Travels in the hyperreal

Normal service* should now be able to resume here at Synapses, following a 20-day sojourn in various parts of that strange place they call America. While it’s great to be back in Cape Town, especially with World Cup fever already starting to mount, there are aspects of life there that I never fail to appreciate – most notably the generally polite (even if often formulaic) ways in which people interact. The ad-hoc manner of much social engagement here in South Africa is certainly interesting, and oftentimes a good tonic against boredom**, but I do hope we one day reach a socio-economic level whereby people’s incentives are no longer so emphatically short-term.

But short-term incentives was exactly the zone in which our trip started, in Las Vegas. The Bellagio's water showWhile I was there for a conference (on responsible gambling), that didn’t stop the Doctor and I from having plenty of fun. It’s not the sort of place I’d want to live, but if you’re there for 4 days, and are able to pretend you’re living in a video game (in which your character has plenty of disposable income), it’s a great place to be.

We wined, we dined (there’s a plethora of celeb-chef eateries in the casinos), we saw a few shows. And then we (the Doctor took another path at this point) went way south to Birmingham, Alabama, home of countless fundamentalist churches and boarded-up abortion clinics (well, I didn’t try to count, but there are a fair number). In this ocean of mental-death, a small island of deep thought presented itself at the University of Alabama, where Ross, Ladyman and Dennett (and others) spoke at a colloquium on scientific naturalism and metaphysics.

In terms of cultural difference, you’d struggle to find two American locations more divergent, but we were fortunately well-insulated from the most unwelcome sorts of Southern hospitality, while still getting to enjoy the welcome sorts (pulled pork and barbecue sauce, of course).

And then, a week of pure vacation in Maryland, which mostly involved eating and drinking, interspersed with an evening of excessive eating, drinking, and incredulity over Thanksgiving, where the Doctor and I were seated at a table including a (self-professed) redneck, a TSA agent and his military bride, and some incredibly loud children. These people were all family, in some indirect way that adds further terror to the idea of “family”.

Now were back home in Cape Town, and I’m mostly caught up with the backlog of stuff that relentlessly piles up. But most importantly, it’s good to be home – nothing reminds you more of what a great place this is to live than being away from it.

* No rash promises here: this means perhaps a post every two weeks, rather than one per month.

** The headline news item on 567 CapeTalk at 2pm today was that Charlize Theron was dining at the Waterfront, right now! The breathless reporter reported (as they do) that he had tried to gain entry to the restaurant in question (not named) to have a few words, but was not permitted entry.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.