The Shifting Ground of So-Called Reality

Dear Friend and Reader:

Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States. I only know one person who not only believed it was possible, but said it would happen. Many are looking and listening in astonishment. How was this even possible?

Warped railroad tracks beneath shifting ground, following the 2011 quake in Christchurch, New Zealand. Photo via The Daily Telegraph.

It’s now worth asking: could he become president? Lots of seemingly educated, ‘well meaning’ people are supporting him, a reminder about how the road to hell got paved.

Meanwhile, it looks like Hillary Clinton is the presumptive Democratic nominee, even as the FBI is investigating what crimes may have been committed with her choice to use a private email server located in her home bathroom, rather than an official government system. We might ask, why exactly did she do that? Any investigative or even municipal reporter knows the answer: to keep the data secret, and as far from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as possible.

Bernie Sanders, for his part, made it further than just about anyone imagined. It’s annoying to some people that he refuses to drop out of the race; they cannot imagine why he’s staying in. The obvious reason is, when you’re running a close second place, you keep going.

He has raised a small fortune through direct fundraising, proving that the Citizens’ United decision, which allows infinite political spending by wealthy people and corporations, has a workaround: lots and lots of $20 donations. He also knows that many people don’t really like or trust Clinton; they merely think she’s the only viable alternative.

If the race comes down to Clinton versus Trump, we have the apotheosis of a TEA Party Republican versus that of a sell-out, opportunistic Democrat. It really would be the perfect example of what the political parties have become. Hillary may be pro-choice (and that may be the single most important domestic issue), and we also know she’s pro-WalMart, pro-Monsanto, pro-Goldman Sachs and a pro in general.

Fourth Ave. in Anchorage, Alaska, became a split-level street after the infamous 9.2 earthquake of March 1964. We think we stand on solid ground, but the earth does indeed move, and it can move quickly. This was the second-largest quake ever recorded, after a 9.5 in Chile in 1960.

Trump is giving a voice to pure greed, bigotry and the hatred of women, promising to dislocate 12 million Mexicans and ban Muslims from entering the country, and talking about what bad people journalists are.

Few are calling him to task: he’s running on a platform of genocide (not merely racism) and of dismantling First Amendment protections of free speech and religion, the cornerstones of American society.

I have not heard anyone mention that dislocating an entire subpopulation is indeed a form of genocide. I know this becaue all around Paris are monuments to the dislocation of the Jews during the Holocaust. Would we really tolerate the police going door to door, and restaurant to restaurant, hauling off any Spanish-speaking person? How would someone prove they are not Muslim? Speaking of Spanish, would there be an inquisition?

Clinton presents herself as a woman of the people, though that’s not really possible for someone with her friends, and her ambitions, who generates $27 million in annual income. Trump presents himself as a conservative, but conservatism is about preserving the structure of society rather than dismantling it. In this sense, Clinton is the true conservative: she wants to use and work within the existing system. Trump is a revolutionary; he wants to undo the American revolution.

Clinton represents the status quo, not especially interesting as such. The contrast between Trump and Sanders is more revealing. They are promising change and have clear ideas about it. There are many comparisons being made between these two dark horse candidates, both of whom have done better than anyone expected.

Most of the comparisons (including the ones I’ve made so far) involve the figures — what is Trump saying? What is Sanders saying? However I think that what they reveal about the background of society is more telling.

This is an illustration of the Schrodinger’s cat thought experiment, wherein the cat is both alive and dead simultaneously. While most people don’t understand the concept, this and other ideas from quantum physics have served to undermine our previous sense of dependable linear reality.

By background, I mean our culture itself, the political environment, and the state of mind people are in. While I think that both men are interesting phenomena, what they say about our collective state of mind is much more valuable. There are reasons that these candidates are gaining so much traction.

We might say that Trump is succeeding because he is such a master publicist and knows how to keep the press focused. But the opposite complaint is being made about Sanders: compared to Trump, he’s getting much less attention in the media. My unscientific method is, every time I turn on the TV randomly, someone is talking about Trump. So it’s not just that.

First let’s look at some quotes by both candidates, and then size up what they say about the underlying ground on which they are standing.

Sanders: “Balancing the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children and the poor is not only immoral, it is bad economic policy. It is something that must be vigorously opposed.”

