Quantcast

«

»

Jul 02 2014

Nothing ever changes

It’s disgraceful how people are getting distracted by games and wasting their time and the time of others. We must end all frivolity. Beginning with crossword puzzles in the 1920s.

Everywhere, at any hour of the day, people can be seen quite shamelessly poring over the checker-board diagrams, cudgelling their brains for a four-letter word meaning "molten rock" or a six-letter word meaning "idler," or what not: in trains and trams, or omnibuses, in subways, in private offices and counting-rooms, in factories and homes, and even – although as yet rarely – with hymnals for camouflage, in church.

Oh, I remember my shiftless grandmother, who’d work the fruit season in Yakima picking apples and then spend the winter working at the cannery in Seattle, and as a widow had to raise 6 kids and later a horde of grandchildren, and who in the evening would spend hours unwinding with stacks and stacks of crossword puzzles. She should have gotten another job, I guess.

I also get a hint of an attitude from the article that they were really concerned that the proles had interests beyond working.

Of course, the newspapers themselves had by now got in on the act, publishing crosswords and by some accounts relying on the puzzles for newsstand sales. Hypocrisy, following scaremongering and berating the British public for not toiling every hour God sends. Who’d have thought it from the press?

Of course, now the concern is that they might be enjoying sex.

62 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    borax

    I read that last link and now I have to try to rage sleep.

  2. 2
    davidnangle

    Clearly, some people just hate people. How come that type always seems to have so much power and money?

  3. 3
    george gonzalez

    Okay, I get “lava”, but I don’t think they were thinking of “doofus” for “idler”. Canuck? The N word?! You know they were all lazy. That involuntary servitude thing.

  4. 4
    chigau (違う)

    loafer?

  5. 5
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Funny, quite a lot of healthcare professionals credited my gran’s passion for crossword puzzles, biard games and cheesy doctor-novels for the fact that her brain lasted as long as it did. Nobody said it was because she worked till her bones bled.

  6. 6
    JJ831

    Ugh, that last link made me sad.

    OT, from the link:
    “I don’t believe in sex outside of marriage. ”

    I always find the “I don’t believe in X” to be weird. What do you mean you don’t believe in it? ‘Cause it sure exists. You may not partake, agree or approve of something, but surely they understand that premarital sex exists right?

  7. 7
    AsqJames

    a four-letter word meaning “molten rock” or a six-letter word meaning “idler,”

    Call those crossword “clues”? Pah! Try this: Holy authoritarians move other cacti out (10).

    For those unfamiliar with cryptic crosswords, the answer fits neatly into this sentence: [BLANK] states punish people who express normal human sexuality.

  8. 8
    chigau (違う)

    theocratic

  9. 9
    unclefrogy

    I would quibble that those who say all that kind of hate filled crap do not themselves have any power at all except to open their “mouths” and spew their bile.
    They just mostly give their support to those who do have the real power. They have been trained well and fed on resentment, guilt and punishment.
    uncle frogy

  10. 10
    Inaji

    AsqJames:

    Call those crossword “clues”? Pah!

    Eh, that’s why there are different levels, so all people can enjoy them.

    ***
    I grew up on crosswords, cryptograms, and other word games, my grandmother got me started. I still love them.

  11. 11
    Inaji

    Chigau:

    theocratic

    Tsk. I decided not to be a smartass, but I’m glad you decided to be one. :D

  12. 12
    Trebuchet

    I just need someone to save me from Sudoku. For which I unfortunately downloaded an app on my Android.

  13. 13
    AsqJames

    Inaji,

    Eh, that’s why there are different levels, so all people can enjoy them.

    Oh I completely agree (though I think only cryptic clues retain their “crosswordiness” without the grid). I hope the “pah” came off as humorous rather than truly disdainful.

  14. 14
    chigau (違う)

    Ináji
    It simply would not do to just leave it there.
    Unanswered.

  15. 15
    Louis

    My favourite cryptic crossword clue from fiction was “gegs” (4) from Drop the Dead Donkey. The whole thing made I larf.

    On topic, I think the invention of writing caused the whole shebang to go downhill. Why the oral tradition* was good enough for me. Youth of today…mutter…grumble…

    Louis

    * Oral tradition joke in 3…2…

    …Okay look, I want credit for not fucking making that joke, right? And I’m damn well going to have it.

