“We are improved by reading books not by owning them.”
It’s hard to be a pundit. Heck, it’s hard to be an Average Joe scrolling through your social media feeds. Whether it’s the #TenYearChallenge on Instagram, the smirking kid on Facebook or Marie Kondo’s cleaning advice on Twitter, there is some form of outrage for you. This is our life. This is our consumption habit. Mobs have been around forever, but social media allows you to partake in multiple mobs simultaneously, cross pollinating the outrage into a storm of fury. But it is time to stop. As per Proverbs 20:3 –
Congratulations to the rightists who got the Vulture writer fired over the smirking boy. Congratulations to the conservative pundits and IDW lackeys who argue ceaselessly every day. But what for? Wherefore art thou holiness? It is certainly not to be found in outrage.
The Kondo Effect
Book porn. Shelfies. Reading memes. Social media is awash with the ideal of books, that is, fantasies and hazy recollections of a certain feeling that comes with being a book owner. Without it the book industry would surely collapse.
This ‘shelfie’ did the rounds on right-wing Twitter, with people mocking the absolute state of the woman’s ‘taste’. Overall it was but a blip on the outrage scale, but let me make my point.
Aside from the endless YA and Stephen King there are also a number of popular ‘must have’ books. The Nix, The Idiot, Michelle Obama’s biography, Bridge of Clay and many more are simply flavours of the month. This is much more an advertising space than it is personal collection. These are books that publishing houses have pushed hard (because they have paid million dollar advances). There’s nothing wrong with a bit of entertainment, but the self-righteousness of young women and their bookshelves is something beyond your usual narcissist. Since when was a colour-coded bookshelf made up of the latest pulp better than this?
Why does any of this matter though? Why did this blow up into a whirlwind of tweet storms for maybe 12 hours? The problem comes down to how we view books. For many on the right they are a form of knowledge and connection with the past, not a fleeting consumer choice. Shelfies on the other hand are shameless displays of books as objects, contrary to what the book fanatics would have you believe. For them it is about whether it is popular, or woke, or ‘takes them to another world’. What isn’t important is that a book introduces them to alternative points of view or new knowledge. It is this materialism that irked the Right.
Then Marie Kondo showed up.
A few years ago Kondo published bestselling books that expressed her philosophy, namely Spark Joy and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. This year her Netflix show came out where she went to people’s houses and tidied them up. Naturally, given that television is far more culturally important than books (this is actually what we should be outraged about), this sparked the conversation around keeping or hoarding books.
Leftists – the ones likely to have colour-coded bookshelves – came out to bat for keeping every book, such as the author of this opinion piece. Of course what they all missed is Kondo’s underlying reasoning. To keep a book it must spark joy. That is, we must appreciate it, not lust over it, not enjoy its pretty cover, none of these superficial things. It’s a much deeper, religious understanding of ‘joy’ where the meaning is closer to ‘grace’. What did the book teach us? Is this one you want to keep to be reminded of its lessons, or one you will re-read? This comes from Kondo’s Shinto background, and it not surprising that secular Westerners completely missed this. Instead people like Matt Haig go completely off the deep-end about books being portals to other worlds, which is much more grounded than the idea that objects must be respected. Secularists are both grounded in the act of materialist consumerism, yet justify it with lofty spirituality. The death of God, yadda, yadda.
The outrage was not just based on a misunderstanding of what Kondo believes, but also literally from fake news around what she said. At no point has Kondo insisted that ’30 books is ideal’ and yet this became a meme that further promoted outrage, disgust and incredulity. The echoes of outrage reverberated outward further and further from the truth. I’m sure the Bible says somewhere that when we are struck with the truth (in this case, that we are hoarders and own too many useless books that we will never actually read) we will cry out in pain, deny it and in fact try to justify obvious lies. The entire Marie Kondo affair, from the irony of the discussion emanating from TV and not the book, to the fake news and urgent hand-wringing, smacks of a culture gone completely wrong.
To lay it to rest, it is a fact that most books are bad. Most authors are not very good, and given that more and more books are being published every year, we should be wary about what we purchase. This is why the Right focuses on old books. They are tried and true. They are objective in that they are not speaking from the current milieu from which one cannot get any perspective. Do not buy books in the vague hope of reading them in the future. Buy, read, decide on its level of joy that it has sparked, and then keep, discard or giveaway.
The Smirking Boy Cometh
Mere moments after the Marie Kondo Twitter outrage had calmed down did we have yet more fake news events, and these were much more serious (apparently). First, Buzzfeed through shoddy reporting was rebuked by Mueller’s team regarding information from Michael Cohen. That another Russiagate scandal was quickly shot down is not surprising. More odious was the events surrounding a group of boys from Covington Catholic School.
For posterity, a quick rundown of events: video footage goes viral showing white boy in MAGA hat purportedly standing down Native American; journalists condemn boys; multiple death and violence threats appear on Twitter against the boys; more footage comes out debunking the initial take by showing that the Native American approached the boys and that the boys were being harassed; some journalists back down (including conservative outlets); some journalists and celebrity progs double down and dig into the background of the boys and their school; accusations of black face; accusations of black face proven false; accusations of throwing up white power sign; accusations of throwing up white power sign proven both ridiculous but also false. That’s not even all of it, but you get the picture.
The point I am driving at here is that we quickly move from one outrage to another. It doesn’t even have to be a different outrage. It just needs to be a new perspective on the same outrage. Think of the Smirking Boy saga as a film scene in reverse (so, a bad film). We started with a close up shot. People jumped to the wrong conclusions. Then we were allowed the long or establishing shot which changed the context. Then a bunch of subplots were uncovered that would have helped set up the story even further. It was a train wreck. Left and Right jumped from talking point to talking point. Whataboutisms and gotchas cascaded. It is far from over. Will this be a turning point?
I think not. The ‘echoes of outrage’ will diminish on this particular incident and be rung fresh and vibrant again on another. Dopamine needs new stimuli and the mob does not like stasis. Do you remember what the first example of outrage I used in this post was? I rest my case.
What I suggest is that we take our time, because if we take our time and process things properly we avoid the risk of anger and of memory holing. The worst thing is to forget what has come before.