The Revenge of the Real
Building on Salted Earth
“When all is said and done, more is said than done.” — Lou Holtz
The past 24 months have demonstrated, time and again, the power of the Regime to silence any kind of criticism. They are not only bureaucratic and barely functional, they are openly hostile when they do function.
“These are the times that try men’s souls.” We are facing off against a Goliath, an apparatus I can only call Blue Empire, which combines the powers of the Press, Tech, and the NGO universe with the funding of Wall Street and the legions of manpower and stamp of Science TM that Academia can deliver.
I want you all to understand that the appeal of apathy and irony today is normal. One of the most pernicious and difficult things to deal with in this world is the obscurity of power.
The greatest tragedy of our world is that, lost in the endless array of kafkaesque bureaucracies and narrative-forming entities, it isn’t even clear who to blame! Who should I be mad at? “The Man”? That’s meaningless.
(Source: Democracy: The False God)
In the face of this dysfunction, is it any surprise that the Virtual world takes more and more precedence over the Real? Who wants to deal with the messy intricacies of IRL relationships, of the absurd ineffectiveness of today's institutions and governance, and of our impotence in the face of all of this? Why should I accept things I cannot change when I have available to me a world of almost infinite customization? When I can be whoever I want to be, go wherever I wish to go, etc. It is no surprise the Virtual became so much more dominant. This is true far beyond the realm of politics. We are willing to set ablaze whatever last strands of the social fabric remain at the altar of "convenience." Each day we reduce the breadth and depth of interactions and relationships we have in society as our engagement with digital phantoms replaces human interaction.
People "become" an individual in the eyes of another when they meaningfully interact with them and care about them. But what happens when people are not able to meaningfully interact with one another regularly? What happens when you switch apartment buildings or neighborhoods every couple years, never becoming embedded in a community? What happens when you move cities for jobs, and can only see your friends every 6 months (if that)? What happens when public spaces continue to be gradually closed off and when the Virtual Public Square is exclusionary? Alienation is a constant in today's world. Is it any surprise that 27% of millennials and ~20% of all Americans reported having zero close friends in a YouGov poll in 2019?
Someone might ask "why not change?" Of course, the logic of "revealed preferences" would determine that a heroin addict just doesn't really mean it when they say they want to quit; clearly, they must be lying because deep down they like it. Our entire society is addicted to convenience, debt, autonomy, pleasure, sh*t that barely qualifies as "food", and a plethora of other things that add up to a horrifying sterile hedonism.
The Virtual only intensifies this. As our networks become shallower, as our relationships become more conditioned by questions of utility/value, as we delve deeper into the madness of the Virtual, we sterilize our very souls.
If you only engage with people on a shallow level, what is the point of cultivating those inner depths that make life so rich and meaningful? There is nothing left but the surface: signaling and pleasure become the highest goods. As our networks become shallower, our ability to understand others as full Persons weakens. And as that ability weakens, the value of each of our inner depths weakens as well. So it should come as no surprise that people are "uninteresting." What is the point of being interesting if there is no one around to appreciate it? And the vicious cycle continues.
The endpoint of our Modern addictions is, ironically, the abolition of our inner depths. In some ways, perhaps, an abolition of the Self. In its place, we witness the emergence of a terrible new order: collectivism without community, alienation without actualization.
And how can a mass of atomized individuals, of networks based on far more tenuous connections than those of blood and hometown, ever build meaningful institutions to develop and wield political power? This isn't to say it can't be done: plenty of people have done it. The "homesteader" community (for lack of a better term) is one that focuses on maintaining a space where people actively working on homesteads and people interested in them can talk about topics both serious and casual. These communities produce more value in a day than most of the "dissident 'intelligentsia'" have produced in years.
There is something real and meaningful to be said about mapping the territory. About explaining some facet of the world that has gone unnoticed or been misunderstood. It is good and powerful to explain to others that no, they aren't crazy, the world around them is what has gone insane. That there is a space of people who they can connect with. That they do not have to be alone. All of this is meaningful and good.
But I want to point out a single feature of the Virtual that is so detrimental to any kind of meaningful political action (and which seems to overwhelm any positives that intellectual discussion generates): The Discourse.
The Discourse traps us in a simulation of action. Our dunks generate the same dopamine highs as, you know, actually doing something real. We play roles in a massive imaginary game in order to derive some form of satisfaction: a simulation of reality that is capable of keeping us quiet and compliant. And so we lose sight of real goals and become obsessed with virtual ones (or, in our madness, confuse virtual wins for real victories). So politics becomes replaced with clout-chasing, institution-building replaced with in-group signaling, principles and values replaced with resentment and posturing, and friends replaced with internet "personalities" who tend to be cattier than the average 13 year old girl.
This Dream World is, indeed, a vehicle of our damnation - and one we willingly enter.
So how do we resolve this? How do I avoid becoming (remaining?) the very thing I have condemned in this piece: a man so enthralled and embedded in the Discourse that he has lost any connection between his work and the Real world (or, perhaps, deluded himself into thinking I am creating a real impact where there is none)?
The Real must take revenge against the Virtual.
Now, as with so many other oft-capitalized words (Capital, Sovereignty, etc), these do not represent real forces. They represent aspects of the World that emerge out of the actions of individuals as we engage with (and simultaneously shape and reshape) systems we are embedded in. To say the Real must take revenge against the Virtual is to say that individuals must 1) be honest with themselves about how their work connects with the world (mine for instance will lead to nothing substantial from just a substack), 2) begin work on building real world institutions, and 3) embrace the imperative of creation rather than commentary - build culture, not Discourse!
Only through these actions can we free ourselves from the dream world of the Virtual and, hopefully, produce Real positive impacts. We need to ask ourselves “how have my actions contributed to making the world a better place/changing something about the world over the last year or 3 years or 5 years?” If you have no answer, you probably need to get outside more.
And all this requires us to whole-heartedly embrace a world we may see as irreparably broken - a world with soil that’s been so salted that it seems nothing will be able to grow for eons. That's okay. We must soldier on. The realm of possibilities is far broader than most wish to admit.
Dostoevsky knew that a rejection of the world as evil, no matter how noble the intentions of that rejection (i.e. condemning the rampant and unjust suffering in the world), would simply lead to a vicious circle of more evil and suffering. Rejecting the world would poison one’s own soul, however noble it may have been. And so, we must embrace and accept the world, in spite of all of its imperfections and evil. We must understand and acknowledge our place within the world, so that we may begin a virtuous cycle of love and care in order to overcome the vicious cycles of suffering.
When one accepts their place in the world, one is simultaneously liberated and compelled. Liberated from the misanthropy and isolation of being “apart” from the world, and compelled to take an active part in improving it. And this active part must be done whole-heartedly.
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