Reality, C'est Moi! the experts say
I begin with an apology to the Australians, of whom I’ve been making fun ever since reading an article in the National Enquirer about an Australian lion tamer named Russell. According to the Enquirer, Mr. Russell, who’d been severely mauled by his lion, “learned lion-taming through a correspondence course…” (Italics mine)

Personally, I’m a stickler for drawing a line between something corresponding to reality – say, a narrative about a lion – and the actual reality/lion.  Not so Mr. Russell, or, by extrapolation, all Australians – such a correspondence course couldn’t exist without more than one taker, right?

Now, however, recent evidence shows Americans hopping on the Re-Orient Express as well:

Wall Street Journal “Many of [a new wave of book-buyers] are… carrying around tattered copies of ‘in’ books – not necessarily to read, but to be part of a scene”.  23 year-old Web designer Garrett Kemps explains, “’In this day and age, it’s much more important to appear like you know something than to actually know something…Everybody’s fronting, you know?’”

New York Times: “Younger viewers have a more jaundiced view of authenticity. ‘This generation is very conscious that one is constantly performing real life – performing the role of potential boyfriend, performing the role of potential employee.”

And lest you think this preference for the appearance of reality over reality itself is an affliction of the young…

Los Angeles Times: “Nothing to read at Reagan Library.”

In fact, we’ve outdone the Aussies. We’ve moved beyond. Correspondence reality, after all, still depends on a consonance between performance and reality; we’re conflating performance and reality. And by “we”, I of course mean Sean “Puffy” Combs, formerly Puff Daddy, now P. Diddy – the poster boy for the triumph of invention over self – here lauding the acting coach who prepared him for his Broadway debut in “Raisin in the Sun”:

New York Times: “Referring to a scene in the play where he’s supposed to eat scrambled eggs, Mr. Combs said he left the eggs on his plate during previews. But after Ms. Batson said ‘Dare to eat the eggs’ he started taking a few forkfuls. ‘People have come to see the play…and they’re like, ‘Damn he’s really eating the eggs…he really can act.’” (Italics mine)

Performance is reality!  Reality is performance! Mission Accomplished! Small wonder that Business – with its eye on the bottom line – has been forced to hire “Chief Reality Officer[s]” like Jeff Pundyk who describes his job thusly:

Business Week: “[It’s] to say things like: ‘That’s an intriguing idea but it’s not a realistic one.’”

Where was he when Mr. Russell sent away for his lion-taming correspondence course? When the United States decided to invade Iraq? When I decided to write a Crackpot Theory every month?

And speaking of the Bush administration, in a profile of President Bush, reporter Ron Suskind recalls a Senior Adviser to the White House addressing him thusly:

NY Times Magazine: “’[You’re] one of those guys who are in what we call the reality-based community,’ which [the Senior Adviser to the White House] defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act we create our own reality.’”

Thus does Faith trump Science. The story no longer requires substantiating evidence, just our say-so. How many times during the Presidential debates did President Bush rebut Kerry’s arguments with an exasperated “That’s just the way it is”? Lots and lots of times. Just take my word for it. Up with Empire Reality! Down with Empirical Reality!

And empires have emperors! How jolly. Like the Emperor Who Had No Clothes, in which story the Body Politic is invited to disregard the evidence of its own eyes and ears. Just as people voted for Bush because “he’s the kind of guy you can sit down and have a beer with” – when in actual reality they know he can’t have a beer with them or with anyone else…ever. Like those Americans who believe Saddam and Osama were best buds, that Iraq was involved in 9/11, that Saddam had WMD, all despite the evidence of no, no, none. Like the proposed amendment to prohibit burning the flag – that symbol of our freedoms – at the expense of those very freedoms. And this, mind you, when stores sell condoms that have the American flag embossed upon them. A patriot doesn’t burn the flag but he can run one up his own personal flagpole. At considerable risk, I might add: what if he’s pumping away and someone famous dies?

Where was I?

Oh, yes. To deny the evidence of our eyes and ears means – literally – taking leave of our senses. We’ve become a Crackpot Nation. Or perhaps just a Crack Nation, addicted to a bedtime story. But – give credit where it’s due – what a story! The Empire Realists have come up with a humdinger. Small wonder the Democrats are scrambling to come up with an equally compelling story.

But Democrats – indeed all small “d” democrats across the political spectrum – should realize that for Empire Realists telling a compelling story is only half the, well, story; theirs must be the only story. They’re Empire, remember? It’s the nature of Empire to conquer and subjugate all competing points of view. Forget that democracy depends on the commingling of many different stories, out of which commingling a consensus reality may emerge. No, Empire trumps Democracy. The Market trumps Society. That’s what the “Ownership Society” is all about.

Unlike the other contradictions in which Empire Reality abounds – the “Clean Skies Act” or “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth”, the “Ownership Society” is an internal contradiction. Ownership and Society are opposed to one another. Indeed, the goal of the Ownership Society is to privatize the public realm until, as Margaret Thatcher famously trumpeted, “there is no Society.” No public space from which a consensus reality may emerge. No public radio. No public television. No – I’m predicting – public Internet.

Hence this month’s Crackpot Theory:

By the time Democrats come up with a story as compelling as Empire Reality, the Empire Realists will own all the media in which stories can be told.

Read the response of John Perry Barlow, Cognitive Dissident and Co-Founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Read the response of Marty Kaplan, Associate Dean, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Host of "So What Else Is News?" on Air America Radio

Read the response of Professor Marc Redfield

John Perry Barlow, Cognitive Dissident and Co-Founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, writes, "They don't own The New York Times–yet–and they will never own the Blogosphere...." Read on
Marty Kaplan, Associate Dean, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Host of "So What Else Is News?" on Air America Radio, writes, "The cheerful underwriting credits on public radio for Wal-Mart are already written by George Orwell" Read on
Professor Marc Redfield says, "What does a sober theory adequate to the reality of a crackpot reality look like?" Read on