I Remember Free Museums!

I did not read any Peter Kropotkin until I was 67 – well, better late than never. Young, politically active people could do a lot worse than to try him. Something struck me as thoroughly bizarre about his dream, however, through no fault of his: under his prescribed anarcho-communism, certain services were to be provided without charge: roads, bridges, water, parks, museums and libraries. Why this seemed bizarre is that I had grown up with all those things, in a place calling itself capitalist. Well, I suppose roads and bridges were not exactly free – in the sense that they were built out of taxes – and no doubt the same can be said about water, parks, libraries and museums. But that is not the same thing as paying upfront for every use.

Where I live now, the husk of a once-viable social democracy, water is still unmetered. One big city park is fenced in with closing times, though still free, while small ones are not even fenced. Public highways, on the other hand, have reverted to the pre-nineteenth century norm, that is to say, with tolls; and this is certainly the right country for trolls under bridges. Since I travel on foot or by bus, I myself do not notice, but motorists complain that they are suffocating under tolls every few kilometres, not just for the daily commute but on every suburban movement.

We ought not to have built our cities and suburbs on the American model, necessitating a car to buy groceries and take the kids to schools and day-care, while I do see the point of road-pricing to even out congestion; and yet even I wonder where the neo-feudal end-point will be. Tolls for pedestrian use of a privatised street, perhaps, or the robber-baron’s jus primae noctis? It goes without saying that we shall still pay tax for roads and bridges even though the infrastructure raises its own money; the excess will go to dividend for the aforementioned trolls. Where the eighteenth century budget was spent mostly on sinecures, or pretend-jobs for the pals, the coming ones will be spent mostly on consultants – but I repeat myself. Metering of water will come, as will charges for air breathed. The latter will be called either a carbon footprint tax, or else royalties for the particular mix of atmospheric gases, which will be patented.

The most startling item in Kropotkin’s list remains, however, museums. I grew up with free admission to everything in that direction, but where I live now you have to pay an arm and a leg to see any venerable paintings. The gate money seems to go to paying staff to take the gate money and man the gift shop. After these functions have been moved compulsorily online, the staff will be dispensed with, and the receipts will be spent only on return on short-term investments. That is to say, the roof will fall in, and our cities will resemble pre-Renaissance Rome, selfied by nouveau-riche East Asians. (Perhaps the medievals never actually looked at their nearest ruins of Antiquity either, but only told their neighbours that they had been there. And brought back the conch of Compostela and the palm of Jerusalem to prove it.)

As for my public library, it is still free but makes its living from toilet charges (honestly, they told me that), refusing donations of valuable books on the grounds that they want fewer of these not more. Granddad, what is a Library? And what were these “book” thingies anyway? Oh. Were you charged by the word or by the minute?

Posted on January 6, 2022 at 15:18 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!, The Age Of Enron-cence

Leave a Reply