Alternative Reality, or a Reflection on Yesterday’s Insurrection

Let’s talk a little bit about alternative reality.

Right now, depending on who you’re talking to, you might find that this person doesn’t have the same view of the reality as you do. This is exceptionally frustrating, because you know you’re right, as in not that you believe you’re right, but that you are Snopes Fact Check right. You know you should stay home because of the Coronavirus. You know there was not wide spread election fraud. You know vaccines do not have microchips in them. You know Joe Biden is not a pedophile Satanist. And on and on. And yet, there are people in our country who believe these things and other things like them, who ardently believe these things.

Growing up, I had to constantly negotiate two realities. There was the reality most of the factual world had, and then there was my family’s reality, particularly my mother’s and my older brother’s. My family, dysfunctionals all of us, had problems with understanding how the world worked socially and ethically, because we had our own version of this, and it interfaced with varying levels of success with the cultural values of other classes, usually poorly and disastrously.
That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about what appears to be, as I would find out years later, an unreality that crept down through my mother’s side of the family, where actual reality would be adjusted to reflect some strange belief or lie to validate the worth of the family, or to manipulate family members into doing what was wanted. I understand my maternal grandmother would make up experiences all the time, and her sisters would correct her, saying these things did not happen. My mother and older brother certainly reinvented reality. Part of my mother’s history was that she was related to the queen of England through the Stewarts. Part of my older brother’s history was that he was a Navy SEAL. My mother told people I personally knew J.K. Rowling when I started out as a writer, and I’d have to explain to many people in my small town that no, I didn’t.

We call these things my mother and my brother said lies, because that’s what they are. BUT, and this is critical, there was a strange belief in unreality on their part, an insistence that it was real. As a young girl who still believed she could repair her family with TRUTH, I used to argue about their lies. My husband found the best way to disarm the conversation was to go with the lies until they ran out, until they couldn’t be spun anymore. Then we moved on, the lies ceasing to have power.

What I learned from living with people who were looking at life through a very different telescope than me, is that they actually believed some of these lies some of the time. I expect not all the time, but the need to delude oneself, given one’s real circumstances, was mighty indeed. To a much lesser extent, we all practice this a little bit, making up stories and narratives to smooth our way in the universe.

I have never found the magical key to helping someone who is committed to believing a lie to give up the lie. The need to hold onto that lie is SO STRONG you might incite a whole bunch of people to attack the people who tell you you’re lying. If you are in a position of power you might even have enablers who help you do this so they can hold onto power. This is how my family worked. This is how all dysfunction works. The United States is working like this right now.

Those of us who can see fact need to hold onto it. Those of us who have told others the truth is relative are mingling opinion with fact. Thank you, politicians, journalists, and propagandists. You’ve done your work well in brainwashing parts of the populace desperate to believe the reality you serve them.

There are ways to untangle and tell what conspiracies are, what is real and what is fake. Conspiracies can’t exist without long shot linkages. Facts can. These lies run out. The problem, of course, is when the lies are fed, and the lies are validated. We gotta stop doing that.

Ultimately, holding onto lies is about holding onto beliefs and insecurities about yourself or your culture or who is responsible for the position you’re in. It is our life’s work to make our country better for all our citizens, which we have never done. We’re great at exploiting the needs of the many for the needs of the few. And yes, I’m talking to my white friends, but I’m also talking to my straight friends, and my citizen friends, and even my friends with computers. The assumptions about what is “fair” or “normal” or what “rights” we should have is about perpetuating lies, not meeting people where they are.

People have been saying America is better than what we’ve seen the last few days. Nah. This is where we’ve been since I’ve been alive, with the exception of the idealized and integrated world I can remember watching as a child on a few episodes of Sesame Street.

So, what we should be saying is America CAN be better. And we gotta stop fomenting lies, both about microchips and vaccines, and how we treat BLM versus how we treat white terrorists. We gotta get our shit together, especially those of us who are in a position to call out the crazy. Don’t enable. Call out the crazy, and work as hard as you can to work with those who will let you make the world a better place.

And if people want to stay crazy? We crowd out the crazy people with crazy stuff like education, living wages, responsible citizenship, ethics, health care, the basic tenants of what we should provide for all, rather than living our life as temporarily disenfranchised millionaires who want what’s coming to us. We invest in rights for the disenfranchised. We treat each other with respect. We give dacism the middle finger.

And yes, I know, gross oversimplification followed up by a healthy dose of idealism. It’s what I do. I choose to do better than I have done in the past, and I hope you do as well. Let’s get to work.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.