Monday, August 1, 2016
The American Cultural Revolution–The Coming Irrelevance Of Facts, Truth, And Reality
The American presidential campaign of 2016 has been like no other. Thanks to Donald Trump who, with his outrageousness, Hollywood glitz and glamour, three-ring circus and side show, bare-knuckled, take-on-all-comers brawls, one-line zingers, Las Vegas glitz and Rat Pack showmanship, big ego, big image, and hot salesmanship, we are finally perfectly attuned to a presidential candidate.
Liberals, progressives, and socialists who for decades have been trying to re-form America into a European, international, Utopian model of cooperation, multi-cultural harmony, and rational discourse and reasoned conclusion have been blindsided by Donald Trump and bewildered by the passionate support of his followers. How could tens of millions people be so bamboozled by such a huckster and vaudevillian? How could they be so taken in by a man with no plan, no political coherence, and no experience with governance or leadership?
Trump’s followers, say the Left, must be more hopelessly ignorant than they had thought, more intransigently backward and unmoved by rational argument and the rightness of historical secularism. They are hopelessly inbred with few faculties of judgment. No matter how the Left may try, they refuse to budge and remain racist, homophobic regionalists.
Trump supporters, however, are the avant-garde, the first wave of the new facts–last, image-first, post-human generation weaned on the visceral, the personal, and the immediate. They have understood that in this post-postmodern world not only do facts have relevance only within changing social context, but they no meaning at all within the broader world of virtuality. Facts are subject to faulty memory, imperfect subjective perceptions, historical revisionism and political hyperbole. Facts are tools for the promotion of ideas, theories, and hypotheses, bent and twisted to fit them. Facts are overrated. Truth is fictional, derivative, and meaningless.
‘Post-human’ is the term scientists have chosen to describe the life form that will be the result of scientific modification. The term, however, is not quite accurate. Although as genetically-modified beings, part-organic and part-non-organic, we will certainly not resemble the creatures we now are, we will have simply evolved, albeit it through a more deliberate, focused an efficient means than Darwin ever imagined, into a more modern, capable, resilient, and powerful life form. What currently defines human beings – cognitive, intelligent, sentient, imaginative, spiritual, and creative – will still be appropriate and meaningful. We simply will have become more intelligent, imaginative, and creative than ever before.
The implications of this engineered evolution are profound. First, we will no longer be retarded in our mental and spiritual evolution by the inefficient use of our brains. When a mind-computer interface (i.e. once decoded, human brain impulses will be able to be read by the computer and vice-versa) has been completed, the range of our mental capacities, however limited in the past, will be limitless. Imagine a Google search without a screen or keypad. The mind will not only have access to all information available in real time, but all past information that has been digitized. Not only will we have access to this information, but we will be able to manipulate it however we want. The distinction between fantasy and reality will disappear; and we will no longer be tethered by what is but what might be or what might have been.
Recent Gallup polls have suggested that 40 percent of Americans describe themselves as evangelical or ‘born-again’ Christians. Many more classify themselves as ‘fundamentalist’, believing in the Bible as God’s literal word and Jesus Christ as the one and only true savior of mankind. These faithful Christians abandoned logic and rationality once they accepted the primacy of religious doctrine and spiritual faith. Even conservative Catholic theologians, steeped in the rigorous rationality of Augustine and Aquinas, accept that such logic can only provide the foundation from which one leaps to faith. Logic and faith, despite the long intellectual tradition of the Church, cannot co-exist.
In other word, those of us who have accepted the higher value of ‘irrational’ faith and belief have little difficulty in dismissing fact in secular realms. As a profoundly faithful nation willing to suspend disbelief indefinitely in favor of a higher order of human sensibility, we are already primed for the next step into a virtual world governed not by facts but by preference and sensibility.
Our preference for the fantastical and our dismissal of fact in favor of faith have combined in a perfect revolutionary storm. We have finally given in to what we have known all along – logic, rationality, logical purpose, and intelligent design mean little in a constantly shifting, increasingly complex and indecipherable world. We have given up on policy statements, issues papers, and geo-political promises.
Donald Trump is a man who is as ‘irrational’ as we are and as American. His words mean nothing except as symbols. He is an iconic lexicographer. No one pays attention to what he says but how he says it. The common man has become as adept at textual deconstruction as the most committed postmodernist. Trump’s statements on Muslims, Mexicans, immigration, NATO, or Russia mean nothing per se, but when parsed through the new lens of sensibility, they resonate with our convictions.
Everything in American culture has been tending towards this disassembly of reason and rationality for decades. Pundits, experts, critics, and professional observers are supernumerary in an age of big data. There is no longer any received wisdom but collective wisdom. The judgment of tens of millions of ‘bettors’ always produces more relevant conclusions than any one or group of intellectuals. Both considered and frivolous bets are all placed in the pot, mixed and turned, sorted and analyzed. Hearts and minds are mixed, and such uncategorized results always trump expert opinion.
Virtual reality and the coming interface between mind/brain and computer will moot any discussions of the ‘real’, the ‘actual’, and the ‘proven’. A world controlled by individual thought, feeling, emotion, and perception; one mediated electronically and in which all mind/brains can be linked to all available current and historical information, will be a revolutionary world.
America will be at the vanguard of this cybernetic revolution because we are fundamentally disposed to image, unreality, and fantasy. We have no European historical or cultural baggage to weigh us down. Our culture is one of procedure and process (democracy and liberal economics) rather than the more substantive heritage of literary, intellectual, and artistic traditions. We have no medieval cathedrals, and even if we did, they would be transferable. In a country of individual enterprise, expansionism, and boundless optimism, there is nothing to hold us back in our pursuit of the untethered.
The explosion of support for Donald Trump is not just an uncomfortable shaking of the political landscape; but the first of many seismic waves. It is not that the country is turning Right.. It is finally changing from one of outdated rationality to one of final liberation from ‘truth’.
Anyone paying attention to American culture could have predicted this ineluctable transformation. We have been preparing for this revolution for decades – from the inauguration of the new Republic. Religion, technology, and popular culture have been its enabling forces. Individualism, a code of self-fulfillment, and dogged optimism have been its fuel.
Donald Trump may well be defeated in November; but neither he nor his supporters will go away. He or someone like him will be back, and by that time we will have evolved even further towards the post-human generation of the near future.