The ease of distraction

Garvey, John

OF SEVERAL HINDS John Garvey THE EASE OF DISTRACTION ON THE SABBATH & CABLE TELEVISION It is as close to an absolute requirement for living in this world as you are likely to find...

...Kissinger and Purcell consider the contras a major reason why negotiations are now possible, and they argue against a cutoff of contra aid...
...Continuing aid is necessary because it keeps "options open for the future...
...But something changed in the tenor of many lives when that vague something was no longer honored, in however tenuous a way...
...How should the U.S...
...All of them criticize its lack of coherence the failure to define objectives clearly and to propose means which are proportionate to the goals being pursued...
...In fact, a culture stops being a culture in some important way when it thinks of itself as "a culture" when self-consciousness enters in...
...That noise was increased by the presence of television, which is not only a part of our common culture but pervades it...
...Most people, of course, didn't life up to what their cultures' wisest traditions revered...
...Not that the past was wonderfully healthy...
...OF SEVERAL HINDS John Garvey THE EASE OF DISTRACTION ON THE SABBATH & CABLE TELEVISION It is as close to an absolute requirement for living in this world as you are likely to find that human beings must think they know more or less what they are doing, what they can expect of life, and why things happen the way they do...
...According to Szulc, Mr...
...it consists of film footage of real people, really being killed, taken from every documentary source the producers could find...
...In an ominous sounding warning, Kissinger asserts, "The opponents of administration policy should not take upon themselves the historic responsibility of perpetuating in this hemisphere a Marxist-Leninist regime without any safeguards with respect either to security or to human rights...
...An equally plausible description at the very least is that contra aid has obstructed any coherent and serious diplomatic approach by the United States, that it is inevitably a stop-gap measure, and that the most it can promise is continuation of war in Nicaragua with the potential of wider war in the region...
...Gorbachev is signaling a desire to disengage from a disappointing client in the region...
...Two examples, almost comically unrelated on the surface: the death of the idea of the sabbath and the availability of cable television...
...One thing you never see on "Dynasty," "Spencer," or "Family Ties," is characters watching television about other people's lives...
...But the fact still remains, as Vaky puts it, that "no negotiated settlement can be achieved without U.S...
...First, the idea of the sabbath...
...Kissinger and Purcell envision continued, aid to the contras until the longterm viability of the Arias proposal can be tested...
...and done most recently in the name of ideological correctness) that we will use any excuse we can find to argue, imprison, seize power, or kill in the name of something which has shifted often enough to be suspect...
...We establish little rituals of work, as well as routine habits of thought and relaxation, to reinforce the feeling at a controllable level that life does happen according to certain patterns, and its meaning whatever we think that may be can be found by close and wise attention to the patterns...
...What a society says when it decides that the observance of the sabbath is less important than profit, or convenience, or competition, is that profit and convenience matter more than the something (admittedly something we are unwilling to define too closely in a pluralistic society) which the sabbath honored...
...First, it is a very benign and complimentary conception of the role the contra connection has played in Central American policy...
...A sabbath, a day of rest, became an individual choice, one made against a busy and noisy backdrop, without a common cultural recognition...
...there is also no clear way out of our dilemma...
...Now it produces a pattern of drift...
...but the old saw that "hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue" contains an important truth, and tribute was, at least, paid...
...It is easy to see why some people have given up the whole search for meaning, and look for what meaning there may be in days at the beach...
...Vaky proposes a sharp break with past policy and the adoption of a more complex mix of incentives and pressures which he describes as "positive containment...
...When I was a child stores all over our middlesized Midwestern city closed on Sunday...
...Not a very benign instrument of policy...
...It is depressingly common to hear people at the next table in a cafeteria talking about last night's episode of "Dynasty" or what someone said on Carson's show...
...It is clear that watching television has become one of the few common family experiences in America...
...Here the authors divide, reflecting the wider divisions among policy makers and the general public, too...
...There is something desperately wrong with this...
