A few observations about the means and the ends of civilization

A couple of years ago a newspaper article started circulating among the people I used to hang out with back in college. This article was an interview with a twenty-something years old woman who happened to be a big fan of the American actress Kristen Stewart.

Before getting to the point of this post and why I’d even bring this up  I’d just like to mention that since the woman in the article, to the best of my knowledge, isn’t a public person, I’ll err on the side of caution and not name her here, I will instead keep referring to her as “the woman in the article”. After all I don’t know if she meant her media appearance to be a one time thing, you don’t need to know her identity to see where I am going with this etc. I hope you can see that I’m at least approaching this with the best intentions and that is all I have to say about that.

Having made that clear, lets get back to the topic. Saying that the woman in the article was a “big fan” of Ms. Stewart is an understatement, she owned a Stewart-themed pillow case, had seen the Twilight movies many times each at the theater and on her spare time she created and posted videos on Youtube where she compiled funny or interesting appearances by the actress. She mentioned having gone to a fan event attended by Kristen Stewart in Europe and in the interview described it as the best day of her life.

It’s not difficult, I assume, for you to imagine the kind of derision this received from some of my college acquaintances. They were all critical of the whole thing, they had been mocking the Twilight movies for a while anyway, this just gave them more ammunition. A few jokes and stalker references were thrown around and so on. Of course that last part wasn’t serious, nothing about the interview gave us the impression that the woman in the article had somehow bothered Ms. Stewart personally. The article also said she worked as a nurse somewhere, which meant that she spent a lot of time doing other stuff, very important stuff in fact.

A few weeks after I read that interview I noticed that I was still thinking about it more than seemed reasonable. I imagined discussing the interview with certain other people at collage, people of the, shall we say, “social justice warrior”-persuasion, who whatever else they might have to say on the subject probably would have been skeptical of a bunch of male computer nerds making fun of the woman in the article. The first arguments I saw myself laying out should this hypothetical debate actually come to pass were of the most obvious kind, that this was unproductive behavior and so on, that this woman’s hobby, if we can call it that, was a byproduct of a society where people are too comfortable for their own good.

It kept gnawing on me for a while. There was no reason to think that the SJWs would confront me on this of all people, they hadn’t actually heard us talking about the woman in the article and me and the SJWs rarely debated about anything anyway. But I kept feeling defensive, like I of all people had to have something intelligent to say about this interview.

I started imagining other people, people more conservative than both the SJWs and me, ranting about how the interview was a sign of the times. How it just showed that these days people were getting obsessed with all kinds of nonsense instead of going out and doing something productive. I had thought about all that myself before, but imagining certain other individuals say it still bothered me.

Why is it, I started asking, that some people talk like they resent the fact that we in the west are now so safe and and comfortable and well fed that we have started taking it for granted and instead can chose to spend our time on doing things just because we enjoy them? Isn’t that the condition that all celebrated human endeavor seems to accomplish? Isn’t that what we wish for the less fortunate parts of the world, that they reach a state where they can also take certain things for granted?

I’m not saying here that I understand or relate to the woman in the article’s enthusiasm for making Kristen Stewart videos, nor know exactly how much time she spends on it or claim that it is or isn’t too much. But neither do I understand why it should be completely outrageous that she feels like she can do that after coming home from her job as a nurse, instead of foraging for food or training for war or doing something else “responsible”.

I’m not particularly worried either, having read that interview, that society is going downhill as I can guess that certain others are. I would be more worried if I never heard about people like that woman, to be honest. If everyone I met or heard about acted like they were not sure they would have food on the table the following day or if they would have a house to live in I would be far more worried.

It seems to me that everything we usually call advances of civilization, from modern agriculture to peace between nations, aims at making people free to spend some time doing something else then just supporting their own existence. When put like that the woman in the article may  indeed still be a sign of the times. But a complete absence of people with similar odd and “unproductive” habits would also be a sign, though probably a worse one.

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