Crossroads by Carolyn #74

    I see the brightness of the distant mountain peaks and a quiet peace stirs inside.  Staring at the sky and breathing in the cool mountain air, I bask in the resultant calm.  And in the true fashion of someone with an overactive mind, I begin asking myself why I feel this way, why I have this intense affinity for nature.  Of course there are the aesthetic and survival reasons, but for me, there is something that underlies it all.  I want to find something real.
    Only the evidence suggests that there is no evidence.  If there ever was a reality, a clear stable relationship between thought and the real, it is now lost.  It’s all an illusion.  Nevertheless, nature gives me the illusion of something real, true, and meaningful, of something that transcends the cold reality of a concrete and miniaturized world.  This is perhaps why I gravitated towards science.  I felt some pull to try and figure things out, to understand and know nature on all levels, to find some unchangeable truth.  Except by investigating science and going smaller and smaller in focus, I found myself not in a giant file cabinet of ordered facts, but floating in an inchoate and eternal void, confronted with the vast unknown and unknowable.  To me, that is a great comfort; I need to believe in endless possibilities.
    Now you ask, what about this paper I’m reading? Isn’t it real?  I’d say yes and maybe no.  It is real, but to what consequence?  Before it was a page, it was pulp, a tree, a seed, and who knows what else.  It’s been through innumerable cycles as atoms and molecules.  Am I suggesting that if something is transitory it isn’t real? I don’t know.  I try not to get too hung up on this; it seems to miss the point.  I’m thinking of and questioning more the ‘reality’ of the world, not as made up of atoms or particles, but as the everyday society in which we exist.
    Looking at reality from a different angle, I see more of a hologram or shady construct, rather than anything inherent or innate.  I see a grand simulation created by the media, a collage of images and dominant narratives presented as real, but lacking verifiable substance.  The French theorist Jean Baudrillard suggests that we live our lives as if in quotation marks.  We are born into a soup and inculcated with scripted and precoded desires- we are conditioned into playing certain roles in one enormous reality TV show devoted to consumption.  Even resistance to the images seems scripted.  The resistance gives priority to the image and seems to reinforce that which it seeks to undermine.
    The media is never neutral, never a simple reflection of events.  It creates facts and information, and in doing so, creates its own reality.  I’m thinking specifically of the effects of the endless procession of news coverage.  Crisis after crisis, event after event, image after image.  Baudrillard wrote, “The effect of reality has disappeared behind the acceleration of things - an anamorphosis of speed. In their accelerated occurrence, the events have in a sense swallowed their own interpretation.”  And so we get a series of small punches, never really feeling the impact of each blow, never really grasping any meaning.  In the media, tragedies and wars become almost cliché- the reactions predictable, the consequences practically invisible. 
    I think of cable news with its constant streaming of mini-headlines across the bottom of the screen and the news websites with headlines that change every few hours.  It’s an endless reel of never-changing scenes.  How many people are actually shocked by anything anymore?  Baudrillard continues to say, “As for the news events, one could say that they plough a void in front of themselves as they go along, wherein they also get swallowed up.  It seems everything jostles ahead in a haste to be forgotten.  These events leave no place for interpretation.’” Criticism doesn’t make news, and if it does it is never fairly represented.  It seems the general public doesn’t want to hear it anyway.  They line up for the punches, drawn in by the ‘suctional pull of future events.’ 
    Is there a problem then with accepting the illusion as real, the model as the original?  If someone can convince herself that she is truly free and independent, is there any harm?  It’s been said that the most powerful instinct of man is to be in conflict with truth and the real (assuming there is a real truth).  The theorist Jacques Lacan reiterates, “We are used to the real.  The truth we repress. The truth is always disturbing.”  What if ‘reality’ is just too brutally sad and hopeless?  Who would I be to rip off someone’s protective skin?  I have moments when I’m confronted with ‘reality,’ when I deeply feel what it means to live in this genocidal and ecocidal atomic age.  The shock and horror drops me to my knees.  I cry and scream, not out of anger really, but out of sheer sorrow and fear about all the suffering and misery.  Is that feeling mine to bestow? Do we live and let live?  Even if we all will die?
    I can’t convince myself that I have escaped the grasp of power.  I’m not free and I have no interest in pretending I am, nor could I if I did.  I think once you have some kind of revelation about how things are, you can no longer hide your intuitional inner voice.  My hikes into nature are soothing, but in a sense I am still consuming nature and turning it into a pleasurable commodity.  But this should not be depressing.  There is fun to be had.  All the better if it’s a lie, if it’s all an illusion.  Embrace the void, the nothingness, the vast potential.  Embrace irony, paradox, the insolvable, incomprehensible, the chaotic.  Most of me has stopped the outward search for something real and incorrupt.  For truth, I turn inward and settle into the void, the only place of liberation.