Writing Right with Dmitri: 'Choosing to Believe'

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Writing Right with Dmitri: 'Choosing to Believe'

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I've had a bad case of the 'flu this week. This is not at all surprising: there's a galloping epidemic all over two counties. According to the few who were there on Thursday, attendance at the weekly senior Bible study was sparse. And it's not just the old folks. School numbers were down everywhere. Everybody's at home coughing instead of out having fun. Blah.

I haven't been sleeping well, due to the constant waking up with the cough, etc, so my brain's not really working at optimum level. At this point, it is futile to watch demanding dramas. They overtax my powers of comprehension. Watching mindlessly cheerful television is also a really bad idea. When I'm feeling ill, the last thing I want to do is watch excitable people enthuse about the joys of the consumer age. It makes me grumpier. So what I do, friends, is…

…binge Youtubes.

I know, I know: that's a terrible idea. But it requires absolutely no brain wattage. I'll watch some kittens and such, move on to the 'instant karma' roadhog Schadenfreude, then eventually follow the Tube down the rabbit hole into the truly bizarre. First, there are the '10 Most Inexplicable Photos of the Year'. I find myself moving from one ridiculous ghost story to another. Next, alien sightings and Men In Black caught on security cameras…dodging the Flat Earthers, who are longwinded and boring, I persevere until, after several hours of staring blankly at X-Files plot rejects, I'm actually beginning to forget about how achy and miserable I feel.

That, of course, is when I find it: the latest fashion in counter-reality. Trending on a subreddit near you. Worse than the Flat Earth theory. I refer, of course, to the Mandela Effect.

In case you haven't encountered this yet, I'll explain. About eight years ago, a 'paranormal investigator' by the name of Fiona Broome coined the phrase 'Mandela Effect' to describe the conviction some people have that The Past Has Changed. Why? Because they remember it differently.

Why Mandela? Because many adherents of the theory remember that Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s. In fact, they vividly recall seeing a memorial concert in his honour.

But, of course, Nelson Mandela did not die in the 1980s. Yes, they reply. In this timeline. Which only goes to show that Somebody is messing around with reality. We're dealing with parallel universes. Or manipulative time travellers. Or the Devil. Or – and this is the best explanation of all – the Large Hadron Collider has seriously messed up space/time. I love it.

There is, of course, another possible explanation for this widespread but mistaken belief about Nelson Mandela. The people who have this faulty memory are not very well-informed, and don't know that much about South Africa. They may have confused Nelson Mandela with Steve Biko, who did die in prison in 1977, and for whom there was a memorial concert. But if you bring this up, the Mandela Effect fans will brush the suggestion aside impatiently. Don't confuse them with boring facts. Besides, it's so much more fun to collect examples of the Mandela Effect in action, and to debate the possible causes of this mysterious disturbance in the Matrix.

You would not believe what these time travellers/demons/Higgs Bosons get up to when nobody's looking. They changed the logo for the Ford Motor Company, and then claimed it had been the same since 1912! They altered the spelling of McDonald's. They are busy interfering with such sacred canon items as the dialogue to Star Wars and the lyrics to Mr Rogers' theme song. Is nothing sacred?

You might think that these evildoers would be more likely to try to retroactively change events of….shall we say, greater moment to the world at large? Say, currency exchanges, major business trends, international peace agreements? Somehow, though, the sneaky reality-changers seem to be fixated on hotel chain signs and everybody's favourite children's books.

At this point, a cynic might speculate that even if the time travellers had made adjustments to geopolitical reality, the Mandela Effecters would be unlikely to notice. After all, these people neither know nor care where Syria is, but are all over pop culture and fast food info. They have specific priorities, and they aren't in the least surprised that the phantom saboteurs are interested in the same things they are.

What makes this internet club so attractive to people is that you can never disprove their claims. You're sure the Ford logo has always been like that? That's because, like most people, you've had your memory retconned. Not like these observant people. The whole business gives the in-group a frisson of spookiness, as well as a pleasant sense of being 'in the know'. And the theories behind the phenomenon sound so scientific. So what if you never learned physics? You can be a scientist, too, just like those people in the movies. And it's all based, not on calculations and hard work, but on feelings. Which is the best kind of science, don't you think?

To me, the Mandela Effect is part of what I call the 'Choose to Believe' phenomenon that is so widespread in the United States right now. Americans have forgotten that beliefs shouldn't be plucked from the air, or made up out of whole cloth. There needs to be evidence for a conviction that this or that is true. The evidence needs to be verifiable. The theorising needs to be based on observable reality. There are branches on the ground in the backyard. It was windy last night. The chances are much better that the wind blew the branches down than that fairies showed up with tiny chainsaws. 'But you can't prove that didn't happen. And I choose to believe it did.' O-kay….and I choose to avoid you and your tinfoil hat collection.

The problem with this sort of thing is that it's dumbing down the whole country. And lord knows, we can't afford that right now. It can be sobering to realise how many logical fallacies you can stumble across in a few hours on Youtube.

The internet is scary. I wish I could find those time travellers with the Higgs Boson. I can think of some things I'd like to go back and change.

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