Read the book, plan to see the movie. Until then, here’s my thoughts on the philosophical points that I wish to point out from my first read-through.
I read the 60th anniversary edition, which is worth pointing out because there’s an introduction and some articles contained within the book that analyze/review it, and I will be using quotes from those articles because they also have some great philosophical points. This will be in a similar format to what I did in the latter half of my coverage of the Dune novel, focusing less on the plot and characters and more on the philosophical points brought up, and what my thoughts are on them and how they are relevant to today. Or just bringing them up because they are words worth remembering.
Part 0: Introduction by Neil Gaiman
If someone tells you what a story is about, they are probably right.
If they tell you that that is all the story is about, they are very definitely wrong.
That’s what can make stories/films/novels timeless. They can mean one thing at the time they are made, and can mean another at a future point in time. Sometimes a piece of work is misunderstood until later on. But no one, not even the author/creator/director/critic should state that “this is all it is and ever will be about.” It’s short-sighted, and even the author of a work can be wrong at times. No one is perfect.
But an author is a creature of her time, and even she cannot see everything that her book is about.
Ah yes, even the author cannot anticipate all the meanings one may find with his/her work, meanings that go beyond what the author intended, or even meanings that go against his/her intentions. But that’s ok, because it’s a work of art, and art is always open to interpretation.
Ideas–written ideas–are special. They are the way we transmit our stories and our thoughts from one generation to the next. If we lose them, we lose our shared history. We lose much of what makes us human. And fiction gives us empathy: it puts us inside the minds of other people, gives us the gift of seeing the world through their eyes. Fiction is a lie that tells us the true things, over and over.
That is why it’s good to let ideas be put into writing, onto blogs, into videos, etc. It makes them more capable of being passed around, through the world and through time. It’s also why I don’t condone censorship (outside of classified information that is kept classified for good reason of course). Ideas should be accepted, critiqued, and/or dismissed by one’s own accord, and not because of group-think. And ideas can be expressed via blogging, via documentary/autobiography or a film based on a true story, or through a book/comic/film/show that uses fiction as a form of expressing an idea that one can take to heart in the non-fiction world.
But it is about more than that. It is about what you find between its pages.
Sometimes an individual finds meaning with a piece of work that only they can find, that only they can see, that only makes sense to them.
Part 1: The Hearth and the Salamander
“You laugh when I haven’t been funny and you answer right off. You never stop to think what I’ve asked you.
That’s a problem with a lot of people today, and unfortunately, in some instances, a problem with me as well. Some people resort to some instinctual response with regards to a conversation that’s about critical thinking topics. You know, the type of responses one would make when their date is constantly talking about something that isn’t interesting to you at all.
To be honest, there are some lines of dialogue someone may spout out that aren’t really about anything (more on that later), and it’s not worth thinking heavily over, let alone deserving of a thoughtful response. But for everything else, when someone is talking about something that they are sincere about and is deserving of a thoughtful response, it’s worth putting some thought into the response rather than just flinging something thoughtless out.
“When I talk, you look at me. When I said something about the moon, you looked at the moon, last night. The others would never do that. The others would walk off and leave me talking. Or threaten me. No one has time any more for anyone else.”
You see? Taking someone seriously is one of the ways with how relationships are forged.
“I’m antisocial, they say. I don’t mix. It’s so strange. I’m very social indeed. It all depends on what you mean by social, doesn’t it? Social to me means talking to you about things like this. […] But I don’t think it’s social to get a bunch of people together and then not let them talk, do you? […] But everyone I know is either shouting or dancing around like wild or beating up one another. Do you notice how people hurt each other nowadays?”
Man, it’s kinda scary how relevant these lines of dialogue are today, isn’t it? How someone wants to make a challenging speech for others to listen to, but then protesters show up who want to shut them down by any means necessary, because they don’t like what they have to say. Because they don’t like anything that disagrees with their beliefs, their philosophies, their ways of life, their point of view. Like what fucking Berkley college in California has been doing through much of 2016 and 2017, kicking out Milo (and making him more famous than ever before in the process, nice work) and barring Ben Shapiro (every decent level-headed person’s favorite Jew since John Stewart) from speaking at their events, and allowing cunthole organization of the year ANTIFA run amok over all of that. Not to mention feminists going way too radical (and not in the 90s cool way) and literally throwing bitch-fits over, well, pretty much everything. Not very social to not let people talk. Not very social at all. Kinda scary how a respectable number of people react violently to stuff that challenges their point of view. As if they’re too scared to see their reality, their way of life, become shattered, to see their protective bubble burst.
Talking, being social, is the best way to avoid violence, and the best way to grow as a society. In a society where speech is prohibited, well, I’m pretty sure George Orwell covered that pretty well.
“People don’t talk about anything.”
“[…] they all say the same things and nobody says anything different from anyone else. And most of the time in the cafes they have the joke-boxes on and the same jokes most of the time, or the musical wall lit and all the colored patterns running up and down, but it’s only color and all abstract.”
That’s what happens when everyone thinks/acts/talks the same. Boring monotony. That’s why diversity is a good thing. Otherwise you become confined, only free to explore and grow within boundaries.
“We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while.”
So that way your views can be challenged. A number of things can happen when they are challenged. You can think upon it, critically, or even do some research, learn how to defend your views against attacks. Or you realize your views don’t stand up to scrutiny, and thus they need to be changed/altered/adapted. Plus, being bothered/challenged also keeps you in check, keeps you healthy against biases that you may develop (one of the main reasons I like to be challenged and get into debates, I want to make sure I’m not getting too biased, because I’ve seen the damage bias can cause, both on my part and on the part of everyone else).
“Picture it. Nineteenth-century man with his horses, dogs, carts, slow motion. Then, in the twentieth century, speed up your camera. Books cut shorter. Condensations. Digests, Tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending.
