Realities, plural

By SKIP MENDLER
Posted 9/18/19

The recent kerfuffle now known as “Sharpiegate”—in which Donald Trump (or one of his staffers) clumsily edited a hurricane forecast map to include the possibility that Dorian could …

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Realities, plural

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The recent kerfuffle now known as “Sharpiegate”—in which Donald Trump (or one of his staffers) clumsily edited a hurricane forecast map to include the possibility that Dorian could make it to Alabama, as Trump had previously suggested—brought the question of Trump’s mental fitness back into the limelight. But it also reminded me of a Bush-era quote, attributed to Karl Rove: “We’re an empire now—and when we act, we create our own reality.”

Another Dorian-related kerfuffle erupted when Democratic Presidential candidate and spiritual author Marianne Williamson seemed to suggest that visualization and prayer might have the power to keep the storm from striking the Florida coast. Williamson, of course, has promoted this kind of idea since the 70s and the days of the human potential or “New Age” movement that followed in the footsteps of the more mystically-inclined hippies. (Secular liberals scoff at such notions, as do Marxists who eschew anything beyond the material world—but it must be noted that Dorian did indeed stop dead in its tracks quite unexpectedly. Make of that what you will.)

This concept of reality creation is found in many parts of our political and spiritual spectrums, from books like “A course in Miracles” and “The Secret” to motivational authors like Napoleon Hill and Zig Ziglar, who have inspired many a capitalist entrepreneur.

Some people don’t bother to create their own realities, but instead they buy into realities created for them by others, prepackaged worldviews that eliminate the need for any further thought or critical reflection. And once they have made their selection, by golly, it’s almost impossible for someone else to dislodge them from it.

Other people have their unique realities foisted upon them by injury or disease. Folks with dementia, for example, may slide back into some version of their pasts, or find themselves confronted with a baffling and terrifying present that makes no sense. Those with other forms of mental illness may construct a new reality altogether.

Normally, this is only a problem for the patient and their caregivers—but what happens when someone has the desire, the ability and the opportunity to pull millions of people into their delusions along with them? What happens when these people are willing, even eager, to accept premises, ideas and explanations not only at odds with the evidence of their senses, but even with the laws of nature?

It’s possible for humans to coexist with different belief systems, of course. I value and treasure human diversity. But there will come moments—particularly when power becomes involved—where the contradictions between these multiple realities can no longer stand and have to be resolved in some way.

People have argued for millenia about whether there is an objective reality, and if so how malleable by human will it might be. I don’t pretend to have any definitive answers, but the basic laws of physics, chemistry and so on seem to hold up the same no matter what.
That might be a place to start.

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