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Waking up is hard to do

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LIFE is about choices. This one is about whether you prefer to be mugged in the mind or robbed in reality. It is my own story as much as yours, because there is no escape from the fact that our beliefs are often no more than plumage whose purpose is to insulate and to display. It is said that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. What is a conservative – or a liberal – who has been mugged by reality?

‘Man is not built for truth, but for survival,’ said the iconoclast John Gray, emeritus professor of European thought at LSE. His work is described as ‘intellectual genocide’ by Terry Eagleton. Have a look at his books and see how much of your personal truths survive the experience.

John Gray says that we are not calm rational beings logically weighing the evidence. We believe what is helpful to ourselves, even when it isn’t. Belief isn’t meant to match reality but to help us cope with it, and to feel good about it while we do so. We make up stories to live by. This is the reason why, well, reason doesn’t work. If you present someone with an exquisite vivisection of the case you will be met with disgust. Your beautifully crafted, Haynes manual-like guide to an issue, with five hundred sequential diagrams showing how part A interlocks with part B all the way to part Z may be irrefutable and match the facts identically. It amounts to nothing more than an insult.

The simple fact is we don’t like being wrong. Beliefs aren’t the product of reason meets reality. They are, moreover, who we feel we are. The abstract personality today is more a collection of clicks than the sum of acts. We are what we like, or so it seems.

To remove these beliefs through demonstration of reality is to be offensive in a way that threatens to remove a cherished part of someone’s identity. This has come about because people are increasingly patterned on screen-based media consumption. The screenplay which has displaced reality is in competition with your experience for your attention.

Since at least the work of the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam there has been plenty of evidence that the replacement of nations with a multicultural global marketplace weakens social and civic bonds, and helps to accelerate the Calhounian dystopia of modern urban life. Cities are areas of high population concentration whose increasing estrangement from one another contributes to a normlessness and isolation in the crowd that is especially damaging to participation in community activity and the maintenance of a happy place to live in general.

This is a picture of reality quite obvious to anyone who has lived in a city. It is a perfect example of how the facts are offensive, and so it is seldom described. If I were to write a short story – One Day in the Life of Ivan Denizen of Woolwich for example – it would likely get me cancelled.

You are more likely to be mugged – to suffer actual crimes – if you believe the Utopian hype. You will not display the vigilance and care proper to living in a low-trust urban population centre. It is better to be mugged in the abstract – to have reality contradict your fantasies and accept that you have been living in a TV show. Turn off, tune out, drop in – to real life.

It is hard to suffer the loss of your illusions because so much of yourself belonged to them. If you are going to get off the junk and stay clean you will have to develop your own word filter. Don’t lie – just realise that people who have had too much to think might be forced to attend meetings. Avoid announcing yourself as a dissident in a way that destroys your family. The reality-based community is largely underground these days because that’s where you go for a speakeasy.

Once you have decided to discard your illusions you will no longer be protected from reality, nor from the consequences of noticing it out loud. Most of my old beliefs were basically excuses for reality. Elaborate explanations to wish away the obvious, which helped me feel superior to those idiots who relied on the evidence of their senses. I started to see rather than look one day. Seeing, it turns out, is not believing. It’s noticing.

The Regime think they have a monopoly on truth as well as on virtue. It doesn’t occur to them that they might be wrong because their ideas are no longer falsifiable to them. They are not in fact the good guys, tearing down the veil of bigotry to reveal the horizon of a gilded future. The ticket to this nowhereland is not wisdom but an inflexible dogma ruthlessly enforced by humourless scolds.

This advertising dogma is a collection of prejudices against a reality which can never be forgiven. The idea of progress in this sense is not ‘advancement’ but a kind of vengeance, the fury of a Savonarola detached from any other focus than the hammer. The idea is to sabotage your attempts to make sense of your own life as it is lived by destroying every connection to a reality past and present in which meaning was formerly anchored.

The Soviet union had commissars, political officers embedded everywhere, who could invoke the charge of sedition against any independence of mind. Science then as now became subject to ideology, as when Trofim Lysenko announced his 1948 idea that ‘any science is class oriented’.

Stalin laughed at this, writing in the margins ‘HA HA HA! What about mathematics?’ Later he realised the enormous and terrifying power afforded by the transformation of fact seeking into a loyalty test. Science became subject to the State, directed by and for the convenience of its ideology. Notice at your peril. Scientific journals today describe men as women.

The resistance to reality is the policing of experience, so that nothing can be learned from life. Only Approved Sources may teach you what is true. Against this disease of the marketplace of ideas you must take responsibility for your own beliefs and test them against experience. You will never learn if you hold on to your illusions. Be not afraid to be wrong. Admit it with humility and accept the birth pangs of a better idea. I didn’t get where I am today without realising that most of what I used to think was cobblers.

The most important work today is the missionary work of real-life relations. Go outside and befriend people who disagree with you. You will be surprised at how much you have in common with them offscreen. We are all being mugged by reality and it is time to replace the poison of isolation with the balm of human contact. 

This appeared on Frank Wright on February 25, 2022, and is republished by kind permission. 

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Frank Wright
Frank Wright
Frank Wright is a writer and full time dad who lives in London with his wife and children. You can read more of his reality reviews at https://frankwright.substack.com/ and @frankwrighter /

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