Self Respect

As a trailing spouse, if I want to engage someone intellectually who is local, I have pretty limited choices. There are a few local musicians who do interesting stuff and are fun to talk to. Some of them are a little too far away to be convenient to interact with a lot but it’s great when we run into each other. Some of them have this problem with their head where they think it’s OK to wake up before the sun and that the most reasonable time to meet at a coffee shop and talk shop is when we all really ought to be in bed. Some of them I fruitfully interact with on a regular basis, but it’s not like we’re attached at the hip. So I hang out a lot with philosophers.

This summer, some philosophy graduate students and I are reading RawlsA Theory of Justice. I find parts of it to be deeply problematic, but section 29 really resonated with me as an artist. Obviously I’m not going to quote the whole thing so let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Self-respect is an important part of Justice. People need to feel a sense of their own worth if they are going to pursue the things they value. (He calls that “their conception of the good.”) People who are respected are more likely to respect others. In short, without publicly recognizing people’s right to self respect and designing our society accordingly, we can’t actually have a just society.

My first thought on reading this section was, “wow, how many times have I sat around with musicians discussing exactly this issue?” It seems to be exactly the problem I have with writing music from my trailing spouse position. It’s one thing to say “Who cares if you listen” from the security of the Ivory Tower where you have already been given respect and your pursuit of music has already been honored by society in the form of employment, status, and so on. Even if large audiences don’t matter, listening is just one form of respect that a musician can have that contributes to the self-respect that will let them pursue their work.

In order to pursue my conception of the good (write music, in this case), I need self-respect. This derives from public valuing of my worth. In our society, a value of a person’s worth is usually expressed financially. And so we as a society have placed a great deal of worth/respect on people who’s conception of the good involves shuffling money around without creating. And we’ve placed a significantly smaller amount of respect on people who do labor and create. Sans income, we have to find some other way of deriving a sense of worth.

I think that’s what I’m after in the blog. I can’t get payed a significant amount of money for my work. Local audiences are small; gigs are few and far between. So I see intellectual exchange as an alternative source of worth. For those of us who have fallen out of the security of academe and who will likely never derive a decent living from music alone, a long distance intellectual exchange might be enough. We can write up our ideas and fling samples of our work through email. We can create our own parallel measure of worth.

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