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.
SOME LAYERS I USE WHEN I LOOK AT SOCIETY
When I write posts here, I write from one or a few perspectives.
These perspectives reflect my biases and conditioning as a male from a northern European country, university educated, and so on. And they reflect my own hangups, wounds, emotional issues, beliefs, identifications, and perceived lack.
There are many perspectives out there that are equally valid and important, and I leave them out to make it simpler (and easier for myself), and also because I am aware of only a small subset of all the existing and possible perspectives.
So what’s the bigger and more general picture for social issues?
My world – the world as it appears to me – happens within and as what I am. All my experiences happen within and as what I am.
The world appears the way it does to me because of my own mental overlay. This overlay consists of mental images and words, and it puts labels, meaning, and stories on my world. I am responsible for my own stories about the world, including the most basic assumptions about the world, others, and myself.
The stories I have about the world reflect me as a human being. Whatever stories I have about the world or others also fit me, and I can find very specific examples of how each one fits me.
Each person perceives and acts from their own filters and biases, including me. We cannot escape this but we can be a little more aware of this happening and some of the specific filters and biases.
Each person has valuable perspectives and views, especially when we drill down to the essence of what these are about.
Everything is a whole and part. What we see happening here and now are expressions of movements within the whole – going back to beginning of time and stretching out to the widest extent of existence.
It’s all lila. The world as it appears to me is the play of this consciousness. Or, we can say it’s the play of life – or the divine. It’s consciousness, life, or the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways.
I cannot know anything for certain. I am operating from a huge number of questioned and unquestioned assumptions.
When I write, I typically highlight one or a few of these even if all of them are there in the background.
A SAD IRONY OF CONSPIRACY THEORIES
There is a sad irony in the conspiracy theory world.
I suspect some – or many? – who get into conspiracy theories do partly to feel they know something others don’t and to feel special, smart, and perhaps even powerful. They may try to compensate for feeling like an outsider, a failure, rejected, and powerless.
Although they may find a sense of belonging in the conspiracy subculture, they may also separate themselves from friends and relatives. To the extent they get identified with the conspiracy world, they may isolate themselves from those who are not into it. In that way, they create for themselves even more of what they try to escape.
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THE REAL REASON FOR TRUMP?
In the majority of discussions about Trump, they talk about Trump’s childhood trauma, the role of Fox News, Republican enablers, racism & white frailty, and so on. And all of those are important factors.
What’s often left out is the most obvious reason for people supporting Trump. And that’s the growing inequality in US society.
This inequality is no accident. It’s the consequence of the deliberate policies of both Democrats and Republicans over the last several decades.
Jobs have been shipped abroad. No universal healthcare. No tax-supported higher education. No solid social safety nets.
That brings about fear, despair, and anger. And fear, despair, and anger is what brings people like Trump – authoritarians promising simple solutions – to power.
The Democrats and Republicans both have brought about Trump by ignoring the needs of ordinary people.
To me, the (short-term, pragmatic) solution would be people like Sanders, AOC, Warren, and others, although they don’t have much chance of getting their policies through in the current US political climate.
Unfortunately, to many, the answer is Trump – someone only in it for himself. And the Democrats only have band-aid solutions, and there there is not a political climate to bring about the changes needed to really address these problems.
TRUMP’S PATH FORWARD?
What’s Trump’s path forward? I imagine he’ll find a way to communicate with his followers (TV channel, website, social media), and he may even start up his own party – and in the process fragment the Republican party. I also imagine there will continue to be a good percentage of neo-nazis and QAnon-type conspiracy theory folks in the years ahead, and that this will continue to spread to other countries.
Hopefully, the rest will respond in a way that will only strengthen democracy.
JANUARY 11, 2020
A VACCINE AGAINST CONSPIRACY THEORIES
If there is anything we need now, it’s a vaccine against conspiracy theories.
How would we do this? To me, the best approach seems to be to do it in schools at all levels. Expose students to media literacy, conspiracy theory literacy, the psychology behind conspiracy theories, the psychology of cults and cult following, logical fallacies, and so on. Have them investigate this for themselves. Have them work on projects. Help it get into their bones through actively engaging with it.
