As odd as the thought might be, our daily lives are built around that which is unreal.
We voraciously consume movies, television shows, books, magazines, and web-based content that is either entirely fictional or “based on a true story”, which means they are basically fictional. The advertising we see and hear is hawking products and services claiming—often with the most specious of evidence—that we can be happier, thinner, more successful, more secure, smarter, sexier, or more popular for a seemingly modest purchase price. Memoirists routinely shade the truth to present themselves in the best possible light. Celebrities dazzle us with the assistance of armies of trainers, assistants, accountants, managers, and handlers who help ensure that their lovely lives seem effortless. Even the supposed “reality” shows that we obsessively watch are carefully scripted and edited to provide enough faux controversy and fake drama to keep us tuned in for the next episode of someone else’s exciting, miserable, or unbelievably screwed up life.
We search for truth where we can, but a great deal of the information made available to us has already been packaged in order to present a version of reality that is most easily sold to a particular target audience. That which is carefully omitted or selectively presented often conceals a non-preferred truth, which helps with the task of manipulating our emotions, shaping our attitudes, and controlling our actions.
Choose any bit of news or information, and it is easy to see how editorial choices are crafted to elicit the desired response. On one news feed I read about adult “illegal aliens” committing heinous crimes; on another I read about adorable and innocent “immigrant” children hoping for better lives in America. One moment I read of heroic women asserting sovereignty over their own bodies by choosing to have an abortion; five minutes later I learn of the intense pain a fetus feels as it is sucked from a woman’s womb. One “expert” assures us that we can have all of our needs taken care of—for free—by taxing the super rich until they squeal; another is equally certain that this is mathematically impossible. “Truth” is, as we typically learn as we get older, often dependent on who is doing the telling—and why. Only the young or the hopelessly daft are foolish enough to abandon the cynicism that allows us to survive the mounds of mendacity (Yes, I’m trying to use polite language here) that we now need to stomp through every day of our lives.
Truth is out there, but it can be unpleasant, unpalatable, and unsatisfactory. Hence, we often choose to believe a version of reality that is less likely to cause us to squirm, or we simply ignore the messiness of the world around us altogether. One of the reasons that our politics have slid toward the extremes—with political moderates ever more difficult to find—is that practicality is predicated on some necessary incredulity. Continued exposure to those who regularly deal in snake oil and bizarre fantasy tends to hollow out the sensible middle if we fail to leaven our naive faith with some clearheaded common sense.
We sometimes need lies to ease our many human fears, and sadly enough we are now cursed with a crop of political leaders who are happy to win our votes by cooing comforting nonsense. To tell the truth—that we cannot be offered protection from all of the world’s pain, despair, and injustice—is electoral suicide, so we are continually assured that with more laws, regulations, government programs, bureaucrats, mandates, tax increases, safe spaces, security cameras, oversight committees, bans, speech codes, censorship, permits, licenses, web policing, and fees we can eventually be cocooned in bliss. Are we happy yet?
Those who are now proposing the next step, the use of Artificial Intelligence and computer algorithms to evaluate everyone in order to identify people who might (might!) someday pose a threat to others, are themselves terrifying; these individuals and organizations seem to be suggesting that life in an omnipresent, omniscient—but certainly not infallible—police state would be the most wonderful of all possible worlds. That these ideas are considered credible and within reason seems to indicate that the domestic debate regarding delicate balance between freedom and security could be settled in a manner more Soviet than American.
Politics is, of course, theater—but it should not be a theater of the absurd. The lack of reality in so many of our national discussions, encouraged by feckless politicians and cheerleading media and celebrities, has led to policy impasses that forbid compromise due to an utter lack of consideration of costs and consequences by all involved.
The lies each side is able to tell because facts can now be treated as mere annoyances leaves our nation with no path forward, no hope for practicable solutions, and no ability for many to consider viewpoints other than their own. Therefore, all we have left are the politics of personal destruction, which leads to endless attack and counterattack. To assert this will lead to anything other than a hell of our own creation is the worst lie of all.