Quality of Attention

Read the entire blog post by Priscilla Long, but I particularly like this part:

Quality of Attention. The internet provides quick information: In three seconds I ascertain the meaning of quiddity—the inherent nature or essence of someone or something. I ascertain that on this day, February 9, 2019 CE, there are snowstorm warnings across the state of Washington. I listen to a beautiful, sad story, “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury, sent to me instantly on email by a friend, read to me by Leonard Nimoy on YouTube. I go to Facebook to check up on my nieces and nephews.

All good. But the digitization of our lives is causing a rapid deterioration of the quality of our attention. This includes the quality of my attention. And although I am quite digitized, I am less digitized than many others. Persons in their twenties, according to a study by Time, Inc., check their cell phone on an average of 150 to 190 times per day. Reading online, we read as many words as we did before. But, according to Maryanne Wolf’s alarming book Reader, Come Home, we are reading by “skimming, skipping, and browsing” in an atmosphere of constant distraction. And, if we compose mainly online, this becomes the way we write—multitasking, skimming, skipping, browsing. Distraction is changing our brains, our very ability to read quietly, to read longer sentences, longer passages, to contemplate. The average memory span of many adults, Wolf reports, has diminished by 50 percent over the past decade.

The solution is not to eschew the digital world—a silly, impossible idea—but to reserve time daily to read quietly a printed book. And writers: A notebook made of paper cannot ding you or email you or provide you with an escape hatch into the morass of distraction and trivia that is the internet.

Reinhold Niebuhr

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”

— Reinhold Niebuhr

Opposing tyranny in whatever form it presents itself

Winston Churchill:

I will not pretend that, if I had to choose between Communism and Nazi-ism, I would choose Communism. I hope not to be called upon to survive in the world under a Government of either of those dispensations….It is not a question of opposing Nazi-ism or Communism; it is a question of opposing tyranny in whatever form it presents itself.

Sowing the Wind

Bruce Catton:

He liked to say that he was in morals, not politics. From this the logical deduction was that people who opposed him, numerous though they undoubtedly were, must be willfully wrong. . . .

Yet angry words were about the only kind anyone cared about to use these days. Men seemed tired of the reasoning process. Instead of trying to convert one’s opponents it was simpler just to denounce them, no matter what unmeasured denunciation might lead to. . . . Men saw what they feared and hated, concentrated on its wide empty plains, and as they stared they were losing the ability to see virtue in compromise and conciliation. The man on the other side, whatever one’s vantage point, was beginning to look ominously alien. . . .

A philippic, as he had promised. No single vote had been changed by it; the Senate would decide, at last, precisely as it would have done if he had kept quiet. But he had not been trying to persuade. No one was, these days; a political leader addressed his own following, not the opposition. Summer had been trying to inflame, to arouse, to confirm the hatreds and angers that already existed. In the North there were men who from his words would draw a new enmity toward the South; in the South there were men who would see in this speaker and what he had said a final embodiment of the compelling reasons why it was good to think seriously about secession.

These excerpts are from Catton’s book, This Hallowed Ground. Though he is describing something that happened 165 years ago, it feels eerily contemporary.

In the opening pages of his book, a section aptly subtitled “Sowing the Wind,” Catton is describing the mood of the U.S. Senate (and the nation really) as Senator Charles Sumner prepared and delivered a speech on the Senate floor denouncing slavery and calling for the territory of Kansas to be admitted to the Union as a free state.

A few days later, on the Senate floor, as a result of that speech, Sumner was attacked and almost beat to death with a cane by Preston Brooks, a senator from South Carolina, and a strong advocate for slavery and states’ rights.

It was May, 1856. The nation was just 5 years from the opening shots of a bloody civil war.