Ultimate presence: Does Trump presidency mean we’re in the Matrix?

[When Donald Trump was elected President in 2016 some of us mused that it represented support for the Simulation Argument, that unknown creators of our simulated world had thrown a disruption into the plot for research or entertainment purposes. In the context of the 2020 election amid numerous crises the CounterPunch column below revisits that idea with colorful political rhetoric. As with inverse presence, where the nonmediated seems mediated, it seems likely that these questions about the nature of reality are more prevalent when events and experiences are either unusually negative and disturbing or positive and beautiful. For more on this general topic, see a story from SyFy responding to an essay in The Guardian written by an AI “to convince us robots come in peace,” and a Universe Today story about the Planetarium Hypothesis that holds that “the reason we are not [finding evidence of] aliens is that humanity is in a simulation, and the aliens are the ones running it!” –Matthew]

[Image: Source: The Independent]

Trump 2.0: The Red Pill or the Blue Pill?

By John G. Russell
August 21, 2020

[I]t’s easy to imagine for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just a creation of some entity for their entertainment.
Neil deGrasse Tyson

Has the world gone mad, or have I? Each night I have to pinch myself to make sure that the day’s events weren’t some feverish nightmare.

Seventy days until the election – assuming there is one – and already Trump and his accomplices are plotting to steal it right from under us, post-haste. In some ways, we live in a chillingly horrific world presided over by the wicked warlock of the West Wing. We tut-tut his evil and idly hope for the best. Hollywood has conditioned us to believe that in the end Good prevails. Trump will be defeated, the nation will right itself. Like Oz after the Wicked Witch melts. Like a rejoiceful Earth after the mothership is destroyed at the end of “Independence Day” and the massive invading fleet falls from the skies. Without its head, the fantasy we continually tell ourselves goes, the dragon flails, then falls. Unless, of course, it’s a hydra.

Nightmare or fantasy, there is something otherworldly about the world in which we live. Some philosophers of science with more time on their hands than is perhaps healthy have suggested that our world may be a cosmic “Matrix”-like simulated reality, as if that offers any comfort. It is the kind of idle thought experiment (can you say “mental masturbation”?) that could be imagined only by those who don’t have to navigate the harsh global realities created by this theoretical “simulation.”

As a black American, am I to take comfort in the thought that the enduring legacy slavery, Jim Crow, a lynching, and police brutality is simply a computer code, a programmed sequence of 0s and 1s in a system in which blacks and other people of color are the 0s? Am I to find solace in the belief that the bias is binary, the discrimination digital, the anti-blackness algorithmic? Or as the Baud once put it, “All the world’s a video game, and all men and women merely avatars.” Should I convince myself that all that is needed to address the problem is to hit the reset button? Should I be relieved that there may be other simulations, alternate universes, that offer better, more just outcomes, the digital equivalent of heaven, virtuality as the Oxycodone of the people. And to think, the right gets its panties in a bunch over stereotypical Islamists martyring themselves to bask eternally under the ministrations of virgins in paradise. But then what does one expect from those who, maskless, would martyr others to bask in the radiant narcissism of their mendacious trickster president.

Expanding on the speculation, Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has stated, “It’s hard to argue against the possibility that all of us are not just the creation of some kid in a parent’s basement programming up a world for their own entertainment. And then every time something weird happens in the world, some disruptive leader takes charge…I wonder if that programmer just got bored and had to stir the pot. So, he throws somebody in there just to… just for their own entertainment. For me that’s some of the best evidence we live in a simulation” (emphasis mine).

Well, if brother Tyson is right, then for the last four years that hypothetical programmer must have been bored shitless.

But, hold on. Who the hell is this “programmer?” The same hi-tech Google wizard who developed facial recognition software that can’t distinguish photos of black people from those of gorillas? The brainiac whose Keywords Planner ad portal consistently connects searches with the words “black girls” “Latina” and “Asian” to pornographic suggestions and whose Google Maps led those searching the term “nigger” to the White House and other black institutions during the Obama presidency? The inventors of Facebook and Instagram’s moderation system that disproportionately disables black accounts? The same techno-bigots whose implicit biases are responsible for the copious “glitches” chronicled in Algorithms of Oppression, Safiya Umoja Nobel’s sobering analysis of digital bias? If you’re a person of color, this hypothetical programmer’s heaven echoes the all too familiar hellish reality of life in Trump’s America.

