THE MASS HALLUCINATION
Once a mass hallucination sensed the good times were coming to an end. In truth, it had ignored the obvious far too long and let itself get woefully out of shape. The consequences were predictable. Within recent memory, even a run-of-the-mill hallucination could expect a devoted following to pursue it on daily jogs while tweeting madly to their own “followers” about every turn they took. And long-distance hallucinations that kept themselves in even middling form would be greeted with fanatical adulation worldwide and receive ringing endorsements from public and private sponsors alike. But nowadays hallucinations that had once been unmatched in power could barely avoid being trampled as crowds went on a stampede in fear of not catching up with the latest little fantasy-du-jour before it vanished in front of them, to be replaced by an even less impressive one they’d then chase blindly in its own turn. Nobody had the time, or the interest, for has-been hallucinations left in the dust. How the mighty had fallen! This one had witnessed the demise of many a grand illusion in its day. Stirring myths, consoling faiths, cultural certainties, social norms, political dogmas, economic doctrines, utopian daydreams—these were only a few of the hallucinations that had come and gone. Come and gone. Even the longest-lived among them were eventually pushed aside by ones more suited to an age constantly seeking new diversions. And yet, hallucinations past or present made life worth living, whatever their scope and whenever it was that their stretch of fame happened to run out. Or so it had always seemed to this one. At their best, hallucinations offered proof of the nobility of human aspiration and perseverance, and at their worst, equal proof of how little is needed to push humans into raving fits or mute trembling in one of the darker corners of dementia. But best or worst, to hallucinate was to live, was it not? To be human to the fullest breadth and depth possible, regardless of the actual limitations that one personally displayed on a daily basis. To be sure, some hallucinations deserved embracing while others deserved far less. Even the loftiest might fall short of the hopes or fears that inspired them, sometimes far short, but they still merited allegiance. Without this abiding allegiance, where would people be? Condemned to wander about some featureless wasteland, periodically brushing up against one another without recognizing any similarities between themselves? Without some sense of what delusions they shared, how would they carry on through life’s inevitable disappointments and pass on that ability to future generations? Admittedly, dedication to one’s private hallucinations and to those powerful enough to unite whole civilizations drew people down into horrors as often as upwards to glory, and the deadliest of them might prove the entire species’ undoing someday. So much more call, then, to celebrate and not abandon the grandest of them. For when individuals and whole civilizations lose confidence in the most inspiring of their hallucinations (everything they long to see as just, beautiful, exalting, etc.), a greater tragedy than all others overtakes them, doesn’t it? As for this particular mass hallucination, it just prayed it wouldn’t be around to witness the final moments of all that had given it such confidence of purpose and value in its prime.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans