Reality, What A Concept! The Internet Edition

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Yesterday’s Reddit AMA with Julian Assange was a cringeworthy hot mess, featuring what I guess was a contest among posters to see who could ask the most uncomfortable questions. And coming up with those uncomfortable questions wasn’t too hard to do.

A handful of years ago, Assange, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea (at the time, Bradley) Manning were my idols. I wrote a comic book biography on Snowden in 2014—one of the first published bios on Snowden up to that time—and I had a panel featuring Assange and Manning as Heroes.

Nowadays, I don’t know what’s up with them. I depend on the Internet for my news, you see—an agglomeration of first-hand accounts that might be true, status updates that might or might not have been written by people who supposedly wrote them, articles from shamelessly partisan news sites, articles from prestigious news sites that are probably partisan anyway but with some level of shame, and of course a portion of your run of the mill garden variety bullshit.

If I question the mainstream news, I’m called a possible member of the tin foil hat society by progressives. If I scorn “fake news” and declare I only want to read “reputable” sources, the conservatives claim I am an elitist out of touch with the voice of the People.

And if I read ALL news—left, right, pedigreed, garden variety bullshit—I inevitably come to the conclusion that the United States is suffering a massive Reality Crisis.

Simply put, large swathes of Americans are living in completely different versions of reality. One person’s shit is another’s shinola. And if they, in most (but unfortunately not all) circumstances, will not exactly kill you for disagreeing with their expert assessment, they most certainly are willing to kill you metaphorically.

But perhaps…perhaps it was always thus. For all of us experience reality in a slightly different way. We can’t help that—everybody’s reality tunnel is just a little bit (and sometimes a lot) different, because reality is experienced ultimately in the brain, helped along by our senses.

Receiving a constant stream of “reality” from the Internet is sort of like plugging your brain directly to the alleged reality source and keeping sense-perception (“I’ll believe it when I see it”) to much more of a minimum.

So while the mainstream, analog media of the past encouraged the idea (mythology) of a monolithic Reality most citizens (unless they were diseased) could participate in, the Internet and its seemingly infinite array of choices has sort of laid waste to that notion.

The notion of “my reality is right, yours is wrong” is still largely intact, though.

But where is this reality? How do I know anything is real that I read? How do I know the true stories of Julian Assange and Wikileaks? Because I read this Reddit AMA? Because I read tweets from…somebody???

Don’t get me wrong…like Fox Mulder, I want to believe. I want to be a true believer. I want my heroes.

But…how do I know there wasn’t someone with a big gun outside that room when Assange did that AMA? How do I know who is connected to Wikileaks now? I want to believe…but how do I know? All I have is Internet reality to go on.

How do I know what reality that prestigious news item is ensconced in? I’m going by that brand. I’m a true believer of the brand.

My God…Wikileaks is a brand too. So is Julian Assange. I think that’s partially why that Reddit thing went south.

I’m a brand too. A shitty, vague brand. But I put my shingle out. And after I wrote that Snowden bio and got on the national news? I got a lot of weird people contacting me. I had several people claiming to be from Russian news services willing to drive to my house to interview me on camera. I had one chap from a magazine that flat out does not exist wanting to do an in-depth interview with me and get the cameras out and all that shit.

But. I have nothing against the Russians. I just listened to a mix of Soviet electronica from the 80s like two days ago. It was awesome.

But what reality do I believe? Cold War? “Putin is the awesomes,” as many alternative news people are saying?

Is that Schrodinger’s Assange living or dead? Both at the same time?

Reality…what a concept!