When the Chancellor of the Exchequer divides the population into two neat columns, the Strivers (+) and the Shirkers (-), he is indulging in hyper-reality: presenting us with something that looks human, realer-than-real saints and sinners (monsters, even); but a version of citizen that airbrushes out:
the person who finds themselves in a low-wage, low-morale job;
the person who believes there is more to life than overtime;
the person whose work responsibilities stretch far beyond their competence;
the person who would like to work but cannot find work, or is too ill to work;
the person who has worked all their life, whether in paid employment or as a homemaker, and is now elderly;
the person whose life has fallen apart through tragedy;
the person who has good days, and bad days;
productive days (however we might measure that) and unproductive days (however we might measure that);
life-to-the-full days, and oh-just-f***-it-all days;
the person who will go the extra mile for some people, and cross the street to avoid others;
the person who embraces certain responsibilities and shirks others;
the person who has been cheated or conned;
the person who...
I have been several of these people at one time or another – several in one day – and might or indeed will become others at some point: because I am a real human, and a real citizen, not a hyper-real image.
But this indulgence is equally true of those opposed to the Chancellor’s policies as it is of the Chancellor. And in creating a hyper-real George Osborne, the possibility of positive transformation in the real lives of real people in the real world is short-circuited. Not only would the real George Osborne be justified in not recognising the hyper-real Osborne to be himself (after all, it isn’t), but those who paint him as a Villain invariably paint themselves as ‘better’ than they are (enhancing their moral superiority with a tuck here, an enlarged-but-gravity-defying curve there).
We are entirely surrounded by high-definition twenty-four-seven hyper-reality.
We need to learn to see through the hyper-real images. We need to learn to see ourselves, to see one another, inevitably as though reflected in polished brass but nonetheless closer and closer to the true self that God alone, for now, sees fully (1 Corinthians 13). How is God able to see in this way? Because he loves us, for God is love. And to the extent that we allow his love to show us ourselves and our neighbour, to that extent we will be able to opt out of hyper-reality and embrace the real.