I have not been educated by “the world,” but by a community of conservative Lutherans. Therefore, my struggle is one less blatantly engaged with the animal perversions of American materialism and consumerism depicted in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. My ears are trained electric fences, charged to repel psychological advertising, and my eyes are fixed forward with blinders as I walk down aisles of want in the store. Because my life is not so intimately married with mass culture and its endless wanting, I tend to assume I am immune. I comfortably forget my world’s less obnoxious, intellectual corruptions as they quietly burrow within me.
As a student, intellect prescribes my worldly success. By conventional standards, my success is defined by my ability to regurgitate a teacher’s lecture or replicate what has been shown. On page 55, Beatty explains the world’s focus on doing and building things instead of pondering them. “Life is immediate, the job counts,” he says. With standardized testing, STEM classroom obsession, multiple choice answers, and business-oriented job preparation, my world emphasizes predefined achievement. Math teachers ask how equation is used, not why; science teachers list lab procedures instead of opening up for student suggestion. In this way, my intelligent thought is morphed from an eye-opening, freeing mode of interaction to a mere tool for completing tasks. My gift to witness the world then becomes a burden of obligation.
At Lincoln Lutheran, some of the dreary, production-line process is replaced with “combustible” ideas. We have “philosophies, histories and languages” in our core curriculum and I am encouraged to chase my own original thoughts in essays and presentations. I ponder not only the process, but also the motive – the morals implications and consequences – and discover for myself a larger pattern to appreciate. There is worldly corruption lurking, however. I sense in myself an obsessive urge to please teachers, and achieve standards before working out my own convictions. I feel an “impatience” to construct the perfectly polished essay, and become frustrated when my genuine thoughts won’t fit the template. Unlike Bradbury’s civilians, who are impatiently riding highways to go “somewhere, somewhere, nowhere (Bradbury, p. 57),” I try to get somewhere, and achieve something by completely filling the requirements of my surroundings, willfully conforming by my “dread of being inferior” (p. 59). It is a tiring pursuit for worldly belonging.
Clearly, I am affected by the world outside Lincoln Lutheran. As I am secluded from, but not intellectually untouched by the world, so also Granger lives outside the city, but cannot escape its sway. His intellect conforms to his world’s obsession with doing things. He states, “it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you change something from the way it was… into something that’s like you” (p. 157). I constantly feel the same pressure. My world tells me to earn my value through the things I accomplish. My conduct is valued by its magnitude of influence, not by its pertinence, while my fruitless thoughts are ignored. When guiding moral ideas are thrown out in place of impulsive action, I end up like Montag, spewing out hatred’s destructive fire, extinguishing life in the flames. By worldly standards, one anger can replace another (p. 109). The intensity of the fire “destroys responsibility and consequences,” justifying mindless injury (p. 115). If I am confident in my truth, the secular world says I don’t have to be right.
Although my world is not based on these shifting absolutes, my intellect mirrors this worldly corruption – it has mastered self-preservation. My present arguments can be used to justify past arguments like “flowers trying to live on flowers,” without ever touching truth (p. 83). Beatty says, “even the Devil can cite scripture for his purpose” as he quotes famous works to intentionally confuse Montag (p. 106). I readily use this quick, witty intelligence to cripple any incriminating arguments against me. By my resistance, I feel more self-secure, although I am drifting. I run from change and so I am always running from myself. Bradbury warns me that if I hide my fault, no one will hit me and I will never learn (p. 104). His direct severity is like a punch to the gut. I realize that, with the truth-hungry persistence of logic and reason, I eagerly bury my reality.
I contribute to the chaotic, twisted world around me. It is a reflection of the confusion in me. Despite Bradbury’s violent conclusion, devastation is not the solution to my broken world. No person, no bomb could possibly “dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in and cover it up” (p. 164). Each member of my world is broken, each one living both as victim and the assailant. The corruption is deep and realizes many forms of expression. If the intellect is freed, it will willingly conform. The solution is not in systematically controlling the madness: that has been tried and has failed. The end is in understanding “[I’m] not important. [I’m] not anything” (p. 163). I can’t do anything to fix my world, and that is my response.