I wrote a piece several months ago called “Curating Reality”, which, in essence was about the realization of how powerfully the internet affects our psyches and the need to regulate the quality of the information that is coming at us. Much broader than that, it was about how this could be applied to all aspects of our lives, if we can take control, to a certain extent of our social media feeds and our news feeds, choose to use the internet as a powerful tool to engage in spiritual and productive activity, why not apply that principle to our interactions in the real world. While my piece of writing was sincere in its desire and need to protect myself and to empower others to protect themselves from the negative and potentially overwhelming features that the internet was bringing up, I now realize that these desires and wishes I was expressing were very naïve. Even if I tried to cut myself off from the negativity, the fear mongering and overwhelming effect of this new age of information and information warfare (it was something I very much needed to do at the time to preserve my sanity), in the end there wasn’t going to be any way of sheltering myself from these things. The impacts of these new media are so entrenched in the psyches of humanity that there was never going to be any way of escaping this negativity. I found it coming back to me in my relationships with other people in ways I didn’t expect.
Yesterday Trump supporters “stormed the castle” in Washington and while old school leftist and mainstream liberals dismiss these people as crazy and deluded, one can’t help but sense a fascinated gloating stare, as if staring at a car crash. We can watch a group of people whom we abhor with a sense of awe, strangely horrified and satisfied that those people are taking the action of revolting that we have never had the courage or stomach, stupidity, violence, passion or real urgency to do. The chickens come home to roost. For everyone. Today Trump made a speech condemning the mob and saying they will be punished for their violence. And so from one day to another, they are utterly betrayed by their cult leader. Trump used these vulnerable people and now they can no longer contribute to his power, he chucks them like toilet paper to avoid legal action.
My Curating Reality piece started with a dream that Leah had while we were at an art fair, where her mother told her that you make your own reality. Leah took it as a sign that we would have a good art fair if we chose (why not- that is what we were doing) and we went on to have our best one ever. I had a conversation a few months later with two male friends in which I was discussing how tenuous our collective grip on reality and what constitutes reality was becoming. I used the line that you make your own reality, a statement and a dream that could have any number of interpretations. One of my friends remarked that this was the narcissist’s truth, which I was a little offended by, often cynical, he clearly didn’t share my more positive or meaning-creating interpretation. At the time Leah had the dream, dreams were very important to us, they still are, but they then had a mystical quality where we really needed some guidance from them to help us in the direction of our personal lives. There is a drought of holistic wise elder advice and support. We very much needed the ethereal, if at the same time materialistic reading of the dream to keep us buoyant in that world, during a time of exhaustion.
It was a naïve and, one could argue narcissistic way of interpreting dreams, but we were and are still learning. We are now much more aware of the collective consciousness aspect of dreams and are much less apt to interpreting dream content in a purely personal way. Thus you make your own reality could be taken as marking a coordinate or point in time, where the collective consciousness was realizing something new about different levels of reality and the personal interpretation that would probably be made in a narcissistic individualistic culture. Just as when the Nestle executive remarks that water is not a human right, our immediate response doesn’t necessarily have to be outrage, it could be more read as an archetypal statement of truth about where we are at this point of time, where we assume that water, or clean water is a human right, when really, it isn’t at all at this point. We may even thank him for pointing this out to us and showing us our blind spot, he was just telling it like it is, or stating the reality that made most sense and was most advantageous to him. Still, maybe our interpretation of Leah’s dream was more grounded in reality than I realized, a kind of fake it till you make it motivational or non-fatalistic proposition that we needed in an exhausting male-dominated art world. This is the fascinating thing about dreams, their potential meanings constantly shift.
Over recent months, however, it has become clear that the internet is full of information for any reality you might want to choose to believe. I hadn’t accounted for confirmation bias. And I hadn’t accounted for people’s inability to filter information. I hadn’t accounted for how, what one might call a “democratization of information” could be misused, how the algorithms keep people trapped permanently going down rabbit holes, or the incorporation of yet another part of the commons into a monetizable asset: the selling of attention spans. Whatever it is we are into, we are all addicted to the internet, addicted to the influx of information, some of it mind- expanding, some of it mind- narrowing. Expansions and contractions are part of the flow of life.
