I live amongst the screens now… like most of us. There is an LED widescreen across this room I am in now. In front of me, is a laptop complete with a reliable wi-fi connection. Behind me is my iPhone which is running some music. This has taken some time to get used to. I spent most of this last year living out in the wilderness with no electricity. Usually I found myself in sparsely populated mountain regions there was little radio and no signal for my phone. When I landed at some bar in town for a gig it was as if I went through some time warp. I felt like some sort of castaway who just found his way back to civilization. 

If the bar had a TV I was instantly sucked in by all those pretty pictures flickering at a gadzillion miles an hour. It is hard to appreciate how much faster TV is today. The MTV effect… maybe… or maybe since we have gone from three channels to thousands producers have become increasingly desperate to keep our attention. No way are they are going to let a screen go static for more than three fucking seconds. Even the most dull cable documentary is full of dynamic texts and rapid cuts. The last thing anyone is going to tolerate is more than a few seconds of watching Professor Boring T. Douchebag sitting on a chair talking about the amazing ramifications of String Theory. 

Cue the animation! Cut to all those colorful dancing strings! 

Coming in from looking at Ponderosas and the very occasional squirrel out in the woods, I am an easy mark for a television. Shit, I will even watch baseball which is mostly a pitcher and catcher throwing a ball at each other for three hours. Still that is a lot more excitement and drama than I get from a pine tree which does nothing but occasionally sway in the wind. 

The TV in bars doesn’t just suck in vagabond mountain men though. If you sit at a bar with a TV on and look around you will find most of the patrons are watching it. It doesn’t matter what is on. It could be a reality show about plumbers with the sound off. People will still be sucked in. 

Though I do my best to avoid performing at places with TVs, it is often unavoidable when you are an obscure musician. I can always judge how shit my audience… and therefore my gig… will be by the amount of TVs are in the venue. The more TVs the more my audience will suck… that is to say… the more they will ignore me. Given the choice between witnessing an intimate act of creation right in front of them and watching any over-produced turd of a show on a screen, most people will choose the screen. 

I do not blame the patrons though. I find myself doing the same thing when I am in a tasteless bar. It is completely the bar’s fault for taking the hypocritical position of supporting live music by inviting musicians to perform at their establishment and deliberately setting up an atmosphere to humiliate them. 

Not long ago, I was involved in a conversation with a friend of mine who owns a bar in Flagstaff who was asked by a patron why he didn't put in any TVs. It was not that my friend did not like sports. Dave is a big sports fan and tries to get business out of the way so he can go elsewhere to watch the big game. He defended his decision by pointing out that once there is a TV in a place it sucks the life out of the bar. People at the bar don’t talk to each other. They ignore the band. The come to the bar and spend all their attention on the one thing that is not happening there. To drive the point home he pointed out that nearly everyone at the bar was involved in this discussion. People were talking to strangers across the bar. None of this would have happened if there was a screen behind the bar. 

TVs aren’t the only screens screaming for attention anymore. Most people have one on their phone. I made a slight detour to Yellowstone last summer and I watched with amazement as people observed the park through the screens on their phones and cameras. It was a rare sight to see anyone admiring at a buffalo or a waterfall with their hands down. If there was a good 3G signal people would turn their backs on the most amazing spectacle to see if anyone has “liked” the picture they just took of it on their facebook profile. When I took my friend from Paris to the Grand Canyon last fall I was struck by the contrast of seeing him sitting on an outcrop taking in the grandeur while all around him was an endless carnival of “stop, pose, click and move on”. It strikes me as tragic to think of all those people who traveled half way across the world to get to this beautiful place and still didn’t make it there. Even though they crossed it off their list of things to see they never really saw it. They never fully confronted the wonder before them. All that beauty went to waste. They would have gotten more out of staying at home and buying a George Mancuso print. They might have posted on their profile “I am at the Grand Canyon!” but they were never there. 

They were on facebook. 

