27 March 2014

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Escaping from reality

Dear Friends,

We have already discussed this Sunday topic way back in September 2005:
Escape from reality.

A lot of reality has passed us by since then but what causes us to
escape from reality has probably not changed, or at least not much. And
that cause is of course pain; if we are not happy with our reality it is
because we have enough disturbing pain. I am reproducing my essay from
September 2005 in raw form, with all typos, although I did fix a couple
of typos!
(http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/search/label/Escape%20from%20reality) This
year we have Ruel's essay to bring us a new perspective on the topic:

Hello Lawrence,
I wrote an essay on Sunday´s topic and it could be accessed through this

See you on Sunday.

See you Sunday

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
philomadrid@gmail.com <mailto:philomadrid@gmail.com>
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.__com.es/
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

Sunday, September 25, 2005
Escape from reality

I would say that 'escape from reality' is quite a common expression in
our everyday language. The common meaning is to entertain one's self in
order to forget the drudgery of life.

Put in another way, we try to amuse ourselves to forget the boredom or
suffering in our life. For example, some would take holidays in some
exotic destination, usually referred to by marketers as a tropical
paradise, to get away from the rat race. At the other end of the
spectrum, we have addiction, maybe to some substance such as alcohol or
even drugs.

Concepts like suffering, boredom and even pleasure are very common human
experiences. But the modus operandi of what we mean by "escape from
reality" is the pain, suffering and boredom. Even before we start asking
ourselves what we mean by reality, we can start by asking whether
pleasure is always the experience we seek. Probably not, after all,
physical pain may sometimes be relieved by some medical drugs, which do
not as a rule cause pleasure; some situations of boredom may be overcome
by a change of activities and so on. But would stealing food to relieve
one's hunger be a case of escape from reality; especially if the person
doing the stealing is quite poor?

I would argue that we can apply this expression to the example about
stealing above. By stealing the food one would be relieving the pain of
hunger, but the relief is also temporary. I would say that temporary
relief is a necessary condition for the meaning of "escape from
reality." The expression does not mean the same as for example, give up
on life, change one's ways, start afresh, try something new and so on,
but it does mean the same as, for example, "escape from it all".

Also, this expression does not question the nature or degree of pain nor
suffering nor boredom involved. After all what might be fun for one
might be boring for another; what is pain for one is a pleasure for the
other. This might be too obvious to really be important, but take the
case of suffering because one is poor and suffering because one cannot
afford the latest sports car. Sure, the suffering of one is not the same
as the other, but at the personal level the difference is of substance
and not of form. We might even be able to report the same behavioural
symptom in both these people, for example, expressions of sadness,
withdrawal, lethargic behaviour, maybe even anger and expressions of

The expression itself is also neutral about how long we have to escape
for. A weekend away from it all might do wonders for some people, but
for others anything shorter than a fortnight might be a waste of time.
But as I said above, what is important is that the escape is temporary.
A week on a tropical paradise is not the same as a lifetime on such a
paradise; a loaf of bread is not the same to poverty and hunger as two
square meals a day, with snack ad lib, are.

One of the reasons why we cannot pin down what pain, suffering or even
boredom are or even how long we need to escape for, is because these are
all based on subjective criteria. We might be able to know what is going
on physiologically, when someone is in pain, but this does not mean we
can feel what they are experiencing.

This leads us to ask three questions:

1) What are the moral implications of the expression, escape from reality?

2) Is there a collective pain that invokes some sort of collective
escape from reality?

3) What is the opposite of "escape from reality"?

I agree with you that it is time to look at what we mean by reality.

The kind of reality we are interested in is the kind we experience every
day. For this reason we need not concern ourselves with such things as
the reality of quantum mechanics or the nature of sense perception. In
our everyday life we come across two types of realities. The reality
that is personal and subjective, that is the reality we perceive and
experience. And then there is what we may call objective reality; the
way the world actually is. My frustration from not having the latest
sports car is something only I can feel and experience. However, it is a
matter of fact whether the sports car manufacturer can supply a model in
blue colour. This is something that can be confirmed by asking the
manufacturer, and has nothing to do with my experience.

We are all familiar with this subjective-objective debate about reality.
And equally familiar is that quasi form of reality which is sometimes
called induction. The point about the "quasi" is because this reality
seems to sit on the fence. We sort of know what to expect, but it is not
yet fact. For example, I'm not imagining that the company can supply a
model in blue, they've done it in the past, but I still have to confirm
this with them.

When we escape from reality, we can find ourselves involved in a number
of moral issues. Whether people who live in abject poverty are right to
steal food is a basic question in ethics. Equally a basic question in
business ethics, is whether companies ought to over hype a destination.
Also true is that these questions tend to end up going round in vicious
circles. So for this reason I won't specifically look at them directly.

