Simulacra and Simulation
Logic dictates that it is impossible for someone to lie to themselves. A lie is the deliberate, and therefore conscious, telling of a falsehood. The person lying is deliberately trying to deceive someone. The only way lying can be successful is if the person hearing the lie believes it. Lying to yourself is an obvious paradox. This is true of self-delusion or self-deception. The real paradox here is that we have these expressions because the phenomenon seems to exist.
For example, the odds of knowing someone who has died from the corona virus is very low, unless you work in a nursing home. For the typical person, you are more likely to know someone who was murdered. In fact, in most of the country, you are four times more likely to know a murder victim than a corona victim. Yet, many people on the Left will tell you they know many people who have died from corona. They really believe this is true and display the appropriate emotions to prove it.
Adding to the intrigue is the fact that these people have had the math explained to them many times by the more skeptical. The same is true about the stories of overwhelmed hospitals everyone hears about, but no one has seen. The nurses and doctors posting TikTok videos of themselves dancing in empty hospitals had no effect on the believers in these claims. Even now, they are sure the “first responders” are nearing exhaustion as they heroically fight the virus.
It is not a coincidence that these people are sure Donald Trump is Adolph Hitler slowly imposing the Third Reich. People who otherwise seem calm and rational, despite their politics, become hysterical when talking about Trump. “He’s a dangerous dictator who is destroying the country” they bellow. It’s not just hyperbole. They really seem to believe that Trump is not only a man who wants to be a dictator, but that he is actually assuming dictatorial power. The lie is very real to them.
It’s not so much that they believe complete nonsense regarding Trump. It’s that their own reaction to the nonsense underscores the irrationality of it. After all, if Trump is anything like they believe, voting him out of office is unlikely. After all, he would use his magic dictator power to rig the vote or just ignore the result. Rather than reevaluate their beliefs, they are now creating another fantasy around with Trump secretly plotting to ignore the results of the election.
For these people, perception is reality to the point where reality is warped in order to make it comply with their pseudo-reality. Like fanaticism, partisanship untethers the mind from objective reality. Unlike fanaticism, which is temporary and disconnected from rational thinking, partisanship enslaves the rational mind, forcing it to create an alternative reality. This partisan reality is so powerful it blocks out anything that contradicts or disconfirms the alternative reality.
The most extreme version of this are the radicals that go on a murderous rampage in the belief they are defending their cause against dangerous enemies. They quickly move from disagreement to murder, because they quickly create a reality in which anyone showing the least bit of doubt is secretly plotting to kill them. Those who commit political murder do so in the firm conviction they are acting in self-defense. In fact, they have to kill their opponents for the good of society.
The thing about political murder is it is not irrational. If you truly think the only way your people can survive is to abide by a certain set of rules, then anyone trying to undermine those rules is a direct threat to your survival. Bargaining with such a person or offering them leniency would be no different than bargaining with a killer. The fact that political opposition is not the same as violent assault is the deception. The partisan has become convinced of something that is at odds with reality.
Compounding this strange conflict of realities is the fact the people in each are highly similar to one another, but seemingly incapable of seeing the reality of the other as the other perceives it. The people sure the hospitals are war zones, for example, look at images of empty hospitals or the statistics on hospital layoffs and it has no impact on their mental processes. It’s as if that information is invisible to them. In fact, it just confirms to them that the other people are dangerously insane.
In fairness, something similar happens when dealing with the MAGA people. Their blind loyalty to Trump and the old America is more endearing, but just as disconnected from reality as the “Trump is Hitler” stuff. In this regard, those looking hard at the world find themselves surround by people from at least two simulations that are derivative of reality, but at odds with it in fundamental ways. It’s as if there is a leak in these simulations and their simulacrum are leaking into the real world.
The question we face in this age is whether it is possible to maintain a civil society with an abundance of people embracing an alternative reality. Fanatics, eccentrics, lunatics and so on have been a part of human society since the beginning. The issue today is one of scale. Those leaky simulations have burst open and our reality is now flooded with berserk imitations of normal people, acting on a sense of reality that is at odds with objective reality. We’re being overrun by simulacrum.