Reflections on society and politics X


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

Burnout. Burnout is often presented and approached as an individual problem. Someone burnt out because of marriage problems, health issues, depression, and so on. And the approaches are often presented as individual as well, whether it’s exercise, counseling, mindfulness, yoga or something similar. There is a focus on the individual whether it’s the individual themselves doing something to prevent burnout, or the organization sets up an employee program.

And yet, it seems obvious that burnout is a systemic issue. It has to do with how we organize our society and organizations. It has to do with our collective worldview, our economic system, and organizational and business values and culture.

For instance, the more an organization sees it’s employees as disposable and something to squeeze as much work out of as possible, sometimes supported by a culture idealizing overwork, the more likely people are to burn out. And the more an organization sees it’s employees as human beings, take them seriously and listen to their feedback and concerns, sees them a resource to invest in and support, and aims for mutual benefit, then people are less likely to burn out.

The current focus on individual approaches to burnout is an example of systems acting to preserve themselves. We have a system – especially in the US and in certain professions such as the medical profession – that often leads to burnout.

The real causes are at the social, cultural, and organizational levels. And yet, the focus is typically on individual approaches for preventing burnout, perhaps because that’s the approach that involves the least change and effort. To take the systemic causes seriously is more effective, but does involve significant change to society, culture, and the organization. And not everyone is willing to go there.

Other things take priority. And that’s OK but it’s good to be honest, open, and explicit about it. We know that burnout has to do with the larger systems, but we chose to focus on the individuals since it takes less effort and requires the least change. Of course, that honesty would – eventually – require a change so that’s perhaps why most chose to not be quite that open about it.

February 7, 2018

Starman. Elon Musk just sent a Tesla into space. Apart from being brilliant marketing, creating an unforgettable image for the history books, and showing that science and technology can be cool and sexy, it’s also far more. The launch is an important step in getting people to Mars. And that, in turn, is an important step in making humans a multi-planetary species. In the big picture, it’s necessary for our survival. And really, it’s a step in making Earth a multi-planet planet. It’s a step in helping Earth procreating and multiplying. In helping Earth as a living system and planet expand outside of the boundaries of this one initial planet.

February 18, 2018

Winter Olympics 2018. Unsurprisingly, Norway has taken the most medals so far, one week into the Winter Olympics. It’s also not surprising that some wonder about doping. And they are right. There is doping in some winter sports in Norway, but it’s in the form of culture and money.

We have a strong culture for certain winter sports (especially skiing), a large number of people of all ages engaging in them, we start early in life (I don’t even remember learning to ski), and a huge amount of resources are poured into developing local and young talent and for developing and supporting the top athletes. I also think that the “best together” culture they have actively developed among the best has something to do with it.

So, yes, there is doping. It’s in the form of culture and resources. And although I know I am biased, I would say that’s why there isn’t really a need for other – and illegal – forms of doping.

February 19, 2018

Gun deaths in the US. The US is an outlier when it comes to gun violence and deaths. It’s probably a combination of (a) easy access to guns, (b) gun culture, (c) anger and fear, and (d) the gun industry.

When there is easy access to guns, it’s easier to use them. It makes gun-related accidents more frequent (e.g. children accidentally shooting someone). It makes it easier to commit suicide (the suicidal thoughts and feelings often pass after a few minutes, but if there are guns nearby it’s easier to act on it). And if people get very angry, guns make it easier to act on that anger.

The US has developed a gun culture that idealizes guns and – to some extent – violence. They see gun ownership as a right. They have the idea of the lone hero instead of leaving law enforcement to the ones assigned to do it. They see gun ownership and use as macho. (And that’s attractive to men who feel weak, vulnerable, and fearful, don’t want to admit it, and want to appear strong and macho.)

The economic inequality in the US, and lack of good social safety nets, create a culture of fear, suspicion, and anger. And that fuels gun violence.

And finally, and probably most importantly, is the gun industry. They have spent a large amount of money to protect their own interests, partly through changing the culture to become more pro-gun and partly through influencing lawmakers and policies.

It’s easy to see how it can change, but hard to know how it would. The ones who see what’s going on need to speak up (as more do now). People need to become better educated about the influence of the gun industry. They need to remove the money from policy making (crucial). The culture and ideology around guns need to change. The US needs to become a country that genuinely takes care of everyone. And all of that is easier said than done.

It’s hard to change a system that financially benefits those who are in a position to change it.

Scared white people. White people are becoming a minority in the US, as are – eventually – Christians. Personally, I see it as a welcome change. But it does bring up fear in some white people who are used to privilege and worry it’s eroding. As far as I can tell, that was a significant part of the reason why Trump was elected (a reaction to having a black president). And I assume it’s also a significant part of the current – and very much insane – gun culture in the US.