...That store may have been closed on Saturday (and I hope it was, because that would give a more complete esthetic consistency to an argument I want to make), but the point is that for most people every store but one was closed one day of the week, and if you had to buy something that day it was a matter of buying one or two things you had forgotten to buy...
...hands...
...Such a strategy accepts the regime as a fact and invokes a multilateral strategy for containing Sandinista ambitions...
...It may be that this something had become so vague, so indefinite, that it was not worthy of honor...
...After six years public doubt persists about U.S...
...done still later for the nation-state...
...the more banal television programs become the subject of conversation and fantasy...
...The language of the policy has often suggested the latter goal...
...A universe full of trapdoors suddenly opening in reality's floor is a world that may be real, at some level, but it does not allow us to go on together...
...Ocean sunsets are at least not lethal, though the depletion of the ozone layer may change that...
...If television has become our common culture, with its emphasis on the immediate, the possibility of satisfying every desire, the importance of meeting every need ("need" and "desire" being interchangeable), we must see what this means in terms of cultural memory...
...Thank you, thank you...
...strategic interests that Americans would rather not die for themselves...
...Incoherence led first to deception in the implementation of policy as revealed in the Imn-contra hearings...
...later done in the name of God, whose will was seen as a kind of church franchise...
...in effect asking Nicaraguans to bleed and die for U.S...
...This is as general an overview as I think anyone has ever given of life as it is lived in common by atheists, agnostics, Orthodox Christians, Conservative Jews, Baptists, Catholics, Shiite Moslems, and Unitarians, as well as everyone else, and I am quite proud of it...
...Cable television offers a variety ranging from old Disney films to pornography, and VCR technology allows people to watch virtually anything they like, anytime...
...Essentially they want the congressional vote on aid divorced from the progress of the peace proposals since the viability of the Arias plan cannot be determined this autumn...
...In the Fall 1987 issue of Foreign Affairs, Susan Kaufman Purcell, director of the Latin...
...We need the belief that the fabric of our lives can be seen whole and understood, even if the understanding is rough, only approximate...
...has against the Sandinistas...
...Jews and Christians celebrate the sabbath for different reasons, at least at the level where we articulate the reasons for belief, and we celebrate it on different days...
...all the liabilities are listed on the side of altering the present policy...
...For those who have argued that a fundamental problem in the past several years has been the subordination of Central American interests to superpower concerns, the emergence of -a Central American initiative is a positive development and a sign of hope...
...If you wanted to buy a Coke or a chicken or toilet paper or soap, and it was Sunday, you had to go to a single market run by a Jewish family...
...Memory is not the same thing as self-consciousness...
...I haven't given up the belief that we can know things at levels which secular culture has given up on because it can't imagine those levels...
...definitively the Soviet-Cuban role in Nicaragua...
...Some agreement among these authors does exist on the present status of U.S...
...Self-consciousness is our secular society's blessing and curse...
...but even critics sympathetic to that aim, like Kissinger, still complain of incoherence: ' 'There has been next to no relationship between the administration's fierce rhetoric and its actions...
...A contrasting piece by veteran Latin American correspondent Tad Szulc appeared on the same Sunday in the New York Times...
...There is something sad, and a little absurd, about the fact that so many people watch stories about other people's lives on television, and spend so much time doing it that their own lives are passed that way...
...It is a sense which comes from a little attention to history, a sense (perhaps born of the slaughters done first in the name of tribes, often combined with the belief that this was the will of God...
...A culture tends to think of itself as more or less like what it was a little while before, slightly different, but continuous in a way that could be .-found if we had the ambition to trace the connections...
...Vaky is much less enamored of the past contra role and devastatingly critical of its future prospects...
...One current best-selling video cassette series is called "Faces of Death...
...Equally contrasting views about the Arias plan next appeared in two of the leading foreign policy quarterlies...
...Secularism could almost be defined as a form of giving up, but that's another column...
...policy...
...The problem is the ease with which we can now distract ourselves, almost constantly, and the fact that since religion is given the place of a subjective preference, not a path to wisdom, we find it difficult to know how dangerous the way of distraction is...
