I've spent a good amount of time today reading Ray Bradburys classic novel Fahrenheit 451. The title refers to the temperature at which paper burns. You see in the future, houses are completely fireproof. So firemen have been repurposed as book burners. The story concerns a fireman called Montag who has a crisis of conscience and becomes a saviour of books instead.
Bradburys observations make this a dystopia which seems more apropos to the present day situation in America than those of say Orwell. Montag is denounced to the authorities, and forced to flee. But it turns out the ones who betrayed him, are not the sinister agents of the surveillence state but his own friends and loved ones. And unlike in 1984, the reason they rat him out is not "thoughtcrimes" but because books make them uncomfortable. How did it get to this stage? special interest groups each vying to impose their own brand of political correctness had rendered literature so muddled and useless, they were effectively destroyed long before the burning started. No wonder society turns to the soothing immersion of non-stop, action-packed but totally soporific TV which continues the cycle of deadening genuine feelings and making thinking hurt even more.
Isn't this whats happening in politics? Both parties today are just conglomerations of pressure groups with disparate and often contradictory agendas. So much energy must be spent on keeping the base together, the candidates have to be as bland and non-comittal as possible. Making scapegoats of those who point out problems becomes more comfortable--for both the elected and the electorate--than actually dealing with the problems. Third parties won't help, on the contrary they make it even less necessary for zealots to compromise. It is the sheer scale of politics in a large and diverse country like the US which is the problem. The answer I think (and Bradbury may not agree) is to bypass the government altogether on important matters. Let it be gridlocked, as long as it is toothless, it won't be in a position to hurt.
On a cheerier note, the BBC has resumed the radio adaption of The Hitchhhikers Guide To The Galaxy. The first episode of the tertiary phase aired on Tuesday on Radio 4. It will be repeated again on Thursaday. If you are outside the listening range as I am, you can tune in via the web by using Realplayer or a compatible player. (I used kaffeine the KDE frontend to Xine.)