WHAT’S REQUIRED FOR GOING INTO CONSPIRACY THEORIES?
There is probably no exact formula, and I am sure it varies a bit in each case, but here are some possibilities:
Trusting someone who espouses conspiracy theories, whether it’s a friend, partner, or politician.
A lack of familiarity with media literacy and logical fallacies. A lack of familiarity with the topic of the conspiracy theory.
An emotional need met by going into conspiracy theories. (Wanting to feel special, included, etc.)
Not fully committed to being (ruthlessly, compassionately) truthful with oneself. Allowing other things to take priority – like belonging, approval, or meeting emotional needs.
There are also some other factors that can support going into conspiracy theories, including the information bubbles we all live in, trauma, and feeling left out and powerless.
BANNING TRUMP FROM SOCIAL MEDIA
I see there is a discussion around Trump’s recent ban from mainstream social media (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc.).
I am among those who support this ban. These are private companies, and the service is free to the users, so they are in their full right to ban anyone. Any space – physical or virtual – has rules of conduct, and if you violate those – as Trump repeatedly has done, there are consequences. In this case, it’s to be banned from the space.
Another side to this is that it’s important to not be too tolerant towards intolerance. If we allow repeated expressions of hatred, bigotry, misinformation, and encouragement to violence, we only encourage it and allow it to build and amplify. Our role is not just to refrain from this ourselves, but also to not enable it in others. And sometimes, that requires setting clear boundaries and action – for the good of all of us.
Parents of children need to set boundaries for the behavior of their children, and society needs to set boundaries for behavior as well. One expression of this is banning repeat offenders from social media.
Of course, Trump and his followers have other options. There are social media platforms that allow that type of expression. And I am sure the FBI and others monitor these discussions, at least to some extent.
Update: It’s now a couple of weeks after the ban, and Biden is the new president. For me, personally, it’s a huge relief to not have the constant barrage of Trump statements on social media and then the news. It was a big – and somewhat toxic – distraction.
HOW TO GET PEOPLE OUT OF CONSPIRACY THEORIES?
How do we get people out of conspiracy theories?
It’s like any addiction: people have to want to get out of it. They have to realize, in their bones, that the pain of staying is worse than the discomfort of going out of it. So it’s not easy and there are no simple solutions.
If someone is ready to question the conspiracy theories and consider getting out of it, I would be more than happy to listen to them and provide a safe space and support for their transition. If not, I have no interest in even trying since it’s most likely an exercise in futility.
To me, it’s more a question of vaccination. How do we vaccinate people against conspiracy theories? The answer, as I wrote about earlier, may be a combination of media literacy, learning about the psychology of conspiracy theories, learning about the psychology of cults, learning about information bubbles, and so on, and especially having young people work on projects on these topics so it becomes a more living experience and knowledge.
The dynamics of conspiracy theories are more important than their specific content. How do people get into them? What needs does it fill? When people get out, what brought them out of it? How can we prevent people from getting into conspiracy theories in the first place?
And also…. how do the conspiracy theory dynamics play out, in a less obvious way, in all of our lives? When do I get into conspiracy-theory type thinking? What’s an example of me taking something as true without good data?
Note: I am not saying that there can’t be a grain of truth in conspiracy theories. Often, there is and that’s partly why people get hooked. The grain of truth may even be the values the conspiracy theories supposedly reflect (care etc.), while the real values behind conspiracy theories often are quite different (disinformation, conflict, unraveling of democracy). At the same time, the dynamics of conspiracy theories can be very destructive. Especially as it often involves…. taking something as true without good data, going into us vs them orientations, not being open to other perspectives, and making real-life choices based on delusions and flawed information.
IS TRUMP A LIGHT-WORKER?
In the weird world that’s the intersection of QAnon and New Age, some folks seem to think that Trump is a “lightworker”.
