Monday, February 28, 2011

Nightmare Number 9

"If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him"---Zen saying

I just finished reading another double-speaking panegyric to 'progress,' and this time it almost gave me a kind of panic attack. It was by an extremely eloquent man of letters and some kind of esoteric spiritual adept, a guru of ambiguity---who shall remain nameless out of sheer contempt---trying to convince himself, and us, that as the new 'reading' technology gets 'better and better,' we will have to man up and accept the fact that books are going the way of horse-n'-buggy whip manufacturing. It was a long article and it took enough time to read to allow for waves of nausea to slowly well up and wash over me.

The formula is by now very familiar and reads like Self-Help therapy: first there is the long required lament over loss (libraries, books), then the wondrous breakthrough to acceptance and "letting goooooo..." Breathe out... relaaaax....

As I read lines like "what makes knowledge so precious is its precariousness, not the surety of our control over it," and his suggestion that maybe without books we will become more "inward," I find myself speaking sarcastic things to him within myself like, "You poor man..." and pitying the poor "students" who must pay 100k for four years of this kind of tripe all over the land, the kind which says we should be glad to go back to memory and oral tradition, to different kinds of acquisition of knowledge.

"The companies will have their way, of course; as the filmmaker Chris Marker once put it, I bow to the economic miracle."

Expect no serious resistance-organizing from this man, despite some token bleats about respect for user-rights and improvements in the technology.

He waxes perversely eloquent:
Picture a library, in flames, overlooking the city in ruins below—the Library of Alexandria under Caesar’s assault all over again. Books by the thousands audibly crinkle as they incinerate, disappearing for all time, never to be read again and, in a generation or two, never to be remembered. They are all irreplaceable; their loss is exactly incalculable. They are now good only to fuel the fire. As bystanders, we’re consumed by horror. We imagine ourselves as the books, the books as ourselves. Everything is lost with them. Right?

Or, on the other hand, might we instead laugh and cheer? It wouldn’t be the first time at a book-burning. Why not? Isn’t there also comedy—a divine comedy—in what freedom would follow the immolation of civilization’s material memory? We have only ourselves again, ourselves and our God. Perhaps these flames might go by the name of progress. I confess to feeling the allure of the burning library. Maybe we all do, a little...all 'having' remains no less a preparation for loss.

Barf. Then he goes on to quote---as an educated man must to justify his pay or as a token of seriousness---William Blake:

"He who binds to himself a joy / Doth the winged life destroy. / He who kisses the joy as it flies / Lives in eternity’s sunrise."

Double-barf. By now I am furious at his artful, fashionable and fatalistic Zen which says go, go, go with the flow; meaning, of course, accept, accept, accept what the powers are stealing, even if it is parts of our very selves. Despite acknowledging the Orwellian possibilities, it never seems to sufficiently faze this devotee of divine progress that it is not the ravings of a Luddite to deplore the loss of a sense of privacy and unwatched reflection that books, just yesterday, secured for us. I say 'just yesterday' because even today one can hardly buy a book without the powers and marketers knowing just what we are reading, i.e., if they want to know, thanks to the ubiquitous bar code which is swiped every time we want to so much as blow our noses. Tomorrow it will be practically impossible to read in complete privacy. Eyes are everywhere, watching or not. They can watch and know, which is the point.

bar code and credit card = trackingTechnology of this kind which is growing exponentially annually, the technocrats remind us, is supposedly inevitable, here to stay, and they spend gazillions attempting to convince us we cannot do without it, though even in my own youth I did quite well, thank you. An army of "intellectuals" is conscripted to sell us our invisible chains. Bill Joy said with palpable angst and dissonance that we must in the end accept such technology, and we are made to believe we need it; but, he reminds us, the future does not need us (click).

A book is such a simple idea, whatever its complex production and distribution from the beginning. But for me it is indistinguishable from the idea of solitude, and privacy. C.S. Lewis warned of a choice which is before us involving no less than "the abolition of man". For, in addition to everything else, man is that being who prefers not to be watched, followed, tracked, marketed. But in the new total surveillance and commodity state, "You must come to love your servitude," Aldous Huxley said.

How shall we get around that?

