I’m not usually a big fan of fiction, but long drives can turn me into a fan of almost any audio entertainment. Since the Nashville library has a decent audio book selection, I downloaded Farenheit 451 for a recent road trip. I didn’t know much about the novel, other than it dealt with burning books.
As I got into the plot, it turned out to be a bleak society in the future of Western civilization. In this case, the government mandates burning all unapproved literature as a means to keep the populace ignorant and happy. For as many futuristic stories as I can think of, virtually all of them reveal a dark, pessimistic view of mankind down the road. 1984, Atlas Shrugged, Brave New World, and even The Hunger Games adorn the lengthy Wikipedia page for dystopian novels. I’m not personally aware of any utopian novels about the future of mankind, though Wikpedia does list some.
Virtually all well-known literature supposes that we, as humans, will spiral into darkness. Sometimes it’s our penchant for consumption, other times it’s complete faith in government, but at its root, I think it points to a timeless truth: man is hopelessly messed up. This is something Western man seems to grasp regardless of worldview. Many struggle against it in their own ways. Some concede to a Hedonist worldview in light of it. Others, like the majority in the Ray Bradbury novel, want to remain ignorant at all costs. At our best, we seem to think the same broken people and tendencies that created the mess can turn it around. At our worst, we eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die (at our own hands).
For me, that’s something to ponder. How is it that the general consensus in literature and culture is that man is dark and broken, yet we flail helplessly with the same Enlightenment and Modernist constructs which began our perceived downward spiral? Why does Western man increasingly shun timeless truths and wisdom and pursue destruction our own authors and poets foresee we will bring upon ourselves?