The Problem with Multiple Realities

Let's get philosophical for a second. What is reality? This is an on-going area of debate, dealing with human perception, reasoning and verification. When we see something, is it just us, or is it in the "real world"? Since none of us can inhabit another's mind, it is impossible for us to truly understand what another person perceives.

Today, there are increasingly visible fragmented realities. Different people can have radically dissimilar notions of the world, from science to personal values. This has been true forever -- in the 1500s for instance, members of the Aztec civilization had different realities than Europeans did. Yet, there was little interaction between these disparate groups, and these realities rarely clashed (of course, they eventually would, leading to the history of colonialism and imperialism of the past few centuries).

Due to the power of the internet and mass media, there has been a blending of realities to create a sort of global norm, while simultaneously, there has been a strengthening of alternative realities. Pop culture from Hollywood is blasted throughout the world building connections between cultures and their underlying realities. At times, the power of this global culture can seem inescapable -- there are even KFCs in Mecca these days.

Yet, some realities seem to be hunkering down, fighting off this global synchronization. We got to witness this dynamic the past weekend with the comments from Congressman Akin in Missouri regarding "legitimate rape." That phrase, while deeply disturbing, was hardly the worst part of his language. Akin also intimated his view that women have the ability to willingly abort fetuses on a lark. That is his reality.

There continue to be different realities in this country, but generally, they are compatible with each other. Different religions, ethnicities, and politics generally get along with each other in America, one of our country's hallmarks.

It's the culture that Akin comes from that has me concerned. Akin subscribes to a much more hardened and insular version, and what makes it so disconcerting is its self-sustainability. In this community, parents homeschool their children to avoid the outside world's opinions and values. They attend the same churches, listen to the same radio stations and TV personalities, and read the same websites. They even have their own dedicated schools and universities, and some workplaces even heavily select from these community members. In short, it is possible to grow up and live your entire life in a radically different reality -- without ever realizing it.

This community doesn't believe in evolution, the Big Bang, or more generally, scientific verification. They are opposed to critical thinking in schools, Thomas Jefferson, and the separation of church and state. In short, the mainstream reality is completely ignored as if it is not even there. Evidence to the contrary is summarily dismissed, not because of countering evidence, but because their epistemology of knowledge can't include it. If you don't believe in the scientific method, how can you accept scientific facts?

Most alternative realities crumble quickly, especially today. Exposure to mainstream culture is constant and deafening. At least, for most people. But for people like Akin, exposure may be minimal or non-existence. There is no overlap between the mainstream reality and that of Akin's community.

I believe in laissez faire politics. People can believe what they want. While I don't accept the premises of postmodernism, I do believe it is hard to judge realities. But hard does not mean impossible. The problem with multiple realities is that we all live in one country. One jurisdiction. We are moving from a culture of pluralism to a split culture and that cannot be sustained indefinitely.

I honestly think that Akin was surprised by the reaction he received. It may well have been the first time he was exposed to a mainstream reality. But he won't learn his lesson. His entire background compels him to ignore this blip of time. The good news is, we don't have to. We must take a strong lesson from this event -- we have to understand the danger of those who would insulate themselves from our culture.