  16. 16
    twas brillig (stevem)

    I always find the “I don’t believe in X” to be weird. What do you mean you don’t believe in it? ‘Cause it sure exists. You may not partake, agree or approve of something, …

    I highlighted the definition for that phrase, right there in your very question. You got it, don’t you see it?
    I agree with you that it is often confusing how people speak in euphemisms, to “be kind”, rather than saying what they mean, forthright. I too, often have to translate for people, asking if the euphemism they just said, meant “blah blah blah”, versus “bleh bleh bleh”. Gak, I know you know the translation of your question, I’m just in an explicitousness mood today.

  17. 17
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    * Oral tradition joke in 3…2…

    Dr. Gall began studying animal husbandry, but was caught at it. He then switched to medicine and became famous for the discovery of the Gall Bladder. He also was instrumental in introducing gargling to the United States. Previously, gargling had only been practiced by a small tribe in Amazonia. It was furtively passed down from father to son, and mother to daughter, as a part of the tribe’s oral tradition.

    (that the one you meant?)

    On topic, why the fuck is it that anything fun, almost anything that supports the free flow of cash in the economy, and anything that doesn’t work you to an early grave is considered bad? Usually by authoritarians and the deepshit religious?

  18. 18
    Louis

    Og,

    On topic, why the fuck is it that anything fun, almost anything that supports the free flow of cash in the economy, and anything that doesn’t work you to an early grave is considered bad?

    Because reasons. And those reasons mean get back to work Consumer Unit.

    Louis

    P.S. And yes, that was the exact joke. AND NOTHING ELSE.

  19. 19
    HolyPinkUnicorn

    @JJ831 #6:

    I always find the “I don’t believe in X” to be weird. What do you mean you don’t believe in it? ‘Cause it sure exists. You may not partake, agree or approve of something, but surely they understand that premarital sex exists right?

    They know it exists, and that’s what irks them. What they mean is that they don’t believe other people should be allowed to do it. Basically they want to dictate how everyone else is allowed to live their personal lives because it otherwise might offend them or the sanctity of their healthcare plan (in the case of Hobby Lobby), or some other stupid reason. They don’t believe they gave permission for anyone, or at least Amanda Marcotte, to do such things.

    It’s a lot of “Shut up! Do ____! And don’t do ____!” or “Well, if you don’t like the decision, then you should of kept your legs closed/paid for it yourself!” type “arguments.” (It’s also Marcotte; you can practically set your watch by how fast the mouth-breathers respond to her articles.)

    In a sad twist, I find that every time I read Twitter for more than a few minutes I feel like never having kids.

  20. 20
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    Louis:

    I stole it (with misrememberings) from Tom Lehrer.

  21. 21
    HolyPinkUnicorn

    Beat me to it, stevem.

    That Twit’s “I don’t believe in sex outside of marriage.” = “I don’t believe I approve of you having it.”

  22. 22
    moarscienceplz

    ‘Lava’ was easy, but I admit I had to use a thesaurus to get ‘loafer’, but I’m pretty sure that was a common word in the 1920s, so I bet that’s it.
    I’m sure Will Shortz could come up with snappier clues, like,”A baker, when he’s busy and when he’s not.”

  23. 23
    cartomancer

    ONMLKJIH (9)

  24. 24
    Moggie

    Og, you forgot my favourite part: Dr Gall became a specialist, specialising in diseases of the rich.

  25. 25
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    Damn. Sorry, moggie. I did forget that part.

  26. 26
    Pteryxx

    On topic, why the fuck is it that anything fun, almost anything that supports the free flow of cash in the economy, and anything that doesn’t work you to an early grave is considered bad?

    I keep wondering this, in the contexts of everything from bullying to slavery… why do the jackasses with power spend so much time and effort taking everything away, even the most harmless things? All I can think is that little things like games, like songs, favorite treats, a bit of artwork on one’s wall, are all ways of being human. They mean a lot to us, they give us back to ourselves. So the people bent on dehumanization can’t tolerate even the smallest expressions of individuality, creativity, or spirit from the Other. That might mean those Others were people, or worse, might for a brief moment think of themselves as people.

    A while ago I offered the local homeless people some notebooks and pens. Their faces lit up and some of them cried for joy at being able to keep journals, write poetry, or draw again.

  27. 27
    Brony

    Of course, now the concern is that they might be enjoying sex.

    It can be amusing to take this angle and try to follow it with some people online. When I see someone who is obviously bothered by women who enjoy sex and want to have it for their own personal enjoyment while minimizing risks, I often try to get them to engage on that.

