“The Latest Craze” By Richard Sale


The main stream media is making a big deal of Pokémon Go, and the spreading degree of its fame is stupefying.

It appears to me that the chief feature of culture today is the drive to be superficial. We are like schools of minnows, swerving this way and then that, with no settled direction or steadfast purpose except to keep ourselves distracted at all costs. Is that the true fate of ,mankind? To idolatrize gadgets and fiddle ourselves into inanity?

Is knowledge no longer valued for its own sake? What use is it? Why ponder over a thing, when you can turn on the TV. Do you think any TV listener could pass a quiz on what they just saw? Could they form a sound conjecture about its importance? Don’t things of real intellectual or moral worth require our focused attention? Popularity today is incessantly confused with the superior. Most of our TV programs end up being popularity contests where the less worthy opinions are listened to the most.

Why should we apply ourselves to the study of art or history? Why does history matter? The TV news incessantly mentions Islam. People’s reaction is to cringe. But what do people know about it? There is much more historical fact that corroborates Mohammed’s career than that of Jesus. The first gospels were written almost a century later after he died. But to many of the American public, Islam is a synonym for something distasteful that makes them afraid. Such a reaction is merely ignorant. Daniel Defoe once said that there were hundreds of warriors who vowed to end Popery without knowing if Popery was a man or a horse. That sums up the prejudice of most Americans about Islam.

Mohammed was a great man, but he was also a man of his time and place. The religion of the Arabs before him was a primitive one. Their holy of holies was the Kaaba, the black stone of Mecca. The black stone was the one to which the Amazons used to pray, according to Apollonius. Before Mohammad, the Arabs worshipped various goddesses. Allah himself was ancient. A thousand years before Mohammed, the Persians wrote,” Allah is exalted,” but he was only one of many deities.

Mohammed was not a man of the desert. He was a man of Mecca, a prosperous city on a major caravan route which largely controlled the trade between India and the Mediterranean. The prophet soon encountered the differences between the rich and the poor and took note of them. Aside from the Kaaba, he revered another accomplishment of the Arabs — their poetry. Because most Arabs were illiterate, they developed a prodigious capacity for memorization, and that talent preserved the Koran. In Mecca, there were colonies of Jews and Christians, and Mohammed knew a bit of the Jewish scriptures, once observing that the Jews worshipped Ezra as the son of God. (This was not true, however.) But he denied the divinity of Jesus and thought the Crucifixion was a Jewish falsehood. But for some explained reason Mohammad accepted the Virgin birth. (There were paintings of Jesus and Mary on the walls of the Kaaba.) He identified Allah with the Jewish and Christian God. He borrowed the idea of the Last Judgment and the resurrection of the flesh. ( I had always been suspicious of the Resurrection since one of my teachers at Columbia College told me of how Zoroaster, the Persian prophet, was torn to pieces by his followers but had risen after three days.)

After forty years of leading an obscure live of a successful businessman, Mohammad married a rich widow, and it was then that he was visited by the Angel Gabriel who dictated to him the revelation of Islam. It was a moment very much like that of St. Paul on the road to Damascus. From the beginning, Mohammed was opposed by the powerful and respectable at Mecca who thought him quite mad, and he fled to Medina. After he became a political and spiritual leadrs of his community, He waged war against the Meccans, intiating hostilities by raiding their caravans in the holy month of of the pilgrimmace when war was forbidden. He justified his aggression by preaching war against idolators as a sacred duty (jihad.) With a force of three hundred he routed a thousand Meccans in the battle of Badr and proved his generalship by holding off numerous counterattacks.

He may have preached an other worldly message, but he himself was a worldly man. He had a shrewd grasp of economic and political topics. He had eleven wives and enjoyed the company of concubines. He was addicted to war, but at that time who was not? Europe was going through the Dark Ages. If Mohammed could be ruthless he could also be kind, generous and magnanimous, He was an attractive person, shy, fond of jokes and fun, and was unfailingly courteous. He loved honey. He humbly shared his household chores with his wife, and was very indulgent of people’s failures. He died quietly and fearlessly.



