It seems we’re entering another of those stupid seasons humans impose on themselves at fairly regular intervals. I am sketching out here opinions based on information, they may prove right, or may prove wrong, and they’re intended just to challenge and be part of a wider dialogue.
My background is archaeology, so also history and anthropology. It leads me to look at big historical patterns. My theory is that most peoples’ perspective of history is limited to the experience communicated by their parents and grandparents, so 50–100 years. To go beyond that you have to read, study, and learn to untangle the propaganda that is inevitable in all telling of history. In a nutshell, at university I would fail a paper if I didn’t compare at least two, if not three opposing views on a topic. Taking one telling of events as gospel doesn’t wash in the comparative analytical method of research that forms the core of British academia. (I can’t speak for other systems, but they’re definitely not all alike in this way).
So zooming out, we humans have a habit of going into phases of mass destruction, generally self imposed to some extent or another. This handy list shows all the wars over time. Wars are actually the norm for humans, but every now and then something big comes along. I am interested in the Black Death, which devastated Europe. The opening of Boccaccio’s Decameron describes Florence in the grips of the Plague. It is as beyond imagination as the Somme, Hiroshima, or the Holocaust. I mean, you quite literally can’t put yourself there and imagine what it was like. For those in the midst of the Plague it must have felt like the end of the world.
But a defining feature of humans is their resilience. To us now it seems obvious that we survived the Plague, but to people at the time it must have seemed incredible that their society continued afterwards. Indeed, many takes on the effects of the Black Death are that it had a positive impact in the long term. Well summed up here: “By targeting frail people of all ages, and killing them by the hundreds of thousands within an extremely short period of time, the Black Death might have represented a strong force of natural selection and removed the weakest individuals on a very broad scale within Europe,“ …In addition, the Black Death significantly changed the social structure of some European regions. Tragic depopulation created the shortage of working people. This shortage caused wages to rise. Products prices fell too. Consequently, standards of living increased. For instance, people started to consume more food of higher quality.”
But for the people living through it, as with the World Wars, Soviet Famines, Holocaust, it must have felt inconceivable that humans could rise up from it. The collapse of the Roman Empire, Black Death, Spanish Inquisition, Thirty Years War, War of the Roses, English Civil War… it’s a long list. Events of massive destruction from which humanity recovered and move on, often in better shape.
At a local level in time people think things are fine, then things rapidly spiral out of control until they become unstoppable, and we wreak massive destruction on ourselves. For the people living in the midst of this it is hard to see happening and hard to understand. To historians later it all makes sense and we see clearly how one thing led to another. During the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme I was struck that it was a direct outcome of the assassination of an Austrian Arch Duke in Bosnia. I very much doubt anyone at the time thought the killing of a European royal would lead to the death of 17 million people.
My point is that this is a cycle. It happens again and again, but as most people only have a 50–100 year historical perspective they don’t see that it’s happening again. As the events that led to the First World War unfolded, there were a few brilliant minds who started to warn that something big was wrong, that the web of treaties across Europe could lead to a war, but they were dismissed as hysterical, mad, or fools, as is always the way, and as people who worry about Putin, Brexit, and Trump are dismissed now.
Then after the War to end all Wars, we went and had another one. Again, for a historian it was quite predictable. Lead people to feel they have lost control of their country and destiny, people look for scapegoats, a charismatic leader captures the popular mood, and singles out that scapegoat. He talks in rhetoric that has no detail, and drums up anger and hatred. Soon the masses start to move as one, without any logic driving their actions, and the whole becomes unstoppable.
That was Hitler, but it was also Mussolini, Stalin, Putin, Mugabe, and so many more. Mugabe is a very good case in point. He whipped up national anger and hatred towards the land owning white minority (who happened to know how to run farms), and seized their land to redistribute to the people, in a great populist move which in the end unravelled the economy and farming industry and left the people in possession of land, but starving. See also the famines created by the Soviet Union, and the one caused by the Chinese Communists last century in which 20–40 million people died. It seems inconceivable that people could create a situation in which tens of millions of people die without reason, but we do it again and again.
