The Fahrenheit 451 Connections to Modern Day
The modern obsession with social media and clip thinking makes the society wonder: if the books are still as useful as they was before? You may easily find in the Internet any information you need, you don’t have to memorise it anymore. The movies and games are the sources of easy emotions that (if we talk about mass market products) doesn’t involve too much thinking.
The modern person is overloaded with information without time and ability to actually process it. The dystopia about burning books to prevent the shallow culture from disrupting seems ridiculous – we still have our freedoms at all – but what is so Fahrenheit in our social media?
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Lots of people don’t see much sense in reading books. Reading is one of the most resource-consuming process in our brain. Not only we have to transcribe written symbols into words and words into ideas and images, we also have to cooperate with the author. The two people who read the same book will describe the two different words, two appearances of main character, different landscapes and even different aesop (if it isn’t too blatant).
But in modern life we are too often exhausted to the extent that our brain wants to go into power saving mode. Our brains are hardwired to be lazy, because in the wild nature it’s too energy-consuming to think too much. So if we can skip the thinking process, relying on our habits or genetic memory, we will instinctively do so.
The modern society of the developing countries is the society of excess. We all have plenty of food, a reliable shelter, mostly our basic needs are met. But the very principles of our life that should free our time and resources for reading books and indulging in intellectual pleasures deny us them. As we have sources of easy food that quickly makes us feel fed (e.g. hot dogs and hamburgers), we have same sources of emotions.
We can watch a soap opera to cry and rejoice, or a toilet humor comedy to have an easy fun. Classical literature, on the contrary, mostly invokes heavy thinking and controversial emotions: there are no one totally good or totally bad, every books presents us with moral dilemmas and devours lots and lots of time that we can use to achieve success in life.
We can easily spend time for reading professional literature, because we know that it is an investment in our success, in our salary and respect from the colleagues. We read psychological guides to improve our relationships or training manuals to enhance our body. But culture of reading to develop our emotional sphere slowly goes to extinction. Like in Fahrenheit 451 we use social media for short memes, shallow messages and socially accepted emotions. We can make any image of us we want to and we can simply switch off the people who are upsetting us right now.
But as exhausting training make us feel pain in stretching muscles – the pain that helps us grow – the emotional pain we may feel through reading also makes us more empathic and more self-aware, because we can investigate the sources of the feeling the book invoked. We have a chance to meet ourselves, with all our vulnerabilities, insecurities and flow and change something inside our very soul. But this process terrifies humans, it’s natura.
We all prefer to see ourselves in the limelight, the exaggerated, idealized image. We photoshop our photos in social media and copy and paste mindful quotes to look beautiful and balanced. But the more we do this, the worse seems the idea to look beneath that and see the real person. We are Dorians Grays on a civilization scale.
The story of burning books in Fahrenheit 451 began exactly from that. The different social, ethnic, racial, sexual and other groups started to complain that they feel offended with their portrayal in the books. The writers, horrified by fines for discrimination, started to write all-shiny books with no bad characters at all, just not to offend anyone. Still, the complaints continued, with the degradation of the emotional sphere of the people. Finally the government decided to forbid the books altogether and destroy them whenever they would be found.
Sometimes it is used by the conservators as a proof that excessive tolerance can lead to the shallowness of the society, so the minority rights activists are heading towards the event of this dystopia. But, actually, it is just another facet of our brain’s laziness. Brain likes to generalize. So, if we read about the character and the character appears to be bad or morally ambiguous and is unlike us, we have an instinctive temptation to generalize: that’s because they are of other skin color, sex, class etc.
They are not like me, so they are bad, I am good. The logical scheme of the cavepeople still works in us. So the tide of complaints in the book is not a cause, it’s a symptom. Instead of thinking over the subjects of the books, make personal conclusions and try to achieve balance and diversity in the literature to avoid turning of the books to anti-someone propaganda, they decided to blatantly complain.
Alas, we start seeing such attitude more and more often. Actually, it has always been here, but now, with the development of social media and easy access to the information, it can be shown as widely as in Fahrenheit 451, creating the illusion of it as a major point of view. We don’t have stimuli to develop emotionally anymore, we always have the option to turn down anything that makes us angry, upset or too thinkful and the life will still be fine. So people try to transfer such an attitude to the real life, demanding to “switch off” the books they dislike.
The major mistake of this point is that in social media we operate our personal data. Unfriending someone on Facebook won’t erase them from reality, but will effectively separate you from them. Mostly it is enough to feel comfortable in your own data bubble full of pleasant things. But instead of using this bubble as our safe place, as the source of energy we can use in real life, we succumb to our instincts and go the easy way. We try to do the same with reality, we want to “unfriend” books, social groups and other things that we dislike. But the reality doesn’t work that way.
The main cause of the shallowness in Fahrenheit 451 isn’t the excessive tolerance or general evilness of the government. It is just losing ability to cope with one’s emotions. The desire to live the life full of pleasures led to reducing their skill of dealing with unpleasant emotions. So the only psychological defence to live through it left is to aggressively deny them in any way possible, even by fire.
The Middle Ages were harsh times, but then death, wars, poverty and misfortunes were common in every society. People developed a culture of mourning with set stages of letting it go (for example, reducing the amount of black color in clothes after certain amount of time as symbol of living through the loss).
But nowadays there are a lot of services that separate us from death from its very moment. We prefer not to know about it. Of course, it lifts the emotional burden from us, but it also strips us of the important side of our personality. We will inevitably face traumas, injustice, sorrow, fear and pain. Pretending that they don’t exist won’t protect us from it. So the minor ones that we have while quarreling or breaking up with our partners, even if our playground friend mocks us with bad nicknames, are the kind of vaccine that strengthens our psychological immunity.
A person who didn’t experience any traumas is unable to develop in real conditions. The positive stress that challenges us all to do something extraordinary will be a catastrophe for them, making them curl in fetal position instead of using it to do something. Portraying anger and sorrow solely as something bad cuts away half of our emotional spectre leaving us crippled forever.
Fahrenheit 451 ends with the war raging through the city and heavy shelling. It will sound awfully, but for such a society the war is actually better than its current state. The powerful negative emotions will destroy the artificial culture that is unable to live by itself and will return humans to their humanity. The losses are drastical, the war is not a vaccine, it is a plague. But the plague survivors will have the lifelong immunity that they will pass to their descendants, hopefully, to not let it happen ever again.