Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Dangerous Thoughts

Am rereading ’Fahrenheit 451’  -  Ray Bradbury’s classic novel about a society that burns books.  It was titled for the temperature at which paper burns.  I had originally read it 50-plus years ago, but was too green to give it any deep understanding.  HBO is reportedly releasing a movie about it this May.  But I bet Ray B is spinning in his grave that it will be aired on the TV boob tube.  One of his major points in the novel was that society spent much too much time watching television, and much of what they watch was manipulated i.e. fake news, or fictionalized history.  The man was a prophet.

Can’t happen here you say?   Bradbury claimed he was inspired to write the story by seeing film footage of the brown shirts and the Deutsche Studentenschaft burning books in 1933.  But there were many other tomecides in history prior to that by kings, emperors, conquistadors, a Saint, and Major General Robert Ross of the British Army.  

And it is disheartening to see the many dark areas in the ’World Press Freedom Index Map’ published by Reporters-Without-Borders, the NGO that champions freedom of the press and freedom of information.  I would have thought the US would be in the top ten percent.  But no, they are number 43 out of 180 countries so not even in the top 20 percent.


  1. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060390/

  2. What's kind of intriguing is that, for all of Bradbury's fears, I'm gonna be contrarian and say I think that the demon TV may turn out to be more of a force in human history than printed books.

    Not that printing WASN'T huge. But look at what has happened over the Electronic Age compared to what happened during the Print Era.

    It might be enlightening - or depressing - to be able to jump 100 years into the future and look back at what's happened and what will happen over those 300 years.

    On the one hand, we've become wildly more "informed" than we were as little as 200 years ago. In 1818 a huge portion of the human world was functionally illiterate and innumerate, even some 400 years after the printing press.

    Jump ahead to the middle of the 20th Century and literacy has spread wildly. Jump ahead to the turn of the 21st Century and electronic communication has made vast numbers of people capable of seeing and "knowing" of events happening in places they would have been barely aware of a half-century earlier and utterly ignorant of back in 1818.

    But...what have we done with that "knowledge"? The political condition of humanity in general seems as credulous and ignorant was in medieval times. You have large numbers of people vested in "conspiracy theory" sorts of ideas.

    And I'm really riven on the why of this. Part of me wants to blame it on the sound-bite, low-information nature of electronic information. Far too much "news" and "analyses" of news on the electronic media is utter shit; facile, uninformed, ahistorical, sensational, and misleading. If you're the sort of person who does little but watch the occasional snippet of CNN you are likely to be phenomenally ignorant of the nature of events outside your physical reach. If you watch FOX you're even worse off, actively misinformed and mislead.

    But...I wonder if that's not so much electronic media as people. How many people actually take - or took, back in the day - the time to really dive deep into the events of the day? To examine the works of literature, the reports and analyses from all observers, to form their own, genuinely informed opinion?

    I consider myself better informed than many people, and yet I couldn't begin to tell you all the factors at work in, say, Italy, where the recent elections appear to have empowered some truly spectacular fools. Or Niger. Or Syria. Or Afghanistan.

    So I wonder...do despots and oligarchs really NEED to burn books? Or can they rely on the human instinct for sloppy, slovenly inattention and credulity - and the imperatives of the electronic media - to do their work for them?

  3. Sven -

    I doubt that HBO will be able cast anyone comparable to the beautiful Julie Christie who starred in Truffaut's 1966 version.

    In addition to Truffaut's film by that name, there was also a BBC radio adaptation, a stage play, a computer game, a bookstore, and numerous song titles.

  4. @FDC - "...electronic communication has made vast numbers of people capable of seeing and "knowing" of events happening in places they would have been barely aware of a half-century earlier and utterly ignorant of back in 1818."

    Knowing of events in the Kardashian Mansion you mean? Or perhaps knowing of events in the Land of the Walking Dead? Or events as promulgated by Breitbart or InfoWars, or by alt-right Twitter and Youtube accounts, or by Gab the new American NAZI alternative to twitter.

    I'll pass.

    1. You CAN spend your time hangin' with the Nazis or the Kardashians, sure. But you can also get Andy Bachevich. Or TomDispatch. Or Matt Taibbi, The Intercept, Digby. The Beeb, Al Jazeera...all sorts of sources to go with the usual CNN/MSNBC/FAUX suspects.

