I was standing up in the back of a tent, on the final day of a three day festival; tired but still excited, my head full up with ideas but the body still engaged. Why was I still here? Other than just wanting to be, I wasn’t sure but I was about to find out one good reason why.
The conversation, a debate on stage and with the audience, was about how journalists operate in a war zones. What I heard was just how dangerous it was. It wasn’t so much about the art of reporting, it was more about surviving as basic first aid skills were shown to save lives. A participant shared how a tourniquet applied quickly to a severed limb had stopped a wounded cameraman from bleeding to death and jokingly told how it had led to a rather grizzly programme idea.
The discussion turned to the use of drones and a few observations were made about the issues they raised, their accuracy and the incidental casualties they tended to leave in their wake. Drones weren’t much loved. The tent, one could see, was against drones.
At that point a lone voice piped up. The speaker made the point that in in his experience American drones were highly accurate. In fact, the locals in the conflict he had been in recently trusted them to do their job. He made the point that the people he had worked amongst felt quite comfortable with these drones flying safely past them and on to their targets.
The speaker was immediately turned by two speakers and more importantly the overall audience mood. One speaker, a cameraman, had grown up in the Middle East and spoke from bitter experience. He could vouch for drones being anything but safe. A second also spoke up against drones. In a moment the original point was crushed. Drones were clearly unsafe. The man was clearly wrong.
As someone with very little knowledge of what was right or wrong or who these people really were, I allowed myself to side with the crowd. That seemed right and as I left the tent as the event ended I went forward, back into life, with a view to be distrustful of drones, as would probably be my instinct anyway.
I walked away from the tent and saw a friend who I hadn’t seen before but who had been presenting at another tent. Tom and I started chatting and it must have been another five or ten minutes before someone else joined us who knew Tom. Before long, I realised this man, Sean, was the journalist who’d spoken out in favour of American drones.
As Sean and I spoke we picked up on the point he had made. In that moment I realised that Sean was an experienced war journalist and a guy to be trusted. I liked him. I also realised that I had fallen into a trap. Not only that, the trap that I had fallen into had clearly been described in a workshop which I had been in immediately before I had joined the war zone conversation.
The trap was something I was familiar with already. It is the realisation that we all have our own perspective and that as a result we don’t see what is really there but rather what we would like or expect to be there. In the words of Anais Nin “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are”
The workshop had covered a range of ideas coming out of a book, born of Californian free thinking in the 1960s, called “Principia Discordia” and a project which came out of it called “Operation Mindfuck” which sought to challenge established ideas of order and disorder. Although started with all good intent this project can now also be seen as the origin of the modern distortion of the truth that we now see as the “post truth” world; where well organised and funded groups exploit our inability to see beyond our own little worlds for political means.
One of the many ideas that I took away from this session was one from free thinking psychologist and explorer of psychedelic mushrooms, Timothy Leary, of the “Reality Tunnel”. This is the idea that we all construct or adopt a reality tunnel which we then live in. Once we have our tunnel, we then proceed to test everything we see against that tunnel, accepting everything that conforms to it and ignoring, at best, everything that might challenge it.
The problem with our Reality Tunnels is that we can’t see them. We are blind to the fact that our perception is limited and what you don’t see isn’t there anyway, so good luck in finding it!
Talking to Sean, outside the tent, I realised that I had just missed something in my own blind spot that I should have seen inside the tent. I had literally walked from one session on blind spots and how we mess with people’s heads into another one where a blind spot had come and hit me over the head and I still hadn’t seen it.
Even more importantly, I realised that the whole tent had fallen into the same trap. One of the things that the event I was at was here to do was to question the truth; hating it when the powerful, the proprietors of the media and the politicians, perverted that truth for their own ends.
We had just shown however that we were all just as guilty of viewing truth from within our own Reality Tunnel. Instead of accepting Sean’s point of view as potentially valid, we had allowed it to be collectively dismissed in favour of what the group already believed. In doing this we were, arguably free of commercial motive but otherwise no better than the commercial media owners that we complained about.
At that moment I had to thank the coincidences of life for not only showing me this but in keeping on knocking at my door when I at first missed it. Next time I hope I’ll be waiting, both to guard against falling into the trap myself but also to do what I really should have done; to point it out what had just happened to everyone in the tent and the trap that we had all collectively just fallen into. Its only once we all actively see this trap that we’ll be genuinely qualified to take on others who themselves fall into it.