Let’s think a little about thinking

During WWII, Winston Churchill was asked to cut funding for the arts. He replied, “then what are we fighting for?”

Our president has proposed his first budget that features many things worthy of attack. In fact, his first proposed budget almost seems like a wartime suggestion in that it invests only in military and homeland security related items while cutting or eliminating everything else.

If we didn’t know better, the interpretation of this budget could be that Trump has no constituency at all. He could not have successfully campaigned on this proposal in a rational America. But there I go again, thinking that Americans think.

Mari Evans, the renowned poet, writer and teacher passed away on March 10 in Indianapolis. Her career and her presence was a true gift, particularly in Indiana. Not only was she awarded the Indianapolis Public Library Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015, but she also received a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1981-82.

Trump proposes to entirely eliminate funding for the NEA in his first budget. Evans once wrote “to identify the enemy is to free the mind.” Regardless of who you voted for last fall, this budget is the enemy.

This nation was founded by dreamers. Our forefathers’ ambitious pursuit of what we now so casually refer to as the “American Dream” is the reason we are here. And no matter how that dream evolves through time, our cultural tendency to dream big continues to define us. We have an inherent expectation that big dreams, combined with critical thinking, is the key to cultural advancement.

The thinking part is a big deal. It is the biggest deal. It’s power is infinite.

Dr. Linda Sapadin wrote in Psychology Today:

“In real life, we have to deal with challenges that don’t have one right answer, problems that have no clear solutions, ambiguities that muddle our brain, behavior (our own and others) that perplexes us.”

This is why it is so vital for us to continue to invest in how we think, and not just what we think. Trump’s budget also cuts programs in classic education funding which sends a message that he doesn’t value even what we think. But I am more troubled by his complete elimination of funding for the arts, because it communicates that he places zero value on how we think.

That’s what the arts do for us. They teach us how to think.

Party affiliation and one’s fiscal outlook toward government spending is irrelevant in this regard. The politics of art is an awkward concept indeed. There is no civilization that has had any notable success that does not have a vibrant artistic element to it. Vibrant is obviously a subjective term, but “zero” and “vibrant” are rarely confused.

In the last century, two notable cultures took a stab at containing art. Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union both attempted to regulate and manipulate artistic expression. These kinds of attempts are nearly identical to elimination.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of our nation’s most famous scientists spoke about the issue in late 2015. Specifically, he discussed the partnership which exists between the sciences and the arts. The discussion included how successful scientists are far more likely to have an artistic interest than not, a fact that Tyson believes is no coincidence. He went on to say “we measure the success of a civilization by how well they treat their creative people.”

And the reasons for that are obvious.

Now I know as well as any of my limited government friends that money doesn’t grow on trees. Fiscal challenges make choices difficult. However, the sentiment coming from this budget proposal is extreme in it’s pessimism. It’s message is that if it is possible to argue that a program is not producing results, then it is expendable.

Measuring success in our arts investment is a daunting task as much for supporters as it is for detractors. The most noticeable difference between those two groups is again the amount of thought each will give to the question: what is our investment in the arts truly worth?

As I grow older, I find myself being drawn to others who all display a similar trait. That trait is thoughtfulness. Those who think in new and innovative ways, and those who are thorough in their thinking are the people who are almost entirely responsible for progress.

And they all have a connection to art. Every last one of them does. It isn’t fortuitous. It is predictable. While it may be difficult if not impossible to measure, we know our best ideas are inspired by the training that comes from art.

Now we have to rely on the U.S. Congress to really think about it.