Simulacra as Crime

In my book “see my book” and this blog I have explored the simulacrum as a vivid replica of reality rather than reality itself and the confusion that causes and all the consequences that entails. Recently, we have seen instances where this confusion has turned upside down and has become criminal.

Earlier blogs explored “the selfie” and its ramifications, particularly for the young. Newer apps have expanded the purview of the Selfie. Periscope, Meerkat and Snapchat allow users to live stream their videos. In at least two cases recently, crimes such as rape and corruption of minors have been recorded by someone who allowed the fore-mentioned crimes to proceed while they recorded and streamed them live. Two such cases have been brought before the courts and the accused face possible prison time if convicted.

Reporters have historically faced the moral dilemma when photographing or filming war, riots, etc. Do they continue filming or do they intervene? Today, almost everyone is equipped with a camera that takes both stills and videos. The moral dilemma is now upon us all.

The young believe everything must be photographed. “Something only becomes real if it is recorded in some way.”, is often quoted as the reason for such excess of recording. Thus the simulacrum (the photo or the video) becomes the real when looked upon, as opposed to the real event which lacks veracity when simply lived. Taking pictures on vacation is a bit like this, keeping the real alive in pictures to be viewed later. But in this long tradition, the picture is known as simply a prompt, a reminder. (I explore in my book and earlier blogs the issue of travel brochures being taken as the reality of travel destinations, and when the traveler goes to said destinations they want to visit the pictures. If the real vacation is not the brochure, the vacation is often deemed a disappointment.)

The picture, the video, the simulacrum as a truer reality is now pervasive among us all, particularly the young who have grown up with social media and everyone having a camera. The pocket phone is now almost more universally used as a camera and message sender than as its original purpose, making or receiving a phone call. The powerful need to record a moment so that one can re-live it even more powerfully as a picture or video is seductive, dangerous and almost psychologically perverse. This transmutation deserves deeper analysis than this short blog can avail. That one girl would video and live stream the rape of her friend rather than being outraged and intervening is a mind-boggling change of behavior created by technology. Our machines are warping us. This is but one compelling example.

That simulacra (which all photos and videos are) should evolve from accepted replication to more scintillating alter reality is a distress call. When pictures and phantasies are taken as more real, madness is upon us. Social media has become dangerous. When crimes are recorded without compunction, simulacra have become criminal.

Add the next revolution of VR where simulated reality surrounds you….add the ever improving CGI in movies that makes anything imaginable seem totally real….and the ever finer line between reality and imitation is shrinking if not gone. You now have the makings of a sensory shift that is both technical and existential….and dangerous.

THE SIMULACRUM RULES !!

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Trump…..the Authentic Candidate?

Since this is a blog about authenticity, a virtue that my book”see my book” advocates, let’s apply our theses to the upcoming elections. As we have noted earlier, authenticity is one of the most absent personal virtues of a politician. Almost by definition, a politician is one who caters to what he or she thinks their constituency wants to hear. Thus they forsake authenticity for expediency. By this definition, Hillary Clinton is the least authentic candidate within either party.

At the other end, of all the candidates, of either party, the one who gathers voters and supporters for his non-political, “tell it like it is” spontaneity is Donald Trump. This definition should make him necessarily “authentic”. He is perceived as “what you see is what you get”. He seems without subterfuge or deceit. Those virtues are the very definition of authenticity. But is this the full and sufficient test? Let’s explore.

There is no doubt that on first blush, D. J. Trump is authentic in that he commonly speaks first and thinks later. And that first thought is often brash, unfettered, and unadjusted for unintended consequences. It comes from the gut or heart whichever you prefer. That kind of unfiltered spontaneous speech is commonly seen as authentic and real. And there is no necessary reason to doubt that. Sincerity is a kind of honesty.

But let’s go a step deeper. I believe there are people in this world, that I have met, and so have you, that simply have a sincere “gift of gab”, a genuine garrulous persona that draws us toward them, but with sometimes no clear adherence to truth or precision. They don’t knowingly lie or deceive; they seem to have too good a nature to do that, but they can’t always be trusted to be telling the truth. They seem to wish no harm. They just engage you, and everybody feels good. These types are often good at sales. They are natural salespeople. They believe everything they say about their product. They are sincere. But that belief and sincerity may not be accurate. They do not examine their product into its finest parts. Their “spiel” may contain actual falsehoods. But by that unintended falsehood they meant no harm. That is their saving grace. They have a good heart. They believe what they say is true, because their belief comes from the heart.