Today’s aim for most people is not to become something butter. We chose the easier course without realizing that it will result in our becoming worse. Our age is one of narrowing interests. (An interest is merely a mental affection for something. ) The titanic struggles of the past are over. Why relieve them? At what point did we stop being discontented with ourselves? At what point did we think we didn’t need self improvement, that we were content with being typical, rather than being excellent.

We see what conceit brings. I study things like the battle for Stalingrad over and over and troubles me most is the mind of Hitler. He governed by whim and by tantrum. He led from the rear. That one human being, among all the other human beings, would claim to be gifted with infallibility is a fatuous idea.   Hitler and Stalin in many areas were blind, blind because of ignorant conceit. Prejudice mars and distorts your sight. Being right ends the struggle to improve, to obtain a more accurate picture of what you experience. Constant attempts to observe, to note new features on your subject, improves and perfects the mind. No gifted mind every wants to settle into being a mediocrity. Paying attention, repeated observations, help us to escape the commonplace. It takes selflessness to be attentive and observe.

There is a wonderful story about a student of the naturalist Louis Agassiz from one of his students. A new student presented himself to Agassiz one day. Agassiz took a fish from a jar in which it had been preserved, and told the student to observe the fish and be ready to write a report about what he had observed. The student observed the fish but did not see anything unusual about it. It was the same as the fishes he had earlier observed. The fish had fins, mouth and eyes and a tail. Within a half hour, he felt that he had observed everything worth knowing about the fish, but Agassiz did not reappear.

The student got restless. He grew bored and weary. Still no Agassiz. The student tried to find Agassiz but couldn’t and returned to his room.   He tapped his foot. Several hours had passed, and since he had nothing else to do, he thought he would revisit the fish. It seemed a waste of time, and he began to think that the reputation of Agassiz was overrated, but he had nothing better to do and began again. He counted the scales then he began to count the spines of the fins. Then he began to draw a picture of the fish and discovered it had no eyelids. He continued to draw the fish knowing that the pencil was another pair of eyes

Agassiz returned, gazed at the notes and the drawing, and appeared to be very disappointed in the student and left him alone with the fish. Offended, the student began again. He used his pencil and kept discovering new details and little by little he brought to light new details about the fish. After all this, the student felt he had learned a great deal about the fish, but he had also learned about patience and endurance while observing.

Years later, when the student became famous, he was reminded of his study and how his attention and concentration of focus had influenced every study he had done ever since.

Yet, look at such an episode today. I knew of a person who boasted of reading The Brothers Karamazov, and pleased, I asked them that their favorite character was? He could not name a single name. We half-read everything. We really don’t read. We glance. We don’t remember much beyond the headlines. What was that article about?  “It’ s in the New York Times.” But that hardly answers our question. We shed chance information the way a cat sheds hair.

A short time ago, I started to watch a James Bond film, directed by one Marc Forster, and the images on the screen lasted between a sixth of a second or a fifth to half a second, and one could not emerge with any decent idea of what the rapid succession of staccato and meaningless images was meant to convey.

Another thing always get under my skin. Today people act very proud to find that machines can do their work for them. We now have cars that drive themselves. Passengers can watch movies or play cards. Are they nuts? Driving demands focused attention, and it involves the mind in estimating distances, glancing at gaugues, estimating approaching velocities, noting the habits other drivers; it demands timing and reacting to unforeseen danger and threats. In other words, it demands that you react to intelligently to changing conditions with skill. Why abnegate the workings of the brain that driving requires in order to sit in the passenger seat like some tranquilized vegetable?

And the Pokémon Go craze. What are these things except new milestones of our march into organized triviality?

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53 Responses to “The Latest Craze” By Richard Sale

  1. Peter in Toronto says:

    I’m sorry, but Mohammad does not pass my litmus test for a prophet, which is simple:
    Did the alleged prophet expand his political influence, military power, gain tremendous wealth and access to fertile women as a result of his revelation (which of course took place in a secluded cave, with no witnesses)?
    His chat with the archangel Gabriel included among other things, farting etiquette (I can point to the correct Hadiths) and fashion tips for women. Somewhat petty for the messenger of God himself. The prophet than spent the rest of his days personally leading military campaigns and ordering the executions of his vanquished opponents, all in self defense, naturally.
    On the other hand, we have a tradesman who preached some cryptic stuff about God’s kingdom, died a virgin and in poverty.

