Thursday, November 03, 2022

Living in Alternate Realities?

In Philip Wylie's 1951 novel THE DISAPPEARANCE, an unexplained phenomenon divides Earth into two separate, parallel versions. In one reality, all human males instantaneously vanish; in the other, all women and girls vanish. The all-male world predictably devolves into a violent dystopia, while in the parallel world women have to cope with running society in an era when, compared to today, relatively few females held high public office or were educated in other professions dominated by men.

For a while it has seemed to me that the United States split into two alternate realities in November 2020. Instead of diverging into physically different planes of existence, though, the two realities exist side by side on the same planet while nobody notices what's happened. We talk at cross-purposes to inhabitants of the alternate world under the impression that the other person lives in the same universe, and therefore we can't figure out why they don't see things that look so obvious to us.

This impression hit me afresh during a recent conversation with a person who holds political beliefs opposite from mine. The bishop of our diocese had published a message that, among other topics related to the upcoming election, warned of the possibility of violence. The person with whom I was talking dismissed the warning on the grounds that my party would have no reason to resort to violence locally because they're likely to win the majority of electoral contests in this state, as usual (which is true). And members of his party, he said, "don't riot." I inwardly gasped in disbelief. I wouldn't have said anything anyway, to avoid useless argument, but in that moment I literally could not think of a coherent answer. It seemed we were living in two distinctly different versions of this country, which somehow overlap without coinciding.

The internet and social media, of course, go a long way toward explaining how citizens can inhabit the same physical world but totally disconnected mental universes. Before the internet and cable TV, we all got our news from much the same sources. Fringe beliefs stayed on the fringe; if my memory is more or less accurate, there was a consensus about the general nature of political, historical, and social reality, regardless of vehement conflicts about details. Now, as has often been pointed out, people can stay in their own "bubbles" without ever getting undistorted exposure to opposing beliefs and concepts.

I don't have the skill to write it, but I think it would be interesting to read a science-fiction novel about a world that contains two overlapping dimensions without the inhabitants of those dimensions realizing they're not even in the same universe.

Anyway, on a brighter note, as a former co-worker of mine used to say, "Vote early, vote often."

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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