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Step 9: The Passive Life

Busy contemplating the active life instead of living it.

Apparently, if we watch a master practice his/her craft over and over, we start to think we can do it. If you watch a video teaching you to moonwalk about 20 times, your confidence that you can do it soars. Then you try it, and you are just as bad as someone who watched it once. This tendency, where you watch videos of people building things and you feel the satisfaction of completion, can become a stand-in for real action.

Applying this to the idea of the “active life” and the “contemplative life” we turn to Boris Groys, the contemporary philosopher. He discusses the role of movies as a parody of the active life: movies champion action (vita activa), but to participate in them we must sit on our butts. This contradiction becomes even richer when you consider that we are not even contemplating (vita contemplativa) while we watch most movies. We are completely passive (vita passiva) observers.

This schism between worshiping the active life by spectating, instead of doing, promotes a passivity in all things. Living through the external entertainments provided, living in fantasy, allows for a withdrawal from the active life and a reduction in unique action. As Groys mentions, even our contemplative life is now inadequate, leading to nothing, simply a repetitive gesture. In which case, action might be all that’s left: work yourself back to being unique.


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References/Resources

Hidden Brain “Close Enough” [link]

Boris Groys “Comrades of Time” [link]

Study “Easier Seen Than Done: Merely Watching Others Perform Can Foster an Illusion of Skill Acquisition” by Michael Kardas, Ed O’Brien [link]

Study “The brain and TV” [link]

By Ryder Richards

Ryder is an artist based in Texas who happens to do other things, like reading, writing, and woodworking.

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