Escaping Muddied Experience

We go to farmers’ markets. I pay a little extra for Amish wood furniture. We didn’t go to Mexico, but Costa Rica. It’s like Mexico 25 years ago. I know it’s not totally real, but I prefer reality, sorry, unscripted television. We live in a golden age of documentaries; I love it!

You have undoubtedly heard these lines from a friend or family member. Maybe you have uttered them. The modern American is on a never-ending quest for authenticity, for what is real. This authenticity might be a manufactured authenticity that a magazine or academic has told them is authentic, or it might be simply assigning the value of poor or uncomfortable as authentic. This yearning for authenticity is a reaction to the American public drowning in mediated experiences, while rarely enjoying actual experiences.

Examples of this silly confusion can be heard when individuals dislike the idea of friends setting them up for a date, but gladly swipe left and right via a giant database that attempts to set them up with partners. Formerly an amazing authentic experience, going to Machu Picchu has lost authenticity points because now there is a train to make traveling to the ruins easier. A smooth train ride is not the same experience as roughing it hiking the mountains of Peru. Americans crave true experience because everything seems a commercialized set-up for maximum profit.

Americans have become separated from learning via experience, and have a political elite continuously telling them not to believe their own eyes and ears, and to instead trust politically-approved and funded research. The experts in the papers, schools, or on television will explain everything. The relentless chipping away at self-confidence in one’s intuition leads people to a place where fewer and fewer people trust their personal observations, unless there is an external confirmation by a credentialed scientific or academic source. Americans increasingly are separated from any natural setting and are atomized in nearly every way.

American society has been structured so that natural experience is minimized and in its place are mediated experiences that an expert or team of experts have crafted, edited, framed, and even written for the individual. The mixing of true experience versus mediated experience is discussed in detail in Jerry Mander’s book Four Arguments For The Elimination Of Television from the 1970s. This does not stop with television, but has morphed with the growth of the Internet. Television still reaches so many and has such power due to its physical effects.

Mander points to the situation where “all information has become believable and not believable at the same time. It has become arbitrary. There is no way to separate the real from the not-real”. The concern is that with this uncertainty, “all theories of the ideal organization of life become equal”, and that he who holds the megaphone and shouts the loudest will fill this chaos. The confusion and flood of information will end with a solution provided by the man holding the megaphone to a daily viewer placed in an isolated, near-hypnotic state. The images on the screen are completely out of context with reality. They often do not match reality, and they often exhibit a pattern. When a consistent pattern is noticed, there is a message, which in modern America means progressive-approved themes.

Decades after Mander’s book, we can see this today with movies, television, and even advertising steadily pushing social themes. The diverse good guys versus the all-white bad guys. The implausible and relentless interracial couples of all combinations (always happy and thin). Black astrophysicists and hackers. The steady flow of these images can alter the perceptions of individuals who currently watch over five hours of television a day. Add to this Internet screen time, and waking, manufactured social observation experiences of an individual will greatly contrast with social reality. The feeling of never quite knowing if the world is real or just a show is reflected in the wave of ’90s films that deal with reality, simulations, and experience.

The transition from television screentime being the American screen experience to the combined television and Internet screentime is not much of a transition. Streaming video via Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon when combined with Internet porn viewing accounts for over half of all Internet traffic. The screens people experience life through have just become smaller and held one foot below our jaw. Nick Land pointed out the social media + smartphone = mental mindspace relocation idea. This removes individuals from experiencing even the artificial construction of a plane ride to simply experiencing the constructed forms on the small screen in front of them on the flight. The separation of mind and body takes one more step away from the evolution of the human being.

Yearning for authenticity or the return to the natural is not a new thing. There was another time and place that went through massive manufactured environment changes, changed its basis for living, and even introduced moving pictures that inspired a struggle for authenticity: Weimar Germany. The Germans took to the woods.

Starting around the turn of the century, the Wandervogel movement swept through Germany. This was a movement that focused on getting back to nature and the group experience in nature. Different descendants would come from this movement, such as scouting, hippies, and even nudists. The feelings and motivations were not just focused on the organized, but on common Germans. Albert Speer’s memoirs begin with him citing the hiking and nature movement. Explaining the movement, Speer writes:

Many of our generation sought such contract with nature. This was not merely a romantic protest against the narrowness of middle-class life. We were also escaping from the demands of a world growing increasingly complicated. We felt that the world around us was out of balance. In nature, the mountains and the river valleys, the harmony of Creation could still be felt. The more virginal the mountains, the lonelier the river valleys, the more they drew us.

Speer is writing about his and others motivations for escaping 1920s German city life. A century before our tech focused future, Speer’s peers were equally overwhelmed or disgusted by the pace and churn of the modern world. Even in the infancy of electrified modernity, Europeans were already aware that the manufactured, artificial experiences of the city were not a substitute or even a fair facsimile for the true, time-honored European experience.

The trek into the woods, whether solo or in a group, is in the blood of Europeans and Americans. The myths of Hercules can be interpreted as different founding father myths for what European men had to do to settle the forested continent. Cutting the many heads of the hydra and burning them to not grow back is a metaphor for having to cut the many trees down or burning a forest to sow crops. Cleaning the Augean stables is a metaphor for properly dealing with waste to establish growing settlements. Hercules often must enter the wild natural world to find a wretched figure to slay.

