The real world, as it is – yes, assuming there is one. Now, what is the sense in not assuming that? We’d have to just stop talking and don’t be ridiculous, that’s not happening. I spew therefore I am! – and Maya, the world of illusion, appearances: these are your options. Maya is the world where there can be things like “sport chocolate,” where the policeman is your friend, and where our leaders are our betters.
Of course, debate rages on about the nature of the real world and whether we even have a chance to discern it. Many a theory suggests that reality isn’t as nice as this other world, though, and it’s something like consensus that we should strive to bring the two together, either by guessing the nature of the real world and adapting ourselves to it, or by making our world of human constructs and wishes real, by imposing ourselves upon the world in such a way as to make it adapt to us. Again, that we can discern reality is still a question, so it’s mostly the other thing, isn’t it? Honestly, though? It’s what I want. I think our best bet, or the only play for us, is to find out what’s stopping that Norman Rockwell world from being the real one and fixing it. We don’t have that benevolent, understandable reality that we see on TV, but we sort of have the image, and that can serve as a goal for us, at least a first goal, and that’s half the battle.
You give humans a goal, a project, some fractal version of a battle, and they will go to work. It’s just that other things make it possible for us to think we’re there already, that that goal is behind us somehow. So far, when we have seen through the curtain, we’ve mostly seen a little bit of why things aren’t as nice as they seem and named the causes – Freud’s primal drives, Christian original sin, biology and the deep roots of war, culture-down explanations – and we are left to understand that there is basically nothing to be done. First, the world is this way, Son, and then, no, it is not, and here’s why it can never be.
We need to make some room for no, it’s not, but it can be, let’s make it that way. First, we need to stop pretending we’re there already, that the arc of the universe bends towards justice all by itself, then maybe we see a need, a project, a battle, and we try to create a world where things do have a chance to lean in that direction.
I want to run with the TV allegory. What didn’t we see in the idyllic TV world of “My Three Sons?” Fred MacMurray beating the crap out of those boys. We sort of know that’s one of the differences between the world we like to display and the one we create, right? The messaging is there on the TV, we learn to do it, but the reality of it, the before picture is not part of the display. Of course, our view of the after picture is also not exactly complete and holistic.
It was heartbreaking for me when my kids were in grade school and learning about our democracy, how the Canadian government works. The people vote for the rep that best represents them, and their rep goes to Ottawa to do it, and this House and that Senate . . . to hear it taught like that, surely this is the utopia! A better, more egalitarian system has surely never been conceived and democracies must be as close to heaven as humanity can get.
Another difference appears when our kids play sports. When they’re young, they’re “learning teamwork,” how to work together as a group, cooperation, and that’s true, but you don’t hear about, we don’t talk about the other side of the coin, that they are learning how to work together against the other team. Speeches all day long about cooperation, none about conflict despite conflict being the larger goal that teamwork serves, until the gloves come off, mostly just for the boys, in high school – Maya. We are teaching cooperation, that’s what they’re learning, like it’s up to us, what kids learn from our interactions with them. But it’s up to us what we acknowledge.
It’s something like faith, that I think we could make something like that that is real, and better, that it doesn’t have to be a story for children that we all grow out of along with our happiness. We may or may not have the tools to see reality in all its aspects, but the opposite is not impossible. Some of these differences can be understood, even in this relativism; many truths are inherently relativistic anyhow and postulating absolutes, floors and ceilings, would bring us no nearer to them if we had eternity to try. This is one of the lessons of the world of illusions, Maya is flamboyant, it will offer you sweeter and more palatable visions until finally even the dullest of us get suspicious. We may not be able to prove truth and reality, but we have evolved a bullshit detector, when the stuff gets deep enough.
I hope my examples above serve to make the point – even the dullest of us, all the way down to me. Just because ultimate reality may not be visible doesn’t mean we can’t see lies and falsehoods, and if we move away from those, we should be moving closer to the truth, right? Relativism notwithstanding, too.
Biology, though, is there something there?
(I am certainly a poor example, but what little insight I’ve had suggests that if philosophers learn biology, evolutionary theory, truth will flow like water. Don’t wait for the geeks to learn philosophy, navel-gazers, learn evolution and watch your philosophy be transformed. Making sense of the world is a philosopher’s job, let’s not farm that out to lesser disciplines.)
Deception and self deception are important, powerful biological functions.
For what, though? For other important biological functions, that is to say, adaptively, as ways of dealing with our environment, again to say – for the status quo. If we stop our evolved deceptions, the biologicals that have evolved to detect them have an easy job and we have a bad day, is the theory. So what sort of trouble will we find if we lose these ones, my examples, if we stop pretending we have happy, talking oriented families like the ones on TV, or that our kids aren’t silently learning ritualized war with their sports, or that the one person one vote thing isn’t really working out?
I need to start putting advisory alerts on these things, don’t I?
I know I’m an ass for always leaving it with a rhetorical question, so let’s see if I can jump my own tracks, I don’t have to keep the changes, do I?
The answers of course, are that we may have to include our discipline in our calculations of who and what we are and be challenged to explain it, that if our childhood battle training is seen for what it is, that we either continue it consciously or stop and fear losing the next war, and that if we lose belief in elections that we revert to some form of authoritarianism instead. That’s a pretty terrible bunch of consequences if we simply stop our individual deceptive defenses and nothing else changes, but that is only a survival deal breaker when viewed from within our social group. If we can consider that all groups have these issues, then we can address the problem from both sides at once. These things are strategies for group problems, and larger strategies can be found.
Life, in a certain sense is a falsehood, having somehow sprung from its opposite and being forever in opposition to the reality that spawned it, and as we know, the immortal falsehoods are layered ones, enigmas wrapped up in other obfuscations that leave us in a relativistic purgatory when we try to penetrate them – wait! This is the hopey-changey part!
That relativism is good, because when we see past our human world of civilized constructions, when that masquerade fails and we see through to a darker layer, I want us to remember that that is only another layer, not some absolute limit, not some floor, ceiling, or wall. The next layer may look dark and nasty, but don’t believe it when it whispers to you that it is the end, the “truth.” It never is. When we look past our veneer, that may indeed be something biological we’re seeing, even the deep roots of war ape that we fear, but we shouldn’t fear him. That’s just his defensive posturing.
He’s tough, but he’s not so smart. We’ll get past him. To the next layer.
Feb. 9th., 2018