science fiction alternative  reality
© Magdalena Radziej
A plea for more interesting alt-realities than the Moon Landing Hoax, Flat Earth, and No Virus.

The post-truth world, in which our collective perception of reality has been smashed into fragments like a shattered funhouse mirror, contains a plethora of alternative reality structures. I get frustrated with some of the more popular species, not because their champions are aggressive assholes (looking at you, no virusers1), and not even because their pet narratives rest on misconceptions of well-understood scientific principles.

No, my beef is that so many of them are boring. They lack imagination.

Take the Moon Landing Hoax people. Their basic thing is that the Apollo missions never happened. Mankind never set foot on the lunar regolith; it was just actors hopping around on Stanley Kubrick's sound stage. The Saturn V rockets were simply elaborate set pieces, built at vast trouble and expense to provide verisimilitude for Kubrick's cinematic masterpiece. I guess when you're trying to fake something on the scale of Apollo, it makes sense to go to the trouble of spending all the time and effort necessary to design, test, and build the fantastically complicated and expensive multi-stage rockets, orbiters, and landers necessary for the enterprise, without actually going. Sort of like Borges' 1:1 scale map in The Exactitude of Science: if your fake Moon landing is so close to the real thing that you actually go to the Moon, no one will ever know the difference and you'll fool them all! The hoax was necessary because actually going to the Moon is, you see, impossible: the Van Allen radiation belts would have fried the cells of the astronauts2. Besides which, obviously if we'd actually gone to the Moon, we'd still be there ... right? To a generation raised on CGI all but indistinguishable from real life, it's fairly easy to believe that simulating the Apollo voyages would have been trivially easy in comparison to actually undertaking the journey (and never mind that that level of FX sophistication didn't exist in the 60s).

The Moon Landing Hoax is a fascinating statement on the current state of the culture: the ease with which the simulated is substituted for the real; the readiness to believe that everything authorities of any sort say is a lie; and perhaps most of all, the evaporation of cultural confidence. We live in a world of flickering holograms; of plastic facades pretending to be wood, leather, and stone; of characteropaths mimicking the personalities and emotions of real human beings like so many p-zombies and replicants. Whether it's the left looking back on a past where they see nothing but racism and bigotry, or the right bleakly regarding a future promising nought but hopeless struggle against inevitable decline, the glories of the past seem like so much fabulism.

So I can see why the Moon Landing Hoax fits the zeitgeist. Which doesn't change it's utter lack of imagination3.

A far more interesting alternative take on Apollo would be that we did go, but not for the reasons stated ... and that those reasons are closely interwoven with why we haven't been back.

What if we were looking for something? Perhaps inscriptions found in a secret chamber in the great pyramid of Giza, its existence never announced or admitted to in academic Egyptology, were interpreted in light of a corresponding inscription found in a half-excavated megalithic temple complex in Antarctica, with the clues indicating that our Ice Age predecessors had left something very important in the dust of the Sea of Tranquility. The Byrd expedition is said to have reported strange aerial phenomena in Antarctica; Wernher von Braun also went to Antarctica, officially to look for Martian meteorites. Unofficially? Perhaps he was on the trail of lost Atlantean technology, and came to the conclusion that, in contrast to the broken relics scattered on the Earth, whatever was left behind on the Moon would have survived the 12,000 years separating us from the Fall, having been preserved in vacuum, subjected to no more than light weathering due to micrometeorites and spallation from solar energetic particles and cosmic rays.

In this narrative, the Apollo mission was conceived, publicly as a demonstration of American technical mastery with which to show up the Soviets, but in reality with the hope of bringing back game-changing technology. They successfully located their goal ... but they found more than they bargained for. The site was not uninhabited.

A guardian was awoken, and a warning was delivered: leave, and do not return, or else.
moonscape science fiction
© Magdalena Radziej
I'm not saying that's what happened, or that it's even plausible. Simply that it's a far more entertaining, dramatic narrative than 'space is fake lol', which has all the emotional payoff of the execrable 'it was all a dream' mechanism that incompetent screenwriters use to rescue irreparably broken narratives at the expense of inflicting coitus interruptus on their viewers' catharsis.

