Do you remember the “Life of Julia,” the campaign ad the Obama administration put out in 2012? It was a mix of consolation and creepiness. A girl named Julia is portrayed at several stages of her life; in every stage, the government is taking care of her—and at pretty much each stage, that’s it, no one but Julia and Big Mother watching over her. There are two complementary objections to this vision: the overwhelming government involvement for one, and the profound loneliness, the lack of other relationships, such as mother, brother, or God.
The modern welfare state demands an exclusive relationship on one hand, and promises, on the other, fulfillment of needs. But here’s the kicker. This is essentially the demand and promise of YouTube also.
Let’s go deeper into the Life of Julia first, and address the essence of modern social welfare programs: The only interdependent relationship a human being has is with his or her government, at least in the areas of health, education, and financial stability.
“Life of Julia” is a kind of flipbook; one can choose to see what’s happening to Julia at various ages, from 3 to 67. The first page, “Age 3,” sets the depersonalizing tone with the passive voice: “Under President Obama: Julia is enrolled in a Head Start program to help her get ready for school.” No mention of mom or dad, or even of parents. Through government programs, she’s propelled through high school and college, gets birth control and has a child with a nameless father, and retires comfortably with Social Security. She finds fulfillment in her golden years not by spending time with her son, but by working in a community garden.
We can set aside the debates about what government can and can’t be involved in; the frightening thing about this ad was and continues to be the vision of government alone taking care of Julia. How much poorer would our lives be if we hadn’t encountered friendship and vulnerability and personal relationships with other human beings, outside of government offices and hospitals, such as a father, mother, sibling, aunt, friend, pastor, or neighbor?
One quick example of what I mean here: I went to a public university as an undergraduate. Besides getting cheaper tuition than if I had attended a private school, I also had a scholarship. This, in some way, was at least partly funded by the state. But what decided my career as an undergraduate was ultimately not paying less for college; it was the virtues my parents had instilled in me. They had instilled truthfulness, not cheating when the rest of my classmates were. Because of their patient planting and replanting of the seeds of fortitude throughout my young years, there was a small harvest of that virtue in me, enough to not give up under the blistering criticisms my writing received from an excellent history professor. Did government have a role in my education? Yes. Was it the defining role? Not at all.
If you can agree with me this far, that one of the main problems of Obamacare is the destruction of meaningful and vulnerable relationships with anyone else besides the government, then see if you will be open to a much different sounding thesis: One of the main problems with our culture right now is the use of YouTube.
Not with the cat videos, not with the soft porn, but precisely with the practical stuff that is on YouTube, that you and I use to fix sinks and gutters. The very things that are heralded as a “do-it-yourself” revolution; the very things that give us hope that we and our children can recover skills lost to our parents’ generation.
All interaction on YouTube is mediated by, with, and from YouTube. I might “like” a video by PlumberCrack1, but I have no relationship with PlumberCrack1, and I don’t necessarily like him as a person. I can upload videos, or I can watch videos, I can subscribe to channels; all of this is mediated by a faceless organization.
Like the government, YouTube guarantees anonymous fulfillment of needs and wants, education without the risk of discomfort, and ultimate convenience. For example, there’s no waiting on a neighbor or friend to come by and look at the leak in your bathroom sink. Like a seemingly better version of the good servant in chapter 12 of Luke, YouTube not only stays up into the second and even third watch, but is always awake. Maybe that’s why it became woke (forgive the pun).
It’s always accessible, and it will never get annoyed at us for waking it up in the middle of the night. There’s the potential to learn vast amounts of practical information without putting oneself on the line for an awkward or long conversation, having to ask a former friend you hold a grudge against, or having to read a manual, etc. Finally, YouTube do-it-yourself videos come complete with advertisements for nourishment from another kind of communal teat, namely, Amazon.
Of course, one can diagnose the problem as much as one wants; but in the end, I’ve still watched hours of YouTube videos about hanging gutters (another article could be written on this, either regarding the questionable use of the endless information on YouTube, or my ineptitude in employing it). I’m not writing to condemn the use of YouTube, because we can’t live without it now. We don’t have good neighborly relationships; we don’t have deep roots in our local communities; we’re not as likely to have parents or siblings who can teach us what we need to know.
What I would propose is this, that part of redeveloping our local communities and rediscovering how to be handymen is going to involve getting a little uncomfortable, giving up a little bit of YouTube, and making little breaches in the invisible wall. It’s an invisible, closing-in wall. It’s our fear of the inefficiency of neighborliness.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.