Trump reflections IX – aka reflections on society and politics

 

Continued from previous posts…. These posts started out about Trump but have morphed into brief notes about society and politics in general.

Emotionally motivated reasoning. A good portion of our reasoning is emotionally motivated. I sometimes think that in a Life 101 track for young people, learning to recognize emotionally motivated reasoning (EMR) – and it’s strengths and pitfalls – would be included. It seems a basic and useful life skill.

Emotionally motivated reasoning is reasoning based on emotions. We use thoughts to match our emotions, or to justify and support our emotions. We feel empathy so have a view of egalitarian inclusiveness. We feel angry, so we come up with a reason we are angry and perhaps why someone else is to blame. We are afraid, and do the same. And this influences our political views and reasoning.

What are some of the signs of EMR? Reactivity. Defensiveness. Blame. Appearing unreasonable. Uninterested in alternate views. Discounting data that doesn’t fit.

We can learn to recognize this in ourselves and in others. When we recognize it in ourselves, it’s a reminder to stop. Notice our emotions. Be honest with ourselves what we feel. (Perhaps anger on the surface masking fear.) And reconsider our view. It can be difficult, but it has many rewards. It’s a practice in honesty. And it’s a practice in being more interested in reality than our cherished views and identities. We will always operate from EMR in some situations and areas of life, but we can learn to recognize and be more honest about it.

And when we recognize it in others, we will then be more able to use a similar process. Sometimes, it’s  appropriate to directly address reactivity and irrationality, but it can also make positions more entrenched. Another way is to approach it with genuine curiosity. What are the emotions behind it? What’s the fear? What do they really want and need? Perhaps there are other strategies for them to have their needs met? (This is similar to Nonviolent Communications.)

Goldwater rule. In most countries, mental health professionals are very careful to not discuss the mental health of political leaders. It’s a good general rule. Discussing a leader’s mental health in public is something that easily can be misused. It can be used to draw attention to the person rather than the issues (ad hominem argument).

And yet, with Trump we find ourselves in unchartered territory, at least in modern western history. And that has led some psychologists and psychiatrists chose to set the rule aside. It’s still important to focus on the issues, but also to address his state of mind. His unpredictability and reactivity is a real danger to people in the US and other countries.

In addition, as many have pointed out, we don’t need to diagnose him to know that having someone like him as the leader of any nation is dangerous.

Shared insanity. Trump’s policies is also a danger to ecosystems and future generations, but that’s something he shares with most politicians today. It’s a shared insanity. And, as I see it, we are justified in calling it insanity. It’s irrational. It’s dangerous. It comes from a view of “us” that excludes most or all non-human species, ecosystems, and all future generations. It’s cold-hearted and emotionally stunted. It damages us – psychologically and in our lives – as much as it damages the rest of life. It’s a sawing over of the branch we are sitting on.

Resigning. From the beginning, I thought that Trump resigning before the end of his period would be a likely scenario. Right now, as the Russia-connection investigation keeps turning up more potentially harmful information, that seems as likely as ever. If we get to the point where impeachment seems unavoidable, he is likely to resign before it goes that far and blame his enemies for obstructing him. If he avoids impeachment he may actually last four years and possibly even run for re-election. He seems to have gotten over his initial shell shock and warmed to his new role.

Dementia? Trump shows signs of early dementia and has for some time. Of course, it may just be his usual erratic ways and oddities. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he is diagnosed in the mid-range future (or not). There is a risk in focusing on the person rather than the policies and it should generally be avoided. But in his case, it’s something that may need to be discussed.

Racism vs human rights. When a black man protested racial injustice, Trump said “get that son of a bitch off the field”. And when white people demand racial injustice, Trump said “very fine people”. (Thanks to Nathan W. for putting it succinctly.) That about sums it up.

It’s not surprising. Authoritarians like Trump sometimes value respect for symbols (flags, anthems) and leaders over concern for humans and human rights.

