Matt Hancock, a government minister, has felt obliged to declare formally, ‘Objective reality exists.’ To his credit, he confessed to a certain shamefacedness about this but he added that he believes he had a duty to reassure us.
I find it hard to understand what Mr Hancock’s statement means. By ‘objective reality’ does he mean truth? If so, then the proposition ‘There is such a thing as truth’ is self-evident – a necessary proposition – because if someone attempts to refute it and says, ‘There is no such thing as truth,’ then either that proposition is true or the one who states it is wrong. In either case, there is something that is true.
Actually, Mr Hancock’s laudable and public-spirited aim is to reassure us that in our new world of virtual reality, filled as it is with fake news, Bitcoins, the dissembling worlds of Facebook and Twitter and computer games of such startling verisimilitude that so called ‘real life’ pales by comparison, there yet remains something real, something we can trust.
I think our problem is not epistemological or metaphysical, but psychological and above all moral and spiritual. In our new electronic phantasmagoria, people have become indifferent to the notions of truth and reality. And this disposition has not been forced upon them: they have chosen it quite willingly. The interest of many is not truth and objective reality but images and sensations, and the rapid advance of technology enables us to create images and sensations of astonishing power.
Any ‘reality’ is as good as any other. You choose! Seems? Nay, ‘tis.
Unfortunately, this world of willed illusion becomes also, by the operation of political correctness, a world of willed delusion. People don’t merely choose what to look at; they choose what to believe. Postmodern philosophers and theologians deny Mr Hancock’s (or God’s) truth and objective reality: they speak approvingly of things being ‘true for you’ or ‘true for me.’ And of course this just means we can’t talk about truth at all. The philosophers and theologians have been guided by the politicians who tell them not to insist that there is such a thing as the objective truth – because to do so might offend someone who holds to ‘a different truth.’ Welcome to the world of equality and diversity. We have replaced the gospel of St John with the gospel of Pontius Pilate.
This is not going to end well. If we are no longer concerned to inhabit reality but instead we evaluate any image, any sensation, only insofar as it appeals to us, then we have no escape from a world of ubiquitous delusion. Jesus Christ referred to this activity as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit – which he declared to be the only unforgiveable sin. Unforgiveable because it is impossible to repent of it. If you say, ‘Lies be my truth’ and ‘Delusion be my reality,’ then you have chosen paranoid psychosis, madness – hell.
Allow me a personal recollection, please. In 1988 I began to write a novel about Tom and Lucy. These two young creatures of flesh and blood were increasingly drawn into a world which was all images and appearances. I found it intolerable and had to stop writing the damn thing: first, because some of the things that began to happen to Tom and Lucy were so horrific that they turned my stomach; and secondly, because it all sounded too far-fetched.
Well now, thirty years on, is it still so far-fetched?
If you are seeking a definition of the world we now inhabit, look no further than Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus where Mephistopheles, the Father of Lies, exclaims in terror and despair, ‘Why, this is hell; nor am I out of it!’