ers bring to them, China is not con­sid­ered in­ven­tive or in­no­v­a­tive. Through out­reach to huge Amer­i­can tech com­pa­nies like Google, Mi­crosoft, and Ap­ple, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment dis­cov­ered that a lot of the in­di­vid­u­als in those com­pa­nies grew up read­ing sci­ence fic­tion. That, es­sen­tial­ly, they were told at a young age that the world was­n’t sta­t­ic, that they could change it, that they could in­tro­duce new con­cepts and in­ven­tions. There­after, The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment re­laxed their con­trol over sci­ence fic­tion sto­ries, and those sto­ries be­gan im­me­di­ately seep­ing in to their cul­ture.

    William Gib­son, in his usual con­trar­ian mode, dis­dains this claim:

    INTERVIEWER: “Do you think fic­tion should be pre­dic­tive?”

    GIBSON: “No, I don’t. Or not par­tic­u­lar­ly. The record of fu­tur­ism in sci­ence fic­tion is ac­tu­ally quite shab­by, it seems to me. Used book­stores are full of vi­sion­ary texts we’ve never heard of, usu­ally for per­fectly good rea­sons.”

  40. §41 (as quoted in “Nar­row­ing the cir­cle of thought (Ge­orge Or­well)”)↩︎

  41. has a num­ber of good ar­ti­cles on how fic­tion can very eas­ily mis­lead us, and that this may be a fun­da­men­tal fact about the hu­man brain (the ‘Near/­Far’ psy­chol­ogy par­a­dig­m):

    It’s worth not­ing that one of the stan­dard ‘jobs’ for promi­nent sci­ence-fic­tion au­thors is con­sult­ing and help­ing ‘vi­su­al­ize’ par­tic­u­lar sce­nar­ios and fu­tures for think-tanks and cor­po­ra­tions and gov­ern­ment agen­cies; has men­tioned do­ing this on more than one oc­ca­sion, and has a de­gree in that. From his “Sci­ence Fic­tion as Fore­sight” post:

    For about ten years now I’ve been pe­ri­od­i­cally hired to write fic­tion­al­ized ver­sions of fore­sight find­ings. It works like this: mys­te­ri­ous gov­ern­ment group A ap­proaches me and tells me they’ve just spent six months re­search­ing the fu­ture of X (where X is some­thing like “farm equip­ment” or “Al­ter­na­tives To The Sy­ringe”). What they’ve got is one or more sce­nar­ios, which are ba­si­cally al­ter­na­tive plot­lines for fu­ture events. They’d like me to turn these into ac­tual sto­ries, which I’m happy to do. (The most ex­treme ex­am­ple of this is the book Cri­sis in Ze­fra, which I wrote for the Cana­dian army back in 2005)…Cu­ri­ous­ly, when I write sce­nario fic­tions I’m not try­ing to gen­er­ate new ideas of my own, but rather to rep­re­sent the ideas that some set of fu­tur­ists, sub­ject ex­perts, or pub­lic pan­els has al­ready de­vel­oped. This makes sce­nario fic­tions differ­ent than SF pro­to­type­s…­Science fic­tion is more than just a genre of fic­tion. Hell, it’s more than just fic­tion. It’s a mode of thought; be­cause our brains are hard­wired and op­ti­mized to think in nar­ra­tives, SF can be seen as a pri­mary means by which we make sense of and plan for the fu­ture. By un­der­stand­ing how this process works, we have an op­por­tu­nity to grow a new branch of SF par­al­lel to but not re­plac­ing or dis­plac­ing the tra­di­tional ar­m-a branch that’s rig­or­ous and me­thod­i­cal and de­lib­er­ately used to help solve re­al-world prob­lems. In fact, that’s been hap­pen­ing for a while now (see John­son’s book); I’m de­lighted to have found my­self in a po­si­tion to be able to help make it for­mally rec­og­nized.

    It’s worth not­ing that when it comes to anec­do­tal ev­i­dence (like sto­ries) ver­sus fac­tual ev­i­dence (like sta­tis­tic­s), sta­tis­tics are pre­ferred when they re­in­force one’s cur­rent be­liefs but anec­dotes work bet­ter than sta­tis­tics when the mes­sage con­tra­dicts one’s cur­rent be­liefs (Slater & Rouner 1996). As one would ex­pect, the less an­a­lytic one is, the more one weights ran­dom com­ments and anec­dotes (Lee & Jang 2010); one won­ders if heavy fic­tion con­sumers are more likely to be highly an­a­lytic or not… To the ex­tent that sta­tis­tics are vastly more trust­wor­thy then pre-s­e­lected anec­dotes of du­bi­ous ve­rac­i­ty, this is a very trou­bling ob­ser­va­tion: if there must be an in­ter­ac­tion with one’s be­liefs, the op­po­site would be much prefer­able!↩︎

  42. Gilbert’s orig­i­nal re­sults should be con­sid­ered mod­i­fied by Has­son et al 2005 & Richter et al 2009, which repli­cate the re­sults but with lim­i­ta­tions that may or may not ren­der in­valid any ap­pli­ca­tion to fic­tional works.↩︎

  43. Ap­pel 2008 offers some back­ground:

    There are nu­mer­ous anec­dotes about pieces of fic­tion shift­ing peo­ple’s world­view. As Strange (2002) pointed out, by Beecher Stowe (1853/1981) seems to have changed many read­ers’ be­liefs about equal rights. Its pub­li­ca­tion is even con­nected to the out­break of the U.S. Civil War. Apart from the vast amounts of lit­er­a­ture on the effects of ag­gres­sive me­dia con­tent and pornog­ra­phy, fic­tion has been widely ne­glected by mass com­mu­ni­ca­tion re­searcher­s-clearly in con­trast to the reg­u­larly as­cribed im­pact on in­di­vid­u­als and so­ci­eties. Among ap­proaches aimed at fill­ing this gap, the idea of a “per­sua­sion through fic­tion” has re­ceived the widest at­ten­tion. A grow­ing body of re­search has demon­strated pro­found per­sua­sive effects shortly after re­cip­i­ents en­counter fic­tional sto­ries (Ger­rig & Pren­tice, 1991; Green & Brock, 2000; Pren­tice, Ger­rig, & Bail­is, 1997; Strange & Le­ung, 1999; Wheel­er, Green, & Brock, 1999) and an even higher im­pact after a 2-week de­lay (Ap­pel & Richter, 2007). Peo­ple who read about a fic­tional char­ac­ter who quit school be­cause of per­sonal prob­lems tend to at­tribute school dropouts to in­di­vid­ual cir­cum­stances in the real world as well (S­trange & Le­ung, 1999), whereas peo­ple who read about some­one who thinks that wear­ing a seat belt is un­safe are less con­vinced about wear­ing seat belts them­selves, and so forth (e.g., Ap­pel & Richter, 2007; Pren­tice et al., 1997). Re­cip­i­ents seem to learn what­ever “facts” fic­tional nar­ra­tives teach them.

    …News­mak­ers and other pro­duc­ers of non­fic­tional tele­vi­sion con­tent may be tempted to pro­duce just worlds be­cause view­ers ap­pre­ci­ate “good news” (Schmitt & Maes, 2006; Zill­mann, Tay­lor, & Lewis, 1998), but con­tent analy­ses point in a differ­ent di­rec­tion. Re­search in­di­cates that non­fic­tional pro­gram­ming con­tains a lot of im­moral, an­ti­so­cial be­hav­ior that has no neg­a­tive con­se­quences. In a ma­jor­ity of cas­es, those im­moral acts have no con­se­quences at all and some­times even pos­i­tive ones (Pot­ter, War­ren, Vaugh­an, How­ley, Land, & Hage­mey­er, 1997; Stone, Har­tung, & Jensen, 1987). Pot­ter et al. stated that the low rates for pun­ish­ment of an­ti­so­cial acts in non­fic­tional pro­gram­ming cor­re­spond to the lack of pun­ish­ment in the real world (as rep­re­sented in crim­i­nol­ogy sta­tis­tic­s). But in con­trast to re­al-world sta­tis­tics, peo­ple do be­lieve that an­ti­so­cial acts have se­ri­ous con­se­quences (as, e.g., in­di­cated by peo­ple’s eval­u­a­tions of po­lice record­s). Be­cause non­fic­tional tele­vi­sion as well as re­al-life sta­tis­tics can­not ac­count for this wide­spread be­lief in fair con­se­quences, it may be the en­ter­tain­ing fare of fic­tional nar­ra­tives that cul­ti­vate just-world be­lief­s…A big part of (ear­ly) stud­ies re­lated the BJW to the eval­u­a­tion of vic­tims of un­de­sir­able in­ci­dents, like rape, ac­ci­dents, can­cer, or HIV in­fec­tion. Peo­ple high in the BJW tend to look down on vic­tims and at­tribute the rea­sons for their mis­for­tunes to the vic­tims them­selves (cf. Mon­tada, 1998). Peo­ple high in the BJW have the pos­i­tive il­lu­sion (cf. Lern­er, 1980) that so­cial sit­u­a­tions are un­der one’s own con­trol or that they are at least pre­dictable (Lip­kus, Dal­bert, & Siegler, 1996).

