Saturday, November 12, 2016

Wisdom Of The Week

The mistake in the analysis lies deeper, perhaps—in the assumption that only a strange and traumatic sequence can have made this happen. What can be causing Trumpism? We ask, and seek for an earthquake, or at least a historical oddity or a series of highly specific causal events. The more tragic truth is that the Trumpian view of the world is the default view of mankind. Bigotry, fanaticism, xenophobia are the norms of human life—the question is not what causes them but what uncauses them, what happens in the rare extended moments that allow them to be put aside, when secular values of toleration and pluralism replace them.

It is a touching thing that Oscar Hammerstein had his people sing, apropos racial prejudice, that “You’ve got to be carefully taught.” Alas, as poor Oscar would have realized if he had stopped to think about the events that had led all those American soldiers and sailors to the South Pacific in the first place, you don’t have to be carefully taught to hate. The Hitlerians and the Japanese militarists hadn’t been carefully taught; they rushed to their lesson in the face of all evidence. Human groups, particularly those fuelled by religious fanaticism or the twentieth-century equivalent, blind nationalism, always tend toward exclusion. To eliminate the tribal instinct may be impossible, but to raise the accidental practice of pluralism to a principle is what enlightened societies struggle to accomplish. And they have.

It just turns out to be a horribly hard triumph to sustain. Along comes 1914, or 1933—or, God forbid, 2016—and the work comes crashing down. What really needs explaining is not why the Trumps of the world come forward and win. It is why they sometimes lose.

Not long ago, I had occasion to write of the divide in virtue that separates us from Shakespeare, making the point that Shakespeare believed in fate, order, and forgiveness, whereas we believe in history, justice, and compassion, and that, superior though our moral progress may seem, there are bitter truths in the old trinity. For, as Shakespeare would have grasped at once, there is no explaining Trump. He is one of those phenomena that rise regularly in history to confound us with the possibility—and black comedy—of potent evil: conscienceless, cruel and pathologically dishonest. That evil magnetizes followers of all kinds is another permanent truth. Overexplaining its rise is as foolish as pretending that it can be easily defeated. The threat it makes to an order that, however imperfect, is worth sustaining and defending reminds us of that order’s fragility. As to forgiveness, much will be demanded, even if the best happens—or the worst, at least, is avoided.

-  Adam Gopnik and Again Adam on What Will We Tell Our Children:

We teach our children history, and the history that many of them have learned in the past decade or so, at American schools and colleges, is, perhaps, unrealistic in remaining unduly progressive in tone. They learn about the brave path of the slaves’ fight for freedom, about the rise of feminism, and with these lessons they learn to be rigorously skeptical of the patriarchy—without necessarily seeing that the patriarchy survives, enraged. The strangest element of this sad time is surely that our departing President, a model of eloquence and reason, is leaving office with a successful record and a high approval rating. How Trump’s strange rise and Obama’s high rating can have coincided in the same moment will remain one of the permanent conundrums of our history.

The lesson of history—one of them, anyway—is that there is no one-way arrow in it, that tragedy lurks around every corner, that the iceberg is there even as the mighty Titanic sails out, unsinkable. Having a tragic view of life is compatible with having a positive view of our worldly duties. This is a big and abstract thought to share with children, of course, and perhaps, like so many like it, it is teachable only as a pained—at this moment, acutely pained—daily practice.

Jonathan Haidt had "predicted" this couple of decades ago. People read his books but when time comes to implement them, they go back to their old ways.... I think, that is one of the reasons that an ego maniac will soon have the nuclear button. Jonathan Haidt interview:

Actually, I think ... Empathy is a very, very hot topic in psychology, and it's a very popular word on the left in particular. Empathy is a good thing, and empathy for the preferred classes of victims. So it's important to empathize with the groups that we on the left think are so important. That's easy to do, because you get points for that.

But empathy really should get you points if you do it when it's hard to do. And, I think ... You know, we had a long 50-year period of dealing with our race problems and legal discrimination, and that was our top priority for a long time and it still is important. But I think this year, I'm hoping it will make people see that we have an existential threat on our hands. Our left-right divide, I believe, is by far the most important divide we face. We still have issues about race and gender and LGBT, but this is the urgent need of the next 50 years, and things aren't going to get better on their own. So we're going to need to do a lot of institutional reforms, and we could talk about that, but that's like a whole long, wonky conversation. But I think it starts with people realizing that this is a turning point. And yes, we need a new kind of empathy. We need to realize: this is what our country needs, and this is what you need if you don't want to -- Raise your hand if you want to spend the next four years as angry and worried as you've been for the last year -- raise your hand. So if you want to escape from this, read Buddha, read Jesus, read Marcus Aurelius. They have all kinds of great advice for how to drop the fear, reframe things, stop seeing other people as your enemy. There's a lot of guidance in ancient wisdom for this kind of empathy.

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