The Grand Illusion

It’s difficult to organize thoughts this morning after the election, but I have been getting some thoughtful words on Facebook and from friends that I think are important to express right now.   In discussion with a friend I was saying how Trump was never really successful at anything in life and his success is built solely on the illusion of his brand.  My friend responded “well isn’t that a sign of success?”  As much as it hurt to admit I think he’s right.   He has sold America an illusion, and America bought it.  He isn’t going to build a wall, he can’t bring coal jobs back, he isn’t going to magically fix inner cities, he isn’t going to make America great again.  Especially consider nobody really knows what that means, and how we define greatness is highly subjective.  We went on to discuss this illusion and how Trump’s illusion is really America’s.  Once again I couldn’t help but agree.  I’ve been mulling this thought over for a few hours and really makes sense.

America has branded itself over the years.  The country that can’t fail.  The country that does it right, and that other countries should look to as a model of freedom and democracy.  We sell the American Dream, and people believe in it, even though we have been struggling to deliver that for some time.  And when I say we’ve bought into it, I am talking about all of us to varying degrees.  We’ve even convinced many people outside the U.S. that this is the case. But it is an illusion as grand as the Trump brand.  We aren’t perfect and we’ve got a lot of problems.  There are other countries out there who are doing things better than we are.  We spend more time convincing other countries that we are the strongest and the best, and less time giving our own people something substantive to believe this is the case.  Obama called us the greatest nation on Earth.  Where is the humility?  Hillary referred to half of the voting population as deplorables.  How extreme is that righteousness?  Those of us who see behind the veil of Trump’s brand to what he really is, convinced ourselves that there would be no way Trump could be elected.  I included.  As a nation we have made some great progress at social justice and equality, but we’ve also let far too many people fall into poverty, we had some poorly executed and designed policy, even if well-intentioned.  We’ve made some terrible foreign policy decisions that has cost us money and lives.  And all these things are excusable, but we also refuse to admit it.  Why?  Because we are the greatest nation on Earth.

I believe that to earn that title, we need to have empathy, we need to have courage, and we need to have humility.  We also need to have honest introspection.  We have to create our sense of self-worth over substantive matters.  We have to demonstrate that we are as capable of celebrating our successes as well as admitting and learning from our failures.  These are the values that make for great people, and great nations.  I’m not sure any nation can be said to be there, but some are closer than others.  We have further to go than we’d like to believe, and I hope that in these next 4 years we can break through this illusion and find a way to heal a divided nation.   Democrats are just as guilty as Republicans for not reaching across the aisle.  That’s the beginning of the humility we all need to have.  All of us regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation are human.  That’s the love we need to have.  And then we have to ask “How can I live my life so that it helps raise all humans up?”  That’s the courage we need to have.  And we need to keep at these qualities, everyday of our life, because hate, self-righteousness, and fear are always with us, waiting to shake us fragile humans to our core.

Respect my authoritah!

I was reading a fellow blogger’s post about the vaccination debate (a debate that should not even exist) as the author of the blog had highlighted a particular response to her blog from a physician and posed the question about why are we not willing to

From http://dublinopinion.com

listen to the physicians point of view.  She was also interested about why we would trust doctor’s in one case, but not in the case of vaccinations.  This is a very valid question.  If you are going to say doctors are out to lunch on vaccines and the very same medical science goes into everything else in the profession then you should never go see a doctor, take care of things on your own, and most importantly keep your kid at home so he or she doesn’t infect anybody else.

However it is the “Why don’t we believe the physician?” question that had me thinking as I drove to work this morning and I started thinking about how this is true for things like climate change and other scientific issues now and in the past like GMOs, evolution, the dangers of smoking, etc.  I was reminded of an excellent YouTube video that I have posted many times before called Good without Gods that talks about the basis for morality in a society.  One of the ways in which we can acquire morality is by default to authority, sometimes mistakenly so.  I believe that this is a basic cognitive bias humans have, perhaps because we all, from a very young age, default to the authority of our parents.  Part of growing up is realizing that your parents don’t have all the answers and don’t know everything, but part of our brains never really grows out of this default to authority bias.  This is in part why many people feel comfortable deriving their morality from religious authority without question.  Of course there is too much to know in the world and defaulting to authority saves time, and thus energy of which we all have only a finite amount of.  As a scientist I would say always be skeptical, but that means that we should also be equally skeptical to somebody who says vaccines cause autism.  In the face of controversy it seems the default to authority is what people rely on, so the question is, why isn’t the authority thousands of scientists who by consensus and exhaustive amounts of research say one thing as opposed to a politician who says another?  I have come up with a few possibilities but would be interested to hear what others think.  Here are the thoughts that I have come up with so far:

  1.        False authority figures. Who are the people we value in our society?
    Michele Bachmann – Not an authority figure (From http://www.warrenjasonstreet.com)

    Here in the U.S. it seems like the views of celebrities, politicians, and people with money (who are sometimes all one and the same) carry weight as being an authority on scientific issues.  This is simply not the case.

  2.        The power of money. In a highly consumer based society, money is seen as equivocal to power and thus authority.  If you have a lot of money you must have been smart to get it.  That is false of course.  Many people inherit their wealth, have connections, work very hard (but don’t necessarily have a high intellect), and some just get lucky breaks. Most of the smartest people I know don’t make money their goal.
  3.        Devaluing intellectualism.  In many countries I have visit those who are well educated, teachers, scientists are well respected in the community and in society at large.  Education itself is increasingly devalued here in the U.S. and so if educated people don’t have value in society that how can they be a worthwhile authority on anything?

The American Dream was built on valuing education, change, and progress.  We do not live in a society in which that dream is simply unobtainable for most and yet we believe in the concept like it manifested itself out of nothing.