Where is Carlos Castenada when we need him? You may remember the excitement generated by Castenada in his first two books when he argued there may be a “Separate Reality.” It was thought by many that what he reported was a more or less factual account of his training by Don Juan, a Yaqui sorcerer, to see and behave in a different reality. These two books were supposedly non-fictional accounts that made an argument for more than one view of reality. The excesses of his subsequent books were so obvious that his entire corpus of work was exposed as a fraud. Nonetheless, Castenada did raise an interesting question about the nature of reality, and the possibility there might be more than one. This is a view still in vogue with some anthropologists. Richard Schweder, for example, a distinguished Professor at the University of Chicago, has argued for the possibility of different cultural realities:
“The relativists (of which Schweder is one) wish to go beyond the positivism that has characterized anthropology from the beginning. They wish to start from the assumption that there may be more than one reality. There can be more than one reality because ‘we should not expect reality to be independent of our participation in it. The likelihood that an event will occur in an intentional world (a culture) is not independent of the confidence we have that it will occur.’”
I do not wish to pursue this claim here, but to suggest that it seems to be the case that those members of the House described as the Tea Party do seem to inhabit a different reality from most everyone else. When most economists, bankers, Wall Street CEO’s, and even their peers in the House believe if we default on our debts there will be terrible consequences, the members of the Tea Party do not. They simply deny our reality in preference for one of their own, one that asserts there will be no adverse consequences and defaulting is unimportant. It appears that no amount of argumentation from the Leader of the House, John Boehner, no presentation of facts and opinions, makes any difference to their fundamental beliefs. They cling to their beliefs that government is their enemy, that it spends too much, that it needs to be shrunk, that the national debt is the most important problem facing the nation, as well as their belief that raising taxes is the worst calamity that can befall us. They insist on cutting spending even though most economists and other knowledgeable people know that is precisely the wrong thing to do during a fragile economy lacking jobs. This does not seem to be merely a political ploy for them but, rather, a matter of deeply held conviction, a separate reality, if you will.
It hard to say if this single-mindedness with respect to our debt, taxes, and small government, is their only divergence from what the rest of us would regard as reality. I would suspect it is not. They most likely hold similar absolute beliefs about the evils of abortion (even though the law of the land), homosexuality and Gay marriages (becoming more and more acceptable), and quite probably do not believe in the separation of church and state (also the law of the land). I do not know this for certain, of course, but it seems to me very likely the case. They apparently do not trust either President Obama or even our Congress to do the right thing, believe that government is somehow the “enemy” that should be vanquished and so on. In short, they might well be said to inhabit a separate reality.
While I do not know for certain I strongly suspect that generally the members of this rather extreme group are probably not very well educated, get their information from Fox “News,” Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and others of that ilk, and probably are not widely read. While they doubtless regard themselves as “rugged individualists,” they are almost more certainly what are known as “ditto heads.” They are so immersed in their version of reality, and so dedicated to it, they have no interest in the well-being of the nation or other citizens, it’s “their way or the highway.” True believers, they think they are absolutely right and everyone else is absolutely wrong, and thus are unwilling to compromise (as we are seeing much to our dismay at the moment). They have been likened to a “cult” which is probably not far from the truth. They managed to get elected at a time of great difficulty with promises of creating jobs, but have done absolutely nothing along those lines, focusing instead on the debt, abortion, and other social issues. They are, in short, a disaster, and there is nothing that can be done about it until the next election cycle which may be too late to avert the disaster they seem determined to bring on our country. But not to worry, Michele Bachmann with her remarkable cure for the “Gay,” or perhaps even Sarah Palin with guns blazing and riding her white charger, modern day Joans of Arc, will emerge out of the pack of dismal Republican candidates to lead us to the Promised Land. Or perhaps Rick Perry will help us to pray our way out of our troubles, or Newt Gingrich will emerge from the dead as our savior. At the moment there is just no way of telling how much more trouble we will find. It’s the American way, shoot first, think later, if at all.