I have recently been thinking about the notion of the simulacrum. For those who are not familiar with the term it is a concept we encounter in Plato’s dialogue entitled “The Sophist”. Plato constructed an account of the sophist as someone who engages in image making but of image making intentionally distorted to make the image look correct.
Let me try to clarify. Imagine you are standing at the base of a pillar. On top of the pillar is a statue of a man. Now, in order for the statue of the man to look correct in its proportions to you who are looking up at it from the base of the pillar, the statue’s top half must be carved larger than its bottom half. However, if you were to climb the pillar and look at the statue of the man from there, you would see that indeed this is a very weird and disproportioned statue of a man.
Nietzsche also raises the issue of the simulacrum. In his commentary, Nietzsche talks about the tendency for philosophers to sometimes ignore the evidence of their sense experience and operate solely in the realm of language and abstraction, therefore creating a distorted image of reality.
Now, I have been thinking of the various simulacrums that are impacting me personally. I was trying to identify things in my life that are most likely contributing to me perceiving a distorted view of reality. There are of course the usual suspects such as the media. Most people believe that the media for the most part lies. Due to these lies, the media presents a distorted view of reality. However, the implicit premise there is that if the media told the truth, then the media would be presenting an accurate view of reality. This conclusion does not follow from the premises.
Let us break down what an objective news story looks like. Firstly, some event in reality takes place. Secondly, there are witnesses to this event. Thirdly, a news reporter shows up and interviews the witnesses by asking a series of question. If the event had some lasting impact on the environment, like a building burning down, then the reporter may take a look around the area and maybe take some pictures. Finally, the news reporter crafts a story that he publishes to the general public.
But what is this news story? It is a copy of a copy! The story is two stages of interpretation detached from the event itself. The witness of the event experiences first-hand what had occurred. Their testimony, namely, the answers to questions given to the reporter is the first copy. In turn the reporter interprets the witness’s interpretations and then publishes it to the general public. In fact, when we read a news story, we in fact hold an interpretation of an interpretation of an interpretation! In a way, we are playing broken telephone. At each stage of interpretation the disposition of the interpreter is injected into the mix. Depending on what the witness considers relevant, he will answer the reporters’ questions to that extent only. Depending on what the reporter deems relevant, his questions for the witness will be asked towards that end. Depending on what the reporter deems relevant, the reporter will prune away from what he has gathered in order to compose an article.
Again, let us assume everyone in this chain is being 100% honest and has no specific agenda to peddle. Finally, we focus on the parts of the article that we deem relevant and construct our interpretation on that.
Again, the point of my illustration here is not to focus in on the honesty or integrity of the people involved but on the layers of interpretation distancing us from the event itself. Movie reviews, book reviews, news reports, sport commentaries, hell, even sport scores are interpretations. You would think that the result of a soccer match would be pretty easy to consider objective yet what we end up with is a score based on the interpretation of a referee! If the referee says a goal did not count than it did not count!
So the media is one form of simulacrum; the media is one form of distortion of reality that we all experience every day.
Another simulacrum, another distortion of reality is traffic laws, or more broadly all social conventions. As a driver, you are meant to wait at a red light and only drive when the light is green. As a pedestrian you are meant to wait when you see the red hand and walk when you see the green man. This is a dictate on when you are allowed to move and when you are supposed to stand still. These conventions are again distortions of reality. After all, there is nothing physically stopping you from moving and yet you stand still. Now, this may be a silly example and there are clearly reasons why these conventions are in place, but that is beside the point. Traffic laws are all but ingrained in us and impose upon us a certain disposition that has a very meaningful impact on our interpretation of how motion takes place. Through convention you can only drive when the light is green. You can only drive on roads. You can only drive if you have a piece of plastic stating you can drive. You can only drive on public property.
