If you would permit me to reminisce on past religious and philosophical debates, I was recently thinking about a debate I had a long time ago with a creationist.
I said that human behaviors don't come from nowhere, and there's no evidence they were programmed by God. This came up when he and other fundies were arguing that God is a necessary moral arbiter, and without God there would be no morals. I said, humans have morals in order to survive, there's a selective advantage to behaving in certain ways. So he thought he was being so smart by asking, well what about art? You can't explain that with evolution. What purpose does art serve, and why do humans do it?
I always remember this idiot, and this particular argument, as a perfect example of someone who has never studied or created art, ever, in their lives. It's the kind of thing Bill O'Reilly would say, thinking he's found a bulletproof argument that has let him instantly win the debate. It turns out that just like, "Tide goes in, tide goes out, you can't explain that," well yes there is a rational explanation that people have long been aware of.
Even though I wasn't an artist at the time, I knew why his argument was full of shit. It's a pretty easy explanation. What is the purpose of art? Why would humans evolve to create art? For clues, look at the very first forms of art that humans created.
All art is a form of communication. It's a means of sharing and disseminating abstract ideas to others, to convince them of a certain point of view, to influence the way they feel, think, and act. Most of the time, humans speak to communicate. Well, literature, poetry, and music are artistic types of speech. So you can tell when someone has absolutely zero artistic talent, and that's when they assert that art has no useful function, art could not have evolved, or there's no reason for humans to create art.
I have studied literature and art for years because I'm trying to become a better writer. I know full well the purpose, significance, and importance of art to the entire human race. Art coordinates and encourages cooperative behavior, which is essential to survival. In that respect, it's similar to religious beliefs, except that art is not based on a doctrine of discrimination and division. Art is capable of healing cultural and social wounds, of bringing people together, and of changing people's minds and attitudes. It makes people who exist in separate cultural spheres aware of each other, of the fact that we're all human beings and we have similar wants and needs, hopes and fears.
Art comes from creativity, and you can't possibly argue that creativity has nothing to do with human survival or the advancement of our civilization. Everything around you was invented at some point, and invention is impossible without creativity; the same creativity that lets us produce art, literature, music, and poetry. Anyone who still believes art has no purpose or value should give away all their possessions, because those were all created by people who came up with new ideas.
Why do I bring this up? As you probably already know, funding for the National Endowment of the Arts is going to be completely eliminated under Trump's proposed budget. Authoritarian regimes tend to do this, because they want to control all forms of expression and speech, and limit the ways people are allowed to think for themselves. Also, there is nothing Trump fears more than artists, like myself, using their talents to criticize or mock him.
However, there's another reason entirely why this decision by Trump is incredibly stupid: the war against ISIS. Even as ISIS is bracing itself for defeat on the military front, the fact remains that it is still winning the propaganda war. Propaganda is the lifeblood of ISIS, because they are completely dependent on new recruits. ISIS has already found out that running an actual "state" is difficult because they have to pay for all the infrastructure, which is usually in ruins, and they are quickly running out of funds. New recruits bring in money and resources, and the hateful rhetoric and idiotic policies of the Trump administration are only going to make it easier. ISIS already praised the travel ban for this reason.
So what is my proposal? Simple. Restore the funding to the NEA and double it, for the express purpose of creating propaganda to counter ISIS. The US has always used propaganda in wartime, like WWII, and during major social revolutions like the Civil Rights Era. Right now, what we need is a movement of artists, writers, musicians, and filmmakers to espouse the values and virtues of American culture to the Muslims of the world. Let them know that the US is a country of immigrants and has always welcomed people from every ethnic background. Show them that America is a land of opportunity where everyone is treated equally.
Every Muslim we win over is one that ISIS can no longer radicalize. Hit ISIS where it hurts, and destroy their most powerful weapon, using ideals and values of our own. Religious extremism has nothing to offer, and is completely helpless without the ability to proselytize. This is how we're going to win the war against ISIS for good.