Friday, November 11, 2016

Trumping Trump

Like you, I am grieving.  I am horrified that the American people--white people, that is--elected a president who is racist, sexist, bigoted, and lies; a man whose "platform" is built on hate, a man with too little intelligence to accept climate change as scientific  truth and who may, indeed, think that scientific proof is for sissies.  The point is that what he says--whatever it is--is true.  This is a model of masculinity that reaches back beyond the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, which gave birth to science and human rights, and that is deeply outdated and indeed dangerous in the twenty-first century world.

Like you, I know there will be suffering--that indeed there has already been suffering.  Trump's election is a clarion call for anyone who thinks that women are objects for men's pleasure or who believes they have a right to sexually harass or take possession of women.  Women will have fewer rights, if he has his way:  Roe v. Wade will be overturned--and women and children will suffer for that.  Young girls and women are suffering:  their country couldn't imagine a woman president and so voted for a man whom many describe--rightly--as the least fit candidate ever.  "I don't know what it is about Hillary, but I just don't trust her" is a statement made by people with gender biases and the FBI.  People of colour will suffer--and indeed racial violence on the streets has already broken out because Trump's election says being a bully is all right.  The planet will suffer if he gets his way and stops funding to green energy projects while mining coal aggressively.  Peace around the world will be challenged:  peace is hardly a lodestar for this representative of hypermasculinity.  Do people really not understand that the person they elect is a statement of their values?

There have been many excellent analyses of Trump's victory, but let me turn to ideas I've been exploring over the last couple of years with Katherine Arbuthnott.  In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman identifies two kinds of thinking which he unpoetically describes as System 1 and System2.  I can only give you a quick summary of Kahneman's complex thinking, but I think even that will shed some light on this election.  System 1, which thinks "fast,"gathers "impressions, intuitions, feelings."  "System 1 is generally very good at what it does:  its models of familiar situations are accurate, its short-term predictions are usually accurate as well, and its initial reactions to challenges are swift and generally appropriate.  System 1 has biases, however, systematic errors that it is prone to make in specified circumstances" (24-25).  That is, System 1 is lazy; it goes for the obvious and the immediate and doesn't think through long-term consequences or implications.  It wants to call on its biased impressions to understand the world rather than taking time to consider evidence.  Donald Trump was elected by a kind of mass hysteria, a System 1 impression that America is not great because their salaries are not as high as they feel they should be, their jobs not as secure as they have been in a union-dominated past. The people to blame for this are the Other.  There was no historical analysis on the part of this electorate, no sense that lives and work have changed profoundly since the nineties, largely because of technology.  They want change now; they are not thinking about the long-term--hence their willingness to elect a man who doesn't believe government should address the challenges of climate change.  "What I want now?" trumped "What is best for the nation?"  And in turn, individualism trumped the collective.

And there I need to evoke Jonathan Haidt's concept of ape brain.  Haidt argues that about 10% of the time, our brains think like bees:  we understand the importance of the collective, of consensus, even of evidence.  (Read Mark L. Winston's remarkable Bee Time to understand how remarkably rational bees are.)   We should certainly be thinking like bees when we cast our vote.  But about 90% of the time our minds are controlled by our inner ape.  The automatic response of the ape brain is "Me!"  And when not me, "Mine.  My Group."  That 53% of white woman voted for Trump, despite his misogyny, tells me we had ape brain going on here, and that these women's in-group was white.  They make me deeply ashamed.

What the election of  Donald Trump has done is to release America's inner id.  This, in part, was why the polls were so skewed:  I suspected some people simply didn't want to admit they were voting for Trump.  This also explains the violence:  Courtney Bates-Hardy posted a heartbreaking link (which, like the other links I refer to will be included below) to Tweets about women and people of colour being threatened, harassed, or attacked.    

But we need to mobilize the better angels of our nature, as many people have been suggesting.  Gloria Steinam argues that rather than grieving we need to organize. Alison Powell, a lecturer at the London School of Economics suggested in a FB post that we need to find ways of creating communities.  I share her list with you with her permission: 

The world of individualized, filtered media's made us forget about all the places that we can come together to talk, work, think and feel together. As we respond to a politics of division, let's remember the role of:
-soup kitchens and welcome centres
-neighbourhood associations
-community gardens
-trade unions
-book clubs
-playgrounds/parks/school gates

Find your people. Talk to them. Be together. Make connections about things you can agree to do for each other. This is how we start to make solidarity.

Since the election, Bill Ursel has been saying that we need to be "human shields" for those blamed, vilified, mocked, or disparaged by Trump's campaign. We need to support groups like Black Lives Matter and Idle No More, groups that teach us that diversity is a strength, not something to be feared.

Jenna Butler wrote on FB of spending election night in the hospital room of her dying mother-in-law and spoke movingly of the various ways we create relations with one another.  She urged us "At this point, this space in time, be more than ever your best selves. Find the energy that lit you yesterday and stay fired by it, no matter what comes. We need your dreaming and your groundedness, your ability to be firm in where you stand, while all the time looking levelly to what arrives."  We need to witness births, deaths, struggles and triumphs of one another.  We need to be witnesses to keep alive something that is beautifully human in us.

Shawna Lemay was working on her blog, "Transactions with Beauty," about Leonard Cohen's "You Want it Darker," when she was surprised by two things:  one was that Cohen's dark vision is startlingly appropriate (particularly after his death yesterday, which Shawna obviously didn't know about on Wednesday) and that her motto, "You are required to make something beautiful" was singularly apposite.  Yale philosopher Elaine Scarry explains why in her remarkable and small book, On Beauty and Being Just.  Here, I can hardly do justice to her argument, so I will only urge you, in the days to come, to read her book.  Because what we are losing with a Trump election is justice, and because Scarry can guide us to the ways we keep justice alive.  Being in the presence of something beautiful urges us to look carefully, at particulars, and it is this careful looking and perceiving that is the first step to justice.  Trump can make the wild generalization that Mexicans are rapists, but what could we do to that argument by telling him the stories of particular people whose beauty, widely-defined, asks us to do justice to their particular stories?  Then, one's attention to the beautiful thing is de-centering.  We are so startled by beauty that we are no longer the centre of the universe--the id yelling "I want!"  We want to become stewards of the beautiful, as we can see in our attempts to protect the planet.  We are prompted to create something, to protect something--a grasslands pasture or a rainforest, a species or a fragile ecosystem.  And here, I can only quote Scarry:  "Because beauty repeatedly brings us face-to-face with our own powers to create, we know where and how to locate those powers when a situation of injustice calls on us to create" (115). 

So Americans and their Canadian cousins need to go to art galleries, listen to music, make rebellious graffiti, sing songs, join flash mobs, read books.  It is that last that I understand most completely:  deep reading leads to empathy, to understanding both the other, who is merely different, and the Other, whose difference challenges our assumptions.  When I experience beauty, I am infused with energy and hope:  we are going to need both of those things in the next four years.

We need to create the beauty of painting and dance and stories and song.  Because here is where we are rebellious, here is where we accomplish three important things.  We partake of creation rather than destruction.  We create, as best as flawed human beings can, celebrations of what we value, what is best in us.  We speak to one another rather than shouting into an angry crowd.
Day 1 in Trump's America
Don't mourn: organize  
Transactions with Beauty 

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