The Facts of the Soul

Even before the COVID-19 phenomenon crashed into our world like a meteor, I was fatigued by the endless supply of so-called news. The information overload is real and it was only a matter of time before it would reach the point of no return. The events of the past 20 months have increased the supply of news that is—let’s face it—mostly propaganda. Yet I find myself still looking at it, sifting through it, trying to discern what is true and what is false. 

Are there any facts? Reality is questioned daily because of the perpetual assault of the propagandistic simulacrum. Like a rigid, seizure-inducing image of Max Headroom, the simulacrum repeats itself on a loop, powered by an infinite regression of an antihuman machine.

So, what is there to do? As a writer, I find myself conflicted. To look or not to look, that is the question—and it appears to be stronger than Hamlet’s existential puzzle. How much time do I lose by plugging my mind into this soul-sucking machine? Novelist and critic, Walter Kirn, has explored this question recently in beautiful and succinct prose. He writes, 

Every morning, there it is, waiting for me on my phone. The bullshit. It resembles, in its use of phrases such as ‘knowledgeable sources’ and ‘experts differ,’ what I used to think of as the news, but it isn’t the news and it hasn’t been for ages. It consists of its decomposed remains in a news-shaped coffin. It does impart information, strictly speaking, but not always information about our world.

Kirn goes on to write about things that should matter more, as we try to sift through the lies that we are fed every day. Should one comment on a lie? Do we give it any power by acknowledging its existence? Do we just outright unplug and not look at anything at all? Are we admitting our own powerlessness if we choose not to look at any “news?” We’re in a pandemic and a global version of the 1993 film “Groundhog Day,” and isn’t all the news pretty much the same, every day? 

In a 2003 German film, “Good Bye Lenin!”, there is a particularly humorous scene that illustrates the banality of totalitarianism and what comes after such a regime collapses. Alex Kerner is a young man who lives with his mother, his sister, and sister’s infant daughter. Alex’s mother is a committed socialist who is an eternal idealist about the regime. She truly believes that the Politburo is committed to the original tenets of socialist ideology. Alex, on the other hand, is entirely cynical about the regime. He has seen its dead ends, and lack of any future for a young person like himself. 

The idea of what might come after the regime is not that appealing either. Alex is feeling an existential in-between-ness. He is neither here nor there, and the breakup of his family (his father had escaped to West Germany) is an important symbol for the deconstruction of Germany. 

Right before the Berlin Wall finally collapses, Alex’s mother slips into a coma. She wakes up to a different kind of reality. Instead of statues of Lenin, there are huge billboards for Coca-Cola. Capitalism has entered the former East German sphere. In order to protect his mother from the truth, because he fears she might have a heart attack and actually die, Alex devises an elaborate plan to maintain a false reality that the Communists are still in power. 

He instructs family members to act as if no change has occurred. He collects empty jars of food, like pickles—non-Western brands that were only available during communism—so that his mother thinks she is still eating her favorite foods. He records old news that gives an appearance of socialism. The news topics that have been recorded are repetitive but his mother doesn’t notice. Nor does she notice much of a difference when the recorded tape accidentally fails and regular, contemporary programming takes over. News nonsense knows no boundaries of chronological time. It merely perpetuates itself.

Of course, we can’t protect ourselves or others from the reality of our current situation by ignoring the information, nor should we. Once the curtain is lifted, we cannot look away and pretend that the curtain doesn’t conceal the theater props behind the scenes. At the very least, we have an ethical responsibility to recognize the truth, and to not be complicit in the corrupt system.

It isn’t easy taking care of one’s soul, especially during authoritarian times. It’s the first thing that is neglected, and often for very logical and practical reasons. But while the propaganda machine is attempting to reimagine and remake our culture in its own perverse image, it’s essential to perpetuate the order of things. 

The news cycle will keep going, and it will be mixed with truth, lies, and mostly with something in between. Much of it is merely an aesthetic experience that is meant to distract us from the underlying reality that the very essence of being human is the primary target of the ideological system. Even when we consume the news, we have to distance ourselves from the information. What matters most are the facts of the soul

About Emina Melonic

Emina Melonic is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness. Originally from Bosnia, a survivor of the Bosnian war and its aftermath of refugee camps, she immigrated to the United States in 1996 and became an American citizen in 2003. She has a Ph.D. in comparative literature. Her writings have appeared in National Review, The Imaginative Conservative, New English Review, The New Criterion, Law and Liberty, The University Bookman, Claremont Review of Books, The American Mind, and Splice Today. She lives near Buffalo, N.Y.

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

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