By P. Orin Zack
April 22, 2007

‘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.’

Here’s a horrifying thought: what if the senior White House advisor who said this to Ron Suskind wasn’t speaking metaphorically?

Now, admittedly, having written a novel (“The Shoals of Time”) in which a government agency had the technology to do just that does put a different kind of light on the concept for me, but I’m coming at this from the point of view of someone who has spent a lifetime crafting solid philosophical groundwork to rest an independent worldview on. At the heart of that worldview is a very simple idea: what we experience is real to us.

On the face of it, this is pretty tame stuff. After all, the chair I’m sitting on is real, isn’t it? If you were in my living room, you could even test the hypothesis — shove me to the floor and feel leather against your own butt. It’s okay. Like Doc Brown said in ‘Back to the Future III’, it’s a science experiment. You’d conclude that the chair is as real for you as it is for me.

But when was the last time you felt the need to do a reality check… for real? We don’t generally bother testing whether the world around us is real. Well, not while we’re awake, anyway. The thing is, you’re not in my living room. So, for all you know, I could be texting this essay while standing on one foot in a rapidly sinking rowboat. You just have to take my word for it, don’t you?

At this point, the ghost of Chicken Little may be creeping out of your childhood. I mean, that was the whole point of the story, wasn’t it? Just because the sky was falling for him didn’t mean it was falling for everyone. It wasn’t ‘real’. He was just imagining it, and was roundly humiliated for claiming universal validity for his personal experiences.

I have a different take on that story, though. Just like Aesop’s Fables, the story is meant to instruct. Only here, the lesson is about fitting in.

Chicken Little had a personal experience that was so vivid it drove him into action. He tried to warn the others of impending disaster, but found that they didn’t share the same experience he did. For them, it seems, the sky was most definitely not falling. And since there were more of them than there were of him, his reality was outvoted. This left him with the problem of how to fit his experience into what he was told was the ‘real’ one. The easiest way out of that quandary, the one most of us grab if the need ever arises, is to accept the majority experience as the true reality, and demote our own experience to the rank of imaginary.

In the late singer-songwriter Harry Chapin’s musical story called ‘The Rock’, a man faces a similar quandary. Convinced that a huge rock perched high on a cliff will fall on the town, he tries in various ways to warn everyone. Nobody believes him, though. After all, the rock has always been up there, and it hasn’t fallen yet. So he decides to stop the rock himself. As the song ends, in desperation, he uses his body for a prop. It stops sliding, but if you listen very carefully when the wind is hitting it, you can hear the creak as the rock slips a little bit. In Chapin’s fable, the danger from the rock is real, but nobody is willing to share his belief that it exists. They probably called him a conspiracy theorist behind his back.
So what’s the difference between Chicken Little and the man in Chapin’s song? Both acted on the strength of their personal experience. For each of them, that experience was real. But while ‘Chicken Little’ encourages you to discard your personal reality in favor of everyone else’s, ‘The Rock’ validates personal experience in the face of a differing consensus.

Which brings me back to the underlying premise of my worldview: what I experience is real to me. It’s an idea that can easily be misunderstood and even misused. It offers insights into some troubling conditions for which children and adults have been medicated or even locked away. But it also provides valuable insights.

Most of what I experience is easily confirmable by others. You want proof? Okay, did you just read this sentence? I thought so. But some things are not confirmable. That is, after all, what secrets are all about.
I suspect that my premise is true for you as well. If it weren’t, we’d have all sorts of trouble interacting with one another, or with the world we appear to share. But there is one kind of exclusively personal experience that we all have, whether we remember it or not, and that is the world of dreams.

Whether they’re long, drawn out nocturnal adventures, or a fleeting daydream, these are very private experiences, and therefore the antithesis of the shared world we awaken to each day. We’ve even developed a grammar that enables us to integrate the experience into our daily lives, while simultaneously ensuring our separation from them. By treating them as fiction or fantasy, and our role in them as ‘dream-selves’, we can accept a temporary immersion into dream just as we do for books, movies and role-playing games. The difference among these is only a matter of intensity, and immersive experiences have come to be prized over those which do not involve as many of our senses.

