The title is a bastardization of a lyric from a King Crimson song which said, “Confusion will be my epitaph,” which is more or less true for anyone. Confusion is an uncontrolled state of being, Illusion is a highly controlled state of being. Illusion is something used by a trickster, a magician, a stage performer.
Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” ~ Tennessee Williams in The Glass Menagerie
Illusion comes in many forms with many purposes. Most of my early training in illusion came from going to church as a child. Conformity to the Presbyterian dress code for Sunday attire is the first lesson: “ You want to look like all the other children, don’t you?” Facade management is the essential component of being part of their group. Maintain the illusion and you fit in just fine. Don’t color outside the big thick black lines of the Presbyterian coloring book and you will make the picture they want you to make. The standards are their’s, your job is to follow them.
Illusion was my business as a theatrical designer and producer. I know how illusion works to a far greater extent than that basic Sunday School level. The art and craft of storytelling is a ‘pleasant disguise,’ while the conformity of theological illusion is a manipulation. In other words, Tennessee Williams is illustrating the truth for you to use as you see fit, while Presbyterians proclaim their truth and threaten you with hell if you color outside their lines. People see merit in either approach: some prefer to deliberate and then make their own choices, while others prefer to follow guidelines of some sort. To a degree, the choice of one over the other is a matter of the intellectual rigor you wish to contribute to the effort of living life.
In one sense it is the value you give to authority, ideology, and loyalty. What is my function? Where is my place within the group? If you give high value to these concepts your conception of the individual is less personal, an individual is but one of many that has an obligatory duty; a cog in the machine of humanity, a spoke on the wheel, one of many interchangeable parts. The machine of society works best when the hierarchy of authority is clear, when all parts are focused on the same goal, and when each part is committed to the goal. The machine is what matters most, but it is the leader who sets the goals. Even though ironies abound, this describes the people who vote for Donald Trump, his rhetoric encourages authoritarian homogeneity. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth, but isn’t.
In contrast, liberal freethinkers put the individual first, not the machine. Fairness and self-determination are its defining values. This group constantly redesigns the machine, with the objective to make it better for each individual. Authority comes from the whole group, not one individual. The purpose of their machine is to care for the needs of the individuals within the group. Who am I as an individual? How can I, the individual, serve the needs of the group? Free thought gives you truth in both reality and in the pleasant disguise of illusion and metaphor.
It doesn’t matter how the truth gets told as long as it is the truth that is being told. If it isn’t the truth then we must reveal the illusion for what it is, a lie. The rapid-fire deceit upon deceit of the Trump administration is part of his bag of magic tricks; it confuses the audience into enjoying the blather rather than knowing truth. The key Trump illusion is his intent to confuse truth into irrelevancy. This leaves him free to drive his authoritarian machine toward whatever destination serves him best. We will watch him do it even as our complaints become part of the hubbub of distraction. He is the magician who converts all truth into his illusion. King Crimson got it right, “Confusion will be our democracy’s epitaph.”