It’s a classic example of baiting people with what appears to be good intentions and a good cause that fits their existing values. And then getting them to support increasingly bizarre strategies – including supporting Trump – in order to achieve these noble goals. Trump is a secret “lightworker”, on the side of the good, and all will – at some point in the future – be revealed.
Of course, the real intentions of the people behind QAnon is something else. It may be the enjoyment of tricking a large number of people. Or getting liberals to back Trump. Or sowing confusion and division and eroding democracy.
Even on the surface, the idea of Trump being a “lightworker” is absurd. There is no reason to assume he is anything else than what he appears to be: a narcissist only in it for himself. His whole life has been about that. And it’s all fits what we know about his traumatic childhood.
There is a real conspiracy here. And that is that these people – the QAnon followers – are baited and used.
This is also an example of classic cult psychology. When what’s predicted by QAnon doesn’t happen, there are always reasons why, and these reasons not only fit into but build up the initial QAnon worldview. It’s not falsifiable.
This is why people who get into it may not get out of it anytime soon, at least not as long as there is a subculture actively encouraging these conspiracy theories. And there is no reason to assume this subculture won’t be around indefinitely.
Transparency is a good policy to counter conspiracy theories.
In Norway, government officials tell people to be informed about vaccines and possible side-effects and to make informed choices. They also inform the public about a series of deaths among very old and sick people following the Covid-vaccine, likely due to their body’s reaction to the vaccine, and ask people in that category to consider not taking the vaccine.
For everyone else, they obviously recommend taking it.
This is the form of honesty and transparency that can quiet down the anti-vaccine conspiracies. Yes, sometimes people die from their body’s reaction to the vaccine. Yes, we want you to be informed and make informed choices. And yes, for most people, we recommend you take it.
I keep seeing liberal and progressive arguments for Brexit, most recently in an op-ed article in The Guardian. The argument is that with Brexit, Britain can be more progressive than the EU.
To me, this looks like a fantasy. Especially England tends to vote conservative. There is no reason to suspect this will change anytime soon.
In theory, the argument makes sense. In reality, it doesn’t. At least not for the foreseeable future.
COVID 19 VACCINES & RISK EVALUATION
Someone in a social media group asked: Why do people here promote Covid vaccines? The risk of side effects is too high. I would never take it.
My reply: Perhaps because we know something about epidemiology and the history of disease and vaccines. And when it comes to the risk, I and most people are aware of the risk of vaccines. We all do risky things every day. It’s far riskier to get into a car – and to do a large number of everyday activities most people engage in – than to take this vaccine.
It’s about being informed – about epidemiology and the history of illnesses and vaccines, about the side-effects and who is at more risk (old and frail people), and the general upsides and downsides. For me, the outcome of the calculation is clear. We live in a relatively disease-free society because of prevention – including diet, hygiene, and vaccines. Yes, there are risks, and I am more than willing to take that risk. I take risks all the time and many daily life activities are far riskier. This particular risk is worth it since it protects me and those around me, and is a small contribution to end the pandemic.
Note: I notice a lot of the anti-vaxxers imply that people don’t know about (a) that the pharmaceutical industry has financial interests in promoting the vaccine and (b) the risk of vaccines. I find this odd since both are very well known and I relatively frequently see articles about it in the media.
It seems that a big component in the support of Trump is white fragility.
Some white folks are afraid they’ll lose their privilege, that they’ll have to live their lives with others – blacks, Hispanics, Asians, indigenous – more as equals.
To me and many others, that doesn’t sound terrible at all. So why does it threaten them? What is threatened?
I assume these are people who have invested something into their identity as white. Their whiteness means something to them, perhaps because of a history and culture of white supremacy.
A lot of it is about identity. It’s another version of identity politics. And behind it is fragility. Without my whiteness and white supremacy, who am I? What’s my worth?
The rest of the world can tell them, of course. Most people in the world know their worth without having it dependent on their ethnicity or the color of their skin.
We have value as human beings. We have value as living beings. We have value as expressions of life and this living planet and this cosmos.
And, a bit more superficially, we can find value in many other places. For instance, in loving others and caring for life.