    I’ll point out that they seem to be bothered, or even intimidated, by the idea of women that want to have sex for fun. If they say I am wrong I will then try to get them to tell me what it is that they are actually bothered by and try to drill down to something that is bothering them that actually affects them somehow, a thing that has been continuously absent. It’s like the strategy of getting someone to explain why a racist joke is funny in order to show that the actual content is not funny at all. It gets pretty obvious that they just don’t want to see women having sex without any social controls.

  28. 28
    twas brillig (stevem)

    It seems [to my narrow mind] that ONCE upon a time, it was _reasonable_ to tell women to not have sex till married, cuz, then, they faced the real risk of becoming pregnant, which would have been very difficult to raise singly without, that guy, to give them money to buy food, etc. But then they’ve taken that “tradition” way too far and confabulated “goodness” and “worth” into the writeup. And when safe birth control became available they just extrapolated it to, “all women will just whore it up if they don’t risk pregnancy”. I’ll just go and list the mistakes behind that, just to get them out of my fingers. Women are people too, men can have sex without fear of pregnancy, why not women also? We don’t live in the Medieval Times anymore, get your mind into the present. and so on and so on. The last comment sums up my thinking: These naysayers are “living in the past”, we just have to try to wake them up into the present day.
    [I've written to much, here, I'll shut up now]

  29. 29
    Arkady

    You can go back even further than crossword puzzles: apparently chess was once considered ‘a menace to society’ http://io9.com/chess-was-once-deemed-a-menace-to-society-1588675766

  30. 30
    dannysichel

    I’m reminded of a post from SomethingAwful, about debating with certain people online. (Source: Hurrrr2)

    A better analogy would be if someone walks into a championship tournament, says “GEE I THINK I MAY HAVE TRANSCENDED THE UNDERSTANDING OF SOME OF YOU GRANDMASTERS HERE, WANT TO JOIN MY NEW SCHOOL OF CHESS STRATEGY?”, then loses by scholar’s mate twice in the first round.

    This person then refuses to leave his seat, claiming that he needs additional proof that the queen in f7 actually ontologically exists before he will admit defeat, and that the rules of the CHESS ESTABLISHMENT were unfairly biased against him by disallowing the possibility of his king being able to leapfrog pieces.

    Then he pulls out an ancient shopping list from 1905 and claims that “1. Eggs” means ‘The King’, “2. Butter” means ‘can’, and “3. Milk” means ‘leapfrog’. This is admissible evidence for his case because he has lived according to the dictates of this list since he was a teenager, and it has drastically improved his quality of life. When the referees tell him that this makes no fucking sense, he drags them into a three-hour debate over the precise meaning of the words ‘makes’, ‘no’, ‘fucking’, and ‘sense’.

    When people point out that there is more than enough evidence to suggest his list is just a scrap of paper from some long-dead housewife’s purse, he rather proudly points out how close-minded they are in dismissing outright the possibility that the list was in fact a secret coded message on the best way to live life, originally formulated by Atlanteans and passed down through the ages disguised as everyday documents. After all, if one starts with the presupposition that such a document exists, then it would be very fair to argue that it is indeed in the form of his shopping list.

    Never mind that his previous interpretations of the list led to three convictions and time served for robbery, hate crimes, and murder. These were just unfortunate misinterpretations on his part of the list’s true intentions, he says. The list itself is blameless. In fact, the Atlanteans deliberately obfuscated the true meaning of the list in this way, so that it would require multiple failed misinterpretations before one would happen across its TRUE meaning, and in doing so appreciate it all the more.

    In fact, he does have some evidence to back up his claims. Why, just last week during his daily meditation on the list, he felt it telling him that something good was about to happen in his future. And yesterday, wouldn’t you know it, he found a $20 bill on the sidewalk! Evidence of the list’s prophetic powers if I ever saw one. And believe him, he has many more stories where that came from.

    By now, the debate has splintered off into innumerable tangents, with the one man against literally every other player and referee present at the tournament. Finally, he graciously accepts the possibility of defeat in some of the myriad topics now being covered. OK, maybe the tallest player doesn’t always get to go first. Fine, I will concede that there isn’t much evidence to support my third-invisible-knight hypothesis. But that’s all irrelevant. What he wants to concentrate on, and what nobody has yet been able to disprove, he adds, is the ability of the king to leapfrog over other pieces.

