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In Defence of Dismaland: The Value of Banksy's Dystopian Nightmare
Why Banksy's dystopian vision of the future might be the kind of shock we need to realize the problems humanity faces.
Banksy’s dystopian theme park hasn’t even been open a week, and already the critics have been out in force, pulling no punches, but missing the point in the process. Business Insider described it as “art about nothing.” According to the Evening Standard’s description, “it’s mostly selfie-friendly stuff” — which is only true if your idea of a good selfie is of yourself next to a graphic representation of human suffering. In fact, I barely found a single exhibit in the entire site that I felt realistically suitable to take a lighthearted selfie next to without immediately feeling like a despicable human being. Even The Guardian chimed in: "In reality the crazy fairgrounds and dance tents at rock festivals are far more subversive." The case against Dismaland was even made right here at Big Think where “outrage culture” received a slating.
None of this was in tune with the impression I walked away with, after exiting through the gift shop. A single overwhelming theme rang on in my mind on the ride home, and on into the night as I lay in bed, eyes shut, but wide awake, considering the imagery fused in my mind. Dismaland is a wasteland, a graphic and abrupt visual depiction of what we are already doing to our planet, and what might happen if we don’t collectively change our behaviour. You might think that there are better ways to go about this than shock and awe. I did once; after reviewing the research I’m no longer so sure.
Changing attitudes is a wicked problem that is not synonymous with correcting ignorance. Providing parents with information debunking vaccine myths can make them less likely to vaccinate their children. And 97 percent of scientists agree on the truth of global warming and this is “old news,” yet the size of the general population that refuses to believe in global warming is massive and pervades the political right.
A comfortable life and an insular social group with strong shared beliefs is a tough match for cold, hard evidence. Facts just aren't as seductive as a gas-guzzling 4x4, year-round air conditioning, and not having to worry about constraining your consumption and recycling your detritus.
The Guardian critique misses the point spectacularly, complaining about “a painting of a mother and child about to be overwhelmed by a tsunami.” According to The Guardian’s dismal analysis, "we are — apparently — meant to think it’s funny that the wave is about to kill these beachgoers." Their quote, not mine. No, of course you're not supposed to find it funny. You're supposed to finally recognise that if we don't respect this planet that we all share, our world will rapidly become unlivable for our children.
Despite warning after warning from scientists, we continue to ignore the threat of climate change and the damage we are otherwise doing to our planet. The UK, where the Dismaland exhibit is located, has been particularly regressive over the past year. Since the recent election, the British government has scrapped over half a dozen green policies. It is clear that evidence alone isn’t working to convince people; perhaps immersive evidence-inspired art will encourage minds to change, where evidence alone has failed.
Dismaland does not neglect facts; look hard enough, such as on a bus where the ominous destination is simply "Cruel" and you will find damning real-life quotes, graphs, diagrams, timelines, statistics, and artefacts, which you can consider as you wander on past the more metaphorical exhibits. You can even visit a library where you flick through the books that no doubt provided Banksy's inspiration.
The major criticism of the attraction has been that it breeds apathy and disengagement. On the contrary, I haven’t walked away from Dismaland feeling helpless and despondent. I’ve been left with a visceral rejection of apathy, the realisation that Dismaland isn’t a world I want to live in and that I need to do what I can to avoid this vision of the future. Look a little closer at the image below. In a stroke of what can only be described as artistic genius, Banksy has made every single employee of Dismaland a part of the art — no, the art itself. You don't want to be like one of these poor apathetic souls.
Even if the exhibition convinces just a few people to respect their planet and take a critical eye to the world around them, it will be worth its weight in gold. But perhaps Dismaland has the power to do more than that. Perhaps it will inspire people to alter their goals in life to actually change the world around them.
In a world where our top science graduates are regularly creamed off from our top universities to play the roulette wheel of high finance, the battle for hearts and minds to take ethical career paths lies with the next generation, who are certainly not left out at Dismaland. Kids can play crazy golf on a course of discarded oil drums and negotiate with pocket money loan sharks.
As for Business Insider's argument that the show is simply "bad," where else can you experience the illusion of zero gravity in a revolving caravan, before wandering beneath a giant oil tanker contorted high into the sky?
Often in life, it is experiences rather than words on a page or images on a screen that make us change our minds. I for one, hope this experience has an impact. Sometimes we humans need to reach rock bottom before we change our ways. Dismaland is rock bottom.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.