Steven 1: Distractions

I am going to start this study by describing the most eye-catching feature of Steven’s life: the way he spends his time. This will also allow me to mention most of the themes that I will come back to, in time.

So, how does Steven spend his time? Mainly playing videogames. And this is valid both for the summer vacation and term time (Steven is a university student): Steven spends at least about 30 hours a week (unless something prevents him from doing so) playing videogames. When he is not disturbed by many commitments and chores, or when he finds a game he is particularly interested in, that value can easily reach the 50, even 60 hours a week, with peaks of more than 20 hours of gaming in 2 days. It’s safe to say he plays videogames at least as much as he sleeps, if not more. Besides the other obvious activities, like eating, Steven’s life beside videogames consists of watching tv series and films; he reads at night, before sleeping, but almost never during the day. Sometimes he listens to music, and occasionally he plays the guitar (he has an acoustic and an electric, but doesn’t touch them more than once every 2 weeks). Every day he checks Amazon for free music and kindle books, or cheap CDs. Studying doesn’t come to more than a couple of hours a day even during exam time. In separate, appropriate sections I will focus on the kind of videogames he plays and how he relates to them; the same will be done, in brief, for films and books. An entire section will be devoted in particular to Guitar Hero, and its relationship to the real guitar. In the meantime, I would like to note the absence of any “active” or “productive” activity: no writing of any kind, no diary or journal, no form of art, no volunteer work, in short nothing brought into the world by him, or affected by his existence. He even dropped out of the gaming clan he belonged to, for lack of will to be part of something more than his little world. When this individual will die, what will remain of him will be the save files from his games.

On his desk we find his computer (with which he plays most videogames), a DVD player and a small television. There’s little place to write or read an actual book on his desk. Beside a mug full of pens and a pair of iPod speakers, there are just a lot of knick-knacks: a lava lamp, a small Newton’s cradle, a mug-holder, and other smaller things that clutter the desk, although with a vague sense of order. Sometimes, his Kindle and his Nintendo DS find their place there as well. The posters on the wall are ordinary, and sometimes generic: an optic illusion poster, a Pink Floyd one, a “suicide bunny” one, a poster with funny street signs, one with the Rolling Stone’s mouth and one with some famous rock artists’ guitars. In the kitchen, another television connected to a VHS player, an Xbox 360 (his secondary source of gaming) and a PS2.

Another important thing Steven likes to do is getting reduced stuff at supermarkets. Not only he always looks at the reduced section when he actually goes shopping, but he often goes there for the only purpose of finding items that are reduced for clearance and freezing them. He finds some kind of joy in the very act of getting things for a very low price, for, although not rich, Steven would easily be able to afford shopping normally without great concerns. Moreover, he doesn’t need them: his cupboards and freezers, both in the house we share and at his own house, are always full, but if he finds something cheap, even if he already has it, he will buy more. And, what shocked me the most, he, together with a couple of members of his family, often do the so-called “reduced runs” on Sunday; that is, they go to every supermarket and shop in the area in order of closing time to get reduced items from all of them.

Some observations that I would like to do immediately, before getting in depth in each theme: the life of this individual, it seems to me, is utterly empty. He is, of course, one of the persons that said that he may get a part-time job because he doesn’t have anything to do anyway. (Cf.: This Post) To me, that sounds like an admission that his life is empty, that he has nothing to do with the time he has been given. (Cf.: Gandalf in The Lord of The Rings: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us”) He is a “bored” individual in constant, almost physiological need of entertainment, of distractions. (It will be even clearer, further on, that his fruition of books, music, films, videogames etc. is only and purely a source of entertainment, never of art or of personal enrichment) Distractions from what, I cannot be sure. To me they look like distractions from living. From thinking and realizing and feeling the huge lack of value and meaning in his actions.

