The Age of Illusion

The International Union of Geological Sciences, the organization in charge of defining Earth’s time scale, defines our current geological age as the Holocene (“entirely recent”) epoch, which began 11,700 years ago after the last major ice age. In 2000, however, the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen defined our current age as the “Anthropocene”—from anthropo, for “man,” and cene, for “new”—because humanity has irrevocably changed both the environment and the planet.

Personally, I think the Paraisthiscene Age, i.e., the Age of New Illusion, would be just as appropriate, if not more so, given the range of illusions that humankind now embraces and possibly always has.

We could begin with the first great illusion, that of religion. According to a number of sources, there are more than 4,200 separate recognized religions, and more than twenty-two that have at least half a million followers. Each faith, of course, believes that it is the only “true” religion, regardless of any disclaimers to the contrary. There is certainly the possibility that, given all these faiths, that one might actually be “true.” Even if there is one “true” faith, that means that all the other believers are following an illusion, and a significant proportion of them are doing such things as shooting and otherwise harming non-believers in the name of that illusion.

A whole host of illusions are centered on war, but the greatest illusion of them all is that someone “wins” a war. If all the costs are counted, the “winner” is the side, country or alliance that loses the least, both in terms of power, economics, and casualties.

There are also a great number of economic illusions, such as the idea that gold will always be the most secure and stable measure of value. Most people really don’t understand fully that value depends on societal beliefs and practices, not on intrinsic worth of an item or commodity. Without someone willing to buy that gold brick, it’s just a soft metal. Without laws, practices, and belief, a dollar is just a piece of paper. Its “intrinsic” worth is based on a societally accepted convention that enables our economic system to function.

The freedom of choice is another illusion, one I’ve discussed before. While we all have choices, unless we’re billionaires, a myriad of factors constrain our choices. The supermarket, internet, bazaar, and thousands of other sources may offer a dazzling array of possible choices, but most of those choices are illusory for most people because they lack the resources to exercise a wide freedom of choice.

As the fragmentation and proliferation of information sources has continued, more and more of what is represented in the media is illusion of one sort or another, whether the result of inaccurate, false, or partial information, or totally fabricated “fake news.” And most people, rather than reading or watching across a broad spectrum of views and facts, gladly settle for the illusion that confirms their beliefs.

On a larger scale, in a way, everything that we see and experience is an illusion. We believe that the chair in which we sit or the table which holds dinner are solid objects, and markedly different from the air we breathe or the clouds from which rain falls, but in fact everything in the material universe is essentially composed of the same sub-sub-atomic particles. What determines what we see as solidity is merely a matter of spacing of quarks and leptons.

But then, what I see is real, and what you see is illusion.

2 thoughts on “The Age of Illusion”

  1. You spin illusions in your novels, and make them seem real. More than that, you make this reader care about them. (Thank you.)

  2. Tim says:

    From my experience, some followers of a faith seem to be there to be socially included rather than because of personal conviction. The need for social acceptance probably goes back to our tribal roots and that is not an illusion I feel.

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