[I wote this yesterday morning when the power was out. My info on the Wuhan-flu is thus a little behind in numbers, but otherwise still relevant.]
Within a minute of waking up this morning the power went out. Turns out something happened to a power cable by the superstore around the corner. That might have put me in one of my more lucid curmudgeonly states of mind.
Let me kick this ball rolling with what “post truth” means. It’s a bit like “fake news” in that one person’s real news is another’s fake news, and vice-versa. When we can’t agree on what is fundamentally true, or how to recognize truth, or how to test it, and when relativism is kinda’ OK — for you the Earth is a pancake, but for me it’s a sphere — we’re in the realm of post-truth. Which is the real news regarding the Novel Coronavirus, right now, coming out of China, : the official government statement, or the uploaded videos and commentary from average Chinese citizens from across the country? Neither, you say, quite obviously, but you needn’t worry about those uploads from ordinary people because they’ve stopped, or rather been stopped, in the last 48 hours. There’s a threat of a 7 year prison sentence if one dares speak out. We only have the official, calculated and manicured version of reality. The greater truth would have come from looking at a combination of sources, so we could filter out the crazy stuff and the sheer propaganda to get a more accurate picture.
I’m perturbed that I continually find people uprooted, as in they have no real anchor in reality. Perhaps what reality is has changed, and it is now a flux of shifting opinions and narratives circulated among people, like a mental virus. I don’t mean that people don’t know what reality is necessarily, that they don’t have all sorts of bits and pieces more or less right; all sorts of anecdotal experience, and various insights. But we’ve become untethered. We’re like jellyfish floating on the current of information, and going along with wherever the tide takes us.
Part of the reason is that we don’t trust authority anymore, and with good reason. Everything has become a game of advertising, and because the news is tailored to garner clicks for advertisement, it no longer reflects reality, but molds it. A necessity of advertising is to skew people’s reality so that they believe they need the product in question. When news becomes dominated by advertising, and serving and protecting business interests, the inevitable outcome is that people believe whatever is best for business, whatever funnels money up to the already fantastically rich and powerful. In order to achieve this, our grip on reality needs to be loosened, and oh how it has.
A couple decades ago when I was working full-time as a long-term temp in a bank, and taking the subway every day, I had the distinct impression that people were not stupid. I would boldly state that I hadn’t met a stupid person that I could remember. But corruption + incompetence has the result of living in a society where everyone is stupid. Patently stupid decisions prevail.
Recently, as everyone should know, a new virus mutated, most probably in a bat and/or snake, in a seafood and wild animal “wet market” in Wuhan, China. Being a new virus, humans have no immunity to it built from prior exposure. As of now, the estimates are that only 20% of those infected require hospital care to save their lives, and only roughly 3% of people have died so far. That is somehow presented as not that bad, when the virus is infecting roughly 40% more people every day. At this rate, in a month, more than 22,000,000 people would need hospital beds. But when this virus was in its infancy, there were two choices.
One choice was to isolate it as soon as possible so that it wouldn’t spread. The other was to try and hide it and play it down in order to not look bad. The later decision was made and now the virus has spread all over the world. Nicely played! How utterly imbecilic in 2020! I seriously doubt anyone is stupid enough to, given the two options, choose to just wait and see what happens, rather than nipping it in the bud. But that’s what essentially occurred, and when bad things started happening we got a skewed timeline and a slow release of the truth. Rather than telling us upfront that the virus was transferable from person to person, and even after more than a dozen medical workers contracted the virus, officials in China were saying the virus had not yet spread from person to person. Infected individuals thus blithely boarded planes out of Wuhan and flew all over the globe, and in the highest concentration to Bangkok in Thailand.
I don’t throw around the word “stupid” that easily, but we can top just letting the virus out of the bag. What would be the absolute dumbest thing possible to do? How about holding a 10,000 family banquet in Wuhan, just four days before the city was locked down. Sure, it’s only named a 10,000 family banquet, in a country that has a dish called thousand-year old egg, so one doesn’t take it literally, except that 40,000 families showed up. If you haven’t been to a banquet in China, well, I’ve been to at least a dozen, and most people will use their own utensils to dig directly into the food, which usually comes around to their seat on a Lazy Susan. You just reach your chopsticks into the piles of food as they go by. There could have been no better way of spreading the disease.
The WHO is still sitting on its hands, and has already had to apologize for labeling the epidemic a “moderate” threat as opposed to a “serious” threat, and I believe they may have also apologized for having apologized in a mere footnote. Surely they want to err on the side of caution, but not concerning human lives, but rather short-term economics. Never mind the economics of whole cities being quarantined.
In Thailand they are worried about losing tourist dollars from China, and projecting a shortage of 2,000,000 Chinese tourists this year. Bangkok is the city outside of China – and it has more cases of the virus than a lot of cities within China – mostly likely for the virus to take root. If that were to happen, and Bangkok were locked down just as Wuhan and several other cities in China have been, that would mean no tourists entering the city.
The Thai health authority (I can’t go online to look up his exact title) has thrown his hands in the air and, to his credit, admitted that Thailand cannot possibly contain the virus, as 22,000 visitors from Wuhan have entered Thailand in January alone, all well after the virus broke out. Because I live a few hours from Bangkok, my chances of contracting the virus are now an inescapable reality, as are the chances of the city I live in being hit with an epidemic, and more or less shutting down.
I’m having to huff unhealthy levels of particulate matter, I have no electricity, and an epidemic wave is headed my way, all because of other peoples corruption and incompetence. It’s a wee bit of a pisser.