    …It has been shown in the United States that re­al­i­ty-based crime shows (like Cops, L.A.P.D.) are re­lated to fear in the au­di­ence (Dowler, 2003; Oliver & Arm­strong, 1995). Un­til re­cent­ly, this kind of pro­gram­ming has not been avail­able in ma­jor Ger­man lan­guage tele­vi­sion sta­tions. Con­cern­ing gen­re-based cul­ti­va­tion process­es, in­ter­views with Ger­man ado­les­cents im­ply that the tabloid tele­vi­sion news (Boule­vard­magazine), which may be la­beled as in­fo­tain­ment (con­tain­ing a mix­ture of celebrity gos­sip, an­i­mal sto­ries, and crime news), cul­ti­vate a mean- and scary-world view (Eg­gert, 2001).

    In an­other ex­am­ple, the meta-analy­sis Win­ter­bot­tom et al 2008 found that med­ical nar­ra­tives (e­spe­cially in the first-per­son) in­flu­enced de­ci­sions more than the truer sta­tis­ti­cal in­for­ma­tion.↩︎

  44. Which, iron­i­cal­ly, can lead to per­ceiv­ing real peo­ple as fake! And also less rel­e­vant to one’s life than the fakes, oddly enough. One odd study I found was on how su­per­heros in­flu­ence body per­cep­tion; men lik­ing Bat­man or Spi­der-Man ap­par­ently makes them feel stronger and more man­lier even though the su­per­heros are so much more fit & mus­cu­lar, and sim­i­larly for women & mod­els.↩︎

  45. In­tro­duc­tion to The In­car­na­tion of the Word of God↩︎

  46. “Re­li­gion and Lit­er­a­ture” 1935, from Se­lected Prose of T.S. Eliot ed Ker­mode 1975, pg97-106↩︎

  47. On the other hand, Switzer­land is, ad­justed for size, one of the most sci­en­tifi­cally pro­lific coun­tries in the world. was a Swiss cit­i­zen, in­ci­den­tal­ly.↩︎

  48. And while the sit­u­a­tion has got­ten bet­ter since C.P. Snow’s day, can we re­ally say there’s so much cross-fer­til­iza­tion as to prove this ex­ter­nal­i­ty, or prove it of suffi­cient mag­ni­tude?↩︎

  49. See “Which uni­ver­si­ties lead and lag? To­ward uni­ver­sity rank­ings based on schol­arly out­put”, Ra­m­age 2010.↩︎

  50. Var­i­ous dis­ci­plines have many pa­pers and es­says ar­gu­ing that re­searchers de­lib­er­ately in­flate their pa­per counts to meet pub­lish­ing re­quire­ments, pur­sue un­pro­duc­tive but pub­lish­able av­enues, and are so lack­ing in rigor that many (or even ) re­sults are wrong - so it would be diffi­cult to offer any ci­ta­tions for such a broad claim. Men­cius Mold­bug has writ­ten a me­an­der­ing & funny es­say/blog post about what is wrong with the field of com­puter sci­ence, how­ev­er, that con­veys this gen­eral vein of thought.↩︎

  51. One way of try­ing to mea­sure pro­duc­tiv­ity per re­searcher is to ex­am­ine what ex­pert­s/re­searchers in that area con­sider worth men­tion­ing. Charles Mur­ray ex­am­ines en­cy­clo­pe­dias and bi­o­graph­i­cal dic­tio­nar­ies up to 1950 in and finds, once one cor­rects for the ex­plo­sive growth of the hu­man pop­u­la­tion in re­cent cen­turies and the even more ex­plo­sive growth in ur­ban­ized ed­u­cated peo­ple, a de­cline.

    Less his­tor­i­cal­ly, one can sim­ply look at how many pub­lished peer-re­viewed pa­pers go uncited for 5 years. If a pa­per is not cited once in that pe­ri­od, even just as part of a re­view, then one be­gins to won­der whether it is a good pa­per; and if a field pub­lishes a lot of such pa­pers, one be­gins to won­der about that field’s re­searchers. There are many in­ter­est­ing sta­tis­tics in this vein. From , by Charles A. Schwartz:

    …55% of sci­en­tific ar­ti­cles do not re­ceive a sin­gle ci­ta­tion within five years of pub­li­ca­tion. A few weeks lat­er, an­other re­port in Sci­ence by the same re­search body, the In­sti­tute for Sci­en­tific In­for­ma­tion (ISI), noted still higher rates of uncit­ed­ness for the so­cial sci­ences (75%) and hu­man­i­ties (92%)….A­mong the new find­ings even­tu­ally pro­duced, but not pub­lished, was the rate of uncit­ed­ness in (LIS). This rate turned out to be 72%…The pop­u­lar press treated this is­sue with cav­a­lier re­marks, such as one at­trib­uted to a pro­fes­sor: “If the bot­tom 80% of the lit­er­a­ture just van­ished, I doubt if the sci­en­tific en­ter­prise would suffer.”’…A­gainst ISI’s ini­tial 55% uncit­ed­ness rate for the phys­i­cal sci­ences, one study found a 5% rate for as­tron­omy and an 8% rate for physics. And against ISI’s ini­tial 75% uncit­ed­ness rate for the so­cial sci­ences, an­other study found a 9% rate for so­ci­ol­o­gy.

    There are quite a range of uncited es­ti­mates; to give just some ranges that par­tic­u­larly struck me, even after mak­ing al­lowance for all the pos­si­ble con­found­ing fac­tors:

    • phys­i­cal sci­ences: 55-14%
      1. 72-34% en­gi­neer­ing
      2. 55-26% math
      3. chem­istry: 28% (nu­clear chem­istry 17%; ap­plied chemistries: 78%)
    • so­cial: 75-48%
      1. in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions 83-53%
      2. po­lit­i­cal sci­ence 90-58%
    • hu­man­i­ties: 98-93%
      1. the­ater, Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture, ar­chi­tec­ture 99-95%
      2. re­li­gious stud­ies 98-93%

    Mark Bauer­lein’s 2011 re­port found that:

    Once those books and es­says are pub­lished, the vast ma­jor­ity of them at­tract scant at­ten­tion from other schol­ars - for ex­am­ple, of 16 re­search ar­ti­cles pub­lished by Uni­ver­sity of Ver­mont pro­fes­sors in 2004, 11 of them re­ceived 0-2 ci­ta­tions, three re­ceived 3-6 ci­ta­tions, one re­ceived seven ci­ta­tions, and one 11….Of 13 re­search ar­ti­cles pub­lished by cur­rent SUNY-Buffalo pro­fes­sors in 2004, 11 of them re­ceived zero to two ci­ta­tions, one had five, one 12. Of 23 ar­ti­cles by Geor­gia pro­fes­sors in 2004, 16 re­ceived zero to two ci­ta­tions, four of them three to six, one eight, one 11, and one 16….A 2000 book on Ger­ard Man­ley Hop­kins col­lected four ci­ta­tions in eight rel­e­vant books on the poet pub­lished from 2007 to 2010. A 2003 book on Thomas Hardy gar­nered one ci­ta­tion in 16 rel­e­vant books pub­lished from 2007 to 2010. Of eight books pub­lished by Ver­mont pro­fes­sors from 2002 to 2005, four of them re­ceived zero to 10 ci­ta­tions in sub­se­quent es­says, and four re­ceived 11 to 20 (four of the top five were stud­ies in film). There are, of course, some break­out items. One book by an Illi­nois pro­fes­sor col­lected 82 ci­ta­tions in es­says, an­other one 57.

