The two biggest problems

Imagine stories around a campfire…

a mystical möbiuscurating facts, ideas, text, and media to create a digital space around a safe, cozy, yet rather eclectic virtual campfire. My hope is to render an adequate sketch of history (a rough first-draft). 

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Image by Gerd Altmann || CC0

This past week [current events]

Well, you saw it. What a mess! To name but a few specifics from this past week:

  • President Trump continued—now in grandiose style—with his preferred theme of downplaying the pandemic, “Don’t be afraid of coronavirus, don’t let it dominate your life.” [virologists and epidemiologists agree that simply letting the virus take it’s natural course without any mitigation would be catastrophic]
  • President Trump’s remark “Don’t be afraid of coronavirus, …” essentially dismissed the suffering of tens of thousands struggling as long-haul Covid-19 survivors and he especially dismissed the dreadful experience of the 215,000 Americans who have succumbed to the coronavirus—and simply swept aside the loss and grief of all their loved ones and friends who remain here in life. 
  • President Trump is publicly calling to A.G. Barr and the D.o.J. for criminal prosecution of his political opponents—e.g., Biden, Clinton, Obama (see story here).
  • President Trump lashed-out at and attacked Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan, right after the arrest of terrorist groups planning to kidnap and harm her (read trial and execution)—he made no condemnation of the relevant hate-group militias nor on those arrested. (see story: “The plot against Whitmer won’t be the last white supremacist threat)
  • President Trump, again, refused to affirm the security of the elections and a peaceful transfer of power. [I note that in the VP debate last Wednesday, Vice President Pence did not answer this directly and played games with the question.]
  • President Trump stumbled again on clearly condemning White supremacy and White supremacist individuals and groups. [I note that in the VP debate last Wednesday, Vice President Pence explicitly denied systemic White supremacy in America by declaring that any such claim is insulting.].
  • President Trump canceled the second debate because it was going to be virtual for everyone’s safety, then he said the debate should occur in person as planned. 
  • President Trump broke-off any further negotiations until after election day regarding economic stimulus to help Americans suffering with the economic effects of the pandemic. Then he said a negotiation should make a deal on a stimulus package before election day.
  • President Trump holds a large gathering at the White House, yesterday, two weeks after the Rose Garden super-spreader event on September 26. One commentator likened Trump to Jim Jones on this, inviting people to come to the Rose Garden, a Covid-19 hot spot, and drink the loyalty Kool-Aid (e.g., come and become infected with Covid-19).  
  • So forth and so on in a seemingly endless stream.

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It’s like a greatest hits list of his epic fails. It’s exhausting.

Not what Dee Hock had in mind (e.g., chaordic)

Basically, just another week that moved chaos through news cycles by cable news media mostly no longer able to track the facts in any unifying or coherent way, leaping from one chaotic disaster to the next. Depending on which news bubble one gets their information from, any given incident is often both great news and the end of the world. To say that the majority of Americans are very weary of this bifurcated reality is a colossal understatement. I feel that a good majority of voters are ready to move on from President Trump and his chaotic reality-show presidency. Voting is already underway in most states, and people are voting at record levels in many of those states. 

I do not hate President Trump

I do not hate President Trump, although I’m often accused of it as I am frequently quite critical of his presidency.

I feel a great deal of compassion for President Trump

I do feel a great deal of compassion for the president. Childhood trauma is sometimes so significant that, if left unaddressed and untreated, it literally shapes the child’s behavior for their entire lifetime. Having empathy for the thorn in the president’s side does not preclude me from discerning his lack of fitness for the job, and the total inappropriateness of his occupying the White House in the role of Commander in Chief.

Mind you, I’m not saying that the societal climate hasn’t significantly contributed to the overall dysfunction we’re now living out in America. We have discovered the enemy, and it is us. All of us, to varying degrees. Extreme polarization, and the disappearing middle, is arguably one of the destructive by-products of the chief issue I’d like to raise this week. Terry Berland’s new animation brilliantly captures the scarcity of folks who are able to see beyond our context. Meet the nowadays seldom seen elephonkey:

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As a donephant myself, I can relate to the difficulty the elephonkey is finding. That is, being unwelcome by almost everyone. It’s ‘us vs them,’ ‘you’re either with us or against us,’ or ‘friend or foe’ as exclusive either/or binaries with no middle ground available according to both the red and blue teams.

“If they repeat it it’s important. If they repeat it…”

Before we turn to this week’s question, it does bear repeating that the SARS 2 coronavirus (Covid-19) has created the very context needed (common enemy) to overcome polarization and disunity. A superordinate goal is the antidote to the poison of our political and social division (it forms the space for middle ground). The quickest most direct route past the pandemic is through universal cooperation (on a superordinate goal to contain Covid-19), e.g., smart practices like masks, physical distancing, no large groups indoors, and any other rubrics that minimize spread of the virus. This opportunity has not only been squandered and missed by the Trump administration, it has been greatly diminished, tarnished, trashed. We’ll hope that with effective leadership this opportunity to claim the Covid-19 pandemic as the ground for a superordinate goal has not been completely compromised by Trump’s politicization of the pandemic response.

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Image by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash || CC0

Triage 

In the midst of a reality show presidency, other very serious matters for human attention are left neglected. The president’s strategy to dominate the news cycle, day in and day out, works effectively to keep very pressing human problems on the back-burner, if not completely disregarded. In both national and global terms, there are a multitude of significant problems needing prompt attention. Setting Covid-19 aside as a significant, yet lesser, concern for this exercise, if we were asked to name the top two problems facing humanity in the first world (those threats posing the most existential danger for humans), what would they be?

