A short guide to destroying reality

How the spectacle finally conquers all
By Manuel Cebrian & José Balsa-Barreiro

The destruction of reality is underway. Visionary thinkers such as Jean Baudrillard, Zygmund Baumann, and Marc Auge saw this coming long ago, and it has been recently highlighted by contemporary observers such as Shoshana Zuboff, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Byung-Chul Han, Angela Nagle, Jia Tolentino, John David Ebert, Adam Curtis, and Jonathan Simons.

Despite all these warnings, most people still do not realise it is happening. Here is a beginner’s guide for understanding how it works, so you too can start identifying this groundbreaking transformation. Alternatively, if you believe that a better world depends critically on the elimination of the thing that has always been holding back progress (our foolish attachment to real places and experiences) you can use this guide to start contributing to this exciting process.

The guide is composed of 20 steps:

  1. Pick a society that displays a leading organised system of understanding reality (those systems can be abbreviated as “places”). A place is a path to understanding through an information portal that processes, filters, contextualizes, and spreads guidelines of behavior to find meaning in life, transforming biological and cosmological chaos into order. (Typically, this system would take the form of religion, science, a hierarchical cultural institution, or a power structure.)

  1. Initiate a sociocultural movement that opposes places, demanding a more free-associating, context-free, entrepreneurial way of developing and spreading new ideas and forms of meaning (these opposing systems can be abbreviated as “non-places”). Non-places trade higher-risk market-based innovation for less societal stability (e.g., a canonical non-place would be a mutation of the religious/scientific/cultural institution/power structure that displays more democratic design, giving more direct access to individuals for spreading and trading forms of meaning.)

  2. Build and proliferate a marketplace for non-places, where people can negotiate and trade with each other their understanding of the world. Assign an abstract marker (e.g., money, status, fame) to measure the success of non-places. Isolate non-places from places (e.g. separation of power and faith; of morality and punishment; of work and labour), so that places cannot pass judgment or control non-places.

  3. Remove the possibility of having enough material or intellectual excess to build new places. Any resources should be continually recirculated (e.g., in order to build a cathedral, you need immense excess wealth as well as material resources devoted to it; likewise, in order to express a profound argument, you need time and attention, but you only have space for 280 characters and a 60-second attention span). Accumulation is not possible in an environment where wealth or attentional accumulation is penalised and favors the flow of resources and ideas, the quintessential goal of non-places.

  4. Make a few exceptions to distract society from the fact that their principal places are losing prominence and non-places are proliferating at high speed. For example, “pseudo-places”, which are places that only exist as spectacles (e.g., Disneyworld and soccer stadiums.) These pseudo-places have particular contexts where they still operate as places (namely entertainment for children and entertainment for the mass). Another exception would be “mediated-places”, which are places accessible only in a mediated fashion (e.g., science is replaced by TED Talks; you can see a concert via Facebook instead of being there, you can view a mass on YouTube.)

  5. Slowly, places start to disappear by being suffocated by non-places. The ever-increasing speed of trading of ideas and material resources make places look inefficient, outdated, underfunded, and under-stimulating.

    Individuals oscillate between extreme ideologies and the only thing that can be counted on is radical change

  6. At the limit, places fall and are removed or forgotten (or left as relics from the past to be studied by historians and enjoyed by tourists), and the proliferating of non-places produces a phase-transition into a limitless, shapeless network of connectivity that links society: Everyone can connect (and disconnect) with everyone without anybody’s permission, and as such, no collective understanding of the world is needed. One has full control to block any interpretation of reality that does not favour one’s own and has full control to spread one’s interpretation, no matter how little resemblance or explanatory power it has concerning reality.

  7. The network treats every element of reality not as something to be processed but as something to be transmitted. Everything is content. Reality becomes an infinite set of mirrors in which everything is a copy of everything else, and the copy is often confounded with the real (e.g., a hiking experience, one’s wedding, a trip to the Amazonas, and one’s face are just items to be sent to one’s network; they serve no other function whatsoever).

  8. Every person in the world starts to seem like a reflection of a network-centric person, as that is the only way to assign any meaning to one’s life.

  9. Because there are no filters left, the complexity of the world explodes not only in the multiplicity of states but in their continually changing dynamics. We live in a quantum conception of reality where everything can be one thing and the contrary at the same time, with no place to observe it and crystallize it into a solid-state of things.

  10. Personal capacity to absorb this complexity does not scale up.

  11. Fear of misunderstanding, missing out and being left behind from the future spreads across all parts of society except for the uber-network-central.

  12. Panic settles in. Economic uncertainty first, but then social and identity-uncertainty also comes. We do not know who we are anymore, where we are going, or even what we think, feel, or believe. We can only react to others’ feedback.

  13. Corporations’ business models, based on the manufacturing of fake realities to distract people while competing for resources in the real world, collapses as real-world resource values approach zero.

  14. As a reaction to this, network-central entities create “meta-places” fake containers of authority that resemble former places in their aim at filtration and moderation, offering a placebo effect of information containment for society. These pseudo places are full of nostalgia and retrotopias (e.g., hipster subcultures, new-age placebos, conspiracy theories).

  15. These meta-places start cloning, mutating, and form competing factions; all politics and power is a spectacle with no real impact on the world. Politics grows without control and metastasizes into every single aspect of an individual’s life. Individuals oscillate between extreme ideologies and the only thing that can be counted on is radical change at every time-scale of human development.

  16. These meta-places flood the world with simplification, we arrive at a hypernormalised reality, unable to predict or explain any phenomenon present or future.

  17. All Darwinian mechanisms in the idea space cease to operate.

  18. Trust in reality vanishes over time, and the only models of the future are dystopian ideations, losing all hope. Life becomes a blind descent into hell.

  19. Checkmate, reality.

We are very grateful for in-depth comments and lengthy discussions that lead to this essay by Coco Krumme, Eduardo Castello, William Powers, Jonathan Simons, Victoriano Izquierdo, Nacho Puell, Andres Ortega, Christian Almenar, Nick Obradovich, Niccolo Pescetelli and Alex Rutherford