So here we are. This morning I woke up feeling optimistic for the first time in months. So I revisited this old draft post, and decided to make it live, even though things are moving on already. I live on twitter too much these days and the rawness of events seems to get so much amplified there, that it is hard not to feel like the whole world will end in a snap. Maybe this is the singularity they have been talking about for all these years.. what I hope is that the twitter whale can rise above the divisions of hard opinions and closed minds.
A personal muse on election 2016
I don’t see the election of Trump as being inevitable, but rather as the result of the chance congruence of several factors.
Clearly there is a genuine protest vote and organic movement for change. There is also the charisma and personality of Trump himself – not likeable to many of us, but still a vital part of his appeal especially against the prospect of four more grey years of politics-as-usual.
Then we saw how the support or at least acquiescence of many major American news networks to Trump’s extreme views really helped to ‘normalise’ the whole thing, even when he ventured into completely uncharted territory of crime and vulgarity.
There was the Russian support and interference through fake news, troll armies and leaks to Julian Assange, all of which seems to have been conducted as a sort of game to amuse Putin.
Finally there was the well-known effect of republican gerrymandering, vote suppression and other cheats which seek to undermine an honest election process in subtle ways, difficult to quantify.
Given the closeness of the vote in the end, all of these factors I think can be considered necessary to bringing about the election result, but I’d argue that only the first two fit within what should be the normal paradigm of a well-functioning democracy. All the other factors exist because of the self-interested influences of power. They are not new – there has been money influencing the white house forever, undermining the sort of decision making that should occur there, and the way elections are fought. It does seem to have got worse, though, due to the enormous amount of money in fewer and fewer hands in recent years. Similarly the media has been run to ensure the interests of the very few rich media operators are protected, and these interests intersect with those that influence the white house directly. Only the Russian influence seems to be quite new to this election, an interference which reflects geopolitical power games, and Russian ingenuity which has shown how with a bit of money the news can be created or leaked, and then shaped and spread on the internet to influence ‘real’ opinions.
The trump card was Trump himself, and without his personality I don’t think all the other factors could have combined so effectively to keep Hilary from power. But Trump himself seems like an outsider to the whole process which has now placed him in the driver’s seat. The danger he faces is that all the vested interests which his election has benefited, including Russia and the GOP, will want to dispense with him if he doesn’t continue to be useful to them. The way in which they try to do this, and the way he chooses to retaliate, if he gets the chance, could create dangerous frictions. I am nervous that it will create a state of emergency in some way or other, which will be the justification of attacks on his enemies, and on the systems of government itself.
The other danger is that he actually is removed, and the party he leaves behind is left in the hands of the the hard core of the GOP (Pence), or the strange fanatics he surrounded himself with (Bannon), all the moderates having abandoned him during the election. People like Bannon have seriously ideological positions which seem certain to create conflict, in fact they probably invite it, using chaos as another means to an end. You only have to take an ideology of extreme intolerance – whatever it is that you are intolerant of – through to its logical conclusion and you have gulags, or war. Because what else are you going to do with all the intollerable people in the end? This is why tolerance has been at the heart of all modern/liberal democracies. It is the only rational policy for a society that does not want to be at war all the time and does not want to run gulags. You don’t even have to be a particularly nice person to want to be in a tolerant society, it’s not a question of morals, it’s just rational to prefer peace over war if you want to get anything done.
The philosophy of tolerance and of tolerating intolerance is of course an interesting paradoxical one, much more interesting than any philosophy of intolerance. The reason I can’t understand ideologies of intolerance, is that they seem to be mired in hopeless contingencies. How do you decide what to be intolerant of? What to hate? The decision seems to rest on the particular circumstances of the individual(s) making the argument. They are ultimately selfish. It is no accident that the often parasitic and selfish perspectives of individualism also drive the interests of global capitalism, although the case for public good can still be made there, perhaps.
I note that inserting a god given cause into an ideology of intolerance can fix any worrying ethical imbalance, as God is so Great, and will always make things well in the end no matter how ridiculous the means, through worship or terror or torture. It’s kind of funny that magical books still lie at the heart of most of our intolerances. While so many people rely on religion to give meaning to their lives, it is a truism that where religious dogmas are incompatible with the wellbeing of humanity as a whole, and to the continuation of harmonious global civilisation, then they are useless to humanity and civilisation. Many religious intolerances fall into this useless category. But I’m not anti-religion, because it is still a fact that there is meaning in religious feeling without these dogmas – I am almost of the mind that the worship of abstract goddesses like Tolerance, Peace, Gaia and Truth could be compatible with future human civilisations. These things do ‘exist’ like gods, and many of us would happily be a martyr for them, as would I for the Muses, who have always helped and protected me. It might be good to have priesthoods that are fundamentalists about such things as true facts in public discourse, or the wellbeing of the planet we live on.
It’s a shame that there is this backwards sliding into the oldest debunked ideologies of warring peoples which dominated all the dark ages of human history, causing pointless suffering and death, often to the benefit of the cruellest individuals in the short term. Are those who have the power in the world today so simple that they can’t think of anything else to do but to revert to this? It seems like the answer is yes, the scary modern world has caused many of us to retreat into our safe old molluscan brains. The people behind the rise of the Trump phenomena are only championing the smallness of their own perspectives, which are the same that drove past tribes into endless war. This is why protectionist, racist, sexist ideas and religious ideologies have all been debunked by modern society for its own survival. It seems like many of the super rich, including kleptocrats like Putin are happy to throw all this away, by stirring up the old tribal ideologies, if they think they can benefit through the destruction of their opponents.
But there is so much exciting work to be done by humanity this century and in the next, too much to see it lost to these people. We need society to stay intact and working together. Millions of us are currently working on solutions to amazing technological challenges like the creation of artificial intelligence and better sources of energy, as well many more who are in good faith arguing the ideas which will frame the societies of the future. We are on the verge of possibly being liberated from much unnecessary toil with the arrival of really smart robots and intelligent automated systems, and this will free us to be more creative and adventurous than ever. There is now the technology to run the planet in a really intelligent way, and plenty of evidence to make the best decisions that benefit the most people. There are billions of people in poorer countries who are ready to join us in these adventures after centuries of hard graft at the bottom. It is insane for the west to see immigrants as a threat rather than as the very future of human society. The only way forward is to get a fully global mindset, forget about different races and religions, and work together in reaching for the stars. The USA has often been good at leading the way during the last century, I hope it can continue to lead and inspire through the 21st century as well.