A timely post, but in a bad way

by Wrinkled Weasel

I have been discussing, on and off, with a friend, the subject of realities. See the plural there. What we know as reality is in fact a fairly frangible commodity. Periodically, throughout our lives, we exchange one reality with another.

What I mean by this is the difference between an everyday life and an extraordinary life. Both are real, but they generally do not overlap.

Fukushima is probably going to become a metanym, just as Hiroshima and Nagasaki did. It will become a metanym because its name will be a short-cut to the devastation caused by an earthquake. Lockerbie is the same. In metonymy you get a compression of an idea that is easily understood because the idea, or event in the case of Japan, is a compression of an intense reality, so intense, that the use of a metanym somehow allows us to even speak of it. The alternative is to say, "The death and devastation and agony of" Japan, to such a degree that it becomes a euphemism, at which point it illustrates the difficulty with which we cope with alternative realities.

With me so far? Simply, our normal version of reality, let us say on a wet Tuesday at number 20 Acacia Avenue, does not readily allow for the discussion of alternatives. We find ourselves using shortcuts which become so familiar that they lose the intensity of the experience they represent.

What is happening in Japan is that there are people who got up one morning and did not go to work or worry about the bills that needed paying or that their kid was being bullied at school. They got up to find the side of their house missing and their children swept away to their deaths. There then followed a confrontation with a new reality; without water, without power, without communication. It was profound and final and unmitigated.

Sitting in our comfy homes we become very acclimatised to normality, or the reality we generally inhabit. It does not take much to upset us. We get upset because the bins are not emptied. We get upset because there is a power cut. Many are so dependent on the stability of the reality in which they live that they are useless without it; de-skilled and disoriented.

There is a curious flip side to all of this. Whilst it is not agreeable to be brutally confronted with another reality, such as the one in Japan, it behoves us, from time to time, to step out of our comfort zone. Some do this by involving themselves in dangerous sports. Some journey around the world. Some live on a boat. Some give all their posessions away. The methods of getting an alternative reality are as myriad as the number of alternative realities.

And yet, we cleave to the normal, the predictable, the safe. Indeed, we risk social separation if we so much as step out of the generally accepted norms.

Over the years I have met several people who have had periods of intensity in their lives that you could describe as an alternative reality. There was the Rock Star who had little over three years at the top, right at the top, and then sank, more or less, into obscurity. Anyone who fought in a war understands this, and that brings me to the point. Assuming a normal life, assuming the generally accepted reality after an intense experience is not only difficult, it can impact badly on your mental health. We know this from the number of service personnel who find it hard to adjust on their return from a war zone.

So what is to be done? I do not propose for a minute that we ignore opportunities in life to experience intensity. Often it can be sublime, even if it involves near-death experiences. What we need to do, I think, is to challenge ourselves about the reality we presently inhabit, and ask ourselves, are we really fulfilled? The next question we must ask is, what will we do if our reality breaks down? Are we prepared, or do we fold when the gas goes off?
Future generations of children must learn to cope with adversity and concepts like fear, and learn to deal with them.

The extent to which the lucky survivors of Fukushima will cope is directly related to how they have been nurtured and formed. If it was purely a theoretical exercise, I am afraid they are in trouble. Strength is formed in a crucible, which is hot and dangerous. It is also purifying and removes things that cause the product to collapse under stress. Better the crucible than the safety net. At least, if the young are exposed to some danger they will understand it and perhaps fear danger less.

But back to realities. In 1970, Alvin Toffler published a book called Future Shock. Part of his thesis was that peoples' ability to cope with the future; too much change in too little time. He said that this change made the sense of "normalcy" a moribund concept, becuase life was changing at too fast a rate to enable that kind of comfort zone of "normalness" to exist.

Germane to this piece is his comment on technology, for it is this that is at the centre of debate over Fukushima. Toffler wrote:

the horrifying truth is that, so far as much technology is concerned, no one is in charge.

He goes on to say that man must either vaquish the process of change, or vanish. Critical reception to Future Shock by academics was not good, and that remains the case today. He is seen as lighweight and mediagenic. He is criticised for not placing his thesis in the context of workability and of not properly taking on board the human condition:

The main drawback of the ‘future shock’ thesis was that it did not help people find their way into that domain (Source: http://www.metafuture.org/articlesbycolleagues/RichardSlaughter/futureshock.htm ) by domain, the critic means, I think, worldviews, paradigms, social interests.

By accepting and understanding that the human condition is frought with alternative realities, and embracing them, the impact of Future shock, or any seismic shock for that matter, can be somewhat mitigated.

No comments: