How I Learned We Don't Live in the World We Think We Live In
Updated: Oct 12, 2021
"UNPLUGGED" - CHAPTER FOUR
Want to get caught up? Read Chapter Three here!
This is the fourth chapter in "Unplugged: Awakening to a World of Illusions", a book that I am releasing in a serialized format. For many of you who subscribe to my site, much of what I present here may be obvious, but I invite you to read anyway because you might want to share with others. Remember: we're all in various stages of awakening now, and we never know what will resonate with people who are just beginning their journey.
"Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups... So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticatedelectronic mechanisms… I distrust their power. They have a lot of it."
— Philip K. Dick (1978)
Have you ever asked yourself, “What’s real and what isn’t?”
If you have, it’s probably been in the context of the “fake news” phenomenon that erupted in the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Yet given that A.I. can now mimic faces and voices with stunning accuracy, and bogus videos can convince people that they’re seeing something they're not really seeing, it's really surprising that we don't question other aspects of our world. We're not encouraged to take the next logical step and ask ourselves, How much of the world around us is “real”? How much of our “reality” can we trust and believe?
These are the questions that lie at the heart of this book, questions I’ve been asking myself almost every day since I caught my first glimpse of the Veil and began inching my way towards it. They are questions I'd like you to ask yourself as you read this book and long after you’ve set it aside. Because the more often you ask yourself what’s real and what isn’t, the more I think you’ll begin to see that we are living in a world created by illusions. The goal of this book is to equip you with the tools to see these illusions — which are often well hidden and easy to miss — so that they become more obvious to you. You won’t be sussing out “fake news;” you’ll be sussing out “fake reality.” With me so far?
One of my favorite movies is “The Matrix.” If you’ve seen it, you may remember the iconic scene in the abandoned hotel room when Morpheus offers Neo the red pill that will take him “down the rabbit hole.” This is how Morpheus describes the Matrix:
“MORPHEUS: We are trained in this world to accept only what is rational and logical. Have you ever wondered why?
Neo shakes his head.
MORPHEUS: As children, we do not separate the possible from the impossible, which is why the younger a mind is, the easier it is to free, while a mind like yours can be very difficult.
NEO: Free from what?
MORPHEUS: From the Matrix.
Neo looks into his eyes but only sees a reflection of himself.
MORPHEUS: Do you want to know what it is, Neo?
Neo swallows and nods his head.
MORPHEUS: It’s that feeling you have had all your life. That feeling that something was wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad, driving you to me. But what is it? The Matrix is everywhere, it’s all around us, here even in this room. You can see it out your window, or on your television. You feel it when you go to work, or go to church or pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
NEO: What truth?
MORPHEUS: That you are a slave, Neo. That you, like everyone else, was born into bondage… kept inside a prison that you cannot smell, taste, or touch. A prison for your mind. Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.
MORPHEUS: Hold out your hands.
Into Neo's right hand, Morpheus drops a red pill.
MORPHEUS: This is your last chance. After this, there is no going back.
Into Neo’s left hand, Morpheus drops a blue pill.
MORPHEUS: You take the blue pill, and the story ends. You wake up in your bed, and you believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, and you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Neo feels the smooth skin of the capsules with the moisture growing in his palms.
MORPHEUS: Remember that all I am offering is the truth. Nothing more.”
This movie stuck in my mind for months after I saw it, but at the time I didn't understand why. Looking back, I realize it was because the experience had invited me to question the nature of my reality. It opened my mind to the possibility that, metaphorically speaking, I wasn’t living in the world I thought I was living in.
In the film, artificial intelligence “overlords” use a sophisticated interactive virtual reality program known as the “matrix” to hide the reality of an apocalyptic world from a “sleeping” humanity. I believe a similar process is at play in our world, but it doesn’t involve computers; it relies on illusions. But is it really possible to shape the reality of billions of people without their conscious awareness? I think the father of modern personal computing gave us the clues we need to answer this question.
