Layers of Insanity

See more from Professor Corey Anton

I've tried to address this insanity before, and I'm happy to find someone else has been feeling the same way.  We constantly participate in all kinds of repetitive surreal rituals and rites without question.  The media (specifically advertising) we produce and consume reinforces what will be valued and what will not.  Madness is even included, it's openly indulged within the systems.

The last time I went to a theme park as I watched my legs dangle in the air below before being jerked violently forward, I was struck by what a complex, brilliantly engineered, costly machine I had paid to sit in.  I considered the huge expense of time and resources that were employed to design this thing for the sole purpose of throwing my body around at high speed to generate profits. Profits on our attendance to these places are so great it is worth the massive expense to build and maintain them. Amusement parks are one of the most audacious examples of the huge priority our culture places on keeping us entertained.

So should we say an amusement park is an insane mis-use of human innovation?  I hate to admit it, but I immediately imagine how a young child exposed to such G-forces, driving their curiosity and fearlessness into a future as an astronaut, a experimental aircraft engineer, or a physicist. If there weren't people driven to challenge the physical limitations of our body's capacity for stress, we would not enjoy the convenience of flight or have explored even the tiny amount of our solar system that we have.  As scientifically minded as any innovator might be, don't they experiment, explore and push limits  ultimately for enjoyment, for fun?

Today, studies show that imaginative free play has a strongly positive effect on our development. In almost all animals there is a desire to 'play, and even the most basic games require us to be part of a minor fantasy, to suspend our disbelief.  Until we developed language our games were likely one of three types; physical, musical or rhythmic and artistic. Following the development of written language and increased literacy reading became another extension of our imagination, and stories could spread wide.  Yet the way each of us constructs the content of what we read is unique.  If you consider the details you build into your mind's eye film of your favourite books, there's no question that version of the book is yours alone.  It's not so unlikely then, that the healthy use of our creative mind is easily susceptible to various other gamelike or storytelling distractions - often to the detriment of it's own life and the lives of others.

To many people, celebrities are fantastical creatures, and those fans enjoy knowing every detail, it's a living myth.  For the most part the content is fiction and most of it's readership knows this and doesn't mind one bit.  So is someone who supports tabloid news and celebrity media coverage more or less sane than one who doesn't?  Maybe it's the more rational course of action to openly embrace the culture you're going to need to navigate, and indulge in tribally accepted practices because it's taken for granted that we understand they have no salient purpose.  That nullifies objections and allows it to continue under the guise of a guilty pleasure, dismissed as an inevitable byproduct of this particular culture, and therefore never discontinued until the audience completely loses it's taste for it.  Then the cycle can begin again with a new format.  For instance, television creates it's own stars as cheaply as finding everyday people to attain status and become new fodder for television to report on.  Around and around.

As you peel back all the layers of influence, belief, culture and physical effect that comprise your experience at any given time, it's shocking how the lines between rational and irrational criss-cross hundreds of times a day.  These filters can affect our perceptions and reasoning in ways that compromise our mental well-being in an instant. Like all organisms, we seek pleasure and avoid pain, but the insanity we are capable of beyond the average animal stems from having such a complex brain being confronted with no end of soothing or exciting distractions to turn our heads from our less desirable patterns and apathies we might be loathe to face.  In addition to enjoyable distractions, there is the heightened social anxiety of social media, which can distort our self-awareness, and interpretation of who we are.  At this point in our history, humans are still not quite evolved enough to adequately address and process the world we've created for ourselves.  It's evident that all these factors inherent in our nature have also filtered through our often grossly frivolous use of the technology we've created.  

We've steadily subjected ourselves to an increasingly intense onslaught of media over the last 100 years or so.  The brain's natural plasticity  is being provided with a an unprecedented array of variables to contend with, and within only a few generations we have changed how we interact with information.  How we mediate the influence of technology on culture, and on our faculties is still reliant on an only relatively recently evolved collection of wet matter.  Of course there's going to be madness, not everyone can cope.   

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