Knowledge is Power

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An odd thing has happened to me recently: I’ve begun to miss school. And not the normal things that people miss about school like the ability to nap midday, or the friendships. I started missing papers. And finals. And learning.

Since the fellows program ended, my brain has shut down. I have lost much of my ability to think critically, instead choosing to believe whatever the Washington Post tells me.

In his 1985 work “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, Neil Postman discusses this dumbing-down of America and the result that media plays in this phenomenon. Postman writes:

Our culture’s adjustment to the epistemology of television is by now almost complete; we have so thoroughly accepted its definitions of truth, knowledge and reality that irrelevance seems to us to be filled with import, and incoherence seems eminently sane.

And that was 1985.

Typically, I come home from work, and I turn on the television. Sometimes I watch it start to finish, but more often that not, it merely serves as background noise, allowing me to enter into it at my convenience. The incoherent ramblings of Ray Romano and Jerry Seinfeld are suddenly matters of great concern. Stephen Colbert’s opinion on the trivial begins to enter my consciousness.

This is absurd. How many great novels do you know that you can pick up and flip to any page without having missed any important details? Or great plays that are still great if you enter after intermission? And yet this is the glory of the sitcom. It requires no commitment.

In his forward to “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, Postman writes:

What Orwell [1984] feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley [Brave New World] feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy…This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

Well no more.

I will no longer allow myself to throw hours of my life into meaningless “entertainment”. I will start learning again; start creating again.

Here are some things I plan on doing:

1) Pick a book of the Bible each month and seriously read through it. Become a scholar of the history of its people, its place. Learn how others interpreted passages and were edified by its teachings. Then share it with others.

2) Read more books. Alternate between classic literature (think high school English) and new fiction. On the top of the list: The Catcher in the Rye, Snow Falling on Cedars; The Brothers K; The Cider House Rules; Fahrenheit 451; Lush Life; Slaughterhouse-Five; The Memory Keepers Daughter…and those are all books currently living on my bookshelf.

3) Take (or audit) at least one RTS class in the spring. Deadlines and structure help keep me focused.

4) Do something productive with my hands each day. Options include: cooking a nice meal, hand-writing a card, knitting, updating my scrapbook, cleaning my house. Whatever it is, take joy out of the fact that it is down without the help of machinery.

5) Resolve to have more meaningful conversations with people in my life. Nearly everyone has different knowledge than I do, but without talking to them, it will remain a mystery to me.

If you can help me with any of these tasks (particularly good book recommendations), I would greatly appreciate it. In the meantime, I hope that we, together, would begin to reverse the trivialities of our culture.

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2 thoughts on “Knowledge is Power

  1. This is great. I like the references to Postman. Speaking of Postman, this is also very good:

    And, anytime you want to chat, i’m up for it. I spend far too much time reading books, looking at art, and listening to music all by myself.

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