“Welcome to the Grand Illusion
Come on in and see what’s happening
Pay the price, get your tickets for the show …
But don’t be fooled by the radio
The TV or the magazines
They show you photographs of how your life should be
But they’re just someone else’s fantasy.”
Styx, The Grand Illusion, 1977
“We no longer live through our own innate primary human sensory abilities. Rather, we experience it mediated through screens, virtual walls that sever us from our intrinsic senses and define the world for us. Screens interpose themselves between us and the real world, projecting information that is purportedly equal to reality but is at best only ever a rough approximation, one that is easily manipulated.”
Marc Goodman, “Future Crimes.”
I always enjoy teaching Philosophy—whether at the high school or college levels—because it provides an opportunity for me to discuss the Greek philosopher Plato’s (428-348 B.C.) famous “Allegory of the Cave.” The allegory provides a unique vantage point to discuss how we as humans perceive truth and reality, and whether there is any higher truth to existence. If ever there was a time to have this discussion it is now. In our age, it is becoming increasing difficult to separate truth from misinformation, and media narrative manipulation from news.
As a brief introduction, Plato’s allegory is taken from his work Republic and appears in the form of a dialogue between Plato’s brother (Glaucon) and Plato’s mentor Socrates. The allegory portrays a group of people chained to the interior of a cave all their lives, facing a blank wall. Every waking moment, they watch shadows projected on the wall—puppet-like figures passing in front of a fire behind them. The shadows constitute the chained observers’ respective reality; they even give names to the shadows. Even if one of their number would somehow escape and experience a completely different reality outside the cave wall and would return to tell them, they won’t accept the new truth.
Let me move this forward to our present day. Instead of a cave wall, we watch screens—television (streaming, cable and traditional), movie, computer, smartphone, or pad screens—that shape our contemporary view of reality.
In today’s world, unnamed elites armed with a new suite of AI-assisted algorithms and using social media platforms—without any sense of moral scruples—now manipulate the puppet figures on the “cave wall” in front of us. They stoke the fires behind us. Unseen and unnamed entities. In far too many cases, we have misinterpreted their shadows for truth.
As agents of human-based, relativistic truth (as opposed to covenant-based absolute truths), these controlling elites even seek to replace the true light source with their own human-based illumination (but that is another missive altogether).
In my mind’s eye, I envision—for the purposes of this missive—the whole process being moved out of Plato’s allegorical cave into a present-day, giant cinema complex.
Welcome to the December 2023 version of the Grand Illusion Theater!
If you have lived long enough, you’ve seen most of these movies before.
As I was mulling over the recent events shaping our world, it occurred to me that my wife and myself—along with tens of millions of other Americans—are trapped like lemmings inside similar giant mall-like cinemas. (Even as, in the real world, many of the biggest malls from coast-to-coast have become deserted monuments to shopping patterns of the past). For now, at least in my allegorical setting, most of us are huddled inside the same cavernous rooms, sitting in the latest comfortable seats, watching gigantic screens in the front of the theater.
I’m not even sure how I got here.
I only know I’m here.
We all watch the same “life-movies” unfold on the screen.
In the Grand Illusion Theater, we have no idea who runs the projector, who decides what movies are to be shown, how long they will play, or when—or if—the intermission will come.
Everything is beyond our control.
In the interest of page space and time, I’d like to walk us down the corridor of this modern-day allegorical cinema, particularly the cinema section that features “coming attractions.” As I peer down the long corridor, I notice the advertising billboard placards that are posted, hallway hawkers seeking to steer passing individuals into the largest theaters, and the crowds (with mindless stares) that are herded in ways they may or may not desire. The marquees overhead of the doors of four theaters, in particular, scream out the headlines that catch my attention: “The Coming War in the Middle East” is being shown now in the largest theater. “The Danger of an Endless Stalemate in Ukraine,” has been moved just down the cinema corridor, followed in succession by “A New Pandemic Variant Looms” (mandatory masks, handed out at the doorways, are required for admission as well as a sign-up sheet for future lockdowns), and, of course “Climate Change” (this theater’s marque is sort of faded, as though it had been there for quite a while; indeed, I could barely make out the previous lettering underneath which said “Global Warming”).
