Reflections on society, politics, and nature XI


Continued from previous posts…. These posts started out about Trump but have morphed into brief notes about society and politics in general. For this one, I added nature as a theme.

Nature & Norway. Nature is an important part of Norwegian culture, and there is a certain culture about how to be in and relate to nature. In terms of sustainability, Norway isn’t that much different from or better than other industrialized countries (think of the oil industry etc.). But I do very much resonate with and appreciate the traditional Norwegian culture of how to be in nature.

My parents passed it on to me, and their parents passed it on to them, and as it must have been passed on through generations. They took me out skiing, hiking, berry picking, swimming and more throughout my childhood.

And almost invisibly, certain norms were passed on to me: Leave no traces. Use only dead wood for fires. Be quiet in nature. (To not disturb the animals, so you are more likely to see animals, and to not disrupt the peace for other people.) Take time. (There is usually no need to get somewhere quickly.) Be respectful. (To nature, animals, plants, other people.) Enjoy. (There is a deep enjoyment in being in nature – the sounds, sights, smells, sensations, and there is a profound enjoyment and nourishment in experiencing ourselves as part of nature, as not separate at all… whether we are in nature or in urban areas.) Maintain good spirits. (Set stressful thoughts aside and focus on the privilege and enjoyment of being in nature.)

Although not many would put it this way, nature is – in many ways – the cathedral for Norwegians. It’s the sacred place. The place where we are reminded of who and what we are, and our intimate connection to the larger natural world.

Loss of insects. When I started spending more time in Norway again, about ten years ago, one of the first things I noticed was the loss of insects. It seemed that my parent’s garden, which I remember as brimming with insects and life in general as a kid, now is mostly barren with just the occasional bumblebee or other winged creature. I considered that it could be because of the usual quirks of memory, but realized it must be something more. For instance, as a kid, I often saw crickets of all sizes in the yard, and now I haven’t seen any – not a single one – for years. Similarly, some types of birds seem completely gone. If that’s not a wake-up call close to home, I don’t know what is.

Attitudes towards society. A few weeks ago, I met a US doctor working and doing research in Norway. He seemed intelligent and charming and I liked him right away. Later, I was told that he has a practice of not paying for public transportation in Norway. He chooses to pay the occasional fine instead since it overall is less money. I was shocked.

He obviously has enough money to pay for a ticket. And what kind of person would try to cheat a system that provides so much for all of us and creates a relatively well-functioning society? What kind of person would deliberately undermine such a system?

Then I remembered that he is from the US. And in the US people tend to feel less responsible for the larger society. Perhaps it’s the size of the country. Or the diversity which easier creates a sense of outgroups. Or that people disagree with how the money is spent (for instance, the outrageous military spending). Or just history reflected in current views and attitudes. In Norway, my impression is that most people do feel a responsibility to society as a whole. Most, including me, are happy to pay taxes and transit tickets. It’s a privilege to be able to contribute a little to support a system that works so well. (There is, of course, room for improvement.)

As usual, it’s easy to fall into judgment. What a rotten guy. He doesn’t deserve to be here. What’s wrong with him? And so on. But, as I mentioned above, it has as much or more to do with history and culture than the person. I imagine that if he had grown up in a culture with a greater emphasis on acting for the common good, he would. And he obviously (I assume) has empathy since he chose to work in the medical field.

July 3, 2018

Investment risks. I have money in a retirement fund, and towards the end of last year I received an email with a questionnaire about what level of investment risk I would accept. Nothing wrong there.

But I was surprised they didn’t ask about ethics. What level of risk am I willing to accept in terms of damage to society or ecosystems? What level of risk am I willing to accept when it comes to future generations? To me, that’s far more important. And I assume it’s the same for quite a few others, especially the younger generation.

By leaving such a crucial question out, they come across as not caring about the impact their investments have on society, ecosystems, and future generations. And that’s not good for business these days. Of course, that’s what I said to them. And I may transfer my money to another company in the future.

July 4, 2018

Forgetting what made it a good society. The post-war generation in Norway was and is very aware of what can go wrong in a society, what’s needed to create a good society, and how fortunate we are to live in a society that works well for most and nearly all people within it.

It’s predictable that now, with newer generations who have only experienced a well-functioning society, some forget how privileged they are, what it took to build it, and how rare it is in human history. So they engage in views and actions that easily can tear down what has been built up over generations. I am thinking especially of FrP which is a libertarian right-wing party with views and policies I tend to see as immature, reactive, short-sighted, and dangerous if we wish to maintain a society that works for everyone.

Complexity. In a polarized discussion or society, it’s helpful to point out the complexity that’s there in views, backgrounds, and the situation. It helps shift us out of our habitual easy views. It helps us pause and question our habitual positions, at least if we are open to it. The Whole Story has an interesting article on this.

