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On the postmodern hubris of meta-level thinking

Ever since computer games developed significantly beyond the PACMAN stage, and imagined realities took on three dimensions and other attention absorbing features, our inveterate game players have come to think of reality itself as a kind of programmed virtual reality, and, as such, that it could be reprogrammed. This may strike someone who entered adulthood before PACMAN went viral as delusoinal. Reality, we might say, is a given. Our capacity to shape reality is very limited, and subject to unforeseen consequences. We might even wonder at the sanity or the cluelessness that this almost godlike attitude seems to imply.

For their part, those who take virtual reality as a given in culture tend to regard us Neanderthals as the ones who are clueless, and, as such, hampered by a lack of imagination, or worse that we are fixated in a narrow minded, and even childish, perspective on reality and its potential. Accustomed to viewing reality from a gaming perspective, they might argue, all that's necessary is to obtain mastery at some level of play in order to win.

One may even notice this kind of thinking among those who report on current events. There are those who have theorized, for example, that Donald Trump won the 2016 election by playing the game of running for office in a new way, a way that bypassed the old rules and played at a new, higher level. As clever as such an analysis may be on the surface, it ignores a lot of "facts on the ground" that must be included in any truly satisfying explanation.

One of the interesting plot lines in the movie "The Matrix" is what might be called the meta-level thinking of the characters. Such thinking served to explain Neo's ability to rise above the rules of the Matrix world and impose his own reality on it. Video game programmers often incorporate so-called "back doors" in their products to alter play or provide some quick advantage. The very notion that one can impose one's own set of rules on reality comes from this habit of meta-level thinking.

Such thinking was already evident in Plato's cave metaphor. It gained new philosophical substance in Descartes' "Cogito, ergo sum!", which radically subjectivized epistemology, and Rousseau's "noble savage", which imaged a human being as a blank slate upon which culture wrote patterns of behavior and perspectives on reality. In such thinking, nature itself took a back seat. This was followed by Hegel's almost mechanistic view of history as a process subject to meta-analysis to determine its most likely end result.

Today's Marxists and Progressives, inheritors of this hubrisitic meta-level thinking, generally do not approach world events with a becoming attitude of humility, but confidently make predictions about the future and seem utterly undeterred by spectacular historical failures. What market economists call "the fundamentals" seem to play little, if any, role in their thinking. Mass psychology is regarded as a thing that can be "nudged" in any desired direction by a sufficiently meta-aware elite.

Such errors in thinking are inconsequential in a fundamentally decentralized system, but that is not the reality we live with, today.