What brought me to think of all this is something that has confronted me since returning (perhaps only temporarily…) to indoor living. I found it more difficult to write even though I had the new advantages of electricity for my laptop, heat and artificial light. While I devoured books out in the wilderness, I was having trouble getting through a single novel. The most obvious culprit is the amount of distractions I am confronting and my lack of skill at avoiding them. There are other factors like morale and depression which can be summed up in a single question I often ask myself when endeavoring on another creative task: 

“Who gives a shit?” 

Still, all those screens make for an easy out… an easy out of doing… and maybe more importantly… an easy out of trying to grapple with a difficult question such as the one above. It is a strain to think about such things and the easy way out is to check facebook instead or turn on the Xbox. I am clearly not alone among the “too distracted to think anything through” crowd. It is an epidemic. Our politics are dominated by dimwitted and short sighted solutions to difficult long term problems. Sure building that pipeline will provide jobs but what happens to those jobs once the pipeline is finished? What if it fails? I know from my days working on aerial surveys in Alaska that pipelines do, indeed, fail. Fortunately, no one lives in remote areas of Alaska so few people complain. Nebraska is a different story. 

Though people will talk about politicians as if they are controlled by their corporate sponsors they are actually controlled even more by the answer to one simple question: 

How will this spin? 

Politicians today are no more than salesmen of bad ideas. It is not that they are necessarily against real solutions but that real solutions are usually complicated rather than simple. Real solutions often require real sacrifice and that is a turd of an idea that will never sell. Real solutions for today’s problems require questioning our current values… 

and doing that would doom any chance of re-election. 

You can’t blame the politician. They are a true reflection of how stupid we, as a people, have become. They win elections by agreeing with the stupid shit you think. You can see the doom of our nation in every hand that is raised by a Presidential candidate when asked “Who doesn’t believe in evolution?” They are not raising their hands because they don’t believe in a theory that five minutes a research on the internet can provide overwhelming evidence for. They are raising their hand because YOU don’t believe in evolution. 

Though the corporate-fascist right has some advantage with the Fox Propaganda Network, the so-called liberals are not always deep thinkers either. Although I find our President’s relative thoughtfulness somewhat refreshing as he goes to greater lengths to explain things than the other side, there is plenty he is not saying. Iif only we had the capacity to think things through we would call him on it. Recently, he gave a great speech about the rising inequity in the United States in Kansas. He explained the issues in some depth which was nice of him. He told us that the way forward was through education as higher education will be needed to compete in the new “innovative economy”. That sounds like a nice idea if you don’t think about it too much. If you do, you might realize that this new “innovative economy” won’t ever take up the slack and absorb all the unwanted workers in our country regardless of their skills. The reality is that if Obama gets his way then the only difference will be that we will have more unemployed people with college degrees. Sooner or later we are going to have to confront the fact that we cannot survive as a society… as a world… if everything is driven solely by the shallow quest for more money. The supposition that people will always buy all the useless shit than we can build will not stand any longer. We have to deal with this if we don't want to live in a world of suck. 

Whatever gains we have made with all the information available on the internet is almost completely offset by all the bullshit and distraction. Important discourse has been replaced by competing echo-chambers that have become more and more disassociated with reality and rarely suffer defections. Honestly, have you seen a single mind changed amongst all the back and forth bashing on a comment thread to a contentious article on the internet? If we brought those people into Dave’s bar we would have a dialogue. Maybe minds wouldn’t be changed but I bet they wouldn’t still refer to each other as a “rascist” or a “socialist”. 

Not that there is anything wrong with a socialist. 

My favorite example of lazy thinking in the online world comes from not Fox News but instead from the so-called “Truthers”. It is a constant source of humor to be confronted from friends in that crowd with hopelessly amateur videos claiming to expose yet another piece of evidence that is supposed to devastate the “default” narrative. Without getting involved in my own views what is important is that most of the time these videos are easily dismissed as hokum with a minimal amount of effort. By "minimal amount of effort", I mean just watching it with an open mind which, ironically, is something "truthers" sometimes tell me I don't have. What I find so striking is that these people pride themselves so much in “questioning the authority” but seem to have no capacity to question any unqualified authority that happens to confirm their prejudices. The scary thing is that you can find a pseudo authority to back up any position no matter how ridiculous or harmful from “Global Warming is a Hoax” to “Hitler Was a Great Humanitarian”. 