I slip briefly inside the first theater, where scenes from “The Coming War in the Middle East” are playing. The huge amphitheater is dominated by a massive screen in the front. The eyes of those in the audience are transfixed by the images on the screen. When I attended the same theater last month, the screen was filled with a steady stream of horrific images: a massacre of mutilated bodies, senseless murders of innocent people, raped women, babies torn from their mothers’ wombs and then killed, a baby cooked in an oven, breasts and testicles cut off, screaming young people fleeing an outdoor music concert, and over 230 people rudely thrown into trucks and carted off as hostages. The Hamas terrorists, quite properly portrayed as barbarians wearing a religious cloak, took cellphone videos of their atrocities and proudly sent them back to their families.
Almost all of us were aghast at what we were seeing.
When I returned to the same theater a week later, however, the whole script had been flipped on its head. When Israeli aircraft began a massive bombing campaign in Gaza, followed by a military campaign employing ground forces and designed to root out and eliminate pockets of Hamas loyalists huddled in underground tunnels, there began an orchestrated worldwide campaign to pressure the Israelis to accept a ceasefire. Instead of massacre victims, the screen became full of Palestinian victims, bombed-out buildings in Gaza, hospitals short of supplies, and stories of a humanitarian disaster. At the same time, crowded screen images showed pro-Palestinian protests (thinly disguised pro-Hamas marches) mushrooming on campuses and urban streets in the U.S. and elsewhere. The screen displayed Muslim politicians refusing to criticize the barbaric behavior of Hamas and in many cases applauding it. In true neo-Marxist fashion, the Israelis were suddenly portrayed as colonial-type aggressors. In the background, largely unnoticed, a subliminal message featuring the ugly spirit of antisemitism in dark hues, raised its head.
As to the images now flooding the screen, I couldn’t believe my own eyes.
In my mind, evil was being rewarded. Moreover, in a strange twist of logic, the Israeli victims somehow deserved to be butchered, mutilated, and tortured. It was as if a pernicious form of moral equivalency took over the actors talking on the screen, whether they were media pundits, politicians, or church leaders. Almost all of them refused to call out the evil for what it was: pure demonic hatred.
As the visual projections continued to play on the screen, I turned my eyes away and noticed (from my vantage point near the rear of the theater), a swarm of small drones flying down the theater aisles carrying payloads of free popcorn, sodas, and beer to the spellbound viewers. Unbeknownst to those in the audience, the food and drink was laced—according to the latest algorithm—with just the right amount of fear and trepidation.
A spirit of fear and uncertainty hovered over the audience like a shroud.
Moreover, I could tell that almost no one in the crowd noticed the diversionary subliminal messages interspersed with the visual images and narrative on the screen. Timeworn and well-rehearsed patriotic messages with just a touch of righteous anger was the directed toward those sitting on the right-hand side of the theater. On the left, servers scurried underneath the drones, garbed in shallow but well-meaning humanitarian costumes, (on the farthest left seats, the servers’ costumes displayed tints of Palestinian flag colors with ugly red trim.) At that point I noticed a phenomenon I had seen in almost all the featured theaters in the cinema—virtually no one sat in the middle sections.
No matter, a subliminal message of hate was transmitted to each person in the audience, no matter where they were seated.
As the images on the screen switched to the renewed Israeli bombing campaign after a short ceasefire, skies filled with drones, scores of attacks by Iran-sponsored proxies in the region on Israeli civilian and American military assets (with little response), and threatening gestures by Hamas and Iranian leaders, another brief but effective subliminal message appeared—an all-consuming mushroom cloud.
