Reality, Shmeality

Image courtesy Flickr user jim_and_kerry under a Creative Commons license

In this case, after Romney barely registered a presence in the third presidential debate, Republicans are united in contending that just by speaking in complete sentences, Romney solidified his status as the favored candidate and presumptive president-elect. #

Factually, this isn’t remotely justified. At worst from Obama’s perspective, the thing is tied. As far as we know, looking at all the averages, on a state-by-state basis he’s ahead. If you assume seven or eight states in play and go through all the permutations, Obama often wins by taking just two or three of them. Yes, a lot hinges on Ohio. But he can win even without it (he needs a strong inside straight, but it’s possible). Romney absolutely cannot. #

Tomasky, if anything, understates the situation. The construction of an alternate reality extends well beyond the political campaign of the moment. Large numbers of people, disproportionately Republican, live in a world where Barack Obama is a Muslim, born in Kenya with an agenda of turning America and the world into a socialist totalitarian state. A vast conspiracy of thousands of scientists — 98% of climatologists worldwide — is peddling falsified studies of climate change in order to … take over the world or something. Oil companies that foul the Gulf of Mexico and powerful Republicans who shoot old men in the face are owed abject apologies. Women cannot get pregnant in the course of being raped. Slaves had it good. There is no one left to speak for the oppressed white man. #

One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!) #

The alternate reality, of which Romney's inevitable ascendance is but a part, ought to have a name. Other such constructs do. In the comic books I read in my youth, there existed a second Earth known as Earth-Two that was similar to the one I was familiar with. Another universe was Bizarro World, the opposite of the usual reality. That would be a good name if it were not already a cliché. So, inspired by Jeff Jarvis's Internet, Schminternet post about proprietary online spaces that resemble the open Internet but are not, I suggest that the real and the fake worlds be known as Reality and Shmeality. (Or "Schmeality"? Either spelling works for me.) #

And these media outlets can be radicalizing for a couple of reasons. One is that they substitute for community judgments the judgment of the host. There’s no cultural back-and-forth where more liberal members of a community can mediate the harsh judgments of the bigger assholes in a community. And second of all, despite the intimate feeling of listening to the radio, the people on it are basically strangers. #

Through emotional manipulation and sheer repetition, well-known talkers such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and their less celebrated but no less influential brethren do more than deny reality, they build their own, a sprawling tree house of the absurd, somewhat resembling our world, but full of fear and sinister plots, usually carried out by women in slacks, men with graduate degrees, dark-skinned foreigners, and Frenchmen. #

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." #

The term "reality-based community" became a catch phrase on the Left to draw a distinction from Shmeality, but it didn't stop or even slow the pace of construction. #

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