Too Much Information

It seems like the challenge I face in this world is that I am drowning under waves of information. Twitter feeds, Facebook stream, Google Reader constantly shooting more articles at me. Newspapers arriving at the door, books glaring from the shelf, papers on various subjects. Movies to watch, shows to keep up with, sports talk bombarding me with the soap opera that is the NFL.

All of it crashes in upon my brain every day and I have to try to prune it back, manage it, reduce my inbox, get my unread items to zero. I am tempted to cut the tether binding me to the Empire of Information, but I can’t summon the willpower to do it. What if I miss some amazing trend in theology or come up short when someone mentions the name of a 16th century author whose works have recently been unearthed from a dig in central Saxony? I would like to change, but not today, not today Lord.

Pessimism

Muggeridge says of Christianity:

Pessimism has, indeed, been Christianity’s great strength, and the reason for its survival. The concept of this world as a wilderness, and of human life as short and brutish, fits the circumstances of most people most of the time. The contrary proposition-that earthly life can be satisfying within its own dimensions and on its own terms-leads to such mental strain and confusion as to be scarcely tenable, other than briefly and artificially.

Our Mad World, II

I just came across this article which further illustrates the madness of this age. I have been walking every day for the past five or so weeks, and I can confirm that very few people are ever on the streets or on the porch for any reason. Mostly what I see are TVs flickering on the wall – usually big flatscreens that are hung up high. Walking my neighborhood has given me a whole new insight into what we are like now. I used to be in an indoor bubble all the time, and most of us are. Anyway, here’s an extended quote from the article:

The sandlots and creek beds, the alleys and woodlands have been aban- doned in favor of a system of reservations—Chuck E. Cheese, the Jungle, the Discovery Zone: jolly internment centers mapped and planned by adults with no blank spots aside from doors marked staff only. When children roller-skate or ride their bikes, they go forth armored as for battle, and their parents typically stand nearby.

There are reasons for all of this. The helmeting and monitoring, the corralling of children into certified zones of safety, is in part the product of the Consumer Reports mentality, the generally increased consciousness, in America, of safety and danger. To this one might add the growing demands of insurance actuarials and the national pastime of torts. But the primary reason for this curtailing of adventure, this closing off of Wilderness, is the increased anxiety we all feel over the abduction of children by strangers; we fear the wolves in the Wilderness. This is not a rational fear; in 1999, for example, according to the Justice Department, the number of abductions by strangers in the United States was 115. Such crimes have always occurred at about the same rate; being a child is exactly no more and no less dangerous than it ever was. What has changed is that the horror is so much better known. At times it seems as if parents are being deliberately encouraged to fear for their children’s lives, though only a cynic would suggest there was money to be made in doing so.

The endangerment of children—that persistent theme of our lives, arts, and literature over the past twenty years—resonates so strongly because, as parents, as members of preceding generations, we look at the poisoned legacy of modern industrial society and its ills, at the world of strife and radioactivity, climatological disaster, overpopulation, and commodification, and feel guilty. As the national feeling of guilt over the extermination of the Indians led to the creation of a kind of cult of the Indian, so our children have become cult objects to us, too precious to be risked. At the same time they have become fetishes, the objects of an unhealthy and diseased fixation. And once something is fetishized, capitalism steps in and finds a way to sell it.

What is the impact of the closing down of the Wilderness on the development of children’s imaginations? This is what I worry about the most. I grew up with a freedom, a liberty that now seems breathtaking and almost impossible. Recently, my younger daughter, after the usual struggle and exhilaration, learned to ride her bicycle. Her joy at her achievement was rapidly followed by a creeping sense of puzzlement and disappointment as it became clear to both of us that there was nowhere for her to ride it—nowhere that I was willing to let her go. Should I send my children out to play?

There is a small grocery store around the corner, not over two hundred yards from our front door. Can I let her ride there alone to experience the singular pleasure of buying herself an ice cream on a hot summer day and eating it on the sidewalk, alone with her thoughts? Soon after she learned to ride, we went out together after dinner, she on her bike, with me following along at a safe distance behind. What struck me at once on that lovely summer evening, as we wandered the streets of our lovely residential neighborhood at that after-dinner hour that had once represented the peak moment, the magic hour of my own childhood, was that we didn’t encounter a single other child.

Even if I do send them out, will there be anyone to play with?

“populations that we don’t want to have too many of”

Unbelievable. Read this horrible (and coldly murderous) quote from Justice Ginsburg in the NYT:

Q: Are you talking about the distances women have to travel because in parts of the country, abortion is essentially unavailable, because there are so few doctors and clinics that do the procedure? And also, the lack of Medicaid for abortions for poor women?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae — in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn’t really want them. But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong.

Close Distance

     Sometimes, the way things are seems very strange when you think about it. For example, imagine two buildings across the street from each other, both are offices of about the same size. These buildings house two different companies. Every day, people drive down the same street from different places and arrive at these same two locations. They work, talk, go to lunch, work some more and then drive home.

     Physically, you could walk across the street and enter the other building. You could go there and walk around, seeing what this building is like and talking to the people in the various cubes and offices. But in actuality, you can’t do that. It may be fenced in, or require a badge to enter, or have locks that keep you out.      More importantly, these two companies may be in completely different fields, so that you stand little chance of entering the other organization, even if you want to. The requirements of the organization across the street might be for completely different skills than you have. They might have age requirements that bar you from working there, or it might be the kind of organization that has sites all over the country and if you were to work for them, there would be no guarantee that you could work in the location across the street – you might end up in Alabama instead. And yet, you can look out your office window every day and see the folks over there walking to and from their cars or smoking a cigarette.

