Yes, Gentle Reader, I’m back on that topic this morning. It’s no longer a matter of isolated skirmishes. There’s no longer an identifiable “front” as such. Situational awareness has become mandatory. Learn to recognize places and times of hazard, how to avoid them, and what to do about them when avoiding them is inadvisable or impossible. And spend just a few CPU cycles on this: one of those places of hazard is staring you in the face right BLEEP!ing now.
A delightful, endlessly thought-provoking movie provides us with this:
Bob Cody: Ever hear of Frederick Turner, Mr. Oliver?
Neal Oliver: No, sir.
Bob Cody: Well, he was an historian. About a hundred years ago he came up with a theory about the frontier. He said the frontier was a safety valve for civilization, a place for people to go to keep from goin’ mad. So, whenever there were folks who couldn’t fit in with the way things were, nuts, and malcontents, and extremists, they’d pack up and head for the frontier. That’s how America got started – all the crackpots and troublemakers in Europe packed up and went to a frontier which became the thirteen colonies. When some people couldn’t fit in with that, they moved farther west, which is why all the nuts eventually ended up in California. Turner died in 1932, so he wasn’t around long enough to see what would happen to the world when we ran out of frontier. Some people say we have the frontier of the mind, and they go off and explore the wonderful world of alcohol and drugs, but that’s no frontier. It’s just another way for us to fool ourselves. And we’ve created this phony frontier with computers, which allows people to, you know, think they’ve escaped. A frontier with access fees?
And from the late Robert M. Pirsig, we have this:
They talk once in a while in as few pained words as possible about “it” or “it all” as in the sentence, “There is just no escape from it.” And if I asked, “From what?” the answer might be “The whole thing,” or “The whole organized bit,” or even “The system.” Sylvia once said defensively, “Well, you know how to cope with it,” which puffed me up so much at the time I was embarrassed to ask what “it” was and so remained somewhat puzzled. I thought it was something more mysterious than technology. But now I see that the “it” was mainly, if not entirely, technology. But, that doesn’t sound right either. The “it” is a kind of force that gives rise to technology, something undefined, but inhuman, mechanical, lifeless, a blind monster, a death force.
A twenty-year-old movie and a fifty-year-old “inquiry into values” still have wisdom for us to glean. Part of that wisdom – perhaps the most vital part – is this ultra-compact summary, notably expressed by Baba Ram Dass:
No, I’m not a Ram Dass acolyte. Like most self-nominated gurus, he was at least 75% off his rocker. But his three-word imperative carries a charge that many millions of people lack, and desperately need.
Pascal and I have nattered about the death cults at work among us until you’re probably sick of hearing about them. Yet what subject could be more important, especially in this Age of Pervasive Anomie?
As a writer, I’m particularly susceptible to one of the traps with which which Death Cultists lure the unwary to their doom. That trap doesn’t have a recognized name. Its locus is terribly difficult to define. Yet I find myself drawn into it each and every day. In the nature of things, I can’t get away from it.
It’s in my head, you see. The glorious cerebral cortex that pours forth these
rancid brews of fact and fancy gems of wisdom each day. I “live in my head” – i.e., I confine my experience and thinking to the one and only place where all the rules are mine – far too much. I’d imagine that’s the case for quite a lot of writers.
People aren’t meant to live that way. We’re not just “pure intellects,” that fatuous notion about the terminus of human development. We have bodies and souls as well. Even more urgently, there are others with whom we share a real, objectively verifiable world. Yet that immersion in cerebral isolation can be seductive to the point of irresistible.
I suspect that a lot of catatonics chose to immure themselves in their heads as the one and only refuge from trials and sorrows they could no longer endure. If that’s the case, they’re the opposite of “sick.” Indeed, they’ve found the only “therapy” guaranteed to relieve their suffering.
But it’s still not the way we’re meant to live.
