Bread, Circuses, and Metaverse

Aldous Huxley was right, even from the perspective of ninety years ago.  He understood how governments work, and Brave New World was a masterpiece delineating his perceptions.  In his fictional realm, soma was the drug of choice, a heavy-duty hallucinogen with no adverse side effects, save that some people desired to disappear permanently into imaginary worlds.  The government in Huxley’s world actively encouraged the use of soma, within reason, as long as the population remained productive.  With millions of people zoned out at any given time, it was assured that no significant number would ever discover what was behind the curtain.  As one leader put it:

You can’t make flivvers without steel-and you can’t make tragedies without social instability. The world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mothers or fathers; they’ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they’re so conditioned that they practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there’s soma.

Here in the third decade of the 21st century, we’re well beyond bread and circuses, but just to stick with those two essentials for a moment, consider that in any urban center, and in many/most exurbs, one can have almost any type of food delivered to the door in the space of an hour.  Or, to cook one’s own food, groceries are guaranteed to be on the doorstep within two hours of any area served by Walmart or by Amazon’s Whole Foods.  It’s like magic.  Big game this afternoon?  Just call up this morning and get enough pizza, wings, egg rolls, soup, rigatoni, and soft drinks to serve an army, with no effort except putting a number into the phone and placing the order.  How cool, right?  For those who can afford it, anyway.  Is this convenience wrong, per se?  Of course not.  But in a sense, it does placate and assuage anxiety about accessing and preparing food; it’s a placebo. We don’t even have to think about where the food comes from, or the effort involved to get it to us.

As for circuses, we can have them 24/7, in any form we wish, everything from Marvel movies to porn to every sport known to man, at the click of a remote.  We can afford ourselves a surfeit of indulgence from the comfort of our couches.  There’s no longer the need to get up and leave the TV, just to have another choice of amusement (leaving aside the millennia when carving a stick or throwing a ball were about the limits of entertainment).  It’s all in one place.  And it doesn’t even have to be real anymore.  During the Olympics, as just one example, there was some banter between a couple of the commentators as to which parts of the closing ceremonies in the Chinese national stadium were actually happening in the material plane and which were only projected effects.  While the entire display was fantastic and extravagant, and I was drawn in by it, still….I found it vaguely disturbing that it wasn’t immediately obvious which things were real and which weren’t.  Probably to anyone under 50, it doesn’t matter:  it’s all good, and is simply to be watched and enjoyed. 

Likewise, computers and the internet.  We can take virtual tours of the Louvre and the Hermitage, day or night.  Remotely view the artifacts of the Smithsonian.  Hear almost any book read aloud.  Inspect King Tut’s golden mask without getting on a plane.  Solve mysteries via interactive programs accessible with any computer.  Miraculous, to those of us who were alive before the Age of Computers.  Those of us of a certain age occasionally still pause in awe.  Those who were born after the advent of Windows and cellphones simply take it all for granted.  And therein lies the hazard, I think.

Until recently, perhaps the most well-known instance of total-escape fantasizing involved Star Trek:  The Next Generation, which, along with other franchises, had its holodeck, used for various purposes, from de-stressing to training.  There were several memorable episodes featuring that virtual reality utility, which provided complete immersion in a given pre-programmed, computer-generated scenario.  My point here, though, is that the holodeck was a specific place on the ship, and fantasies were only enacted in that space.  The rest of the ship was for living, working, research, crew facilities, and so on.  In other words, reality prevailed, except for limited time periods in a prescribed location.  Sailing around in far galaxies, interacting with aliens, was serious business!

