I read Fahrenheit 451 for the first time last year. Ray Bradbury’s small but perfectly formed novel hit me like a brick through a window. At first, I wished I had read it sooner. But would I have appreciated it? Would 16 year old me? 25 year old me?
I guess these things are all about timing.
The future of Bradbury’s cautionary tale is now dangerously close to our present. The constant feed of reality TV, the death of intellectualism, war raging in the skies somewhere far away from the ignorant insulation of the four walls of the home.
Where did this all start? How did we find ourselves in a world teetering on the brink of a dystopia where books are burned and questions are not asked? Where the illiterate hoards are subdued with bland mass media.
“How it is we have so much information, but know so little?” – Noam Chomsky
I am trying to understand how America in particular has come to be in the state it is in, for make no mistake, whether you’re are pro or anti-Trump, Republican or Democrat, left or right, rich or poor, black or white, the States are not United. Trump becoming POTUS is not a sudden, isolated moment of madness. Politics does not exist in a vacuum. We didn’t start the fire. It was always burning since the world was turning.
But I guess these things are all about timing.
Did it start with Brexit? Trump said on his campaign trail ‘We’re gonna have our own Brexit’. When the UK voted to leave the EU, there were bitter recriminations and mud-slinging on both sides. People who voted to Leave were called racists and bigots. Remainers were branded city-dwelling liberals rah-rahing over their artisan coffees, isolated from the real experience of modern Britain.
Did it start with the 2008 banking collapse, when the greed, arrogance and sheer don’t give a fuck attitude of a tiny group of men in suits lead the world sleepwalking into the biggest global financial crisis since The Great Depression?
Did it start with 9/11? The first time war had come to American shores since the War of Independence. Is this when the American psyche shattered? When fear and patriotism became toxically intertwined.
Did it start with Reagonomics and Thatcherism? When rampant consumerism became the new religion.
Did it start with The Cold War and McCarthyism? The Communist witch hunts of the 1940s and 50s seem so dark and absurd. An historic oddity, never to be repeated in a Western democracy. Who would have thought only fifty years later, the U.S. government would be not quite in bed with but certainly making doe eyes at Russia. Reds under the bed are no longer the enemy, it’s the liberal elite and fake news and intellectual leftist conspiracies.
“There’s more than one way to burn a book, and the world is full of people running about with lit matches.” – Ray Bradbury
Did it start with The Civil Rights Movement? Did it start with slavery? Did it start with The British Empire? Did it start the moment the Mayflower landed at the shores of The New World. Did it start with the very fact that America was never truly a state of unity, and never has been?
Or could it be that everything is a result of complex, interconnected historical cause and effect systems, and that while it is the modern way to reduce everything to ‘this’ or ‘that’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, ‘them’ and ‘us’, that is just another way to keep the masses from really understanding the world around them?
“The more you can increase fear of drugs, crime, welfare mothers, immigrants and aliens, the more you control all of the people.” – Noam Chomsky
Is the world doomed to follow the second of thermodynamics, in that all systems are moving towards irreversible entropy? It is in human nature to destroy ourselves?
“There was a damn silly bird called a Phoenix back before Christ: every few hundred years he built a pyre and burned himself up. He must have been first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but we’ve got one damn thing the Phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years, and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, some day we’ll stop making the goddam funeral pyres and jumping into the middle of them.” – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.
We didn’t start the fire.
But it always stays lit.
How we keep it burning is up to us. Your flame can be fed by ignorance, hatred, greed.
Or knowledge, understanding and tolerance can be your oxygen.