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Slow down and think, please

I have come to want my culture slow. I realized this while nearly twitching into an epileptic fit at the local cinema as I was flooded with cranked up sound, explosions, jump cuts, and flashing light, and this was a preview for a quiet, love story.

I have come to want my culture slow.

I realized this while nearly twitching into an epileptic fit at the local cinema as I was flooded with cranked up sound, explosions, jump cuts, and flashing light, and this was a preview for a quiet, love story.

These previews appeal to teenagers, but why are filmmakers driving adults away? How did the appetites of children take over this medium with so much possibility for great art? I know many people like myself who don’t go to the cinema any more merely because we’re tired of having our eyes, ears, and intelligence insulted.

I blame the computer and it’s lightning-like technological leaps which may doom us yet. Digital technology has allowed the world to both shorten and speed up. Everything is in quick flashes, sound bites, twitters and textings. These give the report but not the understanding.

Which is why our culture rushes from Susan Boyle (remember her from two months ago?) to swine flu to Michael Jackson. It’s a drug. Shock news alters the brain waves and automatically attracts our attention, so that we have become a variety of Pavlovian dog tracking tragedy to celebrity to tragedy without ever understanding the complex story behind them.

Our media, feeding on this, are engaged in a “race to the bottom—the lowest common denominator.” And the race is speeding up.

It’s also occurring in almost all our media. As Bruce Springsteen said: “There’s 57 channels (and nothing’ on).” He was underestimating. My television receives 500 channels and there’s still nothing on except for a scant, half-dozen intelligent stations. Take the radio. It’s an absolute bonanza of nothing, except perhaps the CBC and that’s being dumbed down to resemble the programming its supposed to provide a cultural alternative to.

Modern radio consists of either indistinguishable “golden-oldies” stations, sound-alike rappers, or talk radio (sometimes known as shout radio). Shout radio is where semi-intelligent, self-centred people shout abuse at semi-intelligent, self-centred people. This ranting is called public debate.

For those of us who can remember when debates were intelligent and respectful, these new confrontations can be fascinating (like a traffic accident) momentarily, and then the heart fills with sorrow.

Sometimes I wonder if our dollar-dominated culture and rushed consumer lifestyle is making everyone cranky.

When the Conservative attack-and-insult ads sneer at Michael Ignatieff because he’s a “cosmopolitan” their subliminal message is that Canadians should admire television-watching, mall-gratified lunkheads who don’t go anywhere and don’t know anything and who don’t write books about difficult subjects.

I’m no great admirer of Ignatieff’s politics but I can respect his intelligence and urbanity in an era where the word “intellectual” has become a smear.

These kinds of attack ads insult us as well as the candidates, yet the polls show they are successful. Ignorance obviously appeals to us. Will our next debate sound like this? “I’m more stupid than you are. That means I’m a real Canadian.”

Prime Minister Harper’s mean-minded advertisements and the vicious sniping at any demonstration of intelligence and culture on Joe-the-Plumber Fox News too easily makes me recall the monstrous behaviour of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia ... when they got hold of teachers and doctors and scientists and writers.

All these musings about the race to the bottom and our speeded-up culture got me thinking of bailing out and taking my culture slow—reading more books and fewer advertising fliers, ignoring more e-mails, and cutting back on television and Hollywood films which I find less interesting every week.

Observe the animals. They move slow, live slow, relax fully, and then move in sudden bursts of energy when necessary, before they relax once again. How many of us enjoy the world as well as our cats? How many pay as much attention to the world as a chicken or deer?

The rage to do everything at once is a behavioural trait that’s led to actions as diverse as the threatened destruction of the Peel Watershed and the war on drugs—which is a war on unhealthy people and actually creating more pain and crime than the addiction itself.

It’s the kind of thinking that inspired an admired News columnist, Al Pope, to advocate censorship against hate speech. But hate and hateful speech will never be stopped by laws. Worse yet, censorship always backfires and is misused against legitimate dissent and investigative journalism, as has happened in the US and is happening in Canada.

Hate crimes and drug addictions can only be treated by taking the longer, slower route of educational and economic opportunity—creating healthy lifestyles for the poor, the ignorant, and the disturbed, not by hiring more police.

For instance, Portugal recently abandoned the war on drugs to the horror of its neighbours. With its new program of minor fines, workshops, withdrawal programs, and counselling, its drug use and crime rate has fallen to the lowest in Europe.

These thoughts got me thinking about how to make slow culture, and to my surprise, when I began researching I discovered there’s a growing number of people devoted to it. They call themselves the slow movement. There’s even a World Institute of Slowness.

Beginning with the now celebrated protests at the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome in 1986, it began as the slow food movement, which has expanded worldwide as people discover that real food doesn’t have to belong to the rich and that fast food can be dangerous and culturally expensive.

Web pages are devoted to the slow movement, and a book has become its rallying cry: In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore. Slow food. Slow travel. Contemplation. Relaxation. That sounds good to me!

So do yourself and the world a favour—slow down. Calm down. Take a walk. Enjoy a dinner. Stare at a campfire. Lie on a blanket with your partner/child/dog/friends under the stars.

We only have one life and it’s a shame to waste it rushing about, ignorant and angry, when we can be dwelling in the joyful richness of the world.

Brian Brett, poet, journalist, novelist, lives on Salt Spring Island and returns to the Yukon whenever he can. His most recent book of poetry and prose is Uproar’s Your Only Music.