Behind me, a sinewy middle-aged man with curly hair and wrinkled skin whispered in my ear: “it’s all Trump’s fault you know.” My friends later told me he had not changed his tune since 2016, nevertheless, he was a fixture in every theater.
In an adjacent second theater, just down the corridor, a smaller crowd gathered to watch a steady stream of videos from the ongoing Russo-Ukraine War—Moscow continues calling it a “special operation”—now dancing across the screen. The same movie, with only slight variations, had played for over 650 straight days. Statements of Western leaders are spliced in-between the scenes of war-related carnage (mostly the same timeworn footage of bombed-out apartment complexes, destroyed Russian tanks, downed helicopters, and overhead drone swarms.). Much of this canned footage has been replaced by new video segments featuring modern Western-made tanks, drones and missiles recently added to Kiev’s inventory.
Almost completely missing from the screen images were scenes of Ukrainian units now bogged down in in trenches reminiscent of the stalemated carnage on the Western Front in World War I. It was common knowledge to many in the audience that all the ballyhoo about the counteroffensive was empty rhetoric: it had ground to a halt. Ukrainian officials, of course, blamed the battlefield stalemate on the slowdown in the flow of promised modern weaponry from the Western allies.
I could tell—having watched this screen periodically over the last several months—that the narrative swallowed all truth.
Still, even today, large overhead speakers (the latest surround-sound system) carry the faint, but discernible, sounds of beating war drums. I wonder if the others seated in the theater can hear them. Now familiar stock footage of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelensky—the overnight sensation who has been transformed by the elites in the projection room from a local comedian into a global hero before our very eyes—appears in one set of images making virtual presentations to the United Nations, the U.S. Congress, and in the next to the World Economic Forum—at each juncture dressed in his now-familiar camouflaged fatigues. Each appearance on the screen, predictably, is greeted by a ripple of applause from the crowd. By contrast, the visual images of a bloated, sickly-looking Russian President Vladimir Putin are met, predictably, with a smattering of boos.
The screens on both side panels were dominated by footage featuring a larger-than-life Chinese President Xi Jinping shaking hands with Putin, as ultranationalist Chinese music—musically mixed with the war drums—wafted in the background. Visual images of new Chinese drones, hypersonic missiles, quantum computers, ships, submarines and a sweeping panorama of goose-stepping military units played in the background. Almost instantly, I noticed a targeting map of Taiwanese military sites on the screen. But most of the crowd—preoccupied by the present Ukrainian crisis—had their eyes glued to the main screen in front and paid far less attention to the side screens.
Few in the theater paid attention to a brief news blurb that flashed on the side screen: Xi Jinping is orchestrating a Stalin-like purge of top Chinese officials.
But I had seen this show before. It was sponsored by the same military-intelligence-industrial-complex that had been running movies regularly in the theater since the Cold War. The only thing that had changed was the techno-complexity (and expense) of the weapons’ systems: the hands in the pockets of the politicians, the use of tried-and-true messaging patterns, and the use of war to divert the audience’s attention from domestic policy failures, were all old refrains. The old Cold War proxy stalwarts—Greece, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan—had merely switched locations: the Ukraine, the Middle East, and the South China Sea.
Indeed, I stood there of two minds: as a Vietnam veteran and based on my many years of service in the intelligence community, I am unabashedly pro-American and pro-military; but, on the other hand, how do I ignore the steady drumbeat for war being orchestrated by the elites? A drumbeat which will, at the end of the day, result in an unending stream of coffins draped in American flags.
Maybe some of you face the same quandary.
So, a bit perplexed, I sighed heavily, exited, and entered the next Coming Attraction Theater, “A New Pandemic Variant Looms,” picking up a mask at the door. There was a large crowd. Again, I stood in the back. The same uniformed vendors—some of whom now donned hospital-looking scrubs—distributed popcorn, pretzels, and drinks. I noticed very little had changed about the visual images on the front screen since late 2019: images of shots being administered, the same endless stream of threatened lockouts, social distancing and mask regulations, amid the never-quite-realized promises of dozens of mRNA vaccines, all of which led in the past to shuttered churches (but not “essential” bars and nightclubs) as well as closed or understaffed restaurants, factories and stores. As I scanned the faces in the audience, I thought I noticed definite signs of Covid-19-fatigue etched on most their faces.