    Some fur­ther read­ing:

    “The Pres­tige Chase Is Rais­ing Col­lege Costs”, Frank 2012:

    Re­searchers have re­sponded as ex­pected to these in­cen­tives. But the ad­di­tional pa­pers they’ve writ­ten have added lit­tle val­ue. The econ­o­mist Philip Cook and I found [The Win­ner-Take-All So­ci­ety: Why the Few at the Top Get So Much More Than the Rest of Us, Frank & Cook 1996], for ex­am­ple, that in the first five years after pub­li­ca­tion, many fewer than half of all pa­pers in the two most se­lec­tive eco­nom­ics jour­nals had ever been cited by other schol­ars.

    It does­n’t seem likely to im­prove, as in­sti­tu­tions con­tinue to al­lo­cate tenure and fund­ing based on met­rics like im­pact fac­tor. From “We Must Stop the Avalanche of Low-Qual­ity Re­search”, :

    Con­sider this tally from Sci­ence two decades ago: Only 45% of the ar­ti­cles pub­lished in the 4,500 top sci­en­tific jour­nals were cited within the first five years after pub­li­ca­tion. In re­cent years, the fig­ure seems to have dropped fur­ther. In a 2009 ar­ti­cle in On­line In­for­ma­tion Re­view, Péter Jacsó found that 40.6% of the ar­ti­cles pub­lished in the top sci­ence and so­cial-science jour­nals (the fig­ures do not in­clude the hu­man­i­ties) were cited in the pe­riod 2002 to 2006.

    Busi­ness an­a­lysts make the same point (“Reed El­se­vier: A Short His­tory of Two Days in July (and Why In­vestors Should Care)”, As­pesi et al 2012; ):

    In the past we could not un­der­stand why op­posed so much. After all, why not just charge an ad­e­quate APC and do with­out the ag­gra­va­tion of an­tag­o­niz­ing li­brar­i­ans and the aca­d­e­mic com­mu­ni­ty? We be­lieve we made a ma­jor mis­take: we treated all jour­nals as equal, while they are not. Ex­hibit 5 and Ex­hibit 6 ex­plain what we think is the real un­der­ly­ing is­sue for the in­dus­try (and for El­se­vier) - a lot of the ar­ti­cles pub­lished are not very rel­e­vant. The two ex­hibits show the read­er­ship of ar­ti­cles in life sci­ences and chem­istry, re­spec­tive­ly, at 10 UK uni­ver­si­ties; the top 20-25% of jour­nals ac­count for 75-90% of the read­er­ship and the top 50% for about 95%. Con­ver­sa­tions with aca­d­e­mic li­brar­i­ans sug­gest they see sim­i­lar data else­where. In other words, half of the ar­ti­cles which are pub­lished to­day are largely ig­nored by the sci­en­tific com­mu­ni­ty, even if the li­braries ac­quire (and pay) them.

    Does El­se­vier do any bet­ter than this? Of course only the com­pany it­self, look­ing at in­ter­nal data, can know the pre­cise an­swer. There is, how­ev­er, ev­i­dence that El­se­vier is not [sub­stan­tial­ly] bet­ter off. New Mex­ico State Uni­ver­sity made avail­able the read­er­ship data for two big deals it had dis­con­tin­ued, which in­cluded El­se­vier (Ex­hibit 7). The curve looks very sim­i­lar to that of the UK uni­ver­si­ties we saw ear­lier: 10% of jour­nals from ma­jor pub­lish­ers had been ac­cessed at least once a week in the pre­vi­ous year, while more than two thirds had been ac­cessed less than once a month.

    To be fair, low read­er­ship num­bers may be a func­tion of the num­ber of fac­ul­ty, re­searchers and doc­toral can­di­dates work­ing in a spe­cific dis­ci­pline. But NMSU, when it went through a sec­ond round of ti­tles cut­ting ear­lier in 2012 (which did not in­volve El­se­vier ti­tles, since they had been culled in 2010), in­volved the fac­ulty to make sure it would not can­cel ti­tles of high value to small com­mu­ni­ty. In its in­for­ma­tion re­lease10, the li­brary noted that the fac­ulty asked to pro­tect only 5% of the low read­er­ship ti­tles: “In May 2012 the Li­brary an­nounced that it would be can­celling 276 jour­nal ti­tles to meet its tar­get amount of $200,000. Uni­ver­sity fac­ulty con­tested the can­cel­la­tion of 14 of the 276 ti­tles, not­ing the high re­search value of each. Due to the gen­eros­ity of the Uni­ver­sity Ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Li­brary has re­duced its can­cel­la­tion list to 261 ti­tles for a to­tal can­cel­la­tion amount of $167,935. These 261 jour­nal ti­tles show low use (10 or fewer us­es), or no use, or cost $100 or more per use”.

  52. Nor are pa­per­s/ar­ti­cles the only schol­arly pro­duc­tions which have ex­tremely small au­di­ences; con­fer­ences and mono­graphs do not draw very many par­tic­i­pants. From “Uni­ver­sity Press­es: Bal­anc­ing Aca­d­e­mic and Mar­ket Val­ues”, Mary M. Case; ARL: A Bi­monthly Re­port no. 193 (Au­gust 1997):

    Since li­braries are the main mar­ket for schol­arly mono­graphs, the de­cline in the num­ber of books pur­chased trig­gered uni­ver­sity presses to re­duce print runs. While print­-runs of 1,000 to 1,500 copies were stan­dard ten years ago, presses are now con­fronting sales of 400-500 copies. While sales do vary across dis­ci­plines and sub­-dis­ci­plines, these low num­bers hold true for even award-win­ning books in the less ‘pop­u­lar’ fields.

    “Re­flec­tions on Uni­ver­sity Press Pub­lish­ing”, Bill Har­num:

    The num­bers are hard to quan­ti­fy, given the wide va­ri­ety of sub­ject ar­eas in­volved, but a fair es­ti­mate would be that the av­er­age sale of a schol­arly mono­graph has shrunk from 600-700 copies in the 1980s to 300-400 copies in 2007. This re­duc­tion in sales units has led some pub­lish­ers to in­crease their num­ber of ti­tles pub­lished an­nu­ally as a means of main­tain­ing their rev­enues. The phrase, “Flat is the new up” seems to be in vogue, mean­ing that no sales in­crease from year to year is the equiv­a­lent of the in­creases we have seen in the past.

    Alex Reid, “On the value of aca­d­e­mic blog­ging”:

    In my ex­pe­ri­ence, the av­er­age au­di­ence for a con­fer­ence pre­sen­ta­tion is <20.

  53. How much eco­nomic growth since the Mid­dle Ages has been due to sci­ence & tech­nol­o­gy, and not solely in­creased pop­u­la­tion & re­source ex­ploita­tion? Most of the growth…↩︎

  54. Charles Mur­ray com­ments, “One of the great­est of Eu­ripi­des’s sur­viv­ing works, , won only sec­ond prize in a con­tem­po­rary com­pe­ti­tion. We know noth­ing about the play that came in first.” (pg 277, Hu­man Ac­com­plish­ment)↩︎

  55. Links as in orig­i­nal.↩︎

  56. He is not the only one di­ag­nos­ing this slow­down; see com­poser “The Score: The End of Mu­sic” for an­other lament.↩︎

  57. “Is the in­ter­net sti­fling new mu­sic?”, 2009-11-09, BBC News↩︎

  58. One-time, of course. It’s hard to imag­ine what an on-go­ing cost for in­-progress works might be. Peo­ple dream­ing up pos­si­ble se­ries and be­ing un­happy that they won’t be writ­ten? But we hardly are con­cerned by .↩︎

  59. From the dis­tance of cen­turies, every­thing writ­ten in the 1600s sounds equally 1600-ish. But there is more in­tra-group vari­a­tion in the books of the ‘50s and ’90s then there is in­ter-group vari­a­tion. A book from the 1950s can eas­ily date it­self, but it’ll be usu­ally through al­lu­sions and ide­olo­gies, and not the ac­tual words. (Large-s­cale stud­ies like Hughes et al 2012 can offer in­sight on how much writ­ers’ lan­guage changes over time and whether it is chang­ing faster or slow­er, but such stud­ies don’t tell us whether the changes ac­tu­ally mat­ter to en­joy­ment or whether the changes are real yet ir­rel­e­vant to our plea­sure - a dis­tinc­tion of ver­sus .)↩︎

  60. Pro­fes­sional sports and Olympic sports rou­tinely break world records as they de­velop ever more effec­tive train­ing & teach­ing meth­ods, and scour the pop­u­lace for peo­ple ca­pa­ble of his­toric per­for­mance; chess has fol­lowed a sim­i­lar tra­jec­tory with be­com­ing a grand­mas­ter at age 13 & peak­ing - for now - just be­low his not-too-dis­tant pre­de­ces­sor (and great­est chess player in his­to­ry), Garry Kas­parov. The Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic is vastly over­rep­re­sented in base­ball, demon­strat­ing that there is tremen­dous la­tent re­serves of world-class base­ball play­ers in even tiny pop­u­la­tions.

