Kirk Wylie, one of the trustees of the rare species conservation centre that I linked to last week, says I’m right – about zoos, and about cultural institutions more generally. Who dares contradict me now?
Says Mr. Wylie:
I think that the initial presence of a lot of cultural artifacts is actually consumer driven, but it’s consumer driven for the wrong reason. What happens is that the local area decides that they want artists, or an opera, or orchestra, or ballet, or zoo, largely because they think the presence of that cultural artifact will expose something deep and meaningful about their characters as consumers of culture. But what makes that a Cultural Artifact of merit (rather than just a bunch of animals in cages, or people slapping stuff onto strings, or someone throwing paint on a piece of wood) is the sheer passion that it exposes in the producers, a passion that you have to respect and acknowledge for what it is, even if you don’t fully understand it.
Each type of cultural good like that has different merits of its own. Zoos teach children about the interconnectedness of life, and to cherish animals that they wouldn’t otherwise encounter and help to preserve their habitats. Paintings are pretty and might go with your sofa. Music sounds nice. But taken to their logical limits, they really are vehicles of passion that people recognize for what they are, which is ways for people to share their passion with the world.
It’s a perennial problem with our zoo, because it’s small but exquisite. Many people just want a cheap way to have their kids see some monkeys. We want them to fully commune with species they might never have heard of. I wish hilarity ensued.
Keep up the good work, Kirk. After all, if all folks want to do is have their kids see some monkeys, they could just send them to one of the trading floors in The City. Really