Episode Nine: Alternate Realities

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We live in a world of dreams, a world of cultural realities that are invented through language, custom, law, and convention. The realities of the lands around our globe are very different, because there is no one way for a society to function. In different lands, in different times, and through different technologies, our realities are always shifting. This reinvention of truth is a natural expression of the human imagination as we discover and invent ways that we can live together in complicated societies. Do we bow or shake hands? Do we allow kings or parliaments to shape the laws of our lands?

But this natural process can also be influenced in very unnatural ways. Very different realities can be intentionally and perniciously constructed. If you have the toolbox to manufacture realities, you can change the world. You can start wars. You can turn this precious blue marble into a zoo where millions of people live in elaborate but artificial realities, and only a few keepers hold the keys.

One way to manufacture an alternate reality is by exploiting the social needs and expectations that we, as a primate species, have evolved to expect. We are, in our most basic nature, tribal. We are comforted by our role in our extended families, and by our position within social groups. We want to be accepted. We seek the respect and admiration of our peers.

When we come together to build complicated societies, we can redefine our sense of extended community. As our cultures coalesce, lands that were once foreign and mysterious, are now only a plane ride away, and we can understand, in ways not possible before, that we all share in the majesty of humanity. It is inevitable that that we will become a single world-wide tribe.

It is sad, but somewhat understandable, that not everyone is equally prepared for the world to become a fabric of interwoven diasporas.

And if you have a desire to control the boundaries of reality, this is where you will begin. World builders begin by interrupting the natural expansion of our concept of community, and they exploit the more primitive tribalism by focusing on the few differences between cultures rather than our many similarities. They will tell you that other tribes are evil, dangerous, and want to hurt you. They build physical walls to keep them out, and they build social walls, made of xenophobia and superiority, so that anyone who thinks or believes differently than you is stupid, evil, dangerous, and wants to hurt you.

Building an artificial reality is not as large of a task as it seems. Human society has a natural amplification of trends and beliefs. You can start with a few key players introducing the new reality, and as people come to hear about it, and if it resonates with them on some level, they may embrace and carry those ideas forward to others.

In 2012 the Cicada 3301 series of puzzles were released on 4chan, an online discussion forum. The puzzles were said to be from an enigmatic organization as a recruitment exercise. This grounded the puzzles as more than simple games, and helped drive the community to uncover the ultimate secret of who or what was behind it, and what it all meant. People collaborated electronically to share insights and solutions and as puzzles were solved, the community would share the information and work together to uncover the mystery of the next one.

This became a form of an alternate reality game, where the experience of interacting with the game extends beyond the boundaries of the puzzles. The clues and the puzzles are one level of the game, while the existence and purpose of the puzzles forms a subtle, mysterious extra layer that seems connected to something deeper, something to be discovered in the real world. In this kind of game, the online community moves the narrative forward, and the game keepers can incorporate people's suppositions and theories into the next round of clues.

The Mandela Effect also has encouraged people to participate in another type of artificial reality. The game here starts with the fact that many people remember learning that Nelson Mandela died in prison, rather than being released and becoming president of South Africa. According to the Mandela Effect, we remember things from our authentic past, but somehow we are now in a different, parallel universe where the things that we remember never actually happened here. What's interesting about the Mandela Effect is that the nature of this game challenges the very notion of reality itself. Even things based on hard-facts and physical evidence don't really matter, because the world can shift and transform. Anything can be true.

The Earth can be flat, and all of the evidence to the contrary becomes evidence of the extent of the sphere shaped Earth conspiracy. The internet and human nature will do the rest. Whether as part of the joke, or as part of someone's new-found truth, it is in our nature to want to stand on the stump, reveal the secrets, and have others in our online and in-person communities listen to us and share in our beliefs. With enough people making videos, sharing their version of the truth, eventually some, maybe many, will actually begin living in that alternate reality.

In season three of Star Trek the original Series, in the episode, "Specter of the Gun", Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Chekov beam

down to the planet of the telepathic Melkotians after being warned to stay away. They find themselves sentenced to death for trespassing, and for their execution they are forced to relive the gunfight at the O.K Corral. Spock realizes that this drama is artificial, that the Melkotians are creating a false reality.

Spock explains:

Physical reality is consistent with universal laws. When the laws do not operate, there is no reality... We judge reality by the response of our senses. Once we are convinced of the reality of a given situation, we abide by its rules. We judge the bullets to be solid, the guns to be real. Therefore they can kill... I know the bullets are unreal, therefore they cannot harm me... The smallest doubt would be enough to kill you.