  2. Thepanzer says:

    For most of human history the older generation complains about “kids these days”.
    Relax, the kids are alright.

  3. Bill H says:

    Is that the true fate of ,mankind? To idolatrize gadgets and fiddle ourselves into inanity? Sadly, yes.
    I patrol the internet seeking discussion groups which do not enforce a policy consisting of, “We do not want you to speak in this group unless you agree with us.” I do not refer to sites like this one which require civility, but ones which require conformity and which, in doing so, stifle actual thought.
    I agree with you on movies. Closeups flashed too fast for meaningful imagry. The much acclaimed Jason Bourne series strike me as annoyances for the most part.

  4. RHT447 says:

    My next bumper sticker—
    “Convenience is going to kill us all.”

  5. Cortes says:

    For those with no (or limited) Spanish, the gist of the following linked article is about the latest craze finding its way to Holocaust Museums, including Auschwitz…

  6. Ghostship says:

    Part of the problem is the amount of testing carried out in schools. Talking to a friend from school who had gone into teaching, I commented how good the public school we went to in teaching pupils to think for themselves and he replied that in the state school he currently worked in so much time was taken with preparing for tests and inspections that he had no chance of teaching children to think and anyway a lot of parents thought that was subversive in some way.
    Driving demands focused attention, and it involves the mind in estimating distances, glancing at gaugues, estimating approaching velocities, noting the habits other drivers; it demands timing and reacting to unforeseen danger and threats.
    After having an accident in a company car I was sent on a drive and survive course and the ex-police driver who instructed me pointed out that the average driver focused on the twenty two feet in front of him and that about 10% of his awareness was focused on what was going on around him. So for that kind of driver, cars that drive themselves are a good thing.

  7. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Richard Sale:
    Islam is not dependent on the Character of the Prophet – it is dependent on the belief in the Quran as the Word of God.
    The God of Quran is not the God of Nicene Creed; it has more in common with God of Jews and certain Christian sects that were declared heretical by the Council of Nicaea.
    As for Pokeman Go, it is just a game; adults need to learn to play games again – just as when they were children.

  8. Babak Makkinejad says:

    The Prophet was Man’s man – not some sort of dead-dog liberal forever apologizing for his physicality – which had been ordained by God.
    Islam is a religion for both War and for Peace – it does not encourage the fatuous hope in a false peace that will be never realized until such time as God creates a New Creation and a New Man.
    As for Jesus dying a virgin, says who?

  9. Babak Makkinejad says:

    My sentiment exactly!

  10. Thomas says:

    “As for Pokeman Go, it is just a game; adults need to learn to play games again – just as when they were children.”
    I agree Babak.
    Sometimes it is important to step back from living Life too intensely, remember its fascination, and continue to grow from it again.

  11. Lesly says:

    But the kids playing PoGo look old. Older and alone seemingly wandering around aimlessly. The game doesn’t seem to encourage organization/collaboration among friends?
    I also like how Niantic didn’t realize their app had access to our Google information for no legitimate reason and removed access after techs called them out in the media. How did they fail to notice that (feature)?
    The app is analogous to Tesla by encouraging users to suspend awareness of their surroundings. It’s a great way to set up an ambush. Maybe you can’t be all right to think that way.

  12. Harry says:

    The Jewish notion of what a prophet is is a man who rescues the people from a crisis by bringing them guidance from god.
    Mohammed clearly qualifies. And I think Jesus too.

  13. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    The Washington State Dept of Transportation @wsdot tweeted about PokemonGO’s #Eevee as a way to engage attention to driving.
    The original WSDOT tweet:
    “If your weekend includes looking for #Eevee on #PokemonGO, please do so safely. No Pokemoning from behind the wheel.”
    The tweet generated thousands of retweets and public ‘thumb’s up’.
    I thought it quite clever, and humor generally produces better results than scolding, IMVHO.
    That said, I truly enjoyed the section of this essay on the history of Islam.

  14. Tyler says:

    In the DC Holocaust Museum, you can catch Koffing, a pokemon filled with poison gas.
    I am not making this up.

  15. Jonathan says:

    Adults do need to learn to play games again. But better it’s not built around staring at screens running interference between them and the natural world. It is that which corrodes adults’ souls and from which they need to separate themselves more often. Whatever happened to good old horseplay and fantasia and sillines snd kindly, respectful lechery?