This value is in no way inferior to any value we tell ourselves we have from our ethnicity or the color of our skin. It’s more real. It doesn’t depend on the inferiority of others. It lifts us all up.
Of course, it’s all imagined anyway. Any idea of value comes from our own mind. We can examine it. See through it. And, to the extent we see through it, we can choose which one(s) to use, and hold it lightly.
THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT AND ALTERNATE HISTORY
As so many, I loved Queen’s Gambit, and I generally enjoy alternate history.
Why? The obvious is that alternate history helps us explore what could have been, and how easily things could have been different. The history that we take for granted could very well have gone in other directions, which means our life now would be quite different. And as with any fiction, it can also shed light on society and human psychology.
I have noticed that many historical movies and series these days, including alternate history ones, project current values back in time. In Queen’s Gambit, we see a world where a woman is the world champion chess player, and her gender is hardly an issue at all. The men around her support her.
I would like to think it would have been like that in the ’60s if someone like her was alive and active then, but I somehow doubt it.
These stories subtly whitewash history. They make the setting feel more familiar to us. We feel good since the values represented are the ones we have today. And yet, they gloss over the different values they had at the time, and the struggle many experienced because of it.
Is it a big problem? I am not sure. I enjoy these stories as much as anyone. And if we are aware of how history is subtly prettified, it’s not really a problem. But it is good to be aware of the discrepancies between that time and how it’s sometimes presented.
DO CONSPIRACY THEORISTS LACK BASIC KNOWLEDGE ABOUT HOW THE WORLD WORKS?
Do conspiracy theorists lack basic knowledge about the existing – and well known – systemic problems in the world? Based on comments I have seen from conspiracy theorists, I am wondering if that’s not the case.
For instance, anti-vaxxers sometimes start their comments with “nobody knows this”, “this is something mainstream media and governments don’t want you to know”, and then they proceed with stating things that I thought most people knew and I regularly see addressed in the media and by government officials. For instance, that vaccines have side-effects, and people do sometimes die from vaccines. I thought it was common knowledge that it sometimes happens. It’s a risk we are informed about, and we are willing to take because the likelihood of something terrible happening is very small and the benefits – for society and also personally –hugely outweigh the possible drawbacks. We all already accept many risks in daily life, for instance each time we get in a car, and this is no different.
I see the same type of comments from conspiracy theorists who are into ideas about vast conspiracies by powerful people. Of course, it’s widely known that money often dictates policies and what media focuses on. That’s part of the economic and social system we have. It’s a systemic problem, and it’s widely known. That doesn’t mean that any harebrained theory about wast intentional global conspiracies – that involve huge numbers of people in media, government, the medical industry etc. – are accurate.
Maybe some people who get into conspiracy theories were not well informed about how the world works? And when they were exposed to it, they went too far and made it into a black-and-white caricature while the reality is more nuanced?
JANUARY 19, 2020
AUDIO BOOKS VS PRINT BOOKS
I am not sure, but it seems there is a general attitude that listening to an audiobook is not the same as reading a physical book, meaning that it’s seen as slightly inferior.
One reason for this is that audiobooks are newer than print books, and many tend to feel that what they are familiar with is better just because they are familiar with it. Another is that listening to an audiobook can be seen as slightly less work and effort than reading a print book. Perhaps remnants of the Protestant work ethic come in here?
I love audiobooks. I can go for walks and do things around the house while listening to them. And because of the CFS, it’s difficult to impossible for me to read a print book while I am more often able to listen to an audiobook.
Also, if the author reads their own book, it adds an extra dimension to the experience. And listening to stories is what we humans did long before anyone came up with the idea of writing. One of the most primal ways to tell and receive stories is through the spoken language.
Since I live in Norway, I have paid some attention to the recommendations from the Norwegian government for how to avoid the spread of the virus.
I have noticed a few things:
The recommendations are usually restrained, probably to minimize the effect on society.
The recommendations are mainly to prevent overload of the medical system and hospitals, and not so much to prevent infections at an individual level. They aim at avoiding huge spikes in infections. And as individuals, we need to take stricter measures to protect ourselves.
