The Romance of the Real: More and more of our world is fake

The Romance of the Real: More and more of our world is fake. By Michael Davis.

I watched Mark Zuckerberg’s guided tour of his new metaverse. Nothing screams “quiet desperation” like a bunch of nerds playing poker in a 3D chat room. It’s like something normal grown-ups would do… except you don’t have to put on pants, or leave the house, or interact with people in real life. When you get tired of your friends you can go into another “room” and look at flying koi fish. Plus you get to be a super-cool robot!!!

Yes, it’s pathetic. But is Mark Zuckerberg really so much weirder than we are? …

We’re already living in a virtual reality. For years now, social media has been turning us into little Zuckerbots. … We don’t live deliberately. We lack authenticity. Everything in our lives is cheap, banal, and fake.

Our relationships are fake. Our presence on the internet is perfectly manicured, as are those of our “friends.” We only know each other by our masks. Often enough, we forget what our own faces look like beneath them. … There’s nothing quite so depressing as seeing a pack of young men walking down the street, marching shoulder-to-shoulder, all looking down at their phones….

Our sex is fake. Thanks to condoms, contraceptives, and abortion-on-demand, sex has been divorced from its reproductive function. There are still consequences, of course, but they’re not quite so visible. … There’s still the potential emotional trauma. Women form emotional bonds with the men they have sex with. They don’t always want to, but they do. That’s why “ghosting” has become such a peril in the dating scene. Actually, women seem embarrassed to admit that a sexual partner can wound them simply by not texting them after a hookup. … The truth is, there’s no such thing as free love. …

Our commerce is also fake. Right now, virtually every sector of the economy is starving for employees. Tens of millions of would-be workers are staying home because they’ve realized they can live off of welfare and Covid-19 “stimulus packages.” …

Since the 1980s, America has been dumping its productive industries on the third world. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, goods-producing sectors comprise about 14 percent of the workforce. For reference, that’s the same as transportation, warehousing, and retail. We employ as many people to sell goods as to make them. That’s unreal. It shouldn’t be possible. But it is! (At least for now.) Because most jobs in the United States are what David Graeber calls “bullshit jobs”. They’re jobs that no one really wants to do and we don’t actually need anyone to do them. They’re fake jobs. Think of all-night pizza delivery boys, or dog-walkers, or anyone in human resources. These careers are really a form of workfare. They’re not real, either. And if folks think the government will keep sending them checks so that Amazon can deliver their groceries… well, they’re probably right.

(By the way, China draws all of its power by creating the illusion that we can have a prosperous First World economy while only ten percent of adults actually work. We’re Hansel and Gretel; Amazon is the gingerbread house; Xi Jinping is the witch.)

Even our leisure is fake. In his modern classic Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam chronicled the social malaise caused by the decline of civic institutions, labor unions, and social organizations. Some of these institutions may seem silly, like the eponymous bowling leagues. But they formed the bedrock of our democracy. They created bonds of affection and trust between neighbors. They grounded us in a shared experience of the world.

And now? Now the Almighty Screen has destroyed those, too. From Netflix to Xbox, we relax by allowing ourselves to be absorbed into these unreal worlds. Unlike books or boardgames, they don’t require us to use our imagination. In fact, they bypass our conscious minds altogether….

Even when we manage to tear our gaze away from the screen for a while, it haunts us. Hiking in New Hampshire this autumn, I was amazed by how many cars there were from Massachusetts and New York. Most of the “hikers” were women in their late 20s and a full face of makeup, boyfriends in tow. When we reached the bluff, my wife and I stood back and watched as they spent ten or 20 minutes posing for endless photos. As Thoreau said, “From the desperate city you go into the desperate country…”

And, of course, our news is fake. All news is fake news. I don’t have to explain that one, do I?

We have no idea just how much control Big Tech has over our lives. We desire what they tell us to desire. We believe what they tell us to believe. We buy what they tell us to buy. We’ve sold ourselves into virtual slavery. And if anyone (like Thoreau) urges us to seize our freedom, we call him a hipster and laugh him off. …

So what are you going to do about it?

Deep down, there’s a part of us — all of us — that longs to be free, as Thoreau longed to be free. We want to live deliberately. We crave authenticity. As we should! But … that means we have to do something.

Start by falling in love with the world. Let yourself be swept away by the romance of reality. ….

Spend at least an hour outside every day. Look at things. Listen to things. Smell things. If you can’t go outside, clean the bathroom or do the dishes without listening to music or podcasts. Be alone with your thoughts.

Get rid of your smartphone and get a flip-phone. This is the best decision you’ll ever make in your entire life. You’ll look back in ten years and wish you’d done it ten years sooner. …

Read at least one book every fortnight. It’s easier than it sounds. As a wise man once said, the secret to reading more is simple: spend more time reading. Yet another reason to cut back on your screen time.

Get together with people in real life. Set rules for yourselves: no phones for an hour, two hours, however long you’re together. Make eye contact. Smile. Laugh together. The first ten minutes will be painful, but power through it. If you’ve been looking and hearing and thinking and reading, it will be much easier.

If neither of you have anything to say, be at ease in the silence. The most unnatural thing about the modern world is the total lack of quiet. We fill the world with meaningless sounds to avoid being alone with ourselves. St. Augustine spoke of those who “live for their bodies and their blather.” I think he meant us.

Do real work, even if it’s menial. Rake your leaves instead of using a leaf-blower. Cut up a tree with an axe instead of a chainsaw. When your friend asks for help moving furniture, go for it. … Go for walks. …

It’ll be hard. You’re addicted to the illusions, and addictions are always hard to break. Still, I think you’ll agree, it’s worth being disillusioned.

Most of the population is also in love with the politically correct illusions, to some extent or another. Breaking that addiction may require a calamity.

hat-tip Stephen Neil