To keep it real, or not to keep it real
“Reality is a product of manipulation”. “Simulacra and simulation”. Duh.
Seriously, we do not live the way we used to, say, a century ago, exactly because:
Everybody knows that we are technically much more powerful than our great-grandfathers, both individually (on average) and collectively. So much so, that we have become a serious potential hazard not only to other species, but to our own, and the fact that everybody accepts this is huge. “Nature” (whatever this is) still rules the world, but the idea of us literally taking care of our world, instead of just assuming that it’s there for us, is not only recurrent, but unavoidable.
We live in cities, which are manufactured realities. Cities are old, but that practically everybody is living in cities is really very, very new.
Cities are not what they used to be, thanks to the Web [a billion pages of yadda-yadda-yadda here. Done].
We are now consumers of invented realities during most part of our waking hours.
To the extent that we now live in a culture that is increasingly aware of its ability, and responsibility, to legislate on reality (which is not the same as legislating on what is “the Real” – again, whatever this is), the question to be asked is:
How the heck do we legislate on reality?
To the newcomers at this debate: to legislate is not just to kinda-agree-on-stuff, it is to produce and make binding a contract that is a real (notice the circularity here) commitment. Legislating has to be efficacious, so that laws can be effective. And we are about to legislate on what stuff is. Simple stuff like apples and apple pies, but also complicated stuff, like what you can tell your children about, you know, stuff. We are legislating about what we will be able to know, think, and talk about. We will have to do that, it is not a proposal, and it’s not an ideological thing (well, it is, but not the way you may be used to think). We will have to do that, because our world is too complicated, and we desperately need to become collectively responsible for what we do, right now. And that means a check on individual freedom. Do I have your attention now? Good.
Now, some people will tell you that this is a technical subject, that computer technology is being developed that will enable us to do that without friction, that new semantic standards are becoming a reality(!), that every dispute will be settled at the proper forums, with the proper logical tools. You may not know these people, if you are not, like, into computers and stuff, if you still think lawyers and politicians are your worst problem concerning designed realities. These are the ontology dudes, and they are a pain (or worse: some of them have grand ideas). And they couldn’t be more wrong. [Disclaimer: not all ontology dudes are idiots or jerks, there is a minority that isn’t, but they are losing this war, and we do not have time for this. Period].
Basically, they are treating us like children. Yes, we are leaning towards the belief that the most difficult ethical problem ever can be solved by massively pretending it doesn’t exist. Cool.
Acknowledge that there isn’t an obvious and easy fix for every social dilemma;
Get your Philosophy together, you’re gonna need it (yes, “I’m just an ordinary guy”, that’s for you too);
While you’re at it, get your Computer Science together (yes, math phobic, that’s for you too);
At least make sure your kids are being taught computer science at school;
Be a grown up.
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