THE PARALYSIS OF THE AMERICAN MIND – Part Two

BLOG #17, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE PARALYSIS OF THE AMERICAN MIND
Part Two
April 24, 2013

Each day that passes, for untold millions of people, the electronic world is increasingly edging out the real world. Initially, pundits prophesied that the Brave New World of the Internet would result in bringing us closer and closer to each other. Instead, the reverse is proving true: Just look at text-messaging: it has become a substitute for real-life interaction. Look at the number of people who text-message each other in the same room—they look at the screen rather than at the real-life face. Lately, researchers are noting another result: people are becoming ever more isolated from each other; in fact, we’re losing the ability to read each other’s body language.

Another study I read just during the last week had to do with what’s happening to us sexually. Because the electronic world continues to dehumanize us, increasingly sexuality is becoming merely another sport, aerobics if you please, in which we gain momentary highs without deepening the relationship with the person who made that high possible. Consequently, rather than sex deepening the relationship between two people, increasing the love and commitment they have for each other, the reverse is proving true: throw-away relationships are becoming the norm, and not incidentally, accelerating our current epidemic of suicides.

But neither should we lose sight of the wonderful benefits of the Internet, the many ways in which it has changed our lives for the better. For instance, earlier in my writing career, when we completed a manuscript, we’d photocopy it, then take it to the Post Office and mail it certified, then wait and wait for a response on the other end. Today, a click of the mouse sends it to the recipient wherever in the world that person may be; another click of the mouse and the person on the other end acknowledges its receipt; thirty minutes later, another click of the mouse and we know what that person thinks of the manuscript after a cursory reading of it. In that respect it is indeed a Brave New World on the positive side. So I am not debunking or running down the marvelous technology that makes all this possible, but rather I am addressing some of the darker side-effects we should thoughtfully study.

There was a thirty-year-fuse that eventually ignited into my book, Remote Controlled (Review & Herald Publishing Association, 1993). In it I tackled the issue of what we were becoming as the result of our fascination with television. One finding is most apropos to this blog series: If you are listening to a live drama or radio theater, or reading a book or magazine, no two people will create the same mental imagery, for each of us creates such imagery connotatively, in association with everything else we’ve experienced in life, and building on the creative imagery created earlier by our brains, we create a new one from each such exposure. Each book we read, for instance, can be a treasure chest for hundreds of images instantly transmitted into our brain’s archives.
But now, let’s contrast that with imagery that is beamed at us electronically–be it a movie, a television program, or a video. Whether one person sees it or a billion, the image is the same: since it is pre-fab, created by someone other than the receiver of the electronic image, it is one and the same. Result: it is blasted straight into the receiver’s inner archives, bypassing the receiver’s mind, heart, and soul, for they had nothing to do with its creation. The consequences, over time, we’ve all seen. The non-readers are crippled by an inability to create well for most everything in their inner memory archives is second-hand, created by someone else!

When I have two Freshman Comp students in a class, and ask them to take out a piece of paper and get ready to write, the reader can hardly wait to begin (having so many stylistic templates to draw from), whereas the non-reader just stares glassy-eyed at that sheet of paper, unable to even begin. Having only unstructured disjointed electronic imagery to draw from, that student is, more often than not, incapable of either writing or speaking in coherent well-structured sentences and paragraphs. Hence our current epidemic of cheating in America, for non-readers, having little that is original in their heads, when faced with writing an essay, term paper, or research project, are, tragically, unable to write without cheating.

In fact CEOs have noticed that it goes on from there: they’ve discovered that if they take two applicants for a position (one a reader and the other a non-reader), and ask them to follow a five-step process to a solution to a problem (A, B, C, D, and E), deliberately leaving out a step, the reader comes to the abyss, is puzzled but not defeated by it, and almost immediately, like a spider, sends synapses out in all directions, and is thus able to bridge to the other side, continue, and arrive at a conclusion. The non-reader, having never developed that part of the brain scholars call “the library,” in which the brain has learned to talk to itself, is literally incapable of ever bridging to the other side.

So while a given non-reading person may develop marvelous skill in utilizing technology and become a whiz at creating data, that individual may be crippled by an inability to fully interpret and articulate the significance of that data.

From all that I have seen, from all that I have read, America has become a society of non-readers. And that reality alone contributes mightily to what I am calling the paralysis of the American mind.

We will conclude this tripartite series next Wednesday.

