Consensus Reality

I’ve touched on this before, but my conversations with Connie Sonne and recent run-ins with moon landing hoax, vaccination-autism-causing, and Obama-foreign-born-being believers have me wanting to reiterate.

This will be too hippie-dippie for some and too conservative for others. As always, I remind you all that I am an authority on nothing. I am not a religious or spiritual leader or a psychologist. I am not a psychic nor can I call myself a skeptic. Disclaimers away, here we go:

The world we live in is populated by a lot of people. There is an idealized group of folks we call “Normal” who some view as the backbone of society and others claim are nothing more than dupes to a grand conspiracy. Some call them honest and hard-working, others call them mindless drones.

These people look to authorities to define reality. They listen to their religious authorities to tell them about spiritual matters, to their political authorities to tell them about matters of law and order, and their scientific authorities to tell them about how the world works. This triangle of opinion is sometimes in conflict with itself, as political authorities make statements about religion that might conflict with our professed religious authorities, our religious authorities make statements that conflict with our professed scientific authorities, etc. Thus, we find the “normal” person’s normal belief system in flux on a daily basis. Still, it usually stays within some tightly defined parameters. These parameters could be thought to define what is a “normal” belief system.

Also, as the religious, political, and scientific authorities of each individual person may be in flux, the areas of overlap for the entire country may shrink. That being said, there are a few things that most “normal” people can agree.

The murder of your adult neighbor over a dispute about lawn care is normally outside this triangle, for example, as is the belief that Venus is populated by bare-breasted huntresses astride giant dinosaurs.

However, I have yet to meet a person who does not have at least one point of belief that is outside the norm. It may take years of friendship to discover it, or it may be something that you see at a party a week after meeting them. By the time you reach your adult years, this constant revelation may seem like we live in a world filled with hypocrites. I’ve learned to restore my faith in humanity by adopting what I call consensus reality.

The fact is that while no one actually falls directly in the norm, most of us operate as if we do. We all moderate our behavior and the expression of our thoughts out of fear and/or consideration of what “they” will say if we say or do exactly what we want.

You can see an amplified version of in any areas where people of extremely divergent backgrounds have to live and work together in survival oriented situations. I use as an example the fact that when I was in the USAF everyone respected the POTUS, no matter what they actually thought of him. Some might say that it was fear of retribution, and I would state that fear of retribution is in fact the most basic method of enforcing a consensus reality.

In contrast of a military group living within the rigid bounds of consensus reality is an isolationist commune built around a wildly divergent belief system. Instead of a large group having to incorporate many different types of thought into a tightly-regimented reality, a small group of like-minded individuals blocks out the consensus reality of all others, setting up their own bubble of reality. I would point out that often when this happens, things go very very badly.

The point of therapy for me is to get back in line with the consensus reality when I get too far afield. It strikes me as being healthy to ensure that I know what most people are thinking and ensure that I can operate within those parameters, even if I don’t believe them. Because, if I’m honest with myself, I know full well that my beliefs don’t jibe with that of the general populous. Going to therapy allows me to “check in” so I can deal with people in my day-to-day life without seeming crazy. In the extreme, it can identify behaviors or beliefs that may be potentially dangerous.

The Internet is the opposite of therapy in this regard. It can give you the insulation of a commune with the illusion of being part of the global community. The community may be “global” in the sense that there are people from all over the world involved in the discussion, but often the near-unison of belief can create the same isolating effect as a single geographic location.

With this insulating effect, your group can have its own authorities and shut out dissent with much more efficiency. In essence, it can build its own free-floating triangle completely separate from any of its local communities.

It’s not that alternate sources of media didn’t exist before the Internet, but the didn’t have such a potential for distribution to a large audience. So, instead of being a lone crackpot, you’re part of a league of crackpots. This can be an amazing thing, if you’re all joined in a belief that is full of hope and joy.

Sadly, I’ve mostly seen these alternate bubbles of reality formed out of fear. People are lying to us, they say. Everything is awful, they say. We’re putting an awful lot of work into looking for ways to make the world even worse than we already pretend to agree it is.

I realize that divergent ideas are important. Through them we have innovation, art, and all things that make life more exciting. However, there’s a difference between discovering things through investigation and simply thinking them. Almost all of mine fall into the latter category. I don’t actually investigate these ideas, I simply believe them. Sometimes I’m right, but a lot of times I’m way off base.

Belief is a hardy thing. It can spring up when you least expect it and be hard to uproot. I’m sharing my belief system survival tips with you. This is how I’m able to get through my day without going crazy. Use it how you will.

You have a thought that diverges with the consensus reality. Ask yourself these questions:

1) How obsessed are you with the idea? Is it just a quick flight of fancy, or is it something you just can’t stop thinking about? If you’re completely obsessed, rip that out of your head unless you plan on becoming an activist. Life’s too short to spend dwelling on something if you aren’t going to take action.

2) Does this thought cause you to hate or wish to cause violence to someone? If the answer is yes, LET IT GO. Hard to do, but well worth it. Think about how silly the idea is. Find contradictions in your logic. You’ll WANT to believe it, so this may be hard. Love your friends and family. Even if you have proof, let it go. Give the proof to someone else if you want, but let it go yourself.

3) Do you have proof that a neutral party might believe? Don’t worry about converting someone who would be opposed to your belief, but someone who has no opinion. If so, feel free to share it. Don’t get into fights about people who believe the opposite. It’s a waste of time.

4) If you don’t have proof and you tell someone this thought, will they think you’re crazy? How much do you care if they think you’re crazy? As a performance artist, being thought of as weird is my bread and butter. I’m lucky enough to have a job where they like me even though they think I’m weird. So, I get to share all of my weird ideas with no real problem. If I were an elected official or celebrity, it would cause more problems.

5) Are you presenting it as a fact or a theory? If there’s already an established “fact” about something, why cause problems? Is being right that important? In the past, my answer to this was always, “Yes!” People had to know the truth at all costs. Nowadays, I’m more apt to simply “throw the question out there” rather than argue about the issue.

6) Who will sharing this opinion harm? If you don’t believe in the Moon Landing, and you make a big deal about it, would you simply hurt Buzz Aldrin’s feelings or would it have other repercussions? Who do YOU think it would harm, and who do OPPONENTS of your idea think it would harm?

The anti-vaccination issue when considering option six. It pits a parent’s fear of their child developing autism against their community’s edict that children must be vaccinated. In the interest of full disclosure, I got Betty vaccinated. I have some friends and family members who believe that vaccinations are dangerous in this regard. I do not claim to know the validity of their claims one way or another, but I personally felt vaccinations were important, even in light of the fears that were shared with me.

If she had developed autism afterward, would I have changed my opinion? Possibly. So far, she hasn’t. If she does, I’m sure I’ll revisit this issue.

Please note, I realize this is a sensitive issue. If you want to share your own experiences with your child, autism, and vaccinations, you’re free to do so. However, as I am neither a doctor or psychologist the only thing I’ll be able to share with you is my sympathies. I will not be able to differentiate between a correlation or causation in your situation and therefore won’t be able to validate or comment on your experience.

As far as Barack Obama and his birth certificate goes, I have absolutely no interest in debating this. I’ve already heard a stirring argument that Barack Obama is a lizard posing as a human being. Anything you have to say about him being a human from a different country is small change.

Thanks for following this ramble. The basic point is hopefully simple. I can’t change what I think, but I can take steps to ensure that I’m able to interface with the rest of my community, regardless of the differences we may have.


About paulgude

Paul Gude writes small books, makes stupid music, draws silly pictures, and does weird things on stage.
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