Something very similar to this basic plot outline flourished during the more optimistic 90s, when Richard C. Hoagland started claiming to have identified signs of crystalline skyscrapers on the Moon, along with a giant stone face on Mars and a nearby complex of pyramids. The Martian face was shown to be nonsense in light of higher-resolution orbital images, and the rest of Hoagland's discoveries are almost certainly the result of pareidolia operating on a feedstock of photographic artifacts. Still, the universe he conjured was much more interesting than the Moon Landing Hoax theory. It's probably not an accident that its height of popularity came during a time when everyone looked forward to the manifold and delightful possibilities of the future.

Then there are the Flat Earthers, who overlap to a considerable degree with the Moon Landing Hoaxers for obvious reasons.

As a cultural phenomenon, Flat Earth fits our civilizational mood. The world it describes is one fundamentally without possibility. The Earth is a thin disk, circumscribed by an impassable ice wall, with nothing beyond it. It is a world without depth. Above is a celestial dome, another impassable shell, on which the illusion of a wider universe is projected4. The Flat Earth strikes me as a prison, a snowglobe panoptican within which humanity is eternally trapped. We cannot leave because there is nowhere to leave to. It is a bounded, finite world. In a time of dramatically reduced social mobility, in which the immediacy of digital telecommunications has collapsed time and space to an asynchronous moment, and in which algorithmic manipulation and managerial social engineering have clear-cut the rich old growth rain-forests of the human soul in favour of standardized, stereotyped psychological monocultures, in which ubiquitous surveillance makes us feel that our very minds are laid bare for minute inspection ... given all of this, a flattening of the world seems oddly appropriate. Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat was prophetic, but not in the way the old fraud hoped.

I won't rag on the Flat Earthers for embracing a theory that a Greek with two sticks showed was wrong over two thousand years ago. Nor will I dump on them for failing to appreciate the elegance with which the daily and annual apparent motions of the Sun, Moon, and stars are accounted for by a rotating Earth with an axis tilted with respect to its orbit around the Sun5.

Nah, my main issue with Flat Earthers is that their model is uninspired. It lacks dramatic possibilities.

Why not, instead, embrace the Hollow Earth? Demonstrating that the Earth is a rotating ball orbiting the Sun is trivially easy, after all: the basic model was worked out long before space-flight, and remains substantially unchanged since Johannes Kepler. Demonstrating that the Earth is a solid body relies on interpretations of seismological signals generated by earthquakes, about which there is much greater uncertainty. Seismological tomography is highly model-dependent, and requires a considerable degree of specialized expertise to understand.

Even granting that geologists are mostly correct, we really only have the most approximate of ideas about what's under our feet. Getting there is extraordinarily hard. How do we really know that the Earth does not contain vast caverns inhabited by tool-using saurian civilizations of fantastic antiquity, whose ancient and intricately sophisticated culture manipulates events on the surface with a patient ruthlessness unfathomable to short-lived, sentimental mammalian minds? How do we really know that Pellucidar does not prosper beneath our feet, that the Earth's core is not a tiny ball of radiant plasma illuminating an inverted landscape of jungles and oceans, upon which herds of mastodons are hunted by squawking deinonychus packs, while hooded Shadow Men riding vril-powered discs engage in aerial combat with Denisovan battle shamans perched on the backs of soaring quetzalcoatli?
science fiction genetic engineering new species
© Magdalena Radziej
And if the Earth is a hollow shell with a hidden world of monsters nestled within it, what then of the other, apparently dead worlds of the solar system? What are they hiding?

All of that is a lot harder to debunk than discworld. Better, you can see how our ruling class might want to keep it from us. The herd will be calmer if kept ignorant of the awful wonders slumbering restlessly in the inverted world ... especially if, perhaps, our rulers are, and always have been, working for them. In contrast, it's really never been obvious to me why, assuming the Earth was really flat, the Illuminati would go to such great lengths to trick everyone into thinking it's round. What exactly is the motive there? This has never been explained to my satisfaction.