In the last decade or so, however, virtual reality has become big business, progressing in tandem with artificial intelligence.  VR headsets began as clunky, less-than-optimal pieces of equipment, and were prohibitively expensive.  Now, they’re much more streamlined and less bulky, with the technology having advanced by at least an order of magnitude.  I hadn’t really paid much attention to this tech niche, being a fervent proponent of reality, but when I discovered that Mark Zuckerberg has gotten into the act, and that he wants to give the whole world access to non-stop fantasies, that concerns me.  We’re talking soma here, a potentially fatal addiction to an item that doesn’t even have to be requisitioned or regulated.  At a projected $200 to $400 per VR headset, anyone who can afford a cell phone can live in a made-up world during every spare waking moment.  Emeritus computer science professor Ron Baecker published a pair of articles in December titled, “What Is Zuckerberg’s Metaverse, and Do We Want It?” and, “I Do not Want Mark’s Metaverse.”  His thoughts took my initial concern and ratcheted it up geometrically.  Baecker quotes Zuckerberg from a talk he gave on the metaverse:  “The next platform and medium will be even more immersive, an embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it…the metaverse.… you’re going to be able to do almost anything you can imagine, get together with friends and family, work, learn, play, shop, create as well as entirely new categories that don’t really fit how we think about computers or phones today…”  On the face of it, Zuckerberg’s description sounds quite benign, I admit.  It’s just fun, a readily available way to connect with friends and family, design your living room, try out new purchases before buying, and a million other things.  Baecker’s initial response to Zuckerberg’s comments, especially those to the effect that using metaverse translates to less screen time, is, “This is about getting more people into Meta, and about getting them to spend more time in the metaverse, because that’s the only way [Zuckerberg] can sustain the growth [his] shareholders expect…”  True enough.  That’s obviously Zuck’s immediate goal, and he’ll score untold billions from creating the ability to enter and sustain imaginary existences, even if his exorbitant claims for metaverse aren’t altogether feasible with existing technology.  Yet.

So it appears we’re embarking on a new type of entertainment.  Whereas humans have seen things in their minds’ eyes since the dawn of our species, now we’ll be able to make them appear out of thin air.  Or, at least, our minds will think so.  As down-to-earth as I am, as firmly anchored to reality as I’ve always been, the thought of being able to explore, say, 18th-century London very much appeals to me.  Or to descend with Bob Ballard to view the remains of the Titanic; I can think of any number of fantastical journeys.  Such rewarding experiences would have to be doled out like a miser’s coins, lest one be so captivated as to be unable to leave the metaverse.  We think children watch too much TV and too many videos now; the metaverse would permanently enslave them, with no hope of getting them outdoors to play.  Again, therein is the danger.  Huxley told how a world government handed out free soma to keep the population under control.  Even the only person in the story to resist the drug eventually capitulated.  Zuckerberg is merely (?) out to rake in as much money as he can get his sticky fingers on.  What of leaders who wanted to quell rebellion?  How easy to take Zuck’s metaverse and make it a tool for subjugation.  Just give a VR headset to every citizen, make sure all could access the metaverse, then….sit back and wait for the silence on the streets.

11 thoughts on “Bread, Circuses, and Metaverse

  1. Thanks for pointing out that life continues to take a synthetic stroll into an impervious reality, void of synchronicity. Tuning into a factitious fabrication at dawn; unplugging at first light, and interchanging divine self for the craving charms of wandering desires; set in motion by algorithmic ideology based on predictable ersatz enlightenment.

    “Shot Of Love”

    I need a shot of love, I need a shot of love

    Don’t need a shot of heroin to kill my disease
    Don’t need a shot of turpentine, only bring me to my knees
    Don’t need a shot of codeine to help me to repent
    Don’t need a shot of whiskey, help me be president

    I need a shot of love, I need a shot of love

    Doctor, can you hear me? I need some Medicaid
    I seen the kingdoms of the world and it’s makin’ me feel afraid
    What I got ain’t painful, it’s just bound to kill me dead
    Like the men that followed Jesus when they put a price upon His head

    I need a shot of love, I need a shot of love

    I don’t need no alibi when I’m spending time with you
    I’ve heard all of them rumors and you have heard ’em too
    Don’t show me no picture show or give me no book to read
    It don’t satisfy the hurt inside nor the habit that it feeds

    I need a shot of love, I need a shot of love

    Why would I want to take your life?
    You’ve only murdered my father, raped his wife
    Tattooed my babies with a poison pen
    Mocked my God, humiliated my friends

    I need a shot of love, I need a shot of love

    Don’t wanna be with nobody tonight
    Veronica not around nowhere, Mavis just ain’t right
    There’s a man that hates me and he’s swift, smooth and near
    Am I supposed to set back and wait until he’s here?