I am reminded of a recent conversation where a man in the village described another man in the village as a “Covid denier”. It occurred to me, that by identifying the other man as a “Covid denier”, (as well as potentially protecting himself from the other man’s potentially uncareful behavior), what he was really doing was identifying himself as a “Covid believer” and thus creating a comforting anchor point for himself in this moment in time. But his reality isn’t any more real to him than the Covid denier’s reality is to himself on an individual basis. The Covid believer, can comfort himself that his belief is backed up by consensus reality and thus is more reality based. The Covid denier can comfort himself that he is more comfortable with the reality of more difficult truths than the consensus believer, who is merely one of the herd. Not to say that all realities are of equal value, (though who is to say, really,) just to point out the exercises we all engage in to feel more settled, protect ourselves and shut ourselves down from less than comforting realities, in a deeply unsettling time. Delving into spirituality in a less than grounded way seems almost inevitable, given the sheer enormity of personal and collective grief and trauma there is to process, whether you define spirituality as the seeking for truth that conspiracy-spirituality makes available on the darker side of the web, or any other seeking for truth or clarity.
Whatever you choose to believe about the Pro-Trump crazies or the Anti-vax crazies, however you have tried to frame the virus and its deeper meanings or lack of deeper meanings in your head, I feel deeply that it is very intellectually lazy, irresponsible and lacking in emotional intelligence to dismiss the people you hate and disagree with as crazy. It constitutes an unwillingness or fear to look at the deep personal and cultural traumas we are all living with. There is a tiny grain of truth in most conspiracy theories, at least enough truth for something to springboard from and to be considered by some (many) as a plausible, if not obvious explanation for things. Just as there are deep psychological and emotive reasons for people to believe what they believe.
If you haven’t been exposed to a lot of the conspiracy theory world and are baffled by what the hell is going on, it is worth dipping into to get a handle on the increasing power of the shady side of the web. This brave new world of information overload is a melting pot for emotive speech, both positive and negative, in a depressed “reality”, where we are so disconnected from each other, nature, our emotions and real needs. I highly recommend starting with the documentary about Alex Jones on Frontline, in which we see how one “narcissistic crazy person” and his team used his platform to do a great deal to contribute to the election of Trump. If you want a more State/ corporate account of why we are where we are, I recommend the HyperNormalisation documentary by Adam Curtis, which has been on the BBC Iplayer for the last few years.
I also recommend catching up with the latest in intersectional feminist discourse, since this attempts to do the work of filling in many of our blind spots on where we are going wrong sociologically, even if it remains mostly only theory for the moment and has not yet been able to fully expose how the systems of power have negative impacts on everyone INCLUDING white men to an extent where everyone is willing to listen and open up. It will take a little more participation by men for this to happen, but there are still so many old wounds being licked. I also recommend the Conspirituality podcast, which addresses the meeting point of conspiracy theories and the dark web with spirituality and the wellness industry. Also on the to do list, must be catching up on the essential foundational knowledge of how ecosystems work, which none of us were taught in school, but is essential for the healthy survival of ourselves and our non-human partners in life.
Even if you have a high level of education it is worth realizing that you, being human, still have very many blind spots and it would be advantageous if we all made an effort to fill in the gaps and suspend judgement for just a brief moment so that we can catch up with just what the hell these last few years and decades have been all about in a healthy non-addictive way and at a speed that is manageable. To help in this work, I recommend meditation or mindfulness, or starting with yoga to get into the body and the energetic body rather than always relying on the relentless and addictive intellect. Perhaps this is the best opportunity this virus can offer us, for those of us who are “privileged” enough to have the time. It is a precarious and difficult journey because it is true that the freedom these practices offer can initially make one dissociate from the “real world” and don’t necessarily help in an immediate way with our communication. In the end, however, we always have to come crashing back down to earth and in the long term, these practices are worthwhile in opening up the space for something new and learning to listen to ourselves and each other.
It seems, in this current dualistic power dynamic, between left and right, man and woman, black and white, etc. , we are still forced to make a choice and to pick a side, even if, as in the Southpark episode, the election choice is between a “Giant Douche” and a “Turd Sandwich”, or if those are the only choices we can see. There is, however, always a third option. The third option is to focus on what and who is being left out of the conversation, what are the gaslighting or spiritual bypassing linguistics being used, where does my creativity, my growth, my Eros want to go, where is it stifled, where are the healing opportunities, how can compassion be expanded upon, what matters most. The third option is always the creative option, the healing option and the mind- expanding option that dichotomies or dual relations leave out. It is also the option requiring most work or depth, as well as the most fulfilling option. Curating Reality, now means to me, the work of reifying, bringing into tangible speech and reality, what has previously been inarticulable. It is work that requires, arguably the feminine, or the less overt, the subtle, the less tangible, the vulnerable, to be acknowledged and expressed.
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Fine artist, writer, musician Abigail McDougall, based in Thassos, Greece and Bristol, U.K.