    Base­ball sta­tis­ti­cian & writer says in an ex­cerpt from his book Solid Fool’s Gold: De­tours on the Way to Con­ven­tional Wis­dom:

    I be­lieve that there is a Shake­speare in Topeka to­day, that there is a Ben Jon­son, that there is a Mar­lowe and a Ba­con, most like­ly, but that we are un­likely ever to know who these peo­ple are be­cause our so­ci­ety does not en­cour­age ex­cel­lence in lit­er­a­ture. That’s my opin­ion. This ob­ser­va­tion is nowhere near as gloomy as it might seem. Our so­ci­ety is very, very good at de­vel­op­ing cer­tain types of skills and cer­tain types of ge­nius. We are fan­tas­ti­cally good at iden­ti­fy­ing and de­vel­op­ing ath­letic skills - bet­ter than we are, re­al­ly, at al­most any­thing else. We are quite good at de­vel­op­ing and re­ward­ing in­ven­tive­ness. We are pretty good at de­vel­op­ing the skills nec­es­sary to run a small busi­ness - a fast food restau­rant, for ex­am­ple. We’re re­al­ly, re­ally good at teach­ing peo­ple how to drive au­to­mo­biles and how to find a coffee shop.

    We are not so good at de­vel­op­ing great writ­ers, it is true, but why is this? It is sim­ply be­cause we don’t need them. We still have Shake­speare. We still have Thomas Hardy and Charles Dick­ens and Robert Louis Steven­son; their books are still around. We don’t gen­uinely need more lit­er­ary ge­nius­es. One can only read so many books in a life­time. We need new ath­letes all the time be­cause we need new games every day - fudg­ing just a lit­tle on the de­fi­n­i­tion of the word need. We like to have new games every day, and, if we are to have a con­stant and end­less flow of games, we need a con­stant flow of ath­letes. We have got­ten to be very, very good at de­vel­op­ing the same.

    …The av­er­age city the size of Topeka pro­duces a ma­jor league player every 10 or 15 years. If we did the same things for young writ­ers, every city would pro­duce a Shake­speare or a Dick­ens or at least a Gra­ham Greene every 10 or 15 years. In­stead, we tell the young writ­ers that they should work on their craft for 20 or 25 years, get to be re­al­ly, re­ally good - among the best in the world - and then we’ll give them a lit­tle bit of recog­ni­tion.

  61. “Story Spoil­ers Don’t Spoil Sto­ries” (Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence 2011)↩︎

  62. , Simkin & Roy­chowd­hury 2012:

    We an­a­lyze ac­cess sta­tis­tics for a few dozen blog en­tries for a pe­riod of sev­eral years. Ac­cess rate falls as an in­verse power of time passed since pub­li­ca­tion. The power law holds for pe­ri­ods up to thou­sand days. The ex­po­nents are differ­ent for differ­ent blogs and are dis­trib­uted be­tween 1 and 3. De­cay of at­ten­tion to ag­ing web ar­ti­cles has been re­ported be­fore and two ex­pla­na­tions were pro­posed. One ex­pla­na­tion in­tro­duced some de­cay­ing with time nov­elty fac­tor. An­other used some in­tri­cate the­ory of hu­man dy­nam­ics. We ar­gue that the de­cay of at­ten­tion to a web ar­ti­cle is sim­ply caused by the link to it first drop­ping down the list of links on the web­site’s front page, dis­ap­pear­ing from the front page and sub­se­quent move­ment fur­ther into back­ground.

    …The prob­a­bil­ity of fol­low­ing a link de­pends not only on its po­si­tion in the list, but also on how at­trac­tive is its de­scrip­tion. The at­trac­tive­ness fac­tor is con­stant and does not vary from day to day. Nat­u­ral­ly, it in­flu­ences only a pref­ac­tor and not the power law ex­po­nent. At differ­ent times, Re­al­ity Car­ni­val linked to two web­pages from rev­er­en­ One can see from Fig­ure 2(a) that the pref­ac­tors differ 1.5 times, but ex­po­nents are the same within 2%. Sim­i­lar pat­tern holds for three other blogs shown in Fig. 2.

  63. [“Why You Like to Watch the Same Thing Over and Over and Over Again: Re­runs spark con­tem­pla­tion about per­sonal growth”], Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can:

    The re­sponses sug­gested that some­times choos­ing to do some­thing again was about reach­ing for a sure thing-the brain knows the ex­act kind of re­ward that it will re­ceive in the end, whether it is laugh­ter, ex­cite­ment or re­lax­ation. They also learned that peo­ple gained in­sight into them­selves and their own growth by go­ing back for a do-over, sub­con­sciously us­ing the re­run or old book as a mea­sur­ing stick for how their own lives had changed. One wom­an, for ex­am­ple, re­watched the ro­man­tic Kevin Cost­ner movie Mes­sage in a Bot­tle more than on­ce: “It was help­ing her work through hav­ing an en­gage­ment that had­n’t worked out,” Rus­sell says. Every time she watched that movie, it re­minded her of her own failed re­la­tion­ship-and her re­ac­tions helped her see she was get­ting over it. “I was very sur­prised,” Rus­sell says. “I thought that peo­ple re­con­sumed these things for nos­tal­gia, to go back to the past. But they were ac­tu­ally very for­ward-look­ing and prospec­tive.” What about the bore­dom fac­tor, you might ask? There was none to speak of. After all, Rus­sell says, para­phras­ing Greek philoso­pher Her­a­cli­tus: You never cross the same river twice-it’s not the same river, and it’s not the same you.

  64. “Mere Ex­po­sure to Bad Art: Ex­per­i­ment Re­sults”, Mar­garet Moore↩︎

  65. The same post sum­ma­rizes the ex­per­i­ment Moore et al ran:

    We repli­cated Cut­ting’s study ex­pos­ing sub­jects to 12 lit­tle-known late land­scapes of , along­side 48 paint­ings by the Amer­i­can artist , (a­gain, half of each group of paint­ings were ex­posed four times as often). We asked con­trol group­s[1] and the ex­per­i­men­tal group to ex­press the ex­tent to which they liked each paint­ing us­ing a 10 point Lik­ert scale. We found that with bad paint­ings by Kinkade, ex­po­sure de­creased, rather than in­creased, lik­ing in re­la­tion to our con­trol groups.

    …The ex­per­i­ment sub­jects had been ex­posed to all 60 paint­ings in the study at least once. In light of this, we dis­tin­guished be­tween those paint­ings to which that group had been ex­posed once ver­sus those to which they had been ex­posed mul­ti­ple times. That is, we com­piled re­sults for four groups of paint­ings: Mil­lais (s­in­gle ex­po­sure); Mil­lais (mul­ti­ple ex­po­sure); Kinkade (s­in­gle ex­po­sure); and Kinkade (mul­ti­ple ex­po­sure). Com­par­ing the rat­ings given by our ex­per­i­men­tal sub­jects to those given by the mem­bers of our phi­los­o­phy con­trol group, we ob­served al­most uni­formly lower rat­ings for the Kinkade paint­ings. 47 out of 48 Kinkades re­ceived lower mean lik­ing scores from the ex­per­i­men­tal sub­jects than they re­ceived from those in the un­ex­posed con­trol group. This re­sulted in mean scores of 5.9 (con­trol) ver­sus 5.1 (ex­per­i­ment) for the sin­gle ex­po­sure Kinkade paint­ings, and mean scores of 5.74 (con­trol) ver­sus 4.75 (ex­per­i­ment) for the mul­ti­ple ex­po­sure Kinkades.

