An essay on the nature of our current societal reality
This will not deal with the question of what reality only is. The following article consists simply of observations I’ve made during my life so far.
I think that reality is made up of layers. If you excuse the Shrek reference, very much like an onion, but I think, a more apt extended metaphor would be an ocean.
The first layer is the most obvious, what you can see first when looking at the surface from above. It’s the foam on the waves, or to be a bit more pessimistic, the scum. A whole lot of people live here, innocent as well as ignorant and underprivileged. Do not mistake them for the scum, though. They just have to live in it.
One example would be disadvantaged children in Lagos, slaving away in sweat shops and dying of AIDS at age twelve. Or …
Meet Tammy: A 15 year old high school student from the American Midwest, her life consists mostly of soap operas, Americas Next Topmodel and after school specials which use scare tactics to lie to her about the dangers of drugs and premarital sex instead of educating her in a more enlightened way. Tammy does not watch the news and anthing happening elsewhere than in her hometown of 50.000 residents will elude her notice. She will notice something of a global or national importance, like say, a thermonuclear war or 9/11 or maybe even Obama’s health bill, because such events simply cannot go unnoticed in the ocean as they cause quite a stir, twirling the foam around and producing a panic in its inhabitants. The things she does notice though are tinted by a biased mass media and as such she is deeply affected by what people tell her is truth, justice and the American way. For example, she is convinced, that her president is trying to ruin the country and that most if not all Muslims are terrorists. Tammy’s school life is apparently dull from the outside, but she is most excited by it, as is natural for a teenager. Not by the lessons but by the constant popularity contest raging on the corridors, of course. Regarding those lessons: She learns that evolution is a lie and she believes it, because she doesn’t know better. On a sidenote: A friend of mine said that those, who are in denial of evolution are only jealous because they were left out. Tammy uses the internet for facebook and myspace and the occasional google search for a pornographic image to giggle at.
When or if Tammy grows up, barring a horrible drunk driving accident later in her life, she has a couple of options (there are actually a whole lot more, but for simplicity’s and this article’s sake I’ll be polemic).
First, she can go live in a white trash trailer park with her husband, whom she married after her prom, popping out a few children. He is the football-jock-with-knee-injury who didn’t quite make it. Both are mindless consumers. This is not growing up, if you’re asking yourself.
Second, she can become a successful politician, like her idol Sarah P. from W., A. This is actually not improbable, as most politicians are either inhabitants of the scum-layer or working its inhabitants as their target demographic and possible voters.
Third, and this may be an addon option to her political career, Tammy might actually grow into having an interest in her surrounding reality. She might go to college, learn that there are other options in life and maybe even question her education and some or all of her beliefs, diving under the scum and evolving into a denizen of the second layer. If she also becomes a politician, she may actually try to do something good with her bestowed power.
To the second layer then: The clear lagoon water you can imagine from a Hawaiian picture, maybe in some places slightly murkier (these are the big sprawls and megacities) but still a lot cleaner than the scum. This is where I picture myself: Living in a national capital, I keep myself up to date with a lot of regional, national and even global news, while paying heed to using liberal as well as conservative media in order to gain my insights. I keep an open mind and do not discriminate minorities, be they ethnic, religious or sexually preferential. This wealth of information I have at my disposal via the internet makes me worry a lot. Worrying makes me unhappy, so I employ the preferred escapism of these days: I consume. I enjoy good literature, well made TV shows, movies and comics.
But I also think a lot (as you can probably see from this wall of text) and I relish vainly letting others know of my thoughts. Hence this column (the first time in English, though). With all my self-perceived intellectual superiority I could look down on Tammy and her peers, and the inconvenient truth is: Most of the time I do. Actually, I don’t have a reason to act this way since I am not more successful or richer (and very probably less so than some of the scum-dwellers) and a good percentage of those people simply either haven’t grown up yet or are not in a position to leave their intellectual surroundings. Also, I am quite sure that most of them are happier with their lot in life than I am. It’s as they say, after all: Ignorance is bliss. So there is not much to look down on, is there?
As I walk through the streets of this big national capital I live in, I can sometimes catch glimpses of what I perceive as the third layer of reality: Drug deals going down, the police cracking down on criminals, homeless people begging for money and the like. The people in this layer are part small time criminals, part opportunists. They have fallen through the cracks of society or went into society’s niches on their own free will and they live in the waters that are still warm, where people still swim, but it’s considerably darker there. Here (and below) ethics are dictated by necessity. No one above likes to look down here, because you usually don’t like what you see: The residents here are parasitic or predatorial, some accidental, some by choice, but all live in either fear or a fickle truce of the big fish of the fourth layer.
Here, in the deep, dark and cold waters of the open sea live the hardened career criminals, preying on society. Crime syndicate bosses, or corporate spys, but also terrorists and even government black-ops teams. These are the sharks that ‘normal’ people (read: 1st or 2nd layer residents) usually don’t see or if they see them don’t recognize their true nature. Should it come to a hostile encounter with those elements, the normal people usually end up maimed or dead (either psychologically or literally). If you want to envision it, use Heat as one possible reference. These big fish threaten and live from our civilisation at the same time.
Is this the rotten core of our society? That would be a depressing thought, and I don’t think this scenario likely, or else our society wouldn’t work at all. As a result, I spun that thought a little further and imagined a fifth level of reality.
The deep sea and the abysses of submarine trenches still harbor a lot of ecosystems and creatures that we don’t know about very well and sometimes something will surface. I think it’s the same in my extended metaphor. Here, we have the ‘what ifs’, all the stories about things that go bump in the night, fairytales, mythical creatures imaginary things and gods (I know, some people will take His existence for granted, but I don’t), in short: Here be dragons. This layer had a profound influence in earlier history (think e.g. of the superstitions that ruled everyday life in the middle ages) but nowadays there’s only little relevance, apart from the religious and recreational worth. If this layer is humanity’s collective subconscious, born from stories to make your children more obedient (incidentally, refer to the after school specials that Tammy likes and is encouraged to watch), from religious worship and outrageous stories to explain natural phenomena in a time that lacked scientific method, it’s a very vast space. This beckons the question: If we normal people usually don’t even see the residents of the open sea, is it not possible that we can’t see what’s down there in the black either? That’s pure speculation, of course, but … what if?
I can’t imagine an even deeper layer of reality, but when I swim in my blue waters and look up, as the sky I imagine future exploits of humanity, such lofty concepts like transhumanism, technological singularity or on a more pessimistic note the nuclear bottleneck, we still have to overcome, or even a global extinction event. What I hope for, though, is extraplanetary, maybe even extrasolar colonies before this happens.