Thursday, December 3, 2015

Alternate Timeline Groups

I read this essay at the November edition of "The Encyclopedia Show" at Kieran's Irish Pub in downtown Minneapolis on Sunday, November 15th. The show's theme was "Cults."

A new craze is sweeping the nation, a craze that may prove to be the end of Reality itself. It all started innocently enough when Civil War buffs began to reenact battles from that era. We could easily dismiss these eccentrics as an idle curiosity. But the fad continued to grow and mutate in new and disturbing ways. Some of the reenactors got bored with historical accuracy and concocted their own scenarios, the most popular of which involved the South winning the war. At this juncture, they made the transition from “quirky” to “creepy.” The break from reality signaled a crucial turning point in the evolution of this phenomenon. 

With this innovation, the movement achieved escape velocity from its original, limited niche, enjoying an extended period of exponential growth. A dizzying cornucopia of Alternate Timeline Groups was spawned, each dedicated to a scenario more esoteric than the last. Some of the more notable groups are the Hanging Chads, who prefer to live in a world in which Al Gore won the 2000 presidential election, prevented 9/11 and converted the entire U.S. economy to run on clean, renewable hope, ushering in a kind of Green, Liberal New Jerusalem. There are also the New Cokers, who imagine a world in which New Coke was a smashing success, leading to the ultimate defeat of Pepsi and total victory in the Cola Wars, signaling a new era of soft drink supremacy in which all beverage drinkers are united under a single banner of refreshment. Perhaps the least delusional of these groups are the Kubes, those who’d rather live in a world where Parker Lewis Can’t Lose conquered the airwaves and became the all-consuming cultural force it was always meant to be. 

This was all well and good when they were just writing fan fiction and engaging in “cosplay” at various “comic-con”’s. But at some point their hobbies turned into dangerous obsessions, crossing the line from daydreaming to deranged, treacherous conspiracies. Now these dangerously deluded people will stop at nothing to see their fantasies made flesh. They wish to rewrite history (and transform the present) to conform with their vision of an ideal world. They’ve accorded themselves the power that God saw fit to bestow only on Scott Bakula: the power to change the past, striving to put “right” what once went “wrong” and hoping each time that their next leap will be the leap home. (Sorry, I got a little carried away there.) 

Not only is this a perilous avocation, it’s also terribly annoying, especially when they refuse to acknowledge the aspects of reality that don’t comport with their scenarios. Great confusion is generated by their attempts to communicate with the rest of society, or the “reality-based community,” if you will. They’re isolated by their idiosyncratic worldview. This has bred in them resentment of the Mainstream, which merely compounds their alienation and redoubles their resolve to remake the world in their own image. 

These people expect the impossible. There will never be the kind of cultural apocalypse they’re trying to bring about, when all the different colors and varieties of life are steamrolled into a single, unified system. They’re trying to realize their vision of Utopia. Unfortunately, every previous attempt at effecting a Heaven on Earth has had the somewhat ironic effect of creating a Hell on Earth.

As a result, society is being engulfed by a flood of cognitive dissonance and willful ignorance. You can’t just pick and choose which facts you want to accept and which you can discard. The result is anarchy. There’s no continuity in such a world, no foundation on which to build a coherent, enduring worldview. The terror of constant change and insecurity consumes all, even thought. There’s no time for explanation, elaboration or reinforcement. Each ideology is discredited as soon as it has been proposed.

As the consensus on what constitutes Reality breaks down, so does Reality itself. The very nature of existence now changes from moment to moment as each Alternate Timeline Group gets its nanosecond in the sun and is then replaced by the next fashionable heresy. The possibility of logic and reason is drowned in a dizzying maelstrom of self-contradictory stimuli that offer no solid ground on which the brain may find purchase. Under the strain of such volatility, the physical fabric of space-time is fraying. God help us all. 

Where before we could dismiss recreationists as quirky eccentrics adorably divorced from reality, now we have no choice but to confront these deviants and deal with them as harshly as the law permits. It’s one thing to muse on the possibilities of what-if’s and might-have-been’s. It’s quite another to try and bring those dreams into being. Once the barrier between fantasy and reality has been breached, a menagerie of monsters is sure to be unleashed.

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