I believe this profile captures the gist of Trump. He is authentic to himself. He believes what he says, but he has not examined it in depth, and there may be undetected falsehoods in those depths. That is where this kind of authentic self may be a bit oblique to the truth of things. In its most basic sense, authenticity is truthful. There can be no deception either intended or inadvertent to true authenticity. To this extent, then, I think Trump is authentic on the first more superficial level, but less than authentic on the more demanding level or definition.

Even though such a person may be selling you snake oil, there is a certain innocence to it. There is an automatic forgiveness in us because we sense this inadvertent confusion. We humor them. We take the good, and sort out the superfluous and mistaken. There are no lies, just mistakes.

Anyone with a practiced manner, no matter how sincere and truthful, risks the image of playing to the listener. Kasich is a good example. He may be the other most authentic. But his practiced speeches and their content, make him suspect. He never gets traction.

Trump is capitalizing on his propensity to make social and conversational spontaneous gaffes. He does not seek to hide his foibles. In this day and current mood, that is the obverse of political correctness, the curse of America’s forgotten. He gains traction for the very lack of cant and rhetoric. He is the right person at the right time. A personality type whose time has come.

I think Trump passes the first filters of authenticity. He may not be my or many people’s first choice. But he is the first choice of many others, and if that gets him elected, his na├»ve authenticity could be effective in shattering the foundations of a sclerotic Washington, D.C. He is not afraid of change. He is not afraid to trust his gut. He is not afraid of his own authenticity. If elected he needs to be surrounded with other talents that will fill and support his limitations. I think his instincts are keen, authentic and well-intended, and with a well chosen cabinet, VP and other key appointments, we could have a refreshing and effective re-creation of our political structure, lead by his fearlessness and adjudicated by talented others….. with immediate and overdue results.

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van Beethoven

Since my book,”see my book” and this blog ultimately seeks the Holy Grail of Authenticity, I like to note people who may have achieved that state. Earlier I wrote a blog on the Three Roosevelts as examples. Today, I turn to Ludwig.

Innate genetics and circumstances combine to determine us. Beethoven was a childhood musical genius. He had an exploitive, harsh and alcoholic father who sought gain from his prodigy. After his mother died, Ludwig eventually achieved a “divorce”, through the courts, of his father and took over the care of his sibling family. And unusual tack to autonomy.

Musically, he stood on the cusp of classical forms as articulated by Vivaldi, Bach, Hayden and Mozart. It was van Beethoven who moved in his own musical direction….that of the personal, self-realizing romantic approach to music that distinguished his compositions from all those that came before him. He broke mold after mold. This gradual process continued, finding its fullest fruition in his Ninth, which for the first time included voices and a choir within the symphonic structure. He was following his own musical internal ear.

That brings us to the other circumstantial reason he may have been further enabled in his search for personal authentic expression. He was going deaf. He was descending inevitably into personal isolation. His music had fewer and fewer outside influences. His personal behavior also became increasingly idiosyncratic. He shuffled about town in odd clothing. He mumbled to himself and said outrageous retorts to others. He was withdrawn and angry. All symptoms of deafness and its isolating powers. But in his angry isolation, he found an increasingly different muse. Most music historians will accede that Beethoven was the singular break with the music traditions of his time and turned music toward the romantic and personal expression era that continues today.

I leave you, the reader, to explore Beethoven’s biography. But I think it is fair to say and note that he stands as an epic example of a person seeking and attaining his own personal valid autonomy and authenticity. He came back from frequent and brutal precipices in that life long effort, but he prevailed. He stands as one testimony to the struggle toward and achievement of personal Authenticity. And in that, he changed the music of his day, and left for us the works of genius that to this day tower in the world of musical composition.

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Epiphenomenon

This blog has focused on simulacra which are false alternative realities that are difficult to discern as false. There is another alternative reality that may not be false, but simply disconnected.

