Reflections on society, politics and nature XXVI

 

Continued from previous posts…. These posts are collections of brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

Gritty wholesomeness

I was very skeptical when I first started watching Outlander but I have come to love it. I love it mainly for its gritty wholesomeness.

It shows flawed yet fundamentally caring and healthy people dealing with a series of raw and gritty challenges. And there is something wholesome in the best way in that. It reminds us of those sides of ourselves.

In that sense, it’s a bit like The Little House on the Prairie for grown-ups, and especially season four and five since they are set in North America.

I also like that it shows modern people in a time that was far more tribal and eye-for-eye, and how they adapt and learn to survive in that situation. They needed to find their warrior as we all sometimes do.

Click READ MORE to see more entries.

A conspiracy theory about conspiracy theories

There is one conspiracy theory I see as having some truth to it. It’s a conspiracy theory about conspiracy theories.

Conspiracy theories in general distract people from the really serious issues in their own life and the world in general. The issues that are out in the open and often very obvious.

Some examples of these obvious collective issues are the ecological crisis we are in, the hugely unequal distribution of wealth in the world, the large number of people living in poverty, and corporations influencing politicians to support policies aimed at lining their pockets while harming people, nature, and future generations.

And sometimes, people who have financial or power interests intentionally start and encourage conspiracy theories to distract from what they are doing. They want to seed just enough doubt and confusion to be able to keep doing what they are doing without too much interference.

One example is the tobacco industry intentionally sowing doubt about the harmful effects of smoking, often by paying “experts” to do it for them. And more recently the petroleum industry using the same strategy to sow doubt about the climate crisis.

It’s perhaps ironic that people who are into conspiracy theories often think they can see something others don’t. While in reality, they are sometimes used by people in power to distract from what’s actually going on.

Often, conspiracy theories distract us from what we really need to address, whether in our own life or collectively. And sometimes, there is an actual conspiracy to encourage certain conspiracy theories, as is the case with the tobacco and petroleum industry.

May 12, 2020

A realistic response to the pandemic

I keep coming back to this.

We don’t know that we’ll have effective medicines for this virus. We don’t know if we’ll ever have a vaccine. (No vaccine har ever been developed for other corona viruses.)

So the only realistic approach is for us to learn to live with it. To keep society mostly functioning while also take a lot of lower-impact measures like strong hygiene for businesses, limiting size of groups, quarantine for travelers, working from home when possible, isolation for high-risk group, and so on.

From the beginning, I have seen the Swedish approach as the most sane, grounded, and realistic strategy. The one that takes the long view.

This is from the notes on a pandemic post.

May 18, 2020

Strong government

During the neo-liberal era, strong government has been the big bad wolf.

There is a chance that the current pandemic shows a few more people that strong government can help us a lot in dealing with collective challenges.

Of course, it depends on the government.

For me, the current pandemic also highlights the need for a healthy democracy. A government that represents the interests of the people and future generations can only emerge from a healthy democracy.

Countries with lack of universal healthcare, poor social safety nets, corruption, and struggle a lot more with the pandemic. And the reverse – countries with governments that has the interest of the people at heart and have solid universal healthcare and good social safety nets – do much better.

It’s not easy to change these things. There are no quick fixes. And what has been built up over generations can be torn down within just one – as we see in the US. But there is also a chance that this current collective crisis can show us what works and fuel a movement to create more of what works.

Crisis is opportunity but it can go both ways. It’s opportunity to create something new that supports life. And it’s an opportunity for all to collapse and go in a less desirable direction. It’s up to the collective views, wishes, and actions of all of us.

May 21, 2020

Angels yes, extraterrestrials no

In the trailer for Arial Phenomenon, a man says angels yes, extraterrestrials no.

I assume this is a comment on the backlash John Mack received from Harvard University. For them, it was completely fine to study religion and religious subjects, including angels. And it was equally unacceptable to study extraterrestrials.

That’s obviously inconsistent and shows a lack of intellectual honesty. It’s only based on what’s generally acceptable in the culture they happen to live in.

I generally see aliens as better than “extraterrestrials” in this context. The beings the children describe are alien to us, but we don’t know if they are extraterrestrials.

Washing cats?

I see there is a trend of washing cats and putting a video on social media. I have never understood washing cats. It seems unnecessary and sometimes cruel.

