In 2008, we entered a parallel universe

CERN's Large Hadron Collider

I tend to stay away from conspiracy theories on this website, chiefly because I already play it fast and loose with the elusive yet stringent ‘principles of journalism.’ These have been hardwired into my brain at the cost of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours spent indulging aging practitioners of a dying industry in the hopes that there might still be room for me if I spin around three times and whisper “democracy dies in darkness” into the mirror every night. As such, analyzing the insomniac posts of 4Chan crazies tends to be too much for me to handle.

Seriously, the spirit of the Canadian Press’ Mike Blanchfield still traces a continuous lazy halo around my head like a middle-aged Navi, diligently pointing out every unnecessary adverb and scolding the terms, of which I make liberal fucking use, that might denote more familiarity than is appropriate. (Sorry Mike, I actually genuinely enjoyed your class, but it’s important to my brand that I maintain an aura of disenfranchisement, I hope you understand.)

The other reason I avoid that shit though, is a lot more practical: it’s just straight up annoying as balls to research. It’s like trying to divine a cohesive narrative from the dream journal of a Vietnam veteran who self-medicates with homemade DMT, and QAnon flowcharts are ten times more hilarious, with syllogism ten times more acrobatic than anything Charlie Day could ever write for his famously mentally deficient character. I simply do not have the will to track the metaphorical white rabbit and I’m certain Morpheus’ red pill is just a gateway to antipsychotics.

That being said, there is one conspiracy theory I keep going back to. It’s like a benign tumor that you show off to freak people out at parties, or like the Snapchat discover page that you only use when you green out on the couch but don’t want to make a big deal out of it. The theory goes a little like this: at some point in the last decade, the nerds at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (or CERN), who operate the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) under the French-Swiss border, fucked something up. Joining the ranks of Icarus, Victor Frankenstein, and the dwarves of Moria, these scientists messed with forces beyond their understanding and their experiments apparently shattered our reality, shunting the consciousness of every living being into a parallel dimension where shit is a lot weirder.

According to proponents of this conspiracy, the beginning of the LHC’s operations coincide with an increase in occurrences of the ‘Mandela Effect,’ which describes the admittedly freaky phenomenon of large groups of people misremembering facts or events. It’s named for the fact that a lot of people were apparently positive Nelson Mandela had died in prison, despite the fact that he was President of South Africa at the time. Other common examples include thinking the children’s series “The Berenstain Bears” was called “The Berenstein Bears,” which it never has been, and that ‘Febreze,’ is spelled ‘Febreeze,’ which for some bizarre fucking reason, it isn’t.

Berenstain Bears meme I found on Google Images

Theorists also argue that objectively strange events like the Cubs’ 2016 World Series win and Donald Trump’s presidential ascent can only be explained by the destruction of our universe as we know it. If you have the brain of either a four-year old or a DMT addicted, self-proclaimed MKUltra survivor, then this type of correlation without causation holds some water. And if you fall into these demographics, a bunch of faceless scientists in a cave smashing particles together at near light speed are the exact ingredients needed for dimension-collapsing.

However, if you’re a regular person, then there are just a few things that don’t add up. Again, I don’t have the strength to go into all of them, but the biggest one is that the people who believe this stuff (like me when I’m high) are confusing the idea of ‘alternate dimensions,’ which is a key problem of modern physics with the idea of ‘parallel dimensions,’ which is a key foundation of much of modern science fiction.

The theory of alternate dimensions is actually one of the things that scientists working with the LHC are explicitly studying, so they might have a bit of a branding issue there. I tried looking into it but about halfway through one WIRED video, my brain started to short-circuit, so here’s my feeble attempt to explain what this is about: dimensions are venues in which we can locate something. If we place, or locate something on a line, it’s in one dimension; on a plane, two dimensions; in space, 3D; and in spacetime, four dimensions. String Theory, a leading theory of quantum gravity (I don’t know either), proposes 10 dimensions, and some physicists believe we may be able to see them under the right conditions, like when two particles fly into each other going really, really fast. Why did I feel you needed to know this? It's one of life's great mysteries.