An epiphenomenon is a separate but included reality that has its own integrity and is not false. We can be engaged in an epiphenomenon and mistake it for a false sim. Such a moment may seem like a dream, a psychic disconnect.

Since this blog is also about the search for authenticity, I believe there is a revealing connection here. If one looks at art historically, it seems to often exist apart from or in the midst of destructive or unsupportive times. Whether the caves of Lascaux, or the Renaissance, or individual histories of artists, the creative moment and the resultant “art” is immune to the prevailing and often negative surroundings of the “artist”. I think the moment of personal creativity is a divorced, but authentic moment within an individual’s life that is a detached and isolated epiphenomenon.

There is no telling from where or when a creative moment may come. It is suddenly just there. Most artists or “creators” in science or mediums of various kinds will tell you that such moments exist out of time and place. It is a magical transformation. One exists outside of one’s everyday. But I would make the case that it is still connected to one’s own integrity and not a false simulacrum. It may be the very refuge from the false simulacra that this blog so reviles. It emerges wholly from within. It may be influenced by unconscious flows or lost memories, but it is integral. It is the fullest flower of personal authenticity, though it seems to exist in dislocated time and place. It would be well described as an epiphenomenon.

This adds a new component to our search for truth, self and authenticity. The very sense of detachment within an epiphenomenon may be the immunity we seek from false scripts imposed by others. This may be our internal refuge from “lifeastheater”. These “creative moments” should not be solely seen as moments of genius by select visionaries. They may reach to those heights. But they also exist for us all as truthful moments of self-inspection and honesty wherein we see ourselves and reveal ourselves with insights heretofore unseen.

The avenues to these moments are unpredictable and often surprising. They can occur in night dreams, day dreams, staring at clouds or seascapes, meditating or eating a Madeline. But they are treasures to be found and nurtured. Beware the dreaded simulacrum, but watch for and embrace the fecund epiphenomenon. It’s the epiphenomena in your life that may be the reservoirs of your authentic Self. Watch for them; live them; collect them; embrace them!

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The Brain and Self

Throughout his life and writings, Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis and “the talking cure”, believed and wrote that chemistry would most likely be the ultimate and eventual cure for mental illness. And so it has evolved. Drugs have replaced psychiatry in large part in the treatment of mental diseases.

Equally now, the brain itself is the landscape wherein we seek the epicenters of our mind and emotions. This blog has focused on the Self, an elusive composite of ingredients that add up to our sense of existence and being. A recent study on the brains of young adolescents, seems to point to the existence of Self in a particular part of the brain. When adolescents were put into various experimental situations that made them self-conscious and embarrassed, the part of the brain known as the medial pre-frontal cortex showed extensive excitation and flared up in hyper-activity on the various monitors that showed the brain’s topography. Like Freud anticipating chemistry as his replacement, do we now have to assume that the fleeting figment we call Self is in fact to be found physically in a certain region of the brain?

If so, does that take out of the equation, all of the effort and social practice that we have traditionally acceded to improving our Self and our character? This same new knowledge of the brain would suggest not. While there well may be a portion of the brain, a piece of physiology that corresponds to the sense of Self, that same research also testifies to the surprising plasticity of the brain, i.e., the capacity of the brain to change itself physically in response to need and stimuli.

Just as we can train the brain to recompose itself in the face of a stroke or an injury to the body, so apparently can we change the circuitry and synapses of the brain in response to emotional and social patterns that are improvements in those important areas. This would suggest that the very premise of this blog, that life is a series of scripts, and if we change them, we can change as well, has sound footing. The added beauty is that this change is not just some ephemeral modification in the psycho-sphere, but may in fact be a change effected upon the brain itself, that circuitry and synapses have altered and adjusted. I take comfort in that possible permanence.

The plasticity of the brain, to be able to change and adjust its neural physicality, is encouragement for those who would not just overcome a new physical challenge, but also for those who would overcome and change a social or psychological challenge. Much like having the confidence as we exercise that we are changing and improving a muscle or muscle group, so we can now have similar confidence that the physical organ of the brain, too, is able to grasp and incorporate the psychological and emotional changes that we wish to press into our existence.

It may take repetition and dedication just as any exercise does, but its results may prove to become natural and intrinsic.

