While the new year continues unabated, we are still haunted by the social detritus of the previous one. A rising crime rate that goes unpunished, thanks to woke district attorneys, mayors who still extol the “mostly peaceful” urban riots of 2020 and persistent or re-instituted covid lockdowns ordered by tyrannical governors. The ongoing imperiousness of diversity commissars and critical race mongers who harass religious believers to “bake the cake, bigot!”, the robbery of fair competition for adolescent female athletes in favor of trans athletes and kiddie-porn in the current obsession in all things “drag” foisted on children by public school bureaucrats. And of course the lingering problems of the rural fentanyl epidemic exacerbated by despair, price inflation caused by congressional profligacy, and fuel shortages due to “climate change” alarmists. Our military incompetence abroad, along with the southern border porosity due to indifference from national authorities (all deserving of reckoning and rebuke) and mid-term elections that barely delivered the House of Representatives by a handful of gains.
All of these disappointing (and dismal) results have led to finger pointing at overlapping targets of recrimination which include: early voting, ballot harvesting, drop boxes, dubious tally counts, unprincipled electorate, callow nihilistic college-indoctrinated youth, baby-killing fanaticism, single women, candidate quality, the 45thpresident, senate leadership, demographic voter distribution, financial misallocation and trolling consultants. The GOP isn’t called the stupid party for nothing.
A Problem that’s Bigger than Political Parties
Optimists suggest that the citizenry merely needs better proposed solutions and tweaking the voting mechanism to motivate a silent majority. However, such solutions highlight the truth of a confident exchange in the 2003 film Pirates of the Caribbean when Will Turner exclaims “in a fair fight, I’d kill you.” Jack Sparrow casually retorts “That’s no incentive for me to fight fair, then is it?”
Pessimists, on the other hand, such as Glenn Ellmers made a more germane diagnosis when observing that “Let’s be blunt. The United States has become two nations occupying the same country… [M]ost people living in the United States today—certainly more than half—are not Americans in any meaningful sense of the term.” Too many Americans seek liberty only for themselves, while being indifferent to its effects on their neighbors and our broader society. So perhaps our constitutional republic is doomed after all, and we should head for the hills equipped with flashlights, batteries, sleeping bags, freeze-dried food packets, bibles and survival manuals (with lots of ammunition!) to hunker out of sight from Our Democracy™. Guess we’ll find out.
In either case the problem seems to be that we’re facing a mirage. Whether it is of our own making or conjured by our adversaries, remains to be fully determined, but we imagine a reality with some remnant or form of something resembling “normal.” Perhaps, not something out of a Norman Rockwell portrait, but at least something where our children aren’t routinely mutilated (pharmacologically and/or surgically) as affirmative care in order to accommodate gender spectrum groomers. But these days, even that is too much to ask.
Our inability to comprehend the distortions of the political and cultural landscape leaves us vulnerable to further assaults on our families. Unlike the cloistered elite, we have limited resources to defend against every contingency – we must choose our battles carefully. But how does one confront an elusive and metamorphic adversary? We need, at minimum, a reminder that illusions can debilitate us.
A Classic Lesson if Defeating Illusions
Humans don’t generally think in terms of data analysis, but we do understand ideas through stories. And in terms of contending with illusions that dampen our rational agency, one such narrative that comes to mind is the episode “Specter of the Gun” from the original Star Trek series. Much like the episode “The Savage Curtain” (which was also in the third season), “Specter of the Gun” is a morality tale.
During the 1960's when the television show was aired, trust in institutions among Americans was comparatively high – failings were considered an aberration of judgment or perhaps incompetence, or even knavery rather than malign intent. Meanwhile, the communist world behind the Iron Curtain and in China provided ample examples of real life dystopias. In subsequent more jaded times Star Trek, through the The Next Generation and more especially Deep Space Nine (DS9) series exhibited more instances of espionage, intrigue and legerdemain (best exemplified in the DS9 sixth season episode “In the Pale Moonlight”). However during the more naïve era of societal confidence amidst rapid technological advancement, “Specter” was something of an outlier.