So imagine for a moment that you’re fully involved in a wholly immersive experience apart from your normal world. Is it real for you while you’re there? Psychologists use immersive environments to treat phobias. Simulators are everywhere, and people’s lives depend on skills learned there. And yet, all of these things pale beside the experience we get within a dream. The difference lies in our awareness of the context. If you’re reading a book, watching a movie, playing a game or flying a simulator, you are always aware that it’s a created environment. In dream, unless you have learned lucid dreaming, all you know is the reality of the dream. There is nowhere else. And that’s the same situation we find ourselves in each day when we awake. While you’re dreaming, that’s your reality.

I mean, think about it. Where is the place you inhabit when you dream, really? Doesn’t it seem every bit as ‘real’ to you while you’re in the dream as the world you wake to does in the morning? While you’re there, wherever ‘there’ is, you accept its history and everything that happens in it as ‘real’. If you’re threatened in your dream, you may flee or fly, but either way, your reaction is based on accepting the reality of whatever danger you face within the context of the dream. It would be as insane not to believe that the tiger in your dream is real as we’re told it is not to believe in the reality of things that happen in the world where I wrote the words you’re reading. The difference, if there is any, is that the reality we each awoke to this morning is a shared one.

There are many implications to this view of reality, and if there’s interest based on the current piece, I can explore those at a later date. My purpose here is to focus on how this view can explain what the above quote may have meant, and what danger it may pose to all of us, even to those who do not live in this ‘reality-based community’.

Something happened on September 11, 2001 that had a profound effect on the world. But for some reason, what transpired that day, to quote an old Buffalo Springfield song, ain’t exactly clear. There is consensus about some parts of it, but not for others. That three steel buildings in Manhattan no longer exist is a point of agreement, but why and how that happened is not. And I think this disagreement is of critical importance.

The event itself was so startling that we were jolted into disbelief. After an initial flurry of personal observations, a coherent story began to coalesce. The event was soon reported with the unified voice of the mainstream media, with endlessly repeated video that burned the images into our collective memory. Dissenting voices were overwhelmed by the solidifying ‘official story’ and quickly marginalized. But over time, parts of that official story were questioned, and the inconsistencies revealed weakened the unifying effect of there being a single event that so many people shared.

Back before the Internet, before television and radio, the commonalities in peoples’ lives were more sporadic than they are today. Specific events were directly shared by far fewer people at one time. Community action, newspapers, books, theater, religion and so forth wove a broad, solid consensus reality. A tapestry of interrelated stories provided the shared background for the waking dream that individual experience could ride upon.

But broadcast networks changed things. Sowing a unified experience to grand masses of people has the same effect on consensus reality as monoculture farming has on the stability of ecosystems. Both become more liable to disruption, more prone to fracture. Narrowing agriculture to a single strain increases the risk of losing everyone’s crop to a single disease, as the Irish learned in the Potato Famine. And although the chemical companies may believe that their poisons and genetically engineered plants will prevent a recurrence of such a disaster, those hopes all ride on their ability to defy the biological equivalent of gravity.

The official story of what happened on September 11, 2001 is the memetic equivalent of the agribiz’s attempt to force the entire world to use a single strain of genetically altered corn. At first, it seemed like a good idea. But then people started looking past the marketing hype.

The collaborative nature of the Internet made it possible for people to start picking apart the official story of what happened, to compare notes and to create another way to understand the events of that day. But something unexpected happened. For although the objective of all that combined activity was to uncover the truth, what we found was that there were multiple truths out there, more than one way to put the pieces back together. Communities of belief crystallized from the chaos, each with a credible way of experiencing the history they were jointly exploring, and those communities saw in one another delusion, misunderstanding, or even disinformation. They started to pull apart from one another, to fragment the community of those who could now share only their conviction that the official story was a lie.

