I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this: the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composed Hallelujah
I’m back in New York City with so much to write about. I want to get this all out today before I head to the UN. Otherwise I am afraid I’ll have way too many thoughts and I’ll get overwhelmed. I might space these out though and give the UN Commission it’s own entry.
- Bar Harbor, Maine to New York City
- George Orwell vs. Aldous Huxley
Maine to New York
This weekend I left my small community in Bar Harbor, Maine via bus from Bangor to Boston, then Boston to Stamford, CT. The 14-hour trip started out great: the first bus had clean air and a decent temperature, but the second, a local Greyhound, had neither of these two basic things which made for a miserable trip.
The air was so hot and dry it hurt to breathe, and the smells made me sick to my stomach. To top it off, the bus driver was mean and the bathroom was really dirty. Maybe I’m just used to Maine temperatures (our house automatically resets itself to 60 degrees every few hours, so yes, maybe my body has adjusted itself accordingly) but after a few minutes, I had shed all my layers and was dressed for the beach.
I know I don’t have much experience traveling by bus, and I know I’m especially sensitive to sounds and smells, but when I was squatting over the toilet in the back with the liquids splashing all around, I couldn’t help but wish for a matatu in Kenya and a hole behind a bush. The light above my seat didn’t work so I couldn’t read. I buried my head in my pillow and tried to sleep, but sleep wouldn’t come. As a result, I had a lot of time to myself with no distractions: no camera, no books, no music, no internet, and no cell phone. I tried to meditate, but when I couldn’t quiet the chatter in my brain, I made up stories.
The woman in front of me who smelled like buffalo wings and pizza became a woman who worked in a casino. I imagined her conversations with her patrons as she served food, dripping with fat and grease, to people playing games with their money, all while thinking of her children waiting for her at home. The man to my right became an engineer from Paraguay. He was on his way to Providence to pitch a new model for transportation that could potentially change the way people get around: solar-powered wings (modeled after the Kashaki bird, native to his region). The stories, most of them already forgotten, continued: one for each person within sight. When my creative mind tired, I reflected on the dread welling up inside me as I got further from Maine and closer to NYC. I don’t hate the city, I just find it really hard to think. And then there’s the pollution of every kind, and, and, and… I could go on, but I won’t, because I want to fast forward to some ideas from last night.
Amusing Ourselves to Death
After the Commission at the UN (which I will get to, I promise!) I went to Navs to meet up with some of my friends. Navs is a spiritual group of college kids who meet to discuss life. It’s mostly Christians, but the people who come are from all different faiths. There are Navigator groups all over the world, but I think NYU attracts a more diverse population than say, a bible school in rural Kentucky. Topic for the night: amusing ourselves to death. Peter, one of the leaders, read a passage written by Neil Postman about 1984 and Brave New World (two books that I love).
“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.
But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another – slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley 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. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.” — (Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
He shared some statistics (teenagers now spend an average of 7.5 hours per day engaging with some form of social media), and sat us down with some questions: What distracts us? What do we really want? Are we comfortable with ourselves in silence? Do we listen to our own voices? And to our own needs and desires (and not just what everyone else tells us we should want or need)? Do we listen to God’s? Can we even hear ourselves or God above all the distractions and noise? Interesting questions, especially in light of my recent bus experience. No time for answers right now. I will sign off with this cartoon interpreting the passage above.0