    The argument drags on for weeks. Finally, one afternoon, the beet-faced referee exhausts his last reserves of decency and throws his arms up in frustration and despair. “YOU FUCKING RETARD, HOW CAN YOU LAY CLAIM TO KNOWING ANYTHING ABOUT CHESS STRATEGY WHEN YOU DON’T EVEN GRASP THE MOST BASIC RULES!?” he shouts, just as a new entrant walks through the door. “I’m sorry,” replies the man calmly, “I simply cannot discuss the rules of chess with such an ‘official’ if you insist on using such strong and uncouth language. Please retract your insults or I will be forced to plug my ears whenever you say anything from now on.”

    Seeing only this last exchange, the new entrant pipes up. “He’s right, you know. If he did something wrong, then you as the referee have every right to tell him he is so, but it should be done with a patient and thorough explanation of the details of his error. Hurling ridicule at him solves nothing and won’t change anyone’s mind.”

    The lazy eye of the retarded List-following, King-leapfrogging man twitches almost unnoticeably, as he cranes his head towards the source of this new voice. A welcoming smile cracks, inch by beaming inch, across his face. He licks his lips. He clears his throat.

    “So glad to know decent people like you still value a polite discussion. Care for a game?”

  31. 31
    Zeno

    I remain unshaken in my devotion to crossword puzzles. I will continue my hedonistic lifestyle even if it shocks society.

  32. 32
    CJO

    why the fuck is it that anything fun, almost anything that supports the free flow of cash in the economy, and anything that doesn’t work you to an early grave is considered bad? Usually by authoritarians and the deepshit religious?

    I say, because the modern system of industrial and “post-industrial” globalizing capitalism requires a profoundly unnatural social arrangement, or at least one that is badly at odds with premodern modes of material existence. The great majority of human endeavor has not been economic at all, but directed toward communitarian goals and personal and familial well-being, and the great majority of “economic” activity for nearly the whole of our species’ existence has been directed toward small-scale sufficiency, not market-oriented profitability. An arrangement under which nearly everybody works for wages at activities that are directed at sustaining the vast wealth of a very few requires the owner-class to attempt to foster social ideals that function to suppress the inclination of individuals to “waste” potential labor on activities that do not contribute to the market economy.

  33. 33
    johnharshman

    Anyway, there is no four-letter word meaning “molten rock”. There’s a five-letter word, but the 4-letter word they’re probably thinking of refers to solid rock.

  34. 34
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    JJ831:

    OT, from the link:
    “I don’t believe in sex outside of marriage. ”

    I always find the “I don’t believe in X” to be weird. What do you mean you don’t believe in it? ‘Cause it sure exists. You may not partake, agree or approve of something, but surely they understand that premarital sex exists right?

    I’m with you. It doesn’t make much sense, at least not as the word ‘believe’ is often used.
    I also have to wonder about some of the people saying this: have none of them had sex outside marriage?

  35. 35
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Moggie:

    Dr Gall became a specialist, specialising in diseases of the rich.

    It takes some gall to claim that there are diseases of the rich :)

  36. 36
    Rob Grigjanis

    My favourite crossword was Beelzebub in The Independent on Sunday. Then they stopped including the magazine it came in (The Culture), in the Canadian edition. Baastids.

  37. 37
    Lofty

    What I “knew” as a child about societal rules:
    If it’s Fun, it’s either Illegal, Immoral or Fattening.

  38. 38
    RobertL

    Louis @15 you have a typo. The clue was: gegs (9, 4).

    But you’re right that it was a great running joke through that episode. Even the delivery driver worked it out (“the first one I got”), but Henry couldn’t.

  39. 39
    Al Dente

    An important city in Czechoslovakia (4).

  40. 40
    RobertL

    Oslo

  41. 41
    ck

    johnharshman wrote:

    Anyway, there is no four-letter word meaning “molten rock”.

    Lava can mean either molten rock from a volcano of fissure, or the hardened product of the same. Geologists may have a jargon version of the word that exclude the molten form, but mass market crosswords usually go for the common and popular definitions of the words they use rather than specialised jargon.

  42. 42
    chigau (違う)

    tuff

  43. 43
    JohnnieCanuck

    Vulcanologist Eric Klemetti makes the distinction that it is magma when it is below the surface and lava when above. Thus lava fountain is a common term used when describing Strombolian eruptions.

