The Toxic Now

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We're all feeding off a toxic carcass of now.


The internet age has made this easier -- every comedian feeds off the buffoonery of our current president. (I'm convinced that the clown is actually quite boring). The latest outrage or media stunt by (insert desperate performer's name) keeps us mildly entertained. It's an arms race to absurdity.


We're all Pauley Shore adopting a child in Africa. We're all looking for our 15-minutes of fame. If we don't find it, we become despondent. The more resilient among us resort to weirder stunts and more elaborate get-rich-quick schemes.


This toxic carcass of now distorts our past and future. The past cannot be what it was but is instead mythologized to fit our present. The 50s is remembered so that "duck and cover" can be forgotten and Soviet paranoia never existed at all. It's given in five-minute sound bites so that we will never have the capacity to read "War and Peace".


Is it important to read "War and Peace" in the internet age? It was hard enough to read it in the TV age or the radio age. And when "War and Peace" was actually published, literacy was much lower than it is today. I have to assume people get to old age without reading "War and Peace". (I have no way to confirm this and it's actually quite possible that they make every nursing home resident read a copy of "War and Peace" before committing to regimens of "Matlock" and the "Price is Right").


And for all my reading, my income is in the lower middle/upper lower class range.


If you're so keen on reading, then why aren't you rich?


Of course, clever reader! Why be well-read and poor when you can be poorly-read and poor!


Reading substantial books gets you distance from the toxic carcass of now, but it also makes you look lazy with regards to people's birthdays and holidays and other now-ish stuff. You miss things in the now. So, is the now really so toxic?


"The Spectacular Now" is a movie you should watch -- not because this absurdly now-ish essay recommends it, but because it has these wonderful John Hughes type moments and deals with the theme of youth in distress in very interesting and unique ways. The movie also takes on many of the same themes of this essay. The main character is a high school student with a drinking problem.



I don't have a drinking problem. I have a writing problem. Sometimes a reading problem. (Also, a lack-of-focus problem when writing a long-form essay).


The toxic now also feeds on the future. It manipulates it for its own purposes. The apocalypse is coming. Or, it's not. A miraculous future breakthrough in technology is coming. Or, it's not. The future can break your heart...but the present is a relentless exploiter of the future. Meanwhile, "War and Peace" lies unread on your shelf.


"We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom."

― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace


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This quote blew my mind! But it is also a quote taken out of context, a bank loan I have no intention of repaying. It is me neglecting the real book for the soundbite in order to be more now-ish. I admit to myself that if I had actually read the book and taken the time and patience to come up with an actual insight, my little essay might never have been written, nor read.


Such is the cult of now.


But perhaps the time and patience to read a good book can save me from this "now" that sucks the virtue out of every good and true thing. Can "War and Peace" save us from the now?


Perhaps that is asking a little too much from literature. Perhaps literature is the drug -- perhaps literature, its words and wrangling and endless dialectical and lexical, logical and mythological nuances, is what is killing us. Whereas the now, in all its hyper-exercised glory is the virtuous, the saving grace.


"We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom."

― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace


Who knows for sure? But for now, I feed on literature and hope to save myself from now-ish toxicity.


The essay is over.


I will now present to you some random insights that didn't make it into the main event.


1. I think that the number of frenetic day traders who have read more than 100 substantial books must be very small. I would like to find some data to prove this, but since I'm writing this essay like a frenetic day trader, I'm off to my next insight.


2. Clocking in at 1392 pages, "War and Peace" would only work well as a blog post if every page was condensed to a word. Someone should try to write the 1392-word version of "War and Peace".


3. Reading "War and Peace" seems to me the equivalent of a lifestyle choice -- and an increasingly alternative one. You have to be consistent, you have to be passionate. You have to have an old cowboy or farmer's understanding of time. 

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