Besides Hercules, countless stories from the European literary tradition involve a young hero or child entering the woods. The woods is a dark place full of mischief, evil recluses, wild animals, or mythical creatures that create conflict and provide the hero with a challenge to overcome. The woods are a completely virgin territory for the European to express his Faustian drive and seek new experiences or learn about the world around him. Taming the wild and settling the west was the American story for decades with the wonderfully religious phrase “Manifest Destiny“. These challenges to the European and American soul are sorely lacking, peeking out in the silly video game completion or fantasy world cosplay of homo economicus.

Muddied experience will not be solved by virtual reality. For all the promises and flashy advertisements of stunned individuals, the experience will be remarkably close to television. An isolated individual will enjoy an experience of sight and sound in a relaxed state. The experience will be produced, crafted, edited, and delivered by a large tech firm with carefully selected editors and product development teams. The solution to the confusion or anxiety caused by muddled experience will not be an even more mixed experience.

The continued mental stress placed on individuals by the muddied experience of modern life will cause them to seek medical help, due to anxiety wonderfully exhibited by the anxious grasp for their phone that they just put down.

Others, however, may look for a way to unplug and exit the carefully manipulated modern experience and take to the woods.

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8 Comments

  1. Of the intellectual virtues, it is phronesis, practical wisdom, which is manifestly political. This is why Aristotle wishes to limit politics to older men, since they have the most lived experience to make good judgment calls.

    A people without practical experience cannot govern; they can’t even self-govern. The fact that I have to look up on Youtube how to rebuild a carburetor or clean game (all while my friends told me I was crazy and should just “pay someone to do it”) shows how little actual experience someone like me had growing up. I sat in a classroom for most of my childhood, and learning to hunt, plant food crops, break down a rifle, fix a leaking sink, or fix engines is something I had to pick up myself as an adult (because as my neighbor the economist says, division of labor means we should hire someone to do these things).

    This is how the Enemy wants us: helpless. Experience and memory are the root of consciousness, and if they want to destroy the conscious Man, they’ve come upon a great strategy.

    1. Bartholomew Black October 24, 2016 at 10:06 am

      Aristotle’s statement is self-refuting as it is only possible to be a good politician by gaining vast experience in politics – thus starting young.

      There are 2 more reasons why government should not be filled with older men.

      First of all older men have less of an incentive to govern for the long term good of their nation. This is due to their own lack of remaining life expectancy and thus their personal benefit from it. This is especially true for men without offspring, but it is a phenomenon that can be witnessed in fathers as well.

      Second of all older men (or any one generation for that matter) can not understand the wants and needs of the other generations fully. This not only makes them inadequate leaders due to communication issues, but it makes revolt much more likely.

      I do agree on the fact that us – men – should master a variety of basic skills. However, it is to be understood that many roles in society require such experience that not one single person can achieve mastery in multiple. This is where the division of labor comes from.

      Our task is to master a role and add value for other by exercising that role.

      1. You’re embracing a toxic understanding of individualism in your response, because your notion of the human being is flawed. Older men are the best rulers because their continued existence on earth can only be guaranteed through their progeny. Deeds and accomplishments fail, but only biological descendants allow immortality in this world. Thus, they have more incentive to the long-term good; they must protect the integrity of their bloodlines and have the perspective and experience of age to choose the path which the young might refuse due to short-term hardships. A man whose horizon is limited by his mortality is blind, and his lack of practical wisdom disqualifies him from any leadership, much less political.

        Screw what young people want. The immature have no right to govern, because they lack scientia, the source of auctoritas. This is why God (or the gods, for Aristotle) punishes rebellious children. Read your Oresteia. If they rebel, their souls will be ripped and torn by the Furies for all eternity.

        As for your first point, why do you think Aristotle founded the Lyceum, and why did his followers collect his lectures into what we today call “The Politics” and “The Ethics”? Education is mediated experience. For the Greeks, an “older man” is a married man with at least one son.

    2. Are you sure you’re not viewing this selectively? There are many you tube videos on various practical tasks. It’s not like they’re hidden in some esoteric corner either. All you have to do is type the words in the search bar and follow the instructions. As an example, I recently saw a couple of videos on how to wrap a cord properly. I didn’t even know before those, that there was a good way to do that! You may choose to remember the instructions the next time or use the video again, that is a personal choice. The possibilities are definitely present for those interested in improving themselves.

  2. Rule by youth is too blatantly contrary to human nature for even modern democracy to seriously contemplate. The clear Natural purpose of youth with respect to the State is to fight on its behalf, and at its behest.

  3. Very true. In the modern West it’s necessary to take a step back and re-evaluate things, and being in nature is a great way to do that. Going camping for as little as one night can really recharge a person’s existential batteries.

    I love to go running outside for this reason. After a hectic day of cubicle life and interstate traffic it feels wonderful to just get out there and move. A lot of ground can be covered in an hour. In that timeframe I get to see autumn leaves, singing birds, and rushing river. But the guy in the cube next to me may have only spent a couple hours in nature over the course of the year.

  4. The other night I had a dream that aliens attacked civilization and destroyed our office building. A few of my friends and I fled to the woods to avoid detection. After I awoke, I felt this profound sense of disappointment. It seems my subconscious would trade civilization for anarcho-primitivism.

  5. Bartholomew Black’s negative , and without evidence assertions on older men are absurd .
    Firstly experience in politics breeds corruption. Evidence . The Clinton foundation and almost anywhere you look.
    Secondly, my own experience of older men is that they have outgrown some of the selfishness, recognise the limitations of life and are willing to use wisdom properly.
    ‘Evidence myself and other older men I know.
    Thirdly the proposal that older men can not understand another generation is not even faintly ludicrous. As surely as a younger person can not understand an older person because he has never been old, an older person has in fact been young.
    Evidence : self evident
    paul scott

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