Guest Post: Those Who Don't Build Must Burn

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Submitted by Jim Quinn of The Burning Platform

Those Who Don't Build Must Burn

“Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery;
there’s your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries of more.
School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories,
languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally
almost completely ignored. Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure
lies about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?”   –
Captain Beatty in Fahrenheit 451

  

Ray Bradbury wrote his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451
in 1950. Most kids were required to read this book when they were
seventeen years old. Having just re-read the novel at the age of
forty-seven makes you realize how little you knew at seventeen. It is
165 pages of keen insights into today’s American society. Bradbury’s
hedonistic dark future has come to pass. His worst fears have been
realized. The American public has willingly chosen to be distracted and
entertained by electronic gadgets 24 hours per day. Today, reading books
is for old fogies. Most people think Bradbury’s novel was a warning
about censorship. It was not. It was a warning about TV and radio
turning the minds of Americans to mush.

It is now sixty years later and his warning went unheeded. A self
imposed ignorance by a vast swath of Americans is reflected in these
statistics:

  • 33% of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
  • 42% of college graduates never read another book after college.
  • 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
  • 70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
  • 57% of new books are not read to completion.
  • There are over 17,000 radio stations and over 2,000 TV stations in America today.
  • Each day in the U.S., people spend on average 4.7 hours watching TV,
    3 hours listening to the radio and 14 minutes reading magazines.
  • The projected average number of hours an individual (12 and older) will spend watching television this year is 1,750.
  • In a 65-year life, the average person will have spent 9 years glued to the tube.
  • Number of 30-second TV commercials seen in a year by an average child –  20,000
  • Number of videos rented daily in the U.S. – 6 million
  • Number of public library items checked out daily – 3 million
  • Percentage of Americans who can name The Three Stooges – 59%
  • Percentage who can name at least three justices of the U.S. Supreme Court – 17%

When Ray Bradbury wrote his novel in the basement of the UCLA library
on a pay per hour typewriter, television was in its infancy. In 1945
there were only 10,000 television sets in all of America. By 1950, there
were 6 million sets. The US population was 150 million living in 43
million households. Only 9% of these households had a TV. There was one
TV for every 25 people. Americans read books and newspapers to be aware
of their world. Today, there are 335 million television sets in the
country. The US population is 310 million living in 115 million
households. There is a TV in 99% of these households, with an average of
3 TVs per household. Your reality is whatever the corporate media
decides is your reality.

 

 

Bradbury envisioned gigantic flat screen wall TVs that interacted
with the audience and people wearing seashell earbuds so they could
listen to the radio. Anything to keep from reading, thinking,
questioning or wondering. Today, anesthetized kids and non-thinking
adults sit in front of the boob tube with their Playstation controllers
in hand and a microphone attached to their ear, killing zombies while
talking to their fellow warriors, sitting in their own living rooms
somewhere in the world. Apple has sold 260 million iPods since 2001 that
allow people to zone out and live in their own private music world,
never needing to interact or associate with their fellow humans.
Millions of Blackberry addicts roam the streets of our cities like
androids, forcing alert pedestrians to bob and weave to avoid head-on
collisions with these connected egomaniacs. They are overwhelmed with
their self importance.

For those who have not read the book since high school, or have never read the novel, here is a quick summary of Fahrenheit 451:

Guy Montag is a fireman who burns books in a futuristic American
city. In this dystopian world, firemen start fires rather than putting
them out. The people in this society do not read books, enjoy nature,
spend time by themselves, think independently, or have meaningful
conversations. Instead, they drive at extreme speeds, watch excessive
amounts of television on wall-size sets, and listen to the radio on
“Seashell Radio” sets attached to their ears. Guy meets a girl that
makes him rethink his priorities. He starts to question book burning and
why people fear books. After not showing up for work, his boss Beatty
comes to his house and explains why books are now banned.  
According
to Beatty, special-interest groups and other “minorities” objected to
books that offended them. Soon, books all began to look the same, as
writers tried to avoid offending anybody. This was not enough, however,
and society as a whole decided to simply burn books rather than permit
conflicting opinions.

Montag connects with a retired English professor named Faber. He
tells him that the value of books lies in the detailed awareness of life
that they contain. Faber says that Montag needs not only books but also
the leisure to read them and the freedom to act upon their ideas. After
Montag’s wife turns him in and he is forced to burn his own house to
the ground, he turns his flamethrower on Beatty. He is hunted by a
mechanical hound and the chase is broadcast on national TV. He escapes
to the forest where he finds a group of renegade intellectuals (“the
Book People”), led by a man named Granger, who welcome him. They are a
part of a nationwide network of book lovers who have memorized many
great works of literature and philosophy. They hope that they may be of
some help to mankind in the aftermath of the war that has just been
declared. Montag’s role is to memorize the Book of Ecclesiastes. Enemy
jets appear in the sky and completely obliterate the city with atomic
bombs. Montag and his new friends move on to search for survivors and
rebuild civilization.

