Feb 11, 2017
More than 70 years ago, the English satirist Aldous Huxley wrote that modernity is the "age of noise." He was writing about the radio, whose noise, he said "penetrates the mind, filling it with a babel of distractions - news items, mutually irrelevant bits of information, blasts of corybantic or sentimental music, continually repeated doses of drama that bring no catharsis."
If Huxley had lived into the 21st century, he would have seen the age of noise redoubled and amplified beyond the radio, first to our televisions, and then to our tablets and mobile devices, machines which bring distraction and "doses of drama" with us wherever we go. We are, today, awash in information, assaulted, often, with tweets and pundits analyzing the latest crisis in Washington, or difficulty in the Church, or serious social, political, or environmental issue. It can become, for many people, overwhelming.
To be sure, we have a responsibility as faithful Catholics to be aware of the world and its challenges, and to be engaged in the cultural and political affairs of our communities. We cannot shirk or opt out from that responsibility. But we are living at a moment of constant urgencies and crises, the "tyranny of the immediate," where reactions to the latest news unfold at a breakneck pace, often before much thought, reflection or consideration. We are living at a moment where argument precedes analysis, and outrage, or feigned outrage, has become an ordinary kind of virtue signaling - a way of conveying the "right" responses to social issues in order to boost our social standing.
The 2016 presidential election was a two-year slog of platitudinous and superficial argument, and now that the election is over, that argument seems interminable. No person can sustain the kind of noise -polemical, shrill, and reactive - which has become a substitute for conversation in contemporary culture. Nor should any person try. The "age of noise" diminishes virtue, and charity, and imagination, replacing them with anxiety, and worry, and exhaustion.