Trump: “You know the funny thing, I don’t get along with rich people. I get along with the middle class and the poor people better than I get along with the rich people.”

Trump makes everything about himself right from the start. It’s true that as a political candidate one is always trying to get attention. Politicians are usually masters of this; however, Trump is particularly unvarnished about it.

Illustration of figure-ground contrast. Figures and backgrounds define one another. In this illustration they are approximately equal, with the figure and background changing places easily. Notice that it’s difficult to see it both ways at the same time. Most thought and observation focuses on the figure, not the background.

Sanders, in the quote above, is sticking to a pretty standard New Deal Democrat talking point — how balancing a budget on the backs of the poor is immoral. He makes the discussion about other people.

Trump contrasts this with one of his many statements built around I, me, mine. In doing so, he appeals to anyone who cannot think about anyone but themselves. That, apparently, is a significant portion of the population. He is giving people permission to do what they normally do.

Sanders is tapping into an underlying sense of unfairness that affects people generally. He too is giving people permission to feel a certain way, though it’s clearly a different feeling. He may be appealing to idealism in some, and for some he is appealing to what is sometimes called white guilt, or people with modest privilege feeling guilty about it (rather than sharing what they have).

Let’s contrast two comments related to race and equality:

Sanders: “An America where every person, no matter their race, their disability or their sexual orientation realizes the full promise of equality that is our birthright as Americans.”

Trump: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Skipping ahead a little, he added, “Some, I assume, are good people.”

These statements reflect different visions of society, and they appeal to different self-concepts. Sanders’ statement is what I would call a classically American ideal. Most people know that it doesn’t work that way, but gradually over the past 250 years we have moved in that direction.

Sanders is appealing to a literate person’s understanding of our cultural ethos, or one version of it. He is reflecting on something that is structured into the American psyche mainly by way of schoolbooks; though still, in all, it’s enlightened thinking oriented on progress.

The illusion of movement can be created by figure-ground contrast. The visual effect of the dots moving is created by contrast between the colors. The mind is perceiving everything; seeing may be believing, but that doesn’t make it true.

He is saying we are all in this together, and apparently many people feel that way or they would not be voting for him, or sending in donations.

Trump makes it personal: those people over there are the cause of your problems. This is the oldest tactic of tyrants through the aeons.

Further, he is consciously appealing to a dark, racist streak in the American psyche, the one still pissed off about the South losing the Civil War. He is also tapping into something much older, which is the fear of seeming outsiders, and the ease with which politicians can blame all our ills on them. This is called projection. Crime, rape and drugs? Do we know where he’s personally coming from on those behaviors?

He again makes it about himself: “Some, I assume are good people.” He places himself in the role of personal judge. This is de facto permission to do the same thing. It’s just that most humans have enough conscience to check that part of themselves. What Trump is appealing to is the desire to suspend conscience, and doing so boldly. Trump is not really egotistical. He embodies what Freud called the id: unconditioned, totally amoral instinct.

My take is that Trump is working with the ongoing collapse of the distinction of right and wrong as ground society stands on. Something is only right or wrong because we agree it is so (which varies from culture to culture, era to era and in many ways individual to individual). It’s a kind of unspoken contract. If we pretend there is no such thing as right and wrong (this has been going around for a while, from the preemptive strike’s revival of ‘might makes right’, to the groovy notion of ‘it’s all good’) then anyone free to do or say anything, and many people will do, well, anything. Have you imagined how long before mayhen would ensure if the traffic lights all went out?

It’s true that right and wrong are social constructs. Society is based on a set of agreements and grounded expectations. If you get a job, you agree to come to work and you expect to get paid. If your house is on fire and you dial 911, you expect the Fire Department to come. If someone is arrested for a crime, they have the expectation of certain legal rights.

Another example of figure-ground contrast is an aquarium. If you want to determine the health or probable health of the fish, you test the water. The water is considered a living thing (it is, really) and its chemistry (such as pH, temperature, ammonia level, phosphate level, etc.) indicates that of the fish. This allows you to test the fish without harming them.

Yet this is in many ways being undermined by our knowledge that the system is rigged, contemporary issues of basic work ethic and what we learn from the old Public Enemy song, 911 is a Joke.

The 9-1-1 joke extends to people dialing in to report cold french fries or the wrong number of McNuggets in their box, a whole genre on the Internet.

