(HOST) When commentator Jay Craven saw how the recent weather disasters threatened our sense of national security, he decided to take another look at the Nine Eleven Commission’s report on the circumstances surrounding the terrorist events, where he found an interesting parallel.
(CRAVEN) I was struck in particular by the Commission’s central finding that – quote – “across the government, there were failures of imagination.” Then actor Danny Glover spoke at a recent Katrina benefit concert staged by New Orleans trumpet virtuoso, Wynton Marsalis. And I heard in Glover’s comments an eerie echo of the commission’s conclusion.
“Hurricane Katrina,” Glover said,”revealed, more than anything else, a poverty of the imagination.”
Imagination includes the ability to see things that extend beyond what we know. To approach ideas and unusual situations resourcefully. No less than Albert Einstein famously commented that – quote – “imagination is more important than knowledge.” Philosopher Mark Johnson writes, in his book, In the Body of the Mind, that imagination enables us to invent, discover, – and create and to find meaning in our experience. It is essential, he says, “toward the structure of rationality,” itself.
Danny Glover quoted jazz great John Coltrane as saying that a musician creates pictures of the many things – quote – “he knows and senses in the universe.” Jazz is “vital, transformative, seduc- tive, subversive, and often improvised,” said Glover. Quote – “Out
of suffering and hardship,” he said, “jazz artists rediscovered possibility. Such is the power of imagination.”
So, it’s surprising to me that, given the central importance of imagination in public and private life, the promise of the arts remains so much on the fringes of American schools and communities.
Rarely are even our Presidents broadly steeped in the arts and culture. President Kennedy was – and once said that – quote –
“art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.”
History shows how imagination helped Kennedy avoid nuclear catastrophe during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Faced with the certainty of nuclear weapons in Cuba – Kennedy ignored Russian threats and rejected his best advisors’ first impulses for pre-emp- tive military strikes. He chose to remain flexible and think beyond conventional solutions. His naval blockade – and engagement on ancillary issues – gave the Russians a way out. And they took it.
Given today’s intensifying challenges of education, war, poverty, and climate change, don’t we need our leaders’ imaginations to open new paths and solutions?
Danny Glover went on to argue that Hurricane Katrina, – quote – “revealed the poverty of a mindset that narrowly views security as a military issue. He mourned a mode of thinking that is “blind to the role of culture in sustaining mental health, social wellness, and economic productivity. Blind to the role of culture in education, through which we prepare for our responsibilities in a democracy. And hostile to the role of culture in the search for truth.”
Some policy makers now acknowledge the importance of imagi- nation in the formulation of policy – to look beyond what we see – to what is possible. Only through an invigorated national commitment to the arts can we help this to happen.
This is Jay Craven from Peacham.
Filmmaker Jay Craven teaches at Marlboro College and directs Kingdom County Productions. He spoke from our studio at the Fairbanks Museum in Saint Johnsbury.