Weird Dave, co-blogger at Ace of Spades HQ, brings us this today:
— ONT WTF (@OntWtf) July 28, 2023
That video clip struck home with me in a particularly powerful way. You’d figure that, me being a Catholic and all. But it goes beyond my religious convictions. It evokes a question that every man must face, but each of us must answer for himself: What is the purpose of my existence?
The atheists have a hard time with that. Their insistence that there is nothing beyond the spatiotemporal / material realm precludes the possibility that there’s a purpose for our lives, whether individually or collectively. Yet we are wired in such a fashion as to seek purpose. We certainly have purposes of our own: survival, security, acceptance, self-esteem, prosperity. We serve some of them with nearly every action we take.
But the healthy individual wants to know what uber-purpose he has: what function he serves in “the greater scheme of things.” That’s a question that eludes answering unless we postulate a purposeful Creator.
Have a snippet from one of my books:
“Lord God,” she whispered, “I am in need, though I don’t know of what. I know only that I cannot continue in this condition. I must not remain useless to my lord. Forgive me this presumption, as I have not yet learned the proper form, but…would you help me, please?”
She fell silent and strained to hear the inner voice Father Ray had said would provide the response, if a response there was to be.
And as if murmured from a great distance, the response came.
–You are not useless.
She was momentarily bewildered.
“But I cannot…I am not…”
–Refuse all such thoughts. Yes, you have done a difficult, necessary thing, and it has wearied you beyond measure. But you are still capable. What are you, Fountain?
She struggled to discern the import of the question.
“I am futanari. A clone of another such.”
–Not that. What is the essence of your gift? What power do you possess that enables you to do the things you have done?
“To see the life in all things, and to love it and speak with it.”
–And what is the mission of all life?
Months earlier, Father Ray had asked her to contemplate that very question. Yet he had not returned to the subject since then.
“To become…more. Better.”
–And how does anyone or anything become more than it is?
“Through love. Loving and being loved.”
–Exactly. You are greatly skilled at loving. You have the power to assist growth by giving love. You can still do so. Rise up!
All at once her path became clear.
You probably haven’t read that novel. It’s the fourth in a series of four. The series itself was once defamed by a critic who hadn’t bothered to read any of it. He’d reacted to the name of the series rather than to the tales themselves. But that’s in the nature of critics: they hate honest work as much as anyone. More than most, really.
We are meant to become more than we are. It why we were given the gift of life. There’s only one way to do that: by embracing what Gregory Benford once called “the rough rub of the real.”
That cannot be found in our heads.
I know I’m being more circuitous than usual, possibly more than is tolerable. What you’ve already read probably seems a jumble of unrelated pieces, no two fitting together in a sensible way. The relation among them is one that a lot of readers will find disturbing.
A life worth living must be lived in touch with reality.
The Death Cultists know this. They want to separate you from reality: to sever the bonds you have with objective existence and others who share it with you. Were they able – and don’t doubt for a minute that they’d embrace it eagerly – they’d isolate each of us in a bare room locked from outside. Each room would possess an Internet connection and a computer, just to torment us with vague glimpses of what our confinement denies us. All our “experiences” would be virtual, to the moment of our deaths.
Robert M. Pirsig’s “death force” was a conception of technology among persons ill-equipped to deal with such things. It’s a poignant vision…but how much sadder and more terrifying is a vision of Mankind as a whole severed from objective reality, including the reality of actual interpersonal contact?
When Interstate 60’s Bob Cody, admirably played by the underappreciated Chris Cox, discoursed on the frontier, he identified only the lesser part of its importance: its function as a safety valve for those who refused to “go along to get along.” Yes, that mattered – but what of those who sought a frontier existence simply to be in closer touch with the imperatives and needs of human existence in unsparing, unforgiving reality? For one of the functions of technology, and of civilization as a whole, is to provide cushions against some of those imperatives and needs.
Ponder the counter-influences of our time in that light: the ones that impel us to step away from “cyberspace,” to turn off the ubiquitous electronics with which we surround ourselves, and to return to “the rough rub of the real.” Ask yourself this lemma-question: Is it possible to become more and better than we are if most of our experience with the world, and nearly all our contact with one another, comes through these isolating, anonymizing devices?