July 6, 2018

Global and long term. It’s pretty obvious: global and long-term problems require global and long-term solutions. Global and long-term solutions require structures to make it happen. And we don’t have those today. What we have is nation states while we really need global governance. We have politicians whose interest is the short term since they are elected for the short term. (I am definitely not suggesting we should have politicians elected for longer periods…!) We have an economic system that inherently assumes Earth’s resources and capacity for absorbing pollution are infinite, and where what’s easy and attractive in the short term too often harms us in the longer term.

So the solutions lie in global governance, political structures that reward planning for the long term, and an economic system where what’s easy and attractive to do in the short term benefits all of life in the long term (and that’s very much possible). I don’t doubt we’ll eventually move in this direction, but I don’t know when or what it will take to get us there.

A brief thought: Why does it seem naive and utopian to some to talk about developing an economic system where what’s easy and attractive to do is also what benefits life as a whole (local and global society, ecosystems, future generations)? It’s probably because we live within a system that creates the opposite dynamics. That system is based on outdated and flawed assumptions and needs to change, and fast. That’s the essence and it’s quite simple.

July 15, 2018

Solution-focused. What’s the most effective way to create a – much needed – social change in a more sustainable direction? Here are some features that seem obvious but not always included: Solution-focused while addressing the serious issues. Making it immediate and personal. Inviting personal change, which in turn may lead to people supporting policy change. Addressing all levels, from the personal to business and government to – eventually most importantly – structural changes and worldview changes. Focusing on solutions that clearly benefit us in the short term (financially, ease, well being) while also benefiting (as best we can tell) the larger social and ecological wholes and future generations. (This can be done already now, but are most easily and thoroughly done through structural changes.) Speaking to and aligning with people’s existing values and identities (which means the approaches need to be targeted to specific groups).

Pussy Riot and the world cup. I see that most mainstream news sources talk about the Pussy Riot incident during the football world cup final in Russia, as a scandal.

In my view, the real scandal is that the world cup was held in Russia in the first place. And that the media and the players haven’t used the world cup as an opportunity to highlight the long list of problems in and with Russia. (Human rights violations, imprisonment and assasinations of regime critics, systematic interference in the democratic process in western countries, and so on.)

The scandal isn’t that a few people ran onto the football field and delayed the game for less than a minute. (After all, sport is entertainment and it just added to the entertainment value.) The scandal is what’s happening in Russia and that few spoke up about it during the world cup.

Inclusive. It seems obvious. Those who benefit from strife and putting groups up against each other divide and conquer. (See, for instance, Trump and the current version of the Republican party in the US). So those of us who want something else, a society that works for all, need to emphasize what’s shared.

Our minds are flexible so when our attention is brought to what divides us, that’s what we’ll see and what informs our views. And the same when our attention is brought to what’s shared and universal. I assume that’s especially true for the “independents” in the US who may vote for the Republicans one time and the Democrats the next.

There is an unfortunate dynamic that can happen and we currently see in the US. One group (in this case Trump, the Republicans) viciously engage in a divide-and-conquer strategy. They emphasize our differences and appeal to the most reactive parts of humans. And the Democrats, too often, take the bate. They too emphasize our differences which then benefits the Republicans. That’s why this is an important reminder. To counteract someone who divides and conquer, emphasize – with as much strength – what’s shared.

Person vs policies. Here is something I wrote in response to a comment about Trump:

His words and actions are his way of dealing with deep pain, so we can have some empathy and understanding, not attack the person (which is just a distraction and creates a backlash), and instead focus on the policies….

These are generally good pointers. (a) Reactivity comes from pain. Hurt people hurt people. (b) So we can have some understanding and empathy because we recognize it from ourselves. (c) We don’t need to attack the person. He is already is in pain. It won’t help the situation (although it can feel satisfying in the moment). And it will only create a backlash from his supporters (they’ll get more entrenched). (d) Instead, let’s focus on the policies, the real-life consequences of the policies, and support the alternatives. 

That’s how I would like to be treated. With respect, understanding, and people being open when they disagree or see I do things that may not be most helpful. So that’s a good guideline for how to treat others. And it’s the most effective if we want change.

July 16, 2018

Trump and white privilege. As Trump himself said, he can do anything and get away with it. It’s hard to imagine a woman, or someone with a different ethnic background, getting away with what he is saying and doing. (If you read this, take a moment to imagine a woman, or someone with a different ethnic background, talk and act like Trump, and then imagine how people and the media are likely to respond.)

And, somehow, it’s hard to imagine – exactly because of white privilege – that Trump will NOT get away with it. It’s hard to imagine he’ll be impeached even if there is every reason for him to be so.

With Trump, there is also something more than white privilege. He has a bravado that makes it look, to some people, like it’s OK for him to behave as he does. And that too, of course, is rooted in white privilege.

Trump and Russia. This is something that has been clear for a while and is becoming clearer by the day. Russia intentionally and effectively interfered in the 2016 US election (with the intention to destabilize and create internal conflict in the US), Trump benefited from it, and he refuses to acknowledge it happened since it will cast doubt in his legitimacy. And that’s just what’s on the surface.

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