Social gridlock is a frustrating thing to watch, especially when people are short-sighted enough to believe that such issues are permanent. Some things are generational: when based on beliefs or habits or perceptions or traditions stretching back into the past, it isn’t surprising that not much change can happen in a single generation, let alone voting cycle. But…if you don’t have historical perspective, that’s how it can look.
The worst are the ones where the surface conversations aren’t addressing the underlying beliefs. We’re lookin’ where the light is, rather than where we dropped the keys. Here are some examples of the “apparently intractable” that I think will be solved by time, simply by the people with the inflexible beliefs aging out. And…a take on the underlying beliefs that aren’t being addressed and in many cases cannot be resolved, because the ultimate answers lie beyond human knowledge or ultimate testing.
- Abortion. Underlying problem: no clear and agreed-upon definition of when “life” begins. When a bit of tissue becomes a human being.
- Social Justice. Underlying problem: different beliefs about the basic equality of human beings, whether measured as groups (race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation) or individuals.
- Gender equality and identity. Underlying problem: similar to above. Are the genders complementary? Parasitic upon each other? Dominating? Cooperating? Roles determined by biology? Society? Psychology? Does “gender” exist at all outside of social constructs?
- Climate Change. Underlying problem: A tangle, ranging from the very real need for a complex society to have access to reliable peak energy sources, to debates about centralized versus dispersed sources. The queasiest aspect is an argument about whether climate scientists are somehow uniquely corrupt and conspiratorial, at least compared to their corporate counterparts. Never saw THAT one coming.
- Gun Control. Underlying problem: both sides think their answer makes them safer. In other words, for one side, guns might be seen as the problem. While for the other, they are often seen as the answer.
One thing that fascinates me is the “clustering” of people with different beliefs. That there really is a political polarity, a “tend-to” between people holding one position or another. And while on the surface, there would seem to be no connection between them, if UNDER that you look at basic questions of the nature of the soul, the nature of human existence, the “God’s master plan” approach…some patterns arrive.
Combine this with the Procrustean nature of politics and the “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” You’ll vote for what I want? Then I’ll find a way to vote for what YOU want, and we’ll stand together.
It’s like that story of the husband and wife arguing about going to a new restaurant. The wife wants to go, the husband doesn’t. The décor, the menu, the expense, the parking, the part of town…the husband brings up every possible objection, the wife shoots them down. Then finally, the truth emerges: the husband has a lover who works at that restaurant. EVERYTHING ELSE was bullshit: he simply didn’t want wife and lover to encounter each other.
The same thing happens when there are underlying beliefs and values that create strong emotional reactions. I’ve heard horrible relationship-sundering arguments on these issues. Real anger. Anger is fear. Ask what people are afraid of, down at the core, and you will often come to a deeper understanding. “Social Justice” wise, for instance, you drill down and get some fascinating stuff. And no, I’m not promoting these notions, just saying that I’ve seen them once you tease out deeper patterns:
- Society is already “just”–but a level playing field will yield unequal results not just for individuals, but groups, because while we PRETEND these groups are equal…they really aren’t. Therefore, only an oppressive government can pound the tall nails down to get “equal” results. The Social Justice Warriors are really asking for repression of the excellent. (Groups aren’t equal)
- Society is already as “just” as it can be. Life isn’t fair. Try to make it more “just” and again, you are inviting governmental repression. (groups are equal, but nothing further can be done)
- If the playing field isn’t level, the only option is to tilt it unfairly in one direction or the other, and I’d rather have the advantages than the disadvantages: there is no perfect balance (It isn’t equal, and I don’t care: Imma get mine. If spoken honestly, actually a position worthy of a certain respect. However, it is RARELY spoken honestly, because it opens the door to a “survival of the fittest” “tragedy of the commons” interpretation of the social contract. And we instinctively understand that that only works when we are strong. We worry about what happens if we lose power, or what might happen to our children. Our children are safest in a world in which we look out for each other, so the “game” is to grab all you can while encouraging our neighbors to be fair and loving and giving. In other words…you believe the world is full of either predators or suckers)
What are we as human beings? What is true about the basic nature of the social contract? The deepest questions boil down to nature/nurture, essence/existence AND CANNOT ACTUALLY BE FULLY ANSWERED in the way, say, an algebraic equation can. Because algebra is a manipulation of symbols with agreed upon meanings, and social theory deals with things that do not, and cannot. They deal with reality, not mere symbols representing reality.
Far, far, harder.
Just morning thoughts. Gridlock. But the answer is to look at human patterns: answers used in one place, proven to work, get adapted by the neighbors. Not always, but often and consistently enough to explain most human progress. Genetically and memetically, natural selection with a dash of punctuated equlibrium seems to explain about everything.
In the “Hero’s Journey” the hero who is confronted with a Gordian Knot of a problem takes action, including finding role models. Look for people who get better results than you, and do what they do. There will always be people afraid of this, but frankly, our feelings don’t matter much in the overall structure of things. Results matter.
We lose neuralplasticity, behavioral flexibility, and even social memory and feel trapped and locked into place. Yeah, the old farts get locked. But they die. And the kids come up, kids who are just as smart as their parents and grandparents, but understand the problem from the INSIDE rather than the outside. Have energy and optimism and haven’t been locked into the old patterns. And will come up with answers we haven’t dreamed of, because they want to live, and love, and reproduce, and thrive, and have their time in the sun just like every generation since we climbed down out of the trees. Maybe before.
If ANYONE has solved the problem, pretty much everyone can. Maybe not in our time. We might just have to wait for the most rigid and intractable…to die.
Since everyone does, the answers are pretty obvious: no one is smarter than everyone. There are no irreplacable human beings. Just because you can’t see an answer don’t mean there ain’t one. Frankly, you ain’t all that. And neither am I.
But our kids…goddam. Yeah. Our kids ARE all that. And always have been.
Once upon a time we were too. Remember?