Prevention. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That goes for any unfortunate views and behaviors in society from racism to terrorism. The social reasons for bigotry and terrorism include economic inequality, injustice, and lack of opportunities, and that leads to personal reasons including trauma. A society – locally and globally – that works better for more or all people is the best prevention. It seems very obvious, at least for people in Northern Europe where we see that this works. (Of course, it’s not perfect.)

Point of no return? For decades, people have said that in a short time (often 5 or ten years), we will reach a point of no return in terms of climate change or environmental problems in general. I don’t quite understand it.

What do they mean with point of no return? That we can’t return to climate as it was before humans? (That doesn’t make any sense because the climate has always changed to some extent and has always been impacted by all life on Earth.) That we can’t return to a climate where our society is able to function OK and without too much die-off? (The second has already passed a long time ago.) That we can’t return to a climate that we, as humans, are fit for? (Hard to pinpoint.)

And why do they keep using a cry wolf strategy? Focusing on the problems rather than the solutions doesn’t work very well with most people. And keep moving an imagined “point of no return” a few years into the future is a strategy that’s easily seen through and dismissed.

It seems better to say (a) this is very serious (which is it) and it will impact you, (b) we have specific good and attractive solutions (which we do), and (c) these are the structural changes we need to make to transition. Of course, it helps to make it personal, to speak to people’s existing values, to find ways for it to fit into their existing (valued) identities, to emphasize practical and attractive solutions, and so on.

What we’ll have to deal with. That said, we have for decades known that climate change feedback loops are complex and unpredictable. Some strengthen the change (melting of the ice and tundra), and some limit the change. Even if we mostly transition out of fossil fuel within a couple of decades (which seems likely due to new and attractive technology), we’ll have to deal with a significant amount of climate change. It’s possible that all ice will melt which will flood the most populated areas of the world, and that it may happen sooner than what most think. The ocean will become more acidic from absorbing CO2 which will impact ocean life and, in the worst case, perhaps kill of large portions of current ocean life. Sea currents may change, including the Golf Stream which will make Northern Europe significantly colder. Hurricanes will get stronger due to warmer oceans. And so on. We’ll have to deal with flooding and flood prevention, mass emigration of people, loss of land for food production (and moving food production to other areas), and much more.

Screwing the poor. Republicans are, as they typically do, trying to screw the poor in any way they can – first by trying to revoke the Affordable Care Act and now through tax reform that benefits the most wealthy. And, for some reason, many of those who will be hardest hit by their policies are the ones voting for them. I guess it shows the success of the Republican and neo-liberal propaganda, the results of a weak educational system, how identity trumps rationality (people vote Republican because they identify as Republicans), and what happens when people get their information from places like Fox News designed to mislead people.

October 1, 2017

Spain and Catalonia. Catalonia is holding a vote today for independence, and Spain is doing whatever they can to stop it. The reason is obvious: money. Catalonia generates more money than any other region in Spain, and it benefits the rest of the country. And the reason many Catalonians want independence

is partly cultural, partly financial, and partly so they can self-govern.

I find it interesting when people openly go against basic decency, and basic democratic and human rights issues, as Spain is doing in this situation. (Of course, some will say they are legally allowed to prevent a vote and that having your own country is not a human right, both of which may be technically true.) It’s obviously why they are trying to stop it. They are on the wrong side of history. And we know that smaller countries – at least in Europe – tend to be more democratic and do better all around, so that’s not a reason to stop it either.

Update: I wrote the above in the morning on the election day. It’s now evening and it’s been a day that looks more like the old Franco regime (police brutality, forcefully removing election equipment etc.) than a modern democracy. If Spain wants to give Catalonians a very good reason to remove themselves from Spain, they have done so brilliantly. I cannot imagine any better reason to become independent than to be free from a government and country willing to use those means to crack down on a peaceful vote for independence.

Update 2: The Norwegian government issues a statement saying that the police violence Spain used to suppress the voting effort was their “internal issue”. It’s anything but their internal issue. Any time there is state-sponsored violence and a suppression of human rights, it’s very much an international issue.

