Sometimes education is
a process of unlearning,
disrupting a foundation
and rebuilding anew
book by book.
Observe in what an original world we are living: how many men can you find in Europe who have never killed; or whom somebody does not wish to kill?
But still we continue to long for a world in which there is love between men, peace, and serene deliverance from our baser instincts. This, I suppose, is the nature of youth.
P.S. And yet, first of all, I should like to slaughter one or two men, just to throw off the concentration camp mentality, the effects of continual subservience, the effects of helplessly watching others being beaten and murdered, the effects of all this horror. I suspect, though, that I will be marked for life. I do not know whether we shall survive, but I like to think that one day we shall have the courage to tell the world the whole truth and call it by its proper name.
You know how much I used to like Plato. Today I realized he lied. For the things of this world are not a reflection of the ideal, but a product of human sweat, blood and hard labour. It is we who built the pyramids, hewed the marble for the temples and the rocks for the imperial roads, we who pulled the oars in the galleys and dragged wooden ploughs, while they wrote dialogues and dramas, rationalized their intrigues by appeals in the name of the Fatherland, made wars over boundaries and democracies. We were filthy and died real deaths. They were ‘aesthetic’ and carried on subtle debates.
There can be no beauty if it is paid for by human injustice, nor truth that passes over injustice in silence, nor moral virtue that condones it.
“But race is the child of racism, not the father.”
“Slavery is not an indefinable mass of flesh. It is a particular, specific enslaved woman, whose mind is active as your own, whose range of feeling is as vast as your own; who prefers the way the light falls in one particular spot in the woods, who enjoys fishing where the water eddies in a nearby stream, who loves her mother in her own complicated way, thinks her sister talks too loud, has a favorite cousin, a favorite season, who excels at dressmaking and knows, inside herself, that she is as intelligent and capable as anyone.”
“All my life I’d heard people tell their black boys and black girls to ‘be twice as good,’ which is to say ‘accept half as much.’ These words would be spoken with a veneer of religious nobility, as though they evidenced some unspoken quality, some undetected courage, when in fact all they evidenced was the gun to our head and the hand in our pocket. This is how we lose our softness. This is how they steal our right to smile. No one told those little white children, with their tricycles, to be twice as good. I imagined their parents telling them to take twice as much. It seemed to me that our own rules redoubled plunder. It struck me that perhaps the defining feature of being drafted into the black race was the inescapable robbery of time, because the moments we spent readying the mask, or readying ourselves to accept half as much could not be recovered. The robbery of time is not measured in lifespans but in moments. It is the last bottle of wine that you have just uncorked but do not have time to drink. It is the kiss that you do not have time to share, before she walks out of your life. It is the raft of second chances for them, and twenty-three-hour days for us.”
The novel The Circle lays bare the trajectory of our culture’s attitude towards online life. It illustrates both a warning and a reflection. Have we incorporated internet “liking,” posting, and commenting into our conception of “activity”? Is this what it means to be “social”? To communicate?
Imagine a fictional corporate entity resembling a magnified combination of Facebook and Google and there you have Eggers’s The Circle. The underscoring logic of the company, the founders claim, is to promote transparency and thereby a heightened sense of morality.
These questions posed by the novel compel us to examine what is meant by moral action. Eggers’s work here echoes a sentiment elucidated in Camus’s The Fall (la chute). While it may be true that knowledge of being shadowed would nudge one in the direction of being on one’s best behavior, there is something left to be desired insofar as positing a definitive statement about morality. The concept of the moral agent is reduced to one who acts either for recognition or with fear of consequence.
Camus demonstrated the poverty of this line of reasoning through the character Jean-Baptiste in The Fall. Jean-Baptiste devoted a healthy portion of his day to charitable acts intentionally executed in public. He boasted of offering his seat on the bus for the elderly, for instance. One fateful day when no one was looking and he found himself confronted with a situation to help a woman in dire need he froze. His paralysis haunted him because in that moment he realized his past “good” actions could never testify to his character.
Instead, his character unfolded in the singular moment he failed to act. He fooled himself into believing that acting according to “good custom” granted him moral agent status; however, without rules and an audience the truth of his cowardice emerged.
The ancient Greeks focused on character as the cornerstone to morality. Aristotle in particular argued that excellence attained by habit, practice, and the development of reason led to a fruitful and good life. To act justly and bravely, for example, necessarily includes acting with a right disposition. That is, the thrust of action must be derived from an authentic desire to be “good” and for its own sake.
Public honor, according to Aristotle, renders an inferior motive because it depends on the view of others whereas genuine “good” action is inherently self-sufficient. “Good” action originates from the agent rather than an external force.
An important distinction regarding character resides between a person who acts bravely for publicity versus a person who acts bravely for no reason other than it was the right thing to do in the circumstance. Notice the end result may appear the same, namely an act of bravery came to the fore; however, the former feels shallow since the act was a means to another end (public honor) and the latter exudes heroism.
On this point, the fictional leaders behind The Circle miss this mark. In the novel, the possibility of public praise or blame serves as the sole impetus for moral action, a Jean-Baptiste manner of thinking. Attention to the inner life of the individual, paramount for Aristotle, falls by the wayside.
The Circle’s constitution additionally chips away at the notion of character development by inducing a hyper attention to a life lived online which amounts to not really living at all. Hours of an employee’s day must be devoted to commenting and “liking” posts, ultimately replacing time for self-reflection and rumination. If one fails to maintain an online presence they become a pariah.
Consequently, a “self” no longer exists. The Circle absorbs all traces of it. The Circle owns it.
The concept of information sharing warps into a compunction to share one’s point of view on social media. “Information” exceeds our normal understanding of news and seeps into personal experience. When one travels, for instance, The Circle insists that pictures and descriptions be posted. To not do so violates their standard of information sharing.
Followers of the company enthusiastically chant “Privacy is theft!” Keeping an experience such as a vacation to oneself is to steal from others the opportunity to view one’s photos of a place they might be interested in visiting someday. Nothing may be kept to oneself. Moreover, to not share amounts to lying on one’s social media profile. Shouldn’t everyone know everyone’s interests and hobbies?
This “Privacy is theft!” mentality blindly embraced by the leaders and followers of The Circle resembles the mind bending claim “2 + 2 =5” from 1984. Both dystopias usher in slogans countering the readers’ sense of normalcy. But, as I stated at the beginning, Eggers’s book not only warns. It reflects. Where are the lines between private and public life blurring and how much of a role are we playing (willingly)?
The irony of posting a review about The Circle is not lost on me. Have I succumbed to the trappings of The Circle? I patiently await your comments 🙂
An impossible question was posed to me via Facebook: What are the top ten books that have made an impact on you?
You mean just ten books? Mental scrambles. Head scratching. Seeks coffee.
For me, the impact of a book and/or author is rooted in the following:
1) Do I feel more connected to the world?
2) Is my world view broadened by this book?, and
3) Have I been intellectually challenged and invigorated?
I settled on this list:
But, of course, I threw my hands up because there are so many more wonderful authors who should be included! Here are my honorable mentions:
What books have made a great impact on you?
*This post is inspired by “12 Signs You’re Addicted to Reading” on 101 Books.
Here are 12 more indicators of book addiction:
Hello, friends. Care to dabble in the study of Philosophy?
I’ve listed four suggestions to add to your summer reading. If you have read any of these please feel free to leave comments and reflections. Enjoy!