Amusing Ourselves To Death

I’ve been meaning to jot this down for a while. Here is a collection of quotes from Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves To Death” that I found particularly thought provoking:

Epistemology and Media

“Every epistemology is the epistemology of a stage of media development.”

The Telegraph

“This fact is the principal legacy of the telegraph: By generating an abundance of irrelevant information, it dramatically altered what may be called the ‘information-action ratio.'”

“We may say then that the contribution of the telegraph to public discourse was to dignify irrelevance and amplify impotence.”

“…civilized people everywhere consider the burning of a book a vile form of anti-intellectualism. But the telegraph demands that we burn its contents. the value of telegraphy is undermined by applying the tests of permanence, continuity or coherence.”

“And because of all this, the world as depicted by the telegraph began to appear unmanageable … And because of all this, the world as depicted by the telegraph began to appear unmanageable, even undecipherable.”

The Photograph

“By itself, a photograph cannot deal with the unseen, the remote, the internal, the abstract.”

“Its testimony is powerful but it offers no opinions–no ‘should-have-beens’ or ‘might-have-beens.'”

“Photography is preeminently a world of fact, not of dispute about facts or of conclusions to be drawn from them.”

“All understanding begins with our not accepting the world as it appears.”

“But there is no such thing as a photograph taken out of context, for a photograph does not require one.”

Like telegraphy, photography recreates the world as a series of idiosyncratic events. There is no beginning, middle, or end in a world of photographs, as there is none implied by telegraphy. the world is atomized. There is only a present and it need not be part of any story that can be told.”

“By the end of the nineteenth century, advertisers and newspapermen had discovered that a picture was not only worth a thousand words, but, where sales were concerned, was better.”

“The pseudo-context is the last refuge, so to say, of a culture overwhelmed by irrelevance, incoherence, and impotence.”

“a duet of image and instancy”

The Television

“Television is our culture’s principal mode of knowing about itself. Therefore – and this is the critical point – how television stages the world becomes the model for how the world is properly to be staged.”

“They do not exchange ideas; they exchange images.”

“There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the means by which to detect lies.”

“In a world of discontinuities, contradiction is useless as a test of truth or merit, because contradiction does not exist.”

“The public has adjusted to incoherence and been ‘Now… This’ amused into indifference.”

“Not everything is televisible.”

“There are several characteristics of television and its surround that converge to make authentic religious experience impossible.”

“There is no way to consecrate the space in which a television show is experienced.”

“The television screen itself has a strong bias toward a psychology of secularism.”

Entertainment and Spirituality

“I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.”

“The spectacle we find in true religions has as its purpose enchantment, not entertainment.”

“Enchantment is the means through which we may gain access to sacredness. Entertainment is the means through which we distance ourselves from it.”

“What Huxley teaches is that in the age of advanced technology, spiritual devastation is more likely to come from an enemy with a smiling face than from one whose countenance exudes suspicion and hate.”

5 thoughts on “Amusing Ourselves To Death

  1. Matthew, I would argue that one also needs to take into account the accurate prediction by Sinclair Lewis of how fascism would come to America: in the name of “freedom”, waving a flag in one hand, and holding a Bible in the other
    This short video clip shows that this is now happening.
    Goebbels would have loved this.
    I would argue that if you combine this with the hysterical talk in some USA Christian circles re the possible immanent appearance of the “anti-christ” in the USA, then you have a situation which is essentially a form of collective psychosis. Which will inevitably call for the toasting of scape-goats. Remember too that when Obama was elected there was much speculation re whether he was the “antichrist”. Notice too that Obama’s face appears in the above video.


  2. Interesting combination of images and speech towards the end, with “I believe her best days have not yet been lived” juxtaposed with fighter jets screaming overhead. God save the rest of us!
    I agree that, if fascism come to America, it will come in the name of “freedom”. However, I would argue that if a Bible is held in the other hand to the flag, it won’t be a Bible that has been read or understood very well. For fascism to come in the name of religion, God must first be made a sub-deity to America Eterna.
    Moreover, from theis side of the Pacific it looks like the trend towards fascism in America transcends religious affiliation, as atheists like Sam Harris have advocated torture every bit as aggressively as his theistic counterparts, likewise in the name of freedom. So there seems to be a larger dynamic at play.
    Indeed, that dynamic also seems to transcend political affiliation. Consider that Obama has ordered for more drone strikes that Dubya and that the torturers are still walking free and easy with him as President. The party changed and the rhetoric changed but the aggressive behaviour of the US military did not. The left seems as impotent as the right to stop the slide.


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