Over the course of history the world has been appearing and disappearing to us. We have attempted to map the world, to frame and understand it, as it slips out of one hypothesis or grand narrative into another. The world as we know it has gone from being flat to round; from being the center of the universe to the center of the solar system; from being animistic and supernatural to raw in tooth and claw; from being particle-atomic to wavy-quantum. And now we are disappearing into the digital domains of virtual-augmented spaces and false information, bombarded with the spectacle and the image. And somewhere in the midst of all this is the human soul, still largely wrapped and unopened. If there’s a crime here then it is that we’ve allowed ourselves to become haunted – to live haunted lives that lack significance and meaning. The ‘objects’ or values that we have attempted to live by, or that we pursue, – such as power, truth, understanding, dreams, work, love, and the rest – have all seemingly vanished into some warped, elusive reality where the presence of these things no longer tangibly exist. However, the doubt, uncertainty, and pain of their absence – or ‘fake presence’ – are indeed real enough to affect us deeply. We seek the already disappeared and stalk their substitutes.
We are now close to the stage where we end up just acting out our fantasies upon the phantasmal theatre of our lives and thinking it is reality. This theatre, or screen, of fantasies and the fantastical is like the cave wall in Plato’s allegory where the flickering shadows that move across are taken to be the real. In an updating of Plato’s famous allegory we no longer have shadows projected upon the cave wall; they are now projected upon the green screens that form the back-drop for computer-generated imagery (CGI) that adorn our movies, television programs, and video games. Whole societies, notably in the technologically-advanced western world, are arranging for our lives to be enacted amidst a scenery backdrop of events and issues artificially projected for us as CGI onto a fake canvas. Within this encroaching visual world, full of misinformation that influences our worldview, we are made to believe in a different kind of reality. It is a reality that is uncertain and insecure, and that requires for us to hold deep obedience to our state institutions to protect us. And within this projection of reality, meanings are provided for us as ready-made meals. In other words, full of too much salt, saturated fats, and laziness.
These socially manufactured meanings are provided as a substitute for the genuine lack. Of these choices offered we often take our pick, as consumers in a marketplace. It may be career, wealth, fame, achievement, or a combination of these and more. Yet the manufactured consent in our sense of meaning, no matter how thoroughly pursued and potentially obtained, is still not genuine. And like the ready-made meal, it soon leaves us with a continued hunger. The illusion of meaning is a vital illusion, yet it still remains an illusion. We may say then that the world we have come to know is a great spectacle of illusion and play; of movement, distraction, simulation, and excess. Yet rather than critically confronting the illusions and distractions we are cleverly persuaded to indulge in them. The world has become a lot more complex as it has moved toward greater connectivity. The world we share now is also shared with our collective doubts, fears, anger, and frustrations. And these new emotions upon the global stage are blurring our picture of the world and its future. Whilst there are many of us who are excited and genuinely inspired by this increased complexity and diversity there has been a cultural backlash, in the western nations especially, to cover this up with a sheen of simplicity through generic news, bland reporting, and excruciatingly trivial entertainment. This clash of the complex with the simple is creating an odd reality where things just don’t feel right anymore.
Modernity in its current form is haunted by a sense of loss; of not knowing where it is heading. There are a great many aspects of our age that are in disruption and dislocation. All forms of stability are in question; old and incumbent patterns and models are in dispute; and too many people are experiencing moods of despair and anguish. It is as if our human civilization has come loose from its moorings and is now adrift upon the waters of uncertainty, insignificance, and the loss of meaning. A profound sense of unease has crept into many of us, and also into our social systems, our cultures, our art, our news, and into the very collective soul of humanity. It is an eeriness; an uncertain disquiet – almost an unsettling foreboding. Something has come loose, and we’re not sure what it is. It feels as if something is amiss, and we just can’t quite put our finger on it. Welcome to our haunted modernity.
We have for a long time confused ourselves over what constitutes intelligence. Culture has long ingrained in us the notion that power is an expression of intelligence, and that those who wield power must have gotten it through cultivating intelligence. This idea is about as erroneous as the notion that all politicians are good people. These are dysfunctional stereotypes that prey on society and help to build the façade like a gigantic firewall. If an extra-terrestrial race were observing Earth and our diverse societies and cultures then it would most likely come to the conclusion that stupidity is the foremost attribute of power. It would also probably decide that the human species doesn’t know what it wants; doesn’t know how to get what it doesn’t know it wants; and that political institutions are in position to ensure that people don’t have a chance of getting what they don’t know they want. And a period of turbulence it most definitely is.
We have been infiltrated with a virus and it is infecting not only our bodies but our very minds. It’s a pure mind-bending virus and it’s playing havoc with our insecurities and indulging in our sense of lostness. The Spanish have a phrase for this state and it roughly translates as lost from here to the river. It may not make complete literal sense in English but that’s just it; you can get the sense of it and its vagueness is exactly where we are – lost from here to the river.
In haunted lives there may be little or no space for transcendence or self-actualization – yet it may be the only real space left for us. Perhaps the best way to move forward is by first turning inward.
[photo credit – Michael Fuchs]