Tag Archives: CS Lewis

Cable: The Cold, Dead Fire

This week I was reminded why I don’t have cable. I went on a two-evening business trip and was planning to do some reading in the evenings; I wanted to finish Economics in One Lesson and possibly Boston’s Gun Bible. I ended only getting most of the way through the former.

Why?

Both evenings, when I got back to the hotel room, I turned on the TV for what I planned to be a little relaxation before starting reading. The planned half hour, turned into an entire night. (I should have learned the first night, but didn’t).

Some of it I enjoyed, Duck Dynasty was very entertaining and filled with solid moral lessons; I do not regret watching a few episodes and wanting to watch a couple more was the reason I turned the TV on the second night. But in addition to Duck Dynasty, I ended up watching, among other shows, a multi-hour marathon of those storage auction shows, the movie Hook (which had a certain nostalgia value, but little else), and a few episodes of some retarded Nickelodeon comedy for teenagers, none of which I can say I actually enjoyed watching.

I’m fairly sure my books would have been not only more edifying, but also more entertaining, definitely moreso than the Nickoledean comedy. Yet, I watched these shows anyway.

I had this same problem back when I did have cable. It was so easy to sit down, then continue wasting away time even when I wasn’t enjoying myself or what I was watching. I would spend 15 minutes flipping through the channels, thinking to myself there’s nothing on. Then, thinking if I wait only 15 more minutes, new shows I like will be on. I could occasionally spend hours in this cycle of non-enjoyment

TV is manufactured to pulls at your senses and suck you in. After it sucks you in, it drains your energy and will to do anything else. The passivity of TV makes it unlike any other medium. Print require active reading, video games require active involvement, but TV requires nothing other than to lie down a shut up. It is so very easy to waste large amounts of time not enjoying yourself watching TV.

Cable makes it worse. With so much variety, it is always easy to find a show that is, if not entertaining, is barely watchable. It’s such a low threshold to reach, but the primal pull of the colours, the movement, the sound, the manufactured ‘relationships’, the ‘overheard’ conversation makes it difficult to resist the lure of the barely watchable. You are being manipulated on levels you are barely aware of; I was.

Cable TV is a soul-sucking distraction.

We could even say, it leaves you desouled, butthexed, and bernankified. lolzlollzozlolz

****

This excerpt from Chapter 12 of the Screwtape Letters proves apt:

As this condition becomes more fully established, you will be gradually freed from the tiresome business of providing Pleasures as temptations. As the uneasiness and his reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness, and as habit renders the pleasures of vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forgo (for that is what habit fortunately does to a pleasure) you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked”.

Is there any better expression of the compulsion to watch TV than that: “I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.”

Can you think of anything worse to think to yourself at the end of your life? I can’t.

****

Now, this is not a blanket condemnation of TV; man should have some leisure and relaxation and some shows are genuinely worth watching even absent the entertainment value (I put Yes, Minister on the DE Reading List for a reason). But you should only watch, in moderation, what you actually enjoy or what may inform you or make you a better person.

Spending hours watching commercial-filled crap which meets the minimal requirement of not completely unwatchable simply because it pulls at at your laziness and other primal compulsions you don’t quite understand is a waste.

My advice, if you have cable or satellite TV get rid of it. If there’s a specific show you want to watch, stream it on Netflix or get the DVD’s, but having cable makes it far to easy to get sucked into a time-wasting vortex where you are neither entertained nor doing anything productive.

I’m almost glad I had that experience at the hotel, it reminded me of the cold dead fire. It reminded me of the dangers of cable and why I decided against it in the first place. It’s a lifeless, joyless way to waste your life.

Get rid of cable, buy a book, some ammo, or even some Simpsons DVD’s instead. You’ll get a lot more out of it.


CS Lewis was a Prophet

Well, not literally, but read this from Screwtape Proposes a Toast:

Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose. The good work which our philological experts have already done in the corruption of human language makes it unnecessary to warn you that they should never be allowed to give this word a clear and definable meaning. They won’t. It will never occur to them that democracy is properly the name of a political system, even a system of voting, and that this has only the most remote and tenuous connection with what you are trying to sell them. Nor of course must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle’s question: whether “democratic behaviour” means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to them that these need not be the same.

