Friday, June 7, 2013


By Sarah Walton 
What is reality? Does any of us truly know the answer to that question? 
I have a game on my iPad that I get hooked on at times: it’s a form of Mahjong, a tile-matching game. Whenever I complete a round, it flashes me a fortune. The quirky thing about this game, though, is that the fortune is always satirical or nonsensical – a parody on regular fortune cookie fortunes.
One of my favorite “fortunes” from this game is, “Don’t trust reality; it’s just a collective hunch!”
That may sound funny, or even nasty. But you know what, I’m beginning to think it may be true!
Don’t advertisers, sponsors and executive producers formulate their marketing and programs on the basis of collective hunches?
Collective hunches influence more and more of our lives, and a great deal of that influence comes from the Internet. And what is the Internet but electronic or virtual collective hunches? 
Somebody puts a video on YouTube, somebody else loves it and shows all of his or her friends. Soon the video goes “viral” (NetTalk for widespread or universal), millions see it and/or comment on it, and a “collective hunch” has created a new trend. How many cute cat or cute baby videos have you been sent of late?
All of the above is relatively harmless, but the influence of the collective hunch on our everyday reality has more ominous potential. 
A recent frontpage story in The New York Times covered what they called a “Syrian Victory.” The “victory” discussed was the recent taking of most of the strategic town of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border.
In reality, this was not a victory at all. There are still rebel strongholds in and around the northern and western parts of this town.
Secondly it was not a “Syrian” victory at all. President Bashir al-Assad’s forces had been combining tanks attacks with aerial bombing for more than a month, when they were joined by a force of several thousand Hezbollah ground troops from Lebanon several weeks ago. 
Still, it took all of this combined military might – plus new electronic gizmos from ally Russia --to rout the rebel troops who were unsupported and unsupplied, from the southern and eastern parts of the city. In doing so, they smashed the only hospital and left hundreds of civilians wounded and without treatment.
The treatment of this battle of attrition as a “victory” by the media raises several crucial questions, the first of which would be, whose “collective hunch” transformed this tragic tale into a “victory?”
And why? Does this made-up saga mean that the US government thinks Assad will prevail and is attempting to wash its hands of the idea of committing to the rebels? 
Or does the story’s emphasis on the battle between Muslim sects – Sunni and Shi’a mean the US can basically ignore the situation because it’s merely another example of sectarianism?
Is everything around us simply a form of manipulation, another way to guide us into the “collective hunch?” 
What is real and whose reality is it?
I’m going to think long and hard before I open the next cute cat video somebody sends me!

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