Studies of Life

Learning by doing.

Don’t Panic! On Trump, Le Pen, and Brexit.

02 March 2017 by Jim

Stormy. Photo by Luke Gray.

Someone recently said to me over dinner: ‘Why are people so racist and voting for Trump or Le Pen?’ A lively discussion ensued, which made some ideas clearer to me and highlighted some common views of the world that I think are not accurate. For that reason, I want to talk about them here.

To the liberal metropolitan people that I and most of my friends feel like we belong, what’s been going on in terms of Trump’s election, Brexit and Le Pen’s good poll numbers is frightening and mysterious. Why do people make such obviously wrong decisions?

These events are valuable because they show us where our mental models of the world do not agree with reality, which means they need to be updated. Most people did not expect these things to happen, so our prior assumptions were wrong. But how wrong, exactly

   1. The free market democracy model of the West is obviously the best.

This is misguided. For many years I’ve believe this, but that is only natural: we do not grow up in a vacuum. We live in a culture that, in order to function, cannot continuously questions its own way of doing things and seeing the world, and so we assume the way we live is the right one, and everything that is different must be wrong in some way. That is an arrogance shared by nearly all of humanity.

Every culture basically has an ego, just like every individual has. Just like my own ego, in my psyche, suggests that I am the most important person in the world and that the concerns of others, and their level of intelligence, are second to my own, so each culture thinks it has found the one right way to live. Religions are oddly similar to national cultures in this way, because they, too, believe to be the guardians of the only real truth, but their members have never chosen to adhere to a specific religion – they’re born into it and told it’s the only real one, and they’re never given the choice.

Socrates said ‘The unexamined life is not worth living‘ during his trial. That single sentence could prevent so many wars and arguments if it only arrived at the heart of each person to be really, thoroughly integrated into our worldview. If we examine our own assumptions and prejudice, it becomes clearer and clearer that we do not own the moral high ground, and our view of the world is just one among many. Because of that, we should not dismiss anybody else’s view or way of doing things.

If we do not dismiss all the qualms of those who vote for Trump or Le Pen or Brexit as being racist, stupid or fascist, it becomes clear that they do point to actual problems we have and that need solving. The fact that they turn to non-mainstream political forces is only the consequence of ignoring them for too long. So history corrects itself. Either the mainstream takes them seriously from now on and works on those problems that affect them, or the non-mainstream will surge and gain more power, in which case all bets are off – but that doesn’t mean this outcome is good or bad: it’s just not predictable.

    2. The world inexorably moves towards freer markets and more democracy.

This is incorrect and follows naturally from the above. Even though Francis Fukuyama might have suggested that we’re approaching the end of history by having essentially all relevant countries become free market democracies, history is far from over, and it seems prudent to say that it will never be over. It seems unlikely that no social or political changes will occur at some point in the future. There are always changes, and history moves in cycles that naturally correct imbalances: the longer a period of prosperity lasts, the more likely overconfidence leads to a crash, and the longer a war lasts, the more likely it is that the damage caused and lives lost lead those responsible to reconsider their rationale for engaging in war at all.

Some of the cycles are short, like election cycles which usually switch from one side to the other, left to right and right to left, while others are very long and therefore barely perceptible, like global temperature changes. The point is: this ‘vibration’ of the world, from one side to the next without a clear direction – because that is what vibration is – has no purpose. And because the world has no purpose, and existence has no meaning (which is the whole point of religion: to invent meaning where there is none!) we should not fret about a change for the worse. Enjoy the good years, never mind the bad. There is no rhyme nor reason to their sequence or their length.

So do not get too agitated about whatever happens in the political landscape in 2017 and beyond. As the Dalai Lama or some other smart person once said: ‘Why worry if you can do something about it? And why worry if you cannot do anything about it?’

    3. There can be security or stable political circumstances, if you do it right.

Security is what everyone is looking for, it’s what all of us want: secure employment, stable finances, stable political systems, and so on. The search for security and stability, in a word, stillness, is simply the reaction of man, thrust into an ever-changing existence that has its fair share of suffering. Faced with change that can cause pain, we try to block the change or close our eyes to it. That is what the mainstream has tried to do with the political upstarts. And it’s also what disgruntled white workers try to do as they see manufacturing jobs disappear. They do not want to accept that different times are coming, because different equals scary.

What each of us knows deep down, however, is that change is inevitable. The vibration has to keep vibrating. That’s how it is. And nothing we do can prevent that. Political stability holds within itself the seeds of the next revolution: as people become complacent about what they have, they yearn for something different, more exciting perhaps, because they start to feel like the status quo is the baseline, the ‘can’t-be-any-worse’ situation, and so they want someone to offer something better than that. Once change happens, we learn that different is not necessarily better, and that the previous status was not obviously worse. And so the pendulum swings back…

It’s understandable to yearn for security. But it’s smarter to try and learn to dance in the stormy weather. For storms there will be.

Amen.

Wow, that was almost quote-worthy don’t you think? Consider me satisfied with that ending.

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