Monday 22 February 2021

Reading is bad for you; or, What help can we expect from writers?

What help can we get from writers? Not much! 

In the olden days (before 2020) I could go to a book shop or library and browse the shelves among thousands of books - and it was hard to find a single one that was of material assistance in addressing my condition, my deepest needs.

Even old friends among books, are only helpful when I am in the right kind of mood to work-with-them. 

Real books are more like people than they are like supposed 'texts' - that is, when we are really reading a book (which may be a very rare occurrence - or perhaps never, for some people): the book is alive. 

Which is presumably why we can get such strong feeling about books - whether positive or negative. It also explains why (like people) books change; and (again like people, at least nowadays) books usually change for the worse

So, we meet up with a book after a gap of some years, and are appalled at the corruption it has undergone in the meantime. We are sure that it did not used to be so nasty when we knew it before; but clearly, the the meantime, the book has made bad choices, not repented them, and doubled-down on its wrongness.

In the past it was probably possible for a book to 'do us good' with the reader in a passive relationship; and the good being done passively and without consent. 

But as human consciousness has developed, all good things become a matter of conscious choice. We can be (and are) only corrupted by submission to the external, including by the effects of book. 

Stealth propaganda and manipulation can only be negative, nowadays. It is not possible to improve modern people by 'smuggling' Christian ideas into stories (as CS Lewis tried to do with Narnia and may have succeeded in doing, 70 years ago - but not now). 

Modern atheist-materialist cultural assumptions are indeed like Lewis's 'watchful dragons' in detecting and rejecting Christian goodness - nonetheless, these dragons must be identified, exposed and confronted. 

Because the aim is for people to join the side of God by conscious choice - in mortal life as it will be after biological death. 

To get benefit from a book, we must actively work-with-it - the book (as a text) does not Do Us Good.

(That Books Are Good-doers is a falsehood sustained by many people, who ought to know better - leading to the idea that 'bookshops' and 'libraries' are A Good Thing - regardless of their content: and that it is necessarily beneficial to encourage people to read more, and to read more books). 

(Related lies are that places called schools and colleges are good things; and people paid to do something officially-called science or the arts are benefactors of mankind).  

Regular readers will know how much I value JRR Tolkien's work, which I have met-with many times over the decades - and we still have a great relationship. 

Yet 'reading Tolkien' clearly does most people no good at all; and apparently merely encourages them in their wickedness and folly - as is evident from the worlds of Tolkien fandom and scholarship (which mostly consist of explicitly evil-affiliated people, working in explicitly evil-affiliated 'Tolkien-themed' institutions).

The best that can be said of them is that they are - on average - Not As Bad as the very worst examples of people and institutions. Nonetheless Tolkien-related institutions and persons are (like everything else in The System) net-bad, and getting worse annually and inexorably. 

So I am compelled to acknowledge that even the best of books are powerless to stem the corruption of our times. 

It takes two 'people' to read a book - the words and the reader; and for that relationship to do good, the reader must be capable-of, and motivated-towards, knowing and choosing Good. 

Otherwise - no matter the potential transcendental excellence of 'the text' - the reading-interaction will be unavailing in pursuit of good; rather like Jesus and the Pharisees. 

Those who lack eyes to see, ears to hear, and do not even want resurrected eternal life; will fail to recognize even the Son of God, never mind benefit from a 'good book'. 

Indeed, the goodness of a book will incite those on the side of evil to greater evil - directed against the threat of good - as with the army of Tolkien commentators, critics and interpreters - biographers, movie-makers and fan-fiction authors; whose true motivation is to subvert and spoil Tolkien, and if possible covertly-invert the understanding of his values. 

The intent is to ensure that readers approach his work with false assumptions and expectations - which, of course, tend to be self-fulfilling, and are resistant to counter-evidence. A potentially good relationship of Man and book has thus been poisoned before it has even begun. 


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Don't read books!
Don't chant poems!
When you read books,
your eyeballs wither away, leaving the bare sockets.
When you chant poems,
your heart leaks out slowly with each word.
People say reading books is enjoyable.
People say chanting poems is fun.
But if your lips constantly make a sound
like an insect chirping in autumn,
you will only turn into a haggard old man.
And even if you don't turn into a haggard old man,
it's annoying for others to have to hear you.

It's so much better
to close your eyes, sit in your study,
lower the curtains, sweep the floor, burn incense,
take a walk when you feel energetic,
and when you're tired go to sleep.

-- Yang Wanli (1127-1206)

Bruce Charlton said...