I think you know the answer, whether or not you like the taste.
I’m not condemning the Internet. I can’t; it’s how I reach you and my fiction readers. But I think it’s become too important to too many of us.
Ponder the oft-encountered concept of “virtual reality.” It’s got a lot of promotional weight behind it. Part of that is the commercial incentive: if the promoters of VR can’t sell the concept, they can’t sell the electronic enablers for it. But what objective content does the concept itself provide? In what way – if any – does it allow us to become more and better than we are?
Not long ago, I wrote:
I remember, as a young physics student, asking my professor whether the time dilation effect predicted by both special and general relativity “really” occurs. He smiled and replied “What is real?” I had no answer at the time. I doubt I could have come up with one if I’d had a year to think about it…but after four years and a hell of a lot more study, I finally knew what he meant….
There is no question that theorizing ripped loose from reality can lead to lunacy. We have records of enough mad philosophers to establish the point. But my professor’s reply to me, way back when, is central to the matter. What is real, and how do we know?
The question “What is real?” is only answerable experientially. The answer comes through the five senses and our reactions to what impinges upon them. He who limits his experiences to what comes through a broadband Internet connection can drift away from reality. With the “right” stream of abstractions, he can be seduced into believing anything – and that’s what the Death Cultists like best about our time.
Experiences of real things and people bind us to life. Separation from real things and people make it possible to lure us to death. But that separation has its points. After all, reality is not uniformly pleasant. The customizable nature of Internet experiences allows us to avoid the unpleasantness and dwell on the nice parts.
It is vital, in the exact sense, that we not avert our eyes, ears, etc. from what is real. Limiting oneself to abstractions packaged as a stream of ones and zeroes is potentially deadly. It can lead one to believe that nothing is objectively real – that reality itself is conditional upon our desires and purposes.
Among the functions of the media is to present us with pictures of bits of the world that are not conveniently available to our senses. They who have risen to control the major media are aware of the immense power they hold to shape human assumptions. But it’s not their power alone: anyone who can put stuff on the World Wide Web can do it too, if he has the energy, endurance, and skill.
The barons of the media are naturally most interested in increasing their power, prestige, and pelf. The great majority of them appear to have decided that the route to those things is through the political means. This has led them to ally with the Left, for it is the Left that seeks to make every aspect of human life political. The larger the sphere of politics, the more influence the media can wield.
Earlier this year, I wrote:
Many things that repel us do so only because they’ve been made public, and therefore political issues. The pervasive tendency of our time is to politicize any and every matter of controversy, from the mildest to the brassiest.
The thing to remember about politicization is that it turns somebody else’s problem into something on which you are forced to take a public stand. That’s the whole of the Left’s aim, in keeping with its hoary old mantra: “The personal is political.”
Politicization destroys privacy. It turns people who disagree into combatants, and advocates into warriors for a Cause. It engages the attentions of the worst men in the world, not because they have a desire to see justice reign, but to see what they can get out of it.
They who seek control of the World Wide Web – colloquially, “Big Tech” – are animated by the same priorities as the barons of the print and broadcast media. The reader is left to draw the moral.
That should suffice for the morning. Please, spend the larger part of your day away from the conduits of abstraction. Turn off the computer. Put down the cellphone. Maybe even go outside; who knows what you might see, hear, or feel there?
In objective reality, you will find both pleasant and unpleasant things. You will find things to take in hand. You will find things you cannot control no matter your exertions. You will also find refreshment, for no one can convince you that what impinges on your consciousness is something other than what your senses report. It’s a far cry from the torrent of abstractions with which the Left seeks to divorce you from what really exists…what really makes life worth living.
Here are a few things you won’t find:
- People who can’t help themselves.
- Politicians who can do something you can’t.
- Activists whose activism contributes to anything real.
But you might find purpose. You might find growth. And you might find God. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe told us that He’s in the details, so be sure to pay proper attention.
Be here. Now.