A public that can no longer distinguish between truth and fiction is left to interpret reality through illusion. Random facts or obscure bits of data and trivia are used either to bolster illusion and give it credibility, or discarded if they interfere with the message. The worse reality becomes—the more, for example, foreclosures and unemployment sky-rocket—the more people seek refuge and comfort in illusions. When opinions cannot be distinguished from facts, when there is no universal standard to determine truth in law, in science, in scholarship, or in reporting the events of the day, when the most valued skill is the ability to entertain, the world becomes a place where lies become true, where people can believe what they want to believe.”
Hedges wrote this book in 2009. Allow that to sink in.
I don’t know what else to say about this. I’m not sure what else there is to say. You can look at current events and draw a through line, I hope. Conspiracy theories spread by memes on message boards. Lies on the sides of buses. Populist politicians who get over with snarky sound bites and typo-riddled tweets. Much as we have killed the climate, we’ve killed literacy and allowed critical thinking to whither on the vine. We did not value it, and took it for granted, and ignored it. Now we’re reaping what we’ve sown.
This week’s episode of The Minimalists podcast covers emergency preparedness. The show did its job and got me thinking. It’s a year into the pandemic. I’ve taken it for granted that minimalism has allowed Katie and I to weather this situation with aplomb.
We didn’t panic-buy or hoard early on, but we did stock up. It wasn’t because we feared shortages. I think we made reasoned decisions intended to cut down our exposure. After making 3 trips in 3 days, we shifted from going to the grocery store twice a week to once every two weeks. We could do that because we stocked up on non-perishables like flour, sugar, rice, dried beans, and coffee. If there was a situation where the shops were forced to be closed, or one of us got sick and we couldn’t go out, we’d still be able to eat.
As the year has gone on and things have become safer, we’ve gone back to twice-weekly trips. The big shift has been in the times and days we go. With masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer at the ready, we go to the shops when we know the least number of other customers will be there.
Being self-employed helped. Nothing changed drastically for us. Katie shifted from teaching and selling art to just making and selling art. We are lucky to have maintained a steady income. The reason we can be self-employed is because we live a minimalist lifestyle, and don’t have a lot of overhead that forces us to work corporate jobs.
Because we work from home, we’re used to staying in. It’s not unusual for one or both of us to throw ourselves into a project and not leave the apartment for days at a time. So we threw ourselves into projects. We saw this as an opportunity, not some punishment or act of oppression. Again, it’s an example of minimalism at work. Long ago we got into the habit of consolidating trips, and going out less, so we could spend more time engaged in uninterrupted creativity.
Minimalism: A Year Into the Pandemic
As a creative cook, we haven’t missed going out to eat. I can make most of the things we love. Our eating habits have shifted, but not because of lockdown. I still cook a big lunch, both to give us an enjoyable break in the middle of the day and to allow me another means of creative expression. Breakfast and dinner have become simple meals, usually bread, cheese, and fruit or hummus, pita, and raw vegetables.
Early in the pandemic I began daily blogging. After several months I realized that was bad for my mental health. I was spending too much time worrying about “what if” and not being present. The worry was affecting my ability to work. I didn’t need that, so I got rid of it to make more space for other things, like gratifying projects and better peace of mind.
I don’t want this to come across as a flex. There are people that are struggling with isolation, loss of work, and lack of income. I do want to express gratitude that we are so self-sufficient, and that we’ve been able to carry on fairly normally for the past year. I have to give all credit to the years spent cultivating a minimalist mindset, though. It’s given us the tools to deal with lockdown and isolation without serious negative impacts.
We are a culture that has been denied, or has passively given up, the linguistic and intellectual tools to cope with complexity, to separate illusion from reality. We have traded the printed word for the gleaming image. Public rhetoric is designed to be comprehensible to a ten-year-old child or an adult with a sixth-grade reading level. Most of us speak at this level, are entertained and think at this level. We have transformed our culture into a vast replica of Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island, where boys were lured with the promise of no school and endless fun. They were all, however, turned into donkeys — a symbol, in Italian culture, of ignorance and stupidity.”
Currently reading this book, and it gives voice to a lot of my own thoughts about pop culture, the failure of critical thinking, and the current state of the world. We have traded the printed word for the gleaming image – memes, gifs, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, streaming services. No long diatribe here. I just wanted to share this quote. I encourage you to consider reading this book and taking what it says to heart.
Comments are open.
This is Hubris: 28 March 2021 edition. In this issue I want to talk about dealing with real and imagined obstacles.
Welcome to Part 4 in this series on conducting a values assessment. Part 1 was about foundational values, the things that are in theory universal to all of us. Part 2 discussed personal values, and using them as daily touchstones. In part Part 3 I covered what Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus call minor values, the little things that make life better. Today we’re at the end and looking at the concept of imaginary values, which act as obstacles in your life.
This was the category that took me the longest time to get my head around. These are obstacles that masquerade as values. They influence your thoughts and actions, in ways that often seem reasonable and justified. All they really do is make it harder for you to live your other values. That’s why I spent the most time contemplating these. Figuring out all of the other stuff is pointless if you have these hurdles in the way.
After brainstorming and comparing my list to The Minimalists’ example, these are my personal imaginary values. I’ll explain my rational for each, in the hope of making this concept clearer.
- Anger: Without going into my life story I carry a lot of anger around. The world is largely a cruel and unjust place, and that’s wrong. Bad people get away with unspeakable things, and good people are exploited and made to needlessly suffer. While anger can be a motivating force, as long as it’s channeled into constructive activities, I too often rationalize it. That means that I don’t examine it too closely, look for root causes, or try to diffuse it.
- Contempt for Ignorance: People who deny facts and perform intellectual gymnastics to avoid reality infuriate me. We live in a world where all manner of information is literally at our fingertips, yet some people choose to embrace conspiracy theories, superstitions, and harmful ideologies. Like anger, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Where it becomes problematic as a value is that it keeps me from connecting with people, learning how they got to these weird dark places, and figuring out how to maybe guide them back into the light.
- Contempt for Selfishness: It’s just a lack of compassion and empathy, an utter disregard for how one’s actions might negatively impact other people. As with ignorance, though, I tend to tune out the people that are being selfish, dismissing them as one-dimensional cartoon villains with simple motives. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes, though, there are complex issues and I end up missing the bigger picture. Which means I could end up fighting the wrong fight, and addressing symptoms rather than root causes.
- Violence: There was a time when I was a news junkie and a fan of violent television and movie dramas. I accepted violent images as part of the status quo, and necessary to tell the story. It added to the realism. I’m not saying that media desensitizes people, or makes them more prone to commit acts of violence themselves. I’m saying that as I’ve gotten older, violence gets on my nerves and sets off my anxiety. Cheap thrills keep me from appreciating more subtle and nuanced things.
Dealing with Real and Imagined Obstacles
All of these come down to my world view, to one degree or another. They’re the filters through which I process information. So I need to be able to assess things without anger, contempt, or acceptance of some aggressive status quo. To be the change, I need to set these imaginary values aside, or at least be aware that I have these biases and tendencies. Then I an access my actual values, not the ones that I’ve been conditioned to fall back on as a result of negative experiences with the world.