Friday, March 09, 2007

The Erised Lure

Look me in the eye, and I’ll tell you what you want to hear…or I’ll try to, anyway.

This sentence is a good description for quite a few things happening in the world these days.

In the French presidential election race, Mr Sarkozy and Mr Bayrou seem to be intent on a race to know which one will beat the other on that ground.

Mr Bayrou flings chimaeras at people everywhere such as promising a new form of government, a new grand alliance between all the “good” and “efficient” forces of the country, with this superb swindling of his: “if you elect me, I will unite left and right, and I will govern the country with everyone”. Of course, he casually forgets to mention that French law and constitution do not allow for this to happen. And, of course, he forgets to mention that both he and his party have always sided with the right, and that they are completely dependant on the UMP’s good will to win local elections as well as legislative elections to get into the National Assembly. With an apparently guileless smile, a gentle voice and a look of serenity about him, Mr Bayrou goes from interview to interview, spreading hints and promises that he will satisfy all sides of the French society. Right and left will work together for the good of all. Listen, and believe. Amen.

Mr Sarkozy promises that people will earn more, that they’ll have more freedom and more security if only they are allowed to work more, while in the same time vowing that more work time will be done only on a voluntary basis. Mr Sarkozy casually forgets to tell people that, once such a change is enacted, the norm will shift from a full time work with decent wage of 35 hours a week to whatever a majority of people will “choose” (when the renting rice of your appartment is as high as half of your income and you have kids at school, you will always “choose” to do more work to have more money, simply because you're screwed if you don't--Mr Sarkozy calls that “freedom”, I beg to differ). Maybe 40, or 45 hours. From then on, those who keep working a legal 35 hours a week full time will see their income decrease in a significant fashion. Not to mention what’ll happen to all the workers who are forced to accept part-time jobs. With a spring in his steps, Mr Sarkozy hails the holy value of “work”, worse, of “hard work”, reducing the lives of people and the inherent worth of people to their work, and how harsh their work life is. Blithely, he proposes to have people vote for someone who denies the existence and worth of a personal life, of a family life, of expression and self-development outside of the workplace. With sweet songs and lullabies and promises of more money, more responsibility, more flexibility, more security, Mr Sarkozy is busy dangling promises of sparkling tomorrows, using the over-abused and obsolete trick of the “American Dream”, a fraud only fools still believe in. But telling people they’ll earn more money, telling people they’ll be responsible for their own lives, lie though it may be, has a strong appeal if you’re not trained to think and analyze further. Just as Mr Sarkozy’s use of the deep fear of immigration in the French society, his promise of setting up a ministry of National Immigration and Identity appeals to people, no matter how reminiscing it is of the darkest hours of France’s Vichy past. Vote for him, and you’ll be rich, you’ll work more, more, more, and you’ll be happy, you’ll never see your kids and your spouse, you’ll no longer have time for holidays and your private life, but hey, does it matter when you know that you’ll have the means to have a guardian for your kid and someone to clean up your home for you? Nah. Listen, and believe. Amen.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Georges W Bush is embarked on a journey to try and regain the hearts and mind of the South American people lest they succumb to the horrors of the left. After having had a good taste of the gentle hand of unfettered liberalism, people there started electing left-wing Socialist governments in power. So, you can imagine the danger for poor W: it’s as if the cold war could start all over again, as if the commies were coming back! I swear, what were all those South American thinking, not liking being reduced to utter poverty and even famine while big worldwide American corporations were getting fat gobbling up their resources? Were they not “free”, hence “happy”? Fortunately, W is now back in business there (well, after being spanked in Iraq, he had to get busy with doing something…), bringing with him grand speeches (hey, he can even spew out two sentences in Spanish to talk to all his compadres, his comrades, all these modest, honest people like himself—I doubt all those people have dozens of millions of US dollars in the bank, but), a little bit of money to shower on the misery of the continent, and a boat with full medical equipment so that poor people can get medical attention and surgery for free! Isn’t that a fantastic proof of the US’s care for those people (now if only the US could start with its own population and its own total lack of a social security system, it might be interesting, first take care of your own misery, and then take care of others)? A boat! Can you imagine the enormity of that? Listen, and believe. Amen.

And then, there is the champion of all, but that champion isn’t a person. It’s a game. “Second Life” as it’s called, and “Sucking Out Your True Life” as it should be called. Fundamentally different from classical MMORPGs like Everquest, Second Life doesn’t give you a fantasy universe to play in, it doesn’t give you a science-fiction universe to play in. No, Second Life gives you a fake real-life universe. A virtual everyday, where you can be what you didn’t manage to be, do what you would never dare do. Where you can flee, where you can hide, and forget that there is a solid, tangible world in which you should be, act and react. Like many people, I know that temptation, and at times I have found it extremely hard to resist. Why not go and have fun there, realize my potential there, if I am dissatisfied with what I have or managed to have here? The answer is simple: because what happens there doesn’t matter, will never, ever have an impact on your life here. Because by luring people in such a universe, you give them an outlet, a way to vent out frustration, to spend their energy that redirects it away from real life. Away from getting involved in their real lives, from gathering the strength to push for changes, and to make this world a better place, however small individual inputs can be. The ocean is made of a myriad of drops. Every single one matters. But people forget that where reality is concerned. Once redirected toward a virtual universe, suddenly they start believing everything’s possible again. There are no dangerous stakes, no consequences, and so this oh so nice game channels energy and gobbles it up. A very neat black hole, it ensures that people’s attention will remain focused on an imaginary place, where ghosts of bits and bytes meet up, play at interacting, play at living out their lives while the real world watches and laughs.

Harry Potter almost drowned into the Mirror of Erised's lure twice, but at the last moment, he managed to step back. Can real people do as much?

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