It is clear to everyone that we refuse to face up to many essential realities: Collectively, we deny the reality of global warming, the collapse of biodiversity, the threat of nuclear conflict, water scarcity, deadly air pollution, rampant inflation and new pandemics. We personally refuse to acknowledge that smoking, eating sugar, putting up with the proximity of certain people in our work or private lives is deadly; we refuse to accept that we know that someone close to us will betray us, that we are inevitably alone, that we are inevitably condemned to death. We refuse to take the decision that would otherwise be necessary, to change jobs, to change our lives. There are countless examples of this: from the leader of a political party who refuses to accept his defeat in an election and invents a glorious future for himself, to the company director who refuses to admit that his company is going bankrupt, to the employee who refuses to admit that he is leading an alienated life from which only great courage would enable him to escape.
Why are we doing it? Because they are afraid to face the immediate consequences of what needs to be done to solve these problems. And even more simply: for fear of assuming that history is tragic, that each of us will die one day.
In fact, we live as if the planet, humanity, and each of us were immortal. We contemplate our library, or our real or virtual record library, thinking that we will always have time to read all the books or listen to all the works in it. We live, individually or collectively, as if something or someone, at the last moment, will save us from nothingness. We live in expectation of a Messiah, who will come to grant us eternal life or the Resurrection. We live in hope because finitude is intolerable. Because we don’t want to, don’t know how to think about a transgenerational immortality. Or of a saving spirituality. This is the main denial of reality, from which all the others follow. It has always existed.
It is the theme, for example, of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. It is aggravated today by the growing distance that virtuality creates between reality and us: who can believe in the materiality of war when they see it on television between two fictional series? Who can be convinced of global warming when it is reduced to contradictory debates between self-proclaimed experts?
This denial of reality gives rise to a wide variety of behaviours: scotomisation, which amounts to denying facts that we have experienced because they are intolerable; repression, which consists of doing everything possible to avoid admitting our desires; mythomania, which leads us to invent another reality; conspiracy, which goes so far as to point the finger of blame at a convenient culprit for the problems for which we refuse to take responsibility; and procrastination, which leads us to postpone what we could do right away.
In all cases, the denial of reality amounts to constructing an alternative reality and leads to an alternative decision. We find all this in the genial character of Goncharov’s Oblomov, or in the dilettantism of Marcel Proust’s heroes and in so many other characters in world literature.
Today, this individual and global denial of reality is aggravated by the increasing domination of the world by virtuality, from the media to social networks, which make us drift into a set of metaverses, in which it is increasingly difficult to distinguish the real from the imaginary. Moreover, in a world dominated by money, to make this denial of reality bearable, to give ourselves time not to decide, we go into debt. Financially. Morally. Virtually.
This will end badly: the longer we delay a decision, the harder it is to take. The more the debt increases, the more devastating the cost.
The best way to combat denial is to realise that our debts will, whatever happens, be paid, if not by us, at least by future generations. And stick to a simple behaviour: don’t lie to yourself Look at yourself clearly; understand that inaction is an act like any other; that civilisations die from not facing their truths. And to act so that one’s actions weigh as little as possible on future generations, who are our only possible hope for immortality.