Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Tolstoy, Netflix, and the Intellectual-Yet-Idiot

Reading books still matters.

From Gracey Olmstead in the Federalist:

Why It’s A Problem That Reading Is At 30-Year Lows

Americans' interest in literature has dropped to a three-decade low. The fact is, many don’t know what they are missing and they don’t care

Reading Is Work, In a Way Other Pastimes Aren’t

Why is it that the busy working professional will turn off his or her computer to binge-watch a season of “The Walking Dead,” but not to read Tolstoy? To most, the answer is immediately obvious: reading is “work,” to a degree that television is not. Tolstoy requires intense focus, careful reading. But television offers us a sedentary respite, both mentally and physically. It dulls the whirring tension of our brains. Films are often interesting and insightfulbut even the detailed artistry of “The Crown” doesn’t require the focus and diligence that a reading of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” would require.
As Chesterton might have said*: “People have not traded reading for Netflix because Netflix is better; they prefer Netflix because reading is hard.”*

Victor Davis Hanson reminds us why reading remains fundamental:

The mind is a muscle. Without exercise, it reverts to mush. Watching most TV or using the normal electronic gadgetry does not tax us much indeed that is by design the very purpose: to eliminate effort, worry, unease, and afterthought. None of us thinks back a year ago to a great video game session. Few off-hand can recall the Super Bowl winner of 2001. I remember the scenes in a Shane or Casablanca,  but not many others in the other thousand of movies that I have watched.

By nature, our ways of expression and even thinking always fossilize and are withering away with age and monotony a process accelerated by the modern electronic age and the neglect of replenishment through reading.


David Gelernter:

“Good is hard, temptation is a given; therefore, a healthy society talks to itself.”

“Goodness is unnatural, and we need to cheer one another on.”
We’ve stopped encouraging each other to read serious things. Forty years ago a serious person did not demonstrate their seriousness by babbling on about “Dallas” or “Charlie’s Angels”. Those were seen, at best, as harmless, guilty pleasures. ** (The were guilty pleasures precisely because they were unserious.)

Now, preening thought-leaders and self-styled experts prattle on about House of Cards and The Americans as though these soap operas are significant cultural milestones and sources of wisdom akin to Shakespeare, Tolstoy, or Solzhenitsyn.

As Instapundit said, the “death of expertise” was more suicide than murder.


*The original: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

** How harmless? Jacques Barzun represents one POV: "Love of what is fine should not make one finicky." Schopenhauer , at the other extreme, puts the GUILT in guilty pleasure. See:

Schopenhauer on the Dangers of Clickbait

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