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Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chainstores.
January 21, 2014 9:07 AM   Subscribe

Consumerism's petty liberties have made us inhumanly passive. We've forgotten what freedom is, and how easily it is lost.
posted by lalochezia (71 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
This gets into "get off my lawn" territory (not to say "old man shouts at cloud" territory) disturbingly quickly.
posted by yoink at 9:18 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


A few years ago, a friend explained how depressed he had become while trying to find a stimulating partner through online dating sites. He kept stumbling across the same phrase, used verbatim by dozens of the women he looked up. "I like nothing better than a night in on the sofa with a glass of red and a good DVD." The horror he felt arose not so much from the preference as from its repetition: "the failure to grasp the possibilities of self-differentiation".

The horror indeed!
posted by jquinby at 9:30 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


We should respect the prohibitive decencies we owe to others.

WTF does this even mean?

This pretty much smacks of 'you don't have to slave 16 hrs a day in a coal mine just to get by any more, but you're not free cause you like to watch reality tv'. Ahhh tyranny, thy name is comfort.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:31 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


Yeah, see, there's this problem. The "illuminated box" allows for pursuits far more interesting than anything my grandparents had for their amusement. I can play any of a thousand games (more, if you count the terrible ones). I can read essays and watch videos from all over the world. I can learn things from famous scholars in many different countries. I can talk to people I haven't seen, physically, in years.

I'm sorry my petty amusements don't count as "freedom" for you, but I'll take them over buzkashi any day, thanks.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:31 AM on January 21 [9 favorites]


Thematically related: opinion piece on twitter-bashing bores in the NYT.
posted by immlass at 9:38 AM on January 21


The "illuminated box" allows for pursuits far more interesting than anything my grandparents had for their amusement.

That's sort of the core of the article's point: Not that you are stuck watching reality TV when you'd rather be out hunting wild bore and surfing monster waves, but that given the opportunity to do either, you'd actually *choose* to sit inside and watch TV.

Amazing human experiences are more available to the populace than they ever have been in the whole of human history, and what do we want to do? Play Call of Duty and watch The Bachelor. Because somehow people actually think that's more interesting than actually doing things.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:42 AM on January 21 [11 favorites]


He kept stumbling across the same phrase, used verbatim by dozens of the women he looked up. "I like nothing better than a night in on the sofa with a glass of red and a good DVD." The horror he felt arose not so much from the preference as from its repetition: "the failure to grasp the possibilities of self-differentiation".

Okay, yeah, phrasing things this way is pretentious, but I'm inclined to agree, and so do a lot of people who grumble about online dating. They just phrase it differently (to wit, "I hate it when people always say they wanna go for long walks on the beach or whatever, EVERYONE says that").
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:42 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


I guess the previous "opiate of the masses" at least provided the likelihood of socializing. The conflict between comfort and freedom is nothing new, but the isolationism of contemporary entertainment and comfort is a new level of passivity.

On the other hand, there are new kinds of interaction through text and video... I still feel like I have a more "real" social experience when I go out and spend time in a room with other human beings than when I check in on facebook, twitter or metafilter, but the latter is much easier and I can do it while waiting for something or on break from working on something else, so it seems more regular. As with so much, that ease seems almost like a negative temptation rather than a happy benefit, though.
posted by mdn at 9:43 AM on January 21


I'm sorry my petty amusements don't count as "freedom" for you, but I'll take them over buzkashi any day, thanks.

*snerk* You've just reminded me about an exchange I overheard between one of my old roommates and a Norwegian friend who was crashing on our couch after a transit snafu. At some point the Norwegian wandered into the living room to see me surfing the web, and my roommate answering email.
NF: Wow, look at this, everyone in this apartment is in front of their computers! ....I wonder what people did all day before there were computers?

Roommate: They sang and danced in the villages. ....But you know what I think about village life, so fuck it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:50 AM on January 21 [15 favorites]


There were about 5 words about the bill in question. It does look like a terrible bill that is basically written for police abuse.

Besides that, this is the standard despair that marxist triumphalism puts in progressives. There is this notion that the injustices met out by the powers that be will stack and stack until the dam breaks, the people rise up, and the revolution is at hand. The lack of said revolution breeds despair, then contempt. Much like the plague of "surely this" comments on Metafilter from around 2002-2008.

This is mixed with a standard distaste for low culture a lot of upper middle class people on the left tend to have. This paragraph:

How many would have foreseen a national conversation – in public and in private – that revolves around the three Rs: renovation, recipes and resorts? How many would have guessed that people possessed of unimaginable wealth and leisure and liberty would spend their time shopping for onion goggles and wheatgrass juicers? Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chainstores.

Mankind was never 100% enlightened philosopher kings. Before, only they could speak. It's like the standard complaint that people use the Internet to post pictures of cats, and not whatever deep thoughts would meet the standard of the complainer.
posted by zabuni at 9:52 AM on January 21 [6 favorites]


Amazing human experiences are more available to the populace than they ever have been in the whole of human history, and what do we want to do? Play Call of Duty and watch The Bachelor. Because somehow people actually think that's more interesting than actually doing things.

