Controlled Information

When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, “This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know,” the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything — you can’t conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him. —Robert A. Heinlein, “If This Goes On”

To further this notion, check out this commentary on the difference between 1984 and Brave New World.

We All Need Someone to Look at Us.

It’s an astute observation, though some of the context of his examples is lost without the rest of the book.

We all need someone to look at us. We can be divided into four categories to the kind of look we wish to live under.

The first category longs for the look of an infinite number of anonymous eyes, in other words for the look of the public. That is the case with the German singer, the American actress, and even the tall, stooped editor with the big chin. He was accustomed to his readers, and when one day the Russians banned his newspaper, he had the feeling that that atmosphere was suddenly a hundred times thinner. Nothing could replace the look of unknown eyes. He thought he would suffocate. Then one day he realized that he was constantly being followed, bugged, and surreptitiously photographed in the street. Suddenly he had anonymous eyes on him and he could breathe again! He began making theatrical speeches to the microphones in his wall. In the police, he had found his lost public.

The second category is made up of people who have a vital need to be looked at by many known eyes. They are the tireless hosts of cocktail parties and dinners. They are happier than the people in the first category, who, when they lose their public, have the feeling that the lights have gone out in the room of their lives. This happens to nearly all of them sooner or later. People in the second category, on the other hand, can always come up with the eyes they need. Marie-Claude and her daughter belong in the second category.

Then there is the third category, the category of people who need to be constantly before the eyes of the person they love. Their situation is as dangerous as the situation of people in the first category. One day the eyes of their beloved will close, and the room will go dark. Tereza and Tomas belong in the third category.

And finally there is the fourth category, the rarest, the category of people who live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present. They are the dreamers. Franz, for example. He traveled to the borders of Cambodia only for Sabina. As the bus bumped along the Thai road, he could feel her eyes fixed on him in a long stare. — Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Steps at a Time

It is perhaps not surprising that now that work is starting to settle into a routine, I’m suddenly finding time to write on the blog again. It’s not that I’m slacking off at work, per se, so much as there is down time where I still need to be at or near my computer — so why not write? Ten minutes here, five minutes there, and next thing you know, there’s a post. I’m not going to hold by breath that things will always work out that way, but it is nice to have a moment to breathe, and to use my brain for my own purposes.

“I learned when I was young that the only true life I had was the life of my brain. But if it’s true the only real life I have is the life of my brain, what sense does it make to hand that brain to somebody for eight hours a day for their particular use on the presumption that at the end of the day they will give it back in an unmutilated condition?” Fry Pan Jack, via Utah Philips

Definitely a sentiment that I can get behind — I get home more often than not wanting to just hide out, and the idea of working on any of the projects that I have on my plate seems actively repugnant. There’s only so long, however, that you can put up with that before you suffer a soul-death. We are not automata, we are humans. We have dreams and aspirations and goals and desires, and falling into the rigidity and rote of corporatism is inherently inimical to those emotional and intellectual needs. I mean, hey, maybe you dream of spending most of your waking hours in a cubicle, doing work you aren’t appreciated for. I’m not judging. I know it isn’t what I dream of, though, nor anyone I’ve asked.

It’s that drive to survive (in the true sense, not the literal sense) that spawns office haiku, an overdeveloped affection for coffee, and reams upon reams of internet cruft. Where do you think memes get their momentum? Bored employees and students, people who technically should be working on something else, but have hit their limit, and needed to look at or think about anything else for at least a little bit. The more random, idiotic, or inane the better. We’re looking for some spark of the personal to feed our soul. That’s my observation, anyway, anecdotal as it may be.