Like the Melkotians, builders of realities seek to create an alternate world that is so complete, so compelling, and so engaging that people will fight for it, and even kill for it.

When Edgar Maddison Welch walked into Comet Ping Pong Pizzeria in Washington DC on December 4 2016 with his AR-15 rifle and fired shots into a door looking for the secret basement where children were being hurt, he was not living in normal reality. He was living in an artificial reality that was intentionally created and manipulated.

It was part of PizzaGate, a combination of an attack against this nation's political process and the amplifying effect that can occur on the internet. It started as an email attack against members of Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. Emails were stolen, a few of them altered, and some likely fabricated. After the collection of stolen emails was released by WikiLeaks, there were posts on various social media outlets suggesting that in these emails, any mention of food, hot dogs, pizzas, and pasta were actually code words for child pornography and human trafficking. In a community pre-disposed to distrust the motives of political opponents, these allegations were repeated, some by sincere, concerned individuals, and others just looking to take advantage of the topic to increase the ratings of their blogs, podcasts, and channels.

The discussions around these emails, the strong feelings that such dramatic accusations created, and the easy opportunity to exploit a growing political issue, led to the creation of an alternate reality that was, for many people, at least as believable as other ideas about how powerful people in corporations and government sometimes behave.

The accusations continued beyond PizzaGate and became part of the extensive alternate narrative promoted by followers of QAnon who would read and comment on posts from someone claiming to be Q, an insider with special privilege operating in deep cover within the government. The HBO documentary, "Q: Into the Storm" revealed that Ron Watkins, who was not a government operative, but was a system administrator for the board that published these posts, hinted that he likely posted as Q. But by then the alternate reality was already as real to millions of Americans as the OK Corral was to the crew of the Enterprise on the Melkotian planet. For them, the accusations of political corruption were as deadly and as real as the bullets from Wyatt Earp's gun. They were already living in the gaslight.

It took only a few people in key positions, to get the dialog underway. Human nature did the rest.

But creating an online game is not the ultimate goal for some reality builders. Their goal is to use an alternate reality to bend an entire culture in the real world under their control.

While the alternate reality game component provides the audience and support structure through online media, they also need to influence events by taking control over the real world's power structures.

In the United States, power is held by elected officials, and so if you want control you must control elections.

In May of 2021, Mother Jones magazine published an article: Leaked Video: Dark Money Group Brags About Writing GOP Voter Suppression Bills Across the Country.

The first paragraph of this article explains the main point:

In a private meeting last month with big-money donors, the head of a top conservative group boasted that her outfit had crafted the new voter suppression law in Georgia and was doing the same with similar bills for Republican state legislators across the country. "In some cases, we actually draft them for them," she said, "or we have a sentinel on our behalf give them the model legislation so it has that grassroots, from-the-bottom-up type of vibe."

This top conservative group is Heritage Action, a sister organization of the Heritage Foundation.

The mission of the Heritage Foundation, as described on their web site:

is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.

And that mission statement is the key to understanding the success of the type of American political truth hacking that has been accomplished on a very large scale.

Hans Von Spakovsky is on the staff of the Heritage Foundation, listed on their website as the Manager of election law reform initiative.

Hans Von Spakovsky's work with election law reform goes back to 2012.

A New Yorker article, The Voter-Fraud Myth, from November 2012, showcases the work of Von Spakovsky as an advisor to a Houston based group named True the Vote, which provided software to local groups, such as Ohio's Voter Integrity Project. This integrity project evaluated voter data and recommended people's voting rights be removed. One woman mentioned in this article received a letter that her right to vote was challenged by a qualified elector. It turned out that the software incorrectly flagged her home as a vacant lot. The software also suggested removing voters of people in households with multiple registered voters, which led to scrutiny of lower income residents who shared apartments. It also flagged students and extended families who shared an address.

This series of organizations, one hidden behind the other like Russian nesting dolls, is an attempt to take political decisions away from the people, and to gain control of the power of government, using alternate reality narratives about voter fraud, and then providing their manipulations as the answer.

You can't convince people who are generally kind and honorable to simply harm others or take away their rights without a good reason. You have to convince them that they are fighting against evil. You have to build an alternate reality for them where the people they are harming are the problem, and where they are the heroes. If you understand people's fears, you can turn their insecurities, their hopes, and their sense of what's right into action. Focusing on what they believe to be a sacred mission, it becomes easy for them to overlook the damage that they are doing.

