I’ve been thinking about an aspect of modern life that bothers me at least as much — if not more — than the anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-thought, bias of our culture.
It’s bad when emotions are elevated above rational thinking, that what matters most is how one feels. It undermines our future when that is not guided by understanding and thoughtfulness. And all too often those feelings don’t involve compassion and acceptance, but fear, hate, and rage.
What’s worse, what makes we wonder if we’ll ever find a decent path again, is that we’ve become a culture of lies.
I watched the first season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Netflix) with mixed reactions. It had just enough to keep me watching, but I didn’t think much of the writing. It has the same problem as a lot of modern fantasy — random, irrational, downright dumb (and in this case very unoriginal) world building.
The latter season tipped the scales entirely to an Ugh! rating for me. Television shows are rarely known for their intelligence, but this one has given me a new standard of worst-ever.
To be clear here, ‘I come, not to praise Sabrina, but to bury it.’
It’s a New Year, so it’s time for that Janus backward and forward State of the Blog Post. (I did plenty looking back in the previous post, so today I’m looking mostly in the other direction.)
As I’ve mentioned, I framed 2020 as a year for changes. Many of them got sidelined (or outright derailed) but the year did result in some decisions that matter here. I find I’ve gone beyond my rope when it comes to what I’m going to begin always referring to as “fantasy bullshit” (FBS).
That’s not to say fantasy bullshit is all bad (some is fun; some might even be necessary), but I am going to start calling it what it is.
Although the New Year is a few days off (you still have time to stock up on champagne), most calendars start on Sunday, so today is the first day of the first week of 2021. More to the point, all 52 weeks of 2020 are now officially behind us. We can begin the process of shaking the dust of an awful year off our shoes.
How many times have I said I look around and forward, but rarely backward. (Lots of times!) Of course I’m more than willing to see the tail end of a wretched year and an even more wretched Presidency. (Easily, at this point, the worst in our history.)
Anyway: On the third day of Chillaxmas, my blog post is about…
I’ve known about Aldus Huxley’s soma as long as I’ve been a serious reader of science fiction, but it wasn’t until I finally read his 1932 novel, Brave New World, that I had a full picture of it. There is a direct avatar in the modern drug Xanax (and perhaps more so in marijuana), but it’s the metaphorical versions of soma that caught my eye these past decades.
The point of soma is that it is an external coping mechanism — a tool for promoting one’s own happiness with and in life. It can be the sledgehammer of a drug (or the gunshot of a lobotomy, to be extreme), but I see many metaphorical versions of it in our culture now.
When I look around, I see a seriously soma-soaked society.
In Through the Looking-Glass, Humpty Dumpty famously declares that words mean what he wants them to mean. I’ve known people to declare the same thing — that, for whatever reason, they can use their own meanings for words. (To be clear, Lewis Carroll was mocking the idea.)
While ideas matter more than the words used to express them, it’s a lot more challenging to communicate and discuss those ideas without a shared vocabulary. A common language that is rich and detailed makes the expression of ideas all the more precise and accurate.
This is why con artists prefer convoluted language: it’s a mask.
And the total is…?
Oh the irony of it all. Two days ago I post about two math books, at least one of which (if not both) I think everyone should read. This morning, reading my newsfeed, I see one of those “People Are Confused By This Math Problem” articles that pop up from time to time.
Often those are expressions without parentheses, so they require knowledge of operator precedence. (I think such “problems” are dumb. Precedence isn’t set in stone; always use parentheses.)
Some math problems do have a legitimately confusing aspect, but my mind is bit blown that anyone gets this one wrong.
I see them often, headlines that blare urgently: “Fans Flip Out Over _____” On the flip side, the ones that proclaim giddily: “Fans Are Thrilled About _____” The blanks differ, week to week, but the mood is always vocal eleven; outrage or delight; thumbs up or thumbs down. (As Jerry Seinfeld put it recently, it either “Sucks!” or it’s “Great!” His genius is pointing out they can be the same thing.)
For me that level of involvement in fiction is a bit alien. Even as a young Star Trek fan, I distinguished between Trekkers (the sensible sort of fan that I was) and Trekkies (those goofballs running around with Spock ears and toy phasers). Love versus obsession; appreciation versus Let’s Pretend.
What concerns me sometimes is we’re amusing ourselves to death.
I was planning on curling up on the couch with some good reading material today, but I bumped into something in my news feed this morning that raised my blood pressure and gave me the perfect excuse to get rid of another old note and vent some spleen (I like to keep it aired out).
The bitter irony is that what I see as a problem just doubled. It used to involve just one episode of a TV series I really like. Now it involves another episode of another TV series I like. Two episodes I will never, ever touch. If they were the last TV episodes in the world, I’d stop watching TV.
I’m talking about Netflix and their @#$%ing interactive videos.
One of the older notes on my idea board is a tiny Post-It™ with just a single word written on it: recrudescence. Wiktionary defines it as: “The condition or state being recrudescent; the condition of something (often undesirable) breaking out again, or re-emerging after temporary abatement or suppression.”
It is primarily a medical term referring to a disease reoccurring; the second Wiktionary definition is: “The acute recurrence of a disease, or its symptoms, after a period of improvement.”
But when I encountered the word several years ago, it struck me as a very good word for this “post-factual” era: the Dark Ages rises again.