Sunday, February 18, 2018

Struggle is a solution to the question of who you are

A few years ago, at an academic conference, my spiel was about how we can use the awesome satire of The Onion videos in order to get across important ideas to students.  I played a couple of clips for the audience and demonstrated the embedded intellectual aspects there.

One of the questions from the audience was not what I would have expected.  "How do you find such satire?"

I replied that I have been a huge fan of humor and satire right from when I was a kid, especially the sociopolitical kind.  I owe a great debt to Cho in this context.

Over the years, I have shared many satirical pieces--text and video--with students.  Sometimes--like I did this term--I even make sure to parenthetically note in the syllabus that the material is a satirical one.  I have had instances in the past when students have gotten pissed off thinking that the material is a real news report.

Often, satire is only a few steps ahead of reality.  Like this awesome Onion video from a number of years ago:

I laughed. We all laughed.

And then Soylent happened!
If you’ve ever skipped breakfast after rolling out of bed too late…if you’ve ever missed a lunch because of a busy schedule…if you’ve ever had a guilty conscience over a midnight microwave burrito…Soylent is made for you.
We apparently find food preparation to be a chore, and even eating food that others prepare to be time-consuming, that there is a market for feedbags!

It is now a tyranny of feedbags and other kinds of modern conveniences:
I don’t want to suggest that convenience is a force for evil. Making things easier isn’t wicked. On the contrary, it often opens up possibilities that once seemed too onerous to contemplate, and it typically makes life less arduous, especially for those most vulnerable to life’s drudgeries.
But we err in presuming convenience is always good, for it has a complex relationship with other ideals that we hold dear.
If that sounds familiar to you, well, it is because two years ago--almost to the very date--I had blogged quoting the same author, Tim Wu. 

I wrote then:
I worry about technology because I am not entirely at ease with how technologies seems to determine what it means to be human.  I want humans to consciously think about this ongoing redefinition.  Whether it is in what we eat, how we meet up with people, how we have sex, I worry a lot, perhaps unnecessarily, that we humans are not thinking through enough.
In his recent essay, Wu writes:
The dream of convenience is premised on the nightmare of physical work. But is physical work always a nightmare? Do we really want to be emancipated from all of it? Perhaps our humanity is sometimes expressed in inconvenient actions and time-consuming pursuits.
Inside, intuitively, we know that inconvenience is not always bad, and that sometimes we systematically pursue that:
Embracing inconvenience may sound odd, but we already do it without thinking of it as such. As if to mask the issue, we give other names to our inconvenient choices: We call them hobbies, avocations, callings, passions. These are the noninstrumental activities that help to define us. They reward us with character because they involve an encounter with meaningful resistance — with nature’s laws, with the limits of our own bodies
I will wrap this up with Tim Wu's own words:
 we must take seriously our biological need to be challenged, or face the danger of evolving into creatures whose lives are more productive but also less satisfying.

1 comment:

Ramesh said...

This is too much thinking for a Sunday. Go for your constitutional walk, young man !!

Don't you dare trash Soylent though !