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Reality Check Vent Moment

Justina Robson
I listened to this week's Beyond Belief on Radio 4.  It's a debate show, about religion and faith and their relationship to some bit of contemporary life.  This week they were talking about the internet and virtual worlds.  A range of views about the usefulness and social desirability of these things were expressed, as one might expect.  Some said how lovely to be connected and that a virtual church could provide similar emotional comfort and awe as a real one.  Others said what a waste of time internet life was and how horribly dangerous and threatening it was to the world of physical meetings and the types of communication only possible in person.  They talked about avatars, noting the word's root meaning and getting in a kerfuffle about that (an avatar is the earthly manifestation of a god: are these avatars making us play at being little gods:  OMG that would really be bad for our crumply little egos and mad desires etc.  One can only sigh at the repeated and endless terrors that the world of religion has inflicted by implying that humans are essentially bad maniacs who want to run riot given half a chance.  Anyway, that wasn't my main point.  They went on to discuss addiction to computer gaming, MMOs and porn.  And then someone (the philosopher) had to drag Jean Baudrillard's Simulations into it.

If you're lucky you don't know this piece of work.  It makes a lot of statements, from a philosophical perspective, on how human beings manufacture and interpret reality in their minds.  At least on the good side it recognises that every part of reality that you experience is a manufactured experience, down to you.  However, it expresses it at great tedious length and overcomplication.  You'd be better off reading Dorothy Rowe's Guide To Life, as that deals with it from a psychological and day to day point of view that makes much more overt sense.  Anyhoo, Baudrillard makes a statement about hyper-realities (his term) which are composed of components that have no real world referents.  These things have a weird life of their own in the fervid imaginations of the chattering classes.  For example, The Simpsons.  They are cartoon entities who do not refer to any actual real person (not talking about the special guest spots).  And any characters in any work of fiction.  and etc.   My memory of his point here fades into obscurity but I got the impression from the chap on the radio that this was a Very Dangerous Kind Of Thing that might lead to Personal Delusions and A Fall Into Perfidy and Sin and Losing Touch with Reality.

No mention here of other hyperreal objects which are apparently Beyond Question:  god, nations, culture, social norms to name but a few on the top of the charts.  No.  Only some hyperreal objects are threatening and scary - the ones that individuals are mostly in control of (albeit within highly restricted limits most of the time).  Mostly people only get their knickers in a twist about the ones which threaten to show that the chart toppers (above) might be less than real, or merely fabrications one could choose to believe in, as compared to say believing in the lore of World of Warcraft and spending hours a day trying to save Azeroth by being a paladin who smites evil and aids the needy.  At least in Azeroth you can see the futility of your efforts very speedily (world state never changes, bad guys today, bad guys tomorrow, same old scripts because none of them know that they're just hyperreal avatars - at least the computer generated ones don't).

And to drag back from another digression they made a further point about the crafting of avatars, implying that the internet is a dangerous place where people could hide behind created facades to fool each other.

What world are these people living in where that doesn't happen every day?  Human beings are a constant stream of constructed facades, which is the chief cause of all their psychological agonies (pushing them towards religion, drink, MMOs and etc to escape).  Some say there even is no You, just the little engine that makes up the story of you and the world.  Yes, religion at its best does offer a genuine freedom from the pain of inauthenticity by providing a safe context in which to be oneself, but nothing can free you from living in a world which trades on appearances and confidence tricks (or genuine confidence of course).  Relgions and MMOs and Facebook are full of the stuff.  The best thing about the latter is that this is entirely the point and therefore obvious, and therefore to anyone with two braincells, rendered rather harmless.  The insidiousness of making claims to be above roleplays and egogames, social norms and to be presenting a hyperreality which is anything but a construct isn't nearly as well observed when it's done face to face in the apparently healthy (correct/pure/well intentioned) world of normal physical human contacts.  Or in academic canons.  Or in institutions.  Or in any place where lots of people have all their status invested in a hyperreal world which has been reified (made into a real thing, like the Velveteen Rabbit) by common acceptance of the dorks, sorry, general public, of whom I'm expected to be a member.

I'm just amazed.  Context Blindness Much?

And now back to writing about impossible worlds...





  What amazes me continually about

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
martyn44
Jul. 24th, 2009 08:21 am (UTC)
I don't like it. I don't understand it. It erodes my natural sense of superiority and entitlement. Therefore it must be forbidden to everyone who is not me, or like me, and therefore imperfect and vulnerable. The masses must not be diverted from their endless, grindingly impossible aspiration to be just like me.

I know nothing about it, have never experienced it, but I understand it perfectly.

Get a live, creatures, even if it is only a virtual one, where you peep out from inside your own arse at least once a week.
la_marquise_de_
Jul. 24th, 2009 09:05 am (UTC)
I've been reading about the medicalization of women's mental health from c 1800 on, and the same material repeats there. The level of institutional fear of difference and of individual belief seems to be unchanging.
autopope
Jul. 24th, 2009 09:28 am (UTC)
I have a couple of friends who are (a) very smart folks, and (b) former Christian fundamentalists. They describe it as being trapped in a loop of circular reasoning: a -> b -> c -> d ... -> a, with a few very strong injunctions against paying attention to dangerous (loop-breaking) external ideas because these are snares, delusions, and works of the Devil.

AIUI they broke out of it (both are agnostics/atheists now) when they compared one of the belief components to some external hyperreal construct that was manifestly unreal and suddenly realized that if that idea was bogus, then ...

Anyway, the point I'm fumbling my way to is: religious beliefs are bloody strong self-reinforcing loops, and one of the ways they self-reinforce is that the carriers are afraid of competing belief structures (because of course the carrier's belief is the One True Way, and all others are therefore not only delusional but jeopardize your immortal soul) ... And works of fiction (or platforms for consensual fiction, such as social networks and MMOs) resemble competing belief structures.

Edited at 2009-07-24 09:30 am (UTC)
pogodragon
Jul. 24th, 2009 09:37 am (UTC)
I don't think I qualify as a 'very smart folk', but I am a former Christian fundamentalist, and this sounds all very familiar. And very very easy to slip in to if you're not watching carefully - all you need to do is buy in to the basic assumptions, stop questioning them and all follows from there. (I was an isolated teenager when I bought in to it, that sense of belonging and community was very seductive.)

What I actually came here to say though was:
tedious length and over complication is what French philosophical types do. I have had to read some such stuff over the last few years and when finally it gets unpicked to the basics I've come to the conclusion that there is (usually) a point there, but rarely is it as earth shattering as the prose would suggest it should be. Either that or I'm just not bright enough to actually understand all of the subtleties on offer.
mythusmage
Aug. 2nd, 2009 05:08 pm (UTC)
Read Somewhere
"You can't be the product of my imagination, I would've done a better job."
peterwatson
Aug. 31st, 2010 10:38 am (UTC)
I enjoyed every bit of your article. It is very informative and helpful to me as well as to all the commentators. Thanks for taking the time to discuss on this. I will love to read more from you.
Baby Seat.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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