During Peace Corps, I used the Internet a lot more than I thought I’d be able to. But because of the brisk 56k connection on my cell phone modem, I still wasn’t able to dick around online very much, and as a result so many things of and about the Internet–the celebrity fixation, the way it allows you to process a lot of information without having to think for yourself, the intensely detailed information about stuff that doesn’t matter at all–were completely absent from my last year.
I enjoyed living this way to a point. The Internet is often an intrusion on the life of the mind, and being in the Peace Corps necessitated a constant mental dissection of stupidly large issues: poverty, aid, whatever. You’re constantly trying to understand your situation without judging the people around you–and then you do, and then you judge yourself. I hated how almost every conversation I had with locals was simplistic and banal, but then I’d remind myself that critical thinking is a privilege. The capacity for serious analysis is largely off-limits to subsistence farmers. And, when the most popular article on Slate is an etymological analysis of Charlie Sheen’s verbal diarrhea, who’s to say that these high-level skills are so very important?
In a great example of analyzing things beyond all reason, here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry on Redwall, the bestselling children’s fantasy (but non-magical) series about small, nice woodland creatures who live in an abbey and fight larger, evil woodland creatures. I read a couple of these when I was little and loved them, although I don’t remember much beyond their constant feasts on twinky little meat pies and elderflower wine drunk out of thimbles or whatever.
“The books have been criticized in some quarters for allegedly promoting an overly simplistic view of race and ethnicity… The characteristics of the animals in the novels are fixed by their species, making them quite predictable. Critics point out that the good and bad characters are drawn almost exclusively along species lines, with a few rare exceptions. These criticisms have been advanced as a concern, as the books are primarily read by children and young adults. There is also a class element involved in these criticisms, with the denizens of Redwall being either educated, aristocratic animals such as badgers, or rustic, simple creatures such as moles.”
What the hell is wrong with people? There is no child on earth (and these books have been translated in all sorts of languages, including Swedish and Hebrew) who has ever read Redwall and thought “When I grow up, everything about life will be exactly like this imaginary society of Old English mice and badgers.” And who cares if all the creatures of the same species act similar? That’s what species do. I’m more offended at the idea that someone’s drawing a connective line between species and race, period.
Also, Redwall isn’t real. There is that to keep in mind.