What I am getting at here is that there is a dual failure of the 911 system: of the government to respond in many places, and of people to understand what it is. You could assess this as a figure-ground interaction.

Many other cultural scripts are being burned, and along the way a presidential candidate can now campaign on the claim that Mexicans are rapists, and it doesn’t hurt him.

It would have in the past, but not today. Trump’s claim may seem outrageous, but it’s the lack of interest by the public that is more relevant. To me this may indicate that he’s speaking to a widely-held belief rather than trying to propagate one.

Sanders: “I believe that climate change is the great global crisis that we face, environmental crisis. I believe that if you’re serious about climate change, you don’t encourage the excavation and transportation of very dirty oil.”

Trump: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

Does anyone remember the famous Karl Rove quote about the reality-based community? Rove told New York Times reporter Ron Suskind that people like Suskind were part of “what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality,” adding, “That’s not the way the world really works anymore.”

Sanders is depending on science (an agreed method of reasoning) repeated so many times it’s amazing anyone could doubt it — unless of course they have a motive (cigarette manufacturers know that cigarettes are safe).

What Rove called ‘discernible reality’ is based on the precept that it’s possible to understand and document something factually, to the point of being able to make some decisions based on what you know.

Trump is basing his statement on his awareness of a perceived collapse in discernible reality. True, he also wants to give everyone a pass for burning all the oil that they do. Rove’s statement is not honest, of course. It’s still possible to perform an experiment, or to do research, and come up with a supportable conclusion or at least a useful observation that might describe a path of action.

To deny that fact, or to make a statement based on that denial, favors just one side of the discussion. Yet many people really do believe that it’s ‘impossible to tell what is true anymore’.

This represents a profound shift in the background, or underlying ground, of our society and our collective consciousness. This has a long history.

In the most esoteric sense it’s based on the Uncertainty Principle of quantum physics, and related ideas. While few understand this principle (devised by a physicist named Heisenberg), it’s had a way of undermining our previously solid notion of reality.

There is a growing understanding that what we see as the world is a kind of metaphysical illusion. Most people who have taken LSD emerge from the experience more respectful of the world based on this idea. Yet it can also be corrupted into ideas like ‘there’s no such thing as the truth’, particularly if someone is a liar. How can you lie if there is no truth? This would also conveniently make hypocrisy impossible, since there would be no such thing as a contradiction.

In that world, for sure, climate change could easily be a hoax foisted on us by the Chinese as part of a trade war.

Yet the fact that so many people believe the climate change ‘hoax’ and related frauds suggests that the intellectual ground of reality is what’s shifting beneath us. This favors some viewpoints more than others. For example, if there is no ability to discern objective truth, how can anyone claim to know anything, or to keep an agreement?

Sanders is certainly a kind of idealist, leading people toward what today seems like some kind of utopia, but which was possible just a short time ago (such as free tuition at public colleges). Yet to take that viewpoint he must tap into an underlying idealism in society or he would get nowhere.

Trump is a kind of nihilist. He’s saying nothing really matters, except, of course, for him. Hey we all know the world is going to hell anyway, right? So he may as well have a good time and make a lot of money even if sea levels and temperatures are rising rapidly.

Next week I plan to describe the astrology underlying this collapse in what we think of as reality, and what we might do with it. Clues: Neptune in Pisces, and Pluto in Capricorn.


Short Monthly Horoscope for June 2016, #1103 | By Eric Francis

Aries (March 20-April 19) — You are becoming someone you never expected to be. That is welcome news, as the change you’re going through will help you find a place in the world that is all your own. Be humble about this fact, but recognize that only you possess the distinctive combination of skills, talents and creativity that you offer. What you do flows from who you are. What you do is an expression of your distinct gifts. Give them to the world gently, without trying to prove anything. Observe carefully who notices you, who recognizes you and who receives what you offer.

Taurus (April 19-May 20) — The world we live in was built on reading and writing. The pen is so much mightier than the sword that there’s no competition at all. While you may not call yourself a writer, your solar chart is reminding you to appreciate and indulge the beauty and influence of the written word. If you have something to say, put it on paper, and share it with others. This holds a key to any form of success, whether you’re talking about business, friendship or love. Reread a few of your favorite books and you will infuse your soul with a rare sensation of beauty.

