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David Rieff is just back from India, and finds America to be sleepwalking its way to a bad place. Excerpt:
It is in the manufacturing of an ersatz reality based on lies–or, in our present case, on the eliding of the distinction between lies and truth–that people come to connive in their own misrule. The genius of the present age is how deeply these lies have become internalized.
Any social worker will tell you that junkies lie, that it goes with the territory. But what about a society incapable of getting beyond the lies on which its psychic tranquility depends, that is to say, a society bound and determined to lie to itself? Will democracy survive for long in such a society? Has it survived? My own view is that, if it has, that survival now hangs by a thread. Fueling the vanity of the present is that we see the lies of the past with such piercing clarity. But scrutinizing our own time with the same rigor? Not a chance. For to face the implications of the victory of branding–not just of consumer goods, but of political ideas, nations, even of human feelings–and of the hollowing out of democracy, will be the true legacy of the wired world that is too terrible to face. Better to cuddle up with the fantasy world of the specialists in ‘framing,’ the focus-group meisters and the copywriters.
Reflecting on Charles Taylor’s detailed discussion of the medieval Christian mindset, versus our own secularized worldviews, one marvels at how individuals and entire cultures cannot see what they are not psychologically prepared to see, and how hard they work at not seeing what they would prefer not to see. This is not particularly a delusion of religious believers, or unbelievers; It is part of our shared human condition. As David indicates in his blog post, we are very good at scrutinizing — and very eager to scrutinized — the past with the clarity of hindsight and judgment. But where are those who can deal like men and women (versus juveniles) with the crises of our own time?
It is disturbing to imagine what kind of judgment our grandchildren will levy on us.