I often think, “these are strange times.” As if I know what other times were like and as if they would be any less strange than now. The thought is completely baseless. Nonetheless, most days I drift off with a parallax feeling – something is somehow amiss.
Three days ago a healthy fever kept me prisoner in bed. I turned on the TV to distract my burning brain. For several hours I fell in and out of hysterical sleep as the MSNBC and CNN shows droned on. Finally my hand managed to dump me into the local news. I managed to catch snippets and sound bytes on various political actions in Arkansas and Indiana and the emergence of movement on Iran Nuclear deals and the various drought issues in California. Of course that little bit of content was sandwiched between erectile dysfunction ads, more news show promotions, political ads, and a bunch of other nonsense that was so nonsensical it didn’t register at all.
My fever provided an interesting kaleidoscope to consume all this “media.” I barely recall the specific words, but I vividly recall lots of reddish pink faces, stunted vocal inflections, disjointed rejoinders all trying attempting to rile me out of my feverish funk and to take action – against anything. I awoke the next morning remembering an angry opera where all the singers sing over each other and nothing makes sense but there’s a frenzy and certainly the frenzy means something because well it’s a frenzy.
This experience and any resulting thoughts aren’t really that enlightening or difficult to analyze. We live in a cacophony of cacophonies. We create them for each other, we consume them, we sell them to each other, we seek them out. Media exists only as a cacophony. Without the cacophony so many institutions and systems collapse. Our identities and sense of almost being folds in on itself. Without mass frenzy who needs a search engine? Or curation tools? Or talking heads? Or journalists? Or critics? Or pundits? Or experts? Or “likes”? Or vacations? Or spas? Or meditation centers? Or insurance? Or assurance? Or reputation management? Or pr? ….
The silence would obliterate an industrial turned digital world. Our senses are now ill suited for the silence or slowness of a world without this recursive self generating cacophony. The very senses so essential to our survival in what was likely a very competitive environment thousands and thousands of years ago reached what seems to me some bizarre threshold of sensation. These every more acute senses and brains and bodies needed more than what the fabricated industrial world could deliver. We needed media to put us back on edge. Always keep us on the edge. Something is out there to get me.
This is not the only way to fulfill and engage the senses and the brain and the body. But by gosh is it the most efficient. Thinking and engagement are costly efforts that cut into the means of production. Philosophizing is hard to monetize. Art shifts perspectives away from commoditization. Walking is slow. The mass of humankind should not engage in these activities for they lead to more of these activities. No, listen to the cacophony and like a slot machine keep pushing the buttons (the handle is too slow), let the whistle sounds and cherry sights keep us in attention without engagement – next time, next time! The human capacity for repetitive motion and thought is nearly boundless if injected with just enough stimulation (throw in a little variation to throw the probability center off).
But it isn’t as Huxley thought it would be – habituation through pleasure – it’s more effective for production to a have a slightly disembodied sense of dread. Pure pleasure would not keep the right chemicals flowing like dread and fear does. Our fear of death is stronger than our desire for pleasure.
I contest that the pursuit of truth and knowledge is more powerful and sustaining than fleeing death or enjoying pleasure – but it is a hard practiced reward. It takes a good deal of effort to get to a point where it sustains and grows. It requires an upfront investment of the mind, body, and senses. It forces one to give up the relentless pursuit of capital.
The human creature seeks the real – it can be trained and sustained on the near-real though. It can hang on the edge of the real for as long as you can keep the cells alive. But deep down the entirety of a given human seeks the real – the real world, the full view of a tree, the scent of the crisp night, the touch of another human, the lick of a dog, the view without glasses…. Without the real, we will take convincing substitutes and become sufficiently addicted until the senses have weakened and are no longer able to seek the real.
These are strange times. They are strange because we seem to notice less and less than what the historical documents of the past suggest we were noticing previously. Though we were ignorant then, as we are now, we seemed to appreciate that ignorance in some enlightened circles. Instead of hiding from it, some went to their death because of their pursuit. Now even the enlightened often seek the near-real or the unreal – the media, the virtual reality, the video games, the re-tweets, the parody news, the cable news, the ads as content, the representation vs the actual, the press statements vs a conversation, a political party vs a candidate with a feet on the ground. That Edward Snowden didn’t cause mass uproar is only one of the main signs of this parallax situation.
We can no longer see the real. I’m not even sure I can or ever could.