Reflections on society, politics and nature XXVIII

 

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

WHY DO I CELEBRATE OUR NATIONAL DAY?

I have lived in Norway and the US, and on the respective national days, a question comes up for me.

What can I find that feels genuinely right to celebrate?

For me, it’s a mix of gratitude for what I have and have experienced in the country. An acknowledgment of the dark sides of the history and current affairs of the country. And the beauty of interdependence.

Why do I feel a need to examine this for myself? Because the usual reasons for celebrating the national day are not sufficient or don’t feel completely right to me. And I know there is something else there. If I look, I can find genuine reasons to celebrate, and that makes the celebration feel much better for me.

JULY 5, 2020

PANEDMIC AND CLIMATE CRISIS: WALKING INTO IT WITH OPEN EYES AND COMPLETELY UNPREPARED

We knew a pandemic would come. And yet, most countries were utterly unprepared for it. For instance, in Norway, the current conservative government had done away with extra ICUs and medical equipment that was needed to deal with a natural or man-made disaster that requires medical attention for a large number of people. Conservatism today means to be “efficient” and not to take care of people and the land.

This is the same with our current climate crisis. We know we are in the middle of it. We have known it for decades. And yet most countries do very little about it. We are walking with open eyes into a far larger disaster than what we are currently seeing.

Click READ MORE to see more brief posts on politics, society, and nature.

IMMIGRATION

It’s understandable that some want to keep what they have for themselves and not invite others in to share.

And yet, it’s not really defensible apart from that simple reason.

We are all immigrants. We all came out of Africa. We all, at some point, came to where we are now – whether it’s many generations ago or within our own lifetime.

We can only pretend we own the land. We don’t really. It’s an accident we have access to the land we do. It’s because of the generosity of life, nature, and society that we are able to live where we do and make use of the land for our own purposes.

We didn’t chose to be born where we did and into the family and society we did. I didn’t deserve or chose to be born in Norway. I didn’t deserve or chose to be born into a family with some resources beyond the essentials. It’s not something I can take credit for.

So who am I to decide that others cannot take part in it? The only reason I appear to decide is because of power. It’s not something that’s defensible beyond that.

I am not saying we “should” do away with all borders or immigration control. That wouldn’t happen anyway. But we can be honest about what’s going on. And that may inform our actions and shifts things.

JULY 6, 2020

CONSPIRACY THEORIES: THE REAL CONSPIRACY

There are some real conspiracies behind conspiracy theories.

One is that conspiracy theories often distract people from the real issues in the world. The ones we all – or most of us – agree on. For instance, the grossly unequal distribution of wealth (created from natural resources none of us really own) and the current climate and ecological crisis.

Another is that conspiracy theories are not really about what they seem to be about. I don’t know exactly what they really reflect, but I have some guesses. One is lack of education in media literacy (in a wide sense) and critical thinking. The other is frustration and fear – perhaps from a lack of good social safety net (US), lack of universal healthcare and free higher education (US), corrupt politics (US), policies aimed at lining the pockets of the already wealthy, and general fear and frustration over our own situation and the world situation.

And it’s of course not just frustration and fear, but people dealing with frustration and fear in a particular way, through engaging in conspiracy theories. It becomes a coping mechanism. One that perhaps makes us feel that we know while others don’t, and so on.

JULY 7, 2020

COLLAPSE OF CIVILIZATION?

Through history, people have predicted the end of civilization or of the world. And their reasons has come from their own time and culture, the hot topics of the day, and extrapolation of current challenges. Sometimes, it’s been true in a limited sense. Often, it’s not been true at all. And one day – whether it’s now or in a million years – it will actually be true.

Today, it’s popular in some circles to predict the end of civilization from ecological collapse within the next few decades. And the likelihood of collapse comes from our usual human complacency combined with increased polarization and misinformation making it difficult to act sanely and collectively.

There is some truth to this. We are facing a collective challenge the likes of which we have never seen or experienced before. And we are, so far, not even close to taking it seriously enough. We are undeniably in the middle of an ecological bottleneck, and a bottleneck for our own civilization, and the outcome for us and Earth is determined by how we collectively respond.

Is it the end of civilization as we know it? Yes, because our civilization needs to transform and reorient to take ecological realities into account. Is it the end of humanity? Probably not. Is it the end of most humans? It may be unless we do what’s needed to prevent it. Is it the end of Earth? Not at all, Earth will find a way through it.

What’s the worst outcome? That we continue with business as usual, are too late in doing much about the climate crisis and wider ecological collapse, and civilization ends and a few humans survive in some kind of post-apocalyptic existence.

