Amusing Ourselves to Death

amusingourselvestodeath

Posted by Shelbi

“Everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist a prison when the gates begin to close around us. We take arms against such a sea of troubles, buttressed by the spirit of Milton, Voltaire, Jefferson…But what if there are no cries of anguish to be heard? Who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements? To whom do we complain, and when, and in what tone of voice, when serious culture dissolves into giggles? What is the antidote to a culture’s being drained by laughter?”

Amusing Ourselves to Death was written in 1985, but reading it is like reading something published yesterday. Before the internet or cell phones, Neil Postman (who died in 2003) wrote this powerful book as a warning against…television.

“The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter, but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining.” -Chap. 6

When George Orwell wrote the book 1984 in the 1940’s, he prophesied oppressive government that would conceal truth and hide information. When Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931, he predicted the opposite: “There would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.” Instead of being deceived about the real state of things, which Orwell feared, people would be given so much trivial information so quickly that important things would drown in a sea of irrelevance. Instead of being held captive kicking and screaming, they would love their oppression and adore what undoes their ability to think.

As the author states in the preface to Amusing Ourselves to Death, “This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”

Exploring and analyzing not only television but also the “Age of Show Business” in general, this book shows how completely our culture has been taken in by the lies “entertainment is the highest good” and “we exist solely to be amused”.

I especially liked chapter 9, called “Reach Out and Elect Someone”, which is about how politicians put themselves forward as sources of amusement to better their chances of being elected; and also chapter 7, which is titled “Now…This”.

There is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devastating, no political blunder so costly–for that matter, no ball score so tantalizing or weather report so threatening–that it cannot be erased from our minds by a newscaster saying, “Now…this.” The newscaster means that you have thought long enough on the previous matter (approximately 45 seconds), that you must not be morbidly preoccupied with it (let us say, for 90 seconds), and that you must now give your attention to another fragment of news or a commercial. -Chap. 7

Amusing Ourselves to Death alerts us to the real danger of this state of affairs, and offers helpful suggestions as to how not only resist the current “media onslaught”, but also recognize the ways we’re unconsciously letting media shape our lives.

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World War I & World War II {The Rest of the Story}

WWIbook

Posted by Shelbi

I first picked up a Richard Maybury book four months ago, when I finally got around to reading Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?, which has been on our shelf for years. (Read my review of that one here.) I have now read 6 of his books, and think I can officially say that he is one of my all-time favorite authors.

After reading Whatever Happened to Penny Candy, I went on to read the two sequels, The Money Mystery and The Clipper Ship Strategy. All three of these principally deal with economics. (The Clipper Ship Strategy, which deals with practical ways for anyone (but especially businesses) to survive and thrive in a government-controlled economy, was my favorite of the economics trilogy. Though I’m not a businessman (obviously), it was one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read.) The fourth book I read was Whatever Happened to Justice?, a look at different governments and legal systems.

Last week I finished World War I: The Rest of the Story and How It Affects You Today. This week I finished World War II: The Rest of the Story and How It Affects You Today.

My perspective on the Spanish-American War (1898), the U.S. conquest of the Philippines, the Great White Fleet, Theodore Roosevelt, WWI, WWII, America, Britain, Germany, Japan, the Soviet Union, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, the Truman Doctrine, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, September 11, 2001, and the present-day War on Terror–in short, my entire perspective on American history and American government (and alot of other things)– has been completely changed.

“The U.S. Government and Hollywood tend to see things in terms of good guys versus bad guys.

The Hollywood view of the World Wars…is not truth. It is not even a half-truth. It is a deception.

Neither World War was a straightforward battle between good and evil. Both were much more complicated, and good vs. evil had little to do with either of them.”             – World War I: The Rest of the Story

Written from a non-statist viewpoint, these books challenge the common ideas that the two World Wars were battles between good and evil, that America had to intervene in both to “save the world” from depraved dictators who wanted to conquer the earth, and that World War II is the ultimate justification for American intervention in every corner of the globe today. The author shows how every war America has been involved in since the beginning of the 20th century can be traced back to the Spanish-American war of 1898, when the U.S. Government first meddled in a quarrel not their own.

The Axis’ side of the story is honestly and fairly portrayed in both books, and really gets you thinking. For example, the official version of World War II history says that the Japanese woke up one morning in December 1941 and decided to attack the United States, just for the sheer fun of it, and because they were more inherently evil than most other nations. (Incidentally, this is also the official explanation for the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.) Japan in 1941 was a primitive nation of fishermen, very unlike the highly developed Japan of today. In 1941 no one stopped to ask why this extremely underdeveloped country would attempt to take on the world’s biggest superpower, just like in Sept. 2001 no one thought to ask, “Why do these people hate us?” This book provides answers to both questions.