What is the result of a society that cannot think anything through? The answer is right outside your door. Though the blame for our idiotic misadventure in Iraq can be placed on the Bush Administration there is no doubting such folly was made much easier by lack of questions by our not-so-free press and the mute compliance of a weak opposition party. It really didn’t take a lot of critical thinking at the time to see that the case made for war was BS. I have a hard time believing that all those Senators were fooled as they voted for the war. Hilary Clinton is not that stupid. She voted for it to avoid being called "unpatriotic". Everything is given for the spin. None is left for the truth. 

Now we have a government dialogue that is increasingly divorced from reality. The problem is not that we have conservative and liberal factions in our government. That has always been the case. What is new these days is the conversation between the two could only be described as bullshit. You never hear anyone getting to the core of an issue. All we hear is surface noise. Catch phrases. Welcome to post-TV politics! We hear crap about “job creators” and “terrorists” every day but almost none of it is ever backed up with any sort of evidence. The prevailing strategy of politicians today is to keep saying the same things on TV and people will believe it. It works wonders!Who says we can't learn from the Nazis? Politician careers are preserved but nothing is ever accomplished other than the blame for incompetence is occasionally passed from one party to the other. 

The future doesn’t look good as we confront problems of increasing depth and complexity while our society becomes shallower and nourishes the attention span of gold fish. We train our kids to retrieve the answers but give little guidance on how to come up with the answers. There is no point to having education at all if all the test answers are available on Wikipedia. The availability is knowledge to everyone all the time is the true miracle of our time but it is the ability to use it: to evaluate it, draw conclusions from it and use will ultimately decide our fate. This takes a pause. This takes a turning off of all those fucking screens. This takes reflection. 

I have begun to adjust. I have disciplined myself into turning off the screens. I started listening to music again. It sounds strange but I really haven’t listened to music all that much these last few years of homelessness. I found enough melody and rhythm in the wilderness… from the wind and the nearby stream. Now that I am back living amongst the hum of electronics and traffic, music is my friend again. I started to paint again for the first time in years even though I have little competence at it. Still, when I found myself at the art supply store getting paints to decorate windows with holiday cheer to score some badly needed cash I could not resist picking up some canvasses to take home. They were on sale! Painting with some music or NPR in the background has finally brought back some flow to my thoughts. Hopefully, that will bring about some new production even though I am still plagued with that same question, “Who gives a shit?” 

I have always been a critical thinker. Though I have no doubt that many people often prefer to have the answers given to them, I do not think that this is natural. I do not see myself as special because I think for myself or other people as having lazy minds. Instead, I see it as a reflection of our society’s current values. Blessed is the sheep mentality. I cannot count all the jobs I lost because I had the nerve to think about what I was doing and how it could be done better. I am terrible at the politics of everyday life. I say what I believe is true instead of what other people want to hear.This is clearly not something to be desired. In terms of natural selection, we are constantly encouraging the idiots to breed and I think they have a clear majority today judging by the caliber of our elected representatives. Welcome to the idiocracy. Not exactly the crew you want in charge when we are facing the end of cheap energy, global climate change and the end of capitalism as we know it.   

I do not know what will happen. I think everyone supposes we will bumble through the future… somehow. We always have. We made it through World War II and managed to avoid World War III. I think most people assume we are incapable of totally fucking things up. I sometimes wonder. All I know is that I live in a world where someone like me who sits around and spends three hours musing about the world is something to be abhorred. “Get a job!” people would shout at me if they knew I existed. Ironically, I firmly believe I am doing exactly what most people should be doing. I see all that energy, time and resources spent racing back and forth to make or sell some crap no one needs as a total waste. It is madness to waste our lives selling each other dead crap rather than working together to solve real problems. That is what I think anyway but again… 

Who gives a shit? 

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