  16. JMH says:

    True Sir, it’s a game. My grandmother played Bridge and Backgammon, and I’m sorry to say that I don’t know how to play either of the two (however my older cousins were lucky enough to learn from her).

  17. Richard Sale says:

    You are dead on.

  18. Richard Sale says:

    I don’t agree. I have three wonderful children all of them excellent people but lots of times it is clear that lack many things that are worth knowing and would them people of wide culture.

  19. Richard Sale says:

    “to suspend awareness of their surrounding. Well said!

  20. Richard Sale says:

    Has there every been such a case?

  21. Richard Sale says:

    Islam is not dependent on the Character of the Prophet – it is dependent on the belief in the Quran as the Word of God.
    I thought it made that clear. I was doing a post, not a term paper.

  22. Fred says:

    They need to be more creative than that. Which one’s are “Make America Great Again” and the “Stronger Together” pokemon’s? Why in the City of Brotherly Love one could search all over for those things the founders created and in Cleveland you can search for the factories that were shipped out to make things with “low cost country” labor … But, sadly, I don’t see those ideas on Google. I do see that “It’s World Emoji Day! Teen girls, code an emoji that’s unique like you.” Boys need not apply…. How sexist of them.

  23. Fred says:

    I remember the “pet rock” fad from the 70’s. Whoever got rich off that fad deserved it but then again everyone was in on the joke. Here whoever is programing the app is vacuuming up data on millions of people. That’s worth far more to marketers (amongst others) than a one time sale of a gimmick. It is illustrative of the emptiness of men’s souls that they will engage in this for so long so as to avoid the void in their lives. The Banal Life on display for all the world to see.

  24. Tyler says:

    Of course. I keep bees for anger management, I also box, hunt, and make an excellent artisan cheese, among other skills.
    The obsession I’ve seen towards this game is ridiculous though. If they invested as much time into that as they did lifting, they would have a 400lb deadlift.

  25. Tyler,
    Good on you for keeping bees. They need all the help we can give them. For your artisan cheese, may I suggest this simple cheese that I always loved as a youth. We just sprinkled a little salt on it and ate it all the time… especially good with cabbage soup.

  26. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Most life is boring.

  27. MRW says:

    Read some history, Peter in Toronto.
    Can you handle 18 pages?
    The Making of Humanity by Robert Briffault, 1919
    Pages 184-202.
    This stuff was known 100 years ago, at least among the educated classes who had access to the church and synagogue translations preserved from the Christian monk and Jewish scribe pilgrimages to Islamic Cordova starting in the 9th C.

  28. MRW says:

    Best days of summer were working with my grandfather who kept bees and had a “Honey Hut.” I turned the whirligig thingey he either invented or was standard that dripped the honey from the combs via centrifugal force into the bottles below.
    Luxurious honey. Deep brown. The smell was out of this world. Grandpa raised bees and made honey for 40 years.

  29. MRW says:

    Apart from the glaring typos, this is a great post.

  30. Karl Kolchack says:

    It would greatly help your point about people not reading things carefully if you yourself would carefully edit what you write so that it isn’t full of typos, misspellings and awkward phrasings. Something “butter,” really? And the portion about Mohammed seemed like an irrelevant, wandering tangent that could have been excised and made into a whole separate post. Or maybe my problem is that I pay attention TOO closely.

  31. Fred says:

    You need imagination.

  32. Fred says:

    And here I was thinking “butter” wasn’t a spat of dyslexia but Joyce in action. Artist as a Young Man and all that.

  33. Henshaw says:

    The Koran may contain known historical facts, but that doesn’t make it history. Rather, it is the central feature of Islam’s origin myth. In the couple of centuries after Mohammad’s death, the new religion’s authorities went to some effort to find and eliminate texts at odds with their own teachings- one of the reasons that there is so little early Islamic material available, in contrast to the wealth of material available from the early Christianity.
    Most cultures and social entities have origin stories that legitimise their ancestral authority, origins, and relation to the cosmos. It’s a historian’s job to tease out the facts from the spin. There’s an interesting new book on the last days of the Prophet, reviewed at http://www.al-fanarmedia.org/2016/06/a-new-perspective-on-the-last-days-of-the-prophet/ , an analysis by Hela Ouardi, a Tunisian scholar, unfortunately only available in French so far.
    A key quote from the review is ‘The “genius” of the first caliph, Abu Bakr, writes Ouardi, was “to have understood before anyone else that a hold on collective memory is the foundation of the exercise of power: controlling the Koran and the sayings of the Prophet will constitute, for centuries, a foolproof tool of domination and legitimation of authority.”
    Sounds like an interesting read.

