What is real? Who decides what is real? All these questions are fundamental both to our timeless understanding of life and to our very timely conversation about “facts” and “disinformation.”
We exist in a world defined by a set of conventions—a world whose contour and features we collectively agree upon. Our collectively perceived reality may or may not reflect the physical reality lying underneath—but in each moment of time, it is that verbal agreement on “facts” that defines our framework for decision-making and social interactions.
How many people throughout history have believed that sex before marriage, divorce or masturbation were ungodly—and thus had to be banned or punished? How many people have felt inadequate based on that collective perception? How many paid with their lives? In each moment of decision-making, did it matter that the agreed upon “reality” was nothing but a prejudice? The collective agreement was enough to celebrate the majority opinion and to punish the wrongdoers. And who is to say that today’s obviously correct rational understanding of the world will not puzzle the future generations as obviously super incorrect or even toxic?
And so we exist, day in and day out, in our imaginary world that we have collectively agreed upon. In this world, up until recently, God hated joy, and it was sinful to be gay, have premarital sex, or masturbate. In this world, today, we pray to the allegedly omnipotent AI and institutional science, and look to brands, systems, and law & order to save us or at least fix us for now.
We worship the soundbites and the memes that make us feel more powerful—and condemn the soundbites and the memes that feel foreign or intrusive. We loooove our soundbites and project our affection onto their human hosts and carriers. We don’t have the energy to look beyond our chosen heroes’ empowering slogans—until our heroes stop being useful to the machine and their luck changes—sometimes overnight—which is when we become “disappointed” in them and swap them for brand new heroes; and then the exciting movie plays again.
We float in the air, our feet not touching the loving ground, our air and lungs poisoned, our hands grasping for something to hold on to—if not a friend or a lover then at least a smartphone.
We are lonely and proud.
Our soundbites are our digital drugs.
We are proud and lonely.
When the symbols of our empowerment are questioned, we fight for them because our pride is the only thing we have left. And no, it’s not us who has an addiction problem. It’s them.
As I watch my adopted homeland plunge into the abyss of addiction to slogans, I can only hope that through trial and error, our senses will lead us out of this mess, even if it takes a thousand years.
Photo by Aaron Sebastian/Unsplash