  66. I qual­ify it be­cause the claim comes from a pro­fes­sor based on in­for­mal test­ing of his stu­dents, and the one pub­lished study I know of, by Sean Olive, did not re­pro­duce the find­ing, plau­si­ble as it seems.↩︎

  67. “Pan­do­ra’s dig­i­tal box: From films to files”,

    …This raises the fas­ci­nat­ing ques­tion of chang­ing per­cep­tual frames of ref­er­ence. My friend knew the film [] very well, and he’d watched it many times on VHS. Did he some­how see the 16 screen­ing as just a big­ger tape re­play? Did none of its su­pe­ri­or­ity reg­is­ter? Maybe not. From 1915 to 1925, demon­strated his Di­a­mond Disc Phono­graph by invit­ing au­di­ences to com­pare live per­for­mances with record­ings. His pub­li­cists came up with the cel­e­brated Tone Tests. A singer on stage would stand by while the disc be­gan to play. Abruptly the disc would be turned down and the singer would con­tinue with­out miss­ing a note. Then the singer would stop and the disc, now turned up, would pick up the thread of melody. Greg Mil­ner writes of the first demon­stra­tion:

    The record con­tin­ued play­ing, with [the con­tralto Christine] Miller on­stage dip­ping in and out of it like a DJ. The au­di­ence cheered every time she stopped mov­ing her lips and let the record sing for her.

    At one point the lights went out, but the mu­sic con­tin­ued. The au­di­ence could not tell when Miller stopped and the play­back start­ed. The Tone Tests toured the world. Ac­cord­ing the pub­lic­ity ma­chine run by the Wiz­ard of Menlo Park, mil­lions of peo­ple wit­nessed them and no one could un­err­ingly dis­tin­guish the per­form­ers from their record­ing. Edis­on’s sound record­ing was acoustic, not elec­tri­cal, and so it sounds hope­lessly un­re­al­is­tic to us to­day. (You can sam­ple some tunes here.) And there’s some ev­i­dence, as Mil­ner points out, that singers learned to im­i­tate the squeezed qual­ity of the record­ings. But if the au­di­ences were fairly reg­u­larly fooled, it sug­gests that our sense of what sounds, or looks, right, is both un­trust­wor­thy and change­able over his­to­ry.

  68. “Hu­man cor­ti­cal ac­tiv­ity evoked by the as­sign­ment of au­then­tic­ity when view­ing works of art”; Jonah Lehrer’s sum­ma­ry:

    Many of these vari­ables are ca­pa­ble of dis­tort­ing our per­cep­tions, so that we imag­ine differ­ences that don’t ac­tu­ally ex­ist; the ver­dict of art his­tory warps what we see. The power of a Rem­brandt, in other words, is in­sep­a­ra­ble from the fact that it’s a Rem­brandt. The man is a po­tent brand. To test these com­pet­ing hy­pothe­ses, a team of re­searchers at Ox­ford Uni­ver­si­ty, in­clud­ing Mengfei Huang, Holly Bridge, Mar­tin Kemp and An­drew Park­er, set up a sim­ple ex­per­i­ment. They re­cruited 14 vol­un­teers who were fa­mil­iar with Rem­brandt but had no for­mal train­ing in art his­to­ry. The sub­jects were then put into an fMRI ma­chine and given the fol­low­ing in­struc­tions:

    In this ex­per­i­ment you will see a se­quence of 50 Rem­brandt paint­ings. Be­fore each im­age ap­pears, an au­dio prompt will an­nounce whether the up­com­ing paint­ing is ‘au­then­tic’ or a ‘copy’ (Please see back­ground for fur­ther in­for­ma­tion on copies). A blank screen will ap­pear for a few sec­onds after each im­age to al­low you to re­lax your gaze.

    …The mis­chie­vous sci­en­tists re­versed the at­tri­bu­tion of the paint­ings, so that half of the sub­jects were told that the real Rem­brandts were ac­tu­ally copies…That said, it’s not ex­actly sur­pris­ing that such sim­i­lar paint­ings would elicit vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal sen­sory re­spons­es. It takes years of train­ing be­fore crit­ics can re­li­ably dis­cern real Rem­brandt from copies. And even then there is often ex­ten­sive dis­agree­ment, as the 1995 Met­ro­pol­i­tan show demon­strates. How­ev­er, the sci­en­tists did lo­cate a pat­tern of ac­tiv­ity that ap­peared when­ever a paint­ing was deemed to be au­then­tic, re­gard­less of whether or not it was ac­tu­ally “re­al.” In such in­stances, sub­jects showed a spike in ac­tiv­ity in the or­bitofrontal cor­tex, a chunk of brain just be­hind the eyes that is often as­so­ci­ated with per­cep­tions of re­ward, plea­sure and mon­e­tary gain. (Ac­cord­ing to the sci­en­tists, this ac­ti­va­tion re­flects “the in­crease in the per­ceived value of the art­work.”) In­ter­est­ing­ly, there was no differ­ence in or­bitofrontal re­sponse when the stamp of au­then­tic­ity was ap­plied to a fake Rem­brandt, as the brain area re­sponded just as ro­bust­ly. The qual­ity of art seemed to be ir­rel­e­vant. The last mean­ing­ful re­sult from the fMRI ex­per­i­ment came when the sub­jects stared at the in­au­then­tic por­traits. It turns out that these fake Rem­brandts gen­er­ated the strongest ac­ti­va­tions, both in the fron­topo­lar cor­tex and pre­cuneus. The sci­en­tists ex­plain this ac­ti­va­tion in terms of work­ing mem­o­ry, as the peo­ple were ac­tively try­ing to “de­tect the flaws in the pre­sented im­age.” Be­cause the por­traits looked like real Rem­brandts - and in many in­stances were - the sub­jects were forced to search for vi­sual blem­ishes to jus­tify the neg­a­tive ver­dict, an­a­lyz­ing the paint­ings for flaws and mis­takes that Rem­brandt would never make. All of this men­tal analy­sis re­quires frontal lobe ac­tiv­i­ty; be­ing a critic is hard work. Here is Park­er, sum­ma­riz­ing the re­sults:

    Our find­ings sup­port the idea that when peo­ple make aes­thetic judge­ments, they are sub­ject to a va­ri­ety of in­flu­ences. Not all of these are im­me­di­ately ar­tic­u­lat­ed. In­deed, some may be in­ac­ces­si­ble to di­rect in­tro­spec­tion but their pres­ence might be re­vealed by brain imag­ing. It sug­gests that differ­ent re­gions of the brain in­ter­act to­gether when a com­plex judg­ment is formed, rather than there be­ing a sin­gle area of the brain that deals with aes­thetic judge­ments.

  69. This sort of para­dox is why ex­po­nen­tial dis­count­ing is al­most uni­ver­sally con­sid­ered a more ra­tio­nal dis­count­ing scheme, and in­deed, places where out­comes re­ally mat­ter and com­pe­ti­tion is bru­tal, like fi­nance, use ex­po­nen­tial dis­count­ing. But it does­n’t come easy; it can take fi­nan­cial penal­ties and re­wards to force peo­ple to adopt more ex­po­nen­tial schemes.↩︎

  70. “A Neural Pre­dic­tor of Cul­tural Pop­u­lar­ity”, ab­stract:

