This is just a little unobtrusive announcement that my Etsy shop has been recently overhauled and restocked with an assortment of new cards, bookmarks and hand-written calligraphy encouragement notes. I’ll be steadily adding more artwork to the shop over the next few weeks, so come back and visit again if you like!
There was a thing, as I’ve said before, called
All the crosses had their tops cut and became T’s.
There was also a thing called God.
We have the World State now and Ford’s Day
celebrations and Community Sings and Solidarity
There was a thing called Heaven; but all the same
they used to drink enormous quantities of
There was a thing called the soul and a thing called
But they used to take morphia and cocaine.
Aldous Huxley puts these words in the mouth of the director of his dystopian society in a scene where the collapse of the world as we know it is narrated with an eery nonchalance.
Huxley’s classic novel has been on my list to read for quite some time and when a friend wanted to read it with me over the summer, I finally got down to it. Based on what I’d heard about the book, I was expecting to find some remarkable parallels between Huxley’s society and our own technological age. However, I wasn’t prepared for just how many powerful ways I would see the Spirit of the Age foreshadowed in this book.
In Huxley’s Brave New World, the old order of struggling for survival and working to achieve your goals has been replaced by a new society where scientific advancement has removed the need for pain, suffering, frustrated desires and social instability. People are genetically engineered to serve the specific needs of society and conditioned from infancy through hypnopaedic sleep training to embrace their lot in life. There is no disease and the effects of aging have been obliterated. There are no longer any causes for dissatisfaction or discontentment. And if anyone should find themselves experiencing strong emotions, there’s always soma, the feel-good drug that provides a euphoric escape from any unpleasantness.
The catch? In order to do away with the strong negative emotions that threaten the stability of the social order, the Brave New World has done away with marriage, family, and all strong and meaningful connections that bind humans to one another. They’ve done away with love. Everyone is trained in uninhibited promiscuous sexuality from childhood and words like fidelity, parents, and God have become indecent expressions. The high arts have been replaced by synthetic music and sensory experiences. Television and soma are ever-present as a constant distraction against any serious contemplation. Pleasure flows through the culture like a steadily dripping intravenous solution, deadening feeling.
Huxley paints a picture of an existence that most of us would no doubt categorize as no way to live. We don’t live in a society where Shakespeare and the Bible are forbidden and marriage is a dirty word. The high arts are still held in high regard by educated people and housed in museums that can be visited free of charge all over the country. We can still listen to opera and classical music radio stations in every major city in this country. Unfortunately, I think these ways in which our culture isn’t like Huxley’s can be a dangerous distraction from a myriad of ways in which it is.
Technology in our time has ushered in an era that is unprecedented in history. Mechanization has drastically reduced the need for quantitative manpower and a few people can easily complete work that once required thousands of laborers. Whereas humanity used to be engaged in a constant struggle for survival, the means of production are rapidly evolving to a point where this struggle is no longer necessary. In order to accommodate the resulting leisure opportunities, virtual and passive entertainment forms have become increasingly central in the lives of millennials.
Gaming provides opportunities for activating the brain’s rewards system and giving users the illusion of accomplishment. Smartphone technology provides instant access to many forms of mindless entertainment or pleasure simulations, from Candy Crush Saga to pornography. Apps like Snapchat allow smartphone users to feel informed about world events and trends with daily news and fashion feeds but all of these news outlets look more and more like tabloids every year. Rather than promoting serious observations, research or deep thought, they stimulate users on a shallow level with short articles centered on pop culture figures, gossip tidbits and useless trivia. They promote a hook-up culture in which meaningful, committed, long-term sexual relationships are replaced by cheap one-night stands and love and friendship are divorced from sexuality.
Are we happier for all this? Are we happier now that we live at a level of physical and material comfort that none of our ancestors ever experienced?
I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we can see that this influx of consumer media has resulted in the loss of many important elements of the human experience. There’s no longer any need for boredom or contemplation or pondering the hard facts of reality and the questions of existence that enhance our humanity. There’s little motivation to expend effort towards achieving long-term goals when so many short-term goals are instantly attainable.
What is it that’s missing? What is it that the human heart hungers for so desperately and that can’t be fulfilled by ending world hunger or unemployment, by giving people everything they want? Why is it that what we think we want is never really what we want after all?
“God, you have made us for yourself,” St. Augustine wrote, exposing the emptiness of all the pleasures in the world, “and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in You.”
“Please – tame me!” says the fox to the little prince in Antoine De Saint-Exupery’s timeless and legendary fairytale The Little Prince.
“I want to, very much,” the little prince replies. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”
What is it about this naïve little statement that sounds painfully familiar, sounds perilously like something we’ve all heard before? I want to very much, but I have not much time. Isn’t there something here that sounds like millennials, sounds like the hyperconnected but ultra-isolated society we inhabit?
Sometimes when I try to think outside of the bubble that technology has created around us, I’m startled by how recklessly and rapidly everything has changed. I don’t mean the changes that have come since our parents were young. I mean the changes that have come since we were in highschool, since five years ago, since just the other day. It’s difficult to accurately assess or even think about the full impact of snowballing social media, because we’re riding the snowball and it’s growing underneath us. How can we truly understand how it’s affected us unless we fall off of it at the bottom of the hill and get smacked squarely in the face, the whole thing exploding in a shower of ice?
