We live in the technological age of digital information and entertainment. We also live in an amused and distracted society of “bread and circuses,” of show business and media spectacle. These two statements are not unrelated to each other. The result of living in a show business and media spectacle society is the dumbing down and coarsening of personal reflection and social discourse. A society of thoughtfully reflective and liberally educated persons who value the serious life of the mind and the disciplined practice of civil discourse will produce a very different kind of society.
Perhaps nothing represents both the dumbing down of personal reflection and the coarsening of social discourse than the ravings of Donald Trump. He largely depends on creating endless controversy and feuds through Twitter and through calling in to the major media outlets to spread his ignorant, arrogant narcissistic and demagogic message of racism, resentment, fear and hate.
As the Huffington Post puts it, “Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to pan all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.”
My point is not to adopt a luddite view or to demonize our digital revolution. I welcome it and put it to use in my own life all the time. Rather, it is to point out that for those who lack respect for humanistic values, liberal education, cultural pluralism, civil discourse and democratic institutions, the digital revolution has made it astonishingly easy for those with the most hateful, violent, cruel and crazy views to use the loud-speaker of twitter and fabricated pseudo news stories to “control the narrative” and drown out all other voices than their own.
We live in a society that increasingly lives in the “shallows” of radio, TV and internet noise, trivia, sensationalism and chatter. We are forgetting out to think slowly and deeply about the great issues of life, about what it means to be a whole human being, to build a civil and just society, and to foster a verdant and sustainable world. We need to recover our ability to sustain our powers of attention and concentration. Both the habit of serious book reading, including the literary classics, and the art of critically reflective constructive dialogue serve to reinforce the rigorous life of the mind and the generous empathy of the heart. Attention to great music and the fine arts also serve to cultivate the finer qualities of enrich our common humanity.
Living in an information and entertainment digital technology society it not enough to nurture the life of the mind, the care of the soul, the opening of the heart and the awakening of the spirit. We need to recover the neglected wisdom of past generations. We need to learn how to slow down, to listen deeply, to calm the chatter and to see beneath the surface of things. This can be achieved through the habits of solitary sauntering, quiet meditation, broad reading , journal-writing, and conversational circles, as well as through exploring the vital domains of general knowledge such as history, myth, philosophy, religion, language, literature, music, art, science, technology, sociology, psychology, economics, politics, health and education, energy and ecology. A “great people” who are committed to cultivating the well-rounded life of the body, soul, heart, mind and spirit, and to working together with others in an open democratic society that celebrates both unity and diversity will not be seduced when an ignorant, arrogant, hateful and xenophobic demagogue comes knocking at their door.