We Don’t Really Want Your Participation

At the Sin­gu­lar­ity Sum­mit yes­ter­day, sev­eral speak­ers alleged that we should “reach out” to artists and po­ets to en­courage their par­ti­ci­pa­tion in the Sin­gu­lar­ity di­alogue. So at the end of one such ses­sion, a woman went up to the au­di­ence micro­phone and said:

“I am an artist. I want to par­ti­ci­pate. What should I do?”

And there was a brief, frozen silence.

I wanted to leap up and say:

No, no, I’m afraid you’ve mi­s­un­der­stood. We’re just call­ing for greater par­ti­ci­pa­tion by artists. We can get plenty of credit for be­ing en­light­ened just by is­su­ing the call. If we re­ally cared what artists thought, we would find some artists and ask them ques­tions, not call for artists to par­ti­ci­pate. We don’t ac­tu­ally want to hear from artists. We think your opinions are stupid.

And if she’d asked me af­ter­ward, my real an­swer would have been:

You are not an artist, you are a hu­man be­ing; art is only one facet in which you ex­press your hu­man­ity. Your re­ac­tions to the Sin­gu­lar­ity should arise from your en­tire self. It’s perfectly all right to have a bor­ingly nor­mal and nonunique re­ac­tion like “I’m afraid,” or “I don’t think we should do this,” or “I want to help, where do I send the check?” The right an­swer is not always un­usual. Your nat­u­ral re­ac­tion does not need to be unique, and that’s why you don’t need to try to come up with an “artist’s view­point” on the Sin­gu­lar­ity. I would call on you to par­ti­ci­pate as a hu­man be­ing, not an artist. If your artistry has some­thing to say, it will ex­press it­self nat­u­rally in your re­sponses, with­out you need­ing to make a con­scious effort to say some­thing artist-like.

But I didn’t say any of this, of course. It would have been in­deco­rous.

And while we’re on the sub­ject, I would feel rather pa­tron­ized—like a dog com­manded to perform a trick—if some­one pre­sented me with a paint­ing and said, “Say some­thing math­e­mat­i­cal!”