    How can we pre­dict pop­u­lar­i­ty? Al­though su­per­fi­cially a triv­ial ques­tion, the de­sire for pop­u­lar­ity con­sumes a great por­tion of the lives of many youths and adults. Be­ing pop­u­lar is a marker for so­cial sta­tus, and con­se­quent­ly, would seem to con­fer a re­pro­duc­tive ad­van­tage in the evo­lu­tion of the hu­man species, thus ex­plain­ing the im­por­tance of pop­u­lar­ity to hu­mans. Such im­por­tance ex­tends to eco­nomic suc­cess as well be­cause goods and ser­vices that are pop­u­lar com­mand higher prices. Here, we are in­ter­ested in pre­dict­ing cul­tural pop­u­lar­ity - some­thing that is pop­u­lar in the broad­est sense and ap­peals to a large num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als. Neu­roe­co­nomic re­search sug­gests that ac­tiv­ity in re­ward-re­lated re­gions of the brain, no­tably the or­bitofrontal cor­tex and ven­tral stria­tum 1-4, is pre­dic­tive of fu­ture pur­chas­ing de­ci­sions, but it is un­known whether the neural sig­nals of a small group of in­di­vid­u­als are pre­dic­tive of the pur­chas­ing de­ci­sions of the pop­u­la­tion at large. For neu­roimag­ing to be use­ful as a mea­sure of wide­spread pop­u­lar­i­ty, these neural re­sponses would have to gen­er­al­ize to a much larger pop­u­la­tion that is not the di­rect sub­ject of the brain imag­ing it­self. More­over, to be use­ful as a pre­dic­tor, such a test would need to be done prospec­tive­ly. Here, we test the pos­si­bil­ity of us­ing func­tional mag­netic res­o­nance imag­ing (fMRI) to pre­dict the rel­a­tive pop­u­lar­ity of a com­mon good: mu­sic. We used fMRI to mea­sure the brain re­sponses of a fo­cus group of ado­les­cents while lis­ten­ing to songs of rel­a­tively un­known artists 5. As a mea­sure of pop­u­lar­i­ty, the sales of these songs were to­taled for the three years fol­low ing scan­ning, and brain re­sponses were then cor­re­lated with these “fu­ture” earn­ings. Al­though sub­jec­tive lik­a­bil­ity of the songs was not pre­dic­tive of sales, ac­tiv­ity within the ven­tral stria­tum was [s­ta­tis­ti­cal­ly-]sig­nifi­cantly cor­re­lated with the num­ber of units sold. These re­sults sug­gest that the neural re­sponses to goods are not only pre­dic­tive of pur­chase de­ci­sions for those in­di­vid­u­als ac­tu­ally scanned, but such re­sponses gen­er­al­ize to the pop­u­la­tion at large and may be used to pre­dict cul­tural pop­u­lar­i­ty.

  71. De Div­ina­tione, bk. 2, sct. 58↩︎

  72. Given that this is all com­mon knowl­edge, any ad­van­tage to mu­si­cal in­stru­ments in col­lege ad­mis­sions would con­sti­tute a kind of in­effi­ciency (see also ); hence it does not sur­prise me to read ob­ser­va­tions to that effect (even if they are only pseu­do­ny­mous on­line anec­dotes):

    When I was an ad­mis­sions office for a short time, my ad­vice to Asian ap­pli­cants look­ing to be no­ticed was to go to clown school, per­form as a semi­-pro­fes­sional ma­gi­cian, or even ex­cel at sports. Vi­o­lin, cel­lo, pi­ano, es­says about trans­lat­ing for your im­mi­grant par­ents, com­put­ers, math, sci­ence…all that stuff blends to­gether after awhile and makes it hard for an ad­mis­sions office to re­mem­ber you when sit­ting around the ta­ble vot­ing on ap­pli­cants…This is pretty close to how we did things at Prince­ton. You can only ad­mit so many vi­o­lin play­ing sci­ence hope­fuls. –brand­newlow

    Full dis­claimer: I’m a sopho­more at Yale, my ad­viser last year was an ad­mis­sions offi­cer, and a friend of mine works in the ad­mis­sion­s…There is no EXPLICIT com­par­i­son of Asians to Asians. No­body looks at your ap­pli­ca­tion and says “Oh, an­other Asian, let me turn on my Asian scale!” What hap­pens, sub­con­scious­ly, is that the stereo­typ­i­cal Asian pro­file is “high scor­ing, high GPA, pi­ano/vi­o­lin, ten­nis, math­/­science.” So a lot of qual­i­fied Asians get re­jected be­cause their ad­mis­sion offi­cer can’t find enough good ar­gu­ments for them. Re­gard­less of how qual­i­fied you are in­di­vid­u­al­ly, Yale is try­ing to build a di­verse class, so if you do the same thing as 1000 other can­di­dates, it’s very hard to vouch for you. “What do you bring to the cam­pus that this other kid does­n’t?” , and that’s the end of it. –Black­Jack

  73. Men­tal dis­or­ders like post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der and sui­cide, per­haps the ul­ti­mate in­di­ca­tor of un­hap­pi­ness, are in­creas­ingly com­mon in for­mer Amer­i­can sol­diers thanks to the per­pet­ual War on Ter­ror:

    With all that in mind, it is in­ter­est­ing to con­sider the pos­i­tives and neg­a­tives of be­ing a .↩︎

  74. retells one of many jokes ex­press­ing this ob­ser­va­tion:

    “I can’t get a date, Doc,” the new pa­tient griped to his psy­chi­a­trist. “See, I sweep up the cir­cus ele­phants’ drop­pings and can never wash the stench off me.”

    “Per­haps you should get a differ­ent job.”

    “What, and quit show busi­ness?”

  75. “Vir­tu­osos Be­com­ing a Dime a Dozen”, An­thony Tom­masini, New York Times; be­sides in­ad­ver­tently mak­ing the point that we truly do not need more pi­anists, Tom­masini also adds some fod­der to the no­tion that this is not just an East Asian or Asian-Amer­i­can arms race but in­cludes Eu­rope and Rus­sia as well:

    Ms. Wang’s vir­tu­os­ity is stun­ning. But is that so un­usual these days? Not re­al­ly. That a young pi­anist has come along who can seem­ingly play any­thing, and eas­i­ly, is not the big deal it would have been a short time ago. The over­all level of tech­ni­cal pro­fi­ciency in in­stru­men­tal play­ing, es­pe­cially on the pi­ano, has in­creased steadily over time. Many pi­ano teach­ers, crit­ics and com­men­ta­tors have noted the phe­nom­e­non, which is not un­like what hap­pens in sport­s…­Some­thing sim­i­lar has long been oc­cur­ring with pi­anists. And in the last decade or so the growth of tech­ni­cal pro­fi­ciency has seemed ex­po­nen­tial. Yes, Ms. Wang, who will make her New York recital de­but at Carnegie Hall in Oc­to­ber, can play any­thing. But in China alone, in re­cent years, there have been Lang Lang and Yundi Li. Rus­sia has given us Kir­ill Ger­stein, born in 1979, the lat­est re­cip­i­ent of the dis­tin­guished Gilmore Artist Award

    …Be­cause so many pi­anists are so good, many con­cert­go­ers have sim­ply come to ex­pect that any soloist play­ing the Tchaikovsky First Con­certo with the New York Phil­har­monic will be a phe­nom­e­nal tech­ni­cian. A new level of tech­ni­cal ex­cel­lence is ex­pected of emerg­ing pi­anists. I see it not just on the con­cert cir­cuit but also at con­ser­va­to­ries and col­leges. In re­cent years, at recitals and cham­ber mu­sic pro­grams at the Juil­liard School and else­where, par­tic­u­larly with con­tem­po­rary-mu­sic en­sem­bles, I have re­peat­edly been struck by the sheer level of in­stru­men­tal ex­per­tise that seems a giv­en. …The first sev­eral decades of the 20th cen­tury are con­sid­ered a golden era by many pi­ano buffs, a time when artis­tic imag­i­na­tion and mu­si­cal rich­ness were val­ued more than tech­ni­cal per­fec­tion. There were cer­tainly pi­anists dur­ing that pe­riod who had ex­quis­ite, im­pres­sive tech­nique, like Josef Lhevinne and Rach­mani­noff him­self. And white-hot vir­tu­osos like the young Vladimir Horowitz wowed the pub­lic. But au­di­ences and crit­ics tol­er­ated a lot of play­ing that would be con­sid­ered sloppy to­day. Lis­ten to 1920s and ’30s record­ings of the pi­anist Al­fred Cor­tot, im­mensely re­spected in his day. He would prob­a­bly not be ad­mit­ted to Juil­liard now. De­spite the re­fine­ment and élan in his play­ing, his record­ing of Chopin’s 24 études from the early 1930s is, by to­day’s stan­dards, lit­tered with clink­ers.