Cats keep themselves very clean so washing them is not needed. Unless they are sick and unable to clean themselves, they naturally smell good.

The soap removes natural and protective oils from the fur so if they are outdoors, water will soak into their fur instead of being repelled.

Most cats hate water for evolutionary reasons. It makes them cold and can be dangerous for them in their natural environment. Washing them creates unnecessary stress in most cases.

I also imagine cats don’t particularly like the taste of soap when they lick themselves, and some residue is bound to remain in the fur.

So don’t wash your cat unless it’s absolutely necessary. (I have only done it once, when my cat got oil on the fur.)

Why even mention this here? Isn’t it a very specific topic that’s less than important in the big picture?

It’s not a small topic for cats. But apart from that, it does reflect a much bigger pattern. It reflects how we relate to nature, each other, ourselves, and life in general. Do we let things be when they are fine as they are? Or do we feel a need to intervene and control even if it’s not needed and may even do some damage?

Also, are we willing to inflict damage – however apparently small – on another living being just to get some clicks on YouTube or social media?

May 24, 2020

Trauma, extremism, violence, and mental health

This is a recurrent topic in the media these days.

When someone is extreme – for instance politically or in lifestyle or by believing in conspiracy theories – are they also mentally healthy?

And when someone goes to violence to achieve what they want, is that a sign of mental illness? For instance apparently ideology-driven right-wing extremists?

As so often, definitions and our own perspective play a role here.

We can see things differently from the mainstream and still be mentally healthy. White people who were against slavery in the 1700s and early 1800s went outside of the accepted mainstream views and were still mentally healthy. (Easy for us to see since their views align with our own.) At the time, their views were extreme and I can understand if someone questioned their sanity.

Similarly, our mainstream society today can be seen as insane in some areas, and perhaps future generations will see it as just that. For instance, isn’t it insane to maintain – and even defend – an economic system that destroys the living systems we are part of and depend on for our own survival?

For me, sanity is on a scale. Any time we take a thought as true, and perceive and live as if it’s true, we are – in a sense – insane. We become a bit insane by taking a thought as true, and we have to be a bit insane to do so in the first place.

This means that just about all humans are, at least, a bit insane. (I include myself here, obviously.)

What if someone says they are ideologically driven and kill people because of their ideology? (As we have seen with right-wing violence the last few years.) Are they insane? This is often a question of whether they are legally insane or not, and that’s outside of what I can say anything about.

But I know that extreme views and behaviors often are a reaction to the pain of trauma. It’s a way of dealing with the pain that comes from trauma. It’s a coping mechanism. It’s obviously not a very healthy way of coping with it since it doesn’t resolve the trauma and it inflicts trauma and pain on others and further trauma on oneself.

My views is, on one level, very similar to the mainstream view here. We as a society must do whatever we can to stop extremism from harming people, and often prison is the best mainstream band-aid solution. On the other hand, I recognize it as trauma behavior and although it’s not always possible to help the individual – they may be too entrenched in it to want to change – it is possible to deal with trauma in society.

It’s possible for teachers, doctors, and others to be informed about trauma and recognize the signs of trauma. It’s possible for us as a society to help people, and especially children and teenagers, who experience trauma, and support them in finding more healthy ways of dealing with it and eventually recover from it. We would be doing this not only for their sake, but for our own sake as a society.

Again, not all extreme or unusual views can be seen as a sign of mental illness or a result of reaction to trauma.

In general, if it clearly is aimed at harming others or oneself, then it’s likely a reaction to the pain of trauma.

And if it is aimed at supporting life – all life – then perhaps not. Then, it may come from a place that’s healthier than the mainstream. Especially if action follows the view and we go about it in a kind and wise way that respects individuals as well as the whole.

Pandemic and culture war

There is no surprise that the current pandemic has been absorbed into the “culture war” currently happening in the US. Both sides – Trump-conservatives and liberals – have gone into more extreme and rigid positions than they otherwise probably would.

It’s obviously unfortunate since people’s lives are at stake, as is the well-being of society as a whole. The Trump camp encourage reckless behavior and dangerous treatments. The liberals stick too hard to the lock-down, see face masks as a more important solution than it perhaps is, and so on.

This is seen from a Northern European perspective, and I see more problems with the Trump camp than the liberals, although both sides tend to fuel the polarization. Also, the pandemic highlights what’s already in place in the US: Expensive and fragmented health care system. Lack of universal health care. Large divisions between rich and poor.

