Waiting for a positive mass Significant Emotional Event

The Thinker by Rodin

I think of myself as a clear-eyed realist. While I have hopeful aspirations, the reality is that we live in a dark age that is getting rapidly darker. Looking upon our present difficulties with clear eyes, a brighter future looks increasingly hopeless.

America is now almost entirely polarized, making finding common ground almost impossible. People I know who have always been the epitome of goodness and kindness have surrendered, and hate certain people (principally Donald Trump) with the same fury Trump apparently feels for the “illegals” crossing our southern border.

Meanwhile, rather than taking even tiny steps to lessen our impact on the environment, we are doubling down on the stupid. The latest is that the Trump “administration” is going to allow more mercury into our waters and atmosphere, a known toxin to humans. That along with more pollutants in general speeds up climate change. For a “party of life”, Republicans, who hope to soon overturn Roe v. Wade will be killing and needlessly hurting millions of Americans as our world grows more increasingly toxic, hot, and prone to preventable natural disasters.

If it were just recklessness maybe it wouldn’t feel so hurtful. Instead, it’s eyes-wide-open, most-deliberate malevolence. It’s like Republicans ask themselves: “What’s the most stupid and counterproductive stuff we can do?” To a clear-eyed realist like me, these actions are just horrifying. It’s hard to imagine how anyone with two brain cells could see it as something good. Moreover, they are unleashing forces way beyond their control, causing some of the exact problems they are theoretically trying to solve. Climate change is already causing mass migration, but it’s only 1% as bad as it’s going to get if sane people don’t get in charge again. You can’t control millions of people on the move at the same time and trying to do so will simply unleash the worst inside of us instead.

Being agnostic, I can’t claim to be a praying person. I can certainly hope that November 6th brings a clear challenge to the awfulness of the last two years. While it may do that, most likely it will simply generate more of the same: endless cycles of fury and hate and finger pointing and little in the way of moving the needle in a positive direction. Even if these stupid policies can be changed, it will simply inflame Republicans to try harder.

What can work is a mass Significant Emotional Event (SEE). Huge and traumatic shared emotions can move people to make profound changes. You would think that one effect of climate change — to cause hundreds of millions of people to migrate en masse, to make the lives of those we supposedly care the most about, our children and grandchildren hellish — would be enough. But Republicans either don’t see it or presumably the smarter ones don’t care. All they care about is making their pile of chips bigger and staying in charge. Their greed is so toxic they can’t see past it.

The concept of SEEs was developed the sociologist Morris Massey. We’ve had plenty of national SEEs in our past. The most recent one was probably 9/11. The problem with SEEs though is that they can often make things worse rather than better. The SEE of 9/11 led to the second Iraq War, because when attacked the tendency is to act emotionally rather than with reason. We now have a president that goes on the attack about everything. It’s basically all he knows how to do, and Republicans feel the exact same way. While the thought of finding common ground sounds intellectually appealing, it’s a game they simply won’t play.

Within about a month we’ve had two major hurricanes. The latest, Michael, was the most violent hurricane to hit the mainland in most people’s living memory. The Carolinas, where waters from Florence were still receding weeks after it hit, got another super drenching from Michael. These back-to-back disasters should be sufficient to change the hearts of even these deeply red states voters, at least on the problem of climate change. Perhaps the midterms will bring some clarity on whether they have gotten the message. I’m not betting on it. These were SEEs for people in their paths perhaps, but whether they will make the connection that climate change is causing it is dubious at best.

While climate change is probably our biggest national crisis, there are so many others that must be tackled. There is ugly misogyny and racism fed by Donald Trump. He recently claimed that American men are under attack by women who feel emboldened to make fraudulent claims of sexual assault against them. It’s okay for Kavanaugh to raise his voice in his defense, but if Christine Blasey Ford had done so, she would have been seen as just another crazy woman.

And then there’s the racism. You have to wonder if these people live in whites-only enclaves. Probably a lot of them do. Having spent a career working in the Washington area where every color of human is encountered daily, it soon became obvious to me that we are all pretty much the same. Racists are profoundly ignorant people. I can’t help but feel appalled and hopeless that so many Americans continually refuse to get it. It’s nay impossible to find common ground with people so unenlightened. I might as well talk to a wall. Where do I find common ground? Do I meet them by being half racist: blacks are okay but not Jews, Asians and Hispanics?

This leaves me hoping for another national SEE, one that is productive this time. I wish I could see one coming. But I don’t.

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