Commentary

Our war

Peace_Amidst_Darkness_2

Peace amidst the darkness/Wikimedia Commons

Commentary

We have met the enemy, and he is Donald Trump for he is us.

Or too many of us.

Is there a better time than Christmas to reflect on the vicious partisanship of these days that seem to make it impossible for reasonable people to disagree without calling each other names?

Would it be too much to ask for a better New Year?

It is easy to blame the country’s new President for all of this or former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who gave Trump the model for building a virulent political base. But the venom flows from so many now.

We have become a country increasingly split between angry Scarecrows who feel government should do everything for everyone, a fiscal impossibility, and bitter Tin Men who think government should do nothing, a societal absurdity.

Civilizations are bound together by a sense of the common good. Sadly, if the recent work of psychologists Justin P. Brienza and Igor Grossmann is to be believed, our own success in creating the greatest nation in the world (at least for the moment) might be threatening our future.

As people rise in class, the duo reported this month in the journal “Proceedings of the Royal Society B,” their willingness to work with others to find common ground and avoid conflict drops.

The scientists conducted a couple different behavioral studies that indicated “higher social class consistently related to lower levels of wise reasoning across different levels of analysis, including regional and individual differences, and subjective construal of specific situations. The results held across personal and standardized hypothetical situations, across self-reported and observed wise reasoning, and when controlling for fluid and crystallized cognitive abilities.”

Just win, baby

What the two Canadian psychologists characterized as “wise reasoning,” American science writer Michael Price simply called “wisdom” in a story written for Science Magazine. 

“There’s an apparent paradox in modern life: Society as a whole is getting smarter, yet we aren’t any closer to figuring out how to all get along,” Price wrote.

He might have understated the problem. You don’t have to look at much social media to find someone raging at someone else for being a “f…ing this” or a “f…ing that” because of a disagreement over politics.

A visitor from space might have thought the latest rewrite of the U.S. tax code, which has been rewritten over and over and over again for years, was a national crisis. Here is an actual, Facebook conversation between two relatively intelligent people discussing Alaska’s senators voting for change.

“Can you be arrested for spitting on a U.S. Senator?”

I bet you could, but I’d contribute to bail money fund!”

“I hope wherever our reps eat out their servers spit in their drinks/food. Assholes!”

Social media clearly highlights and heightens the nation’s divisions, but it’s unfair to blame the medium for the message. It is but a vehicle for expression in a nation now sometimes prone far more to emotion than reason.

The best analysis of the new tax bill says it could boost the national debt by a staggering $1.4 trillion, do little or nothing to grow the U.S. economy,  and put only a tiny amount of money back in the pockets of average Americans. But no one can see the future, which is why predictions of this sort are often wrong.

A whole lot of Republicans are gambling their political futures on this analysis being wrong. Alaska Rep. Don Young summed the situation for the critics as well as anyone:

“If we’re wrong, you ought to be happier than the devil. You ought to be real happy. You can say, ‘Look what the Republicans did. Look what they did. They hurt you. They hurt your economy.’ If you’re right, then you can brag about it.”

More than that, if the critics of the legislation are right, Alaska Democrats will have their best chance ever to oust Young, a Republican they’ve been trying to vote out of office for decades.

That the tax change might eventually offer Democrats an opportunity to swing the political pendulum back in their direction in a system in which the pendulum is in constant motion has been noticed by a few, but most just seem angry.

Why?

Because they lost, and what the Brienza and Grossman study found, in a nutshell, is that upper class folks hate to lose. Winning for them trumps,  possibly the perfect word here, more sensible compromises.

Wise reasoning

“The concept of wise reasoning has recently emerged in behavioural sciences, highlighting the combined utility of certain metacognitive strategies when navigating uncertainties people face in their lives,” Brienza and Grossmann observed. “Such strategies include the appreciation of contexts broader than the immediate issue, sensitivity to the possibility of change in social relations, intellectual humility and search for a compromise between different points of view. Individual differences in wise reasoning are only weakly related to dispositional empathy and perspective-taking, and promote prosocial tendencies in the process of deliberation.”

Appreciation of contexts broader than the immediate issue? Sensitivity to changing social relationships? Intellectual humility? A search for compromise?

