Perception 
Is Not Reality

Phillip A. Ross 2003

*

Our war in Iraq is sure to generate a lot of lessons about a lot of things. Some lessons will prove certain things to be true, some will explode many cherished assumptions. One of the early casualties of the war is an idea that perception shapes reality, or even that perception IS reality. 

It was early in April, before Baghdad fell, that Arab television denied the fact that U.S. troops were in downtown Baghdad. Iraqi officials continued to deny many facts for many days. It was as if they were hoping to shape the reality by their proclamations. When Arabs finally learned that Baghdad had fallen, they couldn t believe it. 

The Arabs are not alone.  We have seen our own politicians practicing the same spin-meister art many times, but not to that extent -- yet. 

Sitting in front of the TV is such an experience of contrasts. News about the war makes me believe in the goodness of the Untied States, the hope of liberation and the end of oppression. On the one hand, we have such noble hopes and aspirations for the whole world.

These are the critical events that shattered the idea that perception is reality.

It appears that Sadaam s Iraq presented an inflated threat.  It now appears that Sadaam s regime was built upon the tenets of perception rather than founded on truth and reality. The Iraqi regime talked tough. Strut & posture ruled the roost there until shock & awe became wreck & ruin.  Saddam was not an empty threat because he certainly was able to bring very real violence to his own people in order to keep them in submission, terror & travail. But a world class threat, Sadaam was not--at least not in a military sense. Yet, most of the world has been taken in by his bluff--for decades!

It s not that Sadaam was not dangerous, clearly he was. But he was not what he thought himself to be, nor what the world thought him to be. The perception of Sadaam s power and influence overextended the reality, and the result has now proven to be destruction and chaos.

*

Sadaam s reality was built upon strut & posture. I m reminded of the animal kingdom where some animals puff themselves up when threatened in an effort to scare off a would-be attacker. Such a defense is not based upon greater size or strength, but upon the appearance or perception of greater size and strength. 

Why is this casualty of the war important to Americans? Because many Americans have themselves been carrying on a campaign of deceit and befoggery themselves in an attempt to shape the perceptions of consumers, stockholders and citizens to satisfy their own dreams, desires and pocketbooks. There is and has been for many, many years much effort by many people to make things (products, companies, people, contracts, reports and candidates) appear to be other than they actually are in order to advance some agenda. 

To deny this patently obvious fact is to follow the strut & posture antics and ethics of Sadaam Hussein--not him personally, but to be cut from the same cloth. Didn't Enron cook the books in order to play strut & posture? Remember the spin meister party during the millennial election ballot chit fracas in Florida?

My patriotism is conflicted by the lessons of this war. On the one hand, I celebrate the liberation of an oppressed people by an awful dictator. Sadaam s world is now seen to have been firmly established on lies, perception and bravado. I want to believe that American troops are serving the interests of the American way, you know--truth, liberty and justice. The history of the United States and the story of the New World carved out of the American wilderness by tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free is filled with the concerns of truth, liberty and justice.

But on the other hand, the American way is currently tarnished by the practices of deceit--falsehoods, trickeries, sleights of hand and illusions--at every level of society, deceit that is brought about by the pomp and pride that refuses to see beyond its own self-concern, that refuses to be shaped by reality, but insists on making every effort to shape reality according to its own selfishly conceived dreams and desires. Has our rugged individualism devolved into self-centered greed? Our concern for the underdog, to sympathy for the devil?

Puff and Perception

The animal world indeed uses the idea that perception can affect behavior. And, of course, it can. No one is arguing against the fact that perception is powerful. Rather, the argument is that when push comes to shove, reality triumphs perception every time.

The only reason that the puff defense works at all is that other animals believe that their perceptions accurately conform to reality. While one animal may be able to frighten another into retreat, or one person may be able to frighten a whole nation into submission, try jumping out a window and frightening gravity from taking effect. Try not paying your taxes and frightening the IRS into leaving you alone. Some things are impervious to fear, bluff and the vagaries of perception.

In fact, in the long run, science itself finds that perception is shaped by reality, not the other way around. Scientific discovery and advancement bring faulty perception into the light of reality. Science does not find that reality is shaped by perception, but scientific advance comes when perceptions are shaped by reality.

In fact, this belief that perception shapes reality has deep roots in magic, mystery and myth that is enjoying a virtual renascence in recent times. The Harry Potter movies are but another example of the power of this idea. Harry  Potter is not a fluke hit, but is only a leading example of many of the most popular movies that promote this theme. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and a host of other, if not the majority of movies, TV and books also fit into this category.

Indeed, what is this liberation that we so loftily promise to the people of Iraq? What is happening to the American way of truth, liberty and justice in our own society? What is it that we propose to give to Iraq in the name of freedom?

 

Right beside the war news
is the
perceptions we twist!

The commercials, the crass, sex-saturated onslaught of shallow strut & posture. 

Trouble sleeping? 
Take drugs. 

Allergies? Take drugs. 

Indigestion? Take drugs. Can t get it up? Take drugs. Depressed? Take drugs

Drive recklessly! Treat women like sex objects--men, too! Be cool by being irresponsible. 

These are the messages of advertising. Sometimes the puffery and perception in them is so misleading you can t even tell what products they are actually advertising!

*

I m as conflicted by the movies, TV and bookstores as I am by the war. On the one hand, I enjoy the antics of Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, etc. as much as anyone. But on the other hand, I know that such movies are about patent falsehoods, trickeries, sleights of hand and illusions, that they promote and encourage falsehood and fill our heads with empty hopes and dreams.

Then come the onslaught of advertisements for the depraved and slimy soaps, sitcoms, and so-called reality TV shows! What do you see?  More sex, more drugs, more lies, more trivialities, more violence, more destruction and more dishonesty. If anything provides a consistent theme in these shows it is the confusion and belittling of ideas like right and wrong, good and evil, polite and rude. I m old enough to know the differences, but many people are not.

The strut & bravado that works to shape, change and influence the perceptions of Americans, to spin our perceptions to someone else s values through movies, advertising, script writing and political pontification is at best moral deception, if not outright deceit that stretches the very fabric of legality beyond belief. It might mean big bucks for some, but it also portends serious social consequences and foreshadows the decline of a great nation.

Designers, artists, writers and politicians face a moral dilemma every day, just by the very nature of the work they do. To fail to recognize their work as morally significant is itself immoral or amoral--neither of which are morally neutral positions. As influencers of social morality, they can accept their responsibility and take the high road by appealing to moral virtues, like maturity, honesty, integrity, character, industry and excellence. Or they can take the low road and appeal to the adolescent values of bump & grind, values that imply, are associated with, or suggest immaturity, sexual promiscuity, violence, destruction, dishonesty, lust, greed and laziness.

It is time for the Arabs, and the U.S. to get a grip on reality.

the end.

Phillip A. Ross is the owner of Business Specialties (www.business-specialties.com)  in Marietta, Ohio, which offers promotional products and services, including writing, design and public relations.

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