  44. 44
    Jesse Jacob

    There IS a serious conversation about the impact of idle entertainment (and this is not it). The comment made about newspapers selling just for the crosswords is really the only relevant sentence in quoted.

    The problem Neil Postman takes up in Amusing Ourselves to Death has to do primarily with the TV (the book was written in 1985). The medium of television, Postman contends, is only capable to entertain. There is not an inherent problem with this, however, when television attempts to take on serious subjects, it reduces everything it captures on the screen to a three-ring circus. Serious theology becomes faith-healing and spiritual sex advice, news becomes mini adventures (that you can’t do anything about and usually has nothing directly to do with you), politics becomes sound-bites, photo-ops and fashion shows, and education becomes indistinguishable from entertainment (and when mathematics becomes boring, you can change the channel).

    The problem is not that people are having fun instead of working (kind of a silly strawman from PZ), its that there isn’t much IN BETWEEN entertainment; fewer escapes from enjoyable distractions. People spend more time playing on their phones than talking to each other (no, texting is not the same thing as face-to-face communication, there is an epistemological difference; read the book), or busy themselves with idle games without a single second of introspection.

    Even more insidious is the inability to tell the difference between serious stuff and lackadaisical humor. There are many people who think The Fault in our Stars, for example is a serious philosophical book (John Greene = Emanuel Kant), or who think Rupert Murdoch’s megaphone is legit news. At the most extreme end is conspiracy theories. It would be nice and comfortable if all our problems were caused by a few shadowy shadows and real life was like an action movie — wouldn’t that be cool if it were true? Fundamentalism is another example: belief in god = moral absolutism (YOUR MORALS). “Gays are EVIL!!! Why? Because…b-b-b-GOD!!!”

    Aldous Huxley wrote a book called Brave New World about a society that is controlled by inflicting pleasure. Everybody has casual sex and takes Soma, and all the lowly laborers are manufactured to be too stupid not to enjoy their work. Everybody is happy, but nobody has any freedom; nobody does anything important anymore. (Nietzsche wrote something similar in the prologue of Thus Spoke Zarathustra.) A good example of this is The Hunger Games. The book series is a decent critique of neo-liberalism, and the third book criticizes Communism as an opposite extreme, and her portrayal in the third book of (somewhat) dishonest liberation campaigns, the role modern media plays in politics, and the fetishism of “heroes” and “leaders” (Che Guevara, Ron Paul, Jesus, Dawkins, etc.) is just delicious. However, the reason why can hold these books in your hands is because it conforms to the typical selling points of YA fiction: teenage female protagonist, difficult decision between two boys, and so it goes. And in the film portrayals, and in discussions of the books, this is what people talk about. Teenagers don’t finish the series and say, “You know I should really read some Susan George,” they dress up like Katniss and go to the film, becoming a caricature of exactly what the books mock (or at least seem to mock).

    In a sea of blissful entertainment, the serious stuff can fall behind because it’s boring. While Alan Collier might be a bit of an ass, there IS an actual problem in developed nations where we (symbolically speaking) buy a newspaper just for the crosswords.

  45. 45
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    [Citation needed]

  46. 46
    Snoof

    Jesse Jacob @ 44

    Do you think this is in some way a new problem, created by the existence of mass media? ‘Cause I’m fairly sure your average 19th century factory worker, farmer or domestic worker wasn’t reading Plato or Aquinas in their off hours. And that’s once literacy started becoming widespread.

    fewer escapes from enjoyable distractions.

    What, exactly, do you mean by this? Historically, for the vast majority of the population, “escapes from enjoyable distractions” weren’t reading philosophy books or discussing the nature of being, they were hard physical labour.

  47. 47
    Snoof

    Jesse Jacob @ 44

    See, if you wanted to make the argument that our culture doesn’t (generally) value learning, reflection or critical thinking skills, I’d be with you. If you wanted to argue that with the unprecedented increased in leisure time and access to communications and ideas from across the planet in the 21st century, we should be encouraging people to expose themselves to new concepts and reflect on their own beliefs and philosophies, I’m behind you all the way.

    But don’t pretend this is in any way a new problem. There has never been a “golden age of learning” when everyone and their dog could learnedly discuss the categorial imperative and how it contrasts with consequentialist ethics. Popular entertainments have always been “a three-ring circus”, because that’s entertaining.