Knowledge versus Willful Ignorance

“Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to
more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa
grew last year. Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so
damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’
with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a
sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of
that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like
philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies
melancholy.”
- Captain Beatty in Fahrenheit 451

 

 

In Bradbury’s novel the fireman’s duty is to destroy knowledge and
promote ignorance, in order to equalize the population and promote
sameness. Any impartial analysis of the current state of affairs must
conclude that he was absolutely right. In an interview with the LA
Weekly in 2007, Bradbury clarified his views:

“Television gives you the dates of Napoleon, but not who he was,”
Bradbury says, summarizing TV’s content with a single word that he
spits out as an epithet: “factoids.” His fear in 1953 that television
would kill books has, he says, been partially confirmed by television’s
effect on substance in the news. “Useless,” Bradbury says. “They stuff
you with so much useless information, you feel full.”

Bradbury wrote his novel shortly after WWII, at the outset of the
Korean War, during the early stages of the Cold War and in the midst of
McCarthyism. The novel reflects these influences. Orwell’s 1984
used television screens to indoctrinate citizens. Bradbury envisioned
television as an opiate, keeping the public sedated. The wall
televisions in Fahrenheit 451
allow characters to interact with those watching. Bradbury captured the
future of reality TV. Entertainment today is dominated by reality TV.
We are blasted by the likes of Jersey Shore, Jerseylicious, American
Idol, America’s Got Talent, Survivor, Big Brother, Project Runway,
Dancing With the Stars, Amazing Race, Housewives of OC, NJ, NY, DC, and
Atlanta, I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant and fifty other mind numbing
reality shows. Morons with names like Snookie and The Situation are
better known by teenagers than George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
In Bradbury’s world, television was used to broadcast meaningless drivel
to divert attention, and thought, away from an impending war. Today,
television is used to broadcast meaningless drivel to divert attention,
and thought, away from ongoing wars, government corruption, impending
financial collapse, and truth.

Bradbury still lives in Los Angeles and observes the alienation aspects of his novel playing out exactly as he envisioned:

 “In writing the short novel Fahrenheit 451 I thought I was
describing a world that might evolve in four or five decades. But only a
few weeks ago, in Beverly Hills one night, a husband and wife passed
me, walking their dog. I stood staring after them, absolutely stunned.
The woman held in one hand a small cigarette-package-sized radio, its
antenna quivering. From this sprang tiny copper wires which ended in a
dainty cone plugged into her right ear. There she was, oblivious to man
and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap-opera cries,
sleep-walking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as
well not have been there. This was not fiction.”

Bradbury directly foretells this incident early in his novel:

“And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped
tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and
talking coming in.” –
Fahrenheit 451

Montag spends the entire novel seeking truth. Professor Faber becomes
his mentor, leading him toward the truth. It is not a coincidence that
Bradbury named the Montag character after a paper company and the Faber
character after a pencil company. Faber was the instrument through which
Montag was taught. Montag was clearly fighting an uphill battle. The
majority had stopped thinking and seeking truth decades ago. The
majority always wants things to remain the same.  

“But remember that the Captain belongs to the most dangerous
enemy of truth and freedom, the solid unmoving cattle of the majority.
Oh, God, the terrible tyranny of the majority.” –
Professor Faber

Government did not need to ban books. As technology advanced and
filled the days with 24 hours of entertainment, infomercials,
propaganda, and trivia, the population willfully stopped reading books.
Why think, ponder, or question when you can be entertained and directed
to believe in whatever the state thinks is best? When entertainment
wasn’t enough, the population would drive their cars at speeds exceeding
100 mph with a goal of running animals and people over. Today, the
mainstream media is controlled by a few mega-corporations that do the
bidding of the state. They are responsible for keeping the population
sedated, entertained, confused, and misinformed. The public willfully
accepts the reality presented by those in power, rather than thinking,
questioning or seeking the truth.

“Remember the firemen are rarely necessary. The public stopped reading of its own accord.
You firemen provide a circus now and then at which buildings are set
off and crowds gather for the pretty blaze, but its a small sideshow
indeed, and hardly necessary to keep things in line. So few want to be
rebels anymore.” –
Professor Faber

In America’s pleasure society we drive as fast as we want, heedless
of danger. We care only for our own gratification, not for the welfare
of others. For enjoyment, we memorize lyrics to Eminem rap songs.
Thinking is not pleasurable so we envelop ourselves with flat screen
HDTVs that provide nonstop distraction. Reading books is no longer
necessary in our world. This is reflected in the fact that 40% of all
adults in America can be classified as functionally illiterate. The U.S.
public school system has been so dumbed down, with equality of all as
the mantra that one wonders whether the state purposefully wants to
process non-thinking, non-questioning autobots into society. A thinking,
questioning public is dangerous to the state.