And who programmed the programmer? God? Or is God just another program? I prefer the comforts of agnosticism and, when it comes to cyber deism, unmitigated atheism. I don’t look for God in the machine; humanity’s continuous search for one has not been particularly conducive to its happiness.

Still, whether it is the invisible hand of God or some cosmic Deep Blue, we’re screwed. If not by the mythic Cosmic Kahuna “himself” then by those who allege to carry out “His” work. Trump sees himself as the “chosen one,” as does his reality-averse base – and under the pandemic, people of color have increasingly paid the price for this delusion with their lives and livelihoods. Despite – or perhaps because of – this, the God-Emperor of Mar-a-Lago continues to be deified by FOX News loyalists and worshipers at the altar of QAnon.

But one man’s savior is another’s Antichrist. Back in 2013, The Guardian reported that one in four Americans thought Obama was the Antichrist. In fact, it was only four years ago that Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann (who?!) seriously predicted that Obama would reveal himself as such, and just a little over a year since she proclaimed Trump a “godly, biblical president.”

There was even a book, The Final Antichrist: Barack Obama, a clarion call to racial Armageddonists, written by the demonically prolific Michael D. Fortner. Other evangelicals suggested that while Obama himself may not have been the Antichrist, he might pave the way for the real deal, a view apparently endorsed by Trump himself who recently stated, “Frankly, I wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for Barack Obama.” Adds Dallas megachurch pastor Rev. Robert Jeffress: “I’m not saying the president [Obama] is an evil man who’s trying to destroy our society, but Americans are willingly giving up their freedom for what they’re told is a greater good…. A future world dictator will assume power under the guise of the greater good of the world.” Or under the guise of making America great again.

But then Trump still has the support of evangelicals, including multi-millionaire Christian yachter Jerry Falwell, Jr. who, having traded his Kool-Aid for “black water” and exposed more than his hypocrisy, couldn’t manage to keep his pants zippered. However, unlike Falwell, Trump proved with his raid on Lafayette Street that he knows how to stage a controversial photo op without getting the boot for it.

Still, for believers, there is no shortage of signs foretelling the arrival of the Antichrist.

The world we live in, whether real or computer-generated, is rife with Old Testament omens. Plagues? We got plagues to spare. Floods? Look no further than Venice, East Africa, and the American heartland. Fire?: Wildfires in California and Australia. East Africa is ravaged by locusts. It wasn’t long into the Trump presidency that the “sun turned dark,” but apparently not dark enough to discourage Trump from staring directly at it. As if these omens were not enough, the video game that is our world is, if we are to believe at least one of the “experts” touted by Trump, infested by witches, succubi, demon sperm-spewing incubi, alien DNA, and reptilian humanoids. Despite these signs that the end is nigh, no one has seriously bestowed the Antichrist label on Trump. Well, at least no one on the right. Then again, according to the Daily Ko’s Dan K, they have. Each day seems to bring us to a new “level” of madness, with no “Game Over” in sight. And for those who would argue that the election will bring a reset, take it to the post office, if it’s still there.

Or maybe it is not the world that’s a simulation but the autocrat who seeks to rule it. In The Penultimate Truth, a prescient work of science fiction by the ever-prescient Philip K. Dick, the avuncular, bromide-spouting U.S. president, Talbot Yancy, is actually an artificial simulacrum secretly programed by “Yance Men,” technocrats charged with deceiving the public. In Trump we have our own Yancy, though without the folksy pep talks. That is, it may be that Trump is just a public facade, an orange-faced facsimile whose populist blather is actually the work of Trump Men (and Women) like Stephen Miller, Kellyanne Conway, Sean Hannity, and Dan Scavino, Trump whisperers all.

The last four years have been as surreal as any imagined deus ex machina denouement, though without the requisite last-minute, miraculous happy ending. Instead, we have a malevolent Pennywise in the White House who has brought with him a bottomless clown car from which emerges an endless stream of democracy-threatening bozos.

Commenting on how Americans might respond to Trump’s relentless assault on democracy, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg writes, “We won’t know whether Americans will turn out in necessary numbers for [peaceful] demonstrations. The recent racial justice protests are some of the largest America has ever seen; protests over Trump’s systematic subversion of democratic norms have been smaller.”

Like Neo in “The Matrix,” we are given a choice: We can choose the red pill of epiphanic liberation or the blue pill of complicitous complacence. The problem is, even if we choose the red pill and confront those who have swallowed – hook, line and sinker – the blue, the circus, which predates its current star performers, shows no signs of ending and every sign of continuing until we finally shutter the tent and shut down “the program” for good, and for the good of us all.

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