Suppose you are sitting around at home one day feeling somewhat bored. You decide you will take a look at what is happening on TV. You flick it on and there is this interesting programme on Discovery about 'Life in the Desert'. So, you start watching and as it unfolds you get increasingly fascinated. The desert sands, the unremitting sun, the teeming life which has been able to adapt itself to these hostile conditions, which seems to flourish in this stark environment - these and other images draw you on. At the end of the programme you get up with the feeling that now you really have a sense of what the desert is all about.
Time well spent, or so we would imagine. Yet in all these captivating images which give you the feeling that now you have experienced what the desert is about - in all these captivating images, what is missing? You had seen the desert, been absorbed by all these incredible scenes, yet something was missing. Quite simply put, the. experience of heat, the feel of sand under your feet, in your eyes, in your hair. You have been sitting in an air-cooled room, sipping an iced lemonade and watching the desert. So you have 'experienced' the desert without its heat! Your visual sense, your mental sense and, to a lesser extent, your auditory sense have been engaged by the programme, but your tactile (bodily) sense, your sense of taste and smell have not. In. fact your consciousness has been split during the entire programme - body and mind divided against themselves. You have not really tasted your iced lemonade, although the glass is now empty; but then you have not really experienced the desert either, because heat and sand have not permeated your senses.
The 'knowledge' you have gained from this 'educational' programme is but an abstraction, a faded carbon-copy, a distorted image of the real. You do not really 'know' anything about the desert by the end of the programme, but you are left with the illusion of knowing. It is true you have gained some information about the desert, but this information has been incapable of forming you, of any re-formation of your being. It has left you at the end of the programme, where you were at the beginning - bored! You switch channels.
In fact, even during the programme you have been bored! It is only that this boredom was masked by the sense of novelty, of excitement, by the stimulation of visualand mental senses. Because what, after all, is boredom? It is when the mental and the bodily senses are not integrated, when the body is here, but the mind drifts off - because what is present 'here and now' seems of little consequence and the mind moves away searching for something of greater significanceand consequence.
This body / mind split has characterised the entire enjoyment of the programme, but because of the novelty of the visual images, the stimulation they offered, this split wasmasked. At the end of the programme however, the same dissatisfaction with the 'here and now' reasserts itself, and one switches to another channel. In fact, it is only the 'novelty' which has prevented the sense of boredom from fully asserting itself. The next time you turn on theTV and once again a programme on the desert is being shown, the sense of novelty is lost and you switch channels immediately. And so, as your TV viewing increases in duration and frequency, the novelty of different programmes begins to wear off and you begin to switch channels more often, until you begin to 'surf' on the 40 or more channels availableto you.
The attempt to overcome boredom through novelty, through sense-stimulation gives rise to a vicious spiral. As every 'new' programme stales, as a given level of sensestimulation fades, the inner psychological demand for ever increasing sense-stimulation becomes more and more insistent till one's being cries out for satisfaction. TV networks are sensitive to this and over the last fifteen years or so, the extent and degree of violence and explicit sexuality has grown exponentially. In course of time however, even 'hard porn' and gruesome violence failed to stimulate, and so, reportedly, a new genre of video-films emerged - the so-called 'snuff movies'. Apparently in these films actual incidents of violence, rape etc. are staged and filmed, and these films are circulated underground. The thought that one is witnessing a true-life incident of rape for example, seems to take some people to new heights, which mere playacting fails to achieve. Whether such films actually exist and are systematically produced is of course not possible to ascertain, but the very fact that they are widely believed to exist is a telling indictment of the modem condition.
One may feel that even if such films do exist, only a perverted insignificant minority would watch them. This is perhaps true, but the malaise is nevertheless actually widespread. When the US bombed Iraq into submission in the 1991 war, this war was televised 'live' for the first time in human history. In fact it was amedia-war. And when it was televised millions of respectable people watched and 'cheered with each blast', coke in one hand and potato-chips in the other. After all this was 'legitimate' murder, even if there was some regrettable 'collateral damage' (the military jargon, for 'unavoidable' civilian casualties, i.e., the killing of women and children). The spectacle of a triumphant hi-tech war, given that one is not actually physically present to smell the blood and touch the maimed bodies - this spectacle was too good to pass by. For a while at least a whole nation and millions of others across the globe escaped their sense of boredom!