Google does not seem to have asked anyone's permission to map the whole world, right down to our back yards, from spy satellites or what have you; nor did they ask permission to download every book in the world, even mine, the sons of bitches. Every street and home and book in the world. Nor do they intend to explain. They 'own' us, you see. And if students, scholars and thinkers do not overcome their relaxed fatalism and organize moral resistance, then we have done it to ourselves.

In sum
: As long as Kindle-like devices remain only supplemental I will be grateful, but if the above scholar's dream comes true, I am worried. ---UPDATED 1x

--->Irony or Logic? ...One Year Ago. "Notes on the Kindle Orwell affair"

"As you may have heard, Amazon recently decided that they shouldn't have sold electronic copies of two George Orwell novels and deleted them from people's Kindles (found via TGDaily):

"In George Orwell's "1984," government censors erase all traces of news articles embarrassing to Big Brother by sending them down an incineration chute called the "memory hole." On Friday, it was "1984" and another Orwell book, "Animal Farm," that were dropped down the memory hole - by

"In a move that angered customers and generated waves of online pique, Amazon remotely deleted some digital editions of the books from the Kindle devices of readers who had bought them.

Note: It shows exquisitely how when books are finally all digitized and if real books were to become history, any book the powers do not wish us to read can be simply...deleted

--->See also in this post (click), A World Without Books, eh?

--->A World Without Books? "...Cushing Academy announced in September of 2009 that it was replacing its massive library with a modern learning center. Instead of the typical repository of knowledge with its stacks and reference desks, the physical texts are going to be replaced with digital books available through the school’s computers or its Amazon and Sony e-readers. The goal of the modernization was to provide students with a place that reflected the academic interests of a world that is going digital, with students now having access to countless online databases and millions of books..." Read it all

Time to buy the classics now, I should think.

Enter Mr. Huxley Again

--->Is Amazon Evil? "Jeff" Bezos (born January 12, 1964) is the founder, president, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of He sells us books cheap. But he also competes with real, physical books and may be out to eliminate them altogether...

--->Why would a High School eliminate Classical Literature?

--->Camden Closing Library System

--->Washington School District Eliminates Middle, High School Librarians...

--->Nicholas Carr: Is Google Making Us Stupid?

--->Jan. 2011: I found this rather startling...

Note: Huxley fascinates me (his Brave New World via technological and psychological enticements), even more than Orwell with the latter's brutal Soviet-like totalitarianism scenario. I think Huxley is more on to what is actually going on today, whereas Orwell possibly saw things more through a Cold War lens. But I am also acutely aware that "the best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, gang aft agley" (i.e., go awry, Robert Burns). Serious scouting of dangers is a must for us, yes, but no fatalism trespasses here. This idea about books going the way of obsolescence must be crushed underfoot, like an adder. Million or perhaps billions of people agree, more than any elites can effect, if we resist. We can wake them up, God willing. Jesus, the Lord, said to the persecutor Saul, 'It is futile to kick against the goads.' (Acts 26:14-15)

Market your product, I would say to the corporate masters, but don't follow me as you do it! Look out for true troublemakers, sure, I would say to our representatives, but don't shadow the innocent at every turn as you do. Let's get real and decent again.

What's this guy smiling about?--->Update 10/29/ 10 - I saw a television Ad for Northern Trust financial services recently in which a man says "I am reading a book"; then the camera pans to (an Ad embedded within an Ad) a man reading on his "Kindle" device---which is coordinated with everything else on the electronic potential surveillance grid---and he asks, "What's a book"? I was not amused. Our grandchildren will never forgive us if we bequeath to them a total surveillance electronic society. Use the visual media to change it (it's called nonviolent and legal 'culture jamming') and to protect what has proved traditional, good and lasting, with privacy and traditional books way at the top of the list. Every day that we do nothing sees our privacy slipping away. Television content should be observed I believe, not merely "watched".

--->PS: Oh and the Kindle reader is an OEM made in (atrocious human rights violating) China...(click), which is (and probably has been since Mao's evil revolution) the surveillance capitol of the world (click), with Britain, Europe and the US following swiftly on its bloody heels. We owe a great debt of ingratitude to!

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"Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. — Henry David Thoreau, (1854!)

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