We started and won two atomic wars since 2022.
Thanks to we, the people.
“How in hell did those bombers get up there every single second of our lives! Why doesn't someone want to talk about it! We've started and won two atomic wars since 2022!* Is it because we're having so much fun at home we've forgotten the world?”
Bradbury is one of my favorite authors. I won’t look at a traveling carnival the same again, for sure. And no doubt, this quote makes us a bit edgy, considering Madman Putin flashing the world with his nukes.
But let’s look further than that.
Orwell warned us of government censorship (and Biden’s attempt at a “Ministry of Truth” proved him wise to do so). Offhandedly, most might say that Fahrenheit 451 is about government censorship, of books in particular.
Bradbury didn’t agree, and he was quite aggressive about it.
While you can still find plenty of the literati insisting that Bradbury is incorrect and doesn’t know what his own book is about, Bradbury seemed to suggest that it’s about the people getting what they want.
Montag, the protagonist of the book, repeatedly takes a swing at this idea:
“Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten- or twelve-line dictionary resume. I exaggerate, of course. The dictionaries were for reference. But many were those whose sole knowledge of Hamlet (you know the title certainly, Montag; it is probably only a faint rumor of a title to you, Mrs. Montag) whose sole knowledge, as I say, of Hamlet was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: 'now at least you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbors.' Do you see? Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there's your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries or more.”
He nailed it.
This is where we are at today, with ever-lessening attention spans, and younger generations who want everything in a video format, preferably something short. Tik-Tokish, to be precise.
Oh, to be sure, government and Big Tech are actively censoring people. Orwell wasn’t wrong. We are being told what we are allowed to think and speak.
But Bradbury was right, too, because we chose this. It’s what we wanted. Our choices as a culture have led us to this convergent point where these science fiction writers drew multiple lines that have crossed into one ugly reality.
We want to watch life and experience “relationships” through screens. We cook our eyeballs in our heads as we consume one video after another. We give attention to clickbait that narrows our understanding of the news down to a six-word headline. Our culture focuses on violence, simple thought, and quick entertainment.
We try to pretend otherwise, that we haven’t jellied our brains and the brains of those coming up behind us. We entangle ourselves in things for false complexity, but Celtic knots of conspiracy are not complex thinking; too often they are paranoid thinking purposefully convoluted to attribute intelligence to anyone who can follow the string. We have whole movements and ideas that are completely served by memes and hashtags, with no necessary nuance lacking despite their simplicity.
Awards are meaningless. To receive a Pulitzer prize for being the best in your field when you are in a field of manure means nothing. The best piece of crap is still crap.
What did Bradbury have to say about schools, in this futuristic mindless horror of a world?
“School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored.”
That hurts, doesn’t it? Fahrenheit 451 is supposedly set somewhere around 2053, but I think he was off by about 30 years.
In Harrison Bergeron, Vonnegut warned us about what happens when we confuse equality of opportunity with equity in result and attach it to government enforcement. Orwell warned us about dystopian authoritarian governments and systems in 1984 and Animal Farm. Huxley warned us of attaching the idea of utopia to allowing science and the powers that be determine who and how humans lived in Brave New World.
But Bradbury took a different approach, and pointed the finger back at the people.
“You will get what you say you want,” he basically warns.
God says the same thing in the Bible, warning us that if we reject Him and chase after what he has told us is sin, at some point he’ll give us over to the things we say we want and let them destroy us (Romans 1:24). Take a look around at our nation and world to see an illustration.
A madman stabs people on a subway. A person saturated in evil shoots up a school. A gluttonous-with-power politician lies and perpetuates nepotism and personal enrichment at the expense of everyone and the future. People chase after celebrity no matter the price. Women shout their abortion. Men in the tiniest, tightest briefs with genitals bulging, or dressed as a clownish stereotype of a woman, parade down streets and wave rainbow flags for a month every summer.
And the people are outraged and screaming at leaders and at each other about who will stand and fight, all the while not realizing they helped make this place that now disgusts them (but not enough to make changes in their personal lives).
“We the people” may have begotten impressive things in the late 1700’s, but horrific things in 2020’s. The entropy of human culture—an inevitable slide to the lowest thought, the lowest morals, the lowest ethic—turns “we the people” from tyranny busters into mob rule.
Using the same filthy language and underhanded tricks of your opponent only continues the slide. Gathering people to “your side” of the fight through compromise of what is right and wrong only continues the slide. Pointing fingers at dirty politicians while cheating others and chasing after money in your personal life continues the slide.
Those science fiction writers wouldn’t have agreed with me, but they unwittingly let the truth leak out: God has set the standard. Anything less gets us where we are at.
The end is hotter than 451 degrees.
*Older versions of the book have a different date, other than 2022. In my copy, a 50th Anniversary paperback Del Rey edition, the quote is found on page 73 and has the date 1990.