Back to the Future

Back in the ugly days when my mother was just entering her long battle with Alzheimer’s disease (no capitals, please) and telling deranged stories, newly crafted versions of her past, I was stunned by the discovery that all of them had a strong negative bias. I wondered why. Since she was reinventing her life, why wouldn’t she try to improve it? She made a point of affirming that I hated her, that my brother and I hated each other; I even have a subtle memory that she deplored her marriage to my father, which I always believed had been perfect. (I prefer to leave the memory of my father as a great man untouched. May he rest in peace. May they both rest in peace.)

I was reminded of these sad stories while reflecting upon the sorry state of our contemporary society. Why, when, and how have we turned so negative, so violent? It is as if a dark cloud of thoughts is permanently hovering above us; once in a while, someone catches one of these evil thoughts and makes it real. If nothing else, only to justify our acute discontent with civilization, first depicted by Freud in 1929, the year my mother was born — the coincidence caught my attention.

I started writing this article with the intention of attacking cell phones and the Internet culture as the true weapons that threaten us, possible culprits of the violence and radicalization problem. Why? I cannot say. Our lives, including my own, are so heavily based upon these technological advances there’s no way we can turn it around, or simply dismiss them. At any rate, why would we? It is human nature that is intrinsically bad. Look around and you’ll figure out how we always find a way to ruin our best achievements and creations. My mother’s sick mind was only a good example of this tendency. Okay, maybe I’m having a bad day.

Do you believe Islam is to blame? Do you believe (radical) Islam should be deemed an outdated, backwards, medieval culture, which should have been left in a cave in the Middle Ages, where it belongs?

I sure do. However, to my utmost surprise, I was in the car with Alan when we listened to a radio interview about how Sharia Law has been imposed on Muslim countries quite recently, in fact. “In the 1950s,” we heard, “big cities in the Middle East were cosmopolitan and lively, women were dressed as women anywhere else and there was total freedom.” Which included gay communities in Alexandria, for example, a fact the commentator supported by mentioning Lawrence Durrell’s “Alexandria Quartet Series” (I added “Series” to make it sound “modern,” although apparently the Middle East, with the obvious exception of Israel, was much more modern back then). Durrell knew what he was talking about, since during World War II, he served as press attaché to the British embassies in Cairo and Alexandria.

What happened, and how did it happen? If I did extensive research I would probably find out, but this is not the point. The problem is, why are we always ready to give up hope and happiness? How can we get so involved in misery and let it carry us along?

An interesting point is how we tend to believe the first version of “truth” we ever hear, something I could understand more clearly once I joined Twitter… last week. Beyond being overwhelmed by the number of tweets (I can’t believe you’re not), we are also engulfed by a tsunami of inaccurate messages that find their way into our psyche, from where it is difficult to eradicate them. Et voilà, we are made to believe a whole bunch of false statements, which should never have seen the light of the screen in the first place.

Please understand, I’m not implying people lie on Twitter (except for a few, of course). They are just ill-informed, I guess, because there’s no way we can put together a complex series of events five seconds after they took place. There seems to be some sort of online competition involving who tweets or retweets first, no matter how wrong the information may be (a simplistic and meaningless example is how they announced at first that 50 people were killed in the Orlando attack, when only 49 were de facto dead). “He who rushes eats raw” — ah, okay, another Brazilian saying that makes no sense in America, best translated by Babylon as “fools rush in.”

Who are the fools now?

A far less remarkable issue, but vital to me anyway, is how we (I mean you, my non-readers) fail to hear the truth when it’s not said by a recognized pundit with millions of social media followers. It was far easier to spread the wrong notion that athletes and visitors would surely be contaminated by Zika at the Rio Olympics — an “official” truth for a while — than to read from yours truly that, in fact, there’s no contamination in the winter, which is now the official truth disseminated by WHO. Who? Oops. I apologize.

Too late for too many of us. To my chagrin, the games in Rio are almost certainly ruined. Also ruined, by the way, are the aspirations of a number of athletes who have fiercely trained for four years in a row, having in Rio their last opportunity to shine. Who cares.

What needs to be changed is the way we react, ready to accept anything we hear on the Internet (I heard that it was decided last week we should no longer capitalize “internet,” which makes a lot of sense, by the way). Let’s face it, only fools fall for the first rushed version of anything that hasn’t been thoroughly examined, and only “unthinking people” use their energy to spread around such questionable news to make us panic.

I’m no exception. I also spread “news” around. And I panic too. The point is, I’m getting so tired of having my sensitivities routinely overstretched, I can feel it coming: I’m eventually going to stop.

Where will I go from here? I have no idea, my friends. As I dwell on the internet all the time like everyone else, I wonder if the only way around this impossible (and worsening) existence is trying to control what we share. We should not promptly believe anything. We should wait patiently until the (((echoes))) soften, to the point when they practically disappear. Then we could (maybe) discuss the real issues. Like the ISIS flag on cell phones that could trigger attacks on this country, for example, as “disclosed” by Donald Trump. It makes perfect sense as a metaphor, just think about it.

I’m fully aware of having described here two elements that have nothing in common, or maybe they have: Our inclination to make things worse, and our willingness to share what we don’t really know. If it were different, maybe we would be sharing more art, beauty and love, instead of shootings and terrorist attacks. The perpetrators of these horrors would then be an exception, resting in oblivion, choking on their own obscurity and the meaninglessness of their evil intentions, never retweeted and solemnly ignored. But we’ve gone too far. And here they are, thriving among us and using the same propagating tools.

That’s where we should declare our state of war and fight our back-to-human battles: online. For that’s where the enemy lives. The truth is, with social media dynamics, we have finally accomplished the feat of erasing the mental filters Huxley describes in The Doors of Perception — a useful, protective brain feature we should cherish, despite our desire to get rid of it.

Too much information does not serve us well. It has made us deaf and blind, overwhelmed by information we don’t need and fail to process thoroughly.

Yet, of course, except for a Middle East “hopelessly” surrendered to Sharia Law, there’s no going back in time, and move forward we must. How? You tell me.

And because nobody can stand being so miserable all the time, allow me to share a funny story: Remember I mentioned that Alan and I went for a drive? We wanted to visit a construction site to check a builder we are planning to hire. Alan had the map in the car, and effective as always, I helped him attentively and accurately with the instructions, step by step. After 50 minutes, we arrived at our destination… except it was a different location. There were two maps in the car, and I had picked the wrong one, believe me.

All we could do was to take a deep breath, turn around, drive all the way back to Greenville and on to the other side of town. Finally, after another hour and a half, we reached the desired site.

Beware of the maps you follow, folks. I sincerely hope we will find our way, which will be far away from this maddening connected crowd, I’m sure.

About the Author
Noga Sklar was born in Tiberias, Israel, in 1952. She grew up in Belo Horizonte and lived for 30 years in Rio de Janeiro, a city she left behind to take refuge in a paradise among the mountains of Petropolis. Noga met her American husband Alan Sklar in 2004, through the American Jewish dating site JDate. This meeting gave new impetus to her life and literary career, inspiring her first novel, “No degrees of separation” (to be published in English in 2016. She now lives in Greenville, SC, US, where she moved with her husband in October 2014.
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