The Club Bylaws We Wrote Are So Stringent, Even We Aren’t Allowed To Be Members

Last week The Guardian wrote about how the current political climate in a number of countries has brought Arthur Miller’s The Crucible into relevance again.

There are a couple sentences in the article that keep echoing in my mind and I have spent the last week trying to decide about what angle to take in my commentary about them. Ultimately, I decided to just toss it out there and let my readers decide how they are most relevant for them.

In the article Douglas Rintoul writes,

Miller talks about the paradox of a community that has created a society grounded in the idea of “exclusion and prohibition”. Its sole function is to keep the community “together, and to prevent any kind of disunity that might open it to destruction”.

The reason these two sentences kept coming back to me is that they evoked the oft cited comment about assault on Ben Tre during the Vietnam War, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

(The full context apparently should be: “‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it’, a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong.”)

There is definitely a paradox in the idea that in order to keep a community together, you had to expel any element that might drive the community apart.

So….don’t the people pushing for expulsion constitute a divisive force in the community? Who gets to kick them out?

Every community needs ideals that they form around, but it gets a little strange when the ideals are so stringent they can’t tolerate the flaws of the membership. That is almost a corollary of Groucho Marx comment “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member”

Lets all agree that there are times when you do need to remove destructive and dangerous elements from society.   But the reality on which that standard should be based before applied is pretty high.   The perceived need for removal often demands the standard to be set pretty low. The rationale is easy to make and it is easy to employ fear to shut down opposition.

While this may seem most easily applicable to the current political situation in regard to immigration, it pretty much crops up in a lot of decisions we make and places we frequent and groups with which we associate.

At this point you might be thinking about those other judgmental people you know, but be aware that accusations of “dumbing down” and “selling out” are basically attempts to save Art by excluding from the Arts Community those who are perceived to be cheapening it.

It is really easy to employ this type of thinking and not even recognize it.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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