“We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the
Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every
other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them
cower, to judge themselves against.” –
Captain Beatty

Political Correctness & Censorship

“It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no
declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass
exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today,
thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to
read comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals. Colored people
don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Sam’s Cabin. Burn it.” –
Captain Beatty

 

Bradbury imagined a democratic society whose diverse population turns
against books. He imagined not just political correctness, but a
society so diverse that all groups were “minorities.” It was essential
that all thought become like vanilla tapioca. First they condensed the
books, stripping out more and more offending passages until ultimately
all that remained were footnotes. Only after people stopped reading on
their own did the state employ firemen to burn books. Once you sacrifice
liberty to the state, the state will not restore it without a fight.
Political correctness has been taken to the extreme by those in power in
America. The text books used to educate our children have had all
“offensive” facts extracted. History has been revised to satisfy the
agendas of those in power. The truth is inconsequential when a minority
group might be offended. History books used in our public schools have
more references about Marilyn Monroe than George Washington. Bradbury
was prescient in his ability to see the future denigration of those who
sought wisdom.

Our public schools have the power to place students into roles such
as runner, football player or swimmer. By being placed in a role, a
person is doing what is expected of him and not being an individual.  We
dread the unfamiliar.  To be an individual is to be unfamiliar.  Thus,
to conform is easier.

“With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers,
tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of
examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word
`intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You
always dread the unfamiliar.
People want to be happy, isn’t
that right? Haven’t you heard it all your life? I want to be happy,
people say. Well, aren’t they? Don’t we keep them moving, don’t we give
them fun? That’s all we live for, isn’t it? For pleasure, for
titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these.”
Captain Beatty

The ruling elite and the mainstream media are openly scornful and
antagonistic toward those they label intellectuals. Fox News and MSNBC
prefer talking points, misinformation, and dogmatic ideology from their
anchor entertainers and insipid guests. The numbskulls on these shows
are never in doubt and always wrong. There is no true debate between
reasonable people. These entertainment shows appeal to the baser
emotional instincts of the public, not to their reason or intellect. The
American public no longer has the capability to critically analyze what
they are told by the mainstream corporate media. They gave up reading
books decades ago, leading to a steady decline in critical thinking
skills. No need to think when you can go bungee jumping, mountain
biking, sky diving, yachting, or paint balling.

In the ultimate irony, Bradbury found out in 2003 that over the years
editors from Ballantine had censored 75 separate sections of his novel,
fearful that it would contaminate the minds of our young. The idea of
today’s censorship is not to burn books, but to remove every
controversial word or phrase that could offend anyone. Books are made so
generic and bland that no one would want to read them anyway. Bradbury
is still full of piss and vinegar, sixty years after writing his
masterpiece:

“The point is obvious. There is more than one way to burn a book.
And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every
minority, be it Baptist/Unitarian, Irish/ Italian/ Octogenarian/ Zen
Buddhist, Zionist/ Seventh-day Adventist, Women’s Lib/ Republican,
Mattachine/ Four Square Gospel feels it has the will, the right, the
duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees
himself as the source of all dreary blanc-mange plain porridge
unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any
author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery
rhyme.”

Never Ending War

“Someday the load we’re carrying with us may help someone.
But even when we had the books on hand, a long time ago, we didn’t use
what we got out of them. We went right on insulting the dead. We went
right on spitting in the graves of all the poor ones who died before us.
We’re going to meet a lot of lonely people in the next week and the
next month and the next year. And when they ask us what we’re doing, you
can say, We’re remembering. That’s where we’ll win out in the long run.
And someday we’ll remember so much that we’ll build the biggest goddamn
steam-shovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove
war in and cover it up. Come on now, we’re going to go build a
mirror-factory first and put out nothing but mirrors for the next year
and take a long look in them.” –
Granger

 

Bradbury had known nothing but war from the time he was 18 until he
wrote Fahrenheit 451 at the age of 30. He describes the sound of bombers
continuously flying over the city. America had started two nuclear wars
since 1990. The degenerative effects of mass media in today’s info-bite
world can be clearly seen in how they are able to manipulate public
opinion to support undeclared wars without question. If Americans were
still able to think and interested in exercising their responsibilities
as citizens of a Republic, they would have required that Congress
exercise its responsibility to declare war rather than allow one man to
declare and wage wars all over the globe. It is easy when the state
controls the message.

