Thoughts on this election day
As our belief in objectivity erodes, what can we create from the surreality of 2020?
Somewhere in the dissonance between the lull of quarantine and the hyperactive news cycle, the sheer farce of vitriolic politics set against the serenity of so many neighbors planting gardens and engaging in mutual aid, the smoke from the fires, the rain from the storms, dates and times meaning less, the hologram of digital communication, and the chronic nausea of watching our governing institutions corrode, this year has been feeling pretty damn surreal.
I say surreal not only in the sense of weird or dreamlike, but in the rising feeling that I’m walking through a Salvador Dali painting: dripping clocks as time and reality melt around me, and less and less ability to take “reality” at face-value.
Ours is an era of objectivity eroding. No longer does the news feel like some safe, stable, soothing voice of Walter Cronkite. The sense many of us lived under that the ground beneath our feet, from elections to institutions to social interactions to the economy, was somehow unshakeable and stable — that sense is resolutely gone. It feels like we’re standing on water.
And that’s a good thing.
From right to left, no one trusts the media anymore. We doubt our experts, our politicians, our anchors. Literally — our anchors, those whose job it is to anchor us to the ground of truth beneath the fluctuating ocean of lies and opinions and agendas — those anchors aren’t hitting ground. And it’s not because the news has gotten “worse.” It’s because that ground was never there to begin with.
The stability and sense of objectivity we lived in was an illusion all along, and now we are slowly coming to terms with what it means to live in a world without it. Walter Cronkite and the media of old always had an agenda, a perspective, a bias. The thing is — we only really got one agenda, and so that agenda seemed objective. But the business of media has always been about framing our sense of reality, using data and events to tell us stories. There have always been a story and a story-teller in the mix, and even those whose only commitment is to truth can never perceive anything objectively.
In this murky ocean of missing objectivity, we come to understand that everything is a perspective, and it always has been. That our institutions, our social order, our economy and our laws are only as strong as we make them. Our belief in them is all that grounds us to them. Our beliefs are the only ground there is, and beliefs always come from a subjective experience of the world.
To me, it used to feel like chaos, but as time goes on, the chaos feels more like opportunity. I used to long for a return of that sense of stability and truth, some kind of resolutely objective compass to be provided for me so I could measure my own beliefs and actions against it. But no matter how widely I read or how many facts I take into consideration, I can have no compass but my own. The same goes for you.
Realizing this is a good thing.
In recognizing that there is subjectivity, not objectivity, in every perspective and every action, we come to recognize our power in crafting reality. These beliefs are not fixed. This information is not fixed. These institutions are not etched in stone, and even stone can crumble.
When we release our belief in objectivity, and our fears of the seeming chaos of our systems crumbling, we move closer to truth. The belief we held that our systems of old were stable and resolute was never true. The understanding that everyone is acting from their own subjective experience is true. And as we wade into this new kind of truth, we flow into the recognition that we have so much more power to create the world than we thought we did.
Our systems are melting like Dali’s clocks, and this is a good thing. Systems are like currents: patterns of behavior that are perpetuated enough to take on the ability to condition behavior themselves. Systems of governance and law, social codes and interactions, communication and information: these have only ever been conditioning mechanisms. They were only ever as strong as we were conditioned by them.
This lack of foundation at first feels chaotic, and the perception of chaos terrifies the mind. How can it determine how to act without a belief in something fixed to stand on? But rather than ask that question with a tone of incredulous fear, I invite us, each and all, to ask it from a place of wonder and imagination.
How can we determine how to act as our belief in objectivity crumbles? What will we do with this newfound realization that our systems, our culture, our institutions, our society and our lives are so much more malleable than we’d thought? What will we do with this recognition of power?
Rather than viewing this moment as the ground falling out from underneath us, we can view it as the walls falling away from around us. Our sense of the possible expands, and we’re left in a place of unimaginable power to imagine and create the world as we truly want it.
Whether you believe in “creating your own reality” from a New Age perspective, or simply are understanding that we create the society we live in through our actions and interactions, you cannot deny that we have power to shape our world. How will we shape it? What kind of world do we want? What kind of world do we want, but never believed before was possible to create?
I do not believe that human nature is fundamentally loving and nurturing, and that in the absence of our dominating systems, everyone would just get along in freedom and harmony. I also do not believe that human nature is fundamentally vicious and competitive, and that the absence of our systems would rain down chaos and violence and brutality.
Rather, I believe that human nature is fundamentally adaptable. I believe it is responsive to its environment and its experiences. My question for you, on this strange November Tuesday, comes from that old adage about wolves: there are two battling within you, one is loving and compassionate, the other, competitive and cruel. Which wolf wins? The one you feed.
And so I invite you not only to imagine a world where your good wolf wins, but also to consider carefully what it looks like to feed it. What does it eat? What kinds of social and political institutions feed your good wolf? What kind of economy? What kinds of relationships? What work does your good wolf do? How does your good wolf talk to its neighbors? What life does your good wolf live?
The erosion of our institutions does not necessarily signal a slide into brutality. It is nothing more or less than the erosion of beliefs that were only ever beliefs to begin with. And with that slipping away of foundation comes the opportunity to recognize our power to build our own foundations, in the ways that serve us and our communities and our lives.
To quote the late Murray Bookchin, “The assumption that what currently exists must necessarily exist is the acid that corrodes all visionary thinking.” The breakdown of our systems and our societal narratives, and our belief in them as fixed and objective, need not be a time for fear. It can be a time of wonder. A time to build a world that is grounded in the truth: that we are powerful to make this world beautiful, and the things we let stop us are only as powerful as we make them.
The breakdown of our belief in solidity is a chance for consciousness: to build consciously the lives and world we want to live in. The wolves are only as strong as they are fed.
What does your good wolf eat?