mr. grant’s rant: the alternate universe

If there truly is an Alternate Universe Oregonians are firmly convinced of two things: 1 – Its uselessness, and, 2- Its location somewhere in California between Berkeley and Sherman Oaks….”



It’s got to be an out of body experience. Either that or sometime in the last 24 months I took a real good crack to the noggin and have spent the bulk of the last two years traveling the twisting paths of a curious, yet increasingly dangerous Alternate Universe.

Think Dorothy taking one right between the lookers from a flying wooden shutter and waking up in a field teeming with miniscule Lilliputians…err… munchkins.

Or young James Henry Trotter circling the earth in a giant-pitted fruit.

Think Alice on the other side of the looking glass.

Something’s not right here. Things unfolding on the other side of the glass are making less and less sense every day….

“One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it: — it was the black kitten’s fault entirely.”

Lewis Carrol | Through the Looking Glass

I suppose of the above analogies, the Carroll reference would best describe my curious state as this clearly isn’t about dreaming as much as it is about retaining consciousness. About the odd sense that I have to be dreaming because surely what I’m experiencing can’t in actuality be reality….

Consciousness as I understand it requires two very simple neurological mechanisms to operate. One must actually be awake to be conscious. (Which does make perfect sense seeing as if one is asleep they are deemed “unconscious.”) And one must also be alert. This quality is a bit trickier to put a thumb onto. But the alert part of the equation is critical. Trust me on this – it’s science!

For alertness to be particularly useful it is best paired with rudimentary critical thinking skills. An examination of cause and effect relationships coupled with basic tenets of the scientific method: a hypothesis, examination of evidence and a conclusion based on the information gleaned from such a process.

So it’s only reasonable to assume that humans should strive towards a full and rational state of consciousness when wrestling with the formation of opinions and decision making in the real world, right?

That’s logic.

In the Alternate Universe apparently the conventions are different.

Navigating effectively in the Alternate Universe requires traits quite unnatural for truly conscious individuals to master. Open-minded critical thinking skills must be suspended and replaced with blind and fervent allegiance to the cause (whatever that “cause” may actually be.) The acertation that YOU personally are privy to ALL the correct answers (in spite of little or no curiosity towards, or investigation of, complex ideas or themes) must be cultivated and nurtured. Having thus fostered an intellectual arrogance which functions as a complete affront to the rationally cognizant, this curious state of fortified ignorance becomes the defining trait of the surly minions powering the engine of the Alternate Universe.

The ideologues of the Alternate Universe are proud and flatulent enemies of enlightenment. They revel in viciousness while appealing to our basest instincts and laying bold claims on the “truth” in all matters. The effects of their bellicosity can be experienced in nearly every social setting these days. Their fingers are always pointing and their mouths are seldom still. In the grocery stores the snarling faces of omniscient neocons and their inevitable caustic leftist repercussions glare down from the book racks. They sneer at our presupposed ignorance as we blanch at the belligerent nature of discourse as it’s defined in their domain; cloth bound reminders that in this arena there can be no civil exchanges on ideological themes. “I am right and therefore you are WRONG,” — That’s the insular dogma of the Alternate Universe where opinions other than one’s own are not only invalid, but dangerous. Where opinions are clutched tightly to chest, repeated over an over until they become like a mantra memorized from a worn prayer book. If someone takes a contrarian position or gets in the way with evidence it is only proper to slander their heritage and label them an ignorant right-wing fascist, hairy leftist commie, or simply a big fat idiot. Ridicule, slander and humiliation go a long way towards establishing the order of the Alternate Universe.

Pity. It really shouldn’t have to be this way.

“I’m very brave, generally, only to-day I happen to have a headache.”

–Tweedledum | Through the Looking Glass

When you read this it is entirely likely that Conan the Barbarian behind his heavily-fortified Full-Frontal Assault Platform (“This is now hand-to-hand combat. We are in the trenches. This is war.”) will have been elected the Governor of California.

In this odd sector of the Alternate Universe the bravado of the Full-Frontal Assault Platform is proven by stout refusals to engage in unscripted debates and open forums with other candidates (some with actual ideas and qualifications). Here the “trenches” alluded to are really television sets, full of lovely props and carefully screened citizens with lovely bridgework and nice golden tans. The “war” is fought over photo-ops and one upsmanship in the one-liner department. It’s a brutal, bloody affair, at least in the mind’s of the melodramatic. To the rest of us it’s a constitutional fiasco wrapped in a Blake Edwards scripted cocktail party scene. The only thing missing is a bumbling French Inspector named Clouseau.

Up north many watch this drama unfold with what could only be described as unrestrained glee. Oregonians by and large hold no particular love for their assembled brethren from the Golden State, aggressively laying the demise of nearly everything that compromises the quality of life in our environment at the feet of relocated Californians and their gilded coffers. If there truly is an Alternate Universe Oregonians are firmly convinced of two things: 1 – Its uselessness, and, 2- Its location somewhere in California between Berkeley and Sherman Oaks.

Any debacle involving the humiliation of the citizens of the Golden State is to be savored like a fine Australian Shiraz. Lately I’ve been a part of a slew of clearly bipartisan gatherings who shared healthy guffaws over the incomprehensible circus presented free of charge by the recall election. Any prudish warning from me between gleeful snorts that this situation really isn’t actually all that funny when you get right down to it is met with an incredulous “Hell Grant, what are you so worried about. If Californians are stupid enough to elect the Terminator Governor, let the dumb boners stew in their own juices.”