These are all things the country’s current president seems to lack, although he has a couple of times made overtures to Democrats that might have indicated some willingess to compromise. 

As if anyone wanted that. Compromise is a dirty word in America today and has been for some time.

“The political right is particularly vehement when it comes to compromise. Conservatives are now strongly swayed by the tea party movement, whose clarion call is a refusal to compromise, regardless of the practical consequences,” Deborah Tannen wrote at CNN way back in 2011.

“But the rejection of compromise is more widespread than that. The left regularly savages President Barack Obama for compromising too soon, too much or on the wrong issues. Many who fervently sought universal health coverage, for example, could not celebrate its near accomplishment because the president gave up the public option.”

Tannen, at the time, called the prevailing divisiveness a “threat to the nation.”

Today, we’ve disintegrated to the point where it’s a threat to friendships, a threat to family relations, a threat to the work place, a threat to neighborhoods, and especially a threat to journalism, a large part of which seems more and more focused on proving that Trump is inherently evil or that those who oppose Trump are inherently evil.

As a society, we have come too much to reflect our head-bashing, brain-destroying national sport – football. And the goal of that game at the highest level, the NFL, was simply defined by the late Al Davis, owner of the once bad-ass Oakland Raiders;

“Just win, baby.” 

A Christmas wish

Maybe in the spirit of the Christmas season a whole bunch of us should consider New Year’s resolutions to try hard to get along, recognizing we would all be better of to heed a few words of wisdom from late President John F. Kennedy:

“So let us begin anew — remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity isn’t always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

“Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belabouring those problems which divide us.

“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

Those first two paragraphs spoken in 1961 were directed,of course, at the now-gone Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) at a time when the Cold War raged. We seem now in the midst of our own internal Cold War with Trump our Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe on the table.

And no one can make Trump better by responding to his outbursts with Trumpian furor; all that does is make the nation worse. All that does is widen the divide between Americans when maybe its time for them to actually talk to each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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19 replies »

  1. Americans have never gotten along, with ourselves or with the rest of the world. Picking fights is in our DNA. Social media is just a convenient medium for Americans to do what they were born to do – get into fights. Divided we stand, united we get bored and start fights. Welcome to Amerika.

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  2. Human political rhetoric is just a symptom of the actual problem. Our electorate has devolved into two camps due to our “two-party system”. There is no such thing you say? Correct. Although in a way there is.There are only two choices because of our “winner take all” system. In other words if you don’t vote for the D or the R, then you are helping the R or the D which is an even worse proposition. I say the parties have lost their meaning and the real parties are The Left and The Right. I would say the Left core belief is Socialism (it is no longer politically incorrect to apply this label. 79% of Alaska Democrat primary voters voted for Bernie Sanders). The Right has Libertarianism (and its child Free Enterprise) at its core. These are 2 philosophies that will never see eye-to-eye.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Craig says: “It is easy to blame the country’s new President for all of this or former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who gave Trump the model for building a virulent political base. But the venom flows from so many now.”

    Virulent definition
    adjective
    1.
    actively poisonous; intensely noxious:
    a virulent insect bite.
    2.
    Medicine/Medical. highly infective; malignant or deadly.
    3.
    Bacteriology. causing clinical symptoms.
    4.
    violently or spitefully hostile.
    5.
    intensely bitter, spiteful, or malicious:
    a virulent attack.

    Did you mean “vibrant” or maybe “victorious” or maybe “vital” instead?

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  4. “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the Republican Party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” – Barry Goldwater, 1964. This is not the only source of the problem but it’s a big part of it.

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  5. I for one have no interest in trying to have a dialog with the leftist. For the last (8) years I have suffered in silence while our country was run into the ground by Obama, Holder, Lynch and the three stooges, Brennan, Clapper and Comey. I held my tongue while the various government departments, i.e. IRS, DOJ, FBI, CIA, NSA etc were weaponized or otherwise turned against right thinking Americans. I held my nose while Obama created a racial divide built on the lies of Ferguson, Trayvon Martin etc. Then we turn to Hillary and her massive pay to play scam and her e-mail shenanigans. No, while the right thinking Americans have played by the Marques of Queensbury rules the leftist have cared only about winning by whatever means necessary. Trump was not my preferred choice for President but at least he fights. Unlike Bush 43, McCain and Romney, Trump hits back hard and makes no apologies. He has pulled the USA back from the abyss and given just a little help from the congress, I expect he will go down as the most consequential President of my lifetime.