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Life as Theater vs Life is Theater

I have chosen Lifeastheater vs Lifeistheater as the title for my blog for particular purpose. I have chosen the simile over the metaphor for a particular focus.

“Life is theater”, implies that is it. Life is a dumb show, a Punch and Judy show, an existential nihilistic theater of the absurd. Whereas, “life as theater” implies that there is that, but there is also something else. The “as” suggests that there is something beyond the theatrical version of life. That life is not just a series of “performances” that we enact over days, weeks, months, years and decades. Rather, there is something beyond or beneath the surface of “life as theater”. For those of you who have been reading this blog or my book “see my book“, you know that that other life is one of “authenticity”. Life as theater and authentic life are the two opposed levels of living, elaborately discussed and analyzed here.

The Authentic Life is the one to which one should aspire. The inauthentic life is the one commonly given to us as a variety of “scripts” that are written for us by family, friends and society as large, both current and historical. To be able to discern the difference between the simulacra of false narratives and scripts that others would have us live, and the true script of our own authentic self is the purpose of my book
see my book” and blog. To achieve that clear-eyed status is no easy endeavor. To maintain it, if found, is equally hard. Everything, and most everybody, conspires against you. First, one has to achieve the clarity of mind to see the difference. And once having that, one must work diligently to maintain that clarity and use it to transform oneself into someone who is true and authentic.

A word here about selfishness. Much of this search for personal authenticity and the battle against others for your own selfhood might seem a trip toward and final residence in selfishness. That is the beginning of the search, but not the end. Having fought the battle for your own identity, the next level is to find within that authentic identity where you now belong in the world around you. Sans scripts, you now need to find where you belong and how you interact with your friends, your family and your society. This is the final task. Once free of scripts, your value is enhanced. Your contributions are more vital and honest. There is less subterfuge. There is more truth. This is the opposite of selfishness. This is where you want to be, and this is from where you can be a more successful and useful member of the world around you.

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Patrick Kennedy and his “scripts of life”

Today, Patrick Kennedy, of the famous Kennedy clan, has appeared on various television shows promoting his new book that breaks the silence of the Kennedy clan family protocols. His story is a classic example of families following familiar “scripts” generation after generation. His “cri de coeur” is a plaintive one as he reveals the psychic cost of keeping his personal life subjugated to the family legacy of the Kennedy “script”.

I will leave you and him to share his interviews and his book. Put simply, he cries out for the end of families that suppress the existence of pathologies that any and many families possess. The denial of them is more poisoness than the admission of them. In my book “see my book” and these blog pages I have often analyzed family behavior as that of a script that each participant learns as their role and plays it out each and every time the family assembles. This caustic re-enactment denies the authenticity of its cast members, and foists generational habits that grow more corrosive as each generation employs and imposes them.

The script of behavior that the Kennedy clan embraces, caps and represses (according to Patrick) each member’s own personal needs and truths versus the clan’s over-arching value system. You can explore his book itself for the details.

But such familial by-laws are not unusual. Some are more repressive and oppressive than others. But any such over-arching list of commandments is most always detrimental to the health and authenticity of its members. This is a heritage of the old world order…of the English/Irish old world traditions of a “stiff upper lip”, of “enduring without complaint”, of “making no excuses”, of “bearing up under life’s many hardships”. All of these values worked well in centuries past when life was filled with terrors and tragedies we could not control. And sadly as we know, the Kennedy clan has had more than their share of calamities within their family. The need to “bear up” was understandable.

That Patrick, as a later generation, would break this code and confess his own hardships from it, and urge others to speak out as he has, is appropriate for his generation and more modern modes of thought on how to handle personal and psychological problems, other than denying them.

He advocates abandoning that old script. It is too repressive…too dishonest. You can draw your own conclusions, but his current book tour and interviews brings vividly to our attention the many unhealthy “scripts of life” that haunt us all as others try to write our destinies to their preferences. Life evolves, and familial scripts that do not evolve accordingly grow evermore repressive and corrosive as they maintain themselves against the tide of modern thought. Patrick brings these lessons of a famous American and revered family into the current and doubting daylight. Apparently he is not popular among the clan for doing so. He gives courage to those among us who would also seek to improve their lot by breaking family taboos and speaking their own truths.

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