So, it is not a question of some programmes being good and even educative, while others are reprehensible - which is a position taken by most modern thinkers and educationists. Once TV becomes the primary source of entertainment, the predominant mode of escaping boredom (as it already has in many parts of the world), this need for ever increasing levels of sense stimulation, speed and spectacle, must assert itself. This is because it is built into the very nature of the medium, which necessarily furthers and intensifies the mind / body split, the very essence of boredom itself.
How do we understand this mind / body split, this phenomenon of boredom, this inability to stay with whatever is 'here and now'? It may be argued that this has always been a major characteristic of the human condition. There is no way to empirically assess this argument, though what one sees of 'primitive' tribals, especially those not yet uprooted from their natural environment, is that they suffer from it far less than 'civilized' humanity. So, perhaps in pre-historic times it was much less rooted in the human condition than it is now. Perhaps the artificiality of modern environments and the technologies which have contributed to the making of these environments are pathological manifestations of this mind / body split. However this may be, it is evident that sense stimulation, whether through TV, drugs, sport-spectacles or in any other form is no cure for this pathological condition. On the contrary it intensifies this condition.
Can we address this pathology of modern living both individually and collectively? Can we reintegrate body and mind in our everyday world, despite the artificiality of the environments we are confined to and in? The answers to these questions have many ramifications, which need to be explored and understood theoretically and experientially. It is obviously beyond the scope of an article to go into all of them, even if one did have many answers, which I don't!
However, one thing seems to me to be central, the need to re-enchant our everyday world. This sense of enchantment with life is there in very young children before they are subjected to the processes of education, as witnessed in this wonderful poem about a child by A.A. Milne, 'Waiting at the Window' (taken from 'Now We Are Six').
These are my two drops of rain
Waiting on the window-pane
I am waiting here to see
Which the winning one will be
Both of them have different names One
is John and one is James
All the best and all the worst
Comes from which of them is first
James has just begun to ooze
He's the one I want to lose...
And so the poem unfolds, capturing the fascination of a child with the most everyday occurrence - two drops of rain on a window pane. Contrast this with the contemporary adolescent song,
Drops of rain fall on my
I am all alone again
Good evening sorrow...
In a child, body and mind are deeply integrated and the child experiences with its whole being - the taste of a carrot, the call of the cuckoo, the kaleidoscope of little specks of dust dancing in a shaft of evening sunlight. And now the remarkable thing - it is because the child experiences with its entire being that the everyday world seems so fascinating, even magical, and not the other way around. Adults, in contrast, look forward to some extraordinary event; they wait to be strongly stimulated from the outside before they give their entire attention to anything, and even then they often give only their mind, or they give over only their body to the 'here and now'. Thus, while for the child even the' ordinary' is magical, for the adult even the 'extra-ordinary' rapidly loses its significance.
Can we once again develop this ability to savour every moment of life with our entire being - whatever this moment brings, whether it is washing dishes or eating a chocolate pudding? Can we drop the discriminating mind which says'this activity is insignificant, that other activity is of great importance'? Can we live in the moment, because the past is irretrievably gone and the future mere phantom? Can we live completely in the 'here and now' and thus recover that child-like quality which has been 'educated' out of us?
This is not just an individual quest, an individual's search for 'self-fulfilment', because it has very profound social ramifications. As long as we are not able to recover this quality, we will be sucked into the emerging 'information society' with its hi-tech wars, its brutality and its never-ending search for sense-stimulation, for gratification, for 24 hour entertainment. As long as we are not able to do so, we will not be able to offer any real - as against merely intellectual - resistance to whatever variant of an Orwellian or a 'Brave NewWorld', which will inexorably engulf us.