They were given the choice between becoming kings or the couriers of kings. In the manner of children, they all wanted to be couriers. As a result, there are only couriers. They gallop through the world shouting to each other messages that, since there are no kings, have become meaningless. Gladly would they put an end to their miserable existence, but they dare not, because of their oaths of service.– Franz Kafka, “Couriers”
The American people have become couriers. The public has become content with repeating the messages of the rich and famous with no desire to understand the truth or incite change. Where are our kings? I was tempted to write about a widespread state of apathy until I realized that we have a much greater problem at hand: we now live in an era of escapism.
As a point of reference, let us consider the impact of media on those living under authoritarian regimes. In The Net Delusion, Evgeny Morozov notes:
“Even authoritarian governments have discovered that the best way to marginalize dissident books and ideas is not to ban them – this seems only to boost interest in the forbidden fruit – but to let the invisible hand flood the market with trashy popular detective stories, self-help manuals, and books on how to get your kids into Harvard.”
Similarly, research conducted by Holger Lutz Kern and Jens Hainmueller indicates that “people living under authoritarian regimes might simply see the mass media, both domestic and foreign, as a source of entertainment that offers a temporary escape from the humdrum of daily life, the scarcities, the queues, and the ideological indoctrination.”
Now let us lament the sorry state of public awareness of current affairs in the United States, something to which media continually do a great disservice. Markus Prior highlights the role of greater media choice in increasing political knowledge for those who are already interested, but aiding in the ignorance of others, as “those who prefer nonpolitical content can more easily escape the news and therefore pick up less political information than they used to. In a high-choice environment, lack of motivation, not lack of skills or resources, poses the main obstacle to a widely informed electorate.” Simply put, we are willing ourselves into submission by allowing a flood of cheap entertainment to replace a steady stream of political awareness and activity. Instead of standing up for our principles, we have taken our seat in time for reality TV.
But what does cultural escapism have to do with the state of the union, you ask? I do not wish to make prophecies regarding the consequences of these trends – Orwell and Huxley have given us quite a bit of creative material to make our own conclusions. I would simply like to introduce a piece of literature by Russian dissident writer Yevgeny Zamyatin: We, a novel that explores the death of individuality through collectivism. Zamyatin writes about One State, whose citizens live in glass houses (closely watched by government forces) and are forbidden to make any choices, including indulging in common vices. This society, complete with Child-Rearing Factories, considers any thought outside the mandated norm to be a form of mental illness. In Zamyatin’s society, the few who ponder a revolution are branded as “enemies of happiness.” We as conservatives are often left wearing the same label.
We shows us a state saturated with hopeless couriers and tells us that “revolutions are infinite” – that only the naïve embrace finality when it comes to governance and society. With each of these revolutions, a few more Americans will reject the oaths of service that have led us all into escapism. With each revolution, a few new ‘enemies of happiness’ will fight to restore the individual’s right to pursue success – and, with that, the truest form of happiness.
Written by Alissa Tabirian