The latest alt-truthers to bore me to tears are the No Virus people. Their obnoxious rise is fully understandable, given the matrix of deception that has accompanied the Coronavirus power grab, and at a certain level I'm sympathetic to them, as I am to all alt-truth adherents6. Humans are simple primates for the most part. Our lazy brains prefer easy heuristics to laborious reasoning. As applied to the narratives advanced by knowledge authorities, there are only really two rules of thumb that can be consistently applied: believe everything, or believe nothing. When you've been lied to repeatedly throughout your entire life, defaulting to 'believe nothing' isn't necessarily the worst bet to make.

Still, No Virus strikes me as absurd. I don't doubt that terrain theory contains important insights into how malnutrition, inflammation, chronic fatigue, and so on, can leave one's biology dangerously compromised. What it can't explain is the infectious spread of contagious disease. How exactly does terrain theory explain Mesoamerican civilization getting wiped out within years of contact with the Spanish? Did their diet suddenly change? No. Were they abruptly getting less sunlight? Doubtful. Was it just the stress of having their world turned upside down? Interesting suggestion but I doubt that would be lethal. Further, none of it explains why the smallpox symptoms that swept away the Indian population were entirely novel to them, and entirely familiar to their European friends.

The primary emotional motivation driving No Virus, at least according to its evangelists, is that their gospel is a killshot against medical tyranny. If viruses don't exist, you see, a biosecurity state predicated on protecting us from viruses is dead on arrival. This strikes me as sort of true but largely irrelevant. If the technocracy wants a biosecurity state, they'll do whatever they can to get one, and they'll use whatever excuse they need to. If they accepted the notion that viruses don't exist, they'd find another boogieman. Terrain theory could be easily adapted to this imperative: if the only thing that makes people sick is poor diet and so on, well, that gives them an excuse to micromanage your diet, doesn't it? Along with everything else about your body - how much sunlight you get, how much exercise, how much water, how much and what kind of socialization, and so on. Which is something they already want to do. Terrain theory enables them to reduce you to 'mere life' as easily - perhaps more easily - than a virus.

In any case, what I find most tiresome about No Virus is, again, its lack of imagination.

Instead of just running with 'viruses don't exist', a statement in which holes can be very easily poked upon confrontation with very basic observations, a much more interesting statement is 'modern science has fundamentally misunderstood what viruses are'. Viruses are generally understood as purely parasitic entities, yielding no benefit to their hosts, and which should therefore be eradicated to whatever degree possible. What if that's not the case, and viruses are actually symbiotic entities whose existence is inextricably interwoven with the healthy function of all life-forms?

Over the last several years, we've learned that a very large part of the human genome - and the genomes of every other species - are viral in origin. Viruses routinely splice new genes into our cells; indeed, they seem to be designed to do exactly this. What if this isn't all just random and accidental, but in some sense intentional and planned? Viruses in this case would serve as a genetic reservoir, a collective extrasomatic genome, a means by which the biosphere genetically engineers its elements in accordance with whatever aims it might have. In this understanding, viruses are an absolutely essential element of evolutionary development: rather than waiting for the plodding process of natural selection acting on random mutation and sexual recombination, viral transfection enables genetic updates to be pushed out to an entire population of organisms in a geological eyeblink. Just like updates that get pushed out to our phones cause some to malfunction and others to brick, some organisms get sick from, and not every organism survives, a viral gene fix. But most do, and on the other end the DNA has been upgraded and the slightly modified species is a bit stronger. It's worth emphasizing that this mechanism provides a ready explanation for saltation - the process of abrupt phenotypical (and presumably genotypical) change, by which very different species emerge more or less abruptly in the fossil record.

A similar perceptual shift has already taken place with regard to the microbiome: rather than see bacteria as dangerous little nasties deserving to be nuked with antibiotics, we now understand that 'our' bodies are really hothouse ecologies consisting of a symbiotic web encompassing cells containing 'our' DNA, along with a teeming mass of commensal prokaryotes without which our digestive systems would not function.

