By Roger Diamond
Fantasy and imagination will cause our downfall. The ability of humans to live inside their heads is allowing our civilisation to destroy everything around us, the things we can find most joy from and the very things we need to survive. While people watch computer-animated images of smiling creatures hopping across ice floes, real polar bears find their habitat dwindling. While people line up in queues in supermarkets to buy fluffy toy animals, real rhinoceroses are being hunted to extinction. Three out of five rhino species are functionally extinct (their populations are so small in number and their distribution so limited, their ecological role is close to nil). While drinking bottled water and dreaming of the model who did so in the advert, our rivers are filthy, if they are even flowing at all.
Humans have a remarkable ability to think. We can be so consumed by our thoughts that the inputs from all five of our senses are blocked from our conscious — we can live inside our thoughts, be they abstract ideas and concepts, or images and sensations from other places, previous occasions, conversations with people, and so on. How much of your day are you recalling thoughts and working through them, rather than focusing on what is in front of you? Repetitive tasks in particular allow us to gallivant off into another place in our skulls. Driving down the road is probably a thing most of you will be familiar with — how much time are you thinking about this task, against how much time are you spending being remote from your true setting?
This ability is essential for any of us to get by. If you cannot read a book and feel the story unfolding in your mind, you will not be human. If you can only see ink on a piece of paper and each letter as a familiar pattern, you will be assigned to the mental institution as a machine. Thinking is who we are, as individuals and as a species, although many other species are capable of such thought. Ideas, abstractions and the ability to think these things while still having five operative senses is exactly what higher beings are all about.
So what is the problem? The problem is that our society is full of material which can fill up our heads, little of which has any truth or bearing on anything that actually matters. There is a mountain of material in various media, from more long-standing forms such as books, through radio and motion pictures, to television and internet-based forms. These media even include blogs on the internet, one of which you are fortunate enough to have stumbled upon!
Some of this material has real information — facts that help you understand the world — but much of it is fictional. Fiction has its place and can in fact be a powerful way of helping us understand more complex issues, which would be lost upon us if approached from a bare facts perspective. However, the bulk of material is utter rubbish. Whether in the form of books, websites or TV shows, there is a tsunami of nonsense, ready to fill your head at any moment. Fashion, sport, politics and personalities are built into hype, scandal and pure bullshit in order to compete for your eyes or ears.
We are being amused to death. Yet the official entertainment industry provides just a fraction of the garbage out there. Marketing professionals make sure we are dosed with propaganda to create perceived obsolescence in our possessions, to keep us buying even though what we have still works. And the more stuff we have, the more time we have to spend learning how to use it and managing and maintaining our stocks. In the end, hardly a thought is spared for where everything comes from and how the world actually works.
All of us internet users know how to use it, but none of us have an inkling of the massive mining operations underway to keep it supplied with raw materials and energy. Yes, the most virtual of worlds, the web, is totally real. It consumes massive resources to build, maintain and power. Books, seen as tree killers, are in fact much lighter on resources, particularly considering their longevity. The marketers of e-books are feeding us a lie about saving the environment. Unless you read a novel a day, by the time your e-book is due for the trash heap in two or three years, it will have consumed more resources (in construction and power) than it would have taken to print the small pile of books you have actually read. Never mind using a library, or passing on your books to another generation!
Faced with an avalanche of information, people are going about their lives in blissful ignorance of the ever-growing rate of destruction of the biosphere. Until people can see the connection between a new sweater and spraying pesticides to control the cotton bollworm, or how widening a freeway reduces groundwater recharge, we’ll continue down the road of disaster. We need to develop our observation and interpretation skills, and be wary of living in a fantasy. Open your eyes and see the world for what it is.