  34. Richard Sale says:

    Thanks for this.

  35. Richard Sale says:

    Thank you for the bees. Tolstoy kept them as well.

  36. Richard Sale says:

    I don’t think life is boring. It is boring for those who settle in mediocrity, who have given up trying to learn and improve. To lack purpose, is to vow to be consumed with apathy.

  37. Richard Sale says:

    I apologize for the typos. I read through it three times, but something I get another idea or a phrase, and put it in and don’t reread it for the fourth time.
    I’ll try to be better.

  38. Richard Sale says:

    The Gospels aren’t history, either.
    Abu Bakr was very corrupt, fashioning himself after Persian kings.

  39. Babak Makkinejad says:

    The dearth of material is not due to any sinister actions; it is because the Arab culture, indeed the Middle Eastern culture, has been a very oral one.
    Even the Sassanid Persia lacked, to any significant degree, a literary output comparable to the corpus of the your yard-stick, the Classical of Greco-Roman Civilization.

  40. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Arabs did not want Ali, and chose 3 successors in order to avoid Ali.
    Every single of the 4 successors was assassinated.

  41. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Henshaw & Richard Sale:
    A war has been raging for 60 years in Palestine because so many Jews and Christians believe in the existence of the Kingdoms of David and Solomon in there.
    That after more than 100 years of digging no shred of physical evidence has been found to corroborate the existence of those kingdoms has not penetrated the consciousness of the Shoah Cultists and assorted fellow-travelers.
    One picks a typical book on ancient Near East and the legends of Old Testament are treated as historical & archeological truth; which, at the same time, are being used to justify stealing Arabs’ lands – both Christian and Muslim.
    Rustam has more likelihood of having existed than Solonom and David.

  42. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I must have been wallowing in mediocrity for as many years – lacking purpose, consumed by apathy, and not knowing it.
    “Against boredom, god themselves must take up arms.”

  43. Richard Sale says:

    I realize I botched my own apology.

  44. Richard Sale says:

    I know.

  45. Richard Sale says:

    The legends of the Old Testament are ludicrous. There is no historical evidence that supports the Jews being enslaved by the Egyptians, for example.

  46. MRW says:

    😉 ✔✔✔ 😉
    How many times have I done that? And don’t start with me on what autocorrect does when I use my iPad. grrrr.
    I’ll try to be better. Let your wife have the last whack. Your articles deserve this over-attention because there’s a melody to your pieces that the words serve, and when they are missing, it’s jarring. Not many writers write for the ear.

  47. Henshaw says:

    Not ludicrous in the context in which they were written, and the audience they were directed to. An excellent discussion is Biblical scholar Thomas Thompson’s book ‘The Bible in History: how writers create a past’.
    Evidence for the big claims like the twin Kingdoms and the Exodus is lacking, but there is enough ‘truthiness’ in the mention of places and activities etc to potentially make it persuasive to a fifth century BC reader.

  48. Henshaw says:

    I can’t talk for today’s children, but when I was growing up, the Old Testament/Gospels were part of the furniture, accepted as part of mainstream Australia’s 1950s narrative, and not questioned. So when people came along making claims based on these widely accepted stories, they had a flying start.
    Anyone arguing to the contrary had a major task, ie they first had to disabuse the audience of parts of its comfortable childhood recollections, which can be uncomfortable, and likely to encounter resistance- kind of like explaining that there’s no Santa Claus.

  49. MRW says:

    See? html typo.

  50. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Life is tough.
    Both David and Solomon are mentioned in the Quran, yet no Muslim agrees to the Zionist program in Palestine or ever will.

  51. rjj says:

    were there that many readers – even among the people of the book? thought it was more likely to be hearers with ultra-high-capacity memories.

  52. Richard Sale says:

    Truthiness is far from history.

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