The recommendations lag after the information we have about the virus and how it spreads. For instance, we have known for a long time that the virus mainly spreads through the air. The official recommendation remains to wear mask if you are on a full train or bus, to clean your hands, and maintain a 1 meter (!) distance. The optimal recommendation would be to wear a high-quality mask (tight-fitting, high filtration rate) anytime you are close to others outside of your household, to avoid crowds, to get in and out quickly if you have to go to the store, for everyone working in stores to wear masks, and for everyone to maintain more than 2 meters distance.
It also seems that the Norwegian government does not take long-covid as seriously as they should. We know that a significant percentage get long-covid (which is predictable since CFS can come after any viral infection), that it is very serious, and that it can happen for people at any age and even if they have apparently mild initial symptoms.
WHAT NOW, AFTER TRUMP?
Trump still has a few hours to be king and bring justice to the worldwide network of elite pedophiles (a joke and reference to the QAnon delusions), but most likely he’ll just leave the White House tomorrow and maintain he won the election and was the best president ever.
So what now? For me, there are a few important things to keep in mind…
Biden and mainstream democrats may represent a slightly more kind and sane form of politics, but they too are in the pocket of big money and they too want to uphold an economic system that doesn’t take ecological realities into account. Democrats and Republicans both operate within and mainly – with a few exceptions – want to uphold the current system.
We need a thorough reform of our economic and social system to take ecological realities into account. It may happen gradually and in the edges at first, and then – when things get bad enough – at a larger scale.
Also, the dynamics that brought Trump to power – white fragility, racism, bigotry, misinformation, love of authoritarianism – are still very much alive in US society. We still need to be very aware of this and remove, as much as possible, the conditions that create the growth of this type of mindset.
JANUARY 22, 2020
There is a predictable liberal nostalgia these days, after Biden became the new president. They want back to a time before Trump.
And yet, that’s not enough.
We are in the middle of a climate crisis that requires far more than what anyone – including liberal governments – are doing. We have a huge gap between the few wealthy and the many who live with less than they need.
Mainly, we have a system created at a time where they didn’t need to take ecological realities into account, and a system aimed at benefiting the already wealthy. We need profound systemic changes. We need an economic system that reflects ecological realities so that what’s easy and attractive to do is also what’s good for the planet, and one that evens out the huge differences between the wealthy and the poor.
And a liberal nostalgia to a time before Trump is far from sufficient to get us there.
BLACK MATTER & ENERGY
When I first heard about black matter and energy, I thought it was odd that physicists didn’t equally pursue two different possibilities. One is that our understanding of the habits of the universe is lacking, and the other is the existence of something like dark matter and energy.
My intuitive sense says that this has to do with a lack in our understanding of the habits of the universe. We know it’s provisional, incomplete, and wrong in several ways, and always will be no matter how much we think we know. So why not explore the possibility that the inconsistencies we see can tell us something we haven’t previously understood about the habits of the universe? What we see doesn’t conform with how we think it should be, so it makes sense to question our assumptions about it should be.
I know it’s easier to keep our assumptions and look for other answers – like dark matter and energy. But it seems far more interesting, and possibly revolutionary, to question our understanding of the habits of the universe.
Note: When I write “habits of the universe”, it refers to what some mistakenly call “laws”. They are obviously not “laws”. They are just our guesses of how the universe currently function.
Also, I know that some are pursuing the line of inquiry I write about here. I just find it odd that, when faced with two possibilities, the majority jumps to the conclusion that our understanding of the habits of the universe is “correct” and tries to find “dark matter” and “dark energy”. Why not keep it more open? Why name it after just one of the possibilities?
COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE & STAYING CLOSE TO REALITY
If all humans stayed close to reality and were honest about what we can and cannot know, we would have an amazing opportunity for collective intelligence.
Of course, we already have an amazing – although somewhat haphazard – collective intelligence. All our understanding and our whole civilization has grown out of it.
We see it daily in politics as well, although it’s a flawed process.