What’s the best outcome? That we collectively transform into a life-centered civilization.

And what’s the most likely outcome? That it won’t be as bad as we fear because we’ll collectively eventually see the need for drastic change and do something about it. And it won’t be as good as we – or some of us – hope since it will happen too late to avoid a lot of destruction and most won’t share the vision of a life-centered civilization. Out of necessity, there will be a minimum of universal sustainability. And beyond that, there will be a wide variety of approaches and social systems – like we see today and have seen through history.

This is the general overview. As for the details, I don’t really know. It’s a safe bet that ecosystems will continue to unravel, including the ecosystems of the oceans. It’s a safe bet we’ll see faster and higher sea water rise than most have predicted. It’s a safe bet we’ll see mass migrations on a scale we haven’t seen before. It’s a safe bet we’ll see some countries retreat into protectionism and nationalism. It’s a safe bet some countries will collapse and be unable to deal with the new situation, including some of the now wealthy ones. (The US and Britain are certainly working hard to be among those countries.) It’s a safe bet we’ll see the poor suffering a lot more than the wealthy, and the wealthy finding ways to profit from it all.

And as with the pandemic, we may also see the opposite. We may see countries and people choosing inclusiveness and humanity. We may even see some taking the long view in politics and policies. We may see some countries or regions become models of humanity and a more life-centered approach to how to organize societies.

JULY 8, 2020

PANDEMIC: MASK (NON)USE IN NORWAY

The question of wearing masks to reduce spread of the C19 virus is interesting. In countries where people already have used masks – for a variety or reasons including pollution and for women to avoid attention from men – they embraced it easily (parts of Asia). In some countries, it became a divisive political issue (US). And in some countries, the authorities chose to not recommend it even if they know it can help reduce the spread (Norway).

I never understood the reason why Norway didn’t recommend wearing masks. The official reason was that people don’t know how to use them properly. That’s obviously a ridiculous reason since people can and will learn.

A more real and unspoken reason may be that they had a shortage of medical quality masks because of poor planning, so they didn’t want lay people wear masks when medical personell needed them. They could have just said that, but they intentionally wanted to hush down the shortage and bad planning. (They even admitted to that when they were asked why they kept information secret about how much medical equipment they had available at the beginning of the epidemic.)

Another reason may be more psychological. Wearing masks has not been part of the culture, it feels unfamiliar, so they may hesitate recommending it.

I won’t be surprised if they recommend wearing masks at some point in the future. It obviously does help reduce the chance of spreading the infection. By now the production of masks is increased so there may be less risk of a shortage. And people have had time to get used to the idea and they see people in other countries wearing them.

I am currently at a retreat for people with chronic fatigue (CFS) at a rehabilitation center in Norway, and I am honestly surprised they don’t recommend or require staff and participants to wear masks. They have sectioned off the different groups, and they recommend keeping a one meter distance and disinfecting hands regularly, which obviously all helps. Wearing masks would seem a wise precaution as well.

HAMILTON

I haven’t seen Hamilton so this is completely uninformed, but I have wondered a few things about it.

First, why is it so popular? Obviously, the music is catchy. It’s a bit novel since it mixes modern music with a historical theme (although composers have done that for centuries). And the creator seems very likable.

At the same time, there are some questions I am surprised I haven’t seen voiced more. For instance, it seems to kind of make heros out of people who were colonists, stole land from those who lived there before them, and were slave owners. Switching the ethnicity of some of the characters doesn’t change that.

From my limited knowledge of Hamilton, it seems it’s popular because it has found a way to please a lot of people. It uses modern forms of music on a historical topic which seems cool and edgy while being very familiar. (Mixing modern music with historical topics has been done for centuries, the history is familiar, and the music style is already decades old so it has lost its edge and is ready to be embraced by the mainstream.) It uses black or Latin actors to play white people so although it depicts people who did horrible things it seems somehow OK. It’s patriotic in a way that many can feel good about – if they don’t look too closely.

I may watch it online in a while, and I am sure I’ll have another view of it then.

JULY 10, 2020

KLINGONS, BAJORANS AND SUBTLE RACISM

There are innumerable things in popular culture that reflects subtle bias.

Star Trek species is one example.

For instance, the often dark skinned Klingons are ill tempered, rough, and a bit crude. And Bajorans are generally their opposite. They are refined and spiritual, and just happen to be light skinned.

