Reflections on society, politics, and nature XII

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

One essential way Trump is no different.

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

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

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

September 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 20, 2018

Political correctness? Very often, and perhaps especially clearly in the US right now due to the political split, what one side accuses the other of is what they themselves do in equal measure. Some liberals now promote undemocratic attitudes and actions just because they happen to not be in power. Conservatives disparage political correctness on the left while they themselves very much adhere to their own version of political correctness (norms, rules, expectations, attitudes).

Of course, this is just examples of what we all do. When we see something in others or the wider world, it’s because we know it from ourselves. We live with it and sometimes live it. And the attitude we have towards it in the wider world is the attitude we have towards it in ourselves.

That’s why an attitude of noticing, kindness, curiosity, and sometimes assertiveness makes sense all around. What do I notice? Can I find it in myself? How can I relate to it with kindness? Do I need to relate to it firmly to prevent harm? What can I learn about it? What does it want to show me? What do I know that I don’t want to know? 

November 22, 2018

Gratitude and perspective. Something that still surprises me (although not really), is when people who have more than 99% of everyone who has ever lived still complain about their society and life situation. Of course, there are always things that can be improved. But for most people in the western world, life is better than it has been for almost all people through history. (At least, in terms of material life and opportunities. I know a sense of lack of connection and meaning can still happen.) 

I remember when I went to a psychologist in Norway as part of my training and happened to mention how grateful I am daily for food, shelter, clothes, and family and friends. Her response was “oh, yes, that says something of the deprivation you must have grown up with”. (I grew up in an upper-middle-class family and never lacked for anything. ) To me, that illustrates the lack of perspective many live with. 

What’s the remedy? Travel. Knowing about the rest of the world. Knowing history. Taking a more sober look at life. And perhaps explore heart-centered practices, including an all-inclusive gratitude practice.

It’s really about healing and growing up, and although we can prepare the ground for it, it doesn’t come on demand. 

November 25, 2018

Trauma and politics. This is something I have written about a few times before, but I am also reminded of it daily. Some of the behavior we see in society and politics is trauma behavior, and especially that which is reactive, based in fear, one-sided, inflexible, reflects us vs them views, inhumane, and/or strongly ideological.

Trump’s behavior is mostly trauma behavior. And I cannot help thinking that electing him was trauma behavior on behalf of the segment of the US supporting him. A traumatized society elected a traumatized leader. And that’s one way trauma is passed on through the generations.

Trauma is partly passed on through the institutions, norms, and rules created by traumatized people, which often, in turn, traumatize more people. And Trump certainly fits the pattern of leaders who traumatize others through their policies (increasing economic inequality, reducing social safety nets, weakening education, creating an atmosphere of harshness and division, and so on).  

Taboos. This is something I think most of us become aware of as teenagers (one of the many weirdnesses of grown-up society), but it’s a good topic to explore. What’s taboo in a society? And why? In our western society (at least north European and North American), what’s taboo has to do with either body functions or religion. Talking about sex openly, or even reproduction in England and the US. Swearing by using the names of God or the devil. That’s about it. 

Why should body functions be taboo? They are universal. We do most of them every day (farting, pooing, peeing, and sometimes sex). We depend on all of them for our lives and existence. Why not see all of them as completely natural and beautiful? 

The answer is civilization, and specifically the Christian variety. Christianity decided to make body functions shameful and taboo, most likely for their own purposes – to have some control and stay in power. (I assume Jesus wouldn’t have any problems with ordinary body functions and activities, this is about what came after, the Christian church and how it distorted what initially was probably quite simple, beautiful, and life affirming.) 

I should mention that in Norway, it seems that the body-function taboo is mostly in the past. I see it much more in England and the US. Perhaps empires need taboos more, just like the Christian church needed them, in order to control and maintain power. 

Values vs survival. I read an article about the possibility of Norwegian oil drilling in the (very vulnerable) arctic sea. The journalist and the people he interviewed framed it as a question of values. I thought it was long obvious that this is a question of our own survival and hopefully surviving while thriving, not values. We can’t continue with what’s so clearly destroying the ecosystems we depend on for everything we have, including our lives.

I guess you could call it values. That we value surviving and providing a good life also for future generations. But it sounds feeble when what’s at stake is so much more than that. I suspect people who still frame it as values do it out of habit or tradition, or they don’t yet get the seriousness of the situation. In either case, they are not doing us any favors. 

Mocking vegetarians. It seems quite common in our society that vegetarians or vegans are mocked. I have never quite understood it, although I suspect it has to do with people feeling their self-worth threatened. They know it makes more sense – ethically and ecologically – to eat a mostly vegetarian or vegan diet. They know some others do it and they don’t. They are afraid to be seen as unethical or having low self-control. So they mock people who eat a vegetarian or vegan diet. It’s important to point out the weirdness behind this mocking, and be explicit about some of the possible reasons why. Trolls burst in daylight. 

Trump and trauma. I just wrote this as a reply to a friend’s post. It’s what I have written about in more detail here before. 

I don’t know about giving him specific diagnoses, but his behavior is definitely typical – and very extreme – trauma behavior. Most likely coming from being profoundly and ongoingly traumatized in his childhood. A traumatized leader for a traumatized nation.

The real problem is a system that traumatizes people. A system where the haves get more and the have-nots get less. A system where most are unable to lift themselves out of a life of poverty and deprivation. A system with very poor social safety nets. A system that systematically traumatizes people. Add to this a lack of education and knowledge about trauma and where many don’t have the interest or opportunity to heal from it. And you have a society where many live from and even idealize typical trauma behavior including reactivity, blame, dehumanizing, polarization, adherence to strong abstract (irrational) ideologies, and more. 