Guy L. “Bud” Tribble, a member of Apple’s original Macintosh software design team, coined the term “reality distortion field” to describe co-founder Steve Jobs’ uncanny ability to influence others with his charm, charisma, and bravado. Tribble borrowed the phrase from a 1966 episode of Star Trek entitled The Menagerie that featured Talosians, an alien species capable of creating and projecting a world of illusions by sheer force of mental power. They could even make people with decrepit and failing bodies believe that they were young, beautiful, and vivacious. Tribble watched Jobs deftly use his personal “reality distortion field” to make investors and consumers believe whatever he wanted them to believe about Apple and its products.
I think Tribble was onto something, but I think reality distortion runs much deeper than he imagined. I believe it’s what keeps all of us behind the Veil of illusions that blankets our world on almost every level. Think of reality distortions as the individual threads that create illusions, and these illusions are woven together to create the Veil, itself.
But in order to understand how reality distortion works, you first need to understand how our reality is created in the first place. As unbelievable as it may sound, our reality isn’t fixed; it’s created. Our reality can also be changed, and under certain circumstances, it can even be shaped.
Scientists tell us that our perception of reality is defined by everything our five senses can see, hear, taste, touch, and feel. Whatever we receive from these senses is sent to our brain, which then tells us what’s “real. But if our brain is only receiving partial information, it will change our perception of the world around us.
Let me show you how this works. There’s an ancient Indian parable that illustrates how the information we receive from our senses can change our perception of reality.
Pieces of An Elephant
Four blind men came across an elephant, an animal they had never encountered before. Eager to investigate but lacking the ability to see, each man decided to feel one part of the beast and relay his findings to the others.
The first man felt its tusk and discovered the animal was smooth, long, and pointed at the end. The second man touched its trunk and concluded an elephant was like a giant python. The third man felt its leg and thought the beast was like a large, hairy tree stump. The fourth man explored its tail and decided the elephant was like a thin snake with a brush on the end. In other words, each man’s description was partially correct, but since each had only touched a single part of the elephant, they had a limited perception of what the entire animal looked like.
Now let’s give the parable a tweak. Instead of each man feeling a different part of the elephant, they ask someone they trust — a person they believe has 20/20 vision —to describe ALL the parts of the animal to them. If the person they trust accurately describes every piece of the elephant to them, then they will all have a perfect understanding of what it looks like.
But what would happen if the person describing the elephant is careless and tells them about all of its parts except its tail? The blind men will be confident that they know what the animal looks like — a big, hairy, tree stump-like python with a long, pointy spear at one end — but they will have no clue about the thin, hairy snake attached to its other end. Their reality will be distorted. Moreover, if someone they don’t trust tells them about the elephant’s tail, the blind men won’t believe them.
So why are we talking about elephants and blind men? Because even though most of us can “see,” we have other handicaps that keep us from getting information we need to make informed opinions about our world and everything in it: events might be happening in another country, too far for us to visit; we might be too busy to dig deep or investigate issues ourselves; or we might think the subject matter is too complicated for us to understand or assess, so we defer to people with more “expertise.” In all of these situations, we’re forced to rely on someone we trust — who we believe has 20/20 vision — to give us information we lack. The people you and I have relied upon to do this all our lives are in our government, the media, and other established institutions.
And if the people we trust happen to be careless and give us incomplete information? Then we’re like the blind men who have no clue that the elephant has a tail. Our reality will be distorted. Even worse, we’ll dismiss anyone who gives us information that doesn't conform to that distorted reality. We’ll laugh at them and think they’re crazy. We might even accuse them of peddling “fake news.”
Now, let’s give the parable one final tweak. Imagine that the person the blind men trust to describe the elephant to them isn’t careless in misinforming them. Imagine this person doesn’t give them all the information because he doesn’t want them to know the elephant has a tail. That would be a pretty messed up thing to do to someone with a handicap, wouldn’t it? But I believe this is what is happening to me, you, and everyone else who lives behind the Veil. We’re receiving incomplete information that keeps us from seeing our world as it truly exists. We’re only getting “selected” pieces of the elephant.
More than a decade ago I stumbled upon the elephant’s tail. And ever since, I’ve discovered other parts of the elephant that no one ever talks about.
You Know Your Reality is Distorting When…
I work in the entertainment industry, so I know a lot about illusions because I help people create them. In my business, we know the coffee mug that the actor is drinking from is empty, the telephone she’s talking on doesn’t have a dial tone, and the slick city-view outside her apartment (that she really can’t afford because she’s a 20-something barista who works part-time) is just a canvas backdrop.