Why is it a welcome change? The US is founded in theft and genocide, and it was white people who stole the land and did their best to eradicate the original culture and people. Since then, the white people have abused their power for centuries. Also, post-Columbian North-America is founded on immigration from the whole world. For both of those reasons, it is only appropriate and natural that the whites will eventually be in minority.

Will the post-white culture be “better” than what it is? Probably not. Some problems may be resolved or eased, and new ones will probably be created.

What are the practical implications of this? To me, one answer is reducing economic inequality and creating solid social safety nets. That will reduce the overall fear among many in the population, which in turn tends to reduce anger and increase trust. All of which are required for having a well-functioning society.

March 3, 2018

Trump circus. Trump thrives on chaos and conflict. And I notice for myself how easy it is to be drawn into reading about the bizarreness of the Trump circus. It’s fascinating. It’s entertaining. And it’s a distraction. We already know he is crazy, either by design or involuntarily, or – most likely – a combination. That’s not news. The real issues are the policies he and the Republicans are pushing through, and these are mainstream Republican policies. Policies aimed at benefiting the few wealthy while harming the rest of society and society as a whole. As I said at the beginning of the Trump presidency, as and is always the case, we need to focus on the policies.

March 15, 2018

Temporary shifts. As many predicted, the Trump presidency would ignite people to stand up for democracy and more inclusive, informed, and forward-thinking policies. For instance, it seems that the fall election will see a Democratic landslide. (Not that all Democrats are all that inclusive, informed, or forward thinking, but it’s at least a step in that direction.)

Somehow, I am not all that excited about it. It’ just what we normally see. The party not in power tends to do better in the next election. It shifts back and forth.

What I hope will happen, and what we see signs of happening, is (a) the white bigots gradually die out, and (b) the younger generation tends to be more informed and progressive – perhaps now fueled by Trump’s outrageousness. Of course, there will always be bigotry, small-mindedness, and people looking after just their own little group. And we see that in any group.

But I do hope there will be a gradual shift towards people recognizing that a more inclusive, informed, and forward-thinking views are good for all of us. And I hope that more will realize that although being reactive can feel good in the short term, it comes with a price, and a more reasoned approach does actually feel much better now and in the long term. (I mention this since the Trump supporters seem to often act from reactivity, as do people who support similar politicians in other countries, including Russians with Putin.)

Of course, what I or anyone else hope is pretty worthless. What’s important is taking a pragmatic approach to this. We need to speak to people’s existing values. Fit it into their existing identities. Bring it close to home. Focus on attractive and simple solutions. And, most of all, change structures at all levels so that what’s easy and attractive to do is also what’s good for society and Earth as a whole, and future generations.

It needs to be easy and attractive in several ways: Financially. Practically. In terms of self-image. In terms of existing identity (whether progressive or conservative, authoritarian or liberal).

And that’s very possible to do, if there is support for it. We have the solutions.

Taking pride in ignorance. It seems that Trump and many of his supporters take pride in going against mainstream informed views, and that this is a willful ignorance. It’s a pattern of reactivity that we see in some traumatized teens and children, but now – it seems – also among quite a few adults in the US. This has become a new norm in some subcultures. It’s become a badge of honor.

In the case of Trump, it’s perhaps some form of learned strategy so he can fulfill his impulses and apparent short-term interests. And, I guess, it has worked well enough for him in the past. (Although I imagine that it must be immensely stressful and painful, in spite of the sense of entitlement and hollow victories he seems to cultivate.)

As many have pointed out, there is a long history of anti-intellectualism in the US. And in these days of digital media, it seems to have reached a new peak. Again, people seem to take pride in holding onto misinformed views. I assume it’s a combination of several things. Perhaps feeling good through acting on reactivity. Bolstering a certain rebellious identity. Easily finding groups of similar minded people. Seeking out info that supports these views.

Fortunately, there are built-in corrective mechanisms at play. Some of these are in us. As soon as we hold onto any view as absolutely true, it comes with stress and discomfort. We need to defend the view. We need to seek out info to support it. We need to dismiss alternate views, even as we know there is some validity to them. We have to go against what we already know, somewhere, which is that we cannot know anything for certain and that there is validity to a wide range of views.

And some of these corrective mechanisms are in society’s relationship to reality. The more we act on views out of alignment with reality (Earth is flat, strong anti-vaccination positions, anti-science views, anti-higher education etc.), the more it’s come back and bite us. And it’s not pleasant. In the case of the US, these views – along with over-militarization and isolationism – are likely to contribute to the crumbling of the US influence in the world (which may not be a bad thing) and US prosperity.

The irony is that one of the reasons people can hold onto these views is that they live in and are supported by a society that is built on views that were far more grounded in reality. That’s given them the luxury of having views out of alignment with reality, whether it’s strong libertarianism, anti-vaccination, anti-science, anti-higher education, or whatever it may be.

