One of my good friends is fond of talking about the “gift of unhurried time.” In reading the reactions to Andrew Breitbart’s passing Wednesday evening, I couldn’t help thinking of that gift. First, Andrew Sullivan:
In the new 24/7 mediaverse, in a brutal, unending culture war, with the web unleashed and news and opinion flashing every few seconds, you can very easily lose yourself, and forget how and why you got here in the first place. There have been times writing and editing this blog on that kind of insane schedule for more than a decade when I have wondered who this new frantic way of life would kill first. I do not doubt that Andrew tried to keep a balance, and stay healthy, but like the rest of us, became consumed with and overwhelmed by this twittering, unending bloghorreic chatter. It takes a much bigger physical, emotional and spiritual toll than most realize, and I’ve spent some time over the years worrying it could destroy me. Here I am, after all, at 9.30 pm, still blogging, having just filed another column, and checking the traffic stats, and glancing feverishly at every new item at Memeorandum.
Human beings were not created for that kind of constant unending stress, and the one thing you can say about Andrew is that he had fewer boundaries than others. He took it all so seriously, almost manically, in the end. The fight was everything. He felt. His anger was not feigned. He wanted to bleed and show the world the wounds. He wanted to scream. And he often did. And when you are on that much, and angry to that extent, and absorbed with that kind of constant mania, and obviously needing more and more validation, and on the online and real stage all the time, day and night, weekends and weekdays … well, it’s a frightening and dangerous way to live in the end.
He is in that sense our first new-media culture-war fatality. I fear he won’t be the last.
One of the dangers in pursuing the life of the mind is that the pursuit of winning a debate or making an especially prescient point can become detached from its real word significance and take on a life of its own in which a debate becomes its own justification. It’s not a question of how that debate can help enrich the community in which it takes place, it’s simply that public intellectual X has a felt need to debate and so they debate. In short, the life of the mind becomes detached from the life of the community. This is a perpetual temptation for me and one that I often succumb to. Breitbart’s passing is a reminder to the workaholics amongst us of what can happen when we lose touch with everything but our carefully-crafted figure as an ideologue.