I suppose the ancient Chinese invented bureaucracy. At any rate, I sometime think that the major weapon of Ahrimanic evil is the subversion of once-good concepts by retaining the name and changing the purpose.

The other trick is to change the name in order to induce disorientation and to destroy good traditions and reputations - as managers do when they take-over an institution (hence a gratuitously renamed institution is identifiable as one which has experienced managerial takeover, which nowadays equates to net/ongoing-convergence to System-leftism. Ahem).

It is characteristic for primary modern loyalty to be accorded to an abstract (often incoherent) concept such as democracy, freedom, equality or justice. Whereas, in the past, people were primarily loyal to a person.

But even when names and official-purposes are retained, when the people are corrupt so is the institution. TS Eliot: "dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good."

Abstractions all the way down...

Adil said...

Schools and mass media make people into pathological readers. People read to accumulate facts and information; to increase their bank of knowledge in a mechanical way. Being "well-informed" in this way is considered a good thing.

Materialistic facts answer what something is and how it works. What it means and what truth it does convey never seems to enter the equation. The System wants to make sure everyone is "literate" and "generally educated" since illiterate minds may wander their own ways and God forbid, discover what things for themselves. Such pesky illiterates might accidentally stumble upon how remote-controlled the modern world really is.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adil - "The System wants to make sure everyone is "literate" and "generally educated" - Not sure whether I agree with that! If so, the plan isn't working very well.

Thinking back to the mid 90s when people were predicting the effect of the internet, it was supposed to make people better informed. Clearly that hasn't happened. It didn't even happen in academia, where it had been supposed that lack of access to libraries was a serious constraint.

After the internet - people got less, and less well informed. Probably because they stopped thinking - and without thinking, all information is just 'random'.

What I find weird is that people ask for information about simple facts that can be looked up in a few seconds - such a word definitions - yet they can't be bothered to do it.

I suppose this tells us that humans are meant (evolved?) to learn from other humans, by direct personal contact.

Jacob Gittes said...

After the internet - people got less, and less well informed. Probably because they stopped thinking - and without thinking, all information is just 'random'.

I just googled that Bruce, and google said that you are wrong!

Another great little essay on something that has impinged itself on me recently. I tried re-reading The Brother's Karamozov recently, and it seemed like a different book. Rougher and less interesting that I remember. I was thinking that I'd changed (and I have), but I didn't think of the notion that the book had changed. Brilliant.

The system may not be succeeding at turning people into voracious, literate readers, but it has turned people into shallow creatures who don't generally discuss or argue with you. They simply do a web search to "prove" how wrong you are.

At least in the pre-Internet period, they had to go find a book or encyclopedia or do some actual labor to produce evidence that you were wrong. And that meant there could be a chance of them stumbling upon information that could prove you right. Now the algorithms filter out all bad-think, and guide all searchers towards the goals and assumptions and "facts" that the System wants them to have. And they do.

There is far less freedom of thought now than pre-Internet.

John Smitty said...

I have given up on "the Internet" and now use a search engine specifically for blogspsot instead of a general search engine because the only good part of the internet (in religion/philosophy at least) is blogs like this one, which I found in that way.

Joseph A. said...

Jake, indeed. The omnipresence of devices also robs people of their thought -- the devil machines insinuate themselves in every spare moment of free time -- at the bus stop, on the bus, between class, before bed, during meals even! Times that used to be spent in reflection or communication -- now, taken over by these wicked little machines . . . which fill, fill, fill everyone's consciousness at all waking hours. It's really a marvelous form of thought control. Give the devils their due. They're clever.

Ranger said...

I'm beginning to think you have prophetic powers; almost made a comment about how Christopher Tolkien at least was able to stop most of the damage to Tolkien's legacy.

Then Vox Day posted this...

Bonald said...

"So, we meet up with a book after a gap of some years, and are appalled at the corruption it has undergone in the meantime. We are sure that it did not used to be so nasty when we knew it before; but clearly, in the meantime, the book has made bad choices, not repented them, and doubled-down on its wrongness."

That's brilliantly put, and I have experienced it many times, and even more often with television shows and movies. As I get older, I become less tolerant of establishment propaganda. Where once I either didn't notice it, or if I did I didn't pay it much attention, now almost any admixture of it spoils my appreciation. I would actually prefer not to have become so sensitive, and I am glad that in my younger years I was able to enjoy things that now I couldn't tolerate in their entirety, and I can remember the good bits.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Bonald - Probably - the reason is that these works were not so bad, were maybe net-good - at the time they came out. But now (in current context, the way people are) they have crossed the line and do net-harm. Probably the opposite happens, too.