Let us suppose you were asked the following question by your friend: “How can I get from your house to your place of work?” One answer you can give is as follows. Well, first you need to get this piece of plastic with your photo on it by passing several tests in operating a metal box with four rubber wheels. Once you have your plastic you get into your metal box with rubber wheels and must always stay on ground covered in asphalt where no other person possesses a piece of paper saying they own that ground covered in asphalt. However, you are only allowed to move when you see green light emanating from the top of poles scattered at sometimes random intervals. You are not allowed to move when you see a red light emanating from the top of those same poles. There is a dial in your metal box that has numbers between 0 and 260. You need to make sure that the needle on that dial never goes beyond the number 60. Any time you want to change direction you need to press on a lever that makes one part of your metal box blink. From my house you will pass 3 sections where you will see ground covered in asphalt in parallel lines. On the 3rd such sight, go right. Then go two more sets of these parallel lines and you will arrive at my place of work.
How strange such instruction would sound like to a hunter and gatherer 50 thousand years ago. Not only would he not understand half the concept contained in these instructions, but he would not even understand the concept of a “place of work.” He might not even understand the notion of work at all. After all, the hunter gather does not have a job per-say, he is simply fulfilling his wish to eat by going towards his food. After all, do we consider it a job when we walk from the couch to the refrigerator? So in this way, traveling to work is made to appear correct only if we follow the rules of the road; otherwise, we did it wrong. The same can apply to walking, biking, or taking public transport.
All these things have a correct way of being done. However, we need to distort the concept of travel in order to make the rules we have described above look correct.
In the same way as traffic laws present to us a simulacrum, so too this same reasoning applies to all social convention like dinner table etiquette. We don’t eat off the floor. We wash our hands before we eat. We use tools most of the time like a knife, fork, and spoons. We eat off ceramic plates and not off of wooden plates or off a stick, or off a towel or anything else for that matter. Yet we could eat off the floor, we could eat from a stick or off wooden plates. Here too is a correct way of eating, a correct way of behaving in public, a correct way of greeting a person, a correct way of disposing of a dead relative and so on.
Hell, there is a correct way of sleeping too! You are to be in a horizontal position elevated off the ground on a box whose innards are spring or foam with your head on a closed piece of cloth filled with plucked duck feathers wrapped in another piece of cloth under yet a larger closed piece of cloth filled with cotton or wool or duck feather that is again wrapped in another piece of cloth. Why not sleep in the bathtub? You might be thinking to yourself: “But Marcus, no one is stopping you from sleeping in the bathtub.” To this I say, yes, that is true. But if I told you that each night I sleep in the bathtub you would consider me strange would you not? Does this sense of strangeness not have its origin in the notion that I am doing it wrong? Indeed this is its origin. The simulacrum is at work once again. In fact, the hilarity of a drunken story in which you do end up sleeping in the bathtub gains its comedic quality based on this very same strangeness!
But outside the media and social convention, where else do we find this simulacrum? We find it in every form of mediation between us and the state of nature. If you have been on any form of public transport in the last 5 years you would have observed a very common phenomenon. It is also quite certain you have been part of this phenomenon yourself. What you will find on public transport is that most people will have headphones on, listening to music or something else, while doing something on their smartphone. For the time being let us simply focus on wearing headphones while travelling. When you travel with headphones on, you are experiencing a mediated form of reality. What you are hearing has nothing at all to do with your surroundings. What you see and what you hear cannot be connected in any logical way. In essence, the music coming from the headphones distorts your existential experience of reality. If you are standing next to a tree and looking up at its canopy, a sound of shimmering leaves caused by the gentle push of the wind upon the branches is the unmediated, the undistorted reality. The distorted reality is to stand beside that tree and look upon its canopy and hear Angel of Death by Slayer.
Through this one habit alone, this habit of wearing headphones while you travel, you have in effect detached one of your five senses, namely your sense of sound, from reality completely. As far as your interface with reality is concerned, you might as well be deaf. It makes no difference whether or not you hear music or dead silence. Neither is the authentic sound of reality around you. What you hear is mediated through your playlist.
Our interactions with our friends and family have become mediated as well. If you do a video call with your friends, you still leverage the sense of sight, and sound, but you lose touch and smell. Perhaps your friend on the other side is grossly hung over, reeks of booze, yet looks composed. You will never know as those sensory stimuli are inaccessible. When you do a phone call, you are left with voice alone. You are stripped of the ability to interpret facial expressions and body language in your interpretation of the interaction. When you send a text or email you are stripped of all 5 senses and are completely mediated through language alone. If you use social media, which is basically text, you are further mediated by the terms and services and community guidelines on what you can and cannot say to them as well as by the reserve you will feel in expressing yourself to your friend in a public forum.
