Nothing in our lives came about by chance – except the one single fact being almost each and everyone came about by conception. Even that could one day become a rarity. That is because almost every aspect of the human world is built. Its thought of, planned, designed and built. And what it means is fantasy constitutes a huge part of the human element!
In my previous posts I looked at things like war and violence and how this was constructed. I also looked at the work of Yuval Harrai by way of a great lecture he gave in London.
Some of you might think I’ve suddenly egged on the notion of reality. That is not the case. In the seventies when The Prisoner made its second outing on television I began to see this as something that told us reality was in fact enforced upon us. One can see it in how the occupants of The Village act, behave. There is no other way they know how to behave – or if they did they know, they would be punished. Thus they lived what basically was an inauthentic life. In that respect it can be said we all live inauthentically because we have no comparator to what reality is, or could be.
I studied reality (or the various elements of it) in the eighties by way of many noted philosophers and psychologists and continued this as part of my degree in sociology, even extending to phenomenology and semiotics. Works that I studied include Berger and Luckmann (The Social Construction of Reality) which formed the basis of my initial academic studies.
Berger & Luckmann’s 1966 book on social construction.
Anyway, a big part of our realities big part of this comes through the notion of fantasy and what it means is we live in a world of make believe. Our world isn’t even real. Its constructed. Its built. Its put in place – and its in place only for our benefit – and only for us to learn, even abide by its stringent ‘regulations.’ We make it as such with the many tools we too have developed. For example, the law, money, politics, war.
As Yuval Harai so eloqunetly points out, ‘Humans control the planet because they are the only animals that can cooperate both flexibly and in very large numbers.’ He pointed out if a huge crowd of chimpanzees were put in Wembley stadium there would be chaos. If a huge crowd of humans was put in there instead there would usually be order.
I must add, in my view even if there was ‘chaos’ among those humans in Wembley stadium it would still need to have an order of sorts. Why’s that? Well in my view even to bring about chaos humans need to cooperate! If a huge crowd of humans suddenly split into two sides and began fighting each other both sides would have to cooperate in order to keep the sides reasonably powerful and intact.
If there was a fight and everyone just hit out at everyone else in a very random way and there were no sides of any sort it would indeed be chaotic. Everybody would be fighting everybody else with no real sense of progress! It would also be self defeating because no one would be winning. Even if there were many small groups fighting each other at least there would be some order and co-operation within the apparent chaos and the prowess of each group could be used more effectively to both defend and attack.
What it boils down to is humans need others to cooperate in order to get the best possible results. Its like this. You have three people, all wanting to beat the shit out of each other. If two of those join sides temporarily, what it means is the one odd out will go down without too much of a fight. The two winners can then turn to each other and determine just who is the stronger of the pair. This shows that cooperation is by and large necessary in order to achieve a certain result.
And that cooperation leads to fantasy. How? Well lets say a group wants to tell others about a previous calamity or some other misfortune that had befallen them. How would they do that? They would either sit together and tell stories whilst others listen (again cooperation) or even collaborate and put on a theatre showing what had happened during that calamity. If it was a battle with other human groups they would probably dress in the attire worn in such circumstances (or a representation of these) and use implements to represent weapons.
Now that cooperation can be used for other things. The working together to create a formidable force that can defend itself from others, or even to vanquish others. Or to work together and produce something, perhaps vegetables or rice, which others can be fed with. What is important is humans can chose the activity and the level of it which is required.
In comparison a colony of ants or bees just do as nature had intended them to. As Yuval Harari points out, ‘bees cannot reinvent the social system overnight. They cannot, for example, execute the queen and establish a republic of bees, or a communist dictatorship of worker bees.’
What it means is in the natural world there are no choices. It just as it is. Ants and bees are essentially automated. They don’t question their existence. They don’t say ‘fuck this, I no longer want to carry leaves / collect nectar.’ But humans do. And that is important.
In order to achieve that humans need to be far removed from nature. Its why we have Cartesian dualism. The great French philosopher no doubt explained in a nutshell how we saw and perceived things, but he also put us on a greater placing than the animals of the world.
Alternative reality depicting humans on the receiving end of the animals and other objects. From Authors collection
This is what we know as speciesism. Its us versus the animals. We are their masters. Instead of animals living naturally and dying naturally we process them. We breed them. We put them through machines and they become meat, fertiliser, glue or other products.
What we have done there is we have taken the animals out of their natural order and put them in our constructed world. Pigs live in a fenced off pen and cows live in a fenced off field because that is our order of things, the ways we think the world should be run. They are for the survival of humanity by way of giving us foods and life essentials.