      That's kind of the tragedy of this whole Electronic Age mess. There's so MUCH information out there and it's so accessible. You don't have to be able to read German or Arabic or Russian to get newspaper accounts of what happened somewhere halfway across the globe. You can get opinions and analyses from all points of view.

      But we humans seem to be terrific at lazy, incurious credulity and stupidity. With all these sources of information around, instead of using them to hold our prejudices and misconceptions against we cherry-pick those that confirm those prejudices and misconceptions.

      So like I said; I'm not sure it's a Kardashian problem. I think the problem is that WAY too many of us think like Kardashians.

    2. We have to cherry-pick. Otherwise - infobesity! Or what we use to call 'drinking-from-the-fire-hose'.

  5. I'm no linguist at all and didn't look up the research, but to me it seems that the Luther bible translation standardised written German language nation-wide, but spoken German varied greatly until the 1950's at least.
    The the rise of movies with audio, radio and TV began standardising spoken German (assisted by the wiping out of several accents due to the loss of cohesion of their speakers when millions of Germans fled from the Soviet- and Polish-annexed territories).

    These were huge influences. The printing of bibles may even have been the foundation for the rise of language-defined nation-states.

    1. A valid point Sven.

      Now how do we stop electronic media from smashing that foundation and breaking up those states?

    2. On another note, I once (years ago) noted on my blog that we would need a common picture - such as common newspapers and common TV news to further unify Europe. The European unification ideology crusaders are doing more harm than good because the low-hanging fruit have been picked and their recent efforts such as common currency were no good.

      A common perception of the world could harmonise views, attitudes, create solidarity and understanding - and bring together the French who think they are the policeman of Africa and for example Swedes who want no such thing.
      Such a common window to the world has to be the foundation for a common foreign policy, not ideologues' calls for one or envy of the unity of leadership in foreign affairs that the U.S. previously had.

      Now all those 'social media' are so diverse that the hope for a common window to the world seems to have vanished. Instead, we're becoming more factional even within nation states, even with competing ideas of what's reality and what's fiction (at least more than before). Some political parties made the construction and promotion of fiction their party's strategy_by_group_dynamic.

    3. I think you made the point, tho, Sven, that this isn't a "new" thing promoted by social media, but, rather, a very old thing that is finding a way to re-establish itself.

      I suspect that we may look back at the brief period between about 1940 to 1980/1990 as a period of unusual comity, of an unusually high degree of acceptance of a "common culture" promoted by the initial explosion of electronic communications and widespread literacy. The "homogenization" of nations and even the world seemed inevitable as more people came in contact with the idealized, homogenized TV Land.

      But I think we were kidding ourselves. We're naturally quarrelsome little monkeys, and figured out ways to climb back into our separate trees. So not only are the French and the Swedes falling out over policing Africa, the French are falling out over internal divisions over Africa and how France relates to it...

    4. Yes, I made that point again and again, but the caveman behaviour story gets stale if one unpacks it often.

      Evolution has optimised us for living in small clans with only occasional contact with other clans for the purpose of avoiding inbreeding.

      Most humans aren't very good at this whole "nation" thing, and the nationalists and jingoists are the worst at it.

      I don't quite see 1945 to 1990 as a period of great unity. There was a common foe and a president who likes the Russian president better than 99% of Americans wouldn't have been tolerated, but minorities sure did not feel much of that 'all together' vibe in the U.S..

    5. The "comity" depended on ensuring that any "others"; dark-colored, female, poor, gay, whatever...were ruthlessly quashed. So, yeah. It wasn't "unity" so much as conformity to a social norm the greatly benefited us white straight guys.

      But it was a time when we could pretend we were the only ones who mattered. Losing that pretense seems to have driven some of us pretty batshit.

  6. Francafrique relations are similar to the US fascination with the Monroe Doctrine. It ain't gonna go away soon.

    And much of that French feeling is reciprocated in her former colonies. Aren't the troops of several African nations still marching in the Bastille Day parade?

    1. Often times its the dictators or the autocrats who represent some dominant factions that love the French involvement, as it is usually entirely about stabilising African regimes.