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THE PARALYSIS OF THE AMERICAN MIND – PART ONE

BLOG #16, SERIES 4

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

THE PARALYSIS OF THE AMERICAN MIND

Part One

April 17, 2013

I pray a lot about my blogs – that God will help me choose each one – then I wait. Sometimes His answer is soft and under-stated; sometimes He permits me to choose from several options; and sometimes the answer is about as subtle as the smash of a sledgehammer – that’s the way it has been this week. The subject so significant it will take me three blogs to address it.

The catalyst? Two days ago, early one snowy morning, after walking through the almost heartbreakingly beautiful April snow – never a given in drought-plagued Colorado –, I thought once again about the fragility of our lives, and wondered how many more such April snowfalls the good Lord would grant me.

Back at the house, a fire was crackling merrily in our moss rock fireplace. When we were searching for a home in the Rockies a little over 16 years ago, a must was a wood-burning fireplace. When we found this place, one glimpse of this particular fireplace, and we knew we were home.

Back in the house with two newspapers, The Wall Street Journal and The Denver Post, I settled down to catch up on news of the world. Usually, I stall out more often with WSJ, but not this morning, for there in Section C of the Post was the blog catalyst for the next several weeks. Here is how Matt Miller’s jolting headline read:

PLUGGED IN
FACEBOOK DOESN’T WANT TO BE A TOOL,
IT WANTS TO BE YOUR SOCIAL LIFE

It begins with, “Facebook is in the business of social lives. The friends you have, the execs you stalk, the restaurants you like, and the brands you talk about are at the core of what they do.”

Miller points out that Facebook executives have been increasingly convicted that they were losing the battle for control of our minds to other media brands and forms. So their brain trust came up with something they call “Facebook Home,” but is really far closer to “Facebook Phone,” for it inserts Facebook into the center of the Android phone world.

Initially, Miller perceived the program as a good and needed thing, but the more he’s studied it, the more apprehensive he has become:

When Facebook becomes the hub of our mobile social lives as the operating core of our phone, it is no longer just a tool we use to streamline our social lives – Facebook can now BE your social life.

Miller then quotes from University of Colorado Michelle Jackson (associate professor of communication):

You get hundreds of people that you’re supposedly following. And Facebook takes care of all the decisions . . . of what to read about who, and when.

Imagine the number of times the average person looks at his/her phone every day. Now, with Home, this person is automatically being thrust into the social world via Facebook with each glance.

Jackson notes that deciding moment-by-moment whether to socialize or not will no longer even be an option, for if your phone is turned on, you’re already there:

From the moment you turn it on, you see a steady stream of who’s in a bad mood, who’s happy, who’s posted pictures from a party or a meal. Instant access to political rants or anything else people broadcast on social media.

* * * * *

I do not regard Facebook’s Home program as insidious in itself, but rather symptomatic of an even broader issue: What’s happening to us as a society? There’s an old sociological term for it – other-directed. We have just two options in life: we are either other-directed or we are inner-directed. To be inner-directed is to have an inner core of beliefs that enables you, to a certain extent, to be master of your own destiny. By extension: whether you succeed or fail at what you do and accomplish on a day-to-day basis, is in your hands rather than in the hands of others. On the other hand, if you lack inner-directedness, and are consequently other-directed, you are no more in control of your multitudinous life-choices than would be true of the captain of an ocean cruiseship that has lost its rudder. In wartime vernacular, you are a “sitting duck” for forces beyond your control.

We ought to be terrified by this accelerating shift from being an inner-directed nation to being an other-directed one.

The result is that more and more of us are choosing to live in a vicarious world rather than in the real one; choosing pleasure as our lode-star rather than real-life tough choices,. I’m reminded of my personal immersion into utopian and dystopian literature preparatory to writing my master’s thesis at Sacramento State University. During that time period I studied the two most famous dystopias: Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. Orwell’s nightmarish world of the future was patterned after tyrants such as Stalin who murdered some 40,000,000 of his people in order to remain in power. Huxley’s view of the future was much more benign: ruling by control of the mind rather than body. In retrospect, as I look back over the years separating me from 2013 and the 1968 thesis (45 years), I feel that if Huxley were alive today, he’d have written a sequel to his own sequel. Twenty years after writing Brave New World, he wrote Brave New World Revisited. In it he voiced his deep concern for the societal shift that had already taken place: in only twenty years, already Brave New World was becoming reality rather than fiction. Originally, he’d assumed it would take a century to get there!

In Brave New World (a flashback to Shakespeare’s The Tempest), Huxley created a world driven by the pleasure-principle. Just as was true in the last years of the Roman Empire, unscrupulous individuals are able to assume control of millions of people by providing ever more pleasure-related activities so that the masses would lose interest in the realities of government and citizenship.

