A few years ago, I was browsing the shelves of an airport bookstore and saw a book on World War II. Being a history buff and an especial aficionado of that particular war (like most red-blooded males in the West), I went in for a closer look. It honored the victors of a little-known battle in Italy, I think. The subject matter seemed pedestrian.
Knowing nothing about the events covered therein, I silently questioned the
heroic nature of the battle and the victors, as I often do when presented with
mainstream histories. But, for whatever reason, this specific reaction sent me
down a rabbit-hole. It suddenly felt as if I was living in a parallel universe,
an alternate timeline in which the American Empire is righteous, economic
growth can go on forever and playing by the rules guarantees success.
Of course, these are fundamental tenets of our society. It’s only my
rejection of them that plunges me into a fog of cognitive dissonance, rendering
my world unreal. I suppose my mind is trying to protect my ideals from the
constant attack they experience just by living in the US. Rather than abandon my
principles (or the US), my brain has chosen to invalidate the world, thus disarming
any outside challenge to my belief system.
Ironically, the sense of unreality increased my interest in the book. Now I
thought of it as the history of a fictional universe, like The Silmarillion
is to Middle-Earth. I’m not sure why that made it more appealing. Perhaps I was
relieved not to have to worry about the author getting the facts right. Fictional
histories can never be wrong; at worst, they can only be poorly written. And people
usually don't die over fictional histories, while (purportedly) true histories
kill people every day.
For better and worse, developing alternate histories happens to be one of the few growth industries left. The social
isolation encouraged by Capitalism and abetted by fossil-fueled technologies
has fractured our former consensus into a seemingly endless variety of narratives. This process has also been fed by the yawning gulf between the mainstream
narrative and reality. As the Official Story loses credibility, we manufacture
our own version of events to fill in the gaps.
How could we not? We need stories that make sense of the world so we know
how to live, and the Establishment’s stories have clearly led us down the
primrose path. My generation has been especially deceived. We keep hearing that
the best way to pay off your student debt is by going to graduate school and
taking on more student debt. Unfortunately,
even if you’re lucky enough to find a job that requires an advanced degree, you
aren’t likely to make enough money to pay off your loans and achieve financial
security at the same time.
There’s nothing wrong with manufacturing your own reality if you live in a
vacuum. The problem comes when people with incompatible world-views have to
deal with each other. George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin demonstrated the
danger of these encounters, a danger exacerbated by our fetishization of guns.
A 15-year-old boy lost his life because he did not fit in another person’s idea
of a safe neighborhood. Relatively speaking, this is a minor example. The
misconceptions guiding US foreign policy have killed millions.
But even as we step over the mountains of corpses created by our actions, we
will continue to proclaim (usually with growing stridency) our righteousness. It’s
a testament to the power of ideology. Though the heavens may fall, we will
cling to our beliefs, especially if they’re what brought the heavens down. We
become emotionally invested in our dogma, to the point that we will deny
ourselves happiness, health and even life itself rather than renounce our
But why? Why would we kill ourselves instead of admitting the error of our
ways? It seems a high price to pay for pride.
The answer is that, in a very real sense, our principles are the
underpinnings of our world. Without them, the heavens would certainly fall,
along with the earth and everything in it. Of course, this destruction only occurs
in the mind of the believer. But the mind is all we have to construct our
world, so for the believer this personal intellectual apocalypse is a
The believer cannot return to the mainstream, because it has become
saturated with absurd propaganda that strains credulity. Adopting another
alternate narrative is possible, but extremely difficult. As well as requiring
the believer to abandon her quasi-religious faith, it demands that she give up
her place in a peer group that has supplied her with a sense of belonging and
purpose, two of the biggest spiritual voids in present-day “post-industrial”
But, if she wants to avoid oblivion, the believer must leave behind the
security of a like-minded community and strike out on her own, braving the uncertainty
and the loneliness of the unknown. This is a road that few choose to tread, and
even fewer find enlightenment at the end of it. Most are forced off the path by
its grueling nature and return to their erroneous beliefs or turn to a new
creed with a similarly soothing (and fallacious) message.
I believe I’ve chosen the Road to Enlightenment and have paid severely for
it. My mind is continually buffeted by the prevailing wisdom of the mainstream
and the countervailing theories of competing alternatives. It would be a lot easier
if I could accept the Official Story and the comfort and security of a
middle-class American lifestyle that go with it. Fortunately (or unfortunately,
depending on your perspective), my conscience won’t allow me.
Believe me; I’ve tried to drink the Kool-Aid, but I couldn’t swallow it
anymore. I kept going back to the corporate well long after I’d accepted that I
would be just another cog in the Machinery of Death. But, no matter how much I
repressed my revulsion at the side effects (or direct effects) of my jobs, my
body would keep rejecting that path.
This is the fate of many of us on the Left. We’ve rejected the mainstream
narrative, thereby ostracizing ourselves from the mainstream society. We see
the world through different eyes and cannot relate to many of our countrymen
and -women. We’re alienated from our nation as “disloyal” subjects. Our
estrangement usually takes the form of anger, desperation and despair, further
isolating us. (Most people don’t relish approaching strangers in any of these
states of mind.)
The Establishment forces us to go it alone or band together to preserve our ideals.
But this doesn’t mean political opponents must always be at each other’s
throats. That belief is the result of propaganda meant to keep us separate and
paranoid and easy to manipulate against each other. I must admit that I’ve played into the hands
of the Powers That Be by buying into that lie. It seems like, when I adopted
them, my radical politics came equipped with insecurity and an
We need to stop playing this Power Elite-sponsored game of “Whose Reality Is
It, Anyway?” and realize that a lot of people out there may not share our
beliefs, but we still share a country and a world. Many of them even share our
hope for a better world. Instead of defining ourselves by our differences, we
need to look for common ground. That’s where we’ll find the solutions to our