It often is. I have no interest in surfing or hunting. I don't want to climb mountains. I like gardening, as a mind-escape, but it's nothing if not boring. (A form of meditation, if you will.) The things I do with my illuminated box (i.e. the computer, not the TV) are very interesting to me. Call of Duty? Nah. Go? Yes, absolutely. The Bachelor? Absolutely not. Programming problems in Haskell? Any day!

What were the amusements open to my parents' generation? Going "cruising." Going to the movies. Going hunting.

My great-grandparents? Uh... hunting. Badminton? Having babies?
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:52 AM on January 21 [6 favorites]


from article: “Had our ancestors been asked to predict what would happen in an age of widespread prosperity in which most religious and cultural proscriptions had lost their power, how many would have guessed that our favourite activities would not be fiery political meetings, masked orgies, philosophical debates, hunting wild boar or surfing monstrous waves, but shopping and watching other people pretending to enjoy themselves?”

I agree wholeheartedly with this lament; Mr Monbiot points up a great tragedy. Where the hell are my fiery political meetings, my masked orgies, my philosophical debates, my wild boar hunts, and my monstrous wave-surfings? I will not rest until this injustice is ameliorated.
posted by koeselitz at 9:56 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


Amazing human experiences are more available to the populace than they ever have been in the whole of human history, and what do we want to do? Play Call of Duty and watch The Bachelor. Because somehow people actually think that's more interesting than actually doing things.

It often is. I have no interest in surfing or hunting. I don't want to climb mountains. I like gardening, as a mind-escape, but it's nothing if not boring. (A form of meditation, if you will.) The things I do with my illuminated box (i.e. the computer, not the TV) are very interesting to me. Call of Duty? Nah. Go? Yes, absolutely. The Bachelor? Absolutely not. Programming problems in Haskell? Any day!

What were the amusements open to my parents' generation? Going "cruising." Going to the movies. Going hunting.

My great-grandparents? Uh... hunting. Badminton? Having babies?


You are agreeing with me. Your are essentially saying, "Yes, I am doing the thing the article says!"
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:59 AM on January 21


No. I'm saying: I am doing the thing the article says, and I'm glad I have the opportunity to do that, and I don't think I'm losing out in comparison to unwashed nomads who beat each other in the head with their riding whips while they try to drag a goat carcass across a line.

I am saying that the things he has contempt for are real, and interesting, and that his snobbery is idiotic.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:02 AM on January 21 [6 favorites]


I'm sorry my petty amusements don't count as "freedom" for you, but I'll take them over buzkashi any day, thanks.

Carpe caprem.
posted by ocschwar at 10:04 AM on January 21 [7 favorites]


>but that given the opportunity to do either, you'd actually *choose* to sit inside and watch TV.

Life offers few delights which compare to using the internet to pointlessly hector people on the internet about how they're wasting their time on the internet.

But now, with wireless mobile connectivity, you can hector people WHILE you surf and hunt wild boar. That's what I'm doing, and I hope it's what you're doing, too. I hate to think of you just... you know... sitting there.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 10:06 AM on January 21 [23 favorites]


MetaFilter: Life offers few delights which compare to using the internet to pointlessly hector people on the internet about how they're wasting their time on the internet.
posted by deanklear at 10:07 AM on January 21 [13 favorites]


Pity this wasn't the article I thought it would be. Millionaire politicians are eroding our freedoms - I'll read that. It's our fault for watching too much TV? Bore off.

how many would have guessed our favourite activities would not be fiery political meetings, masked orgies, philosophical debates, hunting wild boar or surfing monstrous waves

All of them? As my ancestors battled for the right to vote and hunted to put food on the table they probably imagined Utopia as a hammock and a nice Sauvignon Blanc. I feel a responsibility to live that life for them.

Any pictures of George Monbiot wrestling wild boar and surfing monstrous waves would be most welcome, to prove that he walks the walk and is not just an insufferable prick. (Pics of him at masked orgies, not so much.)
posted by billiebee at 10:08 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


Correcting for the references to current technology, British and European pundits were writing like this in 1913.

Many of those pundits believed that warfare would be an invigorating tonic for nations made decadent and effete by modernity, though the pundits would have referred to railways, newspapers, and department stores as sapping the spirit.

Others were, of course, Marxist revolutionaries (with as unhappy an outcome in Russia in 1917).

Monbiot was opposed to the Iraq War and started a campaign to arrest Blair for war crimes. He is a hard-line environmentalist. I'm just intrigued by how this kind of rhetoric ("modernity is decadent and effete") tends to reassert itself. It seems immune to change and to fit all extreme political persuasions.
posted by bad grammar at 10:09 AM on January 21 [6 favorites]


I want to experience life like my ancestors did, living in terrifying fear of the Northmen and their raids.
posted by The Whelk at 10:10 AM on January 21 [9 favorites]


Because somehow people actually think that's more interesting than actually doing things.