So, to conclude this first segment of “The Paralysis of the American Mind,” and set the stage for Part 2, let’s recap by posing some questions worth pondering:

• Just how much control over my life am I willing to surrender to someone else (be it an individual or corporation)?

• How much intrusion into my own achievement/career/family, etc. trajectories am I willing to permit?

• What effect on my personal time-management will these near constant electronic intrusions have?

• Just what am I today: inner-directed or other-directed?

• Recognizing that Facebook’s Home is but one piece of a vast electronic mosaic, is it perhaps time for me to back off a bit and take stock of how I am personally relating to the realities of my own Brave New World?

WHAT ARE WE TEACHING OUR KIDS?

BLOG #15, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WHAT ARE WE TEACHING OUR KIDS?
April 10, 2013

Recently, in an organization I regularly attend, one of our members, with an uncharacteristically grave expression on his face, silenced us by a statement followed by a question.

In essence, here is what he said: “Our daughter came home from school yesterday afternoon deeply disturbed, confused, and bordering on tears.”

By this time, there was total silence in the room.

After pausing a moment, he continued, “Our daughter, her voice quivering, said, “Daddy, our teacher today told us that we live in a wicked nation, that we committed genocide against the Indian people—is that true?”

Continuing, he told us that he tried to explain to her the complex story of the last four-hundred years. Then he asked her what else the teacher had been saying about America. And what next came out of his little girl’s mouth stunned him and his wife, for it was clear that the teacher had been undermining all the positive things in our history generations have died to protect. He continued, saying, “We’re appalled! And are wondering whether or not to pull her out of school now—or wait until later. . . . Quite candidly, we’re at sea. We need counsel. What do you think we ought to do?”

For the rest of our meeting, little else was talked about. Reason being that, even those of us older than he, were so flabbergasted by the dilemma he and his wife faced that I’m afraid we weren’t much help.

But I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Not long afterwards my attention was caught by a Wall Street Journal headline: “The Golf Shot Heard Round the World,” a column written by David Feith (issue of April 6-7).

The story began with a 2010 golf game during which philanthropist Thomas Klingenstein got acquainted with Barry Mills, the president of the highly respected liberal arts Bowdoin College in Maine. During their far-ranging discussion, the subject of “diversity” came up. In a later article for the Claremont Review of Books, Klingenstein wrote, “I explained my disapproval of ‘diversity’ as it has generally been implemented on college campuses: too much celebration of racial and ethnic difference,” coupled with “not enough celebration of our common American identity.”

For this, wrote Mr. Klingenstein, Bowdoin’s president insinuated he was a racist, and the debate heated up from that point on. It so happened that Mr. Klingenstein was now curious enough about what was being taught at Bowdoin to commission, at his own expense, researchers from the National Association of Scholars to dig deeply into the matter. So deep that only now, a year and a half and hundreds of pages of documentation later, the report is out. The data was distilled from speeches by Bowdoin presidents and deans, formal statements of the college’s principles, official faculty reports and notes of faculty meetings, academic course lists and syllabi, books and articles by professors, the archive of the Bowdoin Orient newspaper, and more. “They analyzed the school’s history back to its founding in 1794, focusing on the past 45 years—during which, they argued, Bowdoin’s character changed dramatically for the worse.”

This report, according to David Feith, “demonstrates how Bowdoin has become an intellectual monoculture dedicated above all to identity politics.”

“The school’s ideological pillars would likely be familiar to anyone who has paid attention to American higher education lately. There’s the obsession with race, class, gender and sexuality as the essential forces of history and markers of political identity. There’s the dedication to ‘sustainability,’ or saving the planet from its imminent destruction by the forces of capitalism. And there are the paeans to ‘global citizenship,’ or loving all countries except one’s own.”

“The Klingenstein report also offers specifics: Bowdoin ‘has no curricular requirements that center on the American founding or the history of the nation.’ Even history majors aren’t required to take a single course in American history. In the History Department, no course is devoted to American political, military, diplomatic, or intellectual history—the only ones available are organized around some aspect of race, class, gender or sexuality.

“One of the few requirements is that Bowdoin students take a year long freshman seminar. Some of the 37 seminars offered this year: ‘Affirmative Action and U.S. Society,’ ‘Fictions of Freedom,” ‘Racism,’ ‘Queer Gardens (which examine the works of gay and lesbian gardeners and traces how marginal identities find expression in specific garden spaces,’), sexual life of Colonialism,’ and ‘Modern Western Prostitutes.’