The more mediation we inject between ourselves and our friends, the greater the distortion of our understanding of them will be. Our friendships will not resemble anything like they would had we only ever interacted with our friends face to face and used communication tools only to arrange meet ups. Social media is particularly perilous in this regard as it fundamentally alters the context of our interactions. Social interactions, especially between friends, usually operate in a private space. Even if you and your friend are in public, in a bar for example, there is a limited scope of possible witnesses to your words and actions. Our communication with one another in private spaces are open and more authentic as we usually hold our friends in a privileged position of trust. Each friend, in your mind, carries a certain level of permissiveness on what you can and cannot do or say with them.
When we make statements to a larger group of people, we usually censor our speech in such a way as the lowest common denominator of trust within the audience is accounted for. In this way we are closed when talking to a group as compared to a single trusted confidant. It is only a fool who would post sensitive personal information in a public setting and we see fools of this type punished for such behavior all the time. We need only look to those people who have added their employers as friends on Facebook, bitch about work, and then were swiftly fired.
But let us say you only have your closest 5 friends connected to you on Facebook and you have locked down your account in every other conceivable way so no one but these 5 close confidants will see your activity. Even here, we experience mediation. People tend to put their best foot forward on social media. They sanitize their posts of all things that do not correctly portray the image they have of themselves. We do not post unflattering pictures we have taken that would make us look like shit photographers. If we take selfies we take 2 dozen and select the best of the bunch completely obfuscating the amount of energy and effort we have exerted in pursuing a narcissistic fix. We brag about the 5k run we went on and not about the 3 big Macs we ate the other day because they were on special. We post photos of our travels to exotic places and not photos of our travels on the subway because we cannot afford a car. We pass off witty quips we saw elsewhere as our own to appear funnier than we are. In essence, we create an ideal image of ourselves. In fact, if it were not sometimes the case that our friends tagged us in unflattering pictures, our online personas may start to appear perfect.
How far from the truth is our sanitized social media persona to the sort of being one would experience in person? What does this sanitized persona create? It can lead to secret envies and jealousies among our friends; even resentment, desire for our failure and wishes for misfortune to befall us.
This mediation, this sanitized mediation, is impossible in a friendship exclusively contained to experiencing a friend in person. When our friendships are contained to in person exchanges we always see the human frailty and failings. You cannot grow resentment towards your friend who has travelled around the world when you have seen them passed out drunk, lying in a puddle of their own piss. You will see a good balance of all their strengths and weaknesses and rejoice in their success because so too you have seen their failings and vices. Mediation only throws our friendships into the simulacrum. It makes them look how a perfect person ought to look and not how they are.
But let us now look upon one of the most sinister forms of simulacrum, distortions of reality we all take for granted to such an extent that hardly a man even registers it exists. This distortion is time. We all see ourselves as a being operating in a 24h clock, of a 7 day week of a 12 month year. Look back into your own autobiography and try and answer this question. Do you have a single memory of a day during which you did not check what the time is? Can you imagine such a day after you have learned how to read a clock? Indeed, time is a mechanism of distorting reality we all use and will continue to use for obvious reasons. Yet let me not be misunderstood. I am not trying to put forward any ontological claim as to the existence of time. I am not concerning myself with the philosophical question of time itself at this moment but with the monstrous power over our lives the clock has.
There is a time to go to bed, a time to wake up, a time to go to work, a time to go to lunch, a time to leave work. The weekend too, is a block of time in which we are permitted things we are not permitted during the days of Monday to Friday. Drinking before 5pm? Clearly you have a problem. How much sleep do you need? Clearly 8 hours. The bus arrives at 6pm so we need to be at the stop at 6pm. The show starts at 8pm so we need to be on the couch by 8pm. Its 8 pm, I need to wake up at 8am, so clearly I still have 4 hours before it is time for bed. You slept for 12 hours? What?! Are you going to sleep your life away! 65 years old, that’s the time you retire. 30 years old and still living with your parents? Isn’t it about time you move out? 30 and not married? Isn’t it about time you settled down? Go out on a Monday night? – On a school night? The time for partying is on the weekends and not on a school night!
