Saturday, March 5, 2011
An Artificial Sensory System
In the so-called Information Age we can know much more rapidly and much more vividly (if not comprehensively) what transpires in countless areas that fall outside the region we can actually touch in daily life by ordinary action. This age, of course, is the fruit of electronic communications technology. Before this artificially maintained “sensory system” came into being, we were well adapted to the information that managed to reach us. A nice balance existed between input and output. If we saw, heard, touched, or smelled something, we could act upon it. Now we cannot. We can know, but we cannot act. But our biology is still adapted to the old dispensation; it tells us that we can. But we cannot. Structures of persuasion have evolved to exploit this new impotence of ours in various ways. We’re told: “You can, too. Just send some money.” But we cannot really. No doubt this all came about innocently enough, people doing what promised to be successful. The Big Lie just came about. It was made plausible—and remains somewhat plausible still—because democratic processes remain in place. These, at great intervals of time, provide a relatively low-resolution feedback mechanism. By low-resolution what I mean is that we never vote on narrow policies but in favor of huge ambiguous clouds in the shapes of which we’re invited to recognize concrete actions that only seem to be there—like that lamb in the cloud. In practice, however, it is best to resist the Big Lie and to accept our impotence as real. We cannot actually micromanage the collective reality. Our powers to influence it are limited. The efforts to influence us by constant bombardments of persuasion waste our emotional energies. At the same time, all this furor, if resisted, leaves untouched our ability to do all sorts of useful, helpful things in daily life.