Reflections on society, politics, and nature XII

 

Continued from previous posts…. These posts are collections of brief notes on society, politics, and nature.

One essential way Trump is no different.

But it wasn’t sane before. Obama was not sane; he was led by the same interests that put the corporate business ahead of people, with bread buttered by Goldman Sachs, only now, it is more brash” Sadier said. “For centuries the political class has been fucking poor people off.

Laetitia Sadier in Laetitia Sadier on Stereolab and finding her voice This is a view I often hear from regular people, including most of my friends. But I don’t see it much from mainstream politicians, journalists, or social commentators. Of course, the job of the mainstream is to maintain the status quo, even if it benefits the few in the short term rather than the many in the long term. (Or perhaps just for that reason.)

Most politicians and political parties support neo-liberal capitalism, which in turn is designed to maximize profit for multi-national corporations at the expense of nearly everyone else, including nature and future generations. In this sense, Trump is no different from most other politicians, including Obama and both Clintons. He is just less subtle about it.

September 6, 2018

Strawman arguments
. This seems so obvious I haven’t mentioned it before but I wanted to say a few words. When American football players protest during the anthem, they are not disrespecting the US, they are highlighting a very real issue of racism and inequality. And when people criticize or disagree with Israeli policies, they are not anti-semitic. To say they respectively “disrespect the US” and are “anti-semitic” are strawman arguments and it’s transparent and childish. It’s an attempt to shame people into silence and deflect from the real issue by attacking the person. 

The golden rule in politics. Why should we treat others as we would like to be treated, even in politics? For me, it has to do with a couple of things. First, self-respect. If I treat others with respect, I can have respect for myself. The other is for strategic reasons. When I act and speak with respect, I invest in norms I would like myself and others to follow. I strengthen them. Also, if I don’t treat others with respect, I cannot expect others to do the same towards me (or politicians I support) and I am not in a position to ask them to do so. 

This came up for me today since the New York Times has an article about the resistance to Trump’s policies from within the administration. Some liberals seem to applaud this. And I understand the impulse to want to curtail some of Trump’s worst actions. But he is legally elected and the resistance described in the NYT article is actually a subversion of democracy. It sets a very dangerous precedence. And it’s definitely not something I would approve of if it happened in an administration I happened to personally support.

On the topic of the NYT article: The other side is that these unhappy civil servants would do better quitting and speaking out openly about their concerns, or try to get Trump removed if they think he is a danger to the country. It does seem a bit spineless, as Trump said, to anonymously complain in this way.

Politically correct? I don’t use this term unless I discuss it specifically. It seems to mean different things to different people so using it often means talking about different things while it appears, on the surface, we are talking about the same.

Some use the term to discredit people who talk about ordinary decency, inclusiveness and treating others with respect. Some use it to refer to nice sounding words meant to distract from different types of actions. And I am sure people understand the term in other ways as well. 

In the first sense, I am happy to be politically correct. I am happy to stand up for treating people with respect, inclusiveness (of people of all types of orientations and backgrounds), and actions and policies that come from ordinary human care and compassion for fellow human beings. 

Not normal? I see that some people in social media still use the “this is not normal” label on Trump’s behavior. I understand some of the reasoning behind it. For instance, it isn’t normal for a leader of a western democratic country to consistently erode democratic norms and undermine democratic institutions. It’s something that may do lasting damage. 

Apart from that, the “not normal” label misses something essential. Much of what’s normal isn’t that great. And there are some very questionable ways he is normal. He is normal in that he is in line with most of the Republican’s policies. (Apart from leaving international free trade agreements and starting a trade war). And more importantly, he is normal and in line with nearly all US politicians in that he promotes policies aimed at making the wealthy wealthier at the cost of nearly everyone else.

For the most part, the real scandal is in the ways he is normal.

September 7, 2018

What will Trump be remembered for? A few generations from now, how will people see Trump? Here is what I imagine: 

He came out of the tea party culture within or connected with the Republican party, so in that sense, there was little surprising or even new about him. In a larger historical context, we have also seen many leaders like him. 

He was in line with the rest of the Republicans on most issues and policies. (Apart from international trade.) He served as a tool for the Republican party for them to get their policies through. 

In an essential way, he followed the norm for US presidents and western or western-oriented mainstream politicians of that era. He supported policies benefiting multinational corporations and the wealthy while often harming the rest of the population, ecosystems, and future generations. 

He was a turning point OR blip in one sense. He was a democratically elected leader who intentionally set out to confuse and erode democratic norms and undermine democratic institutions. (I don’t know if this will turn out to be a turning point or a blip. I imagine he has done some lasting damage in this area.)

As a footnote, we can also mention that his presidency did to some extent mobilize people on the other end of the policy spectrums (diversity, equality, sustainability etc.) 

He represents the failure of political leaders and people in general of that era (late 1900s and early- to mid-2000s) to deal with ecological issues. He ignored climate change and rolled back environmental regulations. He was the norm in that he didn’t take the issues seriously enough, he didn’t implement sufficient measures, and he didn’t do what was needed in terms of restructuring all of society and all institutions to create a society aligned with ecological realities.

In hindsight, knowing that this restructuring could have benefited them in all areas of society and life (science, research, technology, economics, well being and more), it seems bizarre that they didn’t. Although it’s also understandable since it did require a massive restructuring and realignment, and they did operate and view the world from within the old paradigm.

September 10, 2018

Native American DNA & Synchronicity. About a year ago, I received my ancestry and health information from 23andme. Most of the results were expected (mostly Norwegian / Northern European with some British, French, and German).