You are to use the word purely as an incantation; if you like, purely for its selling power. It is a name they venerate. And of course it is connected with the political ideal that men should be equally treated. You then make a stealthy transition in their minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal. Especially the man you are working on. As a result you can use the word democracy to sanction in his thought the most degrading (and also the least enjoyable) of human feelings. You can get him to practise, not only without shame but with a positive glow of self-approval, conduct which, if undefended by the magic word, would be universally derided.

The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say I’m as good as you.

The first and most obvious advantage is that you thus induce him to enthrone at the centre of his life a good, solid, resounding lie. I don’t mean merely that his statement is false in fact, that he is no more equal to everyone he meets in kindness, honesty, and good sense than in height or waist measurement. I mean that he does not believe it himself. No man who says I’m as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept.

And therefore resents. Yes, and therefore resents every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes its annihilation. Presently he suspects every mere difference of being a claim to superiority. No one must be different from himself in voice, clothes, manners, recreations, choice of food: “Here is someone who speaks English rather more clearly and euphoniously than I — it must be a vile, upstage, la-di-da affectation. Here’s a fellow who says he doesn’t like hot dogs — thinks himself too good for them, no doubt. Here’s a man who hasn’t turned on the jukebox — he’s one of those goddamn highbrows and is doing it to show off. If they were honest-to-God all-right Joes they’d be like me. They’ve no business to be different. It’s undemocratic.”Now, this useful phenomenon is in itself by no means new. Under the name of Envy it has been known to humans for thousands of years. But hitherto they always regarded it as the most odious, and also the most comical, of vices. Those who were aware of feeling it felt it with shame; those who were not gave it no quarter in others. The delightful novelty of the present situation is that you can sanction it — make it respectable and even laudable — by the incantatory use of the word democratic.

Under the influence of this incantation those who are in any or every way inferior can labour more wholeheartedly and successfully than ever before to pull down everyone else to their own level. But that is not all. Under the same influence, those who come, or could come, nearer to a full humanity, actually draw back from fear of being undemocratic. I am credibly informed that young humans now sometimes suppress an incipient taste for classical music or good literature because it might prevent their Being Like Folks; that people who would really wish to be — and are offered the Grace which would enable them to be — honest, chaste, or temperate refuse it. To accept might make them Different, might offend against the Way of Life, take them out of Togetherness, impair their Integration with the Group. They might (horror of horrors!) become individuals.

All is summed up in the prayer which a young female human is said to have uttered recently: “O God, make me a normal twentieth century girl!” Thanks to our labours, this will mean increasingly: “Make me a minx, a moron, and a parasite.”

Meanwhile, as a delightful by-product, the few (fewer every day) who will not be made Normal or Regular and Like Folks and Integrated increasingly become in reality the prigs and cranks which the rabble would in any case have believed them to be. For suspicion often creates what it expects. (“Since, whatever I do, the neighbors are going to think me a witch, or a Communist agent, I might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, and become one in reality.”) As a result we now have an intelligentsia which, though very small, is very useful to the cause of Hell.

But that is a mere by-product. What I want to fix your attention on is the vast, overall movement towards the discrediting, and finally the elimination, of every kind of human excellence – moral, cultural, social, or intellectual. And is it not pretty to notice how “democracy” (in the incantatory sense) is now doing for us the work that was once done by the most ancient Dictatorships, and by the same methods? You remember how one of the Greek Dictators (they called them “tyrants” then) sent an envoy to another Dictator to ask his advice about the principles of government. The second Dictator led the envoy into a field of grain, and there he snicked off with his cane the top of every stalk that rose an inch or so above the general level. The moral was plain. Allow no preeminence among your subjects. Let no man live who is wiser or better or more famous or even handsomer than the mass. Cut them all down to a level: all slaves, all ciphers, all nobodies. All equals. Thus Tyrants could practise, in a sense, “democracy.” But now “democracy” can do the same work without any tyranny other than her own. No one need now go through the field with a cane. The little stalks will now of themselves bite the tops off the big ones. The big ones are beginning to bite off their own in their desire to Be Like Stalks.

He knew the way it was going decades before it went there.