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two
sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him
none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war
.” – Beatty

Montag is stalked by the Mechanical Hound throughout the book. It was
programmed to hunt down Montag and lethally inject him with poison.
Bradbury didn’t know it, but he had described an early version of a
predator drone. Today, a man can sit in front of his computer in the
Pentagon and direct an unmanned predator drone to fire missiles at
“enemies” without faces, halfway around the world. No danger, no
consequences, no responsibility. The American public blindly believes
the state is protecting them by murdering “enemies of the state”. They
will think differently when predator drones circle the skies above their
towns seeking out “domestic terrorists” and non-conformists.

The hunt for Montag was broadcast on national TV. Bradbury’s
imagination produced a vision of fake reality TV, fifty years before it
became an everyday reality.

“Mechanical Hound never fails. Never since its first use in
tracking quarry has this incredible invention made a mistake. Tonight,
this network is proud to have the opportunity to follow the Hound by
camera helicopter as it starts on its way to the target…-
TV announcer

They’re faking. You threw them off at the river. They can’t admit
it. They know they can hold their audience only so long. The show’s got
to have a snap ending, quick! If they started searching the whole damn
river it might take all night. So they’re sniffing for a scape-goat to
end things with a bang. Watch. They’ll catch Montag in the next five
minutes! –
Granger

The search is over, Montag is dead; a crime against society has been avenged. – TV announcer

They didn’t show the man’s face in focus. Did you notice? Even
your best friends couldn’t tell if it was you. They scrambled it just
enough to let the imagination take over. –
Granger

As I read this passage visions of the OJ Simpson slow speed chase
along the LA freeways appeared in my mind. It was immediately followed
by the fake balloon boy video from a few months ago. Lastly, the
streaming video of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico came into focus.
When the cameras are turned off, the show is over. Cold blooded
murderers are released due to political correctness. A child in danger
was just a show. The effects of 200 million gallons of oil spilled in
the Gulf of Mexico on the environment and the citizens of the Gulf
region aren’t apparent when the cameras are turned off. So therefore,
there are no effects. The world today is one big TV reality show. The
populace wants to be entertained by its news. Sound bites are essential.
Dazzling special effects are required. Beautiful people presenting the
show are necessary. Facts are optional. The truth is a nuisance. There
is only one requirement – THE SHOW MUST GO ON.

There are few builders left, while millions of burners lurk behind
every bush. First it will be Korans and Mosques. Then it will be bibles
and churches. Then it will be libraries. Eventually it will be your
house. America was built by those who cherished liberty, freedom,
responsibility, knowledge, and truth. A fog of complacency and malaise
settled over America in the last six decades. It is almost as if Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451
were used as instruction manuals rather than warnings by our society.
The worst aspects from all three of these dystopian novels have been
adopted or implemented in present day America. The citizenry has become
dependent upon the state for information, direction, support, and
protection. The unquestioning obedience toward the faceless, nameless,
hapless state bureaucracy will lead to tyranny. The state will demand
your compliance. The state will monitor your thoughts and movements. The
state will tell you what to believe. The state will brutally punish
anyone who attempts to think or question. The match is lit. The books
are piled high.

 “There was a silly damn bird called a Phoenix back before
Christ: every few hundred years he built a pyre and burned himself up.
He must have been first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself
up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And
it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but we’ve got
one damn thing the Phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we
just did. We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand
years, and as long as we know that and always have it around where we
can see it, someday we’ll stop making the Goddamn funeral pyres and
jumping into the middle of them. We pick up a few more people that
remember, every generation.” –
Granger

At the end of the novel, the city is destroyed by atomic bombs. The
“Book People” begin to move back toward the city in an effort to rebuild
their civilization and help it rise up from the ashes. Our society has
gone so far off course that a peaceful reversal seems highly unlikely. A
revolution that sweeps away the old order and provides an opportunity
for America to start anew will occur during the next fifteen years. Just
as in the novel, there are surely dark days ahead, with much suffering,
pain and death. The majority do not see this revolution coming. Those
in power are blinded by their own ignorance. It is up to the minority of
thinkers, questioners, skeptics, and truth seekers to insure that
America rises up based upon its founding principles of liberty, freedom
and personal responsibility. I urge you to look up from your Blackberry.
Turn off the TV. Take the iPod earbuds out of your ears. Log off your
computer. Read Shakespeare, Twain, Orwell, Bradbury, Huxley, Dickens,
Tolstoy, Hemingway, or Faulkner. Don’t believe anything that the
mainstream media declares as fact without verifying it yourself.
Question everything. Question everyone. Believe no one. The state is not
your protector. Government cannot replace reason. Montag was
responsible for memorizing the Book of Ecclesiastes in order to
pass along that wisdom to future generations. Ask yourself – What are
you leaving for future generations?

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” – Book of Ecclesiastes

“Those who don’t build must burn.” – Professor Faber – Fahrenheit 451