Gemini (May 20-June 21) — Feel your own presence anywhere you go. Just the fact of your being somewhere has an influence in your environment, and by all indications a positive one. Imagine yourself holding the space open for the right thing to happen. You don’t need to say anything; the most important thing you can do is be aware of who and what is in your environment, and what the purpose of any meeting or project is. Say less than you might normally, though speak your mind when you know your contribution is likely to make a difference. Then, be sure to listen and learn.

Cancer (June 21-July 22) — Put your feelings, your needs and your desires into words. So much may be moving and developing within you that you might think it’s impossible to get it into some clear form. Yet if you want to be understood and have harmony in your relationships, it will help immensely if you describe what evades description and explain what resists easy explanation. There will be rich rewards for doing so, which include the experience of contact, warmth and the thing you live for, which is the feeling of being home. And you will discover how much the people around you really care.

Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — Know where you stand with people, particularly financially. Make sure that you understand the details of any arrangement, and that you enter any agreement with a conscious agenda. Contracts work because they describe a mutual set of needs and intentions, and you can only participate in a constructive way if you know where you stand, what you want, and what you have to offer. You may need to be a little less trusting, ask more questions and seek the input of people who know more than you. When in doubt, read the fine print and ask the difficult questions.

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — This may not be a psychologically comfortable time for you, though that’s necessary if you want to manifest your incredible potential. Instead of searching for who you are, you are plunging into the truth of your own reality, and this means you need to stretch. Seen one way, your solar chart is describing you becoming the exact opposite of who you thought you were. Talents, skills and ambitions you may have never dreamed of are available, though you will need to work for them consistently. There is no end goal here; transformation is a process that occupies every hour of every day.

Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — Imagine that your life is the perfect blend of logic and dancing. There is logic to dance, though it’s different from that of chemistry. It begins with feeling the music and then allowing yourself to be moved. Rather than worry about how you look, stay with the music and keep flowing. This is the story of your professional life right now. There is a goal calling you, something you need to accomplish. You will get there through flexibility, elegance and sharing your beauty rather than concealing it. Keep your heart open as you aspire to great things. That alone can change the world.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — Draw yourself out of your shell, and engage with the world around you. You may feel like you need to pull yourself inward and conserve your energy. Do that for a little while every day, or for a few days at a time. Yet, once you’ve focused inwardly for a while, test out what you’ve learned in social situations, creative projects and collaborations. Be bold and consider what you want for yourself in the long-term, such as imagining where you might be five years from now. You have a rare perspective to see clearly into the distance.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — Practice living like you’re the most beloved, wealthiest and most successful person in the world. Open your heart and mind and allow the energy to flow through you. Yet, as you do this, step lightly over the Earth. See everything as an opportunity for both giving and receiving. The principle of exchange is so strong in your solar chart right now that anything is possible. That means you can afford to be generous with your knowledge, time and talent. Be generous with yourself, and keep the mantra going that no goal is too difficult or out of reach.

Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) — You’re an independent, cautious person, though at the moment it will help if you leave yourself open to the assistance and affection of others. This will call for authentic emotional vulnerability, and requires some real measure of trust. These may be the last things you want to dare right now, yet they will be the most helpful. People care deeply about you. But they cannot express that care and affection if you don’t allow the feelings in. So relax, be a sponge and absorb the nourishing water that others are offering. You will free yourself from the past, and make your world a happier place.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — This will be an enormously productive month, leading to an equally abundant summer. The key to this is making sure you love the work that you’re doing. If you have the power to choose your projects, emphasize the ones you like the very best. If you don’t have that option, then find the thing about every task that is engaging and fun, even if you can only find that in the people you’re working with. These relationships may develop into some brilliant collaborations. Keep your mind open to the possibilities. If someone says, “I have an idea,” perk up and pay attention.

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — Keep aiming high. This is one of your most ambitious times in many years, though you are the one who chooses the goals. You set the agenda. You must be the CEO of your own life. If you can get the hang of this now, you will learn a skill that you take with you for all your days. The challenges include seeing your options clearly, making conscious decisions and proceeding with firm commitment. You must also see the financial angle of anything you do. The potential is enormous, if you take charge and run your life with a bold and courageous heart.

Leave a Comment