“But I don’t get—“
“There is a lot you won’t get right now.” The voice came from the television screen, which had been positioned so that everyone in the room could see the image of Russell, and he, them. “That is the very essence of seeing beyond the collective consciousness, to be made aware of just how much you do not know. The artificial world that surrounds us is filled with answers we believe we possess. It is important that you hear what is being said now. Understanding will come later.”
Russell continued, his voice sounding thin through the television speaker, “What you need to understand now is this: every era, every culture, suffers under the delusion that it, and it alone, has a correct understanding of the world around it. They are, all of them—to a great extent—wrong. Generally, a society clings to the simplest narrative it can find to explain the world outside and its relationship to it. It stumbles upon it rather clumsily, each of its members working more or less blindly, unaware that they are working towards a common purpose, cells oblivious to the organism they are part of. As long as this narrative works, it doesn’t matter how accurate it is. Life went on for those who believed the earth to be flat. Newtonian physics explained the universe quite well for centuries. The problem is that no story adequately explains reality. Eventually, the differences between perception and fact tear apart the perception. Eventually, every society is undone by its inability to correctly grasp life as it truly is. Like a building that sooner or later crumbles due to some weakness in its infrastructure, every society collapses by the sheer weight of its own incomplete understanding of itself.”
As Russell spoke, Dave noticed that Doug was quite willing to let him speak for the group. While Doug was in some way the leader of this group, he deferred to Russell as one who had the greater understanding.
“What you are witnessing now are glimpses of the larger world beyond the smaller dome that encapsulates our current cultural understanding. The cracks in our imperfect little bubble reveal things we cannot even comprehend, things we have sought to protect ourselves from. We have built for ourselves a little ark where we are safe from the storms of a great ocean, but the ark is not capable of protecting us forever.”
Sensing Russell had said what he wished to say, Doug continued: “When a certain manner of thought is working for a group, those within it are quite willing to see the world through the parameters of the existing narrative. Thus a successful paradigm tends towards a sameness of thought, for who can argue with success? In the last century or so, our society has achieved unprecedented success. Never in the history of the world has a paradigm led to such advancement of the human race. And success, as it always does, leads to an unwillingness to have a different opinion. We begin to accept as fact what we once realized was only a perspective. Why mess with or question what is working so well?”
“More than an unwillingness for different opinions,” it was Johnny’s turn to have a say. “An intolerance for opinions that differ is more like it.”
“At any rate,” said Russell, “the very success of our present generation has led to its inability to perceive of different ways of looking at things. In past ages, in other cultures, people that perceived reality differently than the rest were often persecuted, martyred.”
“And now?” asked Mindy.
“Now? Now they simply do not exist.”
“There is no place for alternate views to exist. Who can argue with success.?”
“What you describe sounds like what could have happened in the Soviet Union,” said Dave. He was not trying to argue, didn’t believe he was in a position to argue. But he did seek to understand, and so was unafraid to question. “Or Europe under the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. But life isn’t like that now. Nobody can control the information we receive, nobody can control the way news is reported. We’re free, in our country, at least. I mean, more free than most.”
“You tend to overestimate the role of force in such matters,” said Doug. “Or will, for that matter, or even awareness. People assume that since there is no dictator that sits over us that we are all free to be individuals. But we’re not. Maybe we don’t realize it, but we’re not.”
“We’re sheep in wolves’ clothing,” laughed Johnny. “All products of a Madison Avenue campaign that makes us think we’re acting in our own best interests when all the while we’re part of the machine.”
Doug was about to continue, but Johnny was just starting. It seemed as though, while they were all speaking from a shared pool of knowledge, each of them had their own interpretation of things. Dave was curious what Izzy might have added to the conversation.
“A century ago, all houses were made individually,” Johnny continued, taking his turn at attempting to explain. “Then someone standardized the process in order to make them easier to build, and suddenly we all end up living in cookie cutter houses. And with modern automation came mass-produced goods. To produce such goods, tasks were broken up into simplistic little blocks so that the people who were put into their roles could be interchangeable. Of course, to buy the standardized products made by standardized workers, the system needed standardized consumers. It didn’t do any good to mass-produce an item when you had many people desiring many different things. So you needed to market to the masses, create a common desire for everyone. And since the whole concept was predicated on the idea that mass production called for mass consumption, material goods were sold as the cure for all our ills. Have a headache? Take an aspirin. Insecure about your place in the world? Buy a fancy car. Tired from working too much? Take a pill or buy a comfy chair to relax in.
“And since manufactured goods were what our paradigm did well,” again inserting his own perspective, Johnny added, “questions of spirituality were of little use. What good was meditation or contemplation or prayer when the real problems of the world were halitosis and waxy yellow build up?”