In Hollywood, we take it for granted that the things we “see” really aren’t what they appear to be, and that people don’t really believe the words coming out of their mouths (whether or not they’re in front of a camera). Most of my colleagues believe that illusions are limited to sound stages and movie sets, but I think this back-of-the-mind awareness made it easier for someone like me to detect distortions in my reality years ago.
So how can you tell when your reality is being distorted?
Imagine the sensation of awakening in the morning with “sleep” in your eyes. You know something is wrong because your vision is supposed to be clear, but everything looks fuzzy. So you just keep blinking until the milky sheen disappears and your vision stays crisp.
Behind the Veil, the situation is completely reversed.
Imagine that a thin, milky sheen gently coats your eyes all the time, so that fuzzy vision seems perfectly normal” to you. But every now and then, something prompts you to wipe your eyes, and then your vision clears. The clarity might not last long, but the memory of crisp vision sticks with you, and when the fuzziness returns you might wonder, “Wait, what the heck did I just see? Why did the world look so different for a few seconds?”
If you’re a fan of “The Matrix,” you might remember how Neo caught sight of a black cat on the landing in the hotel, shivering as it walked past a doorway? Then, a few moments later, Neo saw the same cat making the same movements in a deja vu-type moment. Morpheus instantly recognized the cat oddity as a “glitch” in the matrix, a reminder that as “real” as their world looked and felt, they were in a fabricated reality, and that reality could be “altered" at any time.
Like the black cat on the landing, reality distortions are the glitches that let us know something is "off" in our world. They're a type of cognitive dissonance, the mind’s attempt to reconcile the elephant we've been told about with the elephant we've stumbled upon that has somehow grown a tail. I’d probably been detecting reality distortions for years without paying much attention to them, but eventually they became so extreme that I had to sit up and take notice.
Sometimes I'd listen to the news on my way home and hear that the unemployment rate had dropped and the economy was recovering. Then, a few minutes later, I might pass a few boutiques that had been in business a month earlier but were now boarded up. I would “blink,” my fuzzy vision would clear, and in a moment of clarity I would think, “That’s strange…if the economy is getting better then why are so many businesses going under?” A few moments later my phone would ring, or I would hear a song on the radio I liked, and I would “blink” again. The milky sheen would return, and I would move on with my day.
By the time dropped out and moved to Montana, the distortions had ramped up so much that they were almost impossible to miss, and my moments of clarity were lasting longer. When I started paying more attention to them, I made three key observations.
First, reality distortions only worked if I didn’t notice them or if I ignored them; as long as that happened, I would accept the illusions they created.
Second, reality distortions were strong. The less sense the world begin to make and the more confusing life became, the harder people would try to “blink” away any clarity in their vision, almost as if they had a hard-wired instinct to maintain their fuzzy vision.
Third, reality distortions weren't necessarily lies. Lies were easy to identify and debunk, which made them harder to believe. But distortions were subtle omissions and obfuscations that often carried an element of truth — just enough to make them plausible, credible, and therefore easier to accept.
But this begs the question: why is our reality being distorted? Answering that question is what lies at the heart of this book. But we can't jump in headfirst; we have to dip our toes into these unfamiliar waters and ease our way to the answers (and by the last chapter, you’ll understand why). Let’s start by digging deeper into the types of reality distortions and how they work. I live in the United States, so I’ll be using my American experience as a point of reference. But it really doesn’t matter where you live because the Veil is global, and so are the illusions that support it.
Economic Reality Distortion
Have you ever wondered why the unemployment data the government releases often tells us there aren’t as many people out of work as we might think there are? Even if we hear about companies downsizing, or even if we’re out of work or know a lot of other people who are, we’re almost always assured that the employment picture isn’t as bleak as we may think it is. I think this happens because the government is only giving us one piece of the economic elephant.
My dad first clued me into economic distortions. When I was working in L.A., he would sometimes call me on my way to the office.
“I’m watching the news, and they’re saying 350,000 new jobs were created last month, and the unemployment rate just fell to 3.9%," he would tell me. "But most of the folks I know who got laid off after that crash are still out of work.”
