To be presented with the idea that you can be living in an entirely different reality than the person next to you is an overwhelming thought.
Today, a person can be in near-complete control of their own perception of reality, which is an incredible luxury that we’ve developed and employed without even knowing it was happening. This was most obvious during the 2016 election, when observing the sheer amount of American citizens who found opposing worldviews to be literally unimaginable. Together, and despite our limitless human connections and similarities, we’ve become a society that no longer recognizes each other’s frame of reference at all. And this thought has torn us into pieces.
With a simple “unfollow,” by changing the channel, or by physically isolating ourselves into like-minded communities deeper and deeper into our already fully entrenched racial and social enclaves, it seems that we can choose, seemingly without consequence, to ignore anything that doesn’t easily fit into our own idea of reality.
We control and create staggering, vast landscapes of information that we then distribute so effortlessly, in a way that has never been possible in human history. With that power, rather than usher in a New Age of Enlightenment that hones in on truth, we’ve instead learned maniacally how to manipulate the flow of information, and from this to make our own versions of the truth. We’ve made truth subjective. We’ve made our reality subjective.
How a person’s “created reality” can be so readily tailored to validate and gratify themselves is the story of this presidential election. It’s painfully clear now that we curate all of our sources of news in this way—the channels we watch, social media feeds we follow, the websites we visit, the people to whom we listen. By our own design, we have created and incentivized more and more of an “experience” when consuming our information, which would otherwise get lost in the infinite oceans of voices and text.
What is clear is that the dissemination of factual information has been outright rejected in deference for our own “experience” of consuming the news.
Emotional, obscene clickbaity bullshit dominates this space, which we greedily and desperately consume like relapsed addicts. We bump these empty stimulants to validate ourselves and our opinions, which must happen constantly and repeatedly, endlessly. We have slowly changed what we believe to be truth, not only in the way we consume media, but in our minds and our lives.
Because of this experience-based information flow, and because of our endless tribalistic nature that files us again and again into like-minded castes, we have systematically removed all intellectual predators who might disagree with us. We can change the truth, and we can do so without consequence.
Make no mistake: propaganda is not new. But what is perhaps more dangerous is that this subversion of truth is not just a creation of the state or special interests. It is a danger that we ourselves have created, inextricable from our worldview, and by extension, our identity.
In The New Yorker this week, David Remnick wrote that “the electorate has, in its plurality, decided to live in Trump’s world of vanity, hate, arrogance, untruth, and recklessness…” The word “decided” is important because it shows the fluidity of reality. Trump’s campaign, and indeed the entire Republican party, thrives on misinformation and the rejection of a factual authority. The campaign went to war against the only pillars of logical thought we have: journalism, academia, government, the entirety of Science.
What’s undeniable is that his campaign tapped into real pain based on their perceived experience of the world, despite all journalistic, academic, governmental, and scientific evidence. Trump’s supporters craved something emotional—a connection and validation that Trump’s campaign crudely offered without reservations.
To so, so many, Trump’s campaign and their supporters went beyond any idea of a reality that could be justifiable on any level. Its strict emotional appeal, by definition a logical fallacy, was such overt Hucksterism, such bloviating trickery. It was the honking red nose of a clown. To those who didn’t believe, who insulated themselves with their scholarly think pieces, egalitarian ideals, and polling data, it was nearly impossible to understand how any American could let emotion, prejudices, and desire for a scapegoat cloud their judgment against policy ideas that would actually help them. How could they not see?
They saw the country as something else entirely.
Both sides saw the devil looming behind the other, and they both stood screaming and crying for the other to just look.
All of us, regardless of who we are or how smart we seem, build walls around our little worlds. This isn’t an entirely bad thing. It protects us and beautifies the world. But what happens when you’ve become so thoroughly hardened and entrenched that reality becomes purely subjective?
What happens when you’re wrong?
What I see now is that I, too, created my own story. I believed only that people were inherently good, and that we lived in a great country where we’ve civilized ourselves and conquered injustices for the betterment of all. I believed that so much of this hate, feral and barbaric in its nature, was in our rear view. I believed that everybody believed that.
And now I’m being pulled forcibly down into a place I’ve never believed was real. A place where we must confront the uncomfortable feeling that we are surrounded by more racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, and bigotry than many of us ever thought. To accept that America, which we believed to be the flagbearer of a progressive, liberal democracy that slowly rose to reject such evil, is a dream.
How do we shake ourselves from what we believe is reality?
Each side is utterly astonished at how the opposition could possibly see the world so wrongly. That is what is most shocking. But what’s painfully clear is that we are no longer in agreement of the truth. And perhaps we never were.
This is the first time I’ve realized that this is not the reality.