I wasn’t allowed to watch television as a child. My mother has a firm view on the pedagogical benefits of using your full cognition range as a developing child. She simply thought the television did too much work for you which hindered building mental acuity in a child. But she also has a more personal reason. She believes distraction breeds stagnation.
As I’ve mentioned before here, my parents were utopian hippies committed to the manifest destiny of Silicon Valley. A classic book of the radical “information longs to be free” crowd Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves To Death showed distraction as the primary tool of the tyrant. The real tyrant wouldn’t need force. They only need us to be distracted. Bread and circus for the plebeians to keep us complacent. In this sense my mother feared Huxley’s Brave New World more than she did Orwell’s 1984. In her view information need discourse, disagreement, and nuance. Television wasn’t a medium suited to debate. Particularly news programs who digested and provided a narrative and a moral arc. No one could discern facts or testable hypotheses from a story. That was an affront to enlightenment values, science, and frankly even religion (she hates when you drag belief into science). So I didn’t watch television as a child as quite literally it would make me stupid and lazy.
It is with this knowledge that I realize the main weapon the populist right has wielded the last four years was distraction. A constant drum beat of incessant crisis after crisis. Never having a moment of peace after outage after outrage was laundered through mass media insistent on making sure it never became normal. The #Resistance committed to remembering that “this is not normal” wore us down daily.
So in a way I think we have come out from under totalitarian thought. It was impossible to make progress on problems when one could only see the next crisis. The question is now how do we react from having constant distraction finally relieved? Do we realize the mess we are in? Distraction bred stagnation. But can we shake it off and begin to the think for ourselves again.