In reading Proud Beggars by Albert Cossery, I came across a quote that I can sympathize with. The book is set in the impoverished neighborhoods of Cairo and focuses on three men who have willfully chosen to live among the poor, finding pride in a more simple lifestyle. One of the three rogues even finds reason to envy the illiterate around him. They, after all, are blissfully unaware of the world and its constant penchant for crimes, humanity against humanity.
In a world that is getting so small it is feeling the pain of technological constriction, I could identify. “News,” whether it is absorbed online, from television, from radio, or from print media, is a constant drag on imagination, hope, and compassion. Instead, news has come to be fodder and fertilizer for hatred, as events and atrocities are immediately used by political interests for their own purposes (leading, predictably, to more events and atrocities).
Imagine, then, the bliss that could be had by technological exile. I have experienced this myself. Some twenty years ago, when we purchased a rundown cabin in the Maine wilds, I stayed there without television, Internet, or newspaper. Yes, I had radio, but it was only turned on for Red Sox broadcasts.
Thus did I discover true relaxation and bliss — without a lotus pose, without a mantra, without meditation. With the air cleared of the white noise from technology’s smokestacks, I was able to go about the humble business of living a simple life.
Reading Cossery’s words yesterday returned me to this experience. I don’t support illiteracy, certainly, but I can see how someone might purposely impose a state of “news illiteracy” on himself, as there is no end in sight to the evil men can imagine and then execute upon each other. It would be a simple matter of saving money by extracting the pricey television, the expensive cable TV box, and the equally costly Internet connection.
Of course, I would not be writing this now under these conditions, but I would be reading a lot more books and writing a lot more of my own words for artistic reasons, yes. Would life under such conditions be tolerable? Would it be condemned by others as “isolationism”?
Perhaps. And there’d be some degree of “baby” flying with “bath water,” I admit. But one could do it with good effect. And like the three protagonists in Cossery’s sharp little book, proudly and of one’s own volition, too.