But at the time people don’t realise they’re embarking on a route that will lead to a destruction period. They think they’re right, they’re cheered on by jeering angry mobs, their critics are mocked. This cycle, the one we saw for example from the Treaty of Versaille, to the rise of Hitler, to the Second World War, appears to be happening again. But as with before, most people cannot see it because:
1. They are only looking at the present, not the past or future
2. They are only looking immediately around them, not at how events connect globally
3. Most people don’t read, think, challenge, or hear opposing views
Trump is doing this in America. Those of us with some oversight from history can see it happening. Read this brilliant, long essay in the New York magazine to understand how Plato described all this, and it is happening just as he predicted. Trump says he will Make America Great Again, when in fact America is currently great, according to pretty well any statistics. He is using passion, anger, and rhetoric in the same way all his predecessors did — a charismatic narcissist who feeds on the crowd to become ever stronger, creating a cult around himself. You can blame society, politicians, the media, for America getting to the point that it’s ready for Trump, but the bigger historical picture is that history generally plays out the same way each time someone like him becomes the boss.
On a wider stage, zoom out some more, Russia is a dictatorship with a charismatic leader using fear and passion to establish a cult around himself. Turkey is now there too. Hungary, Poland, Slovakia are heading that way, and across Europe more Trumps and Putins are waiting in the wings, in fact funded by Putin, waiting for the popular tide to turn their way.
We should be asking ourselves what our Archduke Ferdinand moment will be. How will an apparently small event trigger another period of massive destruction. We see Brexit, Trump, Putin in isolation. The world does not work that way — all things are connected and affecting each other. I have pro-Brexit friends who say ‘oh, you’re going to blame that on Brexit too??’ But they don’t realise that actually, yes, historians will trace neat lines from apparently unrelated events back to major political and social shifts like Brexit.
Brexit — a group of angry people winning a fight — easily inspires other groups of angry people to start a similar fight, empowered with the idea that they may win. That alone can trigger chain reactions. A nuclear explosion is not caused by one atom splitting, but by the impact of the first atom that splits causing multiple other atoms near it to split, and they in turn causing multiple atoms to split. The exponential increase in atoms splitting, and their combined energy is the bomb. That is how World War One started and, ironically how World War Two ended.
An example of how Brexit could lead to a nuclear war could be this:
Brexit in the UK causes Italy or France to have a similar referendum. Le Pen wins an election in France. Europe now has a fractured EU. The EU, for all its many awful faults, has prevented a war in Europe for longer than ever before. The EU is also a major force in suppressing Putin’s military ambitions. European sanctions on Russia really hit the economy, and helped temper Russia’s attacks on Ukraine (there is a reason bad guys always want a weaker European Union). Trump wins in the US. Trump becomes isolationist, which weakens NATO. He has already said he would not automatically honour NATO commitments in the face of a Russian attack on the Baltics.
With a fractured EU, and weakened NATO, Putin, facing an ongoing economic and social crisis in Russia, needs another foreign distraction around which to rally his people. He funds far right anti-EU activists in Latvia, who then create a reason for an uprising of the Russian Latvians in the East of the country (the EU border with Russia). Russia sends ‘peace keeping forces’ and ‘aid lorries’ into Latvia, as it did in Georgia, and in Ukraine. He annexes Eastern Latvia as he did Eastern Ukraine (Crimea has the same population as Latvia, by the way).
A divided Europe, with the leaders of France, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and others now pro-Russia, anti-EU, and funded by Putin, overrule calls for sanctions or a military response. NATO is slow to respond: Trump does not want America to be involved, and a large part of Europe is indifferent or blocking any action. Russia, seeing no real resistance to their actions, move further into Latvia, and then into Eastern Estonia and Lithuania. The Baltic States declare war on Russia and start to retaliate, as they have now been invaded so have no choice. Half of Europe sides with them, a few countries remain neutral, and a few side with Russia. Where does Turkey stand on this? How does ISIS respond to a new war in Europe? Who uses a nuclear weapon first?
This is just one Arch Duke Ferdinand scenario. The number of possible scenarios are infinite due to the massive complexity of the many moving parts. And of course many of them lead to nothing happening. But based on history we are due another period of destruction, and based on history all the indicators are that we are entering one.
It will come in ways we can’t see coming, and will spin out of control so fast people won’t be able to stop it. Historians will look back and make sense of it all and wonder how we could all have been so naïve. How could I sit in a nice café in London, writing this, without wanting to run away. How could people read it and make sarcastic and dismissive comments about how pro-Remain people should stop whining, and how we shouldn’t blame everything on Brexit. Others will read this and sneer at me for saying America is in great shape, that Trump is a possible future Hitler (and yes, Godwin’s Law. But my comparison is to another narcissistic, charismatic leader fanning flames of hatred until things spiral out of control). It’s easy to jump to conclusions that oppose pessimistic predictions based on the weight of history and learning. Trump won against the other Republicans in debates by countering their claims by calling them names and dismissing them. It’s an easy route but the wrong one.