    (Popular entertainments from bygone eras: Bear-bating. Gladitorial combat. Chariot races. Nailing a cat to a tree and throwing knives at it. Raping slaves. Today’s popular entertainment is tame, by comparison.)

    ((Plus dancing, singing and listening to people sing, drinking, gossiping, talking about the weather, fighting, playing board games like chess, checkers and nine men’s morris and playing and watching sports like football and tennis, all of which people do today.))

  48. 48
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Jesse Jacob:

    People spend more time playing on their phones than talking to each other (no, texting is not the same thing as face-to-face communication, there is an epistemological difference; read the book), or busy themselves with idle games without a single second of introspection.

    I really hope you didn’t reach this conclusion based on what you see around you, bc there’s 7 billion+ people in the world, and I doubt you’ve interacted with all of them.

  49. 49
    Anri

    Jesse Jacob @ 44:

    Were three-ring circuses more moral when more people went to them rather than watched them on TV?

    ‘Cause if it’s the medium, you might want to get a new idiom.
    And if it’s the message, it’s not a new problem.
    (as noted above).

  50. 50
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    I really hope you didn’t reach this conclusion based on what you see around you, bc there’s 7 billion+ people in the world, and I doubt you’ve interacted with all of them

    Oh, no, he read it in a book.

    So we know it’s true. :)

  51. 51
    Lyn M: G.R.O.S.T. (ADM) -- Membership pending

    50 Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Oh, no, he read it in a book.

    So we know it’s true. :)

    Wait a minute. I thought that was about the internet. You mean it applies to books, too?

  52. 52
    cactuswren

    “The Calvinism brought by white settlers to New England could be described as a system of socially imposed depression. Its God was ‘utterly lawless,’ as literary scholar Ann Douglas has written, an all-powerful entity who ‘reveals his hatred of his creatures, not his love for them.’ He maintained a heaven, but one with only limited seating, and those who would be privileged to enter it had been selected before their births through a process of predestination. The task for the living was to constantly examine ‘the loathsome abominations that lie in his bosom,’ seeking to uproot the sinful thoughts that are a sure sign of damnation. Calvinism offered only one form of relief from this anxious work of self-examination, and that was another form of labor — clearing, planting, stitching, building up farms and businesses. Anything other than labor of either the industrious or spiritual sort — idleness or pleasure seeking — was a contemptible sin.” — Barbara Ehrenreich, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America

  53. 53
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Azkyroth:

    Oh, no, he read it in a book.

    So we know it’s true. :)

    That’s only true if it’s the bible.

  54. 54
    David Utidjian

    Al Dente @ 39:

    Brno

  55. 55
    Inaji

    Jesse Jacob @ 44:

    Aldous Huxley wrote a book called Brave New World

    And is that a brand new discovery for you? Just a heads up, most people here are long familiar with that particular work, it’s not new or shocking to most people here. (I first read it 46.5 years ago.)

  56. 56
    Jesse Jacob

    Historically, for the vast majority of the population, “escapes from enjoyable distractions” weren’t reading philosophy books or discussing the nature of being, they were hard physical labour.

    That’s not so true in the modern developed nations. What I mean is that instead of doing something really constructive, that might not be fun or amusing, but is important nonetheless, we partake in vapid amusement. That’s not wrong in itself, but when amusement fills all of our free time, that’s not good. Have you ever read The Time Machine? Welles describes a future where the “Capitalists” (his words; in light of neo-liberalism I’d rewrite this as the middle-to-upper classes) have evolved into the playful Eloy, who don’t know anything and spend their lives in idle amusement while libraries collect dust, whilest the “laborors” (if I wrote it, the third-worlders) have evolved into…Reavers, basically. Both the Eloy and the Morlocks, in this novel, are these dumb creatures, even though one set works and the other doesn’t. Its not labor, but mental effort, a drive to think and create, and self-reflection that are lost here, and what’s left are creatures so one-dimensional, they may as well be called animals.

    Do you think this is in some way a new problem, created by the existence of mass media? ‘Cause I’m fairly sure your average 19th century factory worker, farmer or domestic worker wasn’t reading Plato or Aquinas in their off hours. And that’s once literacy started becoming widespread.

