How important is art / entertainment / just good old self-indulgent fun?

When I was younger it was obvious, that it wasn't worth much at all. How could you justify wasting resources on trivia when people were starving. I'd trade the work of any artist or entertainer to save a life.

I still believe that, if the emphasis is on "any". Any particular artist or work could be happily sacrificed if it would feed more hungry people.

But oddly, I've realized that for me, this doesn't scale up all the way to it's extreme conclusion.

What if we traded all entertainment, art, and fun for utility. Could I applaud or envisage a form of human life devoid of any pleasure at all? Or would that have thrown something essential about humanity out with the bathwater?

And because I can't accept the logical conclusion of this trend, I realize I have a problem where to draw the boundary. How much fun must we have vs. the utility points of staying alive? Should we draw the boundary by translating all goodness into Quality of Life units?

Alternatively, can we draw the boundaries categorically, for example, by ruling certain activities eg. fine art like painting and classical music genuinely worthy to be traded against life or death, in a way which Hollywwod and pop music can't. (See also FolkVsPop)

This BBC on the return of golf to Afghanistan : raises raises all these questions. Is it a big triumph to get "entertainment" back into an ex-war zone?

  • no : it's trivial, tokenistic and valorizes the things which are important to foreigners but not to the locals. It's just a feel-good stunt that makes the occupying Westerners feel things are going OK
  • yes : entertainment inspires people to action. Look how much people spend on entertaining themselves. Look at the opportunity costs they forgo to have fun. This energy then partly goes back into rebuilding civil society in war damaged places. Private enterprise springs up to support it, and in turn creates employment and incentives to peaceful collaboration.

I find both the above arguments plausible. I just can't figure out which trumps the other in this situation.

CategoryEconomics, CategoryPhilosophy, CategoryEthics