Frankly, I find it a desolate life, and even, to some extent, offensive to the dignity of human beings (to borrow Kantian terms) insofar as he has a need to anesthetize all that makes him human (his rationality, as well as his emotions) for they find themselves restless, so unused and without purpose. He doesn’t keep up with the news, and doesn’t vote, and I strongly suspect he doesn’t watch television only because, in its passivity, it’s not anesthetizing enough, it’s not as effective a drug as gaming is (or rather can be) through its active engagement of a person’s attention. (Note: Actively engaging a person’s attention is no way related to a meaningful, intelligent task; surely intelligent activities require attention, but crosswords or puzzles do so as well, and they are not meaningful tasks.)

I asked him if he ever asks himself: “After being entertained for hours on end, then what?” He answered no, and by the tone I suspect he may not even have really understood the question. Distraction has developed to the point that it is not a means to forgetting something, but an end in itself. Distraction has succeeded in distracting him from why he wanted to be distracted in the first place. Frankly, hearing him deny any kind of thought about himself, his life, purpose or meaning, scared me, for I felt as if my housemate was something different than human, maybe less than human.

PS.: As for my point of view in judging (so as to answer some possible objections concerning the fact that I may be prejudiced) I myself practice, to some extent, most of those activities as well. I read, I watch films and tv series, I play the guitar, I listen to music and I play videogames. I almost never criticize the activities themselves, but rather how they are carried out, the attitude, the thought (or lack thereof) behind them.

Steven: Introduction

“If what you say doesn’t make someone angry, you’re not doing philosophy properly”

Recently, I have made a mistake in my life. I have moved. Now, that’s not the mistake. Nor the house choice is a mistake. (Well, a little bit) The person I’ve moved with was the mistake. But by the time I had realized it, I had already committed to it, and couldn’t really change my situation.

Now, this person (let’s call him Steven) is the kind of person I was when I was 10, and maybe even when I was 15; and the kind of person I could still be now, if I hadn’t “woken up”. But I’m still trying to change, and grow up, and become better, and that old me hasn’t totally abandoned me yet, despite my efforts. But seeing the materialized “old me” right in front of me does make me want to change more. He is the kind of life I despise and want to avoid at all costs, and yet the kind of life I always fear my life could be, if I give up. It’s always there, like a shadow, like the temptation of being lazy despite knowing that you will hate yourself a little bit more if you waste yet another day.

What I want to start here is a sort of philosophical investigation on that kind of life, using my housemate Steven as a case study. I want to delve deeper into that kind of life, what it is like, what it implies; to point out clearly and precisely what is so disgusting about it, and by opposition (re)defining what I want to be and not want to be. As a consequence, I hope it will push me to become a better person myself.

I realize this may make me look like a liar, a person that speaks about others behind their back, while pretending to like them. But things are not like that. I have tried to tell him some of the things I am going to talk about. Once I have even called him “Nietzsche’s Last Man”. But he will not listen. And if he does, he will forget as soon as he finds another distraction. (Distraction will become one of the key words in this study.) Most of the times he doesn’t understand what I’m talking about, and when he does, he ignores it, forgets it, or contests it by saying that “it’s just your opinion”; this sort of sceptic relativism, though, is not a proper point of view, but simply a technique behind which he tries to shelter by attempting to degrade my arguments to “just my opinion”, therefore equally valid as his or anyone else’s opinion. I realize what I say is an attack to his very own way of living, and if he took me seriously he would have to turn his life around, and he doesn’t want to. (Cf.: Plato’s cave) Since I have to live with him after all, I have decided to stop telling him these things because it’s pointless to argue with him and it will just lead us to fight, with no benefit to either of us.

Another disclaimer before starting: it may look, in fact, arrogant of me to judge people’s lives. If it is arrogant to judge in itself, then let it be so. But the fact that I judge others harshly doesn’t mean I don’t judge myself just as harshly, if not more. A little Socratically, I only claim for myself the genuine attempt at analysing and changing my own life for the better, an effort I don’t see in many people, who are often not even aware of the problem to begin with. I dare to judge, but I don’t put myself in a higher position than anyone else. In fact, I criticize myself a lot more than it is healthy, constantly over-analysing and second-guessing myself. Besides, I give reasons and arguments for my judgements, and I honestly try to recognize when I am proven wrong; if so, I take responsibility for my mistakes and apologise appropriately, but still knowing that I have been honest, and I have done my best all along.