“Now, I didn’t go to college, but that doesn’t make sense to me. Does it make sense to you?”
“I don’t know,” I would tell him, more focused on the bumper-to-bumper traffic and the meeting I might miss if it didn’t clear soon.
“Why don’t you see what you can find out on the Internet?” he would ask (my dad wouldn’t touch a keyboard, but he felt certain the answers to his questions were somewhere in cyberspace, and he usually asked me to find them).
“Okay, dad. I’ll check it out.”
So I started doing research. If I had a free moment at lunch or on the weekend, I would surf the web to see what I could find out about the employment situation. That’s when I discovered that there were pieces of the unemployment elephant missing from the government’s data.
The piece of the unemployment elephant the U.S. government gives us is the “official” unemployment rate (U3), which only includes people who’ve been actively looking for work in the past month. So if you’ve just lost your job and spent the last four weeks looking for a new one, the government will tell everyone about your situation. As of July 2021, the "official" unemployment rate was 5.4%.
But there’s another piece of the unemployment elephant the government doesn’t give us: the broader measure of Americans who are out of work: people who have been looking for work for more than four weeks; part-time workers who want full-time work but can’t find any; “marginally attached” workers (who want a job but haven’t looked for employment recently); and “discouraged” workers (who have stopped looking for work altogether because they don’t think they have a shot of finding anything).
None of these people are counted in the “official” unemployment rate; they’re basically ghosts because the government doesn’t talk about them and pretends they don’t exist. Instead, they become part of the “unofficial,” or unemployment rate U(6).
We rarely hear about the U6 unemployment rate, and that’s probably because as of July 2021, these ghosts comprise 9.8% of the labor force — which is nearly double the “official” unemployment rate.
Now, ask yourself: if the government wanted to give us an accurate picture of the condition of the economy, wouldn't this “unofficial” employment rate be good information for us to have? So why aren’t we getting those numbers? Hold a beat before you answer because there’s another piece of the unemployment elephant that’s still missing.
Economists have a different label for Americans who have been out of work for an extended period of time: “long-term discouraged” workers. These people have been unemployed for more than a year, and their situation doesn’t seem likely to improve in the near future. Many never recovered from the Great Recession in 2008. Others managed to recover — until the Pandemic Lockdowns of 2020 finished them off. The percentage of the labor force that falls into this category is what I would call the “real” unemployment rate. The government used to give us the “real” unemployment rate until 1994, when it inexplicably stopped tracking this data. Thankfully, we have other ways of getting this information.
Since 1996, economist Walter J. Williams at shadowstats.com has meticulously accumulated data on the “long-term discouraged” workers who give us a more accurate picture of the “real” unemployment rate. According to Williams, as of July 2021, that rate was 26%, or nearly five times the “official” unemployment rate.
What does all this mean? It means that the unemployment rate the government releases every month creates the illusion that there are a lot less people out of work than there really are. Granted, it’s not hard to imagine why the government might want to “tweak” the unemployment data. A healthy economy is built on faith, so maintaining confidence makes sense. But “tweaking” has its limits, because if things get seriously bad, we need to know what's happening so we can get our house in order.
Think about it: if you’ve a gained a hundred pounds since your last physical, and your doctor tells you to climb on the scale, you wouldn't expect him to “tweak” your weight down eighty pounds so you'll ignore the problem, would you? Of course not. It’s his responsibility to give you the hard truth and tell you to go on a diet. And yet our government acts like the doctor who’s fudging our weight; it’s distorting our reality and keeping us in the dark about a dire situation.
But why would the government feel the need to do this? Three words: the Great Depression.
Most Americans know this was the worst economic calamity to hit the country in the last century. We can't forget the horrifying pictures of people standing in soup lines and homeless families in shanties. Memories of that experience scarred an entire generation for life. If we thought another Depression was on the horizon, we would be really, really concerned, wouldn’t we? We might even wonder who was responsible for bringing us to the precipice of another economic crisis. But we wouldn’t ask these questions if we didn’t see what was coming.
