Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sui Amantes

It is a poor centre of a man's actions, himself. – Francis Bacon

One of the most unexpected side effects of internet use is exposure to high levels of self-centered statements. The most common of these expressions are the need to "do something for myself," or to "center myself" or that "I'm wonderful the way I am." Aside from the Rousseauean dimensions of such statements, I've noticed that once someone starts to make such statements, they come more and more often. I'm tempted to speculate that a superficial or learned self-centeredness can yield the genuine article. If so, it seems to be happening.

Some of the cause is economic: as we specialize more, we contract out more of our life to others. While the end of trade should be gratitude, though, it seems just as if not more often to be a sense of entitlement. Receiving certain services, prices, or convenience from sellers eager to please, we grow to expect such irrespective of the delicate balance which makes it possible. Slowly we learn to trust our desires as the world seems to orientate around us.

So perhaps most of all, the modern news turns around us, functioning not to inform but to make us feel the center of events. With what skill producers draw millions of viewers thousands of miles away into the heart of every incident, from minor scuffles to calamities. The result is not genuine sympathy or empathy, for no man has so much to spare from his daily life that can spare a meaningful amount for each unfortunate he learns of in the news, but sold sentimentality. What are you supposed to think about someone when you read his Facebook or Twitter feed and see comments about how various news items "affected him" interspersed with comments about shopping, traffic, and the weather? Certainly not that he is full of empathy, but merely that he's been frenzied into a flurry of activity.

One almost feels bad for such a misguided individual who has been presented something he genuinely cannot process. How does it affect him? What can he do in response? Yet we've been informed so we must do something, so we chatter about it, accomplishing nothing save convincing ourselves that we're involved and virtuous. The result is navel-gazing prattle like this, sputtering indignation from people who've been trained to have opinions and feel important.

Yet look at the phrase I used before: news items. The very act of reporting seems to reduce people, activities, in short, life, to news items. For what purpose is the viewer informed? If he cannot or not without great difficulty empathize with the many unfortunates of the day's news cycle, why should he know of them? If he believes in the power of prayer and he prays for them, perhaps that might be a reason, but I see more and more people circumvent both the meaning and means of prayer in response to calamities. They "send love" or better, "send light." They've not only nixed God from the loop there, but they've put themselves in place. Their own will and sentiment, naturally not activity of which there is typically is none, will ameliorate the world.

Let's say though, one can neither empathize nor pray. Perhaps one ought simply, "be informed," as good citizens. Yet daily life and daily news do not necessarily or even often accumulate into significant larger trends. What is presented in the news broadcast then tends to accumulate into a slowly, subtly formed sense of life than a body of facts which is later systematically sorted.

Of course, it seldom occurs to man that he could do more harm than good by learning about something. If the purpose of education is wisdom and wisdom right action, then one must ask how much "being informed" by watching the news leads to virtue in good deds how much an exercise in making oneself feel educated, compassionate, and generally superior.

The proper course of action is naturally not to insulate oneself, but on the one hand to refrain from gossip, speculation, and crisis mongering, and on the other actively and systematically to inform oneself slowly over time. Finally, we ought to do good with what we learn, loving not just ourselves or even the truth, but the good.

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