But who were the perpetrators, and what were they after? Judging from the events which followed, I’d put my money on the neocons who wrote the ‘Project for A New American Century’. The catalyzing event they and their forebears had long wanted enabled them to pretty much discard the US Constitution, start a few wars, enrich certain individuals, and fill the coffers of a cabal of businesses. But I don’t think it ended with them. Once the plan was in place, layer upon layer of other details were added, both to confound the public and to widen the circle of beneficiaries. I suspect that’s one reason it has been so difficult to pick apart.

To have accomplished these goals required the perpetrators and their supporters to engage in a massive psychological operation as part of the scheme. And that, in turn, demanded that the impact of the event be amped up with special explosive effects to ensure that the image of those exploding buildings was burned into everyone’s memories. The whole thing played out like a Zen koan, with details that defied logic and induced the population into a state of profound shock, which made controlling them so much easier.

‘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 White House advisor who said this described to Ron Suskind a world in which those in power differentiated themselves from those who they controlled in a very peculiar way. He spoke in terms of reality creation, which is not the usual coin of the realm in power politics. We’re more used to hearing talk of money, weapons and resources. Why the difference?

What struck me first about that quote was that it was a thumbnail philosophy primer – a concise explanation of a robust worldview, rather than an incoherent bit of blather. You wouldn’t say something like this unless it was a reflection of the world in which you lived. For someone in a position of power or authority to do so reveals that the reality being described is not simply the fruit of personal exploration, but rather the essence of a local consensus among the speaker’s community of interest, in this case, the White House power elite.

So for the moment, let’s accept the worldview espoused in the quote, and see where it leads. The distinction drawn by the speaker is between those who make these reality changes, and the rest of us — who are powerless to intervene, and are merely along for the ride. In this scenario, reality is the stable substrate in which we all live. And whatever it is made of can be yanked about by some controlling group without causing any damage. At heart, then, it makes the assumption that there is a single reality, and that it can be driven in some way.

People using this assumption would have no qualms about how they might strain the fabric of their monolithic reality, because they are confident that nothing can harm it. It is my contention that what they did on September 11, 2001 triggered something which not only could harm it, but has already done so.

As I said earlier, my perspective is that reality is a personal matter, and that the world that we share is built from the overlapping consensus of billions of personal realities. In my view, it is quite possible to sunder our consensus reality – to split the shared dream we all log into each day into smaller, competing ones — and I think I know how that happened.

Our world is filled with communities of interest which espouse all manner of beliefs.

The scientific worldview, for instance, believes that truth can be learned through observation and experimentation, and that whatever conclusions are drawn from this must be open to scrutiny and falsification. Science’s unitary belief structure has been rebuilt over time as falsified portions are replaced. However, there is a limit to the range of what this structure can encompass, because science also constrains what is an acceptable topic for observation and experimentation. Had it not been for the scientific worldview, though, the World Trade Center would not have existed.

Coexisting with science’s worldview are any number of others which do not focus exclusively on the observable and testable physical world. Instead, they explore areas, such as subjective experience, which the scientific worldview does not. These other worldviews also have a feature which the scientific worldview lacks — the ability to coexist and interpenetrate one another, although some of them wish that this were not so. The oldest of these worldviews were developed by history’s various spiritual, philosophical and religious groups.

Some more recent worldviews, such as that shared by the people who inhabit Second Life, are focused on the existence of fictional places. Others, such as those shared by people who gather to recreate historical events or periods, are focused on factual ones that are, by definition, separate from normal waking life. Because of this distinction, such worldviews do not cause their adherents to have to choose one over the other.

But the schism in the 9/11 Truth movement has squared off over events that we all personally experienced in one way or another. And that, I think, is the key to what happened.

