We recently experienced a chilling second thought, regarding the “surprise” result of the past Presidential election. The eerie thought was to the effect that it might not have been the outlier that most of us had agreed it was. Our optimistic assumption, that the election result was a “one-off” or aberration, unlikely to be replicated, seems now have the unfortunate possibility of being incorrect.
This blog has dedicated a major portion of its posts, doggedly, to the assertion that self-enhancement and orienting perspective is acquired by reading, and an interest in the arts and the humanities, that such involvement and participation is, at one and the same time, the route to a fulfilled life experience, and as well, the making of a valuable citizen; and by extension, a stronger nation. We have, perhaps too often, referred to the instruction of Thomas Jefferson, that the success of a democracy depends upon an informed and literate citizenry. Our nation’s events of late, seem to have morphed that wise instruction into a bitter explanation for its present failings.
It is our lamented observation that we have become in large part, a nation of spectators, or viewers, as opposed to participants, readers and independent thinkers. It would be (temporarily) comforting to believe that the elevation of a Donald Trump, to the Oval Office was an aberration, but it would likely turn out to be inaccurate. A nation of spectators is in obvious and stark contrast to a nation of independent thinkers and doers. It is not a coincidence that the ignorant, egotistical and completely unfit, successful, candidate for President, had previously been a popular game show host for an audience that, presumably. prefers cheap and ephemeral diversion to quality, thought-provoking entertainment. It is a reluctant and tragic conclusion, but it seems to us that the viewed image appears to have triumphed over the written page.
It has been our expressed opinion that the essential soul of the citizen, was initially and effectively stolen by the demon of electronic communication. It is an inadequate, ersatz trade-off for in- person interaction, among other things, because the parties to the electronic exchange are situationally isolated from each other and deprived of voice recognition, warmth and communicative spontaneity. The reading of e- mail communications is not distinguishable from viewing of impersonal data and the addition of inane emogees is an adolescent, cold and inadequate substitute for the natural expression of emphasis or feeling. Could we simply put away our not-so-smart phones and talk spontaneously to each other, relationships would be more meaningful and satisfying. Constant reference to one’s electronic devices for human company (as opposed to physically socializing) or for answers to problems (as opposed to thinking) is an indication that we are mere dabblers, idle spectators in life, as opposed to doers and participants. Electronic conversation, efficiently serves to distance ourselves from each other. In addition, does anyone recall the practice of writing and receiving personal letters? Written correspondence is a form of communication permitting the writer’s thoughts to be selectively and accurately expressed. Such means of expressive personal communication has become obsolete, and useless to our mindless spectator population.
Recently, we recommended an enjoyable book to a neighbor. His spontaneous and remarkable response was, “How long is it? I never read a book that contains more than 200 pages.” My shock, and critical appraisal of the neighbor was later replaced by a feeling of compassion for him. The latter sentiment was founded upon his avowed limitation of life experience, and on the pleasure and personal benefit he was denying himself. He was also, depriving himself of the possible acquisition of useful and enlightened perspective, required for a balanced and acceptable life. He is clearly living within a set of self-imposed boundaries which, defensively, shields him from the responsibility of maintaining an identifiable identity and is apparently satisfied with being a mere spectator of, as opposed to being a participant, in life
Another individual advised me that he is employed by a large bridge construction company and is the head clerk in the company’s accounts payable department. I could well imagine the responsibility for the supervision of the huge expenditures for labor, equipment and materials, of such an enterprise, and attempted to inquire about his undoubtedly busy job and personal responsibilities. His sole responses were limited to the bridge “we” were building. It was apparent that his personal identity was entirely submerged in the company (“we”). He was not responsive to my inquiries concerning his personal responsibilities and specific job. He was just another spectator.
Even an uninformed and uninvolved citizen may feel the social obligation to appear to maintain some sort of a political and economic opinion. By reason of an episodic exposure to an exciting speaker or demagogue, he may accept and adopt the speaker’s representations, and predictions; this is certainly predictable if his buddies do. Independent inquiry is entirely non-existent, as is the acquisition of an opinion, or “personal” point of view; merely social participation and agreement with his (equally ignorant) associates. There has been little meaningful discussion or debate, and absolutely no inquiry as to truth of the demagogue’s representations. Another spectator event, and one that is entirely non-deliberative.
It may, conceivably, be possible to create some sort of a mandatory (perhaps part-time) program of education and general uplift, for our poorly educated fellow citizens, inclusive of reading good literature and other enriching studies. Otherwise, democratic elections and the very conduct of government, and our elections, may continue to earn the description of a societal spectator sport, (instead of a rational and essential civic responsibility) leaving thoughtful and dedicated citizens to continue to live in a state of serious disappointment and existential alarm.