Now that we’ve moved past one of the more tumultuous years in my lifetime, but are about to welcome the most controversial of American administrations, I’ve decided that the ride may continue to be bumpy for a while, but that I can do my part to smooth things over by adopting a few resolutions.
Here’s my own New Year’s resolution for 2017:
Read many sources of news and many points of view.
I used to avoid daily newspapers because I didn’t want to allow the catalog of bad news and calamity to poison my system. I could also count on the fact that if I shut my eyes for a while, life as I knew it wouldn’t. disappear.
Now it’s fairly obvious that if it’s not the end of the world, it’s certainly the end of something. Undoubtedly we are closing a chapter on our own recent history. It may be the end of cheap, flourishing modern capitalism. The end of every-day-in-every-way our easy-street Western life is getting better. The end of easy global liberalism.
I can have my own perspective constantly reinforced in the ghetto of similar ideas, or I can stretch to understand more about other points of view by reading deeply about them from other perspectives. I vow to choose the latter this year and to read every source of news I can get my hands on.
Stay vigilant to my own prejudices.
I have watched in a mix of horror and amusement as a one liberal remainer (or ‘remoaners,’ as they’re known here in the UK) essentially called a few of the well-informed citizens of one Northern city ‘racist’ because they voted to leave the European Union. The only way we are going to get past the deep
oppositional divides of the US, the UK and much of Europe is by listening harder to the ‘other,’ rather than applying easy labels.
Beware of ‘creeping normalcy’
Jared Diamond, the Pulitzer Prize winning geography professor and erstwhile anthropologist, has built his reputation on asking the big questions of specific societies: why do some of them thrive while others make stupid, even disastrous decisions? What holds it together and what causes it to collapse?
Diamond, has examined why some societies like the Mayans in the Yucatan or the Anasazi in the American Southwest or even the Easter Islanders brought about their own destruction by ceaselessly mining (and finally exhausting) their own resources, and has discovered some common threads.
A society’s downfall often occurs when it fails to identify a problem already there, or a slow trend invisibly taking hold – what politicians call ‘creeping normalcy.’
Our best example, of course, is global warming, because the trend is not a clean inexorable upward climb, but a fluctuation that has to be studied over a long time to discover the signal – the upward trend – from the noise – the weird fluctuations up and down.
The kind of creeping normalcy that worries me most is acceptance of a sharp decline in common human respect for people of all races, ethnic backgrounds or beliefs.
That’s always put to the test during times of economic stress (the most famous instance is the Nazis targeting Jews as a scapegoat for Germany’s economic woes in the 30s), and it’s been severely put to the test last year in the US, UK and European elections.
Prejudice is back in vogue and needs to be countered in any arena in which it is found. I vow to do my own part.
Stay vigilant to corruption
We in the West have an almost unprecedented level of corruption and vested interest in every institution – business, government, the media – not just accepted as the norm but actually applauded in many circles.
Economists call this ‘good for me, bad for you’ rational behavior, and a perfect example, says Diamond, are the mining companies in Montana which, until
recently, were allowed to dump toxic wastes of copper and arsenic into waterways with impunity.
After 1971, when Montana passed a law requiring mining companies to clean up after abandoning a mine, mining companies found a way around it, by declaring bankruptcy after extracting the ore but before engaging in their clean-up job.
This good-for-me, bad-for-you stance is most often adopted by the decision-making elite against the rest of society, as occurred during the banking crisis of 2008 and carries on to the present day.
The recent Brexit and Trump votes, in part, are a pushback against this, but the corruption carries on.
I’m journalist and so have an obligation to report on this, but also, as a citizen I make a vow to refuse to accept it on any level as the price of doing business.
Find ‘good for me, good for you’ scenarios whenever I can
Our biggest group delusion has to do with the collective assumption and acceptance of the idea that individual ambition serves the common good. That idea, which built modern capitalism, is our modern-day equivalent of eating our own children and will be at the heart of our downfall.
Many ‘primitive cultures’ studied by Diamond such as the New Guinea highlanders are far more successful than we are at many societal challenges, such as deforestation and even conflict resolution, by adopting a ‘good for me, good for all’ mentality. There is a great deal we can learn from them about a new type of group think.
May 2017 be the start of better, collective thinking.