I will be 75 years old in February; I was convinced that I was going to die at age 61. Two of my uncles died from heart attacks at age 61. My grandfather died from a heart attack at age 61. My father had a heart attack at age 61.
He survived until he died at age 77 but he was absolutely convinced that he too would die at age 61. So, being the astute geneticist that I am (not), I too was convinced that 61 was the maximum number of years that I would attain and I actually spent a great deal of time preparing my esteemed wife for that eventuality.
I woke up on my 62nd birthday in absolute amazement. I had convinced myself that I would never see that day. Furthermore, I had convinced my esteemed wife that I would never see that day. I actually joked that I had messed up her entire estate plan. She laughed — I think it was genuine. For years my perceived reality was that I knew when I would pass on and I actually lived my life convinced of that fact. It was not actual reality … but it was for me.
I am totally convinced that men and women see different colors. My esteemed wife is able to differentiate among sapphire, indigo and navy, when I just see “blue.” Where I see “green,” she can discern emerald, kelly or lime. And she knows the difference between lemon and saffron, while I just see “yellow.” We both have our own perceived realities. The difference is that a woman’s perceived reality of colors is a heck of a lot broader than a guy’s perceived reality of colors. (Actually, for all I know every individual may have his/her own version of the same color. For instance, my red may be someone else’s yellow. And that person might call that “red.” Just an interesting “Twilight Zoney” aside.)
Speaking of colors, if enough blue (cerulean) state people relocate to a red (crimson) state that they change the political balance there, has that state become mauve, magenta or violet? I just don’t know. But I digress.
I have included the following story in a previous column but I think that it is worth repeating here.
When my esteemed wife and I were young and the world was new, we attended a performance of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. We got there just before the curtain rose and we had no opportunity to consult the libretto. Neither of us knew the plot very well, so my wife took it upon herself to interpret that which we were watching on the stage. Her interpretation was that two female friends were on a singles cruise. One meets a guy who asks her to have dinner with him that evening, but she says she can only go if he gets a date for her friend. So he entreats his cabin mate to make up the foursome. Suffice it to say that this is not the story of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde.” Our perception of what was happening on that stage was as far from what was actually happening up there as it could possibly be, but I can tell you without hesitation that it made absolute sense based upon what we thought — what we perceived — that we saw.
When my grandson was about four years old, he sat on the couch with my son, his dad and intently watching the “The Wizard of Oz” for the first time. After having watched it in its entirety, my grandson looked up at my son, puzzled and asked: “Where was the lizard?” He thought that he had been watching a movie called “The Lizard of Oz” (which is actually the biography of Charles Schumer … but again I digress). One can only guess at a little boy’s perceptions of reality, but I can’t begin to imagine what he was expecting to see. A child’s perception of reality is the fertile subject for hundred of doctoral theses and our own perceptions change with every day of our existence.
Let us now skip to the differences between perceptions of reality on university campuses and the perceptions of reality that are experienced by normal, thinking human beings. For centuries, certainly since modern English began its journey in the 14th century, the term “gender” meant the state of being either male or female, as assigned at birth. Most commonly, it was used in Germanic or Romance languages and their grammatical settings to determine whether or not a word was masculine or feminine, having only a loose association with natural distinctions of sex. It was used primarily in that context well into the 1960s when suddenly it started to be applied to sexual roles within society. The subdivisions of individual sexuality kept growing. What started out as “binary” (males and females), has multiplied to “L”s and “G”s and “B”s and “T”s and “Q”s (questioning, for those who were afraid to ask) and who knows what else. Someone recently said that there are 52 genders nowadays (five less than Heinz’ varieties, but I am sure they will “ketch up”).
I was recently in a conversation with a young lady who is still in college and she informed me that her school provides “gender specific spaces.” (My first question was “who talks that way?” But I realized that college students and professors talk that way to differentiate themselves from the rest of us.). Think about that: “gender specific spaces” — or said in a different way, “segregated areas.” I thought that that was forbidden. Go to know. But it goes further. When I asked her if men had their “gender specific space,” she said no, they are reserved for women and other alphabet representatives. However, if there are men who choose to select their own gender and they choose female, then they are allowed within those “gender specific spaces” (they can make that selection at any time and whenever they choose).
So, if I want to enter a “gender specific space” reserved for women, I can just go on in and, if questioned, I suppose that I can say that I have chosen to be a female at that moment. The mind boggles. But it started me to thinking. What if a gay guy states that for that day he is a lesbian, where does he go? Does a bisexual repeatedly jump in and out of the “gender specific space?” It is all incredibly confusing for a guy who has long passed the age of 61. The perceived realities on college campuses are so far out nowadays that one requires multiple sociology courses just to keep up.
The point is that we see the same things with different eyes and we interpret those things within our own personal enclosed universes. I think that this fact to some extent might explain political differences. They can also be explained by the various subjective factors that go into molding us. I thought that I would die at 61 because my father was convinced that he would die at 61 and his perception was imprinted on me. That he didn’t pass on at 61 had no effect on my continued belief that I would. My father was a Democrat, so that part of his reality continued in me only until I allowed my own experience to alter the perceptions that had theretofore molded my politics. I became a Republican when I substituted my own reality for my father’s. I would like to think that, had my father continued living, he would have come to agree with my political perceptions. My father was a very intelligent man.
One of the main themes of George Orwell’s brilliant novel 1984 is that he who controls the language controls the issue. The reason is simple: If we hear something repeated enough times, it becomes true as far as we are concerned. It alters our perceptions to make whatever is being said into reality for us. In the field of propaganda, this is called “the big lie.” A few weeks ago, Emmanuel Macron, France’s president stated that: “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is the betrayal of patriotism …” That is patent nonsense. He casts “patriotism” as the good guy and “nationalism” as the bad guy. Either one of those concepts is positive until they are carried into extremes. The fact that Hitler used the word ”Nationalist” as part of his party’s name doesn’t make “nationalism” evil. It just means that vile or corrupt or foolish or ignorant people have accepted as their reality the perception that “nationalism” is evil. Macron was twisting the truth to insult President Trump and gain some cred with the French people who right now hold him in exceptionally low esteem.
Perceived reality is the lens through which each and every one of us views the universe. For thousands of years, philosophers have examined the question of whether objective reality even exists. We form affinity groups that share our perceptions of that reality. We marry those who share our perceptions. Divorces result in many instances when one spouse’s reality is at major variance with that of the other spouse.
There is a quotation of which I have become quite fond: “I reject your reality and substitute my own.” In other words, “this is the way that I see things. You can take your view and stuff it.” That pretty much sums up the state of relations in the United States today. Whether it was ever different in the history of mankind is a question that should only be addressed by any of us while in well-lubricated attendance at a university faculty soirée. We all exist in our own private universes. Our perceptions are formed by the intersections of our universes, each with the other, forming the same number of realities as there are humans on the face of the Earth.
This article was originally published in the Charleston Mercury.