I don't know about interesting, but in a rational evaluation of things, it's likely easier (more convenient), cheaper and less risky. It may be a disappointing choice, but it is also a rational one.

Also: my grandmother was raising a huge family by herself, and her daily routine involved schlepping hot water in a pot up a flight of stairs to the building's community bathtub so that she and all of her children -- so many that one bath a night wasn't enough to give everyone a bath a week -- could be cleaned in a warm bath during Chicago winters. Technically that's an experience, and I wouldn't mind doing it once in a while, but not daily. These days, modern conveniences and a general raising of the standard of living in the US grant us the ability to have leisure time, but "having experiences" is still work of a sort, just work you're willing to put in for the experience. Kind of hard to begrudge someone not wanting to put in that work, especially if they have a demanding job. I imagine my grandmother would have been quite pleased to have a nice meal delivered to her home and watch some television at the end of the day.
posted by davejay at 10:11 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]


I'm just intrigued by how this kind of rhetoric ("modernity is decadent and effete") tends to reassert itself. It seems immune to change and to fit all extreme political persuasions.

It makes Jim Kunstler a refreshing contrast in how he hawks the same line without baying for blood.
posted by ocschwar at 10:12 AM on January 21


I like to imagine a tranquil photo of a family in 1950s America. They are all sitting together in the living room. Dad is reading the newspaper, Mom a magazine, Jr. a comic book, and Sis a Nancy Drew novel. I doubt few people would comment on that photo about how they were all attached to their media.

Change the delivery devices to electronic gadgets, however, and the scene becomes a dystopia.
posted by perhapses at 10:14 AM on January 21 [21 favorites]


Whenever someone starts to attend that the modern world is making people feeble and useless I mentally start to time how long it takes until they start making the case for having as many wives as they want.

Seriously it always happens.
posted by The Whelk at 10:16 AM on January 21 [6 favorites]


"The stuff I think is interesting is way more interesting and I despair others having the opportunity to find other stuff interesting. " Screw you Grandpa. And I'm over 50.
posted by umberto at 10:18 AM on January 21


I like to imagine a tranquil photo of a family in 1950s America. They are all sitting together in the living room. Dad is reading the newspaper, Mom a magazine, Jr. a comic book, and Sis a Nancy Drew novel. I doubt few people would comment on that photo about how they were all attached to their media.

Well, few people today, perhaps. But at the time, hoo boy--the moral panic around comic books in the 1950s was right up there with contemporary moral panics about video games etc.
posted by yoink at 10:19 AM on January 21 [7 favorites]


Also: my grandmother was raising a huge family by herself, and her daily routine involved schlepping hot water in a pot up a flight of stairs to the building's community bathtub so that she and all of her children -- so many that one bath a night wasn't enough to give everyone a bath a week -- could be cleaned in a warm bath during Chicago winters. Technically that's an experience, and I wouldn't mind doing it once in a while, but not daily. These days, modern conveniences and a general raising of the standard of living in the US grant us the ability to have leisure time, but "having experiences" is still work of a sort, just work you're willing to put in for the experience. Kind of hard to begrudge someone not wanting to put in that work, especially if they have a demanding job. I imagine my grandmother would have been quite pleased to have a nice meal delivered to her home and watch some television at the end of the day.

I realize this. I think that's the biggest omission in the article -- the fact that the reason we're using our leisure time to watch TV and play video games is because we've been at work all day and now that it's 8:00PM and we've come home and eaten dinner, there's not really enough light left to go boar hunting or whatever.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:20 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


And speaking on behalf of boars everywhere, this is a good thing.
posted by perhapses at 10:21 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]


It's like the standard complaint that people use the Internet to post pictures of cats, and not whatever deep thoughts would meet the standard of the complainer.

sometimes characterized here as "NOT BEST OF THE WEB"
posted by Hoopo at 10:24 AM on January 21


I guess Huxley was right after all.

It's also somewhat humorous to see the attacks at this article because if you look into who George Monbiot is and what he does, you'd realize he's almost Metafilter incarnate, and would be lauded and applauded in most other threads that would relate to the things he writes about.

(Although granted, this one is far from his best writings.)
posted by Pyrogenesis at 10:29 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


I think Monbiot is right in some ways, especially when he asks this:

"Does extreme comfort deaden the will to be free?"

But he's also confusing some things with others and mashing different trends together. For instance, the learned passivity that leads to citizen disengagement from democracy is a different thing from the human need for comfort. People led fairly comfortable lives forty years ago, but were more engaged in politics than people today. Technology is to blame for some of that, as it splits us up into a thousand different interest groups, each looking at our own individualized view of the world. But to a large extent the public passivity that leads to declining voting rates and capture of the political process by the motivated rich is a learned process, like teaching an elephant that it must remain tied to a stake in the ground. In every generation the political process fails to make life better (or even different) for the people who need change most, so more and more of them just stop caring about government altogether. It has nothing to do with them. This has been going on since the 80's in most anglophone countries.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:32 AM on January 21 [6 favorites]


All of them? As my ancestors battled for the right to vote and hunted to put food on the table

My great grandfather was a farmer and supposedly had this horse that pulled a hay wagon and it knew the way home from the pub, so after he was done working he would take the horse up to the pub and when he invariably drank himself into a stupor they would lie him in the hay wagon and send him back home. I get drunk sometimes, too, guess I'm keeping it real.
posted by Hoopo at 10:34 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]


No. I'm saying: I am doing the thing the article says, and I'm glad I have the opportunity to do that

Which is exactly what the article says you are doing and feeling. Only it thinks you're doing it wrong when you do this.