Arguably, the American meta-story that animates the two problem manifestations we’ll be considering is, “Only Money Matters.” That’s a left-quadrant [interior] matter for another blog post. Here, we’ll consider right-quadrant matters [exterior], e.g., physical manifestations like climate collapse (change) and social media, incarnations of the animating narrative that only money matters.

Many people see climate change (collapse) and it’s ramifications as the top existential problem that humans face. The climate collapse (change) problem intersects with many of our other significant issues—global climate refugees, national and global markets, jobs, race, economic inequality, food security, clean air & water, health, and so on—compounding the existential nature of all these problems. 

Just taking the first intersection from above, e.g., “global climate refugees,” we can easily discover the gravity and magnitude of the problem. We can tap into the empathy we come equipped with on this. Imagine that, for one of many possible reasons, the area where you and your family live became unsustainable/uninhabitable. Do you have any doubt that you would gather your family and what belongings you could, and you would move? How does it feel to be a refugee? Climate change (collapse) is predicted to set well over a billion people in motion as climate refugees by 2030. 

An alarming illustration of climate collapse (change) is the existential problem of the ravaging of the earth’s lungs. See this article from the Guardian: Amazon near tipping point of switching from rainforest to savannah – study

Surely nothing could be as threatening as climate change (collapse), could it? Sadly, there may just be something more perilous.

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I have used this image as illustration before. It’s still true, and it fits again here.

The Social Dilemma 

The only two businesses who refer to their customers as ‘users’ are drug dealers and social media. 

A new docudrama documentary is making quite a splash on Netflix. Here’s the trailer:

 

Yeah, it is a film everyone needs to experience. Even if you have never been on the internet in your life, you still need to find a way to watch this very powerful, and frightening docudrama. After you see the video, there are some helpful resources to aid your reflection.

Reviews worth a look

Jonathan Rowson, Scottish chess master and philosopher, places the constellation of issues raised in the documentary on the same level with the existential threat of climate collapse (change). Actually, Rowson ranks the problems attending social media a bit higher than climate change (collapse). 

“So, I think Tristin Harris and the others in this docudrama are absolutely right, that this is a preeminent issue to get on top of, it’s in some ways even deeper in its importance than climate change, I think. You might think that without [intervention in] climate change we have no planet. But without dealing with the technological manipulation of culture, our chances of dealing with a problem like climate change are extremely small. So it’s an urgent issue.” —Jonathan Rowson

I encourage you to watch the documentary and follow-up with this video, Rowson very helpfully reviews “The Social Dilemma.”

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For a different viewpoint, I watched another video that breaks down the documentary from the perspective of a medical doctor. Zubin Damania, MD. Stanford-trained doctor, entertainer, and host of The ZDoggMD Show.

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It’s probably fair to ask Tristin Harris and these whistleblowers if they had to extract tens of millions of dollars each for themselves from their destructive work before they were able to develop a conscience on it? How about giving all the money back? If all the participants in the video donated all their social-media-career-generated money to the effort of actually making these revisions to big tech, it would go a long ways toward actually helping humanity.   

One small but significant piece of the problem

The arrest of militia terrorists in Michigan was mentioned in the current events above. These groups are most often composed of young angry white men who have been radicalized to extremely militant hate. One (internet as ‘militancy-generator’) expert identifies and describes the “Facebook (and YouTube) as a radicalization pathway.” As the video makes plain, Facebook works in America the same way for radicalizing White Christian nationalists as it does globally for gaining ISIS recruits [see Rand paper: “Radicalisation in the digital era“]. It’s a significant problem when the POTUS plays wink-wink nudge-nudge with these terrorists. So, on the downside, social media has dangerous radicalization potential. On the upside, social media opens ways for authorities to penetrate these hate groups. 

Making the problem even more complex

It’s important to remember that countless numbers of “good things” have become possible by the very same technology. Years ago I heard someone say, “Facebook is the new church,” meaning, the way that people connect socially. That can work out to be both a good thing and a bad thing. 

Of course, historically, technology itself has been essentially neutral (tools). It’s always been about how we make use of a particular technology that determines it’s “goodness” to humans and humanity. Tristin Harris points out that “we have moved away from a tools-based technology environment and into an addiction and manipulation-based technology environment.” This “big tech” situation is not neutral, algorithms have an agenda and A.I. is tipping the scales away from humanity without our even knowing. 

An invitation

I’m just pointing to something I feel is crucially important, perhaps in my top two human concerns for the first world as I would triage them. This post is especially for all who love children, and for those of you who feel a responsibility to children or grandchildren as a part of your legacy. Whether you delete all your social media accounts or not, I feel it is extremely important for you to engage this important conversation.

Again, our “only money matters” cultural zeitgeist animates both these existential problems. For how it works regarding social media and “big tech,” see Shoshana Zuboff’s book:

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Bonus Video ~ ICYMI

Church leader Brian McLaren offers a helpful kitchen table breakdown of American values in play for election 2020… .

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Next week: “Cynicism on steroids.” Come and see. 

[this post approx. 2,150 words (9 min. read)]

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say? Note: I know, trying to introduce a big-picture idea like Spiral Dynamics (a complex developmental anthropology) in this format is ambitious. So, I’m using a serial-approach. Blog introduction (June 30, 2018). First in series (July 1, 2018).

2 thoughts on “The two biggest problems

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