For nearly 70 years, Western nations have enjoyed the benefits of relative social and political stability, secure borders and affluence. Generations have grown accustomed to the consistency of these circumstances, which has allowed us to believe that this is the norm for countries like ours and that it is natural for these conditions to continue indefinitely. Intellectually of course, thoughtful adults know this is not the case. The intransigent global economic crisis, the global warming debate, on-going tensions in the middle east, desperate refugees arriving at our boarders – these things remind us of the fragility of our good fortune. But we look around us and life seems to go on much as it always has. So we replace our blinders and settle back into comforting patterns of thought and continue as if we are immune to the currents that are reshaping our world.
I used only sepia and silver tones to make these paintings in order to emphasize the stark contrasts that are revealed when we distinguish between what is actually happening and our assorted personal and collective constructed realities. The expression “consensus reality” is beginning to be bandied about by media types and other social commentators to describe the collective version of this phenomenon. Often, buying into a particular consensus reality is a prerequisite for acceptance into a favoured social or political group. We reflexively deny validity to the other group’s perspective, while we self-censure to avoid confronting weaknesses in our own. To critique the truth claims of our own peer group is seditious and likely to invite banishment. On an individual level, we may dissociate from qualities that we deny are ours, then project this shadow material onto others and condemn them. We may even block out new revelations and insights by stubbornly and habitually clinging to unproductive attachments and beliefs.
We do these things grounded in certainty that our justifications are unimpeachable;
that all that is delivered to the tabula rasa of our awareness is unmediated, objective truth; that the solution to my conflict with you is for you to privilege my perspective over your own; and that “group-think” is a virtue.
Michael Harris September 2012