Thoughts on 451

Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I like to read. A lot. I have a sneaking suspicion my good friend Josh and I could talk about books for hours without realizing everyone else has gone home. My wife and I surround ourselves and our children with books, and we’re fiercely proud of the fact that our six year-old is reading “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.

To that end, I recently reread Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”. (If you haven’t read it, READ IT.)

I read it for the first time as a young man, but if the story had any impact on me at the time it has long been forgotten. This time through, it resonated deeper than I expected.

Usually on Medium I post a short fiction story, which is what I would much rather be doing. But F451 described a shadow of the world we currently live in, and struck a chord that we as a culture are continuously moving closer to the world Bradbury created.

No, books aren’t illegal and we don’t burn them (at least not in the way Bradbury describes), but I found it shocking that according to the Literacy Project Foundation, 50% of Americans can’t read above an 8th grade level.

And what further proof do we need that we are living in a world similar to the one that the author imagined than the following quote:

“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. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. 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 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”

Sound familiar? Now more than ever we are bombarded with pointless facts, meaningless information and superfluous data. We consume reality TV, accept information at face value, put ourselves in a bubble, and swallow it all without question, hook, line and sinker. Am I an exception? Hardly. I binge watch episodes, watch baseball constantly, and turn to gaming as a way to unwind (although I really do despise reality TV).

Perhaps I’m preaching to the choir, but books and reading, in my opinion, are two of the greatest resources we have. Reading paves the way for knowledge and creativity. Knowledge can lift us from the depths of poverty to the heights of wealth. Creativity makes the impossible possible.

Yet we are content to wallow in mediocrity and go about our shallow and vapid lives, accepting the reality around us instead of demanding more from it.

I’m not one to wax poetic and I’m not loquacious by nature. That’s probably why I prefer to write. I’m not saying anything that hasn’t already been said, but I can’t help but wonder, who are we really and how do we want to be?

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