The main problem isn’t that we have slightly different values and priorities. That’s something that enriches the overall process.
The main problem is reactivity, acting on our emotional issues, and prioritizing our existing ideas over receptivity to what we can learn and discover. This too adds to the richness of the process, and it also creates a lot of extra challenges.
There is no simple fix to this. It’s something we have to live with. So the best we can do is be aware of how our collective intelligence – and democracy –is influenced by this, and take measures to minimize the unfortunate impact. We can notice it in ourselves. We can speak it when we see it. And we can find processes and structures that can help minimize the problems created by it.
This is also why misinformation – and the more extreme version of conspiracy theories – is problematic. While it enriches the process and encourages us to find solutions and go deeper, it also – at a more surface level – undermines our collective intelligence and democracy.
EMPATHY AND BOUNDARIES FOR HARMFUL BEHAVIOR
Empathy and setting boundaries for harmful behavior go hand in hand. Empathy without boundaries allows unhealthy patterns – in ourselves and others – to get out of hand. And boundaries without empathy can be harsh and harmful.
I see these dynamics play out in how people relate to Trump.
For me, it makes most sense to find empathy for Trump. He is clearly a very traumatized man who lives with a lot of pain. The harmful behaviors we see in him are a form of compulsion, and they are – most likely – his way to deal with his pain. Hurt people hurt people. And instead of resolving his pain, his behavior only fuels and adds to his trauma and the pain.
I can find this in myself. I understand. I do and have done these things too, although in different ways and not always in the almost cartoonish ways he does it.
I can find empathy for him. I even find love for him – knowing that he hurts and only creates more hurt for himself and those impacted by his behavior, and also knowing that he is what I am at all levels. He has the potential to be a loving and whole human being, although it’s very unlikely he’ll ever find that in this lifetime.
At the same time, it’s important to set boundaries for harmful behavior. Unfortunately, and inevitably, his behavior became part of a political game where one faction (Republicans) not only allowed him to get away with harmful behavior but actively supported it. Combined with weirdness in US law and traditions, he was able to get away with a huge amount of behavior destructive to him, US citizens, and US democracy. (The “weirdness” includes immunity for the US president and impeachment decided by Congress rather than a more impartial body – although nothing is very impartial in the US these days.)
Now that he is gone from the White House, it’s possible that he will be held accountable for at least some of his behavior. And that is for the best, not only for US society and democracy, and not only as a deterrent for others who may want to try the same, but even for himself (although he obviously wouldn’t agree).
JANUARY 27, 2020
THE TABOO AGAINST ACKNOWLEDGING NATIVES
Most colonized countries, and most countries with an indigenous population, seem to have a taboo in their culture against acknowledging them.
The US is a good example. When there is a public discussion about racism, it’s almost always about African Americans and Hispanics, and the indigenous people are rarely mentioned.
It may be partly because the colonizing culture has done a good job reducing the numbers of the indigenous people and destroying their culture, so they don’t have much of a voice. I also suspect it’s because people in the mainstream culture don’t want to be reminded of what they – and their ancestors – have done. They may also be afraid that acknowledging the history and the rights of the people who were there first opens a pandora’s box and they may lose some of their own privileges.
Still, if I was a journalist or politician, I would make a point out of acknowledging and including the indigenous people in any discussions around racism and privilege, and any social and political issue.
THE UPSIDE OF CARTOONISH ABSURDITY
I guess there has always been cartoonish absurdity, and the Trump era seems to have been a time of heightened cartoonish absurdity. Trump himself is more outrageous than most cartoon characters, as are many of his enablers. And the same with many conspiracy folks, perhaps especially QAnon.
The upside of this cartoonishness is that certain traits and dynamics are highlighted. It’s easy to see them. And that makes it easier for us to find it in ourselves, even if it’s often downplayed and may look quite different in how it’s expressed.
Also, I assume I am not the only one who sometimes feels exasperated by the absurdity of it all. Something in me gets triggered. So the cartoonishness helps me see what’s left in me to explore, befriend, perhaps find healing for, and join in with the awakening.