I actually kind of agree for myself. It would be bewildering to me too that people choose to live more fully in more immediately-gratifying but grossly simplified simulations of the world than in the world itself, but I understand that simpler and more immediately gratifying is a big seller for good, honest reasons.

Playing Rock Band versus starting a band is a pretty obvious choice for me. Seems like one gives you a vastly different kind and depth of experience than the other, but I'm sure there are merits on both sides.

But personally, my life's too short to spend a whole lot of time worrying about how other people are wasting theirs.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:36 AM on January 21


Needing to spend most of my time and energy acquiring bio-survival tickets has done more to constrain me than has looking at cat pics, I think.
posted by thelonius at 10:44 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


you'd rather be out hunting wild bore

Looks like I found it. Now back to TV.
posted by GuyZero at 10:48 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


Because I am a curious glutton for punishment I went to the author's website, which lists some other things he's written. Not two months ago he penned this essay, In which the author recounts a chilling and idiotic brush with death.

Are you there, pot? It's me, kettle.
posted by nicodine at 10:52 AM on January 21


"I hate it when people always say they wanna go for long walks on the beach or whatever, EVERYONE says that"

That's why I avoid beaches. Too crowded. Not a lot of televisions, though.

Because I am a curious glutton for punishment....

Gets worse. Here's his About Me page.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:58 AM on January 21


Y'know, I think the reason Republicans have such an intense, visceral hate for Obamacare is because it actually does attempt to address the needs of millions of Americans, and that goes directly against the overall trend of government deregulation that's been going on since Reagan.

And if government actually helps some people, they might start to take an interest in who gets elected, or what the politicians have actually done versus what they say they've done. Can't have that.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:59 AM on January 21


I'm pretty sure there's a 4chan image macro that would encapsulate this essay in its entirety.
posted by aramaic at 11:00 AM on January 21


"It's great, it's crack, it gets you really high!"

I'm less concerned about the mudanity of "entertainment" or what the fuck ever this person deems to be right and proper entertainment (oh - what a bourgeois conception here "How DARE you like TV, you pedestrian twat, you proletarian sack of potatoes surfing channels, instead of surfing couches across the globe, or surfing the grand waves at Waikiki or climbing Everest") I really do mean bourgeois. It's this sort of sanctimonious filth that aspires to say something about the lack of freedom, while never confessing once to its own role in the systematic production of that lack of freedom.

It's like when Republicans blame poor people for wanting to have consumer goods, then yelling about how great America is because we have all those consumer goods (but damned if you dare enjoy it)...

Do you think 90% of people always were about climbing mountains? Why should I be forced to entertain grand aspirations of the Puritan Play Ethic? Who the fuck are you to tell me how I should enjoy myself and what's legitimate?

I actually have a strong critique of the concept of capital-F Freedom as a slavery making mechanism. My first thought on seeing this was to accept this as something similar, but it's clear from the comments (I admit, I haven't read it yet), that it's not what I'm aiming for.

I don't want a judgement of those who make a "choice" to do something, I want to make a judgement on those who make the system of choices what they are. I want to make a judgement on all those who create a false system of choices that delude people into believing they have so-called-freedom in the first place...
posted by symbioid at 11:08 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Amazing human experiences are more available to the populace than they ever have been in the whole of human history...

Oh? Such as?
Not intending to be snarky here, but I'm truly interested in what non-illuminated-box "amazing human experiences" are available to me today, that weren't also available, in one form or another, to previous generations? I'm particularly interested in those experiences that don't require my dropping thousands of dollars on travel and/or equipment. 'Cause, y'know, I don't have spare thousands of dollars laying around. That's why I "travel" using my tv.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:12 AM on January 21 [8 favorites]


Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chainstores.

Don't know about the rest of any of this because I haven't read the actual article yet, but this is a great bit of snark.
posted by philip-random at 11:26 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]


I think a lot of this phenomenon was best articulated by John Taylor Gatto:
Now dumb people aren't just ignorant; they're the victims of the non-thought of secondhand ideas. Dumb people are now well-informed about the opinions of Time magazine and CBS, The New York Times and the President; their job is to choose which pre-thought thoughts, which received opinions, they like best. The élite in this new empire of ignorance are those who know the most pre-thought thoughts.
People watch, e.g., The Bachelor because it's easy (someone already made this for you; no need to make up your own story) and because it's social currency (lots of other people are watching it too). I believe the actual quality of the show is a tertiary concern at best for most people.