Brexit. I don’t remember if I have written about Brexit here before, but my view on it hasn’t changed. The pro-Brexiters lied through their noses, and some people seemed to believe it. It seems clearly misguided. It will be a very costly and difficult process, and won’t get anyone what they want. And Britain will return to the union at some point, so it will have been an exercise in futility. 

November 20, 2018

Male genital mutilation. When I went to the US to study, one of the biggest surprises to me was the prevalence of male genital mutilation (aka circumcision). In Norway, it doesn’t happen, so for me it naturally seemed bizarre and inexplicable. And it still does. Why would you want to mutilate your baby child? Why would you, when there are no rational or good reasons for it? Why would you, when you know it’s traumatizing? Why would you, when you know that the trauma has the potential of impacting the child for the rest of his life? It seems more than just irrational and misguided, it seems (unintentionally) heartless. 

Some suggest that the toxic masculinity that’s so common in the US has a connection with male genital mutilation. The trauma may stay with boys for the rest of their lives, and may be expressed as – among other things – toxic masculinity. It’s obviously not the whole answer, but it may be a part of it. 

Conspiracy theories. I understand there is a universal impulse to know what’s hidden, and that for some, this impulse makes them go into conspiracy theories. For me, it doesn’t make so much sense. What we know going on, and what’s going on in the open, is far worse and has a far larger impact than any specific conspiracy theory. (I am thinking about neoliberal capitalism, corporate influence on policies and governments, growing economic inequality, destruction of ecosystems, and social and economic systems not designed to take ecological realities into account.) When we know all of this is happening, and how serious it is and how much it impacts all life, why bother with weird little conspiracy theories? 

Climate change. On that topic, why bother with whether climate change is happening or if it’s human-made? We know we have to make the same changes anyway. We have to transition out of an oil-based economy and society and into a renewable one for a large number of reasons, not just because of climate change, and it needs to happen relatively quickly. 

Rationality. Although a part of me does expect people to act rationally, I know we often don’t. I think growing up in Norway, where people and politicians often do act rationally, I have a skewed expectation. And, of course, growing up in Norway, I have my own sense of what’s rational and what’s not. 

I know we are often “emotionally” motivated, or rather motivated by identities and beliefs we wish to hold onto. And that, sometimes, holding onto beliefs and identities are more important than otherwise acting in our own self-interest. 

December 15, 2018

Proportional fines. I know what I write about here is relatively random but it all has to do with how our society functions. One of the things I find puzzling is why fines are not proportional. As it is now, in most countries, fines are fixed and the same for everyone. Which means they are NOT the same for everyone. It means that people will lower income pay a lot more in relation to the money they have available compared to the rest of us. Why do we accept a clearly unjust system? Why isn’t it more of a topic? I am not sure. I guess it’s a combination of people being used to it, and those with lower income generally having less of a voice in society. And, on the same topic, why are not more or all fees proportional to income? Or even ticket prices for public transportation?

Some will say that proportional taxes evens it out, which it does to some extent, but not always or completely and it is a somewhat separate issue. Or that it would make the system too complex. But they do it in Finland, at least for traffic fines, so it’s clearly doable. 

(I should say that the only fines or tickets I have received so far are library fines, so this is not fueled by personal experience. I just see something that seems unjust and mostly unquestioned.) 

Trump in legal trouble? This is an ongoing topic. Many of Trump’s former or current allies are at risk of going to prison or will go to prison – often for crimes directly related to Trump. There are no surprises here. (The surprise is why so many are willing to risk so much by being associated with him.) Will he be impeached? Will he go to prison? Or will he be immune due to his money, privilege, and bluster? Will he be protected by (bizarre) US laws protecting the US president from criminal charges and allowing him to pardon crooks including himself? Nobody knows, of course. Right now, it doesn’t look good. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets through it all without more than a scare. After all, his base supports him no matter what, which means that most Republican representatives will do the same. And he does seem good at getting out of difficult situations. (At great cost to himself, of course. His actions are those of a very damaged human being, and he continues to damage himself by engaging in them.) 

Aging. This is another recurrent topic for me since my teens. What we, in our culture, associate with aging is partly biology, but a large part of it comes from inactivity and the weight of accumulated conditioning and unresolved emotional issues.

So if we wish to stay healthy and vital in old age, we need to stay fit and in motion. Ideally through ordinary everyday activities (walking, dance, gardening, cycling) and perhaps mindfulness related activities like yoga, tai chi, and chigong. We need to have a reasonably good and balanced diet, eating mostly lower on the food chain and less refined foods. And we need to take care of our emotional issues and find resolution and healing for them. (Ideally starting in school and keeping it up through life.) 

I imagine that any comprehensive approach to staying healthy in old age in the future will include these components. And, of course, the more these can be built into the structure of our society, institutions, and life, the better. The more it’s easy and attractive to do it, and the more it’s just a regular part of our collective everyday life, the easier it is. 

Brexit. Why is Brexit so messy? One, slightly glib, answer is: because it’s a bad idea. And it highlights other bad ideas.

There are few real advantages of the UK being outside of the EU, especially after having been a member for so long and being so intricately enmeshed in the EU system. Many of the leave campaign arguments were based on lies and misinformation – both about the drawbacks or remaining and the advantages of leaving. 

Also, the EU was never going to make it easy or advantageous for Britain to leave. They sit on most of the cards, and they’ll make sure Britain’s deal is unattractive enough so others are dissuaded from following their example. 

What bad ideas does Brexit highlight? Northern Ireland and Gibraltar. Those are among the few vestiges of Britain being an empire, and both are arguably out of step with the modern world. Gibraltar belongs to Spain. Northern Ireland to Ireland.

 And, as I have written about before, Britain leaving the EU is only temporary. Britain (or what’s left of it by then) will rejoin the EU or join whatever other union is in place by then. 

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