One core of my political philosophy is this: A sense that the game of politics is played by manipulating people to get trapped into their own projections, pitting them in a war with their own shadows. A war they are certain to lose, the harder they try.
This strategy exploits a fundamental tendency of human beings, which few people ever get free of. This is the tendency to believe they are living in the world they imagine. Social media echo chambers have profoundly amplified the disconnect between the world we imagine and the world as it is.
I’ve arrived at this philosophy in part by watching politics and the media intently for some years, and partly by watching the way my own mind works, noticing how wrong we all are about most everything, most all the time. We are, to a great extent, living in dream worlds.
And as many a sci-fi story has dwelt on, once you fall into a dreamworld, it’s very hard to ever get out. Instead, it’s one dreamworld after another. Politics, is the art of controlling other people’s dreams.
The 20th Century might be viewed as the century in which the development of weapons of war was mirrored by a corresponding development in the technology of mass dream control. Not only the tank, the submarine, the airplane and the atomic bomb, but the radio, the television, the motion picture and the Internet.
It’s all right there in this scene. The truth hidden in plain sight.
But, as stated, once you fall into a dreamworld, it’s virtually impossible to ever get back to reality. It’s just one dream after another after another.
So, in The Matrix, as soon as Neo gets out of the dreamworld he thinks he’s living in, fighting against the conformity of his boss at MetaCortechs, he ends up in another dreamworld, fighting against the absolute rule of the machines. We know it’s a dreamworld because the machine’s supposed utilization of humans as batteries makes no kind of physical sense. His mind tries to blunt the edge of absurdity by throwing in “combined with a form of fusion”, but this is absurd dream logic which fills the gap in the calculation only so long as you don’t actually question it.
Ibram X Kendi, current emblem of what it means to be ‘woke’, provides another example. When he was in college, he firmly believed that white people were literal aliens, on Earth to oppress the indigenous population. Now he believes absolutely everything is either racist or anti-racist, which is a more sophisticated version of the same black and white dream.
Point being: we’re dreamers, and the 20th Century saw as profound a growth in dream management technology as it did in advances in weapons of war.
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What is real? A deep question if ever there was. To my way of looking at it, substantiality is related to reality; not that there is no place for the less-than-completely substantial in any understanding of reality. What I mean is that anything that has substance has some resistance in it. One cannot do utterly anything one would like with anything of substance, let us say. Something of substance has some kind of properties which one must respect if one is to work with, live with it to any degree.
Our own projections, on the other hand, completely bend experience to our will. When there is absolutely zero resistance; when every part seems to come together perfectly, and a story seems water-tight, there is a good chance you are dealing with either a substance which is ideally compatible with your way of managing it, or, more likely, you are dealing with something insubstantial. I would also say that richness of detail lends to an experience a feeling of reality. That is, there is a surfeit of detail beyond what I need to feel I know the thing. There is always “more” to it. Thus when we wish to simulate this feeling of reality, we manufacture excess details. It helps if some of those details don’t seem to care that you’ve shown up to notice them. They are not there “for you” but for themselves. But, as this film demonstrates, simulations have limits of a different sort which one might be able to discern if one experiences “glitches”, as when a simulation does not anticipate a behavior of a user and has to “catch up”. These glitches are then, the “tells” in your insubstantial reality of a substance behind them. Thus if we wish to know reality, we may want to take note of contradictions to our understanding of things. Look for things that resist rather than confirm our biases. Now, maybe that’s a “resistance” I can get behind.
We may regard dreams as instances of insubstantiality. But it is also true that one cannot do absolutely anything one would like to do in a dream. One can often do fantastical things, of course, but often there are limits. Dreams, in that sense, seem to possess a substance. But I would call this, rather than substance as such, something which behaves substantially. Each dream seems to have a logic to it, or a certain framework, at least provisionally. But these are often encountered, in my experience, just before waking up. Its as if the thing in the dream that is thwarting me is a sign of some kind of bounded nature despite the insubstantiality of the dream space. And that boundary, it seems, is the world we share with others that is not just in our heads.