There’s another category to this. Laboratory animals. This is a hyper category we humans have devised in order to ensure our absolute survival. These animals are neither used for food nor for education but for experiment. In the natural world not one animal or species experiments on the other. But in our world we experiment on loads of species in the hope our constructed world can gain information and knowledge in order to improve itself even further.
These categories can be said to be specialised types of processes involving animals. One churns out animals for the purposes of foods and products. Another churns out animals for experimentation and vivisection in order to give us what is perhaps the elevated end product of the first. By that I mean it could mean better foods, better medicine, better nutrition, better protection against disease, better understanding why we become ill and the rest of it.
It means humans undoubtedly venture beyond the natural order of things. Remember potatoes (aka stem tubers, or other any other vegetables that are similarly manipulated) don’t automatically grow in rows upon rows in a field. It is us humans who makes them do that. They are arranged like for the simple reason of accelerating their growing process and to maximise the finalised output – which is the humble potato.
What we are doing is we are grabbing nature by the horns and modifying it beyond all simple recognition. We are looking at the world and thinking how it could be changed for our benefit.
Magritte’s Time Transfixed. As it seems, the objective of our human world is to make things stand out. To make it clear nature is the interloper and we are the ones who have reality. Source: Twitter
Time is a tool we use as a means of classifying and categorising things and it has given us great advantages. It means the levels in which we cooperate and the depths to which we can allude things is hugely enormous. We can agree to meet, to assemble things, like buildings, railways (even send animals to the slaughter) at a certain time, to start a new project in a certain week and so on.
We’ve all heard of Jules Verne and Henry George Wells? There’s other no doubt – but these are the most heard of people which is why I am going with these names. They wrote stories that regaled tales of fantastically advanced societies which lived under water, in the atmosphere, on the moon, in space and even forwards, backwards in time.
Up to that point we had built somewhat advanced societies using flight (balloons, gondoliers) long distance travel (ships across the oceans or steam trains) and even telecommunications (the telegraph and soon the telephone.) We even had built factories in order to be able to build these new things. And that required a lot of human cooperation – architects, designers, tool makers, research testing, in order to make these products.
We too have developed time – or the notion of it further. We have the concept that time travel is possible. Often these things begin by way of fantasy. For example those like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. The interesting thing was space/time travel hadn’t yet existed but they were thinking about it. Ships under the sea too – but those had not even been invented.
Now we have all those. Space travel. Time travel too to a small extent (this being in the form of general relativity which tells us time depends on the observer and it is in fact different for each observer depending on the speed and so on) and which is used to synchronise and regulate our satellites and other communications systems in space.
Science fiction is a very good way of ‘building the future’ by enabling us to envisage such possibilities. Dreams of colonies on the moon or Mars have long held our attention and now we are thinking about these. They’re not impossible now given the advances we have.
In 2018 it was claimed the holodeck was well within our present grasp. Source: Twitter
What is important behind all of this is the fantasies that have driven our urges. The make believe. I mean a lot of people think The Matrix is pure escapism, pure fantasy it can’t happen but I assure you it could happen. It just needs the right sort of vision – a very deep one that is merged with time and dimensions and projected illusions. The holodeck on Star Trek is one sort of possibility in that lineage.
We don’t see animals doing stuff like that. What it means is they don’t go to the movies or think about the future. Animals have no concept of these. They have no idea that choosing, picking, thinking, selecting things, experimentation, even trial and error, would bring them a greatly advanced existence.
Now we have film, television, computers and the internet. This means our human fantasies can be developed even further. As well as enabling conferencing, mega communications, exchange of photographs, documents, information, in due course it will enable us to have conferencing where the other persons who are distant to be projected into our homes and the meeting to feel in a sense almost totally real. It will also enable us to visit places, exotic ones or those far way on other worlds without having to leave our rooms or even our home towns.
To be able to do all this we still require a huge amount of construction. We still need to have the ability to have fantasy and by that think of solutions, enable research and development and then move beyond each constructed step we take in order to progress.
Let us take the simple model of railways. The early railways were hand drawn wagons, later pulled by horses. They were very slow and cumbersome and limited to small distances. In the early 1800s the first steam locomotives were dreamt up and from these it could be seen that enormous things could be transported over long distances such as coal, iron, and manufactured products.
Trevithick with his pioneering steam locomotive of 1804. Source: PicClick
It was then envisaged these new contrivances could be used to move people too and as a result we had the first passenger railways which could carry huge numbers of people over distances never before thought possible.
With each step the designs and the concepts got better and better. By the end of the second world war people were thinking about high speed railways and indeed the Japanese – through a sheer amount of vision, ingenuity, research and development – came up with the world’s first high speed railway.
As these steps show, there is always scope for improvement in our constructed worlds. What it means is we become more super elevated beyond the simple call of nature.