We do not eat when we are hungry. We eat when it is time to eat. We train our bodies to expect food at certain times and as such experience hunger at that time. We do not go to sleep when we are tired; we sleep when it is time to sleep. We push back hunger with junk food from the vending machine until it is time to eat. We push back sleepiness with coffee until it is time to sleep. We do not work when we feel like working, we work when it is time to go to work. And if we happen to be at work and do not feel like working, we pretend to work because we are expected to be working.
We judge our worth by dollars per hour or thousands of dollars per year. We schedule our holidays, around national holidays. We throw parties and buy things due to the imposition of certain moments in time such as birthdays, Christmas, and so on. So much of what we do is deemed correct and appropriate if done at the correct and appropriate time. In this way too, we are deemed normal and well-adjusted if we perform the right things at the expected points in time. Yet much like my discussion of traffic laws, so too time is a convention as we use it day to day. The 9 to 5 job could just as well be 8 to 4, 10 to 6, or 6 to 2.
Though there clearly is a benefit of certain functions occurring during daylight such as work that takes place outdoors like construction, but pretty much all middle class jobs could just as well be shifted several hours either way and encounter no problem. The notion of business hours has a certain universality to it that is taken for granted.
I am night person myself. I dread the imposition of a 9 to 5 setup whenever I find myself in such a position as it grossly messes with my natural state of being. However, I strongly resent one aspect of the 9 to 5 setup. It has been observed that we as human beings are freshest and sharpest in the first few hours when we wake up. The imposition of the 9 to 5 schedule imposes on us the demand that we sacrifice our most thoughtful hours to our employers while we are left with the dregs of the day to ourselves. This too can be seen at the scale of a human life. The worst years, our elderly years are what constitute our reward of free time that many look forward to from sacrificing their best and most energy rich years to our employers.
There are two very common expressions thrown around. The first is that time is money. The second is that money is power. If these two propositions are true then it follows that transitively time is power. If this is true, then those forces that impose certain behaviors for you to exhibit at certain points in time are the forces that have power over you. Your daily schedules are arranged for you by an employer in the same way a helicopter parent arranges the schedule of their child. You get Saturday and Sunday to go and play. If you have a wife or girlfriend, she is most likely arranging the hours in your day left over after you have finished work.
Monday to Friday have a certain meaning beyond being mere token names to group cycles of the rotation of the earth. Monday to Friday for many carry a sense of dread. The weekend on the other hand carries with it a certain sense of elation. The week is constructed artificially. It is a set fixture to which a man must mold himself into. The week is not molded to the man. He works when it is time to work. It is not time to work when he feels like working. He sleeps when it is time to sleep. It is not time to sleep when he feels like sleeping. And so this pattern repeats itself. Even for those who run their own business, though possessing more control over the fixture of the week, still are bound by the externally imposed fixture of business hours. A small business owner will still be heading to the bank between 9 and 5. In the same way that a week is a set fixture, so becomes the month and year. Each month, there are set points in which he gets paid; for some, those living paycheck to paycheck, this creates a pattern of spending during the days immediately after receiving money followed by a tightening of the belt during the days immediately preceding the next paycheck.
The year has set organizing points like national holidays, performance reviews, the issuing of bonuses, periods of potential promotion, possible raises, vesting of stock, the refilling of available vacation days, birthdays, anniversaries etc. When Christmas comes, it is time to buy presents, decorate the tree and house, visit family, cook a turkey and daydream of the sales on boxing day.
In turn a whole lifetime can be mapped out as a continual set of anticipations, checkpoints in time set for you by external forces. Today, you anticipate the work day tomorrow and dream toward the soon to be weekend.
Soon after that a holiday is approaching and you will have an extra day off work so you plan a camping trip. Soon after that a birthday approaches and your mind focuses on a party to plan or attend, and a present to buy. With every checkpoint in the year completed soon enough a new one is put in front of you, not of your own making but one orchestrated for you and you feel you must resolve yourself against. This carries it-self out throughout the year. When the year ends, the game resets, and you start at the beginning to do it again. You play this game until the retirement check point clocked at the arbitrary age of 65 which was set for you as well.
