What’s that in your ears?

I live close enough to the ocean that about once a week my wife and I drive to the beach. We like to arrive around sunrise and walk or jog a few miles down the shore and back while the sun isn’t so intense and there are fewer people about.

This morning it was quite beautiful. Blue sky with a few streaks of clouds, a rich swirl of seashells left behind by high tide adorning the sand, a slight breeze with a hit of salt spray, the cries of seabirds, the crash of the surf.

It was magnificent.

So why did so many of the other people we encountered wear white earplugs to drown out the sounds of the natural world?

Hold that thought.

Yesterday two men, apparently acting on orders from their imaginary, invisible friend (according to some eyewitnesses, they cried “Allahu Akbar!” or “God is the greatest!”), attacked an off-duty soldier and hacked him to death. This occurred in broad daylight on a street in London.

(Least anyone think I am picking on Muslims in particular, let me make something clear: in my opinion, if you believe you are receiving marching orders from any invisible superbeing(s), no matter what you call him, her, they, or it, you are delusional.)

At that point the story segues from the horrific into the surreal.

Having just committed a brutal murder, they encouraged witnesses to take their pictures and make video recordings with their phones. Rather than running away screaming, many people seem to have hung around or just strolled through a scene that included a mutilated cadaver and chatty murderers standing around holding meat cleavers or machetes still red and sticky with their victim’s blood. When a news crew turned up, the killers used the opportunity to launch into a religiously tinged political speech.

They wanted to get their images and words widely broadcast through the world’s video screens.

What is in some ways almost as scary is that some witnesses evidently didn’t take what was happening right in front of them seriously because it wasn’t on a screen. I suppose they were waiting for a newsreader on a gadget to tell them that they ought to be upset.

As a global society, we are in a mass retreat from reality. Even in relatively prosperous and free societies where genuine knowledge about how the world really works can be had by anyone willing to take the time and trouble, huge numbers of people believe in utter nonsense, whether of the supernatural kind or in some crap that disintegrates under the scrutiny of mainstream science or in preposterous conspiracy theories that are so absurd they make the paranoid idiocy found in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion look reasonable.

Meanwhile, information about real problems that need urgent attention is drowned out by celebrity gossip, political ankle-biting that results in nothing useful whatsoever, and similar infotainment.

Most of this rubbish, these days, is spread through electronic screens.

So do something.

(1.) Find some books of genuine history or natural science (college freshman texts or books favorably reviewed by a reputable, mainstream popular science magazine are a good place to begin) and start reading. Read Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World somewhere early in this process. Read a lot of books.

(2.) When you hit words you don’t know—and you will, if the book is any good–look them up.

(3.) Then go out and interact with something real.

You can’t hear the seagulls’ song while you have white buds in your ears.

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