In the long run, it’s far more comfortable to be more open-minded and grounded in reality. It’s more comfortable for us as individuals and as a society. It works better.

March 17, 2018

Scientology. This came up in a conversation yesterday. Without having much personal experience with Scientology, I have some impressions from people I know who have – including a friend of mine who lived on L. Ron Hubbard’s ship for a while in the 60s. As far as I can tell, the healing approach of Scientology does work, which is why people are attracted to it and – I assume – chose to stay. And, as is widely known and documented, the Scientology organization is seriously dysfunctional. That’s not unusual, but the level of dysfunction in Scientology – perhaps mostly associated with the top levels – is worse than what we see in many other organizations. Their defensiveness and reactivity towards critics is an example and expression of that dysfunction.

Little House on the Prairie. I didn’t read the Little House books as a kid, but recently thought I would give one a try as part of my general education, and also because I am interested in that part of US history. The book I chose was Little House on the Prairie. I understand why the books have been popular since they are easily read, adventorous, is a model for (relatively) healthy family and community life, and about an early phase of modern US history.

At the same time, I was taken aback by the blatant racism and ethnocentricity displayed in the books, and surprised I hadn’t seen more articles or discussion on this topic. Of course, we can say that the narrow mindedness and prejudice of some of the main characters (ma and pa especially) was typical of white settlers at the time. After all, they had to justify stealing the land from those who already lived there. (Calling them savages, primitive, and saying that if they don’t make use of the land – as Europeans define it – they don’t deserve to have it.)

At the same time, racism and acting on racism – as they did – is racism and acting on racism at any time and place. And there were certainly people at the time who saw it as that and spoke up against it. So should we encourage children to read these types of books? I guess the answer, at least for me, is the usual one for these questions: Yes, if we have a dialog with them about this.

Yes, they were racist. They stole the land from those living there and justified it by their racism. The US is built on racism, theft, and genocide. They shared their views with many and perhaps most white settlers at the time. Systematic racism, theft, and genocide are never justified.  They had these views and did these things, and still had many good qualities as human beings. (And that’s not uncommon, it’s universally human.) And this continues in the US in terms of attitudes and policies.

What can we do about it today? What can we, as individuals and communities, do? How can we righten it as much as we are able? (Perhaps by learning about and understanding the pre-Columbian culture, learning about how natives and other non-whites are treated today systemically and in the culture, voting for politicians who support native and non-white rights, listening to and getting to know natives and other non-white people, learn what they wish from us etc.)

Albert Schweitzer said about our relationship with animals that we can never repay our debt, but we can live as much as possible to their benefit (heavily paraphrased). And that’s how it is in this situation as well.

I should mention that I am not a US citizen but I have lived there for most of my adult life.

Note: In talking about this, it’s wise to take a more rounded approach than I have done here. For instance, while it’s true that the US is founded on racism, theft, and genocide, it’s also true that it’s founded on desperation and wishing for a better life, as well as a sense of adventure, bravery, and sacrifice. It’s all part of the picture. Just as we can have a rounded picture and presentation of ourselves, we can do so with society and any country and it’s history. And if we have a rounded picture of ourselves, that becomes far more easy. We have less to protect, less need to present our country in a certain way – apart from wishing to do so in an accurate and real way.

March 23, 2018

Trump projections. It doesn’t have much relevancy but I can’t help wondering what will happen with Trump and his agenda. Since he got through his first year relatively unscathed, and he has been getting rid of more mainstream people around him, it’s likely that he is emboldened and will push harder to get his own pet projects through. We already see the beginnings of this new phase.

In terms of possible legal troubles and impeachment, my best guess is that Muller (or whomever later investigates him) will find several reasons for impeachment, and Trump will somehow escape it.

In both cases, the main immediate reason he can get away with it is that most Republicans in Congress seem to have little interest in challenging him in any substantial way or in impeaching him. After all, he is giving them what they want – implementation of many of their core policies and distraction from these policies.

As Trump self has said, he seems to be able to get away with just about anything. And his base seems to support him no matter what, even if his policies makes no sense (in the real world) and are aimed at benefiting the few already wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

Gun culture in the US. Many have looked into why the US has it’s current (bizarre) gun culture. What makes the most sense to me is that many white males feel a loss of status – due to lack of education, low income, equality with women and more – and try to compensate for this, and enhance their sense of power and masculinity, through guns and a certain pro-gun ideology. (The other side of this is anger towards those they perceive as responsible for their lowered status, including immigrants, liberals, and Democrats. This is likely one of the reasons Trump was elected.)

Fear seems to be at the bottom of this. And since this fear is mostly unacknowledged (unmet, unvoiced, unloved), it takes the form of reactivity, defensiveness, anger, and irrational arguments.