What’s the solution? As so often, there is no easy solution. People on both sides are invested in the polarization and the views and actions maintaining polarization.

And things do change over time. Perhaps the polarization will eventually have such a dramatic impact on society that more people wake up to it. Often, these situations get worse before they get better. And, often, they will have to run their course.

The one thing we as individuals – and perhaps organizations – can do is to be a voice of moderation, sanity, and honesty. We can model what we would like to see more of in the world. It’s good for us personally. And although it may not change much beyond that, it doesn’t necessarily have to.

Americans?

I rarely if ever say “Americans” about people from the US.

Yes, I know it comes from “United States of America” and it’s not a sinister plot to pretend the US is the most important country in the Americas.

At the same time, saying Americans does does make it sound that way. So why not use a more accurate term?

Media and problem-focus

This is another recurrent theme for me since my teens.

Why does media focus either on problems (wars, disasters, illness, things falling apart) or insignificant news (celebrities, sport)? The simple answer is that it sells. What bleeds leads.

And yet, I can’t help to think it’s also the media culture.

More than two decades ago, I contacted an editor for the largest newspaper in Norway and suggested they could focus more on real-life solutions to the serious problems in the world. He responded, saying “we are a serious news outlet, we don’t focus on light news”.

To me, his response was telling. He saw focusing on solutions to serious problems as “light news”. The newspaper was – in his view – too important and serious to include it in their reporting. They just wanted to focus on the problems in the world and not the solutions. And they did and do include celebrity and sports news, as if that isn’t “light” news.

So a culture change – or revolution – is needed in the media world. They need to realize that solutions doesn’t water down what they are doing. On the contrary, it can help us as a society identify and support what works. And I am pretty sure that most of their audience would welcome it. In a world that has so many challenges as ours does, why not also include the solutions?

I should mention that mainstream media does something focus on solutions, but it’s often in a very limited way. It may be something Elon Musk is doing and they include it because he is a celebrity. Or it may be a potential treatment for an illness. Or that the car traffic in the center of a city has gone down. But these are fragments. What we need is a more systematic focus on practical and workable solutions to the most serious challenges in our world today.

May 26, 2020

The absurdity of lawns

This is one of my recurrent topics since I see it every day.

The modern obsession with lawns is absurd. Of course, it’s nice to have a place to lie down or even play badmington or something similar. But why have a yard that’s only or mainly lawn?

Lawns requires a lot of work and often noisy work. (In my neighborhood, there is almost constant noise from people moving their lawns or going after the pieces of grass their lawnmower can’t get to.) Lawns are a desert and provide little or no habitat for insects and small animals. It seems especially absurd to maintain lawns when we are in the middle of an insect-apocalypse that harms all life including ourselves.

So why not do it differently? Why not create an oasis for life? Why not have bushes and trees surrounded by wildflowers? It reduces the need for maintenance and noisy machines. It creates a far more alive and nurturing local environment for ourselves. And it supports insects at a time when they desperately need support.

Why not create subsidies and incentives for people to convert their gardens? Why not provide assistance? Why not create a situation where people would want to do this and have the help to actually do it? This is the job of regional and local governments.

May 26, 2020

Brexit

The whole idea behind Brexit was built partly on lies and partly on the idea – more or less explicit – that Britain can somehow get back to the glory days of the British Empire. The lies were always clearly lies. And the glory day idea was also always a clear lie since the days of the British empire are long gone.

In the world today, we face serious collective challenges, more than humanity has ever faced. And collective challenges require collective solutions. We cannot do any of it alone. We have to stand together, globally, as much as we can.

With Brexit, Britain is moving in the wrong direction for so many reasons. I suspect they’ll regret it. And in time seek to return to the EU or another future union.

With the pandemic, Brexit is made worse for Britain. But the pandemic is just highlighting some of the inherent problems with Brexit.

Racism and the pandemic

As mentioned in other posts, the pandemic is highlighting many existing problems in the world.

One of the things its highlighting is the problems with colonialism, slavery, and racism. Why do African Americans die at far higher rates than European Americans? It’s because of the history of slavery and racism.

There are many more proximal reasons, but that’s the real and deeper reason.

May 27, 2020

Gaydar?

I sometimes hear gay people talk about having a good gaydar.

For me, this is problematic in a few different ways.