Although it started with a single voice, the 9/11 Truth movement fragmented into a number of camps. One (LIHOP) is convinced that the government let the event happen on purpose, another (MIHOP) is certain the government made it happen. Of those people focusing on the buildings, there are those who subscribe to the idea that commercial aircraft brought the towers down, those who say the planes were secondary to controlled demolition, and even those who question the existence of the planes entirely. Others contend that the planes and the building demolitions were a diversion, and that the money trail is the key to it all. But each group has a strongly held belief in what happened, and that belief generates a consensus within their community about the events which occurred. There is also a common conviction that only one of these scenarios is the ‘real’ truth, and this causes friction among the factions.

Between the power elite attempting to steer our common reality in the direction they would like it to go, and the communities of interest trying to nail down the events of that day as an immovable part of everyone’s reality, the common consensus shattered, leaving us with overlapping and competing consensus realities which we shift in and out of without even knowing it. Fortunately, this sort of thing does leave traces of its passing, but they are all subjective, like clearly remembering events that those around you cannot confirm actually occurred. When this happens, most people just pass it off as faulty memory or déjà vu. But is it really?

I would expect that by this point, you’re probably saying, ‘Even so, what of it?’ Who cares if you think reality is broken. It’s not like there’s anything we can do about it, even if there was something to what you claim. Besides, what sort of proof can you offer to support this crazy idea?

And there’s the rub. What can I prove? This is where the whole thing starts to eat itself alive. While your dream-self is running from that angry tiger, can s/he prove that it doesn’t exist? Within that reality context, it’s as real as the pain you’d feel if you were caught by it. But once we do get caught, we somehow save ourselves by escaping the dream reality and returning to the waking consensus one. If you’ve ever wished the nightmare of BushWorld would end, that’s why.

Whatever the rules governing the tiger reality might be, even if they were nonsensical from your current point of view, there would be no way to disprove them from inside the dream, as long as you continued to buy into the rules themselves. To do that, you would have to transcend it – to become aware of the fact that it was a dream from some external point of view, and to look at it from there. And even then, all you could conclude is that you can’t prove anything based on a set of assumptions that are not part of that world. In other words, you would have to step outside of the world you directly experience within the dream, to make judgments about the validity of the events in the dream, yet if you did, the conclusions would be irrelevant.

We’re left with a swarm of overlapping realities that are similar enough that we keep jumping between them when what we really want is to escape the whole swarm to someplace sane. If you were to explain this to a psychiatrist, you’d probably be declared insane. And if you couldn’t escape the swarm, you soon would be. That’s the danger that I think we’re all up against if the perpetrators are not stopped soon.
So here’s what I suggest we do. People from every camp in the 9/11 Truth movement must step outside of their internally consistent and satisfying view of what happened that day, so we can all meet on common ground. If each group is working from a slightly different version of reality, we will never come to any agreement, because there is none to be had. As long as we continue to squabble among ourselves, we leave the perpetrators free to spawn off ever more fragmentary realities as they attempt to control what cannot be controlled. To stop them, we must, as one, choose to wake up from the dream realities that we have been trapped among, and confront the enemy directly.

When you do this, the world will not suddenly look different. There is too much overlap among the fragments to show any physical evidence of the change. But something else will be different. Something inside each of you will stop screaming. You will instead feel an inner calm, and when you think about the factional disputes within the 9/11 Truth movement, you will realize that there really were no differences.
The government both allowed it to happen and made it happen. It’s a big government. One does not preclude the other. Aircraft may have been flown into the towers, but it was explosive demolition that brought them down, and those aircraft were not the ones we were told they were. After all, two of the supposedly hijacked flights weren’t even scheduled that day, and box-cutters don’t make very convincing weapons.

You’ll see layer upon layer of complication fall away from the core events, as pilers-on are caught in their own webs of deceit. Suggestion has almost as strong an effect on a shocked mind as the Force.

Copyright 2007 P. Orin Zack


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