Monday, November 21, 2022

Post 8,800 - Polarisation

When my father-in-law was still alive and at assisted living, there was a night when he went missing. He turned up the next morning, having driven around all night trying to deliver "something." (He had never worked delivering anything.) My wife's brother and niece were frantic, driving around looking for him at places he might gravitate toward, and calling his old friends to be on the lookout. The police had been called. There seemed nothing else to do but wait and hope for the best. My brother-in-law was angry at my wife because she was not down there with the rest of them "helping." It is a common human reaction, but not an accurate one. She was two hours away and there was no point to her driving down to join everyone else in useless panic.

When we are upset, we get angry at those who are not equally upset. They must not understand how important this is! We see this in politics a lot these days, as modern forms of communication have accelerated immediacy and compete for the "immediately" slots in our attention. We are directed to not only care, but CARE! Or we are bad people. Socially, we have not yet developed good defenses against the constant implorings of others. 

I get by secondhand report that Jordan Peterson has an interesting take on where at least some of our modern political polarisation comes from.

I don't think I have commented on Peterson before, and there is probably a certain amount of explaining whether you like him or don't like him, agree with him or don't agree with him that is required now, but I want nothing to do with it. I read a few chapters of one of his books and liked some parts very much about taking responsibility but generally dislike Jungian interpretations. From what I can see, the people who are angry at him have terrible reasons. And that's about what I know.

Anyway, I am told that Peterson believes that much of our current polarisation is fueled by industries that are being seriously disrupted.  Their lives are chaotic, so they are in panic, and they need to make sure that we panic too. This is rather like my frequent mention that when politicians tell you this is the most important election in your lifetime, it is because it is the most important election in their lifetime. So television is replaced by video, print media is replaced by online reading and watching, and radio is replaced by podcasting. So people who make their living in media are seriously disrupted, they feel anxiety, and they want to make sure that we feel anxiety too. That they have a lopsidedly leftward set of political beliefs is probably not accidental - many went into those fields in order to change the world - but their panicked focus on them might derive in part from the (trial-and-error?) knowledge that no one is going to panic much over their field's disruption. If they want to get us to panic, they are going to have to find other things. 

Education is seeing similar disruption, though it is masked by vast subsidies (both from government and convincing people that their product is entirely education, not increasingly credentialism), and this may explain why it is a center of polarisation panic. 

Some of us dream of a return to the days of 10-15% of students going to college. They still have that in much of Europe. Do we actually want that? An English colleague was happy that he came to America, because he would not have qualified to study to to be a social worker back home but could get in and do so here.  He liked the American system of giving everyone a chance.  He rightly pointed out that one didn't really need a lot of MSW education to do the job, so keeping people out was elitist. Well...yes...but...it was the social work organisatons that kept trying to pull the ladder up behind them by insisting on increasing credentials of dubious relevance. A lot of it is political training. It's not like the American House of Lords insisted on it or anything.

We keep hearing reports from everyday America that they are not as polarised as the rest of us, and shrug about political differences more often.  They get along. If we look at the things we are expected to get angry about one way or the other, it will likely pay to also ask ourselves "Does this fit with anyone's need for us to just all be angry, because they are angry and want us to uselessly panic as well, so they can pretend their cause is larger than their job disappearing?" It is often noticed that the people panicking about the environment don't otherwise much behave like they care.  They seem more upset that other people don't care than they are upset about temperature, or fresh water, or PCBs. As the other environmental things they get exercised about are appearances and feelings, it only supports that interpretation. A lot of conservatives who get exercised about the loss of traditional values don't seem to be doing much to support them or ahem, uphold them, they just get furious that some people are saying bad things about those values. 

It is probably good for us to pause when we find ourselves being divided away. I say this as one of the people who doesn't pause enough, not one who is looking down on the rest of you from far above.

2 comments:

PenGun said...

Change is always painful.

james said...

"make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we instructed you"