One is that the “gaydar” often seems based in and may reinforce stereotypes. It works with people who more or less consciously live up to the gay stereotypes. For instance, the gaydar may tell someone that a man with more feminine traits is likely gay, and a woman with more masculine traits also is gay.

And that’s often wrong. The gaydar is often based on rule-of-thumb assumptions that sometimes hit the mark and often enough don’t.

I lived for a short time in a housing co-op in Oregon. A couple of people there were gay and I remember the woman talking about how good her gaydar was. A young man applied to join the co-op and was interviewed by all of us. We all liked him. He was more feminine in appearance than average, and the gay woman asked if he was gay. He said no.

Based on her confidence in her gaydar, she assumed he was in denial, and she vetoed having him as part of the co-op. (The rest of us wanted him to join.) I later became friends with him, and he has had a string of straight relationships and is now very happily married to a woman. I didn’t see any signs of him being gay then, nor being in denial about it, and haven’t in the two decades since.

So the gaydar may unwittingly reinforce stereotypes. It’s often enough wrong. And taking it too seriously may have real life unfortunate consequences.

It seems better to just ask and trust what the person says. It’s their business anyway.

There is another side to this. To me, it looks like the idea of gaydar comes out of and reflects a society that doesn’t always accept homosexuality. If there was full acceptance and ease around the topic, gaydars wouldn’t really need to exist.

In a society where gay people sometimes need to be gay in secret, or at least not very openly, gay people need ways to detect other gay people without risking to reveal themselves too much. And that’s where the gaydar comes in. It may be a way of coping. I assume that’s also why people sometimes seem to have too much confidence in their gaydar. It may give them a sense of security.

The effect of paywalls

Of course, newspapers need to make money. The more tabloid ones seem to rely more on advertisement, and the more “serious” ones – although often equally biased – tend to rely on paywalls and subscriptions.

What’s the consequence of this? It’s of course that many chose the “free” new sources online. It may be that New York Times has a good and in-depth article on a topic someone is interested in, but they are not going to pay for a subscription to read it so they’ll find information someone else.

Paywalls may come from the intention of protecting “serious” journalism. But the effect is to turn people away from their reporting and towards the more tabloid journalism.

And most likely, it has an effect on society.

I assume one reason for choosing a paywall is to avoid influence from advertisers. The effect is that people turn away and chose other sources of information instead. And this, in turn, impacts society.

SWEDEN AND THE US POLITICAL POLARIZATION

I have seen liberal friends in the US posting several articles painting a horror picture of the Swedish response to the pandemic. Most of the time, these articles are full of factual mistakes.

I assume they post these because Republicans have used Sweden as an example of why lock-down is not necessary, so the liberals then want to find something to disprove it – whether the information is accurate or not.

The reality is that Sweden have a different situation from the US and their approach works fine for them. They have a much smaller population, people generally live more spread out, they have universal health care and a good healthcare system, people follow the recommendations of the authorities, and so on. None of that is really true of the US.

The reality is also that we will have to live with this virus. There is no guarantee we will ever find a vaccine or even effective and affordable medicines. So the Swedish approach may make more sense in the big picture. They know this will be an ongoing situations. There are no quick fixes.

Powerless to correct an injustice

I see there are riots in Minneapolis after the murder of a black man by a police officer. Why? Because the people feel powerless in correcting the injustice, and powerless in preventing it from happening again.

Police officers in the US regularly get away with killing unarmed black men. They know there will be hardly any repercussions. So they continue to do it.

No wonder we see riots. It’s the last resort of desperate people.

These riots are symptoms of an underlying problem. They are symptoms of racism and abuse of power set in system, and of the people who could do something about it – chiefs of police, politicians, voters – doing nothing.

The police allows it to happen. The justice system allows it to happen. The politicians allow it to happen.

And yes, I know I wrote murder. Technically, it may be manslaughter. But murder seems to fit better since the police officer knew very well what he was doing.

THE BANALITY OF EVIL

In Nazi Germany, most of the atrocities were committed by good family men who followed orders. They just did what was expected of them.

The same is the case today in our era of ecological destruction. Most of the destruction is done by people just doing what’s expected of them – and that includes me and probably you.

In Nazi Germany, they lived within a Nazi system requiring them to imprison, torture, or kill large numbers of people.

In our society today, we live within a social and economic system that doesn’t take ecological realities into account. A normal life within this system “requires” us to live in a way that’s ecologically destructive.

