I recently had cause to remember The Year that Blew My Mind. It wasn’t mind-blowing in a good way – the oyster of the world didn’t open up and reveal any grand pearls of wisdom – instead, my gray matter was challenged to find reason for the unreasonable, and causes for the inexcusable. The resulting implosion left my mind scattered across a parallel universe, in which people made no sense, and reality could shape-shift like Play-Doh. In that world, people could mold their own blobs of facts and opinions without any regard for the actual truth or evidence of a thing. They could believe that Elvis is still alive, the Holocaust never happened, and that George W. Bush was a great President.
One of the blobs I recall came from a philosophy class, in the form of a particularly stubborn student who sought support for his shapeshifting opinion. “Reality is all just what we believe,” he said. “If I didn’t believe this Pepsi can existed, then it wouldn’t exist.” No matter how others argued that the Pepsi can was a material fact that existed independently of his thoughts – that it would exist with or without his belief in it – the student persisted in a type of egotistical thinking that left him in charge not only of objects in his own path, but that gave him the God-like ability to change matter into non-matter.
Outside of that class, I had never run across people who were prone to believe that a Pepsi can – or any objective fact – couldn’t really exist without their permission. They may have had differentiating opinions and beliefs, but they were based on some part of reality, even if cherry-picked to meet a personal need, belief, or preference.
For instance, I once had a neighbor who was enthralled with Tammy Faye Baker. For reasons that escaped me, he just adored the heavily made-up Queen of PTL and religious scandal. When I brought up issues like 24K gold bathrooms, “seeds of faith”, and vulnerable, workaday investors, he didn’t deny the facts – he simply hand-picked which ones were more important to him. She was funny, and charismatic, and he thought she had paid enough for her crimes. He chose beliefs that best met his personal concept.
And we all do that to some extent, particularly for people we love or admire, or even hate. We often magnify either the good or the bad, until the good is shined to a heroic luster, or the bad is blown up to villainous infamy. Reams of poetry are written for new lovers, who are coddled in the glow of novelty, while scathing diatribes are written about former lovers, who became stale, hurtful, or disappointing in some way.
In the world of shape-shifting reality though, Tammy Faye Baker might be Mother Theresa in same-sex drag. Maybe those tears she shed were really the sweat of Jesus and his twelve drag afficionados.
Lovers, past or present, may be wiped from existence with the stroke of a new memory. Maybe that drunken one night stand didn’t really happen. Maybe people just woke up naked together because they were recreating Rodan’s The Kiss for artistic reasons when they were suddenly felled by the sleeping disease African trypanosomiasis. Maybe, too, the lover in question wasn’t really a human being, but a sex-starved ghost like the one who visited Anna Nicole.
After living through The Year that Blew My Mind, I gathered up my gray matter to ask a singular question about the shapeshifters: Why? The singular answer that came back to me was Motive.
As complex creatures, we are connected to each other not only by DNA, but by story, opinion, and belief. We lack no opportunities to hand-pick facts and beliefs that best fit our individual paradigms. We can overlook bad traits in those we love because their love makes us feel great, and feeling great is more important than finding fault. When the bloom falls off the rose, and love lessens, then the bad thing we once ignored suddenly overwhelms everything else. The wet towels left on the floor become a symbol of disrespect – the forgotten anniversary becomes evidence that he or she never cared in the first place. Opportunities to connect or disconnect abound, and are most often reasonable, even if often exaggerated. Wet towels and forgotten anniversaries are annoying, and can be symptomatic of a larger problem.
The question in the shape-shifting world, though, is why people seek to change material fact or create whole new matter altogether. The answers are as varied as the motives.
Recently, I heard a story about two friends who had a private conversation. One of those friends then went and shared that conversation with another friend. That friend then made their conversation public, and a joke was taken wildly out of context and used as ammunition against friends #1 and #2. People formed strong opinions based on misunderstood third-hand evidence, but no one – not a single person – thought to question the motives of friend #3, whose actions had a rolling stone effect of harm and damages. There’s little doubt that she knew it would, as the resulting fallout proved, yet the major role she played in creating strife went unchecked. Motive? To create drama and gain attention. Mission accomplished.
Closer to home, The Bastard continues to make up rules as he goes along, leaving devastation and despair in his wake. His motive is to feel more powerful, and to exert what power he does have in ways that buoys his flagging ego. Mission accomplished.
Bush, Cheney, and Company continue to reorder matter and facts in their Invisible Pepsi Can world, where an “axis of evil” exists against the backdrop of the All-Mighty, All-Good, All-Powerful capitalist structure of America. WMD’s exist, then they don’t. Soldiers die, but it’s not all that sad if they hide the coffins from public view. It’s not about the oil, but then it is – oil companies who haven’t been in Iraq for 36 years now have no-bid contracts. The mission is really, finally accomplished.
Those of us who believe in objective truth can’t let ourselves be undone by those who believe that the world spins on an shape-shifting, make-believe axis. The truth of both fact and matter will eventually bear out, no matter how many people choose to create blobs of something else.
The shapeshifters are frustrating (and even frightening when they hold power), but by examining their motives – by asking just that one question – we can better understand the world they live in and avoid getting caught up in their crazy-making blobs.