Social Reality vs Empirical Reality

Human beings are social creatures living in a social reality. This means that nobody can avoid being concerned about society. And nobody can avoid the sociological perspective. I used to be annoyed by the emphasis on society, but after studying evolutionary psychology I have a greater appreciation of the fact that we are social creatures. For example, evolutionary psychology has an explanation for why social status matters. Enjoying high social status is a major goal for a social creature because it means you will enjoy more opportunities to procreate. Kings, emperors, and even the chief of a tribe often have more wives and mistresses than a lowly subject. This matters to our genes so it matters to us.

However, our social reality is not the same thing as empirical reality. Human beings did not evolve for a perfect apprehension of empirical reality. We only perceive reality well enough to survive. My favorite example of this key insight is our inability to perceive radiation. Everything we know about radiation is based on theoretical knowledge. We know nothing about radiation from direct experience since none of our five senses give us any information about radiation.  This is because tribes of hunter/gatherers would never have encountered lethal sources of high radiation in the wild. We cannot see radiation. We cannot hear radiation. We cannot taste radiation. We cannot feel radiation. We cannot smell radiation. You could be sitting in a room flooded with a lethal level of radiation and you would feel quite comfortable because none of your five senses would give you any warning. To detect radiation, you need a Geiger counter to measure the radiation. This device translates the measurement into something you can perceive, clicks (sound) and a moving needle (sight).

As we become more engrossed in our smartphones and pay less attention to the world around us, people seem to be going a little crazy. Social media messes with our social reality. It isolates us from direct contact with other people and traps us in small bubbles which function as our online tribe. Many people are confusing social media with our social reality. Even worse, many people are confusing our social reality for empirical reality.

In academia, this insanity has reached new heights of human folly as bad social theories have been developed. You can read all about these social theories in the recently published book “Cynical Theories: How Universities Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity – And Why this Harms Everybody” by Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay. The authors have done us a tremendous service by tracking down where the lunatic fringe is getting their bad ideas from in academia. Since I don’t work in academia, I had no idea how far off the rails the thinking had gone. I was going to do some research on concepts such as “decolonization” but who has the time for that? Fortunately Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay have done this research for me and anyone else trying to figure out how the world has gone mad. What this book reveals is quite shocking. Apparently our institutions of higher education are fostering a lunatic fringe which rejects reason, science, objectivity, and the Enlightenment. These lunatic scholars explicitly reject reason and science as tools of oppression. They think everything about the human condition is a social construct. In other words, they take the notion that we are living in a social reality of our own making to its illogical extreme. You can find some confirmation of this insanity in Steven Pinker’s bestseller The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.

Once people start thinking everything is a social construct, they start thinking they can make the world a better place through aggressive social engineering. This is what is behind the relentless effort to police our speech and behavior. These people literally think they can control reality, our social reality, by exercising control over other people. These people literally think that various marginalized groups are being erased by not receiving enough attention. Because obviously if you are left out of our collective social reality then you will pop right out of existence!

I strongly suggest you read those two books to learn just how far this insanity has gone. But lets bring this back to my main concern, playwriting. For the satirist, this is a golden age of human folly. The world has gone mad. If you want to write a play in the style of the Theater of the Absurd you merely have to report on what you observe going on around you since it is simply absurd. But unfortunately, theater itself has been infected by bad social theory. I fear that plays written to reflect human nature will be seen as tools of oppression which must be suppressed to ensure the world becomes a better place. In the past, many plays demonstrated how a character’s perspective could be out of touch with the social reality leading to a state of delusion which brings about the character’s downfall. In these crazy times, theater itself embraces being delusional in order to change that social reality.

To be fair, even the people raising the alarm (mostly conservatives) seem to be going a little crazy. They feel they have to circle the wagons around reason, science, the Enlightenment, and Western Civilization. They come to see themselves as the saviors of Western Civilization. What a laugh! The only thing crazier than the lunatic fringe is the people who feel Western Civilization is threatened by the lunatic fringe. They say mad things like “If we don’t protect reality from the crazies, then nobody will have a reality!”. There is no need to feel this defensive. Nothing can seriously threaten human nature or empirical reality. It is true that our collective social reality can be changed. Reason and science can be abandoned. But nothing can change the underlying reality of the human condition. The only thing the lunatic fringe can win is the right to be ignorant all their lives. If society does not push back against their bad thinking, then maybe our collective social reality will become bat shit insane, but reality itself is not threatened. The problem with these hysterical conservatives is that they seem to be operating under the same delusion that everything is a social construct. They resist change even when it is directed towards things that cannot be changed. In doing so, they inadvertently lend credence to the lunatic fringe since opposition to change is taken as evidence that such change is indeed possible.


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