But there are some things that are apparent. It is apparent that although the contemporary age is filled with more words, more photos, more videos, and more interaction than any era at any point in history, there is not more friendship. Indeed, as a college student living in an environment surrounded by constant opportunities for activity and community, I’ve never seen so much social isolation in all my life.
My campus is small. The faces you’ll find here are limited. It does not take long for an outgoing person to make the acquaintance of the majority of their fellow-students. It is a pleasant place and we all enjoy one another. I’m not suggesting people don’t speak to each other or that they have no interest in human contact. It is simply that interactions, for the most part, seem to be stuck on a surface level. There is a lack of meaning, a lack of substance, a lack of trust. There is a frustration, because everyone wants to be known, wants to give trust, and wants to receive it. Yet somehow, few seem able to achieve this. As a result, relationships and friend groups are fluid, shifting regularly, and being replaced often.
Have you felt this too? Have you seen these things? Have you tasted the void of loneliness in the place without understanding?
“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends anymore.”
What do we mean when we say we have no time? We definitely need to catch up soon! I wish I could hang out with you more, but my schedule is so unmanageable this year. I’ve just got sooo much going on!
But saying, I don’t have time to spend with you – doesn’t that really just mean being with you is not really how I want to spend my time?
“Don’t say you don’t have enough time,” said H. Jackson Brown. “You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Louis Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”
So it isn’t that we don’t have time, is it? It’s that we spend it otherwise, that we forget how hungry the heart is to connect with the soul of another person who encourages us to be brave and true.
Above our heads are a thousand thousand other suns ringed by a myriad of other little blue and grey and ochre planets, cratered and capped with ice, each one a whole world in itself. In the scheme of things, all the dollars and cents there are don’t really add up to much, do they? Because we are passing away and the big swirling universe will soon forget our place, and all that is not eternal is eternally out of date.
But if I have a friend who speaks to me of what is beyond the both of us, who extends hope to me like a gift and covers over my cracks and gaping split places, how can I pay for that? If I can be a friend like that, does it matter whether they put my name up on a park bench or a boulevard someday? How do we know what it is we want most unless we think about what it is we’ll wish we’d had when we come to the end of all things?
And beyond reason and distance and crises and hurricanes and the change that hurts like dying, there is Friend that sticks closer than a brother, a brother Who never goes away. But how shall we ever come to know Him if we don’t even have time for each other?
The little prince learned it later: how it is a good thing to have had a friend. Even if one is about to die.
This is just a little announcement that my Etsy store has been restocked with some new handmade items, including a new set of watercolor bookmarks featuring illustrations and quotes by Emily Dickinson, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Here’s a little preview:
If this interests you, you can check it out here!
May your 2016 be full of Light and Adventure…
It’s been the sort of semester where an empty hour is a precious rarity and face-to-face interactions have more or less replaced the virtual world. I haven’t been reading less, but most of what I’ve been reading is textbooks. I haven’t been writing less, but most of what I’ve been writing is academic papers and conversations in text messages with friends who want to talk about all the issues involved with just living and how we bring all our high ideals into gritty reality. All this is very alright and my days are as happy as ever. But when I got off for winter break and came back to the web to catch up with all of you and your Goodreads lists and your websites and your artwork and your creative minds, I sure did wish I hadn’t been away for quite so long.
My break has involved a lot of hot tea and starlight walks and the happy sounds of running water all over the farm. My little brother still cares a lot that we all sleep under the Christmas tree at night and he’s been reading The New Treasure Seekers to me by the Christmas lights while I catch up on filling in pages and pages of my commonplace book. Last night he read the saga of the Conscience Pudding in as quiet a whisper as he could manage but we couldn’t manage to keep from laughing out loud when the Bastable children washed the currants with Brown Windsor soap. I’m glad you never have to get too old for Edith Nesbit.
But the best thing about being on a break is the chance to make a studio out of the breakfast table in the kitchen and take out watercolors and ink and work on art projects for hours at a time.
The calligraphy piece at the beginning of this post is an illustration of lines taken from The Ballad of the White Horse. My first calligraphy project was a rather crooked and deficient rendition of this quotation and I thought it would be fun to make an updated version. Here are a couple of other projects I completed this week as Christmas presents:
This watercolor features Shasta and Bree from The Horse and His Boy and a quotation from that book added in ink. “You poor, proud frightened Horse,” says Aslan to the conceited and self-conscious Bree. “Draw near. Nearer still, my son. Do not dare not to dare. Touch me. Smell me. Here are my paws, here is my tail, these are my whiskers. I am a true Beast.”
It’s an era full of empty rhetoric about pursuing what we want and who hasn’t seen Shia LaBeouf yelling don’t let your dreams be dreams!! ? But when C.S. Lewis puts these words in the mouth of his Lion King, I don’t think that’s what he’s talking about. There’s a dream that is higher than ideal careers and condos in Florida. And this is the one we owe it to ourselves not to shrink back from chasing as hard as we can.
The model for this illustration was the Narnian castle Cair Paravel where the Pevensies reigned as kings and queens and once you’re a king or a queen in Narnia, you’re always a king or a queen. Aren’t we Royalty in a Kingdom that’s coming and is among us and will be here even before we know it?
Later this week, I plan to write up a few reviews for the books I’ve been reading, and before I head back to school for another semester of studying, I’ll be restocking my Etsy shop with a collection of new art creations. So things should stay interesting around here for awhile. Come back! And I’d love it if you come and let me know what you’ve been doing or thinking or reading.