The banality of evil doesn’t just apply to Nazi Germany. It applies to us today.

May 30, 2020

Complacency

The front page on NRK’s website today has headlines about the pandemic, global ecological crisis, riots in the US, and then one that says FrP wants to allow beer to be sold at kiosks.

FrP is the libertarian party in Norway and they are famously concerned with issues that immature and self-centered teenagers would find important.

And yet, it reflects the complacency in all of us. The world is burning and they – and metaphorically all of us in one way or another – are concerned with insignificant issues.

Trump and the US – and the world

When Trump was elected, my main concern was what his presidency would do to the culture and attitudes in the US. And that’s still my main concern.

As a president, he makes a lot of very unhealthy things appear normal and acceptable to many people. Whether it’s racism, bigotry, inhumanity, blatant lies, disregard for life, disregard for basic democratic principles, disregard for norms for discussions to find shared solutions, disregard for the ecological catastrophe we are in the middle on, and so on.

His presidency has normalized a lot of very unhealthy and dangerous attitudes and behaviors. And some of those opposing him fall into the same trap and mirror him instead of modeling something more healthy.

Whether he is gone after the next election or not, this is a legacy the US will have to live with for some time, and the equally unhealthy patters in US culture that brought him to the presidency are still there.

At an even more basic level, electing Trump can be seen as trauma behavior. Traumatized and damaged people elected a traumatized and damaged leader. And the social systems and structures that created this trauma is still in place in the US – lack of universal healthcare, lack of good social safety nets, poverty, barriers to education, huge gaps between the wealthy and poor, and so on. All of this continues to traumatize people in the US, and that leads to trauma behavior showing up in all aspects of society including in politics. (Reactivity, polarization, us vs them thinking, blame, bigotry and so on.)

Space exploration – is it necessary?

Why are we sending up astronauts in a pandemic?

Tonight is the scheduled Space-X launch of two astronauts to the space station. It’s historic since it’s the first time a private company – in cooperation with a government agency – has sent up astronauts.

I see this as very important for several reasons, and I have heard some of them from Elon Musk.

It’s good to have a mix of public and private organizations and companies working together in our space adventure. It creates more resiliency.

It’s an important step in making humanity a multi-planetary species. This is essential for our long term survival.

Through terraforming, humans may function as the reproductive organs of the living Earth. This is one step in Earth’s possible future reproduction.

We are adventurous and space exploration is a natural extension of this. It’s inherent in us to want to explore and the next natural step is space.

Space exploration helps us see ourselves from the outside – as one planet, one humanity, part of one seamless living system. That is invaluable and exactly what we need and what Earth needs. (Overview effect.)

We need focus on our immediate concerns, and we also need to have a big picture and longer term view. One doesn’t preclude the other. They go hand in hand.

When I watched the official NASA broadcast leading up to the launch, I found their US-centrism a bit odd and off-putting. They talk about it as important for the US, something people in the US can be proud of etc. But this is much bigger than that. This is about humanity and the human exploration of space. I wonder if they feel they have to use that type of language because of the current president.

June 2, 2020

Making news stories sound more innocuous and “normal” than they are

When we know a situation more in detail, it’s easy to see where news reporting fail. They often miss essential information and – unintentionally or intentionally – misrepresent the situation.

It’s not surprising since reporters typically need to make a story quickly without having time to research the topic properly, and they may also feel a need to create an “angle” that’s more interesting and draws an audience.

It goes months between each time I watch TV news, but I did watch a few minutes from NRK – the public TV station in Norway – earlier tonight about the demonstrations in the US. They presented the demonstrations as if they were all about the one black man killed by a police officer last week, while the demonstrations are really about decades long systematic racism and abuse of power from the police against black people. They left out the real reason for the demonstrations.

They also talked about people demonstrating in front of the White House being removed so Trump could walk over to a church for a soundbite. But they didn’t mention how it happened. The demonstration was peaceful and legal, and the police dispersed them with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Perhaps they elaborated on this in other TV news reports or programs. And they have included more information in articles on their website. But there is still a tendency to make these things – and especially about Trump – sound far more innocuous than they are. Is there a policy behind it? Perhaps they want to avoid being accused of taking a political stance? If that’s the case, they chose to not do their job in order to avoid criticism from some parts of the political spectrum.

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