The Sleep of Reason
The artist and Chinese political dissident, Ai Weiwei's recent warning that "Abandonment of rational thinking leads to a collapse in which fear and joy, ignorance and reason, all blow in the wind" is a terrifyingly accurately depiction of this moment in time with America's President and his followers denying reality and furiously tweeting in the dark.
Years of attacks on scientific knowledge, rationality and expertise of all kinds, particularly relating to critical health, environmental and climate-related issues have, tragically, set the stage for just such a destabilized and destructive state of mind. As a consequence, today, with a dangerous pandemic sweeping across the land, and one hundred and fifty thousand Americans already dead, even the most minimally-invasive and 'reasonable' steps to mitigate the disaster such as mask-wearing and social-distancing continue to be met with powerful surges of irrational fantasies and fears, leaving the rest of us, in Ai Weiwei's imagery, and Bob Dylan's prophetic words from the 1960's, "blowing in the wind."
So deep is this 'sleep' of un-reason that violations and distortions of ordinary rules of law and governance, institutional standards, decorum and even measurable facts seemingly pass unnoticed and un-opposed in the night. Swirling in a maelstrom of Orwellian double-speak, "alternative facts," cries of "fake news," conspiracy theories and a continuing flood of blatant lies and denials, the reasoned process of discourse essential to the functioning of democracy becomes muddied and impossible to sustain.
While the President's 'gut feelings' about untested cures and virus prevention are given equal weight against demonstrable scientific evidence, leading scientists and epidemiologists are demeaned and their voices silenced. Widespread national protests in favor of Black Lives and against police violence become distorted into exaggerated and menacing projections of 'anarchism' in the streets. At the point where the most fundamental democratic acts of census taking, voting and delivering the mail provoke radically fearful and polarized reactions, the narcotic has fully taken hold.
Reason seems to have been fully detached from the requirements of fact. Propaganda, passion and sheer misinformation are free to activate the latent fears and anxieties in the mind of a paralyzed and destabilized public. Faith in the electoral process erodes, and in an American first, a sitting President openly proclaims that he might not accept the results of an election that goes against him! In just such a moment, some threshold is crossed. It could be the point when the unprecedented intrusion of federal paramilitary units into American cities against the wishes of state and local officials in the name of preserving 'law and order' becomes more than just one more fleeting outrage in the news cycle. Perhaps it will be the moment when the fever breaks.
For there is a point when sleepers do awaken. At times they are shaken into consciousness by the very intensity of the fearful specters unleashed in their own minds; at others by encounters with the rough and unforgiving edge of external reality against which even their fantasies are powerless.
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