On the other hand, the theory of parallel dimensions, or more accurately, parallel universes, suggests that there are infinite realities that are different from our own, and that infinitely more are created each instant. An easy way to understand this is by thinking about how we often say shit like “if this hadn’t have happened, we wouldn’t be here,” or whatever. If there are in fact parallel universes, there are infinitely many where ‘this’ didn’t happen and/or we aren’t ‘here.’

Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, a wizard who deals with parallel universes or something, I swear it's relevant

I think the key reason the CERN conspiracy theory is so attractive to me, even though I know it doesn’t make any sense, is that thinking about the reason things are the way they are is precisely how our brains process logic. If you wanna make a decision, you think about the outcomes of your options, and if you want to learn from a mistake, you think about what you could have done differently, or in other words, you think about what the parallel universes created by that decision might look like. This is hard to do, and it would be much simpler if everything could be blamed on the particle people.

But my point is that, to our minds, our reality is shattered with every decision that’s ever made — it doesn’t require a bunch of supernerds in lab coats throwing particles around for that, even though it’s way more fun to believe it does. This means that, as much as I wish we could, we can’t just chalk all the weird shit in the world up to a lab accident, which also means that, in order to learn from our mistakes, we actually have to look at the decisions that caused them.

On a large scale, the analysis of all these decisions is provided by historians, archaeologists, librarians and nerds and the like. History is a crazy harsh judge of behaviour and failure, but it’s also the mechanism by which we celebrate our successes as a species. Recent deterioration in economics, politics, and the environment is matched only by the simultaneous advancements of culture and technology. Our lives are part of an incredibly complex ecosystem which is definitely way above the consequence of a missed variable on some whiteboard buried under Geneva.

Now, with all that out of the way, let me tell you exactly when the CERN Large Hadron Collider exploded our reality and instantly transported us to a new Earth, where the Cubs’ curse is broken and Trump gets to be president. It happened in 2008. That year is when everything changed, so strap in and prepare to get educated because by the end of this, there’s no way you won’t be convinced that the world we live in now can only be explained by a catastrophic breakdown of physics 13 years ago.

In July, the price of oil reached $147 a barrel, marking a record high and a 500% increase over five years. This shock, caused by threats to supply all over the globe paired with an unrelenting demand, wreaked havoc on the energy and automotive industries. You might remember that about 60 days later, wall street was lit on fire and the entire global economy fucking imploded. The mortgage crisis (which I wrote about in my profile of Steve Bannon, *wink*, who by the way was pardoned last week as further proof that we are living in purgatory and that this is a planet-sized version of Lost) and the shock mixed like economic fertilizer and fuel oil, to the detriment of most people who had worked their dicks and tits off their entire lives for the glimmer of a peaceful retirement.

An oil rig on fire, not sure which one, this is mostly just here for the metaphor

You might also remember (especially if you read that fine specimen of writing) that newly-elected President Barack Obama’s handling of the crisis, and the resulting conflict, regardless of who bears responsibility, would end up setting the stage for the extreme polarization we see in contemporary politics globally. The extreme partisanship in America would, along with drone strikes and maintaining the establishment of a party that, were it not for Stacey Abrams, couldn’t win a fucking election to save their lives, become a rare stain on the otherwise popular president’s legacy. Yes, I know Obama technically took office in 2009, but he won in 2008, so suck me, it counts.

Anyway, while the world was reeling from the effects of, among other things, our dependency on fossil fuels, many of our leaders doubled down on the same. For example, in Canada, we had my main man Stephen Harper. Now, even though in this country we have campaign finance laws that make actual coherent sense, Harper was fighting to maintain a mandate with a dodgy minority government in a recession. It certainly wasn’t a good idea to piss off anyone with strong lobbying power, including Alberta oil.

