Reality as a failed state  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

Bruce Sterling points to this interesting screed on the impossibility of getting everyone to agree on a set of facts in the modern media / psychological landscape - Reality as failed state.

So maybe what we have today are not problems, but meta-problems.

It is very useful to confirm our understanding with others, to meet with fellow humans – preferably face-to-face – strength flows from this.

However, disquiet remains - no pre-catastrophic change of course seems in any way likely. What we might call ‘Fabian’ environmentalism has failed.

Occasionally a scientist will be so overcome with horror that he will make a radical public pronouncement – like the drunken uncle at a wedding, he may well be saying what everyone knows to be true, pulling the skeletons out of the family closet for all to see, but, well, it just doesn’t do to say that sort of thing out loud at a formal function.

This is all a little bit strange.
We understand the problems. We also, pretty much, understand the solutions. But their real-world application is a whole unpickable, integrated clusterfuck.

I believe part of the meta-problem is this: people no longer inhabit a single reality.

Collectively, there is no longer a single cultural arena of dialogue.

What many techno-scientists fail to understand - and thus find most frustrating - about dealing with climate change deniers is that the denier has no real interest in engaging at the scientist’s level of reality.

The point, for the climate denier, is not that the truth should be sought with open-minded sincerity – it is that he has declared the independence of his corner of reality from control by the overarching, techno-scientific consensus reality. He has withdrawn from the reality forced upon him and has retreated to a more comfortable, human-sized bubble.

In these terms, the denier’s retreat from consensus reality approximates the role of the cellular insurgents in Afghanistan vis-a-vis the American occupying force: this overarching behemoth I rebel against may well represent something larger, more free, more wealthy, more democratic, or more in touch with objective reality, but it has been imposed upon me (or I feel it has), so I am going to withdraw from it into illogic, emotion and superstition and from there I am going to declare war upon it.

So, from this point of view, we can meaningfully refer to deniers, birthers, Tea Partiers and so forth as “reality insurgents”, and thus usefully apply the principles of 4GW to their activities – notably, they are clearly operating on a faster OODA loop than the defenders of mainstream reality, and thus able to respond more quickly, with greater innovation, than the sclerotic bureaucracy of institutionalised reality. [Open source bazaars – media-effective denial memes spread virally through community far quicker than effective strategies of rebuttal do.]

(n.b. There is a problematic tendency with a certain type of intellect – the scientist, the technocrat – which assumes that, because it is prepared to organise and change on the basis of dry statistics and data, then, if only everyone else could be exposed to the same data, there would be instant consensus for change. In fact, of course, the majority of human beings do not work like this.

Indeed, there is a positive, indeed, cognitively vital, aspect to intuitive thinking, and the realm of myths, narratives, paradigms of meaning, purpose and significance underlies even the worldview of the technocrat-scientist. Without an ability to engage with and understand the deep psyche, the techno-scientist is doomed to repeat his statistics into the ether without meaningful effect.)

The deniers are operating from a different ontological platform – an emotional reading of reality where there are forces wishing to control them and restrict their personal power and agency, and there are the forces of freedom, which is the side they believe they are on.

They are wrong, of course, but it is important to demonstrate to them that they are wrong on the level they are operating from – not by citing more climate statistics at them, but by demonstrating that the forces they are serving are actually the most vicious extant representatives of the control they profess to hate.

And all this is but one example of the ways in which the traditional ideological blocs of the Cold War have fragmented into complex multipartite civil reality wars.

Reality, you might say, as failed state; its interior collapsing into permanent conflict under the convergent pressures of deviant globalisation, its coasts predated upon by new mutant forms of memetic pirates.


Without a consensus reality there is no hope of effective governance. Politics becomes a pre-shooting civil war.

The consensus reality used to be defined by facts until conservatives understood that the facts were largely against them.

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