Looking at viruses in this fashion would have certain implications for our relationship to them. Eradicating them, for instance using vaccines, would be out of the question: all that would do is shut our species off from evolution, with potentially dire consequences. Instead, the focus would logically shift to symptom mitigation: let as many people get infected as possible, embrace the update, but do everything we can to help those who develop nasty symptoms come out the other side alive and undamaged. Note that medical tyranny based on virus fearmongering is just as inhibited by this narrative, as by the No Virus narrative ... but with the advantage that the viral symbiote framing doesn't require vast amounts of well-established biology to be chucked out, and in fact is arguably more consistent with everything else that has been learned about genomes and evolution since viruses were first discovered.

Reframing viruses as commensal genetic update vectors offering access to a vast and crucially important genetic repertoire would necessitate a change in how we saw our relationship, not just to viruses, but to the entire biosphere. Rather than something to insulate ourselves from, as something separate and other, it would lead naturally to an understanding of ourselves as an intrinsic, inextricable element of the biosphere. Our very genomes, which we've been accustomed to seeing as fixed from birth, become permeable, open to modification, fluidly connected to a genetic ocean. Evolution becomes not the outcome of a bloody war of attrition, but a collective adventure: evolutionary phase changes are something in which, in principle, an entire species can - and in general does - take part in together.

The theme running through these three disparate critiques of uninspired alt-truth is this: instead of advocating for alt-realities that chop away at what's known and leave nothing in their place, embrace the open. Say what you will about transhumanist sustainably developing globohomo woke liberalism, it at least articulates a vision. You might find that vision dystopian, tawdry, and arid, but a vision it is. The globalist oligarchs articulate a future that is different from the present; they are change agents, who intend to transform the world. In response, the most popular alt-truths - the Moon Landing Hoax, Flat Earth, No Virus - are fundamentally reactionary. They are not really alternative understandings of reality, but sterile denials of reality, and as such they have nowhere to go ... and have no real power against the spell that has been woven by the sorcerers of globalism.

Look not for narratives that close off possibilities, that leave you trapped in a flattened world where nothing ever happens. Instead, reach for that which makes the tree of creation blossom with a thousand flowers.

Instead of rejecting the known, grab hold of it with both hands and run with it in an unexpected direction into the unknown, zig-zagging through the defense as you head for the end zone.

If we want to own the future, it is not enough merely to say No to the version of reality that's been projected into the mass mind, any more than it's sufficient to say No to the vision that has been prepared for us by the enemy. Simple negation is static paralysis. One must find something else to say Yes to.

You won't always be right, but at least you'll be moving, and above all you won't be dull.

  1. RIP the comments section.
  2. Which is why NASA plotted a trajectory that minimized time in the Van Allen belts, avoiding both the geometrically thickest and densest regions. Anyhow.
  3. Which ... also fits the zeitgeist.
  4. Why this should be the case isn't obvious. Perhaps God - or the demiurge - just likes interior decorating, and it's His way of writing Live, Laugh, Love.
  5. A rotating, roughly spherical Earth accounts for the daily rise and setting of the Sun; for the variable length of the day through the year, accompanied by the varying zenith angle of the Sun; and for the way in which the Sun's apparent motion varies smoothly with latitude. Combined with the Earth's orbit around the Sun, the apparent motion of the celestial sphere is accounted for, including the way in which the stars visible at night vary depending both on time of year and on latitude. I've yet to see a decent explanation from Flat Earthers for why the Southern sky is utterly different from the Northern, for example. Then there are phenomena such as the retrograde motions of the planets (which emerge naturally from a heliocentric model, but require contrived orbital geometries involving an infinite number of nested epicycles for any other model), or the trigonometric parallaxes that can be measured for distant stars (a phenomenon which is only possible if the Earth is in motion around the Sun). But I digress.
  6. As long as they don't act like assholes in the comments. Which they mostly do.