Trump and Puerto Rico. Trump is similarly blatant in his current attitude towards Puerto Rico and their desperate need for assistance following a couple of devastating hurricanes. He was willing to help Texas since they are good and largely white Americans. But he is unwilling to help Puerto Ricans since they are largely Hispanic. It’s his typical bigotry and racism, and he knows he can get away with it, at least among his hardcore followers and supporters. To literally add insult to injury, he mocks Puerto Rico and the mayor of San Juan in his tweets. What he is doing is every bit as inexcusable as Bush Jr.’s inaction when New Orleans was hit by a hurricane, and likely even more serious. And, I assume, that’s how history will see it as well.

Solution focused. I am aware that many of these entries are problem focused more than solution focused. It’s partly intentional since it gives me a place to rant. And I am very aware that being solution focused works better so that’s what I am doing in other posts, and also in my daily life. We need to be aware of the problems and know what’s going on the world. And it’s good – for ourselves, others, and society – to focus on, support, and implement practical solutions to these problems.

October 3, 2017

Our vs their violence. Many in the US, and perhaps particularly white people, seem to quietly accept violence done by other white people while wanting to crack down on violence committed by others (blacks, Muslims, foreigners etc.).

Of course, as with the recent shooting in Las Vegas, they are sad and perhaps shocked, but nothing more really happens. There are no changes to the laws or regulations. People are still free to buy and own guns even if they have no real reason or need to do so. And yet, when outgroups commit acts of violence, there is often a very strong reaction.

I assume most people are aware of this pattern. My wish is that it would be pointed out more often in the public discourse, including by reporters and politicians. As it is now, it’s mostly kept as a shared and known secret. It it was more out in the open, change could happen because we would see more clearly the inconsistencies in it. Of course, shared secrets of this kind is the norm for certain issues, and I assume most people don’t speak about it because others don’t speak about it.

Media literacy. The most useful (and interesting) courses for me in middle and high school were media literacy. I can’t help to think that politics in the US would be different if more people were educated in media literacy. For instance, the gun control debate in the US is strongly influenced by propaganda (and lobbying) by the gun industry, and – as usual – some segments of the population buy into it. It fits into their identity so they adopt the views as their own.

We see something similar with health care where some buy into the arguments from the insurance industry and oppose universal health care. And with climate change and the propaganda from the petroleum industry. And, in the bigger picture, with neo-liberal policies. Some support neo-liberal policies that clearly hurt themselves just because they have bought into the neo-liberal arguments from the very wealthy who benefits from them.

We have also seen it with the earlier tobacco debate where the tobacco industry did what they could, often successfully, to sow doubt about the science. Fortunately, the last debate is mostly over and that shows this can – and will – change. Find the source of information and who benefits financially from it.

To put it in a very simplified way, find the source of information and who benefits financially from it.

Of course, some can – and do – use insights from media literacy to fuel conspiracy theories. Although in general, media literacy is crucial in order to have a well-functioning democracy.

The current challenge to our democracy. Democracy, as any system, has flaws. (And yet, of all the flawed systems, it’s the best one so far.) Currently, it’s very clear that one of its major flaws is (a) misinformed people (b) making bad decisions. And the main bad decision is voting for and supporting politicians who do not have their best interest at heart.

October 5, 2017

Suing the oil producers. It seems obvious that the current oil producers will be sued, and that includes Norway. We have known about anthropogenic climate change for a long time, and we have had a consensus among scientists for a long time. And Norway is still producing oil, and even developing new locations for extracting oil. How can that not lead to a series of large lawsuits in the future? Norwegian politicians and people in general seem incredibly complacent about this.

The sane approach would be to (a) stop all further development of oil extraction, (b) channel the oil money into developing renewable energy technologies, and (c) share this with the world (and make money in the process). Renewable energy technologies could be Norway’s new oil. I have waited since my teens to see this happen, but it’s still not happening (most likely out of complacency). And that makes these lawsuits even more likely.

