Friday, May 27, 2016

"People want to be happy"

"Bradbury: between dystopia and hope," is a review by Patrick West of a new book about Ray Bradbury. From that review, Bradbury as prophet:
.... Fahrenheit 451 also speaks of, and to, a culture that was becoming more superficial and philistine, in which television screens cover entire walls, where, in the words of the fire-chief Beatty: ‘School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected… Life is immediate… Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches.’ .... Give us no time to “stop and stare”.’ How prescient these words and Fahrenheit 451 sound today, in a 21st century of shrinking attention spans and the proliferation of electronic screens. ....

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 also reminds us of the symbiotic relationship between authoritarianism and utilitarianism, for the dangers of driving for universal happiness. .... ‘You must understand that our civilisation is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred. Ask yourself, What do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy, isn’t that right?... That’s all we live for, isn’t it? For pleasure and titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these.’ ....

Western culture in 2016 has developed an idea that happiness, safety and comfort are primary goals, and that unhappiness and discomfort are anathemas. ....

...Bradbury recognised that tyranny is at its most potent when it’s superficially most benevolent, when it dresses up coercion and censorship in kindly, caring language. A society that believes it paramount to keep its citizens safe, happy and comfortable for the greater good can not, and will not, tolerate dangerous words.