And especially not when TransCanada (now TC Energy) had just announced a major project to run something called the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry expensive tar sands crude through Indigenous land (like the parts we haven't even stolen from them yet), down to American refineries, creating hundreds of Canadian jobs in the process. This project, which president Biden cancelled by executive order on his first afternoon in office last week, was announced in, you guessed it, 2008.

In the 80s, Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government was among the loudest voices calling for climate protection, but in the late 2000s, Harper’s federal Conservatives handed the environmentally conscious-but-still-not-willing-to-vote-for-Elizabeth-May vote over to the Libs and the NDP forever, with his notoriously pussified policies in that sector. This is a big part of why I’m stuck owning a pipeline that will do nothing to save our dollar instead of like a wind farm or something cool that actually has the potential to make a positive return on my involuntary investment.

So that’s the deterioration part. But the other side of the coin is pretty spectacular too. In 2008, Kid Cudi released “Day N’ Nite,” which kickstarted a career that influenced the biggest names in Hip Hop, and in music and culture more broadly, like Travis Scott and Kanye West. West is a billionaire, and Scott is basically the face of Fortnite, which made $1.8 billion in 2019 alone. The growing influence of black culture on the mainstream is a driving force behind many incredible social movements of today, and is straight up just better than the alternative.

The omnipresent influence of technology on our daily lives and social climate also has its roots earlier in the 21st century. First of all, speaking of gaming, Rockstar released GTA IV in 2008. The game’s emphasis on an immersive soundtrack introduced many younger players to rap music, and also let politicians dogwhistle the shit out of the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. by blaming it on games like this instead of, you know, institutionalized income inequality or racism.

Cover art for GTA IV, released in 2008

Social Media’s hegemonic grip on our lives also began to really steamroll in 2008. Twitter reached 100 million tweets per quarter that year and Facebook, the catalyst for, among many things, a genocide in Myanmar and an insurrectionist attack on America’s Capitol building, moved its headquarters to Ireland, where the tax laws allowed the young company to turn its first profit the following year. And even though we spend a lot of time shitting on these companies, and they deserve it, their usefulness is also undeniably world-shattering.

I was being sarcastic, by the way, in case it wasn’t clear, when I said the CERN supercollider sent us spinning into a new reality in 2008. The point that I was trying to make is that things are the way they are now because of a bunch of shit that happened in 2008, but also obviously because of a bunch of shit that happened before and after that year.

The price of oil has been economic nitroglycerin since the 70s when middle class had already started to go down the shitter thanks to three other oil shocks and two presidents with very bad ideas *cough* Nixon *cough* Reagan, it didn’t just spontaneously combust in 2008. Obama didn’t invent fierce political partisanship in the States, that was invented by Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, and it was imported to Canada from the fucking Protestant Reformation even earlier.

Our dollar doesn’t suck simply because Harper and others overinvested in oil that was way too expensive to ever compete against OPEC in the market, I’m sure there are other reasons as well, and it was his successor's decision to buy the TransMountain pipeline after all. Hip Hop didn’t blow up just thanks to Kid Cudi, obviously, and we aren’t trying our hardest, pinky promise, to overturn the effects of centuries of overt racism permeating our politics just because “All Falls Down” slaps and Travis Scott has a McDonald’s deal.

Screncap from Travis Scott's McDonald's commercial

Politicians would have found a way to blame the victims of gun violence for gun violence even without GTA — I know this because they had been doing for decades before video games even existed. And the revolution of our communications began long before Mark Zuckerberg was creepy about women in his dorm room at Harvard. But isn’t it wild to look at the history? What a fuckin’ year eh? It definitely feels, looking back on it, like we now live in the Upside Down, and you can’t say that our lives weren’t changed forever in 2008. That being said, you can’t actually say that about any period of time. That’s how time works, it changes our lives forever. All the time. And no amount of smashing protons together is going to change that, probably.

Although, it is interesting to me that right as the Large Hadron Collider was beginning its operations, there was an “accident” that caused an explosion and busted a large portion of the rig. Magnet problem, they said, but the accident occurred in, that’s right, 2008. Coincidence? Maybe...