    …I would place es­sen­tial artists to­day like Richard Goode, Mit­suko Uchida and An­dras Schiff among the group with all the tech­nique they need. Among younger pi­anists, this club would in­clude Jonathan Biss, a sen­si­tive, mu­si­cally scrupu­lous play­er; and one of my new fa­vorites, the young Is­raeli David Greil­sam­mer, who played an in­spir­ing pro­gram at the Wal­ter Reade The­ater last year in which he made con­nec­tions among com­posers from Mon­teverdi to John Adams, with stops at Rameau, Janacek, Ligeti and more. He may not be a su­per­vir­tu­oso. But I find his el­e­gant artistry and pi­anism more grat­i­fy­ing than the hy­per­ex­pres­sive vir­tu­os­ity of Lang Lang, whose as­ton­ish­ing tech­nique I cer­tainly salute. Be­sides, the group of play-any­thing pi­anists, of which Mr. Lang is a lead­er, is get­ting pretty big. Among them you would have to in­clude Gar­rick Ohlsson, who not only plays with re­source­ful mas­tery but seems to play every­thing, in­clud­ing all the works of Chopin. I would in­clude Leif Ove And­snes, an artist I revere, who does not call at­ten­tion to him­self but plays with ex­quis­ite tech­nique and vi­brant mu­si­cal­i­ty. This list goes on. Martha Arg­erich can be a wild woman at the pi­ano, but who cares? She has stu­pe­fy­ing tech­nique and ar­rest­ing mu­si­cal ideas. I would add Krys­t­ian Zimer­man, Mar­c-An­dré Hamelin and prob­a­bly Jean-Yves Thibaudet to this ros­ter. There are oth­ers, both older and younger pi­anist­s….After Mr. Kiss­in’s Liszt Sonata a pi­ano en­thu­si­ast sit­ting near me asked, “Have you ever heard the piece played so mag­nifi­cent­ly?” I said that the per­for­mance was in­deed amaz­ing, but that ac­tu­al­ly, yes, I had heard a com­pa­ra­bly mag­nifi­cent per­for­mance on the same stage a few months ear­lier dur­ing a recital by Stephen Hough. Mr. Hough’s play­ing was just as prodi­gious tech­ni­cal­ly, and I found his con­cep­tion more en­gross­ing. He rec­on­ciled the episodic sec­tions of this teem­ing work into an awe­some en­ti­ty. Mr. Hough is an­other pi­anist who can play any­thing. Join the club.

  76. A ‘dou­jin opera’ (home­page) was per­formed, to ap­par­ently good re­views, al­though I can’t eval­u­ate the recorded scene on­line my­self, not be­ing an opera per­son.↩︎

  77. This is a gen­eral as­ser­tion that is fairly hard to prove, but an ex­am­ple may be sug­ges­tive. The dou­jin­shi-game phe­nom­e­non has a fair amount of mu­sic, but to get a sense of the true scale, we can look at some num­bers. From the talk “Rid­ing on Fans’ En­er­gy: Touhou, Fan Cul­ture, and Grass­root En­ter­tain­ment” ( Bangkok 2 on Au­gust 31, 2008):

    Touhou is ’s work as much as it is a gi­gan­tic reper­toire of fan-made man­ga, games, mu­sic, and video clips. I es­ti­mate that there are roughly at least three thou­sands short man­ga, five hun­dred mu­sic re­arrange­ment al­bums, and one hun­dred de­riv­a­tive games cre­ated since 2003. These works are traded mainly in con­ven­tions ded­i­cated to them, and some com­mer­cial firms are start­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on their pop­u­lar­i­ty. Dou­jin­shi shops like and have shelves ded­i­cate to Touhou comics. And Ama­zon.­ are car­ry­ing CDs of arranged/sam­pled Touhou mu­sic (but not ZUN’s orig­i­nal­s). More and more peo­ple are at­tracted to the fran­chise be­cause its di­verse de­riv­a­tive works pro­vide a va­ri­ety of en­try points for po­ten­tial fans. In fact, Touhou’s pop­u­lar­ity sky­rock­eted when it be­came one of the killer con­tent of , a Japan­ese equiv­a­lent of YouTube launched one year and a half ear­li­er. There, Touhou con­tent spread like wild fire and gave rise to many re­cur­ring memes and tens of thou­sands of mashup videos. To give a sense of how pop­u­lar Touhou is in Nico Nico Douga, 18 of 100 most viewed videos are Touhou-re­lat­ed, and the best Touhou video ranks the 6th. [5]

    For a re­cent es­ti­mate, we can turn to ar­ti­cle on Touhou mu­sic:

    The Touhou Project re­ally gets a lot of great pieces of mu­sic for [the mu­sic] be­ing [o­rig­i­nal­ly] made up by a sin­gle guy with a syn­the­siz­er. To put the sheer num­ber of remix CDs in per­spec­tive, there is a tor­rent with over 870.4 gi­ga­bytes of over 3000 Touhou remix­es, and that only in­cludes the ones that the (Eng­lish-s­peak­ing) main­tain­ers of the tor­rent have added.

    (This is out­dat­ed; the Oc­to­ber 2011 loss­less tor­rent is 1,020 gi­ga­bytes. Per­son­al­ly, I en­joy the or­ches­tral pieces like the WAVE group’s Luna For­est (第七楽章).)↩︎

  78. On the dol­lar fig­ures, see Man­gione (1972, p. 369). Man­gione, Jerre. 1972. The Dream and the Deal: The Fed­eral Writer’s Pro­ject, 1935-1943. Boston: Lit­tle, Brown and Com­pany On the seen and the un­seen, see Bas­tiat (1850). Bas­ti­at, Frédéric. 1850. Es­says on Po­lit­i­cal Econ­omy. Lon­don: A. W. Ben­nett↩︎

  79. See John­son (1997, p. 9); the data re­fer to 1995. John­son, Arthur T. 1997. Sym­phony Or­ches­tras and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ments. Work­ing pa­per, Mary­land In­sti­tute for Pol­icy Analy­sis and Re­search, Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land Bal­ti­more Coun­ty. On foun­da­tions, see Dowie (2001, p. 169). Dowie, Mark. 2001. Amer­i­can Foun­da­tions: An In­ves­tiga­tive His­tory. Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­setts: MIT Press↩︎

  80. See Giv­ing USA (2003, pp. 195-97). On the French com­par­ison, see Ar­cham­bault (1997, p. 208). Ar­cham­bault, Edith. 1997. The Non­profit Sec­tor in France [and “His­tor­i­cal Roots of the Non­profit Sec­tor in France”, Ar­cham­bault 2001]. Man­ches­ter, Eng­land: Man­ches­ter Uni­ver­sity Press.↩︎

  81. See Clot­fel­ter (1985, chap. 2, and p. 274). Clot­fel­ter, Charles T. 1985. Fed­eral Tax Pol­icy and Char­i­ta­ble Giv­ing. Chicago: Uni­ver­sity of Chicago Press.↩︎

  82. Some pro­vi­sions of the tax law have hurt artists. This in­cludes the tax­a­tion of fel­low­ship awards and un­em­ploy­ment com­pen­sa­tion (both in­sti­tuted in 1986), dis­al­lowance of in­come av­er­ag­ing (which had helped artists with volatile in­comes), and the 1986 re­stric­tions on in­-kind de­duc­tions for art­works given to mu­se­ums. But for the most part the Amer­i­can tax sys­tem sub­si­dizes the arts.↩︎

  83. See Frey and Pom­merehne (1989, p. 43) Frey, Bruno S., and Werner W. Pom­merehne. 1989. Muses and Mar­kets: Ex­plo­rations in the Eco­nom­ics of the Arts. Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­setts: Basil Black­well. and on Eng­land, see Clot­fel­ter (1985, pp. 96-97). Schus­ter (1989, p. 33) cat­a­logs some of the tax priv­i­leges that Eu­ro­pean gov­ern­ments have granted to the arts since the Sec­ond World War. Schus­ter, J. Mark David­son. 1989. The Search for In­ter­na­tional Mod­els: Re­sults from Re­cent Com­par­a­tive Re­search in Arts Pol­i­cy. In Who’s to Pay for the Arts? The In­ter­na­tional Search for Mod­els of Arts Sup­port, edited by Mil­ton C. Cum­mings, Jr., and J. Mark David­son Schus­ter. New York: ACA Books, pp. 15-42↩︎