    Page 34 of Amusing 20th Anniversery Ed.
    One significant implication of this situation is that no literary aristocracy emerged in Colonial America. Reading was not regarded as an elitist activity, and printed matter was spread evenly among all kinds of people. A thriving, classless reading culture developed because, as Daniel Boorstin writes, “It was diffuse. Its center was everywhere because it was nowhere. Every man was close to what [printed matter] talked about. Everyone could speak the same language. It was the product of a busy, mobile, public society.” By 1772, Jacob Duche could write: “The poorest labourer uon the shore of the Deleware thinks himself entitled to deliver his sentiment in matters of religion or politics with as much freedom as the gentleman or scholar. . . . Such is the prevailing taste for books of every kind, that almost every man is a reader.”

    I suggest reading the entire chapter, Typographic America.

    See, if you wanted to make the argument that our culture doesn’t (generally) value learning, reflection or critical thinking skills, I’d be with you. If you wanted to argue that with the unprecedented increased in leisure time and access to communications and ideas from across the planet in the 21st century, we should be encouraging people to expose themselves to new concepts and reflect on their own beliefs and philosophies, I’m behind you all the way.

    Yes, yes! But modern technology exacerbates the problem by substituting information with entertainment, as well as providing us with a larger, inescapable envelope of amusement. (“I feel stupid. I should become knowledgable about world events.” *watches “Red Eye” on FOX; “I’m bored, alone with my thoughts.” *plays “Angry Birds” on phone*).

    But don’t pretend this is in any way a new problem. There has never been a “golden age of learning” when everyone and their dog could learnedly discuss the categorial imperative and how it contrasts with consequentialist ethics.

    See above. I don’t pretend they were more conciensious, or that the layman was smarter, but they took things seriously. I’m not saying that everyone is stupid, I’m saying that no one is serious about anything anymore. They weren’t much better at seperating truth from lies, but they cared enough to try. The new problem is the irrelevancy of truth and lies and the complete, total relevancy of amusement and boredom. Instead of making speeches, politicains make soundbites; instead of saying honestly, “Here’s what I’m going to do,” campaign speeches are like something from Braveheart or To Kill a Mockingbird. Think about it, what if a politician made an ad where he just sat on a stool against a white backdrop and carefully explained his platform? Booooooooorring! But that’s almost what they used to do (see above). If that’s what they still did, campaign finance wouldn’t need reforming. But, because choosing the (usually) men who run our country is decided via advertising campaigns (many have called Obama the “Facebook President”), there is a problem with how much money candidates can devote to their marketing departments.

    Popular entertainments have always been “a three-ring circus”, because that’s entertaining.

    Sure, but nobody confused Bozo the Clown with a spiritual leader.

    (Popular entertainments from bygone eras: Bear-bating. Gladitorial combat. Chariot races. Nailing a cat to a tree and throwing knives at it. Raping slaves. Today’s popular entertainment is tame, by comparison.)

    Utterly beside the point. We could spend our time shooting marbles, but if that was all we did it’d still be the same problem.

  57. 57
    Jesse Jacob

    I really hope you didn’t reach this conclusion based on what you see around you, bc there’s 7 billion+ people in the world, and I doubt you’ve interacted with all of them.

    Are you for real? Like, how, um, do you know g = m*a without observing, like, totally every body of mass in the universe? Repeat experimentation. I’m glad you weren’t Auguste Kompf, or we wouldn’t have sociology.

    [citation needed]

    Oh, no, he read it in a book.

    So we know it’s true. :)

    *sigh* “SHE,” and Neil Postman isn’t Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh; he was a professor (at Liberty University? No, at NYU) and has a poetry award named after him. Amusing Ourselves to Death has two editions, has hundreds of thousands of copies and has been translated into dozens of languages. According to the new preface by his son Andrew, this book is used in collegiate courses. A quick look on Goole Scholar reveals dozens of his papers and even more citations. And his book has an appendix, a bibliography, and is riddled with footnotes. Postman cites his sources.

    cactuswren makes some long quote I’m not going to repost calling me a Calvinist. I’m an aethist. Duh. And, people can have fun, what I’m saying is that:

    A) They should make time for important things that aren’t neccessarily fun. (Children can play, but they still have to go to school);
    B) They shouldn’t confuse important things with fun. (Children can have fun at school, but educators can’t dilute the important stuff into games);
    C) The shouldn’t overlook the important stuff and focus only on the fun. (Children can have recess, but there must be classes in between).

    Were three-ring circuses more moral when more people went to them rather than watched them on TV?