Yet what happens when an activity, even though it may be pleasurable to a man is imposed on him in a moment he would choose otherwise? He will feel disdain towards the imposition. If this happens enough times, he will grow resentment towards the activity itself, dreading it and wishing to abandon ever performing it again. The fixture of the week, this 9 to 5 imposition, destroys passion in a man for that which he is forced to do when he does not feel like it. A man would even come to dread sex if he were to repeatedly be forced to engage in it when he did not wish to. It is this fixture of the week, which no one chooses, but is packaged with virtually every job, that inevitably forces a passionate man over the years to hate that very same thing he enthusiastically chose for his profession.
He will be forced to perform this activity during business hours whether he likes it or not. Over the years, he will resent the activity and begin to dread Monday to Friday. He will slowly begin to idealize another role completely unrelated to his current job. He may dream to run his own business of some sort. This dream, however, is not a longing to be an entrepreneur. This dream is a longing to escape the simulacrum, to escape this fixture imposed on him. He wants his time back. After his escape plan fantasies gain a footing, he may even come to resent his current job for a new reason. His current job seems to now be holding him back. However, this man may not have the courage to take the leap out of this fixture as he knows nothing else. The freedom to dictate his own schedule becomes both an object of fantasy but also the object of his fear. After all, he has never known anything outside this fixture. He will retain his fantasy but appease his fear by the thought that now is not yet the time to take the plunge. He reasons, the timing must be perfect; he must save a little more money, or pay off some debt, or his kids need to get to college, or whatever excuse seems plausible and would be accepted as valid in polite company. These excuses are a simulacrum themselves. None of the reasons listed actually need to take place at all yet each of them in a way come across as prudent.
This man, unless forced out of his job, will almost certainly never leave voluntarily. He will push through to retirement. I am sure you have met more than one guy who talks about that book he is going to write, that business he is going to start, or that world he is going to travel; but now is not yet the right time.
As this video is now long enough I wanted to close by issuing you a challenge. Choose one weekend that you can set aside completely to this challenge. When you finish work on Friday, set your alarm clock on your phone to Monday morning and then put your phone on flight mode. Leave your phone by your bed. If you wear a watch, put it in a drawer. Take down any clock you have in your house or cover them up. Turn off your computer and unplug it. Turn off your TV and unplug it.
Now, between Friday and Monday morning, operate outside the simulacrums I have described in this video. Try to get to Monday morning without every seeing what time it is. Do not watch any television, use the internet, or for that matter even read any books, magazines or newspapers. Do not listen to music and especially do not wear any headphones.
Try and live out those two days by simply being with your own thoughts and giving all your senses the opportunity to engage with reality. Go to the park, go to a restaurant and have a meal. Maybe meet up with a friend. Do some house work. Eat when you are hungry. Sleep when you are tired. Do not factor in time into any of your decision making. If you plan on driving, keep the radio off.
You may think to yourself that this is a stupid exercise and that all you can expect to come from this is boredom. But think about what such a statement means. Such a statement means that your own company is not good enough for you, that you must distract yourself from yourself to get by. What I think you will come to experience is a strange dilation of time. It will seem like more time has passed than it actually has. The days will feel very long. Your thoughts will be pure and absent foreign influence. You will feel a certain freedom that you cannot quite put your finger on. However, you will also bear witness to your own habits. You will notice how often thoughts cross your mind of checking your email, or your social media accounts. You will also begin to notice a lot of things around you that you never did before; new sounds, new smells.
Try it out and let me know how it works for you, if you made it through the weekend. There is some talk in MGTOW recently about the idea of going off the grid. What I found interesting about all these conversations is that there seems to be almost an implicit assumption that outside of some of the self-reliance tasks one will need to perform, everything else will pretty much stay the same. What I mean by this is that going off the grid does not entail you will stop consuming mainstream media or stop using the internet.
If this is the case, then in reality you are only really going off the grid physically but not psychically. On the psychic level you are just as plugged into all the media outlets and cultural artifacts as you have always been. The exercise I proposed in this video is a way of going off the grid psychically but not physically.
But for now, thanks for listening.