Sunday, May 6, 2012

Street Performers and Making Progress

I lived in San Francisco for about 18 months, back when Disco was in flower. San Francisco isn't quite like Minnesota's major metropolitan area, Minneapolis-Saint Paul: and it's not just the climate.

Street performers were a facet of San Francisco life that took getting used to. Where I grew up, street vendors/sidewalk salesmen/hawkers weren't around. Neither were folks providing open-air entertainment.

Some of San Francisco's street performers might have made more money with a sign saying "WILL QUIT FOR MONEY." Others were very talented: and I'm told some made a modest living off what landed in their hat.

Sidewalk Entertainment: In Minnesota?!

I don't think we'll see street performers here in central Minnesota: not soon, anyway. It's simply not part of the regional culture.

I wouldn't mind at all if the upper Midwest changed its attitude toward street vendors and street performers. Aside from pepping up the downtown experience, I see hawkers and sidewalk shows as an opportunity for 'the other folks.'

Having parents who are studio executives, entertainment celebrities, or owners of a national network, doesn't guarantee a successful career in the entertainment industry. But I suspect that it's a little easier for folks in that position to get a foot in the door.

Sawing away at a violin on a street corner is no guarantee of a successful performing career, either: but all a person needs to get that sort of exposure is appropriate clothing, a violin, and something to hold coins. Or, if you're really good, bills.

Some Scrawny Kid from Hoboken

Maybe that's a bad example. Violins are expensive, and quite a few folks can't afford one. Let's say that someone likes to sing, and is good at it.

Some kid from Hoboken, New Jersey, started singing for tips at age eight: in a local bar. Later, he was kicked out of high school, got in trouble with the law, and became Frank Sinatra.

I don't think breaking the law is necessarily a good career move for anybody. Not in a 'big picture' sense, anyway. A society that lets some scrawny kid from Hoboken get a singing career started by trading songs for tips? I don't see that as a problem. I like the idea of letting folks have opportunities to exercise their talents.

San Francisco isn't Minneapolis

Street vendors and performers aren't the only way that San Francisco and Minneapolis-Saint Paul are different. For one thing, Minnesota's Twin Cities / "the Metro" is a collection of almost 200 towns and cities, packed around a few good landings, crossings, and a waterfall on some rivers. San Francisco is a city built around a harbor, surrounded on three sides by water.

Then there's culture. San Francisco is on America's west coast, and has been described as eccentric. Minnesota is at the north end of America's Midwest, and has lots of Scandinavians.

At one time Minnesota had a reputation for providing employment opportunities to oppressed women. Or selling girls into slavery. So much depends on how a person views places like New York City's Minnesota Strip. Folks in outstate Minnesota tended to give the Twin Cities most of the credit. In my experience, anyway.

These days, prostitution and solicitation are somewhat illegal in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. On the other hand, it's fairly easy to find 'sex shops' in the Metro, particularly near convention and sports venues. Not that they're involved in prostitution. Like I said, that's illegal.

But, as 'advanced' and 'enlightened' as some folks in this state are, I think Minnesota's largest city is nowhere near as, ah, relaxed as San Francisco. Not in terms of what the folks in charge seem to believe, and think they can get away with, about human sexuality.

No Rant, No Way

If you're expecting a rant about the abyssal vileness of wicked San Francisco, and how a wrathful God should smite the sinners and cast their city into the depths: You'll have a long wait.

Not - gonna - happen.

I do not need that sort of trouble. Matthew 7:1-5; Luke 6:37, 41-42; Romans 12:19; 1 John 3:15; and all that.

These days, by the way, human trafficking in Minnesota is more of the incoming variety, and I've posted about this before:
As that post's title implies, I think prostitution and slavery are bad ideas: and I'll get back to that.

Street Vendors and Regional Culture

Goat meat seller in the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan. Продавец мяса коз на улицах Кабула, Афганистан. Keçinin kelle paçasını satan seyyar satıcı Kabil, Afganistan. Photo by Paulrudd (February 12, 2010), via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.Over the decades, I've run into folks whose faith seems to consist mostly of fussing about music they don't like, movies they won't watch, and people who aren't pretty much just like themselves. I've discussed malignant virtue and why I converted to Catholicism before.

A Brief Distraction

Taking my cue from the 'everything that's not done in my neighborhood is Satanic' school of thought, I could assume that street vendors and performers are evil. After all, we don't do that here in Minnesota: and that 'wicked' city, San Francisco, is just simply swarming with street vendors. Or was, back in the '70s, when I lived there.

Some of my better memories of San Francisco involve street performers. Not the young woman with a violin whose vocal performance suggested that she might be tone deaf. There was a man who played classical guitar: and did a beautiful job. What most of them had in common was talent, a willingness to perform, and a small container on the sidewalk for contributions.

Barrel organ player in Vienna, Austria. Photo by Andrzej Barabasz (Chepry) (2002), via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.The chap with the barrel organ and white gloves in that photo isn't from San Francisco, by the way. He looks quite a bit like many of the folks living in my part of Minnesota: but he was in Vienna, Austria.

Another Brief Distraction

Apparently street vendors are called hawkers in dialects of English other than the North American version I speak. Whether they're called street vendors or hawkers, many parts of the world have folks with goods to sell who do business with pedestrians.

The way my brain works, the terms street vendor and hawker reminded me of software that translates from one language to another. For example, although I don't understand more than a few words of traditional Chinese, I can use Google Translate to change "The hawker had fresh fish." to "小販有新鮮的魚。"

Since I'm not at all fluent in Chinese, traditional or otherwise, I used the same online software to change "小販有新鮮的魚。" back to "The hawker There are fresh fish." Which is another reason why I won't be using automated translation software any time soon, and I posted about that yesterday.