Why are the rough ones dark skinned and the refined ones light skinned? Why wasn’t it the reverse? I am pretty sure it didn’t come out of overt or explicit racism. But it did likely come out of implicit cultural bias and racism.

In our western culture, we associate the refined and good with light and light colors and the crude or evil with darkness and dark colors. It’s cultural. It doesn’t have to be that way. And, in itself, it’s obviously not racism.

In our culture, we also associate light skin with the good and refined and dark skin with the more crude and perhaps even evil. Jesus has light skin. The devil has dark skin. And this gets us closer to racism.

Europeans have traditionally seen white people as civilized and intelligent and dark people as primitive and crude, and this is clearly racism. This is what was used to justify colonialism, slavery, and systematic abuse of a whole group of people.

When Star Trek creators designed the different species, they did originally give Klingons white skin, perhaps by accident or perhaps because they were more intentional about not depicting a crude species as dark skinned because they knew the racist implications.

For whatever reason, this shifted with the ’80s and ’90s Star Trek series – TNG, DS9, and Voyager (all of which I otherwise love). It may have felt natural for them to give the rough ones dark skin and the refined ones light skin, and they may not have given it a second thought.

In Star Trek: Discovery, they have again moved away from this and given the Klingons a less human-like appearance and a more bluish skin. I assume it’s because they are aware of this implicit racism in the earlier species design so they wanted to move away from it.

THE US WAS NEVER A MODEL DEMOCRACY

When I lived in the US, I noticed that some seemed to see the US as a model democracy, a beacon for democracy in the world, but that’s far from reality. I am no expert on this, but here are some examples of flaws that should be obvious to all of us: Filibustering (obviously subverts the democratic process), riders (manipulation to get pet-causes through), presidential pardons (absurd and easily abused), two-party system (polarizes politics), winner takes it all (again, polarizes), the electoral college (can create a pattern of winners of the popular vote losing the presidency), obstruction of the ability to vote (especially for minority groups), gerrymandering, the role of Big Money in all aspects of the political process (perhaps most important of all), immunity for the sitting president (even for serious crimes), and a polarized media where sober and investigative reporting often has low priority. And this is just what’s regularly in place. In addition is the work of the current administration to further undermine democracy, including through shifting expectations and norms.

The US is not a model democracy and never was.

JULY 13, 2020

PANDEMIC: DIFFERENT APPROACHES FOR DIFFERNT GROUPS

It’s clear that we need different guidelines for different groups in how we deal with the pandemic. We see some of this, but it seems we need to go further.

The Norwegian government guidelines and rules are in place to prevent overloading the medical system and they have been successful so far. And this is all they do. They don’t have guidelines or rules for specific groups, for instance geographic regions or high risk groups.

For instance, they don’t recommend face masks for whatever reason. (They may be concerned that medical personell won’t have enough of the general population start using masks.) But it would make sense to recommend face masks for people at higher risk of being infected (taxi drivers and others in contact with a lot of people) and people at higher risk of serious illness if they get infected (older, immune compromised, already chronically ill).

They also don’t differentiate geographic groups. We know that the virus spreads faster in cities so it would make sense to have stricter rules and guidelines for people in cities.

To me, it’s inexplicable that they issue recommendations in order to not overload the medical system and don’t issue recommendations specifically to protect high risk groups.

POLITICS POLLING

Some in the US say we can’t trust the polls for the upcoming presidential election. That’s true, to some extent, as it always has been. There are always quality differences in the polls, assumptions behind the polls that may be more or less accurate, and polling errors.

And yet, it’s also not really true. At the last presidential election, the polls said Clinton would win the popular vote and she did. And reasonable outlets, like Fivethirtyeight and Nate Silver, said there was a one in four chance that Trump would win the election, and he did.

The polls were accurate enough. It was more a matter of how they were interpreted and presented. If we sought out outlets that took a reasonable and grounded approach – like Fivethirtyeight, we knew that there was a reasonably good chance that Trump would win. If we sought out more sensationalist outlets, we may have been mislead and thought there was almost no chance he would win. It’s always up to us to seek out good sources.

OBAMA VS TRUMP?

I see some people still comparing Obama (great) and Trump (terrible).

To me, Trump is mainly a symptom of underlying problems. And Obama and Trump both represent the old system that has to go if humanity – and civilization – is to survive.

At best, we are in an ecological bottleneck that many humans and much of life won’t get through, but life will get through and humanity may get through but only if we make deep systemic changes.

JOHN LENNON: MORE POPULAR THAN JESUS

We’re more popular than Jesus now

– John Lennon in an interview

This is old news but it highlight a dynamic we still see today.

