The Curious Incident Of The New York City Ballet Dancing In The David H. Koch Theater

Feb 24 2014, 4:13pm CST | by

The Curious Incident Of The New York City Ballet Dancing In The David H. Koch Theater
Photo Credit: Forbes Business

Part of understanding doing good by doing the right thing is understanding absent acts of conscience, those times when people should step up but they do not. The near silence surrounding the New York City Ballet dancing in the David H. Koch Theater is one such situation.

Such absent acts of conscience are easy to ignore. Silence is hard to hear. But it is surprisingly meaningful, like the silent dog in the Sherlock Holmes story “Silver Blaze.” The following is the exchange between Holmes and Inspector Gregory from Scotland Yard:

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.


Here’s why silence by patrons of the New York City Ballet is a similarly curious incident.

In 2008, to honor his $100 million donation, the New York State Theater, long home to the New York City Ballet, was renamed the David H. Koch Theater. Since getting started in 1948, the New York City Ballet has been the artistic home to choreographers George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Peter Martins, and to legions of talented dancers. It is now the “largest dance organization in America.”

And in case you are still not sure: yes, that David H. Koch. Along with his brother Charles, he is a primary funder of climate change denial disinformation. The brothers have been major stealth funders for anti-climate and anti-renewables organizations like Americans for Prosperity, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the backdoor group Donors Trust which work to deny climate change, attack climate scientists and block effective clean energy policies.

In contrast to Koch’s leadership on climate-change denial, New York City is a progressive, pro-science and well-educated town. Our new mayor, Bill de Blasio, won in a landslide on a progressive platform. He’s on record in favor of the sustainability the Koch brothers work to deride. And our former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, frequently taken to task by progressives for, well, not being progressive, was just named by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as his special envoy for cities and climate change. According to Reuters, “Bloomberg said cities had emerged as a leading force in the battle against climate change.”

Because of this sharp conflict between Koch’s record and the values of most New Yorkers, including ballet-lovers, protests about the renaming should be as popular as Citi Bikes and cronuts. But that has not happened. Instead, David H. Koch has his name on the theater and there has been barely a moral peep from well-educated, progressive New Yorkers. It is a curious incident of silence, like silent watchdogs signaling the familiarity of the thief.

Some may say this is just partisan politics, no big deal, nothing curious about it at all. Well, no. The Koch brothers have crossed the moral line from aggressive politics into fomenting climate-change denial. They are not just trying to help formulate conservative and partisan solutions to what many consider the central struggle of the 21st-century. What they are doing is propagating distortions, myths, and lies that have made any action in the direction of a sustainable future so far impossible. Their aim is to do public harm for private gain.

Of course $100 million buys a lot of good will. But not this much. There should be some sort of response to Koch’s perfidy, something not nothing. The dog should have barked.

To better understand I reached out to several friends and colleagues who are regular ballet-goers (which I am not) to ask about their experience. What I learned was how emotionally difficult action would be when the moral conflict pits the existential challenge of climate-change against the immediate, tangible reality of a cherished subscription to the NYC Ballet.

One response was an anxiety-modulating absence of even noticing the problem. Someone said, “Oh, I didn’t think think this Koch was that Koch.” Others felt the conflict. They were troubled, trapped even by wanting to do something effective, but not wanting to harm the Ballet. They were paralyzed into uncomfortable inactivity.

One side of the inaction-causing conflict requires keeping in mind the unimaginable catastrophe that our way of life is dangerous and not sustainable. The other side has the tangible emotional immediacy of appreciating an artistic performance. One side is full of anxiety and guilt and can not be imagined; the other side has deep pleasures that can not be forgotten. Resolving the conflict of this curious incident in the direction of silence is, therefore, no surprise. It makes psychological sense.

Inaction in the face of climate change is not just limited to ballet. When it comes to climate change many rational, scientifually literate people are silent about the need for immediate action. This general silence is partly why it is such big news when a billionaire financier Tom Steyer funds a political group, NextGen Climate Action, to “pressure federal and state officials to enact climate change measures through a hard-edge campaign of attack ads against governors and lawmakers.” Apparently, our curious incident is quite common. In response, a growing group of climate-change psychologists have been studying, among other things, the “psychological barriers that limit individual and collective action on climate change.”

One psychologist, Renee Lertzman, has  convincingly argued that when it comes to climate-change inaction is not apathy. Like I found among my friends and colleagues, it’s anxiety. Lertzman was recently quoted saying “People are becoming increasingly anxious, and therefore either activated, or paralyzed and despairing—and there’s a whole spectrum in between.”

One consequence of understanding the central role anxiety and conflict plays in climate change inaction is being able to see that tremendous leadership opportunities are present. Steyer and NextGen Climate Action is on to something that even social entrepreneurs lacking billions may want to emulate; there is tremendous potential energy locked in anxious inactivity about climate change. As I described in the previous post, effective acts of conscience are often led by those with an inclusive, positive, and participatory vision. Let’s hope someone with those qualities steps up to address the curious incident of the silence surrounding the New York City Ballet dancing in the David H. Koch Theater.

Source: Forbes Business

 
 

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