For instance, the 2nd amendment was meant for a different time and situation (instead of or to supplement a military) and doesn’t make sense today. And all research shows that the more people have guns, the more people are harmed and killed by guns. At the core of this, at a social level, is the gun industry. They have managed to get people to buy into their arguments, just as the oil industry did with their climate change skepticism, and the tobacco industry did a few decades ago.

The long-term solution is to offer free higher education, universal single-payer healthcare, good social safety nets, and trauma-informed policies and support for healing trauma. And the more immediate solution is to curb the propaganda and lobbying from the gun industry (along with the oil industry).

Guns don’t kill people? Some otherwise reasonable people (including progressives) say that guns don’t kill people, people (or violence) do. Of course, we need to address the widespread trauma in US society which is behind violence in general, including gun violence towards others and oneself. But we also know that the more guns, the more gun violence. Gun control works, and that’s the first and most immediate step. We need a systemic and inclusive approach.

Trauma & society. I know it’s simplistic, but I do see a lot of the problems of the US today boiling down to one thing: unhealed trauma. Trauma is rife in US society. And many of the current problems in US society and politics reflect typical trauma behavior. (Reactivity, irrationality, one-sidedness, unwillingness to engage in fair arguments and discourse, lack of agreement on basic facts, anti-science and anti-education views, concern with one’s own small group at the expense of everyone else, etc.)

This wide-spread trauma has structural reasons. It comes from a history of racism, bigotry, and genocide. It comes from increasing gaps between wealthy and the rest. It comes from income from low paying jobs that’s not sufficient for a good life. It comes from lack of good and free education at all levels. It comes from a lack of universal single-payer healthcare system. It comes from poor or non-existent social safety nets. And it comes from a lack of widespread acknowledgment and healing for this. All of this creates ongoing trauma which is mostly low grade but accumulates over time, and is passed on through the generations and within families and society as a whole.

Trauma is profit. From a certain perspective, we can say that widespread trauma is profit. It makes it easier for industries to manipulate the population, as we saw with the tobacco industry (sowing confusion about the health effects of tobacco), and currently see with the petroleum industry (sowing confusing about climate change) and the gun industry (fueling pro-gun sentiments and legislation).

We can react to and deal with our trauma in several different ways. One way is through going into reactivity, dehumanizing groups of people, violence in words and/or actions, and taking up views to set ourselves apart from certain groups of people.

So the more trauma, the easier it is to manipulate people. We can offer them scapegoats. We can offer them views and opinions that go against the mainstream or the “elite”. We can encourage violence and even war.

So, yes, widespread trauma can be very profitable.

Trauma, the US, and profit. Again, from a certain perspective, we can see how corporate interests in the US have driven much of the current structurally induced trauma in the country, and then use that trauma to continue to further their interests.

Corporate interests, and the ideologies that benefit corporations, are behind lack of free higher education, lack of universal and affordable healthcare, lack of a living wage, and lack of good social safety nets. All of that, in turn, leads to a low-grade and accumulating trauma for certain groups in the population. And that trauma makes it easier for these corporate interests to manipulate people. They are able to manipulate certain groups of people to support ideologies and policies that benefit corporations and not people or society in general.

April 8, 2018

The most important historical event in our lifetime – 911??? I watched a video where people in the US mentioned what they saw as the most important historical event in their lifetime. I was surprised by how many said “911”.

I was in the US when it happened, but even then couldn’t really understand why people got so worked up about it. More people die weekly in the traffic in North America. The list of more important issues is very long.

The only way I can make sense of it in my mind is that (a) some people are drawn to drama and equate drama with importance, (b) the US media focused on 911 because “what bleeds leads” and some equate media attention with importance, and (c) some politicians – including Bush jr. – milked the event for all it was worth (including starting a war to get access to oil reserves).

What do I consider the most important historical event(s) in my lifetime? Probably the gradual acceptance and implementation of sustainability. Or the digital revolution. Or the onset of neo-liberal globalization (and a large number of people mindlessly accepting its ideology) benefiting large corporations over people and nature.

April 20, 2018

Taxes. One of the cultural differences between Norway and the US is people’s relationship with taxes. In Norway, people are generally very happy to pay taxes (I fall into that category), and in the US, people often seem less happy to do so (and look for ways out of it).

There are a couple of obvious reasons for this. One is how the tax money is spent. In Norway, it’s spent relatively sanely and goes to universal free healthcare and education, and to create a mostly safe and good society where people are taken care of. In the US, money goes to education, roads, and so on, but the social safety net is not nearly as good, and money is also spent on a military budget that dwarfs that of any other country (and the combined budget of several countries).

Another is general social norms. In Norway, we know that a healthy and well-functioning society is a good place to live. It benefits us as individuals to support society as a whole, including through our tax money. In the US, there is more of the “everyone for themselves” wild west mentality (partly because of the ethnic diversity of the country).

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