“So you’re suggesting the industrial revolution created monsters?” asked Dave, incredulously.
“No, he’s saying that it caused us to forget them, for a time.” It was Russell who answered. “If we did not wholly forget them—because, after all, not seeing something does not make it go away—if we did not forget them then we did not perceive them as clearly as we once did. But if we were distracted from such monsters, it was only for a time. The walls of our perception kept them from us, but the cracks are already beginning to show.”
“Don’t forget, Dave,” said Doug, “that what other times may have called spirits, demons, ghosts, are merely their description of what they perceived through their own perspectives. In truth, they may have seen such things more clearly than our generation does, but they are inexact descriptions that show the bias of their times. The past had numerous absurd notions. They’re just a lot easier to see when one is not in the midst of them.”
“So you’re saying the paradigm that our age has been built on has seen better days, is that it?” asked Dave.
“You think we’ve built as high an edifice as we’re going to build on an imperfect foundation. So what are we supposed to do about it? What do you expect from me?”
Doug was in charge, once again. While Russell and Johnny had knowledge and opinions, it appeared that Doug was the one with a vision. “Dave, you know what it feels like to be free, do you not? In order for you to have developed the ability to see in your dreams, you must have transcended your personal biases, the calcified thought processes that adulthood gradually builds around our life force the way a shell forms around a snail. You know the feeling, of emerging from the protective cocoon, and the fear of a world outside that is so much larger than your little mind could ever understand. You have experienced the joy and fear of the fall as you’ve leapt from the perch of safety of your paradigm, prison, home, shell, rut…whatever you want to call it. Imagine an entire society, an entire world experiencing such a feeling at the same time. Imagine a world where all the belief systems break down at once. The dangers are twofold. One, that people will stare into the depths of things their minds aren’t prepared to comprehend and their deepest fears will walk around in broad daylight. You two have witnessed this, to a small degree. You have seen a group of people summoning powers beyond their ability to control. But this is nothing compared to what large groups of people could do.
“The second concern is that you will have the true believers, those who cling to outmoded forms of belief for fear of what lies beyond. Their lack of vision will be just as dangerous. They will close their minds to even the most obvious of truths because they cannot allow their simple beliefs to be challenged. In calmer times, believers are willing to admit somewhat to a lack of certainty, but in times such as are to come, the rigidity of their cages will be unyielding. But their very beliefs, devoid of the spirit of believing, will make them victims of malevolent forces. Again, you’ve witnessed such circumstances, though only on the smallest scale. Imagine a nation of true believers.”
Dave cringed at the remembrance of the events on Devil’s Island. If such nightmares could be produced by a mere hundred people, he could not conceive of the evil that could be done by an entire country.
“You speak as if such things happen with the rise and fall of every society,” said Mindy. “I don’t recall reading about any of that in my history book.”
“Many things are lost in the passing of a people’s belief system. They are lost and fallen to the wayside, sometimes to be rediscovered centuries later by people looking to plug the gaps in their own imperfect models. But mankind has always had an answer to such times as we are now approaching: kill. Kill to the best of your ability. Kill until the stress is relieved, until the energy is spent and new societies are able to build themselves up.”
“But our world cannot accept that answer.” It was Johnny. “In times past, it was horrible enough. Now we have such weapons that humanity would not survive such bloodletting.”
“A new world is coming,” said Doug, “but we must first survive the dissolution of the current one. With the breakdown of all our current paradigms, where all our assumptions are tossed aside, we will need to find touchstones independent of logic and even knowledge. In the sleep of reason, we will not be able to have beliefs or even convictions until some sort of framework exists.”
“And what the hell do you expect we can do about all of this?” Dave couldn’t begin to fathom the implications of such knowledge, if such things were true.
“We must contain what we can of it, as you and Mindy have already successfully done twice now. We must lessen the shock for society as best we can so that people do not retreat from one another, or a total breakdown will occur. We must be able to allow people to see what lies beyond their present perceptions in a way that doesn’t cause them to contract. They must be led to open their eyes, to see what is rather than what their prejudices and misconceptions lead them to believe.”
“We need to understand the world as it is,” said Russell. His meekness seemed to momentarily vanish. “As much as possible, we need to expand our understanding of reality in order to begin to build the next paradigm on as solid a structure as possible.”
“And why us?” asked Dave. “Why you? Who elected you to do anything about this? What makes you think you’ve got answers?”
“Because we can see, just as you can see, in our limited ways,” said Doug.
“Because nobody else is doing anything,” added Johnny.
“Because if we don’t, someone else will decide for us,” said Russell.