John Lennon was referring to the decline of Christianity and that among young people, Beatles was more popular than Jesus. He was pointing out something anyone could see.

And yet, some Christians in the US took it as an opportunity to make themselves feel insulted. They took the quote out of context.

Perhaps they felt scared from seeing Christianity in decline, at least in Europe. Perhaps they wanted to shoot the messenger. Perhaps they wanted to keep the illusion of Christianity as growing. Perhaps they used it as an opportunity to direct their collective and personal frustrations towards a simple identifiable target. Perhaps they used it as an opportunity to try to intimidate people and preemptively shut down bearers of bad news or criticism.

THE NORWEGIAN GOVERNMENT DISCRIMINATES AGAINST PEOPLE WITH CFS

Some illnesses are stigmatized because we don’t know enough about them. Cancer is one example, and ulcers another.

Today, one of these illnesses is ME/CFS.

For instance, in Norway, the government has far more strict – read “unreasonable” – standards in allowing people with ME/CFS to receive disability than it has for other chronic illnesses.

In general, they require far more documentation. They often automatically deny disability applications when they see the ME/CFS diagnosis, and may give reasons for the denial that are factually wrong.

They require treatments even if specialists say there is no treatment for ME/CFS.

They require specific treatments like graduated exercise which is counter-indicated and can worsen the condition, and cognitive therapy which can help quality of life but not work capacity.

I have also heard several examples where they give a list of reasons for the denial, the person spends 2-3 years making sure they fulfill everything and apply again, and they then deny the application again for a reason they previously have not mentioned.

During my recent stay at a ME/CFS “retreat” at a center in Norway, I heard several stories like this. It seemed most of them had one.

This is in addition to the general misconceptions and misunderstandings people have about ME/CFS.

I assume this will change in time, perhaps in one or a few decades. And the general understanding of ME/CFS may improve more rapidly because of the likely boom in ME/CFS cases over the next several years following C19 infections from the current pandemic.

CRUELTY IN ENTERTAINMENT

It seems that cruelty in entertainment is more part of the US culture than the Norwegian, and I also see it some in the British culture.

Why? I don’t know. But I wonder if it has to do with empire and a generally more authoritarian culture, and it may also be an expression of collective trauma.

In Norway, the entertainment is generally kind and sometimes insightful. In the US, it seems that it’s more often cruel in different ways – cruel pranks, mild self-harm, reflecting harsh views on others and so on.

It’s not always like this, of course, There is cruel entertainment in Norway and kind entertainment in the US and Britain. But I have noticed this as a general tendency.

–––– ooo ––– DRAFTS ––– ooo ––––

If we continue as we do, it’s almost certainly the end of civilization as we know it. If enough people realize the seriousness of the situation, we may be able to muddle through it. And we have the opportunity to create a new type of civilization that’s more explicitly life-centered.

Most of the time, the situation won’t be as bad as we fears nor as good as we hoped. It will be mixed. And that’s probably the outcome of this too.

We’ll lose our old life, as many of us have during the pandemic. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Many will be severely impacted and some will die, especially in more poor and vulnerable countries. There will be mass migrations. Ecosystems will unravel. All of this is already happening and we are just seeing the beginning of it.

Some countries and regions will chose to try to continue with business as usual but will be forced to make some changes. Some will be more responsive and try to adapt before they are forced. Some will make use of this opportunity to create more explicitly ecologically informed systems and society.

How will the world look after the peak of the crisis and bottleneck? I imagine we’ll see a wide range of responses around the world, perhaps even more clearly than we do now. I also imagine a stronger global governance, born out of necessity, focusing on protecting natural resources for the common good.

….

For instance, the often dark skinned Klingons are ill tempered, rough, and a bit crud. And Bajorans are, many ways, their opposite. They are refined and spiritual, and just happen to be light skinned.

Why are the rough ones dark skinned and the refined ones light skinned? I am pretty sure it didn’t come out of overt or explicit racism. But it did, most likely, come out of implicit bias and racism.

In our western culture, we associate the refined with white skin and the rough with dark skin. When they designed the species, it was probably natural for them to give the rough ones dark skin and the refined ones light skin. They may not have even thought about it that way.

I should mention that in the original series, the Klingons were both light and dark skinned. It seems it was in Next Generation that they became more consistently dark skinned.

I noticed that in Star Trek: Discovery, they have moved away from this and given the Klingons a less human-like appearance and a more bluish skin. I assume it’s because they are aware of this implicit racism in the original species design so they wanted to move away from it.

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