Unplugging

I was reading the Hawaiian Libertarian archives, and came across this post on the media. It got me thinking about my own media consumption habits, which reminded me of this passage from CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, where Screwtape, a greater demon, advises a lesser demon on tempting a man:

As this condition becomes more fully established, you will be gradually freed from the tiresome business of providing Pleasures as temptations. As the uneasiness and his reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness, and as habit renders the pleasures of vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forgo (for that is what habit fortunately does to a pleasure) you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked”.

The Screwtape Letters (which I’d heavily recommend reading) was written before TV became the dominant form of media consumption, but is an excellent description of what TV does.

I’ve was always more of a gamer, but years ago I would watch TV regularly. Often I found myself watching TV, but not enjoying it. I would watch shows that I didn’t find entertaining simply because I was too bored or lethargic to do anything better with my time.. I would stay up late watching crap or simply flipping through channels watching nothing in particular, neglecting my sleep, but not really having fun either.

Then, I moved into a friend’s house. He didn’t want to pay for cable and neither did I, so we went without. I found I didn’t miss TV at all. I would occasionally have a hankering to watch the Simpsons, but other than that I found there was no loss to my life or happiness, and I had more time for other things.

Now, I still watch some shows (such as Archer and Futurama), because sometimes I just need to lie down and relax for a few hours, without having to read or think too much.

But I only watch shows I have specifically downloaded or purchased on DVD. So, when I do watch TV, I only end up watching what I know I enjoy, so I never find myself wasting time on boring stuff.

I’ve been considering subscribing to Netflix as there’s a show or two on there I want to watch (Community and Arrested Development, specifically). My concern though, is with that much easy selection I might again be tempted to waste more time watching TV than I would like. So, I haven’t subscribed yet, but am considering it.

As for other media. I never listen to the radio anymore and haven’t since I got an MP3 player; I find the talk radio boring and music radio plays only crappy music (ie. non-metal).

I never really watched TV news; I found it was really hard to see through the bias to the deeper meanings at the speed of television and so many of the stories were complete wastes of time.

I did read newspapers regularly, but I’ve been trying to cut back. I still read newspapers as part of my job requires it, but I try to avoid it on my own time.

Keeping up with the news is mostly a waste of time and can actually be harmful. Nassim Taleb wrote about this in the Black Swan (another book I’d recommend); the best filter for news is what you hear from others and too much news can actually be harmful to your thinking as you become trapped in minutiae and narrative.

Besides, the news almost never changes, you can predict exactly what your average newspaper will have each day, all that changes is the details:

  • Local violent crime
  • Heartwarming human interest story
  • Political scandal
  • Political leaders debate bill to remove freedom
  • Middle East violence

If anything is novel enough to care about, you’ll learn about it from somewhere. If you really want to keep up, choose an aggregator, such as Instapundit, it will summarize the bigger stories without requiring much time.

The last form media is the internet; this is where most of my media attention goes. I try to read most of the sites on my blogroll fairly regularly, and I have no regrets about that.

What I do find is that it is very easy to waste time just clicking around doing nothing, rather than doing something more useful. Facebook, and political debates on there are especially bad for this. I find I can waste a lot of time debating useless politics with my friends. I enjoy it, usually, but it’s not really productive. I’ve been trying to post less in the last few weeks, and this blog is helping in that. When I can use the Lightning Round to make snide remarks and larger posts to talk about other interesting topics, I think I waste less time posting and debating things on FB, but it’s something I’m working on.

One other special difficulty is late night; it is very easy to continue to waste time, even when not really having fun or learning anything useful, rather than going to bed to get the sleep I need, but I’m trying to work on that. I did quite good in going to bed at a decent time for a few weeks when I first started trying primal living, but have started staying up late again in the last couple weeks. It’s something to work on.

In conclusion, some tips for readers: if you have cable, get rid of it; you probably won’t miss it. If you need to watch TV, use DVDs or downloads, possibly Netflix, so you can ensure you only watch TV you enjoy. Don’t read newspapers or try to keep up on the news, it’s an unproductive waste of time. Subscribe to an aggregator and/or follow a couple of blogs you like; you’ll get all the news that’s actually important. Try to go to bed on time; that important thing on the internet keeping you up, isn’t really that important.