Category Archives: virtual

Hyper what?

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Its been a fair few days since my last post – my dissertation has been sapping all my energy! Thankfully that is coming to an end and I begin to think about different things.

Yesterday, as I was watching an interesting documentary about the creation of the German national myth in the years leading up to WWII, I had some thoughts on the link between reality and events. I have been reading Baudrillard on and off for the past few weeks and his notion of hyper-reality has really stuck with me. But it was a chapter about Hannah Arendt’s view of theory that really got me going. The following is for my own sake as I think through these concepts, but feel free to comment!

Once a theory of something comes into being, that theory in essence begins to create reality for those who adopt it. It is not events themselves that create our sense of reality, it is the discourse and theory that surrounds those events. So it may be the case that the theoretical paradigm events are interpreted though that gives them their historical significance. WWII German ideology is a good example of this, as once the theory of German supremacy was proposed, all events – be they contemporary anthropological discoveries or re-interpreted historical actions – were viewed through that theoretical prism and a fitting reality was constructed.

Events only gain meaning through perception, making only subjective statements about events possible. David Luban sums it up beautifully:

“Historical truth” is simply the name for the kaleidoscope that successively reveals and dissipates these patterns. All of which is to say: there is no fact of the matter in politics, only a plurality of perspectives.

But certain perspectives can be given more legitimacy by those in positions of authority – scientists, academics, leaders – coming out in support of the theory. At a certain critical mass of support the hyper-reality builds its own internal logic and becomes self-perpetuating (in essence ‘real’).  It is only with the benefit of hindsight – after the hyper-reality implodes due to a cataclysmic event – that such a reality seems ridiculous.

I then thought about more recent events. A White House aid once said to a a New York Times reporter that America created its own reality (see here): the theory being that history had ‘ended’ and liberal democracy had emerged as the only ‘true’ way in which to organise societies.  However, in order to reify this idea Bush et al. could not just create events, they also needed to manage the theory through which those events were interpreted in the public sphere: ie by the media,  by intellectuals etc.  After some success to begin with (the media was very receptive in the post 9/11 environment, especially the FOX news network), ‘information management’ has become more difficult, at least not as far as the war in Iraq is concerned (as such I don’t think that Herman and Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent paradigm quite fits today’s media). Now Bush says he wants to leave judgement of the Iraq War to history – more evidence of faith in the theory. I suggest that he might not get the vindication he is looking for, as cataclysmic events – Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, the sectarian violence in Iraq –  have already taken place.

But another type of hyper-reality is starting to take hold. The race for the Democratic nomination has been peppered with references to the dangers in the Middle East and particularly Iran. As the competitors run with the theory that a confrontational stance on Middle East is what the American people want (or even is inevitable re: Huntingdon), the rhetoric heats up. Of course, leaders in the Middle East hear the threats and start shouting back. It is the classic Realist security dilemma: all actions taken by the other side must be taken at face value and appropriate measures taken. But Realism is a theory – it takes one view of events invests in them a certain significance. The dangers of this hyper-reality are obvious.

I have always been skeptical of Realism in the way it professes to know certain fundamentals of human behaviour, and equally skeptical of any ‘scientific’ theory of human interaction (neo-realism I talking to you). The question is where do you go from here?

(ps. The photo is by Gregory Crewdson, who is a little like the still image equivalent of David Lynch.  With the reality theme it seemed apt)

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Filed under America, Baudrillard, Gregory Crewdson, Hannah Arendt, Hyper reality, Iraq, media, news, politics, Realism, Reality, theory, virtual, War

Are we living in a simulation?

Here are some links to very interesting articles somewhat along the lines of my last post about Second Life.

New York Times article about the probability that life is a simulation run by post-humans

Philosophical argument behind the article as proposed by Nick Bostrom at Oxford University

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Filed under Creationism, media, Metaphysics, Philosophy, second life, software, virtual

Second Life a new country?

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After the power pack for my mac melted and forced the journey I found myself on a slow train into London with a copy of the independent. The article that caught my eye (the crossword was too hard again) was about our fine government’s attempts to tax incomes made in Second Life. Now, I have tried this weird online world and found it well and truly too freaky (for some reason the flying mixed with the changing radio station was too much), but apparently its a big deal with $1.5 million in transactions going on each day! Transactions are made in Linden Dollars (the in game currency) but can be changed into real money, and it is at this point of conversion that the the government wants their cut. Kind of like making your cash in a tax free paradise and then getting stung when you declare your income at home. Does this amount to a ‘proper’ nation-state trying to deal with a virtual world like another state?  What do you do with an online community such as Second Life, with its own economy, currency and culture but no territorial affiliation?

If only you could do everything is Second Life (like for instance, eat) then the man wouldn’t be able to get at your hard earned Linden dollars. Full body immersion suits that provide all the sensations of the world, plus all the nutrients your ever increasingly redundant body needs would about do it. It would also be the matrix, which would be fine if it was like the first film. The other two just sucked (although I found if you turn the sound off they are bearable).

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Filed under internet, politics, second life, software, virtual