…how to handle the new unreality
I realized something this week. The future is here.
Of course, the present day is ALWAYS what the future used to be – today is always what was tomorrow yesterday. And while some things about today are just what we expected (the sun came up today, you are mostly what your parents thought you’d be by now, and people are talking on telephones with visuals as has been predicted for at least a hundred years), some things are not. Some things are really different from what you guys thought 2020 would be like!
For example, my human friend Handsome told me that, when he was a child, everyone expected that by now people would be traveling through space all the time. You’d take flying saucers to work, or vacation on the moon. No one imagined back then that this decade would be one of just more traffic of cars and airplanes.
Similarly, futurists imagined everyone would be eating more efficient food by now, not creating awful global problems with overcrowded yards and processing plants for giant populations of livestock.
And while many imagined people carrying around communication devices they could talk through, I don’t think anyone over fifty years ago remotely imagined that so many people would have portable supercomputers in their pocket, through which they could not only communicate but look up knowledge, play games, and be entertained.
But there’s one other aspect that has really been on my mind. You see, Handsome also recently told me about three of the greatest novels of the 20th Century, each describing a frightening future for the world: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s 1984, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Each I hear is terrific, and would make wonderful reading for you during this lockdown (and while all have been made into good movies, none of them is said to quite match their books’ horrific brilliance).
Each of these writers looked around at the changes the 20th Century brought, and thought, “Uh oh, I see where this is going.” They envisioned giant, overarching governments that controlled people’s minds from birth, managing their populations efficiently by stifling free expression and thought (For example, “Fahrenheit 451” is the temperature at which paper ignites, which is important to know in a world where all books are being burned!).
And much of what they envisioned has come true. Our world does include many societies that censor publications, that lie to their people, that even imprison, exile, or worse people who speak out against their systems.
So why aren’t these books accurate? Why, 36 years after the real 1984, is the story so wrong in so many ways?
Because there’s something else none of these authors (or those of other great dystopian novels from a few decades later, like Player Piano or The Handmaid’s Tale) envisioned. Something that’s kept their nightmare visions from becoming true, but which has created a different problem than they saw, equally great and equally dangerous:
All three of these geniuses thought that all humanity would be controlled by a single-minded group, except for a few rebellious souls who valiantly struggled against it. But the opposite has happened.
In societies where governments have tried to lock thought down, rebels have used tools like Twitter and Facebook to share prohibited information and ideas with everyone. And others have shared movies and documents over the internet that their governments haven’t been able to stop. For those of us who like to howl freely, this has all looked pretty exciting.
But at the same time, while it’s been impossible to suppress the truth getting out there, other forces have used social media to spread rumors, disinformation, and straight-out lies to millions of people, mixing it in with the truth to where it’s hard to tell them apart.
I don’t know what’s been going on where you live, but here it’s been crazy – and I’m just old enough to have seen the change occur. For example, every four years, we have a big election for the presidency. Two elections ago, the main issues were about taxes, healthcare, and defense. But the last election had all kinds of craziness – posts saying one candidate ran a child sex ring in a pizza parlor, or that another had been videoed with women going pee on him! Now maybe one, or both, of these could be true. But we were a long long way from the day when such stories didn’t get released until newspapers and television stations had checked to make sure they were factual, so the people who passed on posts saying these things were real had no idea whether they were right – and they just all went straight into everyone’s social media feeds!
And since then, we’ve learned that this isn’t just the work of a few lunatics or scandal-mongering haters. Research shows that big organizations, and even governments, have been working to spread such misinformation all over the world. Why? Because chaos gives them the chance to achieve power!
After all, if I’m in a dog park and someone puts a pizza down, I’m going to have to fend off a bunch of pooches to get more than a bite of it. But if I can get all of those dogs into a big fight on the other side of the grounds, I can get ALL of that yummy pie just for me!
But we’re not talking about a pizza or a dogfight. We’re talking about the most powerful forces in the world, and the future for all of us – especially for you, who are just beginning your lives’ journeys.
Four months ago, scientists everywhere around the world gave out almost exactly the same recommendations about this awful virus: Stay distanced from others as much as possible, wash or sanitize constantly, and wear masks to slow the disease’s spread. And what happened? Everywhere you looked, disagreement erupted about it, with memes and tweets calling masks a conspiracy, the virus a hoax. Crowds threatened politicians, even brandishing guns, insisting on their God-given rights to go out with bare faces.