So how would we know if the economy were veering into Great Depression territory again? If we've been out of work for months or years or if we’re struggling to pay our mortgage, rent, and utilities (or if we know a lot of other people in this situation), we might have some sense of how bad things are getting. But if we're fortunate enough not to be one of these people, and we’re relying on the “official” unemployment rate the government releases every month, we might not have an accurate sense of what’s happening around us. We would have to dig deeper and compare the “real” unemployment rate back then to the one now. So let’s take a look at that data.
Most Americans have a sense that the Coronavirus pandemic has left the economy in pretty bad shape, but it's actually a lot worse than we've been told.
Ninety years ago, there was only one unemployment rate, the “real” one that included all all unemployed Americans. In 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, the unemployment rate was 24.75%. Now, do you remember what the unemployment rate for “long-term discouraged” workers is today? 26%. That means that the “real” unemployment rate is now higher than it was during the depths of the Great Depression.
You don't have to be an economist to understand what this is: a massive distortion of our economic reality. Our government is presenting us with the illusion of a country that has an artificially low unemployment rate, which obscures just how bad the U.S. economy really is. We’re also less likely to realize just how bad the economy is now because destitute Americans are using EBT cards (the electronic version of food stamps) in grocery stores instead of standing in soup lines; we have homeless shelters and rent moratoriums instead of “Hoovervilles” (the homeless encampments that sprung up during the Great Depression) laid out in public view; and endless COVID-19 relief stimulus money is flowing to “prop” as many people up financially for as long as possible (in fact, the government is "paying" Americans so much money that many simply don't think it's worth it to work anymore).
Economic reality distortion isn't just happening with the unemployment rate; it’s also happening with the inflation rate.
The Consumer Price Index (CPI) tracks changes in the prices of goods we buy every day (food, gas, healthcare products, etc.) to determine how much it costs for the average American to live. Starting in the early 1990s, however, the government modified the formula it had used for decades because it felt it “substantially overstated” inflation. Instead, policymakers adopted a substitution-based formula to more accurately gauge our “real” cost of living.
How did the substitution method work? If the price of steak increased and the average consumer had to substitute it with cheaper meat like chicken, that was okay. From the government’s perspective, we were still getting protein (of course, if we wanted organic chicken we would be out of luck). The substitution method is now the basis for determining the “official” inflation rate.
As of July 2021, the “official” inflation rate was 5.4%. But under the pre-1990 formula —the one that didn’t require us to swap out steak for chicken and captured the “real” inflation rate — the rate is almost 14%, or nearly triple the "official" inflation rate. When you’re told you live in a country with 5.4% inflation, but you’re really living in one that has 14% inflation, you know what that means?
That's right. It's another massive distortion of our collective reality.
Political Reality Distortion
Economic distortions are what led me to question whether other parts of my reality were being distorted. I recalled that in the years leading up to the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. government had acquired intelligence proving that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). But years later, we learned that intel was, in fact, “flawed": Hussein had obtained WMDs at some point in the past, but he no longer had them when the U.S. invaded Iraq. And I began to wonder, “What if pieces of the WMD elephant had been withheld to convince Americans to support the war? If something like that could happen to make the case for war, could other parts of my political reality be distorted?” Since the Iraq fiasco, I’ve seen countless political distortions. But one, in particular, stands out as truly epic.
Election 2016 was one of the biggest upsets in U.S. political history. Hillary Clinton was supposed to win handily over Donald Trump and become the forty-fifth president of the United States. Many Americans were so certain she would win that they went into deep depression after the election; their reality had been completely shaken to the core. How could something like this have happened? I think it happened because throughout the campaign we were only given pieces of the electoral elephant, not the whole elephant.
I drifted off the political spectrum many years ago. By the time I “dropped out,” I had become a political spectator, not an active participant. I didn't even bother to vote anymore because it only seemed to encourage bad actors in a broken System. But even though I had decided to stop playing along, I still paid enough attention to get a sense of where things were headed.
After Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015, my dad called me.
“You think Trump has a shot?” he asked.
“Nah, feels like we’re getting another Clinton or Bush.”
“I think he’s got a better chance than people think. Not saying he’ll win, but he’s talking about how bad the economy really is. That could go a long way with people.”