Maybe, the moral question we ought to consider is not whether stealing
is morally right, for example when one is hungry, but whether one has a
moral obligation to consider that stealing is an escape (from reality)
and not a solution (to one's reality). Is there a moral difference
between stealing a loaf of bread, say after a natural disaster when
everything is in chaos, and for a poor person to steal a loaf of bread
every time they are hungry? Is there a duty to try and overcome our
poverty, maybe in the same way that there might be a duty to help the poor?

Take the opposite example, where someone takes some form of drugs, to
escape from their reality of boredom, desperation or fear, the latter
maybe from peer pressure. Do they have a duty to consider whether their
escape is morally justified? Do they have an obligation to consider a
more permanent solution to their problems? Maybe in the same way that
the authorities are morally obliged to stop the supply of addictive
drugs. In fact, whether it is poverty or whether it is drugs, we do hold
those in authority or power responsible for these problems and issues.
We usually use expression like, "I wish the government would
legislate....," or "What is the government doing about.....?" to express
our belief that governments ought to be involved in solution to find
solutions to poverty, drug abuse and so on.

While few would argue against a government helping the poor, do a
government have a duty to alleviate our boredom, or our dull life? But
there is an even more important question we can ask of those in
authority. Are the policies and strategies of a government providing an
escape or solving problems? Are trucks of food solving hunger in poor
countries, is unfettered illegal emigration solving the standard of
living in fourth or fifth world countries? Is imprisonment solving crime
in inner cities, is the market place increasing the living standards of all?

Of course, the question we are really interested in is, how do we get
someone to consider their moral obligations in the first place?

Moving on, there is something curious about pain, suffering, boredom and
similar feelings and emotions. On the one hand only we can feel our
pain, but on the other we all have the same physiological structure.
This, in my opinion, is the key to the second question above. The
collective pain that might exist is in fact the collection of people
having the same pain experiences from a given common cause. Although
individuals are feeling pain or fear, our ability to extract patters
from a given set of data gives us the concept of collective pain or
fear. This, of course, is an epistemological phenomenon and not a
metaphysical fact. Fear, from an approaching hurricane, equates to
collective fear if most of the people living in a city are panic
stricken and maybe try to flee the forthcoming disaster. This is an easy
case to appreciate because we are dealing with objective reality, most
people would know what a hurricane is when they see one. And would know
what to do when they see one: run.

Take an opposite case. Under dictatorships, and sometimes not, it is
very necessary to have a real or imaginary enemy to justify one's
powers. The whole of society is engrossed in the culture of defeating
the enemy, children grow up in an atmosphere of having to fight the
enemy. The economy and the military forces are geared up to deal with
this enemy. Of course, those who believe this sham would no doubt feel
unsafe and threatened, and no doubt would support any measures taken by
their leaders. The point is that collective fear, from real or imagined
causes, can easily be manipulated, especially by those in power, but not
exclusively since there are many businesses that function on this
principle. Offering escape type of solutions to this fear works very
well in the short term, for example occasionally accusing someone of
spying. This works in the same way that stealing a loaf of bread or
taking a short weekend works at the personal level. Short term
justification over long term solutions.

However, there are important differences between the collective scenario
and the personal scenario. To being with, there can be no doubt about
reality at the personal level; if one is bored at work, for example from
having to shift papers from one end of the desk to the other, there can
be no doubt what one feels. But this does not mean that all are bored
from doing this work. However, at the collective level the cause of the
fear, or whatever, there must be something that exists independent from
the individual. The hurricane is independent from everyone in the city,
and in a way so is the enemy the authorities keep talking about. A lot
depends on what we take to be true and what we accept to believe in.
Hence the importance of induction is that it is very easy to manipulate
beliefs by manipulating the facts, or just simply presenting them in
different light. A war that took place 400 years ago can easily be
presented as a urgent modern threat.

Of course, collective fear and pain need not be the result of
manipulation. It is quite rational that people fear wars or hurricanes;
some would say that such fear is hard-wired in us as a survival
instinct. The opposite is also true. Sometimes we fail to see danger
when we ought to. For example, excessive sun bathing, failing to take
economic precaution during high levels of inflation. And then there are
matters relating to the defence and security of one's country; history
has shown us many times that this is not a matter to be trifled with,
yet many would still wish to give this a miss. We also have examples
when society might experience fear when none is called for. Our attitude
to other cultures might feature prominently here.

In a way, escape from reality, is a short term solution to a very old
problem: pain. Reality itself is a very hard task master, finding out
what is real is not easy. A lot depends on our knowledge about the
world, which is saying a lot, since we might not have the time, the
means or the ability to discover what is true and what is false. Hence,
escaping by doing the right thing might not be as easy as we might
think, since we might not know enough about what to do.

And here is where the third question above comes in: is there an
opposite to the expression, escape from reality? Theoretically, escape
from reality is supposed to do us good, even if it is short term. So,
theoretically, the opposite is something that, supposedly, will do us
harm. And what can do us more harm than flight into fantasy?

Take care



from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Escaping from reality

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