    The problem is not that people watch three-ring circuses, its that they won’t change the channel to watch the presidential debate. The presidential debate, in order to conform to television, is thus changed into a three-ring circus. The problem is that people are only willing to go to the circus, thus spiritual leaders, teachers, and candidates have to don face paint and go to the circus.

    And just because a problem is old doesn’t mean that current circumstances can’t exacerbate it, or we should ignore it. I mean, there have always been business crimes, so why bother with regulations or investigate the 2008 collapse? Why make a big deal about Madoff, the original Ponzi was an isolated scheme that didn’t hurt the economy, in the big picture, that much, right? Of course that’s stupid, because corporate crime, old or new, is really bad, and multinationals make the losses even higher.

    And is that a brand new discovery for you? Just a heads up, most people here are long familiar with that particular work, it’s not new or shocking to most people here. (I first read it 46.5 years ago.)

    I’m sorry, is there some sort of deriviate of Godwin’s I’m not aware of, where if I mention a book you’ve read you sneer at me and my arguments are invalidated? I was using Brave New World as an illustration, not exactly an argument, as I did above with The Time Machine. I read the book several years ago. But okay, I guess I don’t have to describe the plot to you. Great, so now you can jump to the part where you tell me Huxley was irredeemably wrong, or how Brave New World isn’t relevant to our future, or our present.

    BTW, if you aren’t uptight about copyrights, here’s a copy of the book in question. You should also read Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows, although Carr is more specific in talking about the shortcomings of internet technology and its impact on society, whereas Postman is more verbose (he may have been writing principally about television in 1985, but what he says applies to the internet as well, in different ways). Barely relavent, but Chomsky also mentioned, in Failed States his disappointment with internet technologies, as they allow for easier confirmation bias (instead of reading a paper that you might disagree with but nonetheless tells the truth, you can just look at HuffPo, Drudge, Stormfront, whatever Rodgers went to, or your own little niche in the internet), and how it contributes to the atomization of society (although web 2.0 is more responsible for this than internet itself).

  58. 58
    Snoof

    Jesse Jacob @ 56

    I note that your quote doesn’t specify what is being read, merely that books were popular during that time period. (Since, not being American, I don’t know when the “Colonial America” period was, I’d appreciate some dates as well. Wikipedia gives “late sixteenth century to 1776″, but I have no idea if that’s what you’re talking about.)

    Yes, yes! But modern technology exacerbates the problem by substituting information with entertainment, as well as providing us with a larger, inescapable envelope of amusement.

    And you _still_ haven’t demonstrated this is in any way a new problem. Are you seriously suggesting that the books “the poorest labourer uon the shore of the Deleware” read were learned discourses on the philosophy of reason, and not entertainment?

  59. 59
    Inaji

    Jesse Jacob:

    I was using Brave New World as an illustration, not exactly an argument, as I did above with The Time Machine. I read the book several years ago. But okay, I guess I don’t have to describe the plot to you.

    No, you didn’t have to describe the bloody plot. You don’t have to describe the bloody plot of any lit classic here, because the people here read, and aren’t on average age 10. You’re coming across as an annoying twit who is absolutely sure people just don’t know about these things.

    Short form: it’s fine to mention books, but try to simply state your point briefly and in your own words.

    Oh, and no, no sneer. Definitely a facepalm.

  60. 60
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Jesse Jacob:

    Are you for real? Like, how, um, do you know g = m*a without observing, like, totally every body of mass in the universe? Repeat experimentation. I’m glad you weren’t Auguste Kompf, or we wouldn’t have sociology.

    Yes, I’m for real. You said this:

    People spend more time playing on their phones than talking to each other (no, texting is not the same thing as face-to-face communication, there is an epistemological difference; read the book), or busy themselves with idle games without a single second of introspection.

    You didn’t mention if the “people” whom you’re referring to are the people in your house, job, class, school, subdivision, city, state, country or what. You made a generalized statement about “people” that you’re treating as fact. I’m asking how do you know that’s true? Unless you’ve spoken to every person on the planet, or have access to information about the manner in which humans communicate (with regard to phone time vs f2f communication), then how can you make this generalization? You’re generalizing based on your limited subjective experiences, and on top of that, you give no evidence to support your claim.

  61. 61
    ck

    Well, it seems that for as long as humans have had culture, we’ve also had culture snobs. And some people just have to prove it over and over again.

  62. 62
    Inaji

    ck:

    And some people just have to prove it over and over again.

    At great length and excruciating detail, no less.

Leave a Reply