What I am writing has no intent of saying ‘this is human society – its so constructed and its utter crap.’ I’m not saying that. I’m fascinated by its process (in spite of the many unfortunate discontents we too have produced) and it too fascinates me that we can progress even further along this rather uncertain road towards the future.
No-one in early industrial England of 1797 said ‘our new mill on the outskirts of Shrewsbury will be the first of a line of skyscrapers that will rise to perhaps near a mile in height.’ But what they did in effect was set out the foundations upon which new advances could be envisaged and developed. Again that required vision, fantasy, drawing ideas, concepts on bits of paper until things looked right and more importantly, were workable.
It has taken more than 200 years to go from that first ‘skyscraper’ to the world’s current tallest – the Burj Khalifa. A lot of that progress has however been within the last few decades of enhanced skills and knowledge.
Ditherington Flax Mill – the world’s first iron framed building, 1797. Source: Twitter
That’s why we’ve seen our buildings get taller and taller and more fantastic looking. The world’s first skyscraper, built in 1797, was the start of it all. We have moved forwards from that first five storey building to the Home Insurance Building in Chicago, 1885, all ten floors of it. From there we’ve got others that have been built taller, The Eiffel Tower, The Empire State Building, The Burj. Taller and more advanced
This brings us right back to the original point which is animals don’t do this. We do. Yes it must be said beavers construct dams out of sticks, stones and mud – but they would have no clue how to construct a structure on the scale of say the Aswan or the Three Gorges Dam.
Its why we have collaborative societies. Large cities. Vast transport networks and mass communications. Nature is simply something we use for our own benefit – even to the extent of having parks, gardens, rivers, watercourses, animals, birds and the rest of it. When we look at the birds and the bees and the flowers and the rock pools and how these things come together, we are enjoying these sights in terms of a highly evolved state of existence. These mere things enhance our super elevated position in the world. And what’s more is the bees, the birds, the flowers, have no clue they are part of a super elevated, hyper social system.
However some like Baudrillard would argue that it was all nothing more than a hyper-reality. Which is a good point in fact – and its one that Yuval Harari makes regularly in his lectures. ‘Humans control the planet because they are the only animals that can cooperate both flexibly and in very large numbers.’
As Yuval Harari points out we’re merely chimps. We just think we’re better chimps. And all of our constructs are mere fictions, nothing more. But it is how we have progressed and got so advanced. But it is actually very hard for us to reinvent our systems and to align ourselves in a deeper sense with nature. The other question is do we want to? And if so how far do we want to go in doing this?
In a nutshell there’s a world of difference between doing these and experiencing illness, disaster and so on. One set is a reality which we have built ourselves and the other is a reality which is mostly from the natural order (give or take a bit of what is ‘made by man’ and ‘man-made’ – something Professor Simon Holland pointed out so eloquently in one of his recent videos.)
One could say the former is a human thing, a human pride, a human construct. The latter (illness, death, disaster, war, violence etc) is more of an existential thing. The sense of reality is overwhelming, the fact that one is powerless in the face of anything (compared to the former where one in fact appears to be in control of everything.)
I think in a lot of ways the demarcation between what is created reality and what is real reality will one day need to be sorted. I say that because we will probably need to have a great sense of this for things like space exploration, time travel, and all that stuff. You see for example time travel isn’t a natural thing (let’s forget the intricacies of whether particles can travel in time because that’s something that’s still debatable.) Time travel is something we have in mind and its something we could build/bring about.
A lot of people are saying the current crisis, which I am sure nearly everyone will recognise as that of the coronavirus pandemic, will bring about new realities. It likely will but I don’t think it will resolve the demarcation between built reality and constructed reality – even though ironically coronavirus is a reality based on the terms and dictates of the natural world even though we may have caused it and only because we dabbled dangerously in subverting nature and produced this very deeply existential threat.
With coronavirus I think many people are realising life can be just as pleasurable without those complexities, without the travelling, without the conflicts, without the completion, without the need to be better than others and so on. People are realising they still have lives even though things are currently on a different sort of level.
Once again comes to a matter of simply how we choose to exist. Existence is the key word. Whether we choose to live on space colonies or in mud huts is down to preference, even down to how society dictates progress. Either way we still exist but in a different sort of way so to say. Ultimately it does not matter which is the better but rather its our sense of which we would probably prefer.
But in order to keep our society in its super elevated position requires a lot of co-operation. Not only that in a lot of ways preferences are either forced upon, or bestowed upon us to make society both compliant and cohesive. We grow up and see others using cars, trains, planes, computers, and we think this is the normal world. It is very difficult to see it as anything other than that.