And the reason corruption and incompetence go hand in hand is because in order to attain a station of power and authority one does not need to earn it. One only need look at American presidents to see this sad reality, and no I don’t just mean Trump: I mean the royal families, the Bushes and Clintons. The idea that anyone can become president in America if he or she is great enough is a joke, which the twin elections of the simpleton youngest Bush son should have branded in everyone’s forehead. That a businessman could muscle his way into the seat of power, flying around in his private jet, is just a double-whammy. And no, Hillary, with her private server, would only have been marginally better, delivering business as usual with modestly different packaging. Perhaps a much younger Hillary would have made a difference, but the seasoned, cynical, Machiavellian Hillary would have just kept the ship sailing in the same trajectory as had her predecessor, which is the same direction our comically endearing doofus steered it, and her husband for two terms before that. As long as they don’t plow into the iceberg full-steam ahead, we are grateful.
My point was that the best aren’t rising to the top, at least in politics and many other pursuits. Pop music serves us up industry-created pap, with most lyrics issuing from one duo of writers, and auto-tuning of “singing” being so prevalent that people have developed a taste for “singing” that sounds like talking filtered through a robot. It’s laughably bad.
I could go on and on about how in addition to money and advertising, postmodernism deceived people into thinking reality is subjective (it’s not, only our interpretation of it is), that people think they are “woke” when they adopt a quarter-century old, hackneyed, academic narrative, hook line and sinker, which they are force-fed through social media (and which everyone is afraid to call bullshit on)… I could elaborate on why our current cushy standard of living in the first world is due almost exclusively to technological advancements, and those due to science, and that to rational objectivity (which, incidentally, postmodernism and social justice tries to malign as a white male discourse)… But it’s probably enough for this afternoon (power’s been out a few hours now) to address that my health is presently at risk because of other people’s corruption and incompetence, which pretty much issues from the selfish-stupidity that every human mind grapples with and has to overcome.
My thoughts and my mind itself are slowly becoming less important than how well my body can fight off a vicious new virus loosed upon the world because of medieval levels of sanitation, monumental incompetence, and aforementioned selfish stupidity in action on the grand scale.
Science can’t explain everything, and reason and logic can’t and don’t encompass all of reality, in which case we have things like art and spirituality to fill the void, but they are essential, and our best anchor in reality. I tend to think it’s exaggeration, but a lot of people are saying that kids today aren’t taught how to think, but what to think. I have experienced this myself in my own college education, so I know there’s truth in it. The conclusions come first, fast and hard, and the semblance of evidence later, usually in the form of anecdotes and homilies from people who are beyond criticism. Even people who go around saying that people don’t know how to think, don’t themselves know how to think, or aren’t practiced at it. When I get in debates online, I’m startled by how few people are actually capable of a civil discussion, without name-calling, and without serving up a cornucopia of logical fallacies.
As an artist, I deal in subjectivity, and the further out I can send that satellite of perception the better, but the foundation still needs to be rigorous objectivity. These days it’s getting closer to impossible to be adequately objective, because we can’t even deal with the facts if we don’t know what they are, or where to turn to find them. As with the official report from the communist party, and uploads from average citizens in China (ex., videos taken in hospitals, and of the vacant streets), one now needs to be able to access and filter multiple sources oneself, using just ones own noodle. We can’t really trust the New York Times to be the only news source we will ever need just because that’s their advertising pitch. That’s like going into a “5 Star” hotel in China and realizing that it wasn’t rated 5 stars, that’s just the name of the hotel.
Nobody has a full grip on reality. We each have our own anecdotal portal, and we all know something nobody else knows. I once was walking in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and I saw a young girl pushing a snail cart in the dirt road in astounding heat. Imagine something like a wheelbarrow with a large tin of snails spread across it, glistening in the sun. It was obvious to me at the time that she knew things I didn’t. Not just about what those snails tasted like, or what it was like to actually enjoy them (if she did), but what her route was, what it was like to push the cart, and what she would go home to. Even her mysterious, mostly forgotten, nightly dreams are part and parcel of reality.
Reality contains everyone’s individual experience, and merely understanding how the laws of physics works does not mean one appreciates the significance of what those laws mean when applied to subjective, conscious experience. A super-computer can contain all the information of science, and be absolutely objective, but not even know that it exists itself. Appreciating why knowledge means anything is a subjective exercise.
Nothing matters without subjectivity. When you understand that than you can’t say that subjectivity doesn’t matter. A real grip on reality has to include subjective understanding born of lived experience.
That said, if we can’t envelope reality, we can at least get more than a couple fingers on the ball. People seem no longer able to keep things in perspective. Mountains are molehills and molehills are mountains. It is more important that a basketball star and his daughter died in plane crash than that a new virus has been loosed upon the world; a city of 11 million people is in quarantine, and over 100 people have died so far. It is easier to sympathize with one super star celebrity athlete than faceless people from a city across the globe.
No matter how subjective, bizarre, or imaginary the realms I might take my art and mind, I’ve always deferred to the best logical argument, and always tried to counter whatever bullshit argument with a better one myself (hence the existence of this blog). I’ve lived by Socrates’ statement that “the unexamined life is not worth living,“ which means one needs to be a bit of an armchair philosopher oneself and ponder the big questions. I don’t consider myself especially good at it. I like to think my specialty is visual art, and I like to believe I’m good enough at art to make some sort of a contribution. But I’m starting to feel like I live in a stupid world, in which case my ability to think reasonably and intelligently is exceptional. I gather it’s because people not only have not learned and practiced how to think rationally, to research, to weigh evidence, to triangulate it, to come to conclusions, and to be able to articulate them coherently, they don’t even care about any of that.
The electricity is back on, my faith in humanity and the operation of civilization is somewhat restored, and I can finally shower and have a second, this time hot, cup of coffee.