October 15, 2017

Anti-climactic resolution to climate change? As someone said, the future will most likely not be as bad as we fear nor as good as we hope. It’s quite possible that the resolution to climate change will be a combination of (a) having to deal with some of the effects of warming (flooding, stronger storms, climate refugees), (b) a natural transition to renewable energy because of better solutions than what’s found in the petroleum world, and (c) solutions such as carbon capture plants (pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere).

If so, it’s a somewhat anti-climactic resolution. And it won’t in itself help us create a sustainable society. We’ll still need to switch to a worldview that takes ecological realities into account, reflect it in how we think about every aspect of human life (economy, transportation, energy, education etc.), and make thorough structural changes so that what’s good for life is also the most easy and attractive solution for individuals, businesses, and communities. All of that is very possible, as soon as enough – and the right – people realize it’s not only necessary but also a good transition all around.

October 23, 2017

Shame and sustainability. One hindrance to sustainability is shame. Some folks feel shame, or are afraid of being shamed, because they are not doing enough, or they have a lifestyle incompatible with sustainability. So they react to that fear by becoming defensive and pushing away more sustainable solutions.

One way to deal with this is to emphasize that we all are in the same boat (which we are), that the problems and solutions are systemtic and impersonal (which they mostly are), and that this is about choosing attractive solutions and not shaming and blaming anyone (which is true).

The shadow of old-timey environmentalism. Some aspects of the old-timey environmentalism is casting a long shadow, at least among some people. It has given environmentalism – and, by association, sustainability – an image problem.

What I am thinking about is an attitude of blame, prioritizing nature over people, emphasizing the need for austerity and “going back in time”, and similar things. Some did have this orientation, and were quite verbal about it, but this is just an orientation, one of many approaches to environmentalism and sustainability. It was always a somewhat misguided and not very effective approach, and today it seems very outdated.

So one of the tasks is to show that sustainability has nothing to do with that particular approach. There is no blame (since it’s systemtic). It’s about creating a good life for humans, and the rest of Earth. There is no need for austerity or “going back in time”.

Elon Musk is doing a lot for sustainability in terms of developing new technologies. But his main achievement may be to change the image of sustainability. He shows that it can be, and often is, attractive and cool – even in a conventional sense.

Star Trek Discovery. I have only watched the three first episodes of the new Star Trek TV-series, Star Trek Discovery. And although I generally love Star Trek, and had some expectations of this series based on what I read before watching it, I must say I am somewhat disappointed and may not watch more episodes. Most of the main characters (apart from the initial captain and science officer) seem emotionally immature to the point where I started wondering if this was set in a mirror universe or there was some mysterious external influence on people’s character. That may be what’s happening, in which case I’ll gladly watch more episodes since the series seems otherwise well made.

If the characters are meant to inherently be as emotionally immature as they seem, it rises several questions. Within the Star Trek universe, it seems unlikely that any of them would rise to the positions they are (or were) in or that the crew would be able to function well together. And in terms of the US culture, it may be a sad reflection on that culture in general. Perhaps the writers realized that many in the US seem emotionally immature (the election of Trump may reflect just that) and wanted to target that portion of the audience. They may have thought that maturity doesn’t sell.

Also, it’s a bit sad that the initial vision of Roddenberry – of a future where people have found a different and more mature way to organize themselves and relate to each other – was abandoned in the recent Star Trek movies (ignored), and now also in this TV series (apparently goes against).

Foundations of a democracy. If nothing else, Trump is certainly reminding us to not take a democratic – and mostly caring – society for granted.

He and similar minded people seem set out to tear down the norms, policies, and institutions that generations have fought for, and that provides a society where most people can have a decent life. (Of course, globally that’s not the case, but it largely is within most western societies.)

The irony is that most people with such a mindset have themselves benefited hugely from what they wish to tear down, and they wouldn’t be in a position where they have the luxury of wishing to tear it down without it. They are like children throwing a tantrum without knowing what they have and how much they have to lose.

Is Trump a populist? I keep seeing Trump described as a populist. I agree that he sounds populist. He uses populist rhetoric mainly targeting an (angry, despondent) segment of the white population. But in terms of policies, and especially financial policies, he is anything but. Here, he is partly reactive and unpredictable, and partly aligned with ordinary Republican policies (aimed at benefiting the already wealthy).

