Saturday, January 4, 2014

What is the joy about?

This is what Solzhenytsin asked in his 1978 Harvard Commencement Address. He was talking about the bland and cheerful face that is always and everwhere  presented by the American media--especially on television. Pope Francis also remarked on the glaring disparity between the media's sanguine acceptance as unremarkable the death of of an elderly homeless man and the alarming headlines which appear at a twitch in the stock market.

Now I am watching  news about the cold weather's effect on the upcoming Packers game. It is a story they keep coming back to amidst reports on people being inconvenienced by snow and tweeted pictures of snowmen. Once very briefly they mentioned that 9 people died because of the huge storm.Of course there is nothing at all that is wrong about enjoying football and the stalwart devotion of Green Bay Packers Fans .They are a remarkable example of American spirit. Nor is there anything bad or even silly about three brothers who made a giant snow shark. It is charming and amusing, and even wonderful to make a monster who will certainly melt.

But  no matter what is going on around the world, the news announcers  make a concerted effort at meaningless cheerfulness. They smile continuosly, regardless of what is actually happening in the world. If something catastrophic occurs there is usually a lapse into assumed concern.  But the return to cheerful neutrality is inevitable.This naturally requires that the attention  of the audience be kept on innocuous, superficial and benign events. --If events are not sufficiently benign either some harmless news will be dredged up (this is always possible in a huge counntry with global television coverage and the internet) or bad news will be doctored to make it appear that the outcome, at least, will probably be hopeful. In any case the depiction of horrors will be kept brief. A few weeks ago when  it was reported that a school in Syria was blown up and children
were killed there was barely enough time  to register the fact before something less disturbing was shown.

What IS the joy about?  Reality is filtered so as to suppress serious news.  America is in political economic and moral decline. But this will not be acknowledged in any serious way by the press. It a fact that our society as a whole refuses to acknowledge or even discuss. It is far too unpleasant to think about. It is too "negative". This is why soldiers returning from war experience such extreme shock and psychological isolation that many of them cannot return to functioning as they did before they left. It is why those who experience great suffering as a result of divorce, crime, mental illness or joblessness drift to the edges of society's awareness. It is why we think in terms of passing laws instead of acting compassionately towards our own next door neighbors and families, why sending money to help disaster victims across the country seems easier than looking into the circumstances of our own daily lives for opportunities to do good. Because it is precisely to escape the discouragements of our daily lives that we immerse ourselves in the more superficial dramas--the ones with predictable happy endings--presented by the  architects of our social awareness.

The truth of things is always elusive and it takes effort to even glimpse a hint of it. And of course you have to accept the principle that such a thing as truth does exist--scientific, mathematical, philosophical, theological. Even accepting only  one of those aspects of reality is a beginning. Any truth, if you pursue it assiduously, will lead to the one source of all the others. They are connected.

But to block out certain kinds of information only because they are unpleasant or reveal our powerlessness or challenge our parochial interpretations of human existence disconnects us from each other, from history, and finally from ever being able to make sense of our own lives

What is the joy about? It's
about nothing. The nothingness left when-- by sanitizing the great story of humanity as it is manifested in  stories every day all over the world in the lives of nations and individuals---- we have lost its  meaning. This "joy" is about fleeting moments taken out of their larger contexts. Isolated and disconnected moments alive only briefly in our consciousness and then, lacking a history into which we can place  them, gone forever. ...Nothing.

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