February 22nd, 2009

A Night of Distraction

I'm more interested in the Oscars than usual. I've always liked watching them. But this year, with its wave after wave of depressing news, seems to call for collective celebration of our capacity to distract ourselves from the world's problems. I was going to write, "distract ourselves from what really matters," but then I realized that the capacity to be distracted may be precisely what does matter to us most, whether in terms of defining what makes us human or helping us survive times in which need threatens to turn each of us into homo homini lupus, willing to devour the humanity in others with eyes that see only meat. The philosopher Martin Heidegger asserted that it is our boredom that distinguishes us from other creatures. His underlying premise is that animals can't help but be captivated by whatever mobilizes the force of instinct, whereas we humans can. Having witnessed the failure to be captivated of animals in captivity, I am skeptical of his claim. But the corollary notion to his thesis, that humans are especially prone to be moved by things that seem to run counter to both their instincts and their self-interest, strikes me as highly plausible. At any rate, I am sufficiently distracted by the procession of gowns that further speculations on what makes us watch spectacles, a.k.a. The Spectacle, will have to wait.