Same with chain stores, etc.: pre-thought thoughts, pre-made menus & food, pre-arranged and familiar experiences.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:45 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Dumb people are now well-informed about the opinions of Time magazine and CBS, The New York Times and the President; their job is to choose which pre-thought thoughts, which received opinions, they like best.

I'm above all that. I let MeFi do my thinking for me.
posted by ocschwar at 12:11 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


I cut out the middle man by refusing to think at all.
posted by The Whelk at 12:16 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


I need you guys to have more specific reactions, please--I'm not sure what to think about my own comment yet. That one favorite is helping, though.
posted by LooseFilter at 12:33 PM on January 21


Amazing human experiences are more available to the populace than they ever have been in the whole of human history...

Oh? Such as?
Not intending to be snarky here, but I'm truly interested in what non-illuminated-box "amazing human experiences" are available to me today, that weren't also available, in one form or another, to previous generations? I'm particularly interested in those experiences that don't require my dropping thousands of dollars on travel and/or equipment. 'Cause, y'know, I don't have spare thousands of dollars laying around. That's why I "travel" using my tv.


You can travel across an ocean in half a day, at 500 MPH, six miles above the earth, for about three days of an average person's wages.

"More available" does not imply a binary switch from "nothing like this was ever available at all before," to all-of-a-sudden, "This is now available and can be done essentially for free."

It is orders of magnitude easier to travel the world now that it was just a few generations ago. But you think that doesn't count.

The internet makes it easier than ever to find a new hobby or learn a new skill. Want to learn to hang-glide? Google "hang-gliding lessons [name of place you live]" and send an email to a couple people. Want to join a basketball team? You can probably sign up for a local recreational one at 2:00AM tonight! Want to go fishing, but not sure when fishing season is? Well, you can look that up right now, and even order your fishing license online. No need to make a special trip to see someone who has this info. Want to learn the ancient art of Tuvan throat singing? No need to go to Siberia, you can learn on Youtube.

Also if you want to go surfing you can get in your car and drive to the beach and rent a surfboard. This has only been possible for about 50 years. Want to go snowboarding? Same thing. You can even snowboard when there's no snow, because we have snowmaking machines now that will cover mountains with artificial snow. SCUBA diving has only been a thing since after WWII. You can buy a tiny helicopter that you steer with radio waves for under $100.

But no, nothing is more accessible than it was for our grandparents, I guess.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:36 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


We're bombarded every day with thousands of messages about how this or that product will make our lives better. We're surrounded by little screens designed to keep us passively entertained. But when someone points out, and not in a mean-spirited way, that we might aspire to be a little more ambitious and community-minded, we basically throw tomatoes at him. Good job, MetaFilter.
posted by oulipian at 12:39 PM on January 21 [6 favorites]


I'm too depressed to get out of bed and learn how to surf or mountain climb. Maybe when I can afford to not be depressed anymore I'll go do those things.
posted by gucci mane at 12:39 PM on January 21


You know what it's like in the UK in the age of privatized mail: the Postman always takes ages to arrive. In this case, almost 30 years.
posted by chavenet at 12:42 PM on January 21


Wow. It's salutary to be reminded just how threatened some people feel when told that they could turn off their monitors, just for a second, and feel something ... different. Not plugged into the zeitgeist, not prefabricated by the culture industry, just ... quiet. You want to give the guy who tells you that an earful. I mean, how dare he? He some kind of elitist?
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:18 PM on January 21 [9 favorites]


Possibly some people don't like being told, while sitting in their homes minding their own business and passing the time as they choose, that what they're experiencing is 'prefabricated by the culture industry,' or some such construction as that. Is it okay to watch an Akira Kurosawa movie without some ass telling you you should be free climbing El Capitan instead? Sure, Kurosawa passes the nose-up test for Experiences Of Which It Is Possible To Approve. How about an episode of The Simpsons, then? We'll stipulate that it's from the first five seasons. Still too prefabricated for you? What if it makes you LAUGH REALLY HARD--is laughing hard an authentic experience? Or is it only possible to approve of laughing hard if you're laughing because you saw a funny fish while you were participating in a Big Wave surfing competition?

I'll provide a tl,dr, so that y'all can quickly get back to running with the bulls, or whatever you were doing before you stopped to sniff at The People Who Don't Feel: all experiences are equally authentic, and none of them require the approval of anybody but the person who's having them.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 1:36 PM on January 21 [7 favorites]


"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."
"In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."
"All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:40 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


when someone points out, and not in a mean-spirited way, that we might aspire to be a little more ambitious and community-minded

I don't think that's what he did. It read to me like he was blaming us all for the fact that no one does anything about rich assholes consolidating their power and fucking over the poor all day. Which, I mean, you don't know me George Monbiot; I am as frustrated as you at my inability over the years to get people to give a shit and I watch plenty of TV and internet and still got outside and to protests and had no widely circulated weekly column from which to spout my views. Before I burned the fuck out because it never did a goddamned thing. Are we to take it people were not out theretrying to shake things up when the US seemed poised to go into Iraq? Were people not out there trying to shake things up when Bush was up for re-election? Were people not out there showing their opposition to the distribution of wealth, austerity measures, and the Wall Street bailouts with things like Occupy (I admit I was already too cynical for this fight by the time Occupy came about) and the Montreal student protests? Does that sound like passivity? The problem is not comfort and convenience and passivity. It is that the tools we have always had to fight with apparently do not work anymore and yet we haven't come up with anything better.

