Doug Bruns

Naive moose and other worries.

In Nature, The Examined Life, Writers on April 7, 2012 at 7:00 am

Repost from June 2009

Some cultures practice that a photograph steals part of the soul. The Sioux believed that each exposure dissolved some vital layer of life. I have a friend—he does not own a television—who says that T.V. robs us of our intelligence. That, I believe to be not far from the truth. A vital layer of life slips away in front of the T.V., a shard of life-force gone to rest. Another friend went off-line after finding herself aimlessly staring into her computer at night. She said she had “to get a life,” that the internet was stealing it. I sometimes wonder if we are losing bits and pieces of ourselves as we are given over to the subtleties of modern existence, not only its technology, but also its conveniences and entertainments?

There is a phenomenon in animals where they become “naive” if natural predators are removed. After a generation or so they forget their enemies. Wolves re-introduced into the wilds of Yellowstone had easy pickings until the moose realized they were going to be eaten by them. This is what I mean by the subtleties of modern existence. Predation and consumption are related and I fear that one easily morphs into the other. They become the beast that pursues and devours. I know. We were once intimate.

In 1965 Joan Didion wrote:

Because when we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something not that it is a pragmatic necessity for us to have it, but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and then is when we are in bad trouble.

She closes by saying, “And I suspect we are already there.” She was writing on morality and consumerism and of course the grand era of the ‘60s. But on a larger canvas, as it relates to our possessions, I think that we are close to trouble–as recent events, the crash and burn of consumerism, suggest. It seems to be the nature of things that the stuff we own will soon enough own us. I live in a world devoid of natural predators, yet fear being the moose in Yellowstone, growing forgetful and waxing naive.

I resist.

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  1. I’ve been having the same thoughts lately! But, working towards a goal…and I tend to balance my life out with outdoors time, family/friends time, etc. Happy Easter…Sherry~

  2. I recall more than one science fiction film where the penultimate evolution of man was depicted as a skull without orifice or appendage, suspended in a pool of nutrients, controlling its’ environment through thought rather than words and actions. They usually were willing their robotic minions towards galactic supremacy. The screenwriter assumed they would have willpower.

    As the advance of technology has removed much of the fiction from these films, I suspect the seductive ease by which the passive course becomes chosen is dangerous to all who want their lives to have consequence. Willpower can be extinguished with startling ease.

    Our children have chosen to disconnect their households from cable/satellite and broadcast television, partly because of cost, but mostly because of the risk of raising little couch potatoes. I’m proud of them….I also find myself in front of the computer at 7:15 on a sunny Easter Sunday morn.

    -C

  3. C ~ Thanks for sharing your thoughts.”Willpower can be extinguished with startling ease” is a good line–and painfully true.

    I continue to resist becoming the brain in the jar thinking it’s experiencing reality when in fact it’s only responding to impulses from some mad scientist.

    I am reminded that Thoreau changed the pencil business with new technology and am certain that Montaigne would have embraced the concept of the blog and loved the web. (Imagine a man with his curiosity having Google at his fingertips.) No Luddites there. That is to say, two thinkers to whom I turn for advice, in their day embraced the currency of their modernism.

    You are right in targeting not so much the thing as our ability to conform it to our will. But that is swimming upstream and possibly exhausting, as we know.

    I have considered taking a day a week, Sunday, and making it “screenless”–no computers or TV. That not working so well, then just no computers. And of course that doesn’t work either.

    I’m not sure it’s so much lack of willpower as I finally realized that, indeed, I could “simplify, simplify, simplify” by embracing these tools. I could either be used by them or use them with intent. I could either grow naive or resist trending in that direction.

    But still, the technology worries me, still I think I loose vital layers of existence. Like your kids, my son living in Colorado doesn’t have much patience with the (especially electronic) tools of modern existence. He’s on facebook and uses the web, but he’d really much rather be on a mountaintop or down a slope.

    For thinking folks, the wisdom of the examined life is increasingly critical.

    Thanks so much for your comments.

  4. “I live in a world devoid of natural predators” Actually, we do live among natural predators; they’re human. That could, however, just be the cynical mindset of a kid who grew up with a cop and a victim/witness coordinator in the D.A.’s homicide unit.

    On another note: The TV remains hooked up to only a DVD player and a (still functioning) VCR. The innerwebz remains my time-suck of choice, but the overloaded bookshelves keep whispering my name. I need to heed that call before they start bellowing at me.

    • I agree with you regarding the tenuous stature of us humans, though I doubt science would agree with such cynicism.

      Let’s cheer for bellowing bookshelves. Mine too are getting restless from lack of attention. One book jumped off the shelf the other day, like a puppy tugging at my sock, wanting to be picked up.

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