Brief Notes on the Collective Mind and the Death of Truth

by chris23 on 2008-10-01 12:16:17

There is a fundamental element of social construction and adaptive behavior emerging here at the dawn of the 3rd millennium CE. The theory isn't new, but the larger-than-life spectacle of the 2008 US election cycle and the attending catastrophic meltdown of global capital is reinforcing its pragmatic application. Amidst these crises the competitive mechanisms of control and persuasion are grabbing as much airtime as possible to capitalize on the power vacuum opened with the shattering of the old paradigm. Everyone is rushing in to assert their agenda and make one last valiant stand at defending their personal dogma.

The Cartesian universe established the illusion of truth and rationality. Renaissance thinkers submitted that reason was the best path. Yet it's clear that humans are highly emotional creatures often far less motivated by logic than biology. Even our physics has betrayed rationalism, now merely a thin veneer of structure over an inherently non-dual soup. Dualism is no longer an effective metaphor to represent the complexities of the world we witness. We are at once possessed of great convictions, yet whimsically dizzied by the myriad of possible realities before us. We are children waking to adulthood, both strong and vulnerable.

Biology compels us to adapt our behaviors. Or die trying. The energy and food crunch reminds us that, even after so many long and determined aeons of civilized life, we're still essentially a balkanized mess of tribal apes competing for resources. All mechanisms of power basically roll up to this core mandate of the human operating system. The last 50 years or so have radically altered the stage of our evolution, establishing a massive abstraction layer spanning almost all human endeavor: the Noosphere of Teilhard de Jardin. The modern competitive environment, while rooted in the flesh, is increasingly a domain of the mind. Those who understand this and act to influence the construct have demonstrated a competitive advantage, though often more in the service of biological imperative than any noble commitment to the collective.

The ability to manage social narratives has become an adaptive differentiator in an increasingly mediated world. It is not just the recognition that a narrative exists around all things that occur on the public stage, but that this narrative must be deliberately crafted and managed in order to successfully compete and advance in the game of life. This is a defining element of the modern stage and one that has only become possible within the vast infrastructure of global communication heaved up across the planet over the last hundred years.

By nature of our participation in this shared abstraction, much of our lives now exist in a consensual representation. We're all so connected that the apprehension, interface, and understanding of life itself is increasingly a collective experience. So much content of humanity is abstracted, uploaded, shared and discussed, buzzing in frenetic cycles that get shorter and shorter every day. We are a hive becoming aware of itself but the thing we behold is not a Platonic truth. It is a consensual creation.

What truth exists is the validity of the moment. The weight of the news cycle. Which prevailing current has the greatest mindshare? Who has the most eyes? As Heisenberg predicted, the truth lies in the observation and the collapsing of the eigenstate. It is only a momentary concrescence quickly enfolded back into a sea of possibility. The Simulacrum is moving so fast now and is so rich with compelling content flickering across the full polemic spectrum, that Truth has ceded to attention. Attention is the foundation of influence. What undergoes the formality of becoming is a matter of debate, not destiny. Indeed, the unfolding of history itself is becoming a product of the human marketplace of ideas. Memes with the most persuasion are writing the future. Our collective world is crafted in large part by those who seize the narrative. Karl Rove, Frank Luntz, and Roger Ailes are perhaps the greatest masters of this emerging social adaptation.

If reality tv has taught us anything, it's that integrity and community will always be challenged by amoralistic, self-interested actors; and that some people will inevitably sacrifice humanity for success. We are encouraged to look past any moral failings and instead acknowledge the skill in effectively manipulating the game to one's advantage. Whether by muscle or cleverness, victors arise on the backs of those they out-compete. Yet more and more the battleground lies in the minds of the people and that strange interstitial space of mediated discourse.

Now, amidst financial and constitutional meltdown the very machine of civilization is called into question, the minds of the masses are left awed and exposed, eyes wide in the headlights of seeming doom, mouth agape pleading silently for context and leadership, ready for the next distraction, misdirection, scapegoat or salvation, preserved only by mad poets, fevered musicians, relentless philosophers and the like more inclined to loving than fighting, though perhaps just as drunk on the powers of Life. Opportunists are racing to grab center stage and push the story in their preferred direction, hoping the narrative is stronger that the needs and expressions of the human social animal.

The battle is on and the territory has shifted - “the hearts and minds of America” are at stake. This is deeper than it appears on the surface. We are on the edge of a knife. Progressives, leftists, and peaceniks of all stripes must engage the social construct and actively manage the narrative. It's not enough to offer the most logical solution. Indeed, the opposition will seize on this as another example of “liberal intellectualism”. The rules of the game have evolved and we must play it or perish. If Truth is dead and history is written by the victors, then the ideals of life, liberty, happiness, and peace need the best marketing team on Earth.

But dig: though the annals of Respect implore us to hate the Game not the Player, beware of such moral relativism and its erosive impact on integrity. Do not absolve the player of responsibility. Do not cast your votes merely on who plays the game most effectively. The rules themselves are a fluid property of narrative and we would all do well to keep in mind the social ideals of community and cooperation. Check yourself, lest you wreck yourself.