I am also somewhat surprised that media often use the term in a derogatory way. If populism is sane and grounded, it can be very helpful for society and future generations. After all, it’s defined as “support for the concerns of the ordinary people”.

Cutting the branch they sit on. This is something that’s fascinating to me and I have written about several times earlier. Trump seems concerned with being top dog, and – I would think – having the US as a top dog internationally. But his words and actions reflect what appears to be a deep sense of weakness and inadequacy, and his policies seem aimed at weakening the US position internationally. (Increasing funding to an already bloated military, reducing funding for healthcare and education, attacking democratic foundations, alienating allies, and similar policies will likely quicken the erosion of the US empire). Similarly, Brexiters seem concerned about having a strong UK but support a policy (leaving the EU) that weakens the UK internationally and, most likely, within. And Trump supporters seem to wish to better their position by supporting Trump, but his policies weaken the situation of those who already have little.

Of course, I am sure all of these see it differently. Trump may feel that his words and actions make him appear strong and powerful (and they probably do, to some). Brexiters think the UK will have more control by leaving the EU, and that’s partly true. And Trump supporters may well feel vindicated and (a little more) powerful by having someone like Trump in office (a poke in the eye of the liberals etc.). But to me, each of these strategies seems counterproductive.

Through words and actions that seem reactive and pompous, and through exaggeration and easily proven lies, Trump appears weak. By leaving the EU, the UK will almost certainly weaken its position internationally and likely its internal economy. By supporting Trump, white people with few resources will weaken their position even more (losing safety nets, policies aimed at supporting the most wealthy).

A mirror. As I have written about before, I use these posts about Trump and society as a mirror. I get to see what triggers me. I get to find what I see “out there” in myself (how I fit the description too). And I get to see what beliefs and identities I hold onto that are threatened by what I see in the world. All that is very useful. I think I used to explicitly include this in the posts, and haven’t for a while because it seemed a bit too obvious. Although I may do it again.

Fear and racism. Many have pointed out that Trump’s election was partly due to fear and racism fueled by the Obama presidency. Some whites (mainly less educated) were scared of seeing a black president (who was also elegant, smart, eloquent, insightful) and their fear led to the Trump backlash. Of course, this fear and reactivity is likely rooted in trauma expressed in the form of racism. The trauma is likely both personal (family situation) and systemic (lack of opportunities, education, social safety nets etc.) And much of the family trauma is rooted in the systemic trauma.

Trump’s reactivity. As the investigation into Trump and his campaign’s connections with Russia proceeds, he is likely to try to distract from it and stop it in any way he can. It’s hard to say how far he would go, and how far the congress would allow him to go.

Another side to this is that the Republican controlled Congress may chose to not impeach him even if the investigation shows he can and perhaps should be. After all, if they go against Trump in a too obvious way, they ‘ll get in trouble with his hardcore supporters – which is a significant portion of the Republican voters.

Peak civilization? It’s important to differentiate between short term situations and longer term trends. Some speak about peak civilization and the question is, does that come from short term situations (e.g. Trump presidency) or longer term trends? Of course, we cannot know. It does seem likely that the US has reached “peak empire” and probably did a while back. But in terms of our civilization? That’s harder to say. It’s close to certain that climate change will impact our civilization in profound ways. But how is less certain. It’s an opportunity for us to shift into a more life-centered and deeply democratic civilization. And it could also lead to a crumbling of a great deal we today take for granted in modern democratic countries (democracy, social safety nets, relatively peaceful societies etc.). It all depends on how we collectively relate to it.

December 14, 2017

Erosion of democracy. The FCC has just repealed “net neutrality” rules for internet service providers in the US. It means, as far as I understand, that they are free to block or slow down certain sites. It’s not surprising that this happens under the Trump administration and the Republican run Congress. It’s part of their systematic policy to erode democracy and give more power to corporations and the already very wealthy. Of course, this is something that can be – and probably will be – reversed. But it’s still pretty atrocious.

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