Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Ivory Cubicle | Thinking Conservatively in Bite-Sized Reality

I came across an article the other day in the American Conservative that argued that conservatives can no longer write. I thought that the article was particularly relevant, based on the columns we've had recently on the importance of classic literature. If you've been reading the column for a while, you’ll remember that fiction has a unique ability to break apart reality and recombine it in interesting and relevant ways. You’ll also remember that reading the classics embiggens the soul by focusing the reader on the eternal. Finally, you’ll remember that reading Shakespeare actually stimulates your brain to shape mental pathways, creating new thoughts and connections.

So I’m going to go let you read the article (it’s short), and then come back (and here’s further reading if you’re still interested).

Bite-Sized Reality

We live in an era of short attention spans, an overabundance of auditory and visual stimulation, and multi, scratch that, mega-tabbed internet browsing. The world is at our fingertips, allowing us to flit from one moment of curious interest to the next. If an article with a sensational headline starts to get a bit boring, there’s always a shiny hyperlink to something else. We don’t have to pay careful attention to get pleasure from a thing. Consequently, modern culture has a great breadth of knowledge with very little depth. We’re great at spouting random trivia facts, but not so great at contemplating the purpose of life.

I think the result is that many conservatives have lost an idea of what they’re fighting for. We believe the Bible and worship God, but we find it easier to reduce conservatism to bite-sized slogans instead of well-thought through connections. How many conservatives, if pressed on the point, would be able to give good reasons why “life begins at conception,” “marriage is between one man and one woman,” and “if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns”?

Because we've neglected to think, we've moved ourselves into the realm of the sensational. We find it more interesting to see a group of talking heads yell at each other, or talk show hosts accusing liberals of trying to destroy America. It’s more sensational to listen to a long string of bite-sized zingers against the left than a well-thought through and articulate defense of conservative principles. Constructive intellectual engagement is bypassed for a destructive, ill-thought through “culture war,” which results in polarization and a refusal to dialogue and find workable solutions.

So we find ourselves on shaky ground. Conservatives are at a disadvantage in bite-sized reality because we simply don’t believe that reality comes in bite-sized chunks. We believe that reality is intricately complex and that sometimes it requires perseverance to reach the joy at the other end. Many liberals, on the other hand, are perfectly fine with viewing reality as a rapid succession of compartmentalized, pleasurable experiences. In short, if conservatism were to compete in the sound bite culture, we would have to ditch our principles and leap into pure, unadulterated hedonism.

The response is to take the battle back to a realm where we have a chance – the realm of the thinker. We need authors that are committed to the intelligent, not just the interesting. We need to battle for an educated populace that has a reverence for the eternal and a commitment to the enduring. We have a way of life that is superior to mere thrill-seeking. It’s time to show that to the culture.

By Nick Barden
Photo: Jeremiah Eating Glenn's Phone by Nick Barden and Paint.NET (2013).

Reply! Challenge! Express yourself, for self-expression is the means by which we actualize as persons (actually, not really). Also, we accept any snarky comments about the above picture.


  1. I know what you mean...I am guilty of it myself--for example, back when Congress was passing the ACA, I did not do my homework on what was in the bill (though, of course, even Rep. Pelosi had yet to find out what was in it!) but still calling Congress and writing letters. And I am annoyed, too, to hear nothing but soundbite opinions such as you mentioned, that generally end in an exclamation point but are less than convincing...(I guess I shouldn't say "nothing." There are plenty of articulate conservatives, such as at World Magazine.)

  2. Oops! I need to think before I speak, and I also need to read my comments before I publish them. Should read: "but still called Congress and wrote letters."

    BTW (I am pedantic), the question mark should be outside the quotation mark in paragraph 4.