Ignoring and mocking the experts , as people are doing around Brexit and Trump’s campaign, is no different to ignoring a doctor who tells you to stop smoking, and then finding later you’ve developed incurable cancer. A little thing leads to an unstoppable destruction that could have been prevented if you’d listened and thought a bit. But people smoke, and people die from it. That is the way of the human.
So I feel it’s all inevitable. I don’t know what it will be, but we are entering a bad phase. It will be unpleasant for those living through it, maybe even will unravel into being hellish and beyond imagination. Humans will come out the other side, recover, and move on. The human race will be fine, changed, maybe better. But for those at the sharp end — for the thousands of Turkish teachers who just got fired, for the Turkish journalists and lawyers in prison, for the Russian dissidents in gulags, for people lying wounded in French hospitals after terrorist attacks, for those yet to fall, this will be their Somme.
What can we do? Well, again, looking back, probably not much. The liberal intellectuals are always in the minority. See Clay Shirky’s Twitter Storm on this point. The people who see that open societies, being nice to other people, not being racist, not fighting wars, is a better way to live, they generally end up losing these fights. They don’t fight dirty. They are terrible at appealing to the populace. They are less violent, so end up in prisons, camps, and graves. We need to beware not to become divided (see: Labour party), we need to avoid getting lost in arguing through facts and logic, and counter the populist messages of passion and anger with our own similar messages. We need to understand and use social media. We need to harness a different fear. Fear of another World War nearly stopped World War 2, but didn’t. We need to avoid our own echo chambers. Trump and Putin supporters don’t read the Guardian, so writing there is just reassuring our friends. We need to find a way to bridge from our closed groups to other closed groups, try to cross the ever widening social divides.
(Perhaps I’m just writing this so I can be remembered by history as one of the people who saw it coming.)
In a perfect world, each person we interact with would be nice, kind, considerate, mindful, generous, and more. They would get our jokes and we would get theirs. We would all thrive in a convivial atmosphere where no one was ever cross, upset, or maligned.
However, we don’t live in a perfect world. Some people drive us crazy, and we (admittedly) drive a few mad as well. Those we dislike are inconsiderate, rushed, malign our character, question our motives, or just don’t get our jokes at all — but expect us to laugh at all theirs.
You might wonder whether it is possible to be fair to someone who ruffles you all the time, or someone you’d rather avoid eating lunch with. You might wonder if you should learn to like every person you meet.
According to Robert Sutton (a professor of management science at Stanford University), it’s neither possible — nor even ideal — to build a team comprised entirely of people you’d invite to a backyard barbecue.
That’s why smart people make the most out of people they don’t like. Here’s how they do it.
1. They accept that they are not going to like everyone.
Sometimes we get caught in the trap of thinking that we are nice people. We think that we are going to like everyone we interact with — even when that’s not going to happen. It’s inevitable you will encounter difficult people who oppose what you think. Smart people know this. They also recognize that conflicts or disagreements are a result of differences in values.
That person you don’t like is not intrinsically a bad human. The reason you don’t get along is because you have different values, and that difference creates judgment. Once you accept that not everyone will like you, and you won’t like everyone because of a difference in values, the realization can take the emotion out of the situation. That may even result in getting along better by agreeing to disagree.
2. They bear with (not ignore or dismiss) those they don’t like.
Sure, you may cringe at his constant criticism, grit your teeth at her lousy jokes, or shake your head at the way he hovers around her all the time, but feeling less than affectionate to someone might not be the worst thing. “From a performance standpoint, liking the people you manage too much is a bigger problem than liking them too little,” says Sutton.
“You need people who have different points of view and aren’t afraid to argue,” Sutton adds. “They are the kind of people who stop the organization from doing stupid things.” It may not be easy, but bear with them. It is often those who challenge or provoke us that prompt us to new insights and help propel the group to success. Remember, you are not perfect either, yet people still tolerate you.
3. They treat those they don’t like with civility.
Whatever your feelings are for someone, that person will be highly attuned to your attitude and behavior, and will likely reflect it back to you. If you are rude to them, they will likely throw away all decorum and be rude to you too. The onus; therefore, is on you to remain fair, impartial, and composed.
“Cultivating a diplomatic poker face is important. You need to be able to come across as professional and positive,” says Ben Dattner, an organizational psychologist and author of The Blame Game. This way you won’t stoop to their level or be sucked into acting the way they do.
