So right now many people who supported Hillary Clinton are distraught over the election of Donald Trump. For some of them, not only has the intolerable happened, but also the unimaginable. And so their world has been turned upside down. Other people, people who supported Donald Trump, feel vindicated, as if, finally, a great wrong has been righted, and the Calvary has arrived at last.
As with all things, appearance is tricky business. And biased views reveal temporary and apparent facts, not penetrating and enduring truths. If we are to understand situations and problems and so be able to cope with and remedy them—we need to be aware of the forces in the human mind that can play tricks on us.
If we are not aware, we can fall into danger. We can become like sports fans who so deeply identify with a particular team that they feel their salvation depends on whether or not their team wins. Twenty years ago a Columbian soccer player, Andres Escobar, accidentally scored a goal for the opposing team in a championship match. Ten days later, the 27-year-old was shot to death in a parking lot by a fan.
We must be careful. We must be aware. For these are hot times. There’s a dangerous phenomenon called “Participation Mystique” that can arise at times like this. It involves getting unconsciously swept up in groupthink, at the expense of our individuality. Like an unconscious viral infection that transforms a group of individual people into a mob. Then people who are different from the mob become not who they are in fact, but who the mob thinks they are. This can incubate hatred and violence.
I had family in Nazi concentration camps. One was Mauthausen in Austria, considered by many to be the worst of the worst. After giving a talk at a conference in Vienna I went there. As I write this, I feel the horror and heartache from what I saw. Unlike many German camps, Mauthausen was not perfumed for the public. The Austrian government even bussed students into the camp in a bold effort to have them see the horror and recognize the dangerous forces at play in the human mind. I saw many students leaning against their bus weeping and vomiting.
There are no words for this. Other than we must be aware and very careful now. We need to fight against getting locked into anger and hatred. If we look into the faces of the millions enthralled by the likes of Mao, Hitler and Stalin—we see the same expressions. All of these millions passionately believed they were entirely right and everyone else was dead wrong.
Why haven’t we studied these forces so we can master them? Wars all over the place, hatred, pettiness, mean spirited self-righteous stances. Religious dogmatists who do unto others exactly what they don’t want done unto themselves. Even a squirrel who can’t understand a mortgage agreement realizes he has to learn something new to avoid just making nuts out of it.
Each generation is like a group of people on a train ride. They think their view out the window is reality. Prior generation’s views seem dated and irrelevant. Later generation’s views seem wrong-headed and threatening. We have gone through 400 years of social change in 50 years. And so situational differences are all the more extreme. Legalized marijuana, gay and lesbian marriage, racial and gender equality, transgender rights and legal rights to die—are celebrated by some people as great achievements. For other people, these social changes are not only unwelcome, but also the work of the devil.
Added to this complexity is the rapid evolution of technology that has destroyed jobs and a secure, predictable way of life for many millions of people. Throw in too the Great Recession caused by the money freaks who tossed their own country and much of the world under the bus. Most of them escaped punishment and kept their loot. This while millions lost their homes and safe and stable way of life. Forty-five million Americans are now stuck at the poverty level in America.
Yes, change had to come. This cannot go on. Somehow Donald Trump has dropped onto the stage as a change agent. We won’t know for a time whether he can or will serve the greater good. Did he maneuver and manipulate his way in to serve noble purpose? Could he rise to the occasion and deliver something of significant value? Or will he become inflated and act in bad faith to serve dark ends?
War, genocide, oppression and all kinds of horrors, don’t necessarily start with a conscious plan. People don’t decide to get buried in avalanches. They think they won’t, until they do.
Like it or not, at this point we need to stay aware and awake. So we can evenhandedly decide what to think, feel and do.
We are in a betwixt and between position. No certainty possibly just now. Not easy to stay centered and aware in this condition. But we must.