     I find this notion of physical proximity and relational distance to be extremely odd. It doesn’t seem natural that you should have no idea who the folks across the street are, what they do, or where they live. Sometimes this can be different offices inside the same building, which is just as odd. In the historical past that I imagine, I cannot conceive of people working on the same street and not knowing each other. The butcher and the tanner across the street from each other must have known each other back then – no?

     But this relational separation exists on many more levels than just that of the office. I don’t know much about most of my neighbors – where they work, their names, what they are like, etc. Frankly, the ones that I do know I sort of wish I didn’t, but that’s my problem. Churches might be on the same block, or in some close proximity to each other, and yet have absolutely no idea about each other – who the congregants are, how they worship, what they believe, how they serve the community. It’s as if spatial proximity means nothing in the modern age. This seems wrong and disordered somehow.

A Dying Age

As Americans, we’ve lived with the idea of our own permanence for so long that we can’t imagine a post-American world. I think that the entire 20th century was almost an American eschaton. Our way of life triumphed and seemed forever stable. How could we ever descend into anarchy when Leave it to Beaver re-runs are on every day?

 

When day to day life involves trips to the grocery store, watching TV and living in ever-expanding suburbs, you don’t see it ending. Perhaps we will have another century of more of this, but it seems to me that the end of our order is in sight. The old agrarian republic is long since dead, the Constitution is a meaningless document and we live in a centralized empire that bears only skin-deep resemblance to the Republic or the Colonies. But what does it look like when an empire really dies?

 

Charles Norris Cochrane provides some idea in his book “Christianity and Classical Culture.” He writes:

 

The period following Theodosius may be characterized in general as one of twilight government by twilight men, whose puny and distracted efforts proved utterly inadequate to forfend the approaching doom. That doom was signalized in the destruction of cities, the devastation of the countryside, and the disruption of communications. Already in 396, the first year of Arcadius and Honorius, the situation, as portrayed by a contemporary observer, was little better than hopeless.

 

“The mind shudders,” declares St. Jerome, “to contemplate the ruin of our time. For the last twenty years, the blood of Romans has drenched the lands between Constantinople and the Julian Alps, where innumerable and ferocious tribes spread devastation and death…The bodies of the free and noble, of matrons and virgins have become the prey of lust. Bishops are imprisoned; churches plundered; horses have been stabled at the altars of Christ; the bones of martyrs flung out of their coffins…Everywhere grief, everywhere lamentation, everywhere the shadow of death!”

 

Cochrane outlines how buildings fell into ruin due to no money being available to repair them. Taxes and duties became so onerous that people stopped paying them and fled into the barbarian regions. Thieves multiplied, roads became unsafe, and foreigners poured over the borders of the Empire and gave feigned allegiance to Rome while remaining citizens of their tribe. The laws were unenforceable, the armies weak. Centralized authority broke down everywhere and the Medieval Age began.

 

So where are we at on that kind of timeline? It is of course impossible to know the future. Our military is still in the field, our systems of communication are intact, and our imperial center is still able to enforce the law. We do appear bankrupt on every level, much of our recent architecture and building has been ephemeral rather than durable, so our cities and suburbs will fall into ruins unless continuously updated. We lack any unifying or central purpose of life, we have no clue what we are here for or what we are trying to accomplish. Our institutions are generally filled with people who hate our own history and way of life. We have experienced massive waves of illegal immigration which will forever alter what this nation thinks and how it is governed. We are not yet in total disintegration, but you can now see how it could happen.

 

I believe we will recover from the present economic turmoil, perhaps quickly. But the bigger picture is one of a balkanized and incoherent nation which is living on the fumes of past glory. I think Christians are being called to a new Benedict moment – a withdrawal to a new monasticism. Not monasticism of the celibate, but of the married – a Protestant monasticism if you will. Families may need to relocate to small communities where we can preserve the heritage of the past and put down roots which will endure in the coming ages. Because on the other side of the Roman collapse came Christendom, led by a Church that spanned nations and tribal boundaries. Our nation may become three nations, or ten, all spanning this continent. The old configuration may collapse of exhaustion and debt. But the Church will endure, God’s Word will stand forever and communities that love the permanent things can shape a future age.

Suffocating Obama Adoration

Last week at a company lunch my highest local boss got up to make his usual announcements. He is a visionary who is well-respected within our company. So last week he chose to speak about what a great week it was, a week of hope for the entire world, a light at the end of a very long tunnel, and so forth.

I’m sure he violated all kinds of company rules about speech, but I’m not the litigious type who is going to run and report him for thought-crime. What bothers me is the appalling lack of etiquette and assumption that we all agree with him. Would I get to stand up and talk about how great a victory for the unborn it was had Senator McCain won? Of course not. And I wouldn’t anyway because in this society we’re not allowed to talk about abortion. 

I wouldn’t have done it anyhow though. I feel strongly about politics, but I keep it to myself at work. I’m not going to run around boasting about victories for our side or rubbing it in the face of others. Yet, the leftist masses feel free to rage at Bush and flaunt Obama and assume that you will agree or kindly shut up with your stone-age mentality. It is really hard to escape the gloating left right now, and it presages bad things for our nation. I can see how civil wars start.