    I need a shot of love, I need a shot of love

    What makes the wind wanna blow tonight?
    Don’t even feel like crossing the street and my car ain’t actin’ right
    Called home, everybody seemed to have moved away
    My conscience is beginning to bother me today

    I need a shot of love, I need a shot of love

    I need a shot of love, I need a shot of love
    If you’re a doctor, I need a shot of love

    Liked by 2 people

        1. My feed says that these 2 videos from YouTube will not load. The first is a replay of the originally released song entitled Shot of Love… it’s something I play to myself whenever “the first shots” of another war are fired… so, since we met on a site that decries militarizations, I thought it would apply to the topic at hand.
          The second song I tried to post was sent to me yesterday and Playing For Change is the reason why, I love the Hendrix quote that opens the video for Bob’s, All Along The Watchtower. The musicians are just so inspirational . I particularly love the cry of The Lakota Singers and The colorful statement of their dress. We really do live in a marvelously magical tribal experience that if honored… will always deliver the goods. I am so pleased that you also enjoy synchronicity. It for me is the promise of the real.
          In my very early teens I started to go in to the dream state at night; and would dream certain scenes that appeared the next day. When I walked into the scene I had dreamed the night before for the first time; I was stunned, but everything played out just as I saw it in the dream. And, in the sharpest of detail, down to simplest of objects which were just window dressing in the room. Even the dialogue was accurate. It didn’t happen every night but enough to make me look at the reality of life in a very unique way. Nobody I opened up to could relate and so I quit asking others about it; because my close friends were beginning to wonder about me. Everything was different from that point on; and I started to search the deeper depths of what this being a human meant. I got onto a search for the Devine, but my only perspective was the sacraments of the Catholic Church. After many years of uncovering the truth of Christ’s gospel of love, I started to ask the Holy Spirit to “show me”. I never asked for anything I just wanted a knowing and a wisdom of how to apply this great sense of being loved by an ethereal presence that has always remained beyond definition. That’s when the little synchronous experiences started to lead me into deep understandings everywhere. This magnetic presence dropped crumbs for my understanding in the most unique ways and still does.
          Bottom line for me was to tell people to ask and make sure your heart is inside the asking. If there is/was a Holy Spiritual presence; it wasn’t going to be much use if it wasn’t accessible in a real tangible way. I would say to everyone who is curious to make a request for the mystery of life to open itself up and reveal a more alive and fascinating way to see the loving presence, from the nearest grain of soil and out towards the most distant light in the dark of night and in everything in between. The crumbs that will be dropped into your life will amaze you and you will have your own story that’s alive and fresh; that comes through whatever filter or medium you are living . As Van Morrison sings… Ever Present Everywhere. Life will take on a different texture when you begin to understand that the synchronicity is a gift to help enlighten your way. Never believe because of what I tell you; I always share with people. If this mystery is real… ask for proof and make it reveal itself for you. Then you begin to sense the magic and shrug off the phony expressions that seem to be sold to us by greedy leaders. They have only material objects to share… they do not have a connection to mysteries of living and you will learn to differentiate between the living synchronicities and the dead presence of useless materialistic platitudes. They have no powerful essence to offer; and their gifts always crumble and fade into time; but synchronicity is much more… it’s everlasting and charges one’s life with a vibrancy that’s is so very precious.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. superlative and timely post, denise. thank you. your post reminds me of the 1973 woody allen futuristic film, SLEEPER. allen’s notorious comedy, tumescent w/ buffonery, mayhem, and gut-exploding guffaws, has proved prescient these 5 decades later. his imaginary but dead-accurate fatiloquence astonishes.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I, like plenty other people, have grown weary of social media’s physical (and often identity) disconnect through which the ugliest of comments can be and too often are made without consequence for the aggressor. Nonetheless, it has enabled far greater information freedom than that allowed by what had been a rigidly gatekept news and information virtual monopoly held by the pre-2000 electronic and print mainstream news-media.

    Besides the Black Lives Matter and George Floyd protests, I seriously doubt that Greta Thunberg’s pre-pandemic formidable climate change movement, for example, would’ve been able to regularly form on such a congruently colossal scale if not in large part for the widely accessible posting and messaging systems of Facebook.

    While I don’t know his opinion of social media, in an interview with the online National Observer (posted Feb.12, 2019) Noam Chomsky noted that while the mainstream news-media does publish stories about man-made global warming, “It’s as if … there’s a kind of a tunnel vision — the science reporters are occasionally saying ‘look, this is a catastrophe,’ but then the regular [non-environmental pro-fossil fuel] coverage simply disregards it.”

    Still, I’ve found that, contrary to prominent conservative proclamations, it silences progressive voices as much as, if not more than, conservative opinions.

    Liked by 1 person

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