Where was I? San Francisco, street performers, and silly ideas. Right.

Money Isn't the Root of All Evil

I hope most folks realize that "money is the root of all evil" isn't in the Bible:
"For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains."
(1 Timothy 6:10)

"Let your life be free from love of money but be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never forsake you or abandon you.'"
(Hebrews 13:5)
I've posted about wealth, poverty, and what the Church says, before; including these posts:As nearly as I can tell, it's okay to be poor, it's okay to be rich: what matters is what I do with what I've got.

Business Ethics

I've yet to find a serious objection to doing business in the Bible: or Catholic teaching. Based on what I've found so far, I doubt that there's a blanket prohibition against street vendors/hawkers, or street performers. There are quite a few rules about business ethics, though.

For example, there's "do not steal." (Exodus 20:15, Deuteronomy 5:19, Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20) The Catechism has a somewhat detailed discussion of what "do not steal" means. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2401-2449)

Basically, "do not steal" means that stealing is wrong, and we shouldn't do it. Even it it's the sort of "legal" theft where someone takes property in a way that's legal: but unethical. (Catechism, 2408)

Like I've said before, after two millennia of folks trying to weasel out of a few simple rules, the Church has gotten pretty good at explaining how "do not steal" means "do not steal;" and why stealing is a bad idea. My opinion. (March 12, 2012)

Prostitution and Slavery: Ancient Traditions, but Wrong

Some folks seem to see the Catholic Church as an institution dedicated to preserving the status quo, and forcing people to live with dusty traditions. That's not the way it works.

The Catholic Church keeps insisting that some ancient principles are important: like "do not steal." Not because they're ancient: but because they're right.

The Church has been saying that other ancient traditions are wrong. Not because they're dusty old ideas: but because they're wrong. Like prostitution and slavery:
"Prostitution does injury to the dignity of the person who engages in it, reducing the person to an instrument of sexual pleasure...."
(Catechism, 2355)

"The seventh commandment forbids acts or enterprises that for any reason - selfish or ideological, commercial, or totalitarian - lead to the enslavement of human beings, to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity. It is a sin against the dignity of persons and their fundamental rights to reduce them by violence to their productive value or to a source of profit. St. Paul directed a Christian master to treat his Christian slave "no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, . . . both in the flesh and in the Lord."194"
(Catechism, 2414)
I don't think it's too much of an oversimplification to say that prostitution and slavery are wrong partly because both involve folks treating other folks as something less than a 'real' person. The Church has insisted that we should treat human beings as if they're people. All human beings.

That doesn't mean that the Church doesn't want women to have jobs:
"The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it:
"Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God's design.40"
(Catechism, 1935)
My wife or my daughters working outside the home is okay. Being prostitutes isn't.

Slow Progress is Still Progress

I don't think there are all that many folks in America who still think that owning other people is okay. Yes, human trafficking shows up in the news now and then. Occasionally someone with more money than sense gets in trouble because they've been keeping another person around the house as a sort of slave:What makes me hopeful about efforts to improve this world is that most folks in America seem to think that keeping slaves is wrong. That's progress.

Twelve Legions of Angels?

So, if the Church says that slavery is wrong, why didn't Jesus start a Spartacus-style revolution and keep going until blood of Romans and everybody who was 'too wealthy' ran in the street? Questions of morality aside, I think there are practical reasons.

I enjoy watching the occasional action-adventure movie where the good guys blow things up and justice triumphs. But life isn't the movies. (May 3, 2011)

The real Spartacus was remarkably successful at disrupting part of the Roman Empire. But after the smoke cleared, his revolt had killed quite a few people, and destroyed quite a lot of property. But Spartacus and thousands of his followers dead: and the status quo was pretty much intact.

Slavery didn't start getting unpopular (among non-slaves) until almost two millennia later - and is still practiced, sadly.

My Lord said that he could call in twelve legions of angels. (Matthew 26:53) But that he had good reason for not doing so. (Matthew 26:54) I'm inclined to believe Jesus. His Father had ordered an air strike that obliterated at least two cities and the region they had been in. (Genesis 19:28)

The 'Hammer of God' and Rebound

If the Catholic Church operated like some of the 'hammer of God' folks who make the news now and then, and was as incredibly powerful as some claim, slavery could have been wiped out. Quite often.

Killing everybody who owned slaves, or supported slavery, would end slavery. For a while. But that would be a messy process: and my guess is that slavery would reappear within a generation or two. There's that bit from Job:
"For mischief comes not out of the earth, nor does trouble spring out of the ground;

"2But man himself begets mischief, as sparks fly upward."
(Job 5:6-7)
I've used that quote before, and posted about original sin. (October 15, 2010, October 12, 2010)

Passing Along Simple Truth

What the Catholic Church has been doing for two millennia is passing along what we got from my Lord:We're still doing what we've been doing for the last two thousand years - teaching folks to love God and love neighbors.

When more people learn to love, and that we should treat others as we want to be treated, I think we'll see less slavery, less prostitution: and fewer dishonest salespeople.

It took something like 19 centuries for the idea that slavery is a bad idea to catch on. Maybe by the 39th century, another obdurate social malady will be on the wane.

It's slow going: but we are making progress.

Related posts:


Brigid said...

Extra word "I suspect that it's a little easier to for folks in that position"

Missing punctuation and/or word(s)? "destroyed quite a lot of property, and ended with the status quo pretty much intact Spartacus and thousands of his followers dead."

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


Fixed: and sorted out into two sentences. Thanks!

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.