But one result was surprising: a small amount of my DNA was assigned to Native American ancestry. I am not aware of any Native American ancestry, or even any pathways explaining how it could have happened. So although I was intrigued, I thought it was probably a mistake. 

I still do, but it’s interesting to me in a few different ways. I have always experienced a deep resonance with Native American cultures. As a child, I always wanted to be the “Indian” when we played cowboys and Indians. When I first came to North America (Utah) to study, I felt I arrived at a sacred land and felt deeply at home. When I first went down to southern Utah and slept out alone under the night sky, I felt more profoundly at home than I have felt anywhere else before or after. When I read books written by Native Americans (especially shamans / holy men), there is a deep sense of familiarity, resonance, and coming home. 

Two things are especially interesting to me. One is that this can be seen as a synchronicity. I have (at a deeper level) wanted to have this ancestry, was certain it wasn’t in me, and yet it shows up in my DNA ancestry report.

Another is that the DNA patterns used to identify ancestry groups are found in most or all populations in the world. It’s just that some patterns are more commonly found among certain groups. So it may be that I have DNA patterns most commonly found among Native Americans, even if I don’t have that particular ancestry. I guess that’s another form of synchronicity. 

Data collection and sharing. It’s well known that social media platforms, search engines, and apps and websites in general collect and sometimes share user data for marketing purposes, and also that this data can say a lot more about us than we may initially think. I feel I am relatively updated on and aware of this, but even I sometimes get surprised to the apparent extent of it. Over the last couple of days, I have had two telling experiences:

Two days ago, I searched for an obscure Japanese movie from the 50s on Netflix on my phone (which they didn’t have since they have a terrible collection of international classics), and when I then opened YouTube to look for it there, a clip from the movie came up as the first recommended video (before I had searched for it). Unless it was a remarkable coincidence, it means that data from my iPhone Netflix app searches somehow gets sent to YouTube (Google). 

Yesterday, I listened to the audiobook of Michael Palin’s Around the World in 80 days, which is based on the 80s BBC TV series. The 5-minute segment I listened to was from crossing the Arabian sea, and specifically about using a treacherous outboard toilet. When I later that day opened YouTube, the first recommended clip was exactly that segment from the original TV series. Again, it was a remarkable coincidence (even more remarkable considering how obscure and specific it was), or my audiobook listening data is somehow conveyed to Google and YouTube. This one went even beyond what I thought they were up to. And I have certainly not knowingly given anyone permission to gather and share this type of data. 

September 11, 2018

International Criminal Court. In the latest barrage of news from the Trump administration, I see they are threatening the ICC and will probably do what they can to delegitimize, weaken, and withdraw from it. It’s partly because they won’t acknowledge any international institutions above their own. (Which is out of step with a globally interconnected world with global problems that require global solutions and institutions.) And, as so much of what this administration does, it may be a step in preventing their own legal trouble. 

Trump’s second term? Will Trump have a second term? I wouldn’t be surprised since he likely will last his first term (unlikely to be ousted or resign), his pride will probably tell him to run again, his base (around 40%) seems unshaken by anything he says or does, after the election in November (if the Democrats get a house majority) the Republicans can blame the Democrats for everything that went wrong, and Trump serves the Republicans well in terms of getting policies through while distracting through his behavior. There is a small chance he won’t run again, and an even tinier chance he will be ousted from office. If he runs again, there is, of course, a chance – perhaps even a good chance – the Democrats will do well. In any case, this is all a blip on the arc of history, as Obama said, and it’s good to keep an eye more on the real and far more important issues. 
 
September 29, 2018

Catholic Church abuse. I see that the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church keeps unfolding. It’s a complex situation, although also quite simple. Two of the main problems are celibacy and the absence of female priests. Celibacy prevents any legitimate and open way to live out ones sexuality. And the lack of female priests removes that very needed correction in a male and patriarchal culture. By holding onto outdated rules for the priesthood, the church itself has set the stage for these problems.

Another and related problem is, of course, the lack of transparency and the desire of people higher up in the hierarchy to hush down these very serious problems. 

US Supreme Court. After the Kavanaugh hearings, it’s abundantly clear that the US supreme court is anything but a neutral institution. It’s thoroughly politicized. That makes it even more unfortunate that the judges are there for life. It’s yet another aspect of the US political system that, in its present form, is out of step with how a real democracy works. 

The internal problems of empire. As I see it, many of the current problems in the US are internal problems of being an empire. Any empire is dependent on a large military which depletes its economy and leaves less for their own citizens (lack of good education, healthcare, social safety nets etc.). And it’s also dependent on authoritarianism, suppression, distraction, and avoiding being a well-functioning democracy. All of which are hallmarks of the US today. Although not everyone would agree, I see the toxic masculinity of US culture is one of many symptoms inherent in being an empire. 

Of course, Trump and others are doing their best to dismantle the US as an empire and it’s likely to crumble within one or two decades. (Meaning that the US as an international power will fade, not that the US as a country will fall apart.) 

Buying into chaos and drama. When I worked at a center in southern California, I was repeatedly surprised and dismayed when my two bosses would buy into the chaos and drama created by some clients (mostly young male drug addicts). These clients would say something they knew was inflammatory, or they would spread lies about others with the intent to create conflict, and the two managers so often bought into it and fueled the drama with their own emotions. The pattern seemed so obvious, and it seemed so clear and transparent what the clients intended to do, and yet the managers bought into it. (This was partly a center for addiction recovery and partly a center for spirituality.) 

The same seems to be happening in the US today. Russia has explicitly set out to create chaos, drama, and internal strife within the US (and other western countries), and the politicians and others in the US seem to wholeheartedly buy into it. They fell right into the trap.  

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