...people have enjoyed executions and torture for years, and the fact that religious allegiances are no longer coerced is a great advance...
...It could be that our need for a sense of continuous understandings has blinded us to the way some cultural shifts that have happened in a comparatively few number of years have wounded common memory...
...They are the architects of potential disaster...
...participation or over U.S...
...Framing the choice this way places all the burden on the opponents of aid...
...Second, contra aid stands indicted on other grounds...
...it has proven, itself lethal at times...
...A society which has a place for the monastery, even though most of its members find that life a difficult or unpalatable one, is culturally stronger than one which finds the choice of such a life merely baffling...
...Not only does the urgency of television news, the illusion of immediacy it creates, emphasize what we are to find important...
...They have something in common, and it involves one of those cultural shifts which can happen so softly like a sound ending rather than anything definitely new coming to be, no new noise here that it can evade attention...
...collective memory, seen as something of value, is essential to a culture...
...proceed...
...It is a lot more convenient not to observe a sabbath at all, and more profitable as well...
...Vaky sums it up bluntly...
...Applause...
...This depiction of the policy choice on contra aid admittedly only one dimension of the larger Nicaraguan, Central American, and East-West questions fails to meet two objections...
...Such an action would be irrevocable and would throw away the ultimate leverage the U.S...
...Television exists to tell us things...
...intentions: is the Reagan policy aimed at changing the internal practices and external activities of the Sandinista government, or is the White House irrevocably committed to nothing short of removal of the Sandinistas...
...There was plainly some chafing at this regular closing of stores located more conveniently or more lavishly stocked 520: Commonweal than the one store we were stuck with, but there was something important in the feeling families knew during that one quiet day, an undercurrent which is not reinforced at the communal level now, except by those who choose like the Amish or Orthodox Jews to live apart in some way from the surrounding culture...
...They have had a profound effect, and have not been sufficiently noticed, perhaps because noticing would shake out need for continuity and would be too unsettling...
...Adolescent boys tend to be its biggest fans...
...The difficult task we have is to retain cultural memory and self-consciousness at once, trying to be clear about the limits of both...
...Ours is perhaps the first society to be saturated with selfconsciousness, while at the same time we are insensitive to cultural memory...
...What a society says when it observes a sabbath even with some reluctance and irritation, and even when its members may celebrate on different days and for different reasons is that it recognizes something which matters more than profit or convenience...
...Memory which includes so many cultural affections and cultural hatreds is' not enough...
...the way of life offered to us as attractive and even necessary is one the Buddha, the prophets, Socrates, and Jesus would all find at least shallow and beside life's point, if not in fact deadly...
...it perpetuates the killing without even a reasonable prospect of serving other purposes...
...What the vanishing of the idea of the sabbath and the pervasive presence of television have in common is that both phenomena have come about because we have decided that profit, convenience, and distraction from our real daily lives matter deeply, more deeply than a common life...
...I am enough of a child of the Enlightenment to find the self-questioning which comes with selfconsciousness important at every level...
...We may argue about where the patterns come from or what they indicate about the universe as a whole, but all of us do live with the expectation that life can be understood and the patterns read right...
...opposition...
...As bad as many previous cultures were, they at least contained wisdom traditions, which said that life's meaning could not be found in the pursuit of money, physical comfort, or distraction...
...But what gets ignored in this consoling myth is the fact that every culture is, almost by definition, so close to itself that it can't see itself for what it is...
...it wasn't ordinary shopping...
...American Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, is highly skeptical about the design and mechanisms of the proposal, while in Foreign Policy Viron Vaky, once Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs and a former ambassador to three Latin American nations, sees the Arias plan as a possible foundation for "positive containment" of Nicaragua...
...The acceptance of the Arias proposal by the other Central American presidents caught the administration by surprise, and took the action substantially out of U.S...

Vol. 114 • September 1987 • No. 16


 
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