Reflections on society, politics, and nature XI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 3, 2018

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

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

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

July 4, 2018

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

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

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

July 6, 2018

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

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

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

July 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

July 25, 2018

The real scandal: US oligarchy. The real Trump scandal isn’t in anything that sets him apart from other US politicians or mainstream Republican or Democratic politics. It’s the similarities. The US is an oligarchy. Governance by and for the few very wealthy. And this doesn’t change whether Republicans or Democrats are in power. The only US politicians who speak up about this and have as their platform to change it, are people like Bernie Sanders.

Centralization & forest fires. Norway and Sweden have had the same dry and hot weather this summer. So when I looked at a map of forest fires in Scandinavia this summer, I was puzzled that most of them – and all of the lasting and serious ones – are in Sweden. There shouldn’t be any reason for this, and I knew I must be missing something.

Today, a few days later, I saw an article that may explain it. In Sweden, forest management and firefighting are centralized. They are not local. They don’t have the experience and knowledge that someone locally based would have, and it takes longer for the firefighters to get there. They have positioned themselves so they are less able to prevent forest fires, detect them early, and take care of the fires before they grow too large.

Centralization is a cornerstone of current conservative policies, at least in Scandinavia. They value saving money, at least in the short run and if you don’t look at it too closely, over people. And it has real-life consequences. Rampant forest fires in Sweden is, it seems, one. Unfortunately, the conservative government here in Norway is implementing their own centralization agenda. And fortunately, some people are fighting it.

July 31, 2018

Siding with power. If someone – a person, organization, or news outlet – consistently side with power, then it’s safe to say that it reflects an authoritarian attitude or political or business interests more than a desire for truth and justice. Of course, truth and justice sometimes are on the side of those with power, but this is more about what we consistently support. And for me, if I was going to have a general guideline for who tend to side with, it would be the underdog. They are the ones whose voice is less heard. They are the ones who need support. At the very least, I can side with them in the sense of wishing to listen, understand, and speak up for their interests.

Impeachment? We already know there are several solid reasons to impeach Trump (varieties of curruption), and even annul his presidency (Russian meddling in the election). At the same time, it seems unlikely that he will be impeached. The Republicans clearly don’t want to out of fear of antagonizing his base, and the Democrats may not want to even if they gain a majority in the November election (whether we see that as spineless or stragegic or both). It may even be that he’ll escape any legal repercussions now (immunity as a president) and later. Several people around him are likely to fall, but he may not. He may even get re-elected.

Deplorables? During the presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters deplorables. On the one hand, it’s not entierly true since I am sure many of his supporters are (in a conventional sense) decent people, they may vote for him for strategic reasons (e.g. supreme court), they may not approve of his personality or all of his policies or views, and so on.

On the other hand, it’s easy to see how it’s a valid label. Trump is openly racist and bigoted, actively erodes democratic institutions, systematically lies and creates drama as a distraction, puts the US and the world at risk in numerous ways, denies climate change and works against efforts to minimize it, and runs the White House and the US as a mafia boss. (And is clearly a very damaged human being.) Anyone who supports such a person by voting or working for him, even if they have their reservations, shows a very flawed morality.

August 25, 2018

Fashion. The current youth fashion (at least in Norway) is unelegant and dumpy. And, predictably, it gets reactions from the older generation who seem baffled, perplexed, and even provoked. (Including this sociologist who should know better.) I find it curious and slightly funny that people fall right into the trap when they know that (some) youth fashion is designed to trigger just this reaction from the older generations. And since elegance and style have been in fashion for a very long time, it’s not surprising that young folks chose a dumpy style to get a reaction.

September 4, 2018

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

Seems that regular people, like this musician and most of my friends, see this more clearly than most mainstream politicians, journalists, and social commentators in the regular media. Of course, the job of mainstream media is to maintain 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.)

And, of course, when I say “see this more clearly” it just means it agrees with how I see it. 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.

Royalty. I am watching The Crown on Netflix (about Elizabeth II) and it reminds me of one of the main arguments for abolishing monarchy.

I do see the appeal and function of royalty. It does give people a shared focal point and sense of commonality. It does provide a sense of glamor to the country. And there is a sense of nostalgia about it. The monarchy has a long tradition in many countries. But are those sufficient reasons to keep monarchies?

And then there is the main reason, as I see it, for abolishing monarchies.

In modern society, it’s the only role or institution people are born into. They are born into it without choice. The only choice they have is to abdicate or leave it to someone else, but there are many pressures against it.

Of course, they are groomed for the role and prepared from an early age, and they have the guidance of a family that has been fulfilling that role for generations. And yet, in a modern society, it doesn’t seem right that some people are born into a role they may not want or be particularly suited to.

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