The Discarded Image
The Discarded Image is the title of C.S. Lewis’s last book, and perhaps his best. On the surface, it is a discussion of medieval cosmology and the Ptolemaic universe. In reality it is about very much more, including the medieval refutation of the modern notion of “equality,” which decrees that people are interchangeable. That vast error lies at the heart of many of the ideologies which made the 20th century such a horror and which still gnaw at the vitals of Western civilization. Lewis recognized that on many matters, our medieval ancestors were wiser than ourselves.This is the first place where I find myself in disagreement with Lind's thesis, and by extension Lewis's. Both of these men have had a profound impact on my worldview, and that I choose this essay is out of a great respect for what is being said, however, herein contained is the seed of Lind's virtual world. The basis for what he is saying is that in essence, the Medieval world is more real than the world in which we live today. That is not true. People who live in the real world do not drown women in order to determine whether or not they are a witch.
Within his own wording, he gives the us the key to his virtual world. In this virtual world, the Kline farm is representative of something. It is an icon, an idol. Lind pines for a time where connection to the soil reminded us of the reality in which we live.
In the face of this possibility, or maybe probability, what indeed are individuals and families to do? I think the answer, if there is one, begins with my friend David Kline’s farm.
David Kline is an Amishman. He farms about 200 acres in Holmes County, Ohio, good land that supports a herd of forty to fifty dairy cows. He has some modern equipment, such as milking machines, but his life does not depend on any of it. In today’s world, his farm provides him a good living. In a Fourth Generation world, his farm would still provide well for him and his family.
I am not talking about “survivalism” here. The Kline farm represents much more than that. As I have said to David more than once, what he and other Amish are doing is preserving an understanding of how to live in reality for the time when all the virtual realities collapse.
Virtual realities lie at the heart of Brave New World, aka the New World Order, “globalism,” “democratic capitalism” (as the neo-cons define it), etc. The bargain Brave New World offers is this: if you will only do as Marcuse advises and trade the Reality Principle for the Pleasure Principle, we will enmesh you in virtual realities that will make you happy. True, you will lose your free will, because our virtual realities will condition you to think as we want you to. But they will also give you anything and everything you want. So what if none of it is real? All that matters is that you feel happy, right now.
Here he has a point. We do trade the reality principle for the pleasure principle. Just not in the way he believes. Feeling is indicative of experience. Engineering one's feelings is the quickest path to self-delusion. The totalitarian pursuit of pleasure leads us to override the genuine experience that the feelings we are turning away from communicate to us. The feeling of experience is poignant in direct relation to it's truth. This is why pleasure seeking behavior diminishes. Wine is less sweet when gorged upon. Sex is less ecstatic when abused promiscuously. Drugs have a rate of diminishing returns, requiring a greater dosage for similar effect.
William Lind's thesis is refuted by his own source material.
As our medieval forefathers would quickly recognize, this is Hell speaking. Hell has always loathed reality, because in reality, Christ is king. Wiser than we, the medievals were interested not in felicitas but in beautitudine – not in being happy but in being saved. Had they been given a television or a video game, they would have smelled brimstone.
Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place."So where exactly is this 'reality' of which Lind speaks? What he is saying is true, to a point. There are truths higher and more noble than the pursuit of physical pleasure, which when broken down are merely the stimulation of neural pathways. The place where he makes a mistake and where the hedonist also makes an equal but opposite mistake is that happiness is an indicator of well-being, just as fear is an indicator of danger, and pain is an indicator of damage. Placing felicitas and beatitudine as opposites is a mistake. There is no reason why being saved should not make one happy.
So while Lind has a very important lesson for us, ultimately he is wrong. The process of modern life is intrinsically tied together by virtual worlds. No longer do we live with our physical neighbors. I spend more time with the members of my corporation in Eve Online than I do with the people whose doors are next to mine in the hall.
The implication of the bible passage that I quoted says to me, if anything, that Christ was here to save us from such virtual worlds. If William Lind is still here, then he is still living in a virtual world. We are participating in the grand atomised faction war, the 4G War where the state is no longer the primary social unifier. Our Asabiya is no longer primarily dominated by state or religious affiliation. Even within our allegiance to such grand and unifying ideas there is wide division.
The problem for Lind is the same as the problem for so many Conservatives, they see the certainty of the world they wish to cultivate slipping through their grasp, and they enshrine their own perspective as though it is the only valid and true perspective, as though they have a grasp on reality that others do not. When they get together in a group, they may not be able to agree upon a suitable description for reality, but they will circle the wagons to agree that the outsider's view most certainly is not it. It is a war of virtual worlds. Lind is right, those virtual worlds cannot and will not last, but so what? We are here now, we are where we are, and if we were created in God's image, then our ability to shape our reality in accordance with our will is a divinely attributed gift.
By denying the reality of the lives that people lead, Lind does damage to the meaning of the word reality. If you devote much of your time to a virtual reality, it is your reality. While you cannot buy a loaf of bread with Eve Online's ISK, the relationship between you and the people you interact with as mediated by that currency are very real and can impact your life outside of the game's context.