(His brief stop at "danged kids and their iPhones should kick a sheep's head around for a minute!" seems to be what has put people off, and it is sort of off the mark. His overall point isn't terrible, but in the end I think it's overly simple.)
posted by Hoopo at 1:47 PM on January 21 [4 favorites]


You can travel across an ocean in half a day, at 500 MPH, six miles above the earth, for about three days of an average person's wages.

Sure you can. Then, what do you do? My salary is in the top 10% in America, and traveling isn't trivial for me. It costs a significant chunk of change to travel in the US, let alone across the world; I manage about two non-trivial domestic trips per year, or one international trip. If you think this option is open to the "average person," you're a little bit sheltered. (The average household income is $50k per year. Good luck spending $5000 on a family trip to France with that income.)

The internet makes it easier than ever to find a new hobby or learn a new skill. Want to learn to hang-glide? Google "hang-gliding lessons [name of place you live]" and send an email to a couple people. Want to join a basketball team? You can probably sign up for a local recreational one at 2:00AM tonight! Want to go fishing, but not sure when fishing season is? Well, you can look that up right now, and even order your fishing license online.

Sure. Where is the evidence that people aren't doing this?

No need to make a special trip to see someone who has this info. Want to learn the ancient art of Tuvan throat singing? No need to go to Siberia, you can learn on Youtube.

This seems a little disingenuous. Isn't learning via the internet what I was mentioning earlier? Playing Go, or doing programming puzzles, or learning a language—or what have you—is intellectually engaging and interesting, but still falls in the fated bucket of "looking at screens."

Also if you want to go surfing you can get in your car and drive to the beach and rent a surfboard. This has only been possible for about 50 years. Want to go snowboarding? Same thing. You can even snowboard when there's no snow, because we have snowmaking machines now that will cover mountains with artificial snow. SCUBA diving has only been a thing since after WWII.

Yes, yes, yes. If you want to hang glide, sky dive, surf, rock climb, boar hunt, drag race, or do anything else that involves a major risk of untimely death, you can totally do that. However, doing that is not a moral imperative, and most people don't like adrenaline sports. Especially since the wonders of our health care system mean that, should you be injured, it's going to be a tiny chunk of Hell on Earth. (This means that, despite the nominal costs, these are also socioeconomically gated activities. No health insurance? You're not going to go rock climbing. Unless you're a moron.)

Wow. It's salutary to be reminded just how threatened some people feel when told that they could turn off their monitors, just for a second, and feel something ... different. Not plugged into the zeitgeist, not prefabricated by the culture industry, just ... quiet. You want to give the guy who tells you that an earful. I mean, how dare he? He some kind of elitist?

The man starts out a political diatribe by pointing out abuses that the people who have power in our society are perpetrating, and somehow turns it into a polemic against the boring people who like to relax by watching movies. He seems to have some sort of bias towards APPROVED OUTDOORSMANSHIP, which reeks of an annoying, physically-biased view of human worth: "When children are housebound, we cannot expect them to develop an instinct for freedom that is intimately associated with being outdoors."

I wonder if his near-death experience with hypothermia, due entirely to his own ignorance, led to this enlightenment. If only everyone would wander around in the cold rain and die from exposure! Then we'd have a political system worth envying!

Look, I grew up in the country. I wandered around, I cut down trees and built forts and bridges and treehouses, and dammed up the local creek, and listened to weird unidentifiable animal-sounds out there in the dark. I was also in the scouts, later, where I learned that liking to wander around in the woods didn't make you a better person. Because I was different, smaller, pale, smart, I was mercilessly bullied by those young men with their "instincts for freedom." I got away from it as quick as I could. What bullshit.

It wasn't until I had the Internet that I was able to find people who understood and were like me, and that my learning exploded beyond the bounds of the ignorant local librarians and the people who passed for teachers. "Real human experience" would apparently have led me to suicide around 17 or so, lonely and with no prospects for being less lonely. The Internet, behind a bulky 90's glowing screen, gave me an outlet for creativity, access to knowledge, and freedom that was not available to me because I was poor.

It offends me when people—using the Internet, naturally!—decide that the Internet is the root of all evil in the world. Seriously, people? You're using the most amazing thing that has ever been invented, and you're claiming that kicking an animal carcass around is better. Seriously.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:59 PM on January 21 [4 favorites]


"Does extreme comfort deaden the will to be free?"

