A commenter on my post about rafting the Snake River thinks my experience was more real than that of a jet skier:

The individual freedoms preached from the right don’t have much real meaning to me, and I keep that mantra filed next to creative destruction as another kind of de-evolution from what america and being an american meant to me. If you can’t beat them join them. Kinda like, it is easier just to hitch a ride to space and a rocky mountain high is easier on the couch with a six pack and big screen tv. What was the conundrum again? Oh, balancing individual freedoms with national and future interests. Well, that is what more channels are for, I reckon. And that there is the real illusion. Paddling the Snake? I bet that was real.

I understand his point, but I think we need to keep the word “real” from being a synonym for “good.” Obviously, on a literal level, every experience is real – even the experience of a hallucination is a real experience of a hallucination. So what did I mean when I talked about my rafting trip being meaningful, beautiful, highly worthwhile, and yet in a sense illusory, while attributing a level of “reality” to the jet skiers and power boaters?

What I meant by “real” is something like “integrated into the rhythms of life.” I was a tourist on the Snake River. I had an experience, one that was organized and curated by others. I am not willing to make the kind of commitment necessary to have a more “real” experience – to become an independent rafter. Most people, I venture, would not be willing to do so – the most they’d be willing to do is be tourists.

Which is fine. But I understand why a power boater might be annoyed at being lectured by a bunch of tourists about what kind of experience he should be having.

I have no problem arguing that the rafter experiences something superior, something sublime, that the power boater is missing. I have no problem arguing that the power boater’s experience is of a debased reality – and, moreover, that making the power boater’s experience available to the great mass of people necessarily debases reality for the rafter as well, who otherwise would have the opportunity to experience the sublime.

But providing a great mass of people with relatively equal access to a debased reality is a plausible way to describe culture in a democracy.