Lewis: To each his own reality?

Ah, I remember the good old days when reality was a singular thing. If it was snowing outside there was no other truth. It was what it was. We could debate about the best ways to clear snow from the driveway, but we didn’t argue about whether there was snow on the ground.

Today, we are confronted with a cataclysm of oxymoron phrases that combine fact and fiction terms with a clear attempt to obfuscate reality — the state of things as they actually exist. We have “virtual reality” where we create fake avatars and go into a world where we can do things we couldn’t normally do. What part of this is real? We have “reality TV” — oh yeah, I’m sure that’s how the real world lives (sarcasm intended).

There are many other phrases like “alternative facts” or “anecdotal data” that attempt to validate fiction as fact. If a fact is, by definition, true, then an alternative fact is, by definition, a lie, but which sounds better?  “Here is a lie I want you to believe” or “I have an alternative fact for you.”

Twitter’s newsfeeds are a great example of the introduction of alternative facts into the news. Years ago, the word “news” connotated a level of assurance that what was being conveyed was actually true. Today, I can tweet virtually anything I want, and — voila — it becomes “news” on Twitter. Really?

Today’s technology allows us to create (in our minds at least) any reality we desire. We can immerse ourselves into a specific alternate reality simply by choosing where we get our news and whom we follow on social media. The problem is of course that, by definition, there can only be one reality.

Support Local Journalism

The man who attacked Nancy Pelosi’s husband last week was clearly living in an alternate reality steeped in QAnon conspiracy theories and antisemitism where he felt justified in his actions. The first question I have is: Why are incidents like this becoming so prevalent? The second question is should we hold those who create and disseminate false news at least partially responsible when bad things happen?

One of the reasons Elon Musk cites for buying Twitter was a desire to ensure free speech. Sunday, he tweeted a link suggesting that Paul Pelosi and the attacker were in a homosexual relationship — which, of course, is a complete fabrication. With Musk having 105 million followers versus CNN having a mere 624 thousand viewers, which “news” becomes the de-facto reality?

Thirty years ago, reaching a mass audience was very expensive. The result was that there were relatively few news sources, and they took the idea of truth and accuracy very seriously. Conspiracy theories still existed but no individual person with some wacky notion could, in less than 10 seconds, send his thoughts in a tweet to 105 million followers.

Today, it is as easy to propagate a conspiracy theory as fact. Technology, in a bizarre, convoluted way, may be partially responsible for our society no longer existing in a singular reality. Even basic things like the reality of the Sandy Hook massacre and the Holocaust are now questioned by conspiracy groups.

Supreme court justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “The premise of the First Amendment is that the American people are neither sheep nor fools, and hence fully capable of considering both the substance of the speech presented to them and its proximate and ultimate source.” Let’s test that. One of the craziest conspiracy theories of late was the one where people said Bill Gates was putting trackers in everyone’s vaccines. OK, this is both technically impossible and just ridiculous. Even if he could, why would he care? There is also the fact that we all carry phones, already, so tracking is pretty much already covered.

Even something this crazy had 40% of Republicans and 50% of Fox News viewers believing it. Beliefs like this are mind-bending and challenge Scalia’s premise, but the real problem we face is when distorted views of reality incite very real violence. Events like the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt have proven that people can be led to believe in something without factual proof and that these false narratives can lead directly to violence.

Things will only change when we go beyond holding just the individuals that succumb to these alternate realities accountable. It’s time that we hold those that create and propagate these conspiracy theories to account for the results.

Mark Lewis, a Colorado native, had a long career in technology, including serving as the CEO of several tech companies. He retired from technology last year and is now writing thriller novels. Mark and his wife, Lisa, and their two Australian Shepherds — Kismet and Cowboy, reside in Edwards.

Support Local Journalism