Friday, June 26, 2015

Revising Reality

There's a human tradition, that seems to have started with the Greeks, that calls for reality to be valued more than fantasy. In the Western World, this thinking really got humming with the idea of science, and the scientific method, where you observe reality, come up with theories to explain how things work, and then test those theories.  But that's really grueling and not user-friendly all all for our modern liberal/neocon establishment, which prefers to live in what Bob Wallace calls a groovy little fantasy world [link].  In such a world, you don't have to put up with dismal old reality, but can make stuff up that sounds better and believe in that. And at one point, the fantasists realized that all this would work even better if these fantasies were actually called reality, and reality itself was renamed bigotry or racism or sexism or something like that.

At one point in the past, it was thought that skepticism was a good way to come to understand reality, and indeed it is, except that human beings have a talent for self-delusion, and end up being skeptical about common sense facts, and true believers in idiocy.

John Derbyshire thinks all this is getting steadily worse, and has to do with the decline of religion and the rise of political correctness. At, he writes:

Nothing Is Real

T.S. Eliot’s observation that “human kind cannot bear very much reality” is surely up among the half-dozen wisest things ever said about our common nature.

There is, of course, individual variation in how much reality we can bear. I flatter myself by believing I am up toward the high end. I readily admit, however, that I have spent not insignificant portions of my life in a state of self-delusion driven by wishful thinking—a hugely underestimated force in human affairs. Some humility is in order, and not just for me.

There is group variation, too. Speaking generally, and again with much individual variation, the old can bear more reality than the young; men more than women; people in up-against-it professions like medicine or law enforcement more than those in comparatively sheltered occupations; people educated in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, math) more than humanities majors; and so on.

I am now going to propose a half-baked theory to you.

Theory: In advanced societies, the average amount of reality people can bear has declined across the past few decades.

This, I believe, has something to do with the ever-increasing availability of screen-based entertainment (movies, TV, the internet), something to do with the decline of religion, something to do with the revolution in manners that we call “political correctness,” and something to do with the falloff in violence, as chronicled by Steven Pinker.

There are surely connections there; but which is cause, which is effect, and which mere symptom, I don’t know. That’s why the theory is half-baked.

Illustrations: As we have seen these past few days, the whole zone of “identity” is shot through with barefaced, unblushing denial of reality.

All but a very tiny proportion of human beings are biologically male (an X and a Y chromosome in the genome) or female (two X chromosomes). A person who is biologically of one sex but believes himself to be of the other is in the grip of a delusion. That is what everybody would have said 50 years ago.

Some of those who said it would have followed up with an expression of disgust; some with unkind mockery; some with sympathy and suggestions for psychiatric counseling. Well-nigh nobody would have said: “Well, if he thinks he’s a gal, then he is a gal.” Yet that is the majority view nowadays. It is a flagrant denial of reality; but if you scoff at it, you place yourself out beyond the borders of acceptable opinion.

Read the rest here:
Quibcag: Ironically illustrated by Haruhi Suzumiya of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (涼宮ハルヒの憂鬱 Suzumiya Haruhi no Yūutsu), because when she stops believing in reality, it does go away. But to understand that you'd have to watch the anime.

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