“Regarding Bowdoin professors, the report estimates that ‘four or five out of approximately 182 full-time faculty members might be described as politically conservative. In the 2012 election cycle, 100% of faculty donations went to President Obama.”

* * *

There’s more. But, considering that Bowdoin represents the norm rather than the exception to the rule in higher education today, I can offer little consolation to the distraught member of my service club.

What I can’t get over is being able to graduate from a prestigious liberal arts college, earning a degree in history, without taking so much as one course in American history!

IN CONCLUSION

But, let’s return to the beginning of this blog, and the heartbreaking question that father posed to us—how should I have answered him? How would you have answered him?

Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month: Myrtle Reed’s “The Master’s Violin”

BLOG #14, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #18
MYRTLE REED’S THE MASTER’S VIOLIN
April 3, 2013

It was close to 35 years ago when I first read The Master’s Violin. It made such a profound impression on me that I have returned to it several times since then. Not only that, but it triggered a book-buying spree that would not ebb until I had tracked down most of her books.

Biographies—I handle each life-story gingerly, as though it might detonate at any point. Especially when it has to do with someone whose life is somewhat shrouded in mists. Someone like Myrtle Reed. Someone about whom there appears to be more questions than there are answers.

Like many authors, Myrtle Reed was a preacher’s daughter; also an author’s daughter (mother: Elizabeth Armstrong Reed, author; and father: the Rev. Hiram Von Reed). She was born in Illinois on Sept. 27, 1874, and died Aug. 17, 1911, at age 36.

As is true with many authors destined to die young, she created books at a feverish rate, almost as if she knew from the beginning that she would not live long:

NOVELS

Love Letters of a Musician (1899)
Later Love Letters of a Musician (1900)
The Spinster Book (1901)
Lavender and Old Lace (1902, 1907), a long-running play adapted by playwright David G. Fischer
The Shadow of Victory (1903)
Pickaback Songs (1903)
The Book of Clever Beasts (1904)
* The Master’s Violin (1904)
At the Sign of the Jack o’ Lantern (1905), made into a silent film directed by Lloyd Ingraham in 1922)
A Spinner in the Sun (1906, 1909)
Love Affairs of Literary Men (1907), non-fiction, biographical)
Flowers of the Dusk (1908), made into a silent film directed by John Hancock Collins in 1918
Old Rose and Silver (1909)
Master of the Vineyard (1910, 1911)
Sonnets to a Lover (1910)
A Weaver of Dreams (1911), made into a silent film starring Viola Dana in 1918
Threads of Gray and Gold (1913)

Myrtle Reed also wrote and published six cookbooks during her lifetime, as well as eight more books published posthumously.

One thing to keep in mind is that words such as “lover” did not have sexual connotations until fairly recently. Consequently, all the Reed books I’ve ever read have presented a conservative way of life. Even the word “affair” has veered into overtly sexual connotations in today’s society.

In 1906, she married James Sydney McCullough, a Canadian pen-pal who edited a college newspaper in Toronto.

She was a diagnosed insomniac who had to have prescribed sleeping medication in order to get any sleep. She died of an overdose of sleeping powder in her Chicago residence, “Paradise Flat.” From all indications, her later life was anything but a happy one.

It has only been recently that I’ve learned more about the darkness of her last days. What’s important to me is that she wrote profoundly moving inspirational, and beautiful books. Once you’ve read one, you’ll want to get them all.

I reread this book for at least the third time in 2002. Here is my response:

It was all the same! Incredibly moving! Even though I knew the story, I read on. Even peeked at the ending early on. Incredible that a young woman could write such a book. So difficult to read a paragraph fast for every line rings like a great bell. The only other writer whose lines must be read this slow is Elizabeth Goudge. With both, you continually stop, and say, “How true! How true!” Such insights into life and death. Life with all its anguish, all the sorrow offsetting its joy. Reed postulates that everything has its price. Greatness cannot be achieved without anguish. Shallowness is the natural result of undiluted happiness. God is a key element in the book. Caste is shown as a relentless divider of hearts. The good Doctor whose great love was Aunt Peace sacrifices that inner love in order to bring happiness to three others, in order to exercise that great character trait, kindness.

It has to be one of the greatest books I have read in my lifetime!

So, this very moment, track down a top-condition First Edition and buy it. Many were sold so it is not prohibitive price-wise.

The Master’s Violin (New York: G. P. Putnam and Son/Knickerbocker Press, 1904). It is a stunning book, laminated in white and gold on blue-gray.Scan_Pic0028

Published in: on April 3, 2013 at 7:24 am  Comments (2)