The answer is an unequivocal "Yes". This has been the case in China for the last 40 years, and whenever someone brings up the lack of progress of human, political, or civil rights, the Communist Party of China is quick to point out that the Chinese people have more freedom and rights than ever before, in terms of freedom from want and economic rights. And those freedoms and rights are much more important to the Chinese people than any of those other so-called "rights" that Westerners and seditious citizens agitate for. Heck, even these "economic rights" are very limited, what with the Chinese government's heavy involvement in banks and corporations and the fact that Party membership is a must for any upwardly mobile professional.

The weird part is, you can replace US Congress with National People's Congress and remove the De Tocqueville quote on democracy, and this whole article can just as easily applied to the current situation in China. The only difference is the degree of political corruption, environmental destruction, and civil society malaise. It seems the same core message is that we're given a (illuminated) sandbox to have our "freedom", as long as we don't step out of it, everything will be okay.
posted by FJT at 2:33 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


FJT I am not familiar with Chinese history, but have they really been moving away from the kind of freedom Monbiot is talking about with respect to the US/UK?
posted by Hoopo at 2:38 PM on January 21


Wake up sheeple!

Or something.
posted by clvrmnky at 2:55 PM on January 21


I went out the other day to have a real, unmediated experience, and decided to wake up sheeple. One of them bit me.
posted by davejay at 3:45 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Right, I watch lots of online video's, read, converse, play games etc alone at home. I also hike, take photographs, have art shows, and have a job that requires lots of social interaction.
When I consider what I'd be doing if I were born 100 years ago, IF I were still alive, I'd be a serf or some kind of awful unskilled factory wage slave. I come from poor people. My people didn't get to have wonderful lives of excitement and adventure, they did back breaking labor and died young. So you don't approve of how I spend my free time? GET OFFA MY LAWN!
posted by evilDoug at 4:24 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Although I found the article somewhat pompous and crotchety, I feel that it did have a nugget of wisdom within it, and it gave voice to a lot of similar feelings I've had about our society for quite some time. Our desires, our rituals, the expectations we have towards each other and of ourselves, all of these are now largely defined and controlled by large corporations with their own motives, and I think there is folly in leaving the pervasive nature of this call to consume unexamined.

Perhaps some of you are happy with your hobbies and patterns, working jobs you love and feel very fulfilling, and that's great. Nobody is trying to take that away from you. But what other things could we be creating as a culture, what conversations could we be having, that are now drowned out by the constant drumbeat of pointless, soothing, trivial noise? Our very self-identities have begun shifting from what we do - what we create, what we bring to the world around us through whatever skills or dreams or passions we have - to what we consume. Curation of aesthetic preferences. For myself, I find this curation to be a shadow of the depth and wonder that can come from creativity, in a similar way that Facebook friends are a shadow of the depth of true friendship. I think it's worthwhile that we pause for a moment and consider the losses in this transition.

As a child of the internet, I know quite well that it is simply a tool. You can use it to learn new things, to broaden your horizons, to facilitate your real-world hobbies, to meet friends, lovers, enemies. I simply question the use of this tool as seems to be becoming more popular - to replace rather than enhance non-digital experiences. Surely not everyone has a problem with internet addiction, but it is becoming more common and largely isn't seen as much of a problem. I know I've lost friends to WoW, and I'm sure some of you have too.

I don't think that we should condemn the examination of the opportunity cost of our choices. There is only so much time in a day, and if we spend it collectively sitting back and watching cat videos and Game of Thrones, that's time we could have spent doing other things - protesting injustices, watching a sunrise, painting. At the end of the day we have to live with these choices, and there is no objective 'better' or 'more valid' use of time.

I'd like to think on my deathbed I'll remember the sunrises and adventures more vividly than internet arguments and memes, but to each their own.
posted by Feyala at 4:51 PM on January 21 [4 favorites]


You can travel across an ocean in half a day, at 500 MPH, six miles above the earth, for about three days of an average person's wages.

Never mind that the average person probably needs those three days' worth of wages to pay the rent or the mortgage.

The internet makes it easier than ever to find a new hobby or learn a new skill. Want to learn to hang-glide? Google "hang-gliding lessons [name of place you live]" and send an email to a couple people.

And they will send you a price list. And if you can't afford the cost of lessons, sucks to be you, I guess.

Want to go fishing, but not sure when fishing season is? Well, you can look that up right now, and even order your fishing license online. No need to make a special trip to see someone who has this info.

But the rod and reels are gonna cost ya.

Want to learn the ancient art of Tuvan throat singing? No need to go to Siberia, you can learn on Youtube.

Although, if you want the actual feedback from someone, that's gonna be require lessons, and oh, hey, here's how much they are...

Also if you want to go surfing you can get in your car and drive to the beach and rent a surfboard. This has only been possible for about 50 years.

And the cost of renting a surfboard has gone up in the past 50 years.

Want to go snowboarding? Same thing.

With the cost, too.

You can even snowboard when there's no snow, because we have snowmaking machines now that will cover mountains with artificial snow.

But it's gonna cost to get onto those mountains.

