In these days of heightened fakeness awareness, thanks to our inimitable President and Commander in Chief & company, I have found myself wondering what is really fake and fakely real.
Who better to turn to than my own kids, who are used to being subjected to a spur-of-the-moment Daddy-initiated Socrates Cafe?
Ten-year-old Cali, 3-year-old Cybele, Ceci and I talked real-fake distinctions when it came to Num Noms and Shopkins — two creations they relate to all too well and with great enthusiasm (for better and worse) — instead of real and fake news.
But the answers in this hastily arranged late-night session before I hit the road nonetheless gave me a finer appreciation for the blurred boundaries between the real and the fake — even when we don’t intentionally try to disparage one, as our Commander in Chief does, at the expense of the other, who has made a burgeoning cottage industry out of changing the language game itself, and arguably in deliberately pernicious ways that limit or even suffocate rather than expand our range and realm of possibilities.
What if there was no orchestrated attempt to derail critical and creative inquiry, no outright effort to obfuscate, when discerning real from fake, as the Trump Administration already has become so adept at just one month into its tenure?
What if, for our purposes, we deployed the time-honored terms real and imaginative (or imagined) — and asserted that what Trump is really creating when he characterizes something (especially a news story) that is not to his liking as “fake” is a figment of his imagination, and not of a healthy or redemptive sort, that he hopes his legions of followers will buy into without an iota of healthy skepticism?
And then, what if we went a step further, and employed the concepts of imaginative or imagined, as kids do, and that the childlike philosopher Socrates did, with the noblest of intentions — namely, to become better real human beings?
Here’s how I put it in The Philosophy of Childing:
What if we made honest distinctions between the real and the imaginative, in ways that led to creating new realities with new frontiers for who we might be and become?
A peculiar kind of playfulness is at work in Socratic inquiry, one that spawns the imaginative and the unexpected. It’s often overlooked how playful Socrates was in his dialogues, not just in his persona, but in the way he examined—imaginatively yet rationally, methodically yet open-ended—questions and answers from a variety of vantage points, showing that one can accomplish important things, gain profound insights, without being deadly earnest.” — rather than presenting alternative facts that are anything but, he instead presented alternative ways to seeing things that leant themselves to scrutiny, testing.
When the discipline of philosophy was in its infancy in the West, the pantheon of pre-Socratics philosophers—Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Parmenides, and Heraclitus—put into words their explorations of the inner and outer cosmos by way of poetic aphorisms. They reasoned metaphorically, imaginatively; theirs was a “poetic wisdom.”
I further note that the philosopher, psychologist, and sociologist George Herbert Mead (1863–1931) contended that the human self is a totally social phenomenon in which self-image is wrought in a proactive way. As he puts it in his major work, Mind, Self and Society, it is created by “taking on the role of the other.”
As we interact with others, we assume their personas as our own—effectively trying on a variety of selves for size—and see if any of them, singly or in combination, might be a good fit for us.
I go on to note that our youngest are particularly adept at this:
Not only do children make it a habit of taking on the roles of “real” others, but they assume the role of imagined or fictional characters as well. Janet Wilde Astington at the Institute of Child Study is among leading developmental specialists who observe that pretend play, pretense, role play, are dual exercises by children in further cultivating empathy and in creating a satisfying self-image. It enables children to step in others’ shoes, experiment with alternative states of mind and well-being (or unwell being). It hones their ability to understand different sets of beliefs, values, and feelings.
It turns out that adults can take a similar route to empathy development. A study published in the October 2013 issue of the journal Science reports that those who read literary fiction perform at a significantly higher level on tests that gauge empathy, emotional intelligence, and social perception. They enter age-appropriate worlds of pretense, and emerge from the experience with a keener ability to connect in a more meaningful way with others, and themselves.
For adults, then, to create and sculpt new and improved selves on individual and societal scales, reading books — widely and deeply — is fundamental.
All the more disturbing that our President hates to read, loathes the written word if not distilled in a fashion that is laudatory of said President, preferably in a newspaper tabloid. Why, he used to even disguise his voice and call the press, pretending to be someone else, a PR person, and always for purposes of self-aggrandizement. While such practice might be good prep when a child, for an adult, they are disturbing antics.
Especially an adult who does not read. Who is adverse to reading, and makes no bones about it.
All the more lamentable, and eery, that our President loathes the written word in book form.
Oh, how I wish that was fake news.