A Refuge of Authenticity
Cultivating places of authenticity in an inauthentic world
Welcome to the age of disorientation.
Step into the 2023 digital world and almost nothing you see, hear, or read should be assumed to be real anymore. Not that anything digital was ever really “real” in the sense of physical, created matter - for that you would have to turn off the screen and go outside and listen to the birds or something. Bird song. Grass. Trees. Cool autumn air. A human companion. These things are “real” in a way the virtual or the digital can never be, no matter how hard Silicon Valley’s metaverse may try. But the virtual world has done the seemingly impossible in the last few years - make itself more unreal and more virtual than it already was. Before 2020, pretty much every image you saw, article you read, and every soundbite you listened to was created by a real human somewhere on this planet. It was human creativity as mediated through the machine - a second best, perhaps, but still the output of “humanness”.
But everything has changed.
Now, every image you see, every sound you hear, and every article you read in this virtual world has to be questioned. Is this real? Is this the output of a physical human’s creativity? Does this beautiful mountain really exist? Has this song really been sung? Are these the perfectly written thoughts of a writer? Or are these all the products of the machine gone wild? Who can really know…
Welcome to the age of inauthenticity.
Artificial “intelligence” has forced a paradigmatic shift in the virtual ecosystem, no habitat in the digital creative realm is free from its invasive influence. Nothing can be assumed to be true any longer - its authenticity must be questioned. Questioning everything takes up a lot of brain capacity. It is exhausting, it is disorientating - and this is now our life. Ever-increasingly, the domain of the real and the authentic is ceding territory to the rampant “progress” of the artificial. More and more images are going to be fake - portraying events and moments that never happened. And more and more essays and articles are going to be the perfectly-prosed paragraphs of the machine - regurgitated and synthesised thoughts and information that once originated from real people. Human creativity is fast approaching being made redundant - at least in the eyes of those who are content with unoriginal, second-best productions from the machine.
“No point hiding or retreating” shout the techno-modernists, “AI is here to stay.”
“This is your life now, embrace the machine and all will be well!”
Liars, the lot of them.
But what then are we to do? (thus echoes the perennial question) What should we who care about real creativity, who want to resist the machine, and who hate the idea of the increasing artificiality of the world do?
One solution (and it is the ultimate one) - go outdoors and be confronted with the pure masterpiece of Creation, the sheer authenticity of the created world in all its beauty and raw sublimity. Listen to the birds. Stand in awe of the mountain. Read a classic novel under an oak tree. Get your hands dirty in the life-giving soil.
However, for most of us in this machine-dominated age, as much as we would like to spend our days outside in the sun, this solution cannot sustain us. We still need to put bread (real bread) on our tables, and our money comes from doing business on and with machines. You are reading this on a screen anyway. Thus our resistance and our action must occur in the very places where the machine rules the roost. In the virtual world, we can’t cede all the territory to the fake and fraud. We cannot give the artificial total dominion of the worlds we have created. We must resist the gravitating pull.
What we can do is provide a service and an offering of true creativity to those who are going to become increasingly burnt out and disorientated by the age of artificiality. We can cultivate places where the ‘real’ rules the roost and where true beauty can flourish and shine. What we can then do is create ‘Refuges of Authenticity.’
Refuges of Authenticity - places people can come to be exposed to real art, real writing, and real thoughts that have been mulled over, stewed in the mind, and debated before being put to paper. Refuges of Authenticity - where art, writing, and song can flourish in all their beauty along with their human limitations of little errors, slightly convoluted speech, and stylistic idiosyncrasies. Refuges of Authenticity - where people sit around the fire and retell stories of real events and share new wisdom and knowledge. Refuges of Authenticity where those travellers wearied and stressed by the pushes and pulls of the age of disorientation can rest and revel in creations of ingenuity, artistic flair, and sentences that have come from someone, somewhere who has wrestled with their thoughts.
Refuges of Authenticity - special and precious places carved out in this machine-dominated world. Special, but vulnerable - and in need of constant and vigilant protection.
People who care about their health or who have life-threatening allergies depend on “Free From” labels being trustworthy. Seeing this label on some packaging means one can be guaranteed that no contaminants have been tolerated. Stringent checks and processes have been adhered to and “Free-from” really does mean free-from.
Well, it is the same with a Refuge of Authenticity - what is present here really is authentic. People can come to these refuges to escape the machine’s totalising influence and enjoy reality (even if it is mediated by a machine). What these refugees want in this disorienting age are trusted places they can visit to see, hear, and read what they know and can trust to be real - and thus give their questioning minds a rest.
Refuges of Authenticity are then founded upon trust. A trust that everything they contain is real creative output. Real words, real sounds, real images. The thing about trust though is that it is hard-won and easily broken. One relapse, one instance of contamination, one moment of artificiality and the whole refuge comes crashing down. Once someone has compromised with AI and contaminated their creative output everything else they create will be suspect and must be questioned - at least this will be so for a very long time until that precious trust has been regained.
This then is a no-compromise issue, a matter of utmost importance. 100% authenticity is demanded. No artificial AI additives can be present here. A refuge is just that, a place that can be trusted to be free from whatever one is fleeing from. Otherwise, it is no refuge at all.
It is going to be increasingly costly to maintain this stance. People who are desensitised or addicted to artificiality are going to be content with the mass-produced ultra-processed artificiality of the machine’s “creations”. And whether we like it or not, more and more people are going to be content in this way. For them the machine can provide all they need - and on instant demand. No matter how hard we try we cannot compete with the machine for the wants and attentions of these people. A Renaissance masterpiece took aeons to paint. An AI fake knockoff takes a matter of seconds - and many no longer care for the difference. Essays that once would have taken days if not months to write can appear almost in an instant - and satisfy the intellectual curiosity of many a student. No one can compete with the hyper-efficient of the machine on its own terms, it will win each time. But there is one thing it is powerless to do. It can not win at authenticity or originality, no matter how hard it tries.
Authenticity and originality are then what we still have to offer in this age of disorientation - creations that are real, authentic, and alive: Essays that originated as flashes of inspiration in the late watches of the night; photographs of sunrises from mountaintops that have been climbed with human feet, rock by rock; and songs that have been sung with passion, skill, and rawness that raise goosebumps on the listener’s neck. These are the precious gifts we can offer to an artificial and disorientated world and are privileges that the machine can never take from creative beings such as us no matter how vigorously it tries. Let us never renege on this beautiful privilege and responsibility have been gifted with.
In this age of disorientation, welcome to the Refuge of Authenticity.
All you will see produced here on Over the Field will be from a real human sitting at his desk somewhere (probably) in England. And this will always be so. Over the Field will function as one Refuge of Authenticity I hope amongst many. I believe many more will take this costly stance, seeing that there is too much to lose in surrendering all to the artificial machine. But ashas eloquently stated, these cultivators of the refuges will need your support. So please support them in their endeavours when you can - and perhaps create a Refuge of Authenticity yourself.
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