I shrugged, not that interested. “We’ll see.” As usual, my dad had planted a seed, and I started paying more attention to Trump.
When the GOP primaries ramped up, I noticed major polls showed Clinton with a commanding lead over every Republican contender, and she was trouncing Trump by double digits. It looked like she had the election in the bag. But as spring wore on, I began to question my reality.
He sounded like a carnival barker with a fifth grade vocabulary, but my father was right: Trump was talking about the economy, like he actually understood what was going on. And if people were listening to what he was saying, then his chances might be better than I had thought. When Trump began racking up primary wins, I started taking an even closer look at him. It was still hard to imagine him winning the election, especially when I saw how badly he was getting crushed in the polls. But one conversation with a neighbor changed my perspective. That’s when the milky sheen in my eyes began to clear.
J.R. is a no-nonsense guy who lives down the road from us. His family has been drilling wells for four generations; it’s backbreaking work that keeps him busy six days a week. I ran into him at Home Depot a few weeks after Trump had clinched the nomination, and we spent a few minutes catching up before the conversation turned to the election. J.R. was an outspoken Trump supporter and had plenty to say about what was going on.
“I think we’re in for a ride,” he said.
I regarded him skeptically. “I hate to break it to you, but I think your boy is going to get his clock cleaned.”
J.R. just smiled. “Says who?”
“Dude, haven’t you seen the polls?”
“Oh, I’ve seen ‘em,” he smiled. He pulled out his phone and texted me a link. “Check these out.”
What J.R. sent me was a bunch of Trump rallies on YouTube, and they were packed. Not just crowded; I’m talking wall-to-wall bodies with thousands of people jammed into stadiums and arenas, the kind of body count you might expect to see at a Lady Gaga concert, except Lady Gaga was nowhere to be seen. It made no sense. All of these people were coming to see The Obnoxious Orange One, yet he was loping ten points or more behind Clinton in the polls?
On a whim, I decided to Googled videos of Clinton’s rallies. That’s when things got even weirder. I couldn’t find a single video of Clinton speaking to a crowd of more than a few hundred people, and sometimes there were only fifty heads or less. It left me scratching my head. “How can a candidate be leading by double digits and not bring in a crowd that’s a fraction of the size the ‘losing’ candidate is pulling in?”
I have another friend, Dan who is a highly paid Wall Street lawyer who is the polar opposite of J.R. Dan and I often debate with one other, and I’ve learned quite a bit from him — because he’s shown me just how deeply distorted some people’s reality can be. We exchanged a ton of emails leading up to the election, and his position was always the same: Trump had no chance of winning.
“But you said he didn’t have a shot of winning the nomination,” I told him the day after Trump swaggered off the stage with his prize at the Republican convention. “Couldn’t you be wrong about the general election, too?”
Dan was insistent. “Nope. Nate Silver corrected his model to account for racist Republicans who put Trump over the top for the nomination. They're not enough of those to give him a win in November."
(Dan was a huge fan of Silver, the rock star statistician at fivethirtyeight.com who had correctly predicted the outcome of the past two presidential elections). Now, I wasn’t naïve enough to believe that there wasn’t a decent chunk of racist whack jobs who supported Trump. But I also knew plenty of people like J.R., die-hard Trump supporters who had never struck me as bigots. Silver's analysis didn’t sit right with me.
“I’m not so sure Silver has it right this time,” I told Dan. “Honestly, based on what I’m seeing, I don’t understand how Trump can be so far behind in the polls. A little behind, maybe. But double digits? I don’t know, I think this guy could win.”
“Let’s make a wager,” he challenged. “I’ll send you two hundred dollars if Trump wins, you send me two hundred if Hillary wins.”
I was torn. It wasn’t a huge amount of money, but Dan seemed awfully confident. Sure, every poll had a margin of error, but how likely was it that they were all sooo far outside those margins? And yet the Lady Gaga-sized Trump crowds in the YouTube videos nagged at me. Were all those people planning to stay home on Election Day? Had they been Photoshopped into the videos? In the “fake” reality we seemed to be living in now, it was hard to know if what I thought I was seeing was “real.” I decided to roll the dice and make things interesting.
“You’re on,” I said.