The visual images playing on the screen today displayed a new wrinkle. On the screens I watched hospitals in Beijing and Shanghai crowded with children in overcrowded emergency rooms connected to intravenous fluid lines. The hospital rooms were crammed full. Four years ago, the same hospitals were slammed with the elderly suffering from the Sars-CoV-2 pandemic. On the screen, a parade of Chinese media spokesmen and medical experts tried to assure an understandably jittery public: the outbreak was caused by mycoplasma pneumonia (a particular variant is known as “white lung syndrome”) that usually causes upper respiratory tract symptoms but can also prompt more serious lung issues and pneumonia. The ruling Party, again caught off-guard by a spreading disease, blamed the outbreak on colder weather and the lifting of stringent COVID restrictions, and the country’s health officials assured the World Health Organization that no novel pathogens were involved.
The assertions were met with ripples of laughter from those siting on the right-hand side of the auditorium—even as side screens carried previews of the Wuhan Virological Lab debate, the dangerous side effects of the new vaccines, and the uselessness of masks as protective devices. But I had seen it all before.
On the left-hand side, there was a growing sense of paranoia as the audience on that side of the theater searched in their pockets and purses for bigger masks, eagerly signed up for the next round of vaccines, and began mentally preparing for a new round of government-sanctioned lockdowns.
Meanwhile, on the main screen in front, algorithmically produced graphs, buttressed by a steady stream of statistics raced across the bottom of the screen like a Wall Street ticker banner, showed spiking numbers of white lung casualties in Denmark, and locations in the United States (including Warren County, Ohio, where we are remodeling my mom and dad’s house).
I felt a dull ache in the pit of my stomach. Like many others, I was hoping that these endless Covid-related sequels were reaching their end—like the last pitiful episode of The Planet of the Apes—and we could move on with normal life. Disgruntled, I turned to leave the theater (as Anthony Fauci’s face again appeared on the screen behind me), tossing my mask in the recycle bin.
I quickly walked past the next theater playing “Looming Food and Supply Shortages and Future Bank Shutdowns,” where I caught a glimpse of vendors just starting to pass out the fear-laced food and drinks in the slowly filling auditorium. For the first time, I noticed a portal, protected by a thick curtain, connecting the theater with the previous three I had just visited. It was only then that I realized that the issues of the day—and the subsequent messaging—are somehow interconnected. Similar secret passages, I assume, connect the elites running the equipment in the back rooms where the images were projected.
These spiderwebs of connections were everywhere.
Then my attention was captured by a small, ordinary-looking theater at the very end of the corridor. Few people shuffling by in the cinema mall entered through the doors. The marque’s coming attraction flashed in bright neon lights: “Jesus Is Coming Soon.” But almost everybody passed by the theater as though it didn’t exist. I noticed that thick spiritual scales covered their eyes which, in turn, were lifeless, listless, and hopeless. Each of them carried a cellphone or pod device—all blasting the noise of this world and echoing the sounds coming from the other theaters—which prevented them from seeing and hearing the message on the marque.
I heard that no fear-tainted popcorn or drinks are allowed in the theater and all subliminal screen messages were forbidden. Admission to the theater was free of charge. In contrast to the glitzy distractions and worldly narratives featured in the other theaters, the screen portrayed only one simple message: Jesus Christ, the Messiah, is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
I started walking toward the doors of the theater: inside was the only message I wanted to see and hear, the only coming attraction that would really satisfy me … the true end of the grand illusions.
You can find this and other essays by Jeemes Akers at jeemesakers.com