Touche. And there is a great deal of down home, Oregon-style common sense to be found in those words. But let’s think about something for a minute. If California is hell bent on electing a political caricature such as Conan the Barbarian based merely on his well-funded platform of Herculean bravado and bad jokes, while at the same time disregarding his flagrant refusal to actually debate concrete issues in an unscripted forum — what does that portend for future elections elsewhere in the country? A whole new slew of faux-politicos running on platforms light on substance and defined by the strength of their Neilson ratings and box office successes?

Who’s formatting the Terminator’s hard drive these days? Clearly the real platform behind the bluster is being developed on the run in a backroom somewhere, but are his scriptwriters to be trusted? Doesn’t anyone in California care? I’m no fan of Tom McClintock’s politics, but for crying out loud, he sat at the microphone and took real punches. At least you know the guy stood for SOMETHING.

“I hope you don’t suppose those are real tears?”

— Tweedledum | Through the Looking Glass

When all is said and done I suppose the main problem I have with the Alternate Universe is not so much that it is so routinely punctuated by the incomprehensible and absurd; but rather that it has become a realm where society as a whole seems more and more willing to accept ideas unchallenged from those with rigid and dangerous agendas. It is a structured reality where the solutions to all modern societal and political issues are compartmentalized into neatly divided dominions that as a matter of principle despise and slander each other with ruthless precision. A realm where it is increasingly obvious that citizens are neither truly awake nor alert, although it should be noted that they are certainly wound-up awful tight and willing to drop their gloves at the slightest provocation.

The result of this voluntary enlistment into the warring factions leaves bewildered (and let’s face it, intellectually lazy) inhabitants of the Alternate Universe particularly vulnerable to willful manipulation through cheap sloganeering, propaganda and the gross rhetorical simplifications of from both camps. The recent reemergence of Bush Senior’s flag waving Über Patriot Brigade provides a potent example. “God Bless America,” “We Support the Troops” and my favorite, “You’re either with us or against us” are beautiful examples of emotional, yet meaningless phrases manipulated to galvanize deeper rifts between the camps. It’s insulting to think that the current war in Iraq (or any war for that matter) can be processed by such obtuse simplifications. God Bless Americans? Whose god? And what of the rest of the citizens of the globe? Do other cultures merit divine blessings, or is this simply a matter of provincial privilege? We support the troops? Well sure, but does that really make one a mortal enemy of the state for being conscious enough to question the motives that strong armed this campaign to fruition over strenuous and specific global objections? Or as they continue to question the apparently exaggerated premises and connections that lead us from 9-11 into Baghdad?

But the mother of all slogans, one which nicely encapsulates all of the inherent absurdities of the Alternate Universe is George W. Bush’s ham-fisted “You’re either with us or against us in the war on terror.” As if it was as simple as rooting for the Yankees over the Red Sox. It’s a perfect representation as it debases all other opinions by turning an extremely complex, multi-faceted geo-political scenario into a rudimentary black and white, yes or no equation. Predictably the language of the statement itself is incredibly vague. For what? Against what?

Can one be for liberty and freedom while one abhorring violence, destruction and death?

Can one be against untoward policies of unilateral aggression and huge cash infusions to the White House’s favorite inbred pork products Halliburton and Bechtel and still favor a terror free world and a stable and Democratic Iraq?

Could it be possible that the truth lies somewhere in the middle?

Engaging in the twisted logic of the Alternate Universe the Commander in Chief questions why in calling for financial support and military aid for the campaign in Iraq he got a big fat raspberry from the same United Nations he thumbed his nose at not that long ago. In the rational terms of the real world this could be perfectly explained by the physical law that determines every action results in an equal and opposite reaction. Malcolm X had a term for this that fits even more nicely: The chickens coming home to roost.

“Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be: but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.”

— Tweedledee | Through the Looking Glass

The mental transformation from a reality based upon the irrational notions of Alternate Universe to a thought process engaged in the broad spectrum of real world complexities can provide a formidable shock to the system. Talk about chickens coming home to roost….

The steep price of enlightenment.

Imagine if you will the example of Smokebox contributor and friend Nicole Bowmer, who recently took two weeks off of work to visit Baghdad, taking take a peek around the other side of the Looking Glass. In her travels she kept in contact with friends and co-workers via emails punctuated by vivid personal ruminations on the war-torn landscape and the people who inhabited it. In reading her missives, it became apparent that the artifacts of war and the varied emotions and realities of the Iraqi people presented to her intellectual perceptions conflicting truths that had been a bit overwhelming in scope. Nicole used the word “grey” a lot when describing her reaction to what she was experiencing, a strong juxtaposition when compared with the black versus white, good versus evil parameters adhered to in the Alternate Universe.

I found in this closing passage from Nicole’s final letter sent from Amman, Jordan in late September, 2003 a particularly cognizant reflection on the contradictions of the current war as viewed from the other side of the Looking Glass:

“I’m still having a difficult time putting all of their thoughts into some sort of coherent order. “ Nicole wrote. “But I will say that it is fair to say that most people are happy that Saddam is gone.

“Yet the words that are branded in my memory came from an Iraqi man yesterday…

“The Iraqi man said, ‘I know many Americans believe that this entire act of the military is done with the best interest of the Iraqi people at heart. But how can that be when so much was destroyed? Our electricity. Our phones. Our amusements parks are closed. Our water is undrinkable. 250,000 cars have been added to our streets since the military came when our streets could barely handle the 500,000 that were here before. All of our Ministries – education, agriculture, all of them – have been bombed or burned. All of them except the Ministry of Oil. No soldiers protected our schools, our stores, our historical sites. Only the Ministry of Oil was guarded like a palace. Yet I hear George Bush and Colin Powell say that this is all for the Iraqi people? I find that very hard to believe.’

“Yep, it’s a grey world after all.”

“I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power the greater it will be.”

–Thomas Jefferson



Originally published:
Issue Twenty-Eight
October 2003


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