Digest-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in mid-air, all vanishes! Whirl man’s mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought!”
Instant gratification. One of the elements that I believe is plaguing too many films nowadays. Also one of the very things that is guaranteed to go wrong when it comes to social media. What happens when you see a news headline on sites like Twitter or Facebook? How often do you read more into it, to see the details? It’s a dangerous thing to not devote a respectable amount of time into the news to see if it’s accurate, or bullshit, or taken out of context. While we’re at it, why don’t we stop watching movies altogether and just watch the trailers? They have a bad habit of spoiling the entire fucking movie anyway, like what those assholes did with Contamination (not that the film was all that great anyway, but still!).
Think! Don’t just glance over details!
“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 all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?”
Well, the “school is shortened” part didn’t seem to come to much fruition with all this book’s predictions of the future, though schools have worsened. Rather than become shortened, they become longer, at least when it comes to college. They want you kept in school longer so they can brainwash you longer.
Discipline has certainly become more relaxed. Back in the day, if you acted out of line or dissed a teacher, the teacher would have no problems and suffer no repercussions from beating the shit out of the kid’s hands or bum with a ruler and force them to stand in a corner for a long duration of time (probably a method to the madness in that regard, wouldn’t feel too good to sit down after something like that).
English and spelling is certainly something becoming more and more neglected from what I’ve seen, especially when it comes to immigrants (not all of them mind you, there are a decent number of respectable legal immigrants who work their asses off just as often, if not more-so, than the average American student; just a decent portion that slack off with little consequence).
Why learn anything other than the job stuff? Well…
“Now let’s take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities. […] The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that! All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive. And the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course. There you have it, Montag. 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.”
Now this portion of the book I found to be the most fascinating. That a large population will have more minorities (or minorities that are in larger numbers than they would otherwise be). And minorities can be a source for problems. In today’s environment, many have been conditioned to respect and give special advantages to minorities. Even I myself am guilty of a portion of that bias. But the one thing that many don’t admit, that many don’t consider, is that minorities can become in-part responsible for censorship and outrage-culture.
Think about it. BlackLivesMatter, responsible for outrage against police (sometimes they deserve it, much of the time they don’t), and anything even remotely resembling racism (intentionally or not). Modern Feminism, responsible for pussy hats, a bunch of protesting against problems that don’t exist (or at least didn’t until they made it a problem, Hollywood sex scandals aside), and censoring film (and responsible for making films into pieces of shit, and for ruining Star Wars [I’ll type more on that sometime down the line]). Illegal immigrants, attempting to make things from illegal -> legal, raising the crime rates, lowering standards, and apparently fucking with the voting system.
Minority pressure is one of those things that has the potential to bring a country down. It’s a controversial view to take because, sometimes, minorities aren’t in the wrong. Sometimes minorities have justified grievances, are victims of unjustified attacks, and should have justice done for them. But it’s a view that shouldn’t be all that controversial because minorities can be in the wrong, and can be responsible for a civilization’s downfall. For example, one of the theories as to how Rome fell was due to immigration and growing minorities. That wasn’t the only factor leading to its downfall, but it was certainly one of the main contributing factors (of which there are several).
“With schools 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. Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally ‘bright,’ did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn’t it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. 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.”
I believe this points out that, barring physical handicaps and whatnot, the main thing that makes people different and not the same is intellectualism. It’s being an intellectual that makes you stand out. It’s not likely that any two intellectuals are going to be the same. But take away the intellectual element, make everyone dull and dumb and a sheep, then everyone will be the same. At a terrible cost.
“Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it.”
Nevermind the lessons to be learned from those books. That goes for Confederate statues too, which some are willing to destroy nowadays. And many publishers didn’t want a certain book published earlier this year…
“The home environment can undo a lot you try to do at school. That’s why we’ve lowered kindergarten age year after year until now we’re almost snatching them from the cradle. […] The girl? She was a time bomb. The family had been feeding her subconscious, I’m sure, from what I saw of her school record. She didn’t want to know how a thing was done, but why. That can be embarrassing. You ask Why to a lot of things and you wind up very unhappy indeed, if you keep at it. The poor girl’s better off dead.”
And this is why it’s important for parents to have a say with what their kids learn. They should be able to talk to their children about what they are learning. It’s also important for parents to be critical thinkers themselves, and there-bye pass on the habit of critical thinking to their children, who in turn should do the same. They should be able to question everything they hear. The Socrates method.
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.”
And there’s another fascinating point. The fact that people can feel intelligent when really they’re not. It goes back to the flipping through news headlines on social media, trying to get the condensed version, the easy version, not bothering to see the details or do any fact-checking. One of the ways they can feel intelligent when they’re not. That’s like saying you’re in fit shape after doing a 4 minute workout. That’s not how it works. It takes 8 minutes!
Another thing that can make people feel intelligent is watching news, learning history from their teacher and school books, but not bothering to look at alternative sources attempting to teach the same thing. For instance, a large 2,000 page history book attempting to cover the entire history of the United States from the 1700s to present day. There’s no way that book can cover everything. Hell, there are books written in that length that only cover a fraction of a single war, never mind the span of 3+ centuries. Some facts will be left out, some things will be left unsaid; dare I say a book might get a few facts wrong. Being told what to believe shouldn’t be enough. At best, it should be a starting point, where one can go off on their own to see if that belief is worth believing.
There’s nothing more sad, humorous, and terrifying, than someone who believes they are brilliant when they’re not. Yet another reason why I make challenging statements, because a part of me wants to be proven wrong, to keep me humble.
Part 2 can be found here:
2 thoughts on “Philosophies of Fahrenheit 451: Introduction and Chapter 1”
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