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OPINION: Reality Bites (the Dust)


by Walt AmsesKickstarterWeb

The snow is so deep and powdery that it has a flow,  like wading through three feet of water without resistance as my snowshoes seem to glide — like walking on a cloud.  By any measure, it’s bitterly cold but it doesn’t seem to matter this day.  Abundant sunshine and no wind coupled with the sound-absorbing snow provide a dreamlike quality. The woods could be anywhere, I could be anyone. The amorphous nature of this reality is hypnotic.  At times the boundaries between my ending and the forest beginning are trippy and unclear.

Unfortunately, like most of us, I think a little too much for my own good and there’s nothing that can spoil an otherwise transcendent trek than harkening back to the Bush Administration, which I manage to do so seamlessly that questioning my own sanity or a therapy appointment seems a logical next step. But no. I eventually get it. I realize it’s the bleeping reality thing.

Ten years ago or so,  journalist Ron Suskind interviewed a White House aide to President George Bush who chastised Suskind as a member of the “reality based”  community. He went on to explain that the United States was an “empire now”  and — consequently —  “when we act, we create our own reality.” Although I tittered at the notion of a faith-based presidency, staffed by a band of evangelical chuckleheads, Bush was re-elected three months later and we all know how that turned out.

Ratchet forward a decade as we ever so slowly recover from the catastrophic impact of those years economically, while the Middle East remains in meltdown, we find — defying conventional wisdom — that reality, as predicted, has become relative, with “facts” merely an annoyance, particularly if they contradict an already strongly held belief. Research demonstrates that weirdly, our beliefs become increasingly entrenched when challenged or disproven. 

The idea that being conclusively wrong causes us to become even more steadfast in our delusions, doesn’t bode well for rational discourse and is even more troubling with our politics quickly degenerating into fooling enough of the people enough of the time. The bipartisanship we’ve longed for seems to have arrived unfortunately gift wrapped in daffy mythology. Factions on both the left and right agree, for instance, that parental discretion trumps science where childhood vaccinations are concerned. Because “Who knows better than parents?”

Once President Obama advocated vaccinating kids, resistance from the right was immediate and predictable: The conservative holy grail of “big gubmint,” and the purported takeover (of parenting) sounded alarm bells. Jack-booted thugs armed with hypodermic needles. Whole-foods lefties, particularly in California, startlingly, seem to agree. Mostly because they think they’re smarter than everyone else — including doctors. 

The result of this strange collaboration of magical thinking was measles in the Magic Kingdom. As outbreaks popped up for the first time in years, beginning most prominently in Disneyland, America yawned collectively, irritated at having their lives interrupted for something not nearly as exciting as Ebola and not specifically about them. 

To make matters infinitely worse, our sources of information were dramatically narrowed as NBC’s Brian Williams suddenly became as trustworthy as Jenny McCarthy and John Stewart announced his departure from the Daily Show only a matter of weeks after Steven Colbert said goodbye. More sobering were the premature deaths of 60 Minutes’ Bob Simon in an automobile accident and media critic David Carr, who collapsed in his New York Times office and died later at a hospital. 

Digesting the implications of all this, I begin sweating despite the single digit temperature. I remember reading that Fox News has become the highest rated cable news network despite the fact that survey after survey demonstrated their viewers constitute the worst informed segment of the news viewing public. Thoroughly abandoning even the illusion of objectivity, the network’s only requirement appears to be the prerequisite rejection of all things Obama. I imagine a world where Fox becomes the primary source of information. Suddenly, I’m cold.

Did I hallucinate a recent (actual) Sean Hannity interview with Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson — picture Gendalf in a camo headband — on how to “combat ISIS,” wherein viewers learned our options were to either “Convert them or kill them?” The mystified host lamented the president not coming up with this brilliant solution himself.  Robertson probably knows better, but being a favorite redneck bumpkin is far more lucrative than utilizing his master’s degree in education. When your demographic has been nurtured into believing practically anything, it hardly matters what you say. 

My thought bubble explosively bursts as I step out of the woods, onto a frozen pond, momentarily stunned by a sky so blue, snow so white and sun dogs so prominent that lying and indeed, even dying, seem dwarfed by comparison. I spy an almost buried Adirondack chair, twisted and weathered by many such winters, aim it south and plop like a window cat. I pour a steaming cup of tea, and for the next 20 or so minutes — before the cold catches up — I’m certain this reality is the only one I need.   

Walt Amses is a writer and former educator from North Calais.