  84. If we use the av­er­age tax rate, the po­tency of cor­po­rate tax in­cen­tives ap­pears to be quite high, less so for the mar­ginal rate. The mar­ginal rate is the tech­ni­cally cor­rect mag­ni­tude, but diffi­cul­ties in mea­sur­ing the true mar­ginal rate sug­gest that the av­er­age rate is some­times the bet­ter proxy. See Clot­fel­ter (1985, chap. 5) on these is­sues.↩︎

  85. Con­logue, Ray. 2000. “From the St. Lawrence Cen­tre to Steel City”. Toronto Globe and Mail, June 21, p. R5.↩︎

  86. That is from the Na­tional Cen­ter for Ed­u­ca­tion Sta­tis­tics; see “Pub­lic Li­braries in the United States: Fis­cal Year 2002 (E.D. TAB)”↩︎

  87. See Gold­stein (2000, pp. 59, 89, 109). Gold­stein, Mal­colm. 2000. Land­scape with Fig­ures: A His­tory of Art Deal­ing in the United States. Ox­ford: Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity Press.↩︎

  88. Hamil­ton (2000, p. 31). Hamil­ton, John Maxwell. 2000. Casanova Was a Book Lover, and Other Naked Truths and Provoca­tive Cu­riosi­ties about the Writ­ing, Sell­ing, and Read­ing of Books. Ba­ton Rouge: Louisiana State Uni­ver­sity Press↩︎

  89. Aren­son, Karen W. 2002. Arts Groups and Artists Find An­gels: Uni­ver­si­ties, The New York Times, Oc­to­ber 30, pp. B1, B8↩︎

  90. Rus­sell, John J., and Thomas S. Spencer. 2000. Art on Cam­pus: The Col­lege Art As­so­ci­a­tion’s Offi­cial Guide to Amer­i­can Col­lege and Uni­ver­sity Art Mu­se­ums and Ex­hi­bi­tion Gal­leries. Monk­ton, Mary­land: Fri­ar’s Lantern↩︎

  91. See Arthur Co­hen (1998, pp. 292, 393), The 14% fig­ure is from Arthur Co­hen (1998, p. 394). Co­hen, Arthur M. 1998. The Shap­ing of Amer­i­can Higher Ed­u­ca­tion. San Fran­cis­co: Jossey-Bass Pub­lish­ers Trow (1993, p. 40) Trow, Mar­tin. 1993. “Fed­er­al­ism in Amer­i­can Higher Ed­u­ca­tion”. In Higher Learn­ing in Amer­i­ca, 1980-2000, edited by Arthur Levine. Bal­ti­more: The Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity Press, pp. 39-65 Page and Sim­mons (2000, pp. 194-95). Page, Ben­jamin I., and James R. Sim­mons. 2000. What Gov­ern­ment Can Do: Deal­ing with Poverty and In­equal­ity. Chicago: Uni­ver­sity of Chicago Press↩︎

  92. Co­hen and Noll (1998, pp. 36-37). Co­hen, Linda R., and Roger G. Noll. 1998. Uni­ver­si­ties, Con­stituen­cies, and the Role of the States. In Chal­lenges to Re­search Uni­ver­si­ties, edited by Roger G. Noll. Wash­ing­ton, D.C.: Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion Press, pp. 31-62 ↩︎

  93. Page and Sim­mons (2000, p. 195).↩︎

  94. Trow (1993, pp. 57-58).↩︎

  95. On Smith­son­ian fund-rais­ing, see Trescott (2000). On the fed­eral ap­pro­pri­a­tion, see Puente (2003) and also the Smith­son­ian Web site.↩︎

  96. On the his­tory of the army col­lec­tion, see Sul­li­van (1991); on works held and also on the navy col­lec­tion, see Evans (1946, app. 2). The most fa­mous war pic­tures of an Amer­i­can artist are those by John Singer Sar­gent (Gassed is the best known), al­though these were com­mis­sioned by the British au­thor­i­ties, not the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment. On Sar­gen­t’s war work, see Lit­tle (1998)↩︎

  97. On the USO, see Fawkes (1978, chap. 9, and p. 122) and the USO Web site.↩︎

  98. Wys­zomirski (1999, p. 177). On Sousa, see Overmyer (1939, p. 155) and Craw­ford (2001, pp. 457-58). On bands, see Trescott (1995).↩︎

  99. United States Ur­ban Arts Fed­er­a­tion Fis­cal Year 2002 (2002, p. 3). See also Cowen (2005, pp. 6-7).↩︎

  100. Midgette (2000).↩︎

  101. Cowen (2002, chap. 4)↩︎

  102. See Bus­tard (1997, pp. 12-14) on the pro­grams in gen­eral and Daniel (1987) on the USDA pro­gram, with the quo­ta­tion from Daniel, p. 41↩︎

  103. See Wagn­leit­ner (1994, p. 72) and Pom­merin (1996, p. 9). On cen­sor­ship in Japan, see Dower (1999, chap. 14)↩︎

  104. The num­bers are taken from Wagn­leit­ner (1994, p. 57) and drawn from U.S. bud­get data↩︎

  105. Sny­der (1995, p. xi)↩︎

  106. For a sum­mary of the Smith-Mundt Act, and other rel­e­vant leg­is­la­tion, see Hen­der­son (1969, pp. 302-7). On the gen­e­sis of the very com­pli­cated net­work of over­lap­ping agen­cies, see Hen­der­son (1969). On the roots in the 1930s, see Thomp­son and Laves (1963, pp. 36-37) and Shus­ter (1968)↩︎

  107. Sny­der (1995, p. xi)↩︎

  108. Wagn­leit­ner (1994, pp. 61, 149). On the 1969 es­ti­mate, see Hen­der­son (1969, p. 75). Iron­i­cally many of the funds for these cul­tural out­reach pro­grams were taken from the Coun­ter­part Funds from the Mar­shall Plan, and thus paid for by Eu­ro­pean tax­pay­ers, not Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers. (Eu­ro­pean gov­ern­ments had to put up money for each dol­lar re­ceived through Mar­shall Plan aid.) In essence, the Eu­ro­peans were bribed to spend money on Amer­i­can cul­tural pro­duc­ers, so that they might be swayed to the Amer­i­can way of life. See Wagn­leit­ner (1994, p. 57). On USIA more gen­er­al­ly, see El­der (1968). In 1985 the USIA bud­get was $796 mil­lion, many times larger than the NEA al­lo­ca­tion. On the post-Rea­gan de­cline in these pro­grams, see Kinzer (2001)↩︎

  109. On the USIA es­ti­mate, see Coombs (1964, pp. 59-60). On au­di­ence size, see Browne (1982, p. 116). See also Wagn­leit­ner (1994, pp. 61, 210-11) and Hix­son (1997, pp. 115-17)↩︎

  110. See Wagn­leit­ner (1994, pp. 61, 210-11) and Hix­son (1997, pp. 115-17). Heil (2003) is a good source on VOA. I am in­debted to Bryan Ca­plan for the phrase artis­tic famine re­lief. Rich­mond (2003) sur­veys cul­tural ex­change pro­grams, with an em­pha­sis on their im­pact on the So­viet Union↩︎

  111. See von Es­chen (2000 and 2004) on jazz and the State De­part­ment, and Saun­ders (1999, pp. 20, 291) and Hix­son (1997, p. 137) on African-Amer­i­can is­sues↩︎

  112. See, for in­stance, Rich­mond (2003, p. 124) on these ex­changes.↩︎

  113. See Fine and White­man (2002) on Sawa’s ori­gins; on crit­i­cisms, see Kessler (2004)↩︎

  114. Mac­Far­quhar (2004)↩︎

  115. On the im­por­tance of fed­eral sup­port for these arts, see Lowry and Hooker (1968) and von Es­chen (2000, pas­sim, p. 167). On Ai­ley, see Dun­ning (1996, pp. 145-255). On Gille­spie, see Mag­gin (2005, chaps. 27, 28) and von Es­chen (2004, p. 35)↩︎

  116. On the pen­e­tra­tion of foun­da­tions, see Saun­ders (1999, pp. 134-35); on books, see p. 245↩︎

  117. Wagn­leit­ner (1994, pp. 137-38). On USIA, see Weten­hall (1992, p. 145).↩︎

  118. On Proust, see the Guardian, “Find­ing the time”.↩︎

  119. See Learn­ing to e-read, The Econ­o­mist (2000).↩︎

  120. On this episode, see Craw­ford (2001, pp. 720-21).↩︎