Now, I’m not a Luddite, but will admit, as a mother of 7 boys, to have wished that technology might disappear, or at least be severely limited in my home. Playstation restrictions and rules do little to curb the attraction my boys have to the blinking lights, fast action, and endorphins generated by the infernal device.
My childhood was a typical 80s childhood – we went out in the neighborhood, knocked on doors until we found a friend at home, and played until the streetlights came on. In times of extreme boredom, which were frequent, we practiced hitting tennis balls against the garage door for hours. It was a simpler time, and I find myself wishing I could give this idyllic childhood to my own children. Unfortunately, those times are gone, never to return.
Society, as Chesterton points out in his essay “A Hope for the Decline of Civilization,” has always had its Bread and Circuses. Of course, in Roman times, it was bread for the citizens and the circus, or coliseum, to entertain them. In Chesterton’s time, the bread was welfare programs and the circuses were the cinema. We still have welfare programs, although one might argue they are more crippling and pervasive. Now, we carry our circus in our pocket.
These bread and circuses are a real concern. Anesthetized by the constant stream of dopamine coming from our pocket devices, we lose contact and connection with those around us. Increased levels of taxation and government subsidy of our everyday lives mean that we are dependent on the bread they offer us and we receive like slaves.
This dependence is frightening in the current climate. The news coming off the “circus” in my pocket tells of sabotage, war, and inflation. It appears that our civilization might come crashing down. And if it does? Well then, we must be ready to take the component parts of our current civilization and move forward, not backwards. The real struggle is to move from a consumer and information culture to a culture that DOES something.
By focusing small and broadening our abilities, by learning to produce our own food, and provide our own entertainment, we can begin the process of our own liberation, even before the inevitable decline of our civilization. We start this process of liberation by stepping away from the circus we carry with us all the time. Human interaction, friendship and fellowship, appreciation of art and music – all those things our advanced civilization have afforded us will be broken into their component parts and still available to be enjoyed.
Our task is to build connections and focus locally. One way that I have found to do this is my local Chesterton Society. Not only do I get to read and discuss an amazing author, I meet the most amazing people. Chestertonians are simply lovely people. Our task is large, but we have the help of God and one another. We can provide for ourselves and one another the community we need to learn, love, flourish, and ultimately grow closer to God and one another.