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    • Yessir, “consequential” it is Mark. Is that predominantly due to his lies, his immorality or bigotry???
      Then throw in his, most likely, being shown to be a traitor should just about get the congress to get off their dime IMO. And we won’t hold our breath for any apologies, none needed as Mueller won’t be asking for any.

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  6. Many Americans are ignorant. Ignorance is an indication of stupidity. That’s because curiosity is a sign of intelligence. Curious people want to know facts. They condemn nonsensical reasoning and liars.

    Far too many people have drunk Trump wine. They are totally devoted to this pathological liar who constantly needs to have his ego stroked. It doesn’t bother them that he grabbed p____s
    or that he stiffed contractors who did good work.

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  7. Craig,
    JFK was a good looking man but a terrible president and an even a worse husband to his wife…society quotes him far too often.
    Vietnam was the war that changed this country for ever and the “Pentagon Papers” were the leaked material that proved our government had lied to the American people for years at the highest level (think president)…
    So, after leakers like Bradley Manning and Ed Snowden, we are faced with a population that would rather research the world affairs on their own rather than the traditional “spoon feeding” from local media puppets who are sponsored by global corporate oligarchs.
    What we fighting here in America under Trump is nothing new.
    It has always been the same thing modern America has been up against…COMMUNISM.
    Think the times have changed?
    I do not.

    Here is a quote from 1956 on the subject…

    “What we fail to grasp, in the struggle with Russia, is this: We are not fighting a single nation in a military war, but a gigantic worldwide, plain-clothes army, masquerading as a political party, seeking to conquer the world with an entirely new kind of warfare,” Mr. Armstrong wrote in 1956. “It’s a kind of warfare we don’t understand, or know how to cope with. It uses every diabolical means to weaken us from within, sapping our strength, perverting our morals, sabotaging our educational system, wrecking our social structure, destroying our spiritual and religious life, weakening our industrial and economic power, demoralizing our armed forces, and finally, after such infiltration, overthrowing our government by force and violence! All this, cleverly disguised as a harmless political party! Communism is worldwide psychological warfare!”

    HO HO HO!

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      • Bill,
        Mr. Armstrong has been dead since 1986, hence I am not a “follower”, but I will say his quote rings true to many issues facing Alaska and the U.S for that matter…Opium epidemics, mass shootings, police violence, domestic violence rates, alcohol addictions, hate crimes, gang violence….I could go on here.
        One has to wonder the forces at work creating these situations and their escalations throughout America.
        Let us not forget the word “Peace” comes from Latin “Pax” which came from (Pax Romana) that was thought of as the period of peace after 200 years of constant war….hence there was no remaining enemies standing.
        Where are we headed with steady foreign war for the last 100 years as a nation?

        “Augustus faced a problem making peace an acceptable mode of life for the Romans, who had been at war with one power or another continuously for 200 years.[10] Romans regarded peace not as an absence of war, but the rare situation which existed when all opponents had been beaten down and lost the ability to resist.[6] Augustus’ challenge was to persuade Romans that the prosperity they could achieve in the absence of warfare was better for the Empire than the potential wealth and honor acquired when fighting a risky war. Augustus succeeded by means of skillful propaganda.”

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  8. As I get older, much older, and and learn more about human behavior I wonder what future we have. As a species we are unique in so many ways, some very bad. We seem to enjoy hurting one another in so many ways. And we are adept at killing each other. Sometimes just for fun! And sometimes in the name of God or on behalf of some other religious faith. We have not been very good husbands of the planet. Look around! And not very kind to those truly in need. So when thinking about the new year I say a prayer for the continuation of humanity but hope we can make some changes that make us more humane. It probably is wishful thinking. A dear friend once said that mankind was a failed experiment and would soon be replaced by a more user friendly species. He might be right.

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