[Illustration by Frontpage’s cartoonist Amir Avni].
In an August 20, 2013 article forFrontPage Magazine, Howard Rotberg deplores the “growing cultural emphasis on fun” which, in the midst of the current crisis brought on by fiscal irresponsibility and by Islam’s war against the West, distracts us from understanding the various forces that threaten our way of life and from “taking up arms in defense of [our] own liberty.”
Not that the warning hasn’t been sounded before. In his perennially relevant study of an increasingly frivolous intellectual culture,Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman addresses the subject from the standpoint of the electronic media that entertain while detaching viewers from the social, political and economic issues and consequences of “real life.” Fun, so to speak, has become fundamental, superseding both specific and contextual knowledge and leading to what today we call the “low-information voter” or, just as likely, the no-information voter. One recalls Lewis Mumford in The City in History, who referred to a historical episode dating back to the 5th century A.D. that has always struck me as an exemplum of a culture in terminal decline. The citizens of Augustine’s city of Hippo, Mumford writes, were too busy attending the games in the local Forum to defend themselves against the Vandals at the walls, whose defense they had left to a contingent of hired mercenaries, with the inevitable result that the city was razed and these distracted citizens put to the sword.
When a culture puts fun over the demands of survival, the writing is on the very wall that is about to be breached. Mutatis mutandis, our condition today is not structurally different from that of our fifth century precursors. “Fun” in all its ramifications—the circus atmosphere enveloping election seasons and the media cosmeticizing of party candidates, the transformation of the electorate into spectators seeking entertainment, the concomitant refusal to pay attention to the pressing issues of the day, the free rein of appetite as a societal “right,” the reluctance or even inability to look beyond the narrow perimeter of immediate caterings, the hypertrophic emphasis on pleasure and gratification at the expense of civic responsibility, the valorizing of and enchantment with violence as a means of escaping boredom, a tendency, as most of us know but are chary of acknowledging, called the “thrill kill,” that is fast becoming a signature of the black subculture—has come increasingly to predominate in the sensibility of the age. What goes along with it is a general sense of mental stupefaction that incapacitates and disqualifies the person so afflicted from making informed decisions about matters of social and political import or considering his own long-term interests.
According to the satirical magazine The Onion, 38% of people are not entitled to their own opinion. Tongue solidly lodged in capacious cheek, the magazine reports: “In a surprising refutation of the conventional wisdom on opinion entitlement, a study conducted by the University of Chicago’s School for Behavioral Science concluded that more than one-third of the U.S. …read more