Barth’s Admonition to the Millennials and All of Us in the Information-Age: The Danger of ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’

Karl Barth shared this at some talks he gave in both Sarospatak and Budapest in March and April of 1948; some talks to the youth of that day. I was struck by how relevant what he is exhorting the youth (the “millennials”) of his day with; he might as well be talking to our youth—if not all of us in our information age. Barth said:

barthipodA younger generation confronted by so much emptiness will inevitably be tempted to yield to certain fears remote from freedom and responsibility. I should not be advising you well if I did not implore you to resist them. One of them might consist in trying to drown the miseries of the time with as much technics, sport and aesthetic amusement as possible, with all the worldly pleasures that are still available. No one will begrudge you for wanting to make up for long years of darkness by indulging in one or two pastimes of that kind. But see that you do not repeat the error which the younger generation before you certainly made. By over-indulging itself in technics, sport, and aesthetic amusements it developed a state of mind or rather mindlessness in which, through neglecting its responsibilities, it also lost its freedom and fell an easy prey to the slogans and catchwords of the charlatans and dictators.[1]

While Barth is speaking to the “youth” he might as well be speaking to all of us in our techno/info age. The point is to stay vigilant, particularly and especially in light of all the distractions we have before us. Neil Postman wrote his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Barth anticipates that line of thought here in his talk to the Hungarian youth.

[1] Karl Barth, Against the Stream: Shorter Post-War Writings 1946–52 (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1954), 58.