The episode begins on Stardate 4385.3 when the Enterprise is ordered to contact the inhabitants of Theta Kiokis II to open diplomatic relations, when they encounter a communications buoy. The xenophobic Melkotians warn the crew via telepathy against encroaching their space. Accepting the risks and proceeding to orbit, Captain Kirk, Spock, Dr McCoy, Scott and Chekhov beam down to a fog-laden surface. The delegation is met by a Melkot entity with a bulbous head with round yellow glowing eyes who pronounces judgment on earth’s representatives and sentences them to execution for their trespass. The crew is then whisked away to a place that mimics a western television stage with a deep red sky, and the officers eventually realize that they are set to re-enact the October 26, 1881 gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona.
The Melkotians designate Kirk and his team to represent the Cowboys: Kirk and Scott as Ike and Billy Clanton, Spock and McCoy as Frank and Tom McLoury, and Chekhov as Billy Claborne. Their destiny is to face a federal marshal’s posse composed of three Earp brothers- Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan- and Doc Holliday. Although the residents behave somewhat believably, the officers quickly recognize that the feud arena seems incomplete and surmise that this denotes a virtual construction, albeit one bounded by force fields. Nonetheless, Kirk tries to bargain with the town Sheriff and the Earps, while the rest seek to construct a tranquilizing gas grenade to escape their predicament. Meanwhile, a barmaid named Sylvia showers Chekhov with attention, and in an ensuing mêlée, Morgan Earp draws his revolver and shoots Chekhov as retaliation.
After McCoy with assistance from Spock and Scott completes his tranquilizer, Kirk insists the device be tested for effectiveness, with Scott as volunteer subject. Naturally, the released fumes fail to incapacitate or even faze Scott. Kirk announces their intention to remain in the saloon until well after five o’clock – the appointed hour of their massacre, but the Melkotians instead teleport the remaining men to this fated ranch. Unable to flee their trap, Spock proposes that all of their experiences in this virtual Tombstone are in fact an elaborate mind-trick intended to delude them into accepting extinction by gunfire. He explains that “Physical reality is consistent with universal laws. Where the laws do not operate, there is no reality…We judge reality by the response of our senses. Once we are convinced of the reality of a given situation, we abide by its rules.”
In the finalé, now realizing that the Earp’s bullets are mere phantoms, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scott defy their nemeses, despite repeated shots from the Earps and Doc Holiday. Eventually, the Melkotians withdraw their threats and welcome the Enterprise for interstellar discussions. The show’s ending dialog comments on mankind’s transition away from violence on how, measured over eons, the influence of civilization has gradually ameliorated human behavior for the better. But the more salient theme of “Specter” is that it is a cautionary tale enjoining the audience to analyze circumstances to ensure they conform to actual conditions and not to wishful thinking – either ours or anyone else’s.
The Illusory Traps of Our Times
Recognition that responses do not correspond to expectations prompts us to decide something is awry. Americans (as Glenn Ellmers’ comments show) understand that we’re not participating on a playing field where we know the rules and how to play. Instead, we’re trapped in a fun-house maze, a hall of mirrors where we cannot hope to compete, much less prevail to save ourselves from the fetishes of a hostile kleptocracy who evoke aspirations of mediocrity.
Last years mid-terms and the recent contentious election of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House are representative of the presumptive mismatch we are mired in. Is there a measurement deficiency in the initial conditions or else the resulting outcome? Are there factors unaccounted for? Are the mechanisms that perform the tallies faulty, either by defect or design? There are likely several facets involved in how the media wishes us to perceive these events and what is actually real. First, we must understand that some form of distortion (i.e bias) exists. Later we must identify what the corresponding illusion constitutes. Only then can we learn how to compensate for the detectable effects of that mirage and pull back the curtain. That’s our lesson from a television episode of more than a half-century ago. Still, with our currently abbreviated attention spans, maybe it’s a decent place to start.
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(That historical event occurred just over thirty years before Arizona’s admission to the union. However, given its inabilityto host honest elections, perhaps Arizona should have remained a territory.)