As the weeks passed, I kept checking YouTube and watched as the crowds at Trump’s rallies got larger, even as Clinton’s lead widened. Then, in early August, I took a road trip to Seattle.
As I drove through northwestern Montana and across the Idaho panhandle, whisking through Spokane and eastern Washington, I made casual note of the campaign signs in yards and on hillsides: a few for Bernie Sanders, and a few for Trump. A hundred miles outside of Seattle, as I passed sheep and cattle grazing in the farming communities along Highway 90, I noticed more signs: Sanders and Trump again. A couple of hours later, as I merged onto Highway 405 near Bellevue, my eyes fell on a Trump bumper sticker on an Escalade. And that's when it hit me: I had driven more than five hundred miles and hadn’t seen a single sign or sticker for Clinton. Granted, I had started in two red states, and passed through mostly rural territory, but I was now in solidly blue neighborhoods of Seattle suburbs filled with upscale Democrats who should have been committed to keeping Trump out of the White House at all costs. And yet there was no evidence of Clinton support anywhere. It made no sense. If she couldn’t muster a single bumper sticker on a busy interstate in a blue state, how was she slaying Trump by double-digits?
I was gentle with Dan on November 3rd when I took his money, and he was gracious in defeat. But most of my other friends and colleagues literally freaked out on social media for months. I watched otherwise-rational people wield the “de-friend” link on Facebook like a machete, severing ties with anyone crazy enough to admit they hadn't voted for Clinton or didn’t think Trump was a Nazi. There was confusion and handwringing in the media as confused pundits wondered how we had arrived at this place. But I knew why.
It happened because reality distortion had played out on an epic level.
In the post mortems that followed, we all learned what people like J.R. had suspected months earlier but were called crazy for saying out loud: the media had only given us selected pieces of the electoral elephant throughout the campaign; we weren't allowed to see the entire animal. We learned that polls had oversampled the number of Democrats among likely voters, relied on an unrealistically high turnout of young voters, and discounted “shy” Trump voters. Like the flawed intelligence on WMD that had distorted our reality of the Iraqi threat, the reality of millions of voters had been distorted to convince them that Clinton would win an election she was destined to lose.
The Veil Is Thinning
There are no limits to reality distortion.
I think it can be used to make us believe anything we are told by our government, our media, "experts," or any other authority figures we trust. I believe our collective reality has been distorted for decades — and maybe even centuries — to get us to cooperate, to garner our support, to keep us quiet, to dissuade us from asking questions, or more often than not, to simply keep us content with the status quo. Reality distortion can convince us that more people support an issue or idea than really do. It can persuade us that a man who needlessly caused the deaths of thousands of Americans in nursing homes is a pandemic “savior." It can exaggerate the severity of the same pandemic by adjusting the sensitivity of tests. It can make us believe that most white people are dangerous racists and supremacists by overwhelming us with a handful of traumatizing videos of police brutality.
Reality distortions aren’t new, but what is different now is their scope: they’ve gotten so over-the-top that more people are starting to see them and question the reality that they're being fed.
Sometimes after I drop my son off at school, I stop for a cup of coffee at the local cafe in town. On frosty winter mornings or rainy spring afternoons, the cramped eatery is teeming with working-class loggers, remote workers taking refuge from other states, retirees scraping by on fixed incomes, and waitresses hanging on at minimum wage. If I have time, I chat them up to see if they’re seeing what I’m seeing. And what I’m noticing is that people from all walks of life are catching sight of reality distortions now. Sure, the logger probably saw them long before the thirty-something I.T. who just relocated from Seattle, but the milky sheen in both men’s eyes is clearing more often now, and for longer periods of time. As our world teeters on the edge of insanity, they’re taking note of things around them that just aren’t adding up. And I realize that if reality distortions are becoming more evident to people who otherwise have little in common, it can only mean one thing: the Veil is losing its ability to hide the illusions we’ve all accepted for years.
The Veil is thinning.
So if reality distortions are becoming this obvious, why isn’t everyone talking about them? Why haven’t we all seen the Veil by now? I think it’s because as glaring as distortions are, it’s still tempting for many of us to keep ignoring them. We’ll dig into why this happens in the next chapter.