SCUBA diving has only been a thing since after WWII.

And here's how much the equipment and lessons cost...

You can buy a tiny helicopter that you steer with radio waves for under $100.

But if your kid needs new shoes, you'd better take care of that first.

But no, nothing is more accessible than it was for our grandparents, I guess.

It's just that people don't always understand why lots of things are still inaccessible for a lot of us. Who knows why, maybe their grandparents were Rockefellers or Vanderbilts.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:30 PM on January 21


It's just that people don't always understand why lots of things are still inaccessible for a lot of us. Who knows why, maybe their grandparents were Rockefellers or Vanderbilts.

I get that crushing poverty is a huge issue. I'm pretty poor myself, although thankfully unencumbered by mortgages, debt and children (I realize my privilege here but I've intentionally chosen different priorities). I grew up lower-middle class. However, the cost of some of these things isn't really all that expensive if it's something you're passionate enough to save up for.

It's not something that people living with food and shelter insecurity are going to be able to afford, certainly, but I'd wager a majority of the people working office jobs could certainly do so now and then. How much is the actual cost of gas to get to the beach and a craigslist surfboard? There are some places that will let you try SCUBA for free to see if you like it before you commit. You're not going to be an expert with only a lesson or two, but you know what? That one time I had an hour-long flight co-piloting a Cessna for $100 is one of my favorite memories. I actually flew a plane, it was awesome! A lot of people spend more on restaurants, fast food, or entertainment in a month than that.

How much are experiences like that really worth? I feel like a lot of people just expect these things to cost more, so it becomes easy to dismiss them as playthings of the elite. Sure, most of us can't do these things very often, sometimes not even every year, but it doesn't mean it's never attainable.
posted by Feyala at 8:07 PM on January 21


I'd like to think on my deathbed I'll remember the sunrises and adventures more vividly than internet arguments and memes, but to each their own.

Great adventures are the highs and lows of life, but there's a lot of room between highs and lows for faffing around on the internet.
posted by immlass at 8:35 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


It's just that people don't always understand why lots of things are still inaccessible for a lot of us. Who knows why, maybe their grandparents were Rockefellers or Vanderbilts.

You literally discounted *every single thing I mentioned* because it is not 100% free, and somehow think that means that none of it is any more accessible than it was 100 years ago, even if it didn't exist then or has come down in price a thousand fold. I frankly have no idea how you managed to even respond to me, being that it required you to use the internet, which generally comes along with a utility bill to pay for the service. Clearly the internet is also no more accessible that it was 100 years ago, because comcast charges for it.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:45 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Well, you still don't seem to get that for many people, all the "real world" experiences you discuss ARE inaccessibly priced, even if they are empirically cheaper than they used to be. So we're even, I guess.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:19 PM on January 21


Are we to take it people were not out theretrying to shake things up when the US seemed poised to go into Iraq?

Absolutely. Every town had that little group of 4 or 5 people standing on a corner to protest the war. Hell, my campus of 10,000 students put together a group of 15 students one day on the quad who protested! The rest of us were waiting for it to happen so we could watch it on TV. And this is why we went to Iraq.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 3:52 AM on January 22


And this is why we went to Iraq.

I know, right? I guess everyone forgot the conflict in Vietnam, which ended after President Johnson saw hundreds of thousands of people protesting on the National Mall. Who can forget his immortal words on that grand occasion?

"Inevitably, we are a government of the people; and should they speak so loudly against an act of my government, I must listen."

What a great man.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:52 AM on January 22


Not to mention there are times when certain activities just aren't available. I do blacksmithing as a hobby -- but not today, when it's 8F outside, my workshop is unheated, and my slack tub is frozen solid. And probably not in 7 months, if it's 110F out. Sure, I could do some stuff (and am working on my lathe skills off and on trying to perfect the pizza cutter), but times like these what's wrong with catching up on Arrow, Terry Pratchett's latest, and perhaps playing that Tomb Raider reboot I've been hearing about.?
posted by Blackanvil at 1:33 PM on January 22


All of these so-called life experiences are childish wastes of time compared to the great moral task of making sure terrestrial intelligence escapes our planet to rove among the stars.

Every second you spend doing anything other than furthering our stellar advancement is a second you've wasted dragging down all earthbound life back into the slow wasting sickness of planetbound biology. Muck, filth, brevity and darkness.

The stars care not for mountaintops, nor sunrises, nor mornings with your lover. All those things are wasted, infantile, doomed. Monsters. You are all mindless mewling monsters, creatures scrabbling in dirt, writhing, wreathed in scum, desperate to distract yourselves from the infinite crystalline terror of the stars, our true destinations.

They wait, our glorious beacons, blasting hard radiation into the darkness of eternity. Perfection, wrought from chaos, our true and only parents.
posted by aramaic at 1:51 PM on January 22


Well, that was a conversation stopper.

Maybe take the rhetoric down a notch, Aramaic? We're just faffing on the internet here.
posted by misha at 6:42 PM on January 22


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