Now that we live in a post-truth world and known things are re-named, so ‘extreme right-wing‘ becomes ‘Alt-Right‘ and ‘inciting fear and hatred‘ becomes ‘journalism‘ I’ve been wondering if it’s possible, as an ordinary person, to live an ‘alt-life‘.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean drug or alcohol-induced happiness (though our Christmas wine will be delivered soon), nor the oft condemned recourse of the penniless and desperate to anything which will alleviate their dire situation, albeit temporarily. No, I mean living a life upon which reality doesn’t impose at all.
Much has been made of the role of the profit-driven Facebook algorithms which ensure that users only see and learn what users want to see and learn, reinforcing prejudice of whatever kind, obscuring truth and obstructing reasoned decision-making. It should, therefore, be easy to follow the ‘news’ while avoiding any news which one might not like. One’s alt-life will not be sullied by consideration of views which differ from one’s own and one’s moral, and other, choices are easy, there are only ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ in an alt-life.
The virtual world – highly controlled – figures quite heavily in my alt-life. Virtual interactions are so much less fraught with potential problems. Trolls can be blocked and, should I wish to engage in dirty, real life engagement, with real people, I can attend one of the events which I see advertised on my Facebook page (chosen by algorithm) which many of the other attendees have learned about in the same way.
The laws of nature might prove obdurate, however, with their millennial timescales and boring old consequences. I’m not talking about the little human-sized stuff, like ageing and death – with plastic surgery and cryogenics, that can be circumnavigated (some folk believe in their ‘alt-life‘ ). More the big picture, the health of the planet. Big Tobacco and Big Pharma have managed to ignore much of this for a long time, though the tables have begun to turn recently. Big Coal and Oil’s climate change denial has just received encouragement from the President-elect, so I’m coming to the conclusion that my alt-life is possible only for my generation, the consequences being unavoidable for subsequent ones.
The laws of physics are a real problem. I’ve always liked the T-shirt slogan that says ‘You don’t have to believe in science – it’s true anyway‘. Yet a certain amount of wilful blindness is often in evidence – witness ‘creationism’ and the argument that it be taught alongside science in schools as if it was an ‘alt-science’ rather than a blinkered belief. But mass is necessary and gravity is difficult to ignore (although see ‘ageing’ above).
Quantum biology offers some hope – if enzymes can send electrons through ‘tunnels’ in energy and the brains of pigeons use magnetoreception to navigate then it should be perfectly possible to believe, given our purblind tendencies, that even the laws of physics may not always apply.
It does, however, help to have disposable income. ‘Alt-life‘ is more easily obtained if one is extremely rich. It has long been known that ‘only the little people pay taxes’*, so one doesn’t have to contribute very much to the society in which one lives, so long as one can purchase very good tax advice. All the better to insulate yourself in your ‘alt-life‘.
Without great wealth I fear that it would be quite hard to live a complete ‘alt-life‘, yet, it seems, a partial one is lived by a good number of people already.
This week J.B.Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls‘ opens again in the West End, in which a, possibly supernatural, Police Inspector reveals the alt-lives of various members of the wealthy Birley family. Their carefully composed lives are stripped bare to expose the reality beneath. So this isn’t new, Priestley was fulminating about it in the 1930s.
Yet, in a completely different context, perhaps T.S. Eliot got it right too – ‘human kind cannot bear very much reality‘.* The best we can do is bear as much as we are able. It’s just that today our tools are more efficient and let us ignore so much more ( and that is, in part, because so much more is available ).
I blame relativism. Just where is a moral absolute when you want one?
*As said by the late Leona Helmsley, before she was imprisoned.
*’The Four Quartets; Burnt Norton‘ T.S.Eliot