WWIIbook

Though primarily focused on the World Wars, these books go alot deeper and alot farther than most. The reasons, the economics, and the global politics of both wars are examined in-depth, as are the decades that both preceded and followed them. I recommend these highly to anyone who doesn’t wish to swallow the government’s explanation of its own actions without first taking a look at what the facts suggest. Remember, history is written by the victors.

Sketches From Church History

sketches

Posted by Kevin

I love church history. In March of 2010, as I inspected the book table at the Generations With Vision Family Economics Conference in Castle Rock, Colorado, I came across what I knew would prove to be a great tool to teach my family about our Christian heritage – S.M. Houghton’s Sketches From Church History: An Illustrated Account of 20 Centuries of Christ’s Power (Banner of Truth, 1980). The book is what it claims to be – a ‘sketch’ of church history. For example, the life and work of one of my favorite reformers, John Knox, is covered in just a few pages, whereas larger church history works may have several pages or even a chapter devoted to his life. Certainly there are whole books that detail his work to reform his native Scotland, but let me get back to the ‘sketch’. The book’s 250 pages are divided up nicely into 50 chapters of roughly 2 – 5 pages each. Perfect. I think it a great resource for fathers to use in walking their families through an introduction to church history. If you are constantly looking for tools to use in your family’s discipleship as I am, and you have a desire to educate your family in church history, I think you will find the book to be of great value. (Sketches, along with its accompanying Student Workbook by Rebecca Frawley, can be purchased from Monergism Books.)

Let me give you a taste for what you’ll read. Referring to one of the major turning points in the history of the Church (indeed of the world), the year 311 when Constantine rose to power in the Empire and signaled the end of the centuries long, severe persecution of the Church, Houghton writes:

Was it a change for the better? Yes, and No! Persecutions ended, for the Emperor
now became a defender of the Christian faith… Churches were built for Christian
worship, and bishops and preachers received liberal salaries from the State. The
Christian Sunday was recognized as a day of rest on which ordinary work was
forbidden and even Christian soldiers were permitted to attend the services. All
this was certainly a great blessing for the people of God; it was a great calm
after a severe and prolonged storm. But with toleration came danger. It now
became on honor and a distinction to be a Christian. The best positions in the
State and community were given to them. The Christians became leaders
everywhere. It was only natural that many pagans turned to Christianity, not
because their hearts were converted to the living God, but to gain position and
promotion. Jesus would have said to them, ‘Ye seek Me because ye did eat of the
loaves’ (John 6:26); that is to say, to seek earthly gain. ‘Woe unto you when
all men speak well of you’ (Luke 6:26) ran another word of warning. Most
certainly worldly men were undesirable members of the Church.
And how the outward appearance of the Church changed! If peace came to the Church, so too
did worldliness…Quality was sacrificed to quantity. The fire of persecution had
kept the Church pure; toleration resulted in the introduction of elements which
boded ill for the future. (pgs. 20-21)

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy

penny candy
Posted by Shelbi

Richard J. Maybury’s book Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? is written as a series of fictional letters from an economist to his nephew. The book covers everything related to money, from inflation to currency to the stock market to the climbing national debt. It is filled with charts, engaging illustrations and is replete with examples from history, covering the economic troubles and triumphs of the ancient Roman Empire, the American stock market crash and Great Depression of the 1930’s, and the desperate plight and consequent rebuiling of the German economy after World War II.

From the preface:

“This book is written for people who think economics, business, or money is beyond them and best left to experts. As a technique to keep the explanations as clear and simple as possible, the book is in the form of a series of letters that might have been written by the uncle of a ninth-grade student. The student has asked about inflation and recession, and the uncle, an economist, is answering.
When possible, the letters explain by describing historical events. These cover both ancient and modern history, with special attention to the Roman Empire.
Topics include:
-Money, its origin and history
-The dollar, its origin and history
-The business cycle
-Inflation
-Recession
-Depression
-Foreign currencies
-Government, its economic behavior
-and much more.”

Also helpful are the many quotes in the back of the book from America’s founding fathers about their vision for America’s economic system. Another interesting aspect of the book was its listing of every country in the world in alphabetical order and giving a brief survey of that country’s legal and economic freedom.