Category Archives: Culture 2

Only the Pop Remains

“Alienation breeds a distrust that corrodes any collective effort. To be “woke” in the alienated culture is to embrace the most cynical interpretation of every situation, to assume bad intent in every actor, to imagine the conspiratorial malevolence of your foes.” (David Brooks​, http://nyti.ms/2rhLkCk)

Both political sides have experienced alienation over the past year: the ‘right’ in the months leading up the election; the ‘left,’ in its aftermath. Both have used it to their advantage. Both continue to use it to fuel their speech and actions.

But I’m not sure one can do much with alienation after it’s spent–usually in acquiring some kind of power. Or whether one can unite a coalition, much less a country, powered by alienation.

It’s like the ‘fuel’ in bottle rockets. Only the ‘pop’ remains.

Mortui vivos docent

Tiresias appears to Odysseus, Johann Heinrich Fusslig, c. 1785
Tiresias appears to Odysseus, Johann Heinrich Fusslig, c. 1785

My friend Fr. Ken Tanner pointed me to this EW piece by Anthony Breznican. The piece is well-written (the sentence, “Hoffman waved his cigarette around like incense dispelling evil spirits,” is ironically poignant), and it captures a truth that people in my line of work (classical education) talk about an awful lot: the truth is out there.

I know, I know, that’s the Mulder tagline from The X-Files, but it’s actually a catchy phrasing of something Christian thinkers have been saying since Paul put it to the Romans this way: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” The truth about God–which, by the way, is the truth about everything–is hidden in plain sight.

In Hoffman’s case, the truth is about priorities. We live in the fog of a spiritual war, one where, at our most powerful, we are foot soldiers. And that fog makes seeing our lives clearly very, very hard. Walking in that fog can make feeding an addiction seem like therapy, can make gossip seem like catharsis, and (as Hoffman tells Berzican) can make having children seem like an impossible burden. In short, the fog makes a lie look like the truth.

We need someone to lift the fog. Sometimes that someone is a casual acquaintance, as Hoffman was in this case, someone who can see what you cannot because they are outside your circumstance. Sometimes a close friend can do it. In both cases, listening, hearing them is the most difficult part. And sometimes, some long-dead fellow rises from a book like the shade of Tiresias to Odysseus, his features sharpening, his arguments clarifying, not because he is becoming more solid but because my own vision is clearing. The dead teach the living.

Sometimes, we are able to enjoy the third encounter because someone shared one of the first. That’s what this article does. For though I know what Hoffman says is true, it can be easy to slip back into the fog, to push my family, my children, aside for my ambition. Thanks to Breznican, Hoffman–the actor, addict, father–appears to me, shrouded in that devil-dispelling incense and says, “You don’t ‘make time’ to be a mom and dad. When you have a kid, you figure out how to make time for work and all the other stuff. All the priorities you have now totally shift, whether you want them to or not.” And, “Your priorities will clarify.”

To that I say, please God, so be it.

Guerilla Warfare of the Information Age

Ken Myers, of Mars Hill Audio, introduced me to The New Atlantis:A Journal of Technology and Society. In at least one of his talksand probably severalMyers referred to the journal in general, and to the work of Christine Rosen, in particular.

Rosen’s attention in The New Atlantis is often on how technology affects us as people, as human beings. The Spring 2008 issue contains her insightful article about multitasking, that holy grail of the information age. It caught me off-guard because I was in flagrante delicto, as they say–while waiting for my printer driver to install, I was checking e-mail, surfing four or five Web sites, and updating my FaceBook status.

After reading the article, I felt compelled to take a hard look at my own bitter romance with multitasking. My quest to “get things done” (apologies to David Allen), to “do more in less time,” has left me feeling more harried than helped. I have at times felt my attention so fragmented that I thought I could feel the synapses misfiring as I assaulted my own brain with too many stimuli, and too many decisions. And the poor thing, weakened as it was by the dastardly duo of Information Age guerilla warfare: television and the Internet.

Is it any wonder that small decisions, easy decisions, cease to be easy? When we have trained our minds not in discernment, but in distraction, should our frozen software come as any surprise? And forget accomplishing much that requires contemplation. I speak only for myself (though I suspect I’m not alone) in saying that I don’t give myself much space for deep thinking.

Which brings me to my novel. I took a short hiatus from this blog, hoping to turn my attention to writing something of more substance. I started the work, dashing out much tripe and trivia in the direction of significant prose. But I found myself distracted. Sitting in front of my laptop, I found my mind wandering not to the inner lives of my characters but to the contents of my inbox. When July 1 rolled around, and I had precious little to show for my hiatus, I quit everything in disgust.

All this sounds like a personal problem, I know; it is. Thankfully, that isn’t the end of the story. I attended another conference, this one small and intimate, intense discussion of big ideas coupled with time for rumination and reflection. And, away from most media for a week, I felt some healing begin. Reading (and not just the light, ephemeral reading that characterizes Web surfing) became a joy again. (And on the subject of reading, I commend to you To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence, a report of the National Endowment for the Arts. If nothing else, read the Executive Summary to get a glimpse of the state of reading in our society.)

Still, getting back to life as usual meant some challenges to my new romance with a contemplative, reflective life. Which brought me to Rosen. And it is Rosen’s conclusion, which contains this devastating sentence, that compelled me to go cold-turkey on one of my latest distractions:

When people do their work only in the “interstices of their mind-wandering,” with crumbs of attention rationed out among many competing tasks, their culture may gain in information, but it will surely weaken in wisdom.

“It will surely weaken in wisdom.” Wisdom’s the stuff that Solomon encouraged his son to get more of, to get strong on. Pursue wisdom like a woman, Sol said:

13 Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
14 for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
15 She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called blessed. (Proverbs 3:13-18)

As with all Rosen’s articles, this one’s worth your attention. Pay up.

I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I don’t have any at the moment. Just a desire for change. And in my searching, I’m trying out some old paths.

Thanks for reading.

Asking the right questions about technology

“The Bruderhof community … noticed that after using television for a year, their children had stopped singing the community songs and spiritual hymns they used to sing on the playground. So the decision was not over the question, “Is television good or bad?” The question became, “Which do we value more: good television or singing children?” (From an interview with Read Schuchardt)

Good question, that, a solid teleological one.

H/T Justin Taylor