(by Eileen Dombrowski. from OSC TOK blog Sept 28, 2014) “There might be a case,” the TOK subject guide allows, “for supposing that the arts have an important function as a medium for social criticism and transformation.” Might be a case? Supposing? No overstatements here! The arts (arguably literature most directly) are used so widely as a vehicle for social critique that I offer one more example only for its striking current relevance and UN context: 26-year-old poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands was selected to read a poem to the Opening Ceremony of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit September 23, 2014. Watch the youtube video and decide for yourself if, in the words of the TOK guide, the arts “might have social and political implications”.
Recent research in the cognitive sciences goes far, it seems to me, to affirm the case that the arts have a role in social transformation. We apparently resist facts and logical arguments if they do not accord with the beliefs we hold in common with our social groups (see blog post Sept 24). Intuition and confirmation bias (the major cognitive bias!) once again? Can we hope that the arts, including this poem written by the poet to her daughter, will achieve the communication – through language and emotion – that reason cannot? 120 heads of state at the UN gave Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner a standing ovation, and an official UN source said that many were moved to tears.