Of all the events in our destructive time this is the most serious – and also the easiest and the most invisible. No one notices it is happening, because they are obsessed by events outside themselves, not events inside themselves. Gradually, they come to feel that they, as persons, are inferior to the much larger events outside them.
This is the exact opposite of the sequence at the beginning of the modern world: where the individual became important for the first time in history, and where everything depended on him, his awareness of what was going on, and his actions – especially politically. People in the post-modern world, by contrast, are apolitical – it not apathetic.
What are these outside spectacular events? Boorstin, in his book The Image puts it well:
In this book I describe the world of our making; how we have used our wealth, our literacy, and our progress, to create a thicket of unreality which stands before us and the facts of life. I recount historical forces which have given us the unprecedented opportunity do deceive ourselves and befog our experience.
Of course, American has provided the landscape and has given us the opportunity for this feat of national self-hypnosis. But each of us individually provides the market and the demand for the illusions which flood our experience.
We want and believe these illusions because we suffer from extravagant expectations. We expect too much of the world. Our expectations are extravagant in the precise dictionary sense of the word – “going beyond the limits of reason or moderation”. They are excessive.
The making of the illusions which flood our experience has become the business of America, some of its most honest and most necessary and most respectable business. I am thinking not only of advertising and public relations and political rhetoric, but of all the activities which purport to inform and comfort and improve and educate and elevate us: the work of our best journalists, our most enterprising book publishers, our most energetic manufacturers and merchandisers, our most successful entertainers, our best guides for foreign travel, and our most influential leaders in foreign relations. Our every effort to satisfy our extravagant expectations simply makes them more extravagant and makes our more attractive. The story of the making of our illusions – “the news behind the news” – has become the most appealing news of the world.
We tyrannize and frustrate ourselves by expecting more than the world can give us or than what we can make of the world. We demand that everyone that talks to us, or writes for us, or takes pictures for us, or makes merchandise for us, should live in our world of extravagant expectations. We expect this even of the people of foreign countries. We have become so used to our illusions we mistake them for reality. And we demand that there be always more of them, bigger and better and more vivid. They are the world of our making: the world of the image.
What happened to the self in all this? It disappeared. We were looking out there so hard, we lost our ability to look in here – and became a stranger to ourselves and the ordinary world.