When the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, the purpose was to free the people of the new land from the control of the king, and to place governmental power in the hands of people.

Once they have been elected, they have the power to make decisions, and they have the authority that is supposedly granted from being chosen by a majority of their constituents.

And so, if you want the power, you can either convince more people to actually vote for you, or you can control the means and methods of voting, so that you get the power, and you get presumption of authority, whether you represent the majority or not.

But this did not start in 2012. In some ways the tradition of voter control is as old as voting itself.

One of the ways in which this can be done is through partisan gerrymandering, which is the practice of drawing local and federal district boundaries for the purpose of changing the political balance of power for the representatives of those districts. For example, a history.com article, "How Gerrymandering Began in the US" explains:

In 1882, South Carolina created a boa constrictor district that concentrated Black Americans—who made up the majority of the state’s population—into one winding district, so that every other district had a white majority.

These predominantly white districts could then outvote the single black district, even though the population of the white districts was actually less than the population of the single black district.

More recently, redistricting was done as part of project REDMAP. This is another example of how rules designed by free people to tend to the business of a free nation have been redirected for the purpose of obtaining political advantage, sometimes against the will of the majority.

Another technique is to discover an issue that resonates with voters so that they will turn out and vote for candidates who support that issue. Once elected they can then exercise the power of their position to advance their other agendas, and to further entrench their political majority by modifying and manipulating the voting process itself.

There was a moment in the recent history of this country where the ability to steer public opinion, not to serve the community, but for a group's own interests, took on a specific form.

This is described in Glennon, Doyle's book, "Untamed" In the Chapter titled "decals", she writes:

In the 1970's a few rich, powerful, white, (outwardly) straight men got worried about losing their right to continue racially segregating their private Christian schools and maintaining their tax-exempt status... They decided to focus on abortion... They sponsored a meeting of 15,000 pastors -- called the Religious Roundtable -- to train pastors on how to convince their congregations to vote for anti-choice, anti-gay candidates... Evangelicals threw their weight behind him, and voted in a bloc for the first time to elect President Regan. The Religious Right was born. The face of the movement was the "pro-life and pro-family values" stance of millions, but the blood running through the movement's veins was the racism and greed of a few. This is also why all a political candidate must do to earn evangelical allegiance is to claim to be anti-abortion and anti-gay - even if the candidate is a man who hates and abuses women... All the devil has to do to win is convince you he's God.

The story of how Abortion was used as a political turn-out issue for voters is also covered in the podcast "Ordinary Equality", in the episode titled "The Long Southern Strategy".

From the podcast, Ilyse Hogue of NERAL Pro Choice America says:

For the architects of the radical right, largely from an evangelical background, there was no institutional opposition to abortion either pre-Roe, or when Roe came down, or even in the years following Roe. What there was, was a very very coordinated attempt to leverage political power in the late sixties and early seventies to fight school desegregation. And there were a lot of legal battles. There were a lot of cultural battles, and in fact when they exhausted all of their legal battles, they said, OK we need something else to use as a tool. And the tool was to retain control in the grip of a very very small number of white christian men, in service of what one of the founders called dominionism. Dominionism is the believe that God gave white men dominion over all systems of power.

What we are witnessing in the voting legislative initiatives of 2021 is a systematic, deliberate, and extensive effort to take control of the process of voting into the hands of a dedicated, truth hacking minority.

Like a stage magician who directs our attention away from the manipulation, Hans Von Spakovsky is calling upon the goodness of people to fight what they are told is corruption, so that he and others can take control of the process of elections.

When we hear the words "traditional American values" in the mission statement of the Heritage Foundation, we should understand that the tradition being referenced is one of white, evangelical, Christian Dominionism, and the racism and misogyny that it supports.

Reality is fluid, and when a group dedicated to the acquisition of power has been working to create an alternate reality that exaggerates fears and exploits hope, then this reality becomes the only truth for the millions of people for whom that reality was specifically created. Truth is proportional, and when more people believe this truth than other competing perspectives, then this reality becomes the bedrock that defines and directs the actions of millions in service to the desires of a few, very clever magicians.

These tactics are in full bloom in America today as part of what has been come to be called, The Big Lie. The 2020 presidential election was historic in many ways. There was a lot at stake, and there still is. But now the attempts at political manipulation and subtle truth building have fallen away under a desperate attempt at outright cheating and corruption.