Why? Why would anyone do something so stupid? We dogs will pull on leashes we don’t care for, but we don’t bite our humans and insist on running into traffic!
It’s because they were told to. Because those people heard and read TONS of misinformation – about the dangers of masks, about how wearing them would take away their rights, about how the reports of people getting sick and dying were lies.
Let’s be clear – the people who originally put this nonsense out are murderers. Places where people insisted on breaking the rules to frolic together maskless are seeing gigantic rises in sickness and in deaths.
If I started a fight in a dogpark so I could get a pizza to myself, a pup could get hurt, or even killed, and that would be my fault. But getting lies sent around the world to create chaos is way way worse. And it’s happening, all over the world.
But here’s the craziest part of it, which I keep seeing. Those books I talked about before? People everywhere keep saying that they believe that they came true, but that the brainwashing force is only controlling people they disagree with! All day I hear people complain “The President lies all the time, and no one catches him at it!” Or “The opposition Deep State controls all the media and everyone’s minds!” As though only they are smart and attuned enough to realize what the rest of the world can’t see.
When the truth is that there is no such force. Sure, there are giant governments and corporations, and there are real conspiracies. But the overwhelming danger of our time is that facts are disagreed on constantly. Facts that mean survival to us all. Facts about science, about medicine, about our leaders.
We dogs can’t do much more than we do now; we need you humans to work together on this virus, on world peace, on climate change – while villains have you debating facts instead of fixing the problems!
So what to do?
Well, as with most big issues, I find that the first and most important step anyone can take is to look at themselves. When you see something posted online, or hear something on the radio or television or computer, that might not be true, do you research it? Or do you shrug and ignore it? Or do you pass it on to others?! If you just do the latter, then you are part of the problem, my friend!
In my last newsletter, I wrote about how all of us need to realize that We Belong to each other. But that doesn’t mean you have to like everything that I like. So if I say I love listening to Billie Eilish, and you think she sounds like three cats fighting over a dead rat, that’s okay. But if someone tells you that Ms. Eilish kidnaps children and eats their fingers, please, PLEASE, don’t pass that on without making very sure you’re right. (Which is likely to be difficult!)
What would be even better is, if you see your friends posting things like this, do some research, and post it as a comment. “Hey I looked this up and it’s not actually true. Here’s what I found.”
If you can do that, you’re not just showing everyone you’re kind of smart; you’re doing your part as a warrior for truth, and fighting back against the forces hoping to destroy goodness in the world! You’re an Avenger!
Does that sound a bit dramatic? Well, imagine if it were 1940, and the truth were coming out about what was happening in the Nazi camps. And just as it came out, so did thousands of memes and posts telling everyone around the world that that wasn’t true. How many more innocent people would have been killed because those posts kept governments from stopping that evil?
As I write this, nearly 600,000 people have been recorded worldwide to have died from the Coronavirus. We can be pretty sure that some governments have lied to keep their numbers down, so the truth may be closer to a million. A MILLION DEATHS. And how many of those could have been avoided if the truth were simply recognized as the truth?
And isn’t it interesting that three of the nations whose last elections are known to have been manipulated by foreign false information on social media – Brazil, the United Kingdom, and the United States – are among the countries with the highest death rates, all with presidents who’ve scoffed at the virus and its danger.
Social Media isn’t going away, and as I said before, it’s accomplished some incredibly wonderful things. But it’s also enabled an evil that, I’m saying, is the Future we were warned about, but incorrectly.
You humans are the most brilliant creatures to have ever lived on this planet, and you’ve found ways to beat nearly every problem that’s ever come to you. But you’re also the only creatures that know how to lie, and to see through lies. So the problem you’re facing now is yourselves, and each other – your own superior minds.
Can you find ways to handle this, to beat it, to create a brave new world where truth is recognized and valued?
Or will you keep running around in circles of doubt, allowing chaos to be sown and watching the planet warm up to Fahrenheit 451?
It’s up to each and every person on the planet. So please, do your best. We’re counting on you.
Because if you can make this right, what’s ahead is a future, a newer next future, brighter and more wonderful than any future any of us has ever known.