Blaze Pascal diagnosed our problem 350 years ago: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Senator Angus King, the progressive Independent from Maine, confirmed Pascal’s diagnosis last week with his letters to Netflix, Amazon, and Disney insisting they provide free streaming to Americans who can’t afford the monthly subscription.
Like every other progressive politician these days, Senator King is blaming Covid-19. He suggests the free streaming would be offered only through the holidays in order to encourage social distancing. In his letter to the entertainment streamers, he asserts that people left to their own devices will “carry on their typical holiday traditions instead of remaining safely at home.”
But is Angus King’s streaming scheme the therapy we need?
Will streaming fast food really nourish children who have mostly missed school or attended inadequate online classes?
The Northwest Evaluation Association, an education-testing group, studied 4.4 million U.S. students in grades three though eight this fall and found that most fell behind their peers from last year – sometimes dramatically behind. This was especially true for black and Hispanic students and those in high poverty schools. One thing’s clear, the pandemic has set children who were already behind, even further behind.
What about marriages stressed by lockdowns, unemployment, and unpaid bills? The divorce lawyer business is booming. Will free streaming soothe those troubled waters?
And how about the elderly who are even more isolated and estranged than the rest of us? Will binging on How I Met Your Mother orThe Soprano’sprovide the connection they crave?
Do we really need a streaming therapy that leaves people feeling even emptier than they do already?
The great global reckoning on offer in 2020 is indeed stark. But whether you treat it as catastrophe or opportunity depends a great deal on your attenuations — your attitude, your will, and your understanding of potential and your desire to act on that potential.
Here’s an idea. Rather than streaming Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Friends, how about opening libraries? Or if you’re afraid book aisles lack adequate space to properly distance, how about picking up a book of your own? If you can’t afford one, a book will be provided for you by Amazon. They make available some 50,000 titles free of charge in nearly every genre you can imagine.
If the coronavirus has made time for you a more plentiful resource than funds, why not read Sherlock Holmes, Les Miserables, or Pride and Prejudice between meditations.
Emily Bronte, Bram Stoker, and Jack London aren’t quite in the same league as Parks and Recreation or Seinfeld when it comes to generating laughs, but maybe laughs aren’t the only thing we need right now.
Yes, most of Amazon’s free books are classics written a hundred years ago or more. That’s ok, wisdom survives the moment and is an inheritance we’re foolish to squander.
Karl Marx famously called religion the opiate of the masses. He was wrong about that as he was nearly everything else, but I wonder what he would make of worshipping at the altar of your streaming device.
I think it’s safe to say watching back-to-back episodes of Beavis and Butthead will be inadequate to address the sense of loss and alienation so many families feel right now.
Maybe instead, we need to examine our relationships with nature and with one another. Meditate on meaning, examine better pursuits to unlocking potential, and think up great purposes we might pursue.
At the very least, Christmas is when we should set aside mindless habits, and assess what we really value.
What part in our lives do we give things like love, hope, joy, courage, and charity? And in what pursuits do we realize the potential for gaining the things we really desire?
My guess is that we won’t find the happiness we seek from streaming the 5 seasons of Breaking Bad.
Streaming is a false answer to address the pain and fear we feel. It won’t address the loneliness either. And it certainly won’t help those children being left behind by school closures or online “learning.”
Do what you should during the holiday season. Squeeze someone you love. Make merry with close family. Read a great book.
And then, when you have time, sit quietly in a room alone and consider Christmas, and why it’s worth celebrating.