Because of the Covid-19 lockdown, many states offered voting by mail to a larger number of people. And so political manipulators crippled the mail system, destroyed mail sorting machines, and reduced the number of ballot drop boxes. In the extreme case of Texas, the Republican Governor allowed only one drop box for mail ballots in each county. In some counties, over two million people had to share one drop box. Several in-person voting locations around the country were closed in areas where the vote was not likely to support the political establishment.

As the election results were being counted, several lawsuits were brought and, as they had little merit or standing, most of them were dismissed. But the last minute appointment of what was supposed to be a friendly Supreme Court judge was expected to allow the court to reverse those rulings.

And on January 6, 2021, during the final formal stage of recognizing the voting results, thousands of citizens, living in the PizzaGate, QAnon, Heritage Foundation, conservative media manufactured alternate reality, decided that in their world, where their sky is red, the only right thing to do was to break into the United States Capital building to interrupt the process, or even do physical harm to anyone who would allow success for their political opponents.

Even well after the election, in Maricopa County Arizona, the fight continued for months. Republican state legislators gave the paper ballots cast in the 2020 election in their county to a private firm that they hired. This firm, Cyber Ninjas, that had no experience in managing a formal election audit, examined each ballot looking for anything that they and their media outlet, One America News, could point to as an excuse to claim that the results of the election should be reversed. But the point of this exercise was not to perform a legitimate audit. The point was offer another puzzle piece in their alternate reality game, another tool to be used to exploit the fears, the patriotism, and the hopes of their followers.

Too many people live in the self-limiting structures of artificial reality. Once appreciation for physical laws and reason are diminished, once superstition and assumptions replace investigation and understanding, it becomes easier to slip deeper and deeper into a maze of manipulation where fear-worms repeat on an endless loop inside an empty echo chamber, growing louder and more desperate inside a rising tide of social media amplification.

Cultural reality is an exercise in imagination.

The only way to fight corruption disguised as liberty is to meet on the battlefield of reality. The antidote to a bad reality is a better reality. Because truth is proportional and reality is fluid, and because all cultural realities are an outward expressions of the beliefs and intentions of a nation, a reality based on fascism, domination, and control can become the prevailing reality within a nation, as has happened in the past and in other parts of the world.

This is what the builders of artificial realities know and practice. They are extremely motivated, and they are experts in mass manipulation. Debating or arguing with them is like playing the puzzles of their alternate reality game. In that game, they own the pieces and they own the board, and every discussion or debate just moves the pieces around in their world.

We need to know, as deeply as Spock knew that the bullets at the O.K. corral were false, that the lies, the games, the gimmicks, and ghosts of the alt-right alternate reality game are empty, desperate threats of Melkotian master manipulators.

If all we do is watch as they bend reality to their will, then they will keep winning until our once-free nation is pinned under the weight of dominionism and the power of a few for their own political, monetary, and religious goals.

There is a war underway for the reality of America.

The reality of what this country could be for people of all races and religions, immigrants, native Americans, and all of us in-between, is the promise of a land of freedom, opportunity, and equality.

We don't need to invent this reality. This is the shining image of America that we all know so well, lit by the torch of Liberty.

This reality is so much deeper, richer, and more satisfying than the desperate apologetics of dominionism using fear and persecution victimology to seize the levers of power with patriotic cosplay. But our voices are not enough. We are at a turning point in this nation where our voices, our support, our money, and our vote must be vigilantly cast in service to a reality of love, prosperity, science, safety, and opportunity for everyone.

We can believe, without artifice or pretense, that we are creatures of love, of soul, and of magnificent magic. Each of us has the power to touch the lives of others with kindness, ingenuity, and understanding. We can live and build a reality unsullied by fear, untouched by small and angry deceptions, even if it leaves others behind to languish in an ersatz existence of nationalism, racism, and other false facades.

Each of us has the ability to build realities, because we can only live in the perception of reality that we construct in our own visions, and as we imagine the world, and live in the world that we imagine, that world manifests around us. When we give patience and kindness, so it becomes in the world. When we learn and understand, so it becomes in the world. When we use our imagination and creativity, so it becomes in the world.

We can squander our magic on manipulation and fear, or we can expand our minds to fill the world with love and artistry, with liberty and justice for all. The way to fight a bad reality is to live in a better one, for ourselves, for our families, for everyone caught in a red-sky world, and for everyone upon our tiny blue marble.