4. They check their own expectations.
It’s not uncommon for people to have unrealistic expectations about others. We may expect others to act exactly as we would, or say the things that we might say in a certain situation. However, that’s not realistic. “People have ingrained personality traits that are going to largely determine how they react,” says Alan A. Cavaiola, PhD (psychology professor at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey). “Expecting others to do as you would do is setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration.”
If a person causes you to feel exactly the same way every time, adjust your expectations appropriately. This way you’ll be psychologically prepared and their behavior will not catch you by surprise. Smart people do this all the time. They’re not always surprised by a dis-likable person’s behavior.
5. They turn inwards and focus on themselves.
No matter what you try, some people can still really get under our skin. It’s important that you learn how to handle your frustration when dealing with someone who annoys you. Instead of thinking about how irritating that person is, focus on why you are reacting the way you are. Sometimes what we don’t like in others is frequently what we don’t like in ourselves. Besides, they didn’t create the button, they’re only pushing it.
Pinpoint the triggers that might be complicating your feelings. You may then be able to anticipate, soften, or even alter your reaction. Remember: it’s easier to change your perceptions, attitude, and behavior than to ask someone to be a different kind of person.
6. They pause and take a deep breath.
Some personality characteristics may always set you off, says Kathleen Bartle (a California-based conflict consultant). Maybe it’s the colleague who regularly misses deadlines, or the guy who tells off-color jokes. Take a look at what sets you off and who’s pushing your buttons. That way, Bartle says, you can prepare for when it happens again.
According to her, “If you can pause and get a grip on your adrenaline pump and go to the intellectual part of your brain, you’ll be better able to have a conversation and to skip over the judgment.” A deep breath and one big step back can also help to calm you down and protect you from overreaction, thereby allowing you to proceed with a slightly more open mind and heart.
7. They voice their own needs.
If certain people constantly tick you off, calmly let them know that their manner of behavior or communication style is a problem for you. Avoid accusatory language and instead try the “When you . . . I feel . . .” formula. For example, Cacaiola advises you to tell that person, “When you cut me off in meetings, I feel like you don’t value my contributions.” Then, take a moment and wait for their response.
You may find that the other person didn’t realize you weren’t finished speaking, or your colleague was so excited about your idea that she enthusiastically jumped into the conversation.
8. They allow space between them.
If all else fails, smart people allow space between themselves and those they don’t like. Excuse yourself and go on your way. If at work, move to another room or sit at the other end of the conference table. With a bit of distance, perspective, and empathy, you may be able to come back and interact both with those people you like and those you don’t like as if unfazed.
Of course, everything would be easier if we could wish people we don’t like away. Too bad we all know that’s not how life works.
Can we talk? The other day I accidentally on purpose overheard a couple of people having a heated discussion of an unprecedented presidential election coming up in November. It turns out that the United States of America, bless her majestic heart, is on the cusp of Greatness. but the people refuse to set aside partisanship in order to recognize the triumphs.
I know right? This nation, which should be elated about how far they’ve come since their most recent great depression, has chosen to adopt a less than civil attitude towards their candidates of choice, and each other for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, their country still has a long way to go to bridge their financial, gender and human equality gaps before they can declare a full recovery. And there could be an argument or two regarding how long it took to even get this far.
But that’s all substance for a healthy intellectual debate. What has become painfully evident is that there is an outright intolerance for character disagreements amongst the patrons.
Where did THAT come from? Or has it always been there under a cloak of unified civility? Like molten lava just beneath the earth’s crust, constantly nudging for a weak layer, lying in wait for the opportunity to burst through and declare freedom!
Back on point.
What has become one of the most puzzling aspects to me is that both political majority parties have chosen unique and unprecedented candidates to lead them. Which at any other time in history would be cause for mass celebrations.
I mean just look at these candidacy overviews:
- One candidate has absolutely no political background or preconceived notions of a bureaucratic agenda. Doesn’t care for political correctness and prefers to speak their mind openly and without filters. Has acquired extreme wealth, but is willing to do what the everyday common people want/need.
- The other candidate who represents the cornerstone of the nation’s fabric of existence in family values as a wife, mother, grandmother and first female elected to represent a major political party in the history of The United States. Experienced, poised, smart and knows how to get things done Internationally without compromising the nation’s safety.
You would not believe how divisive the voting communities have become over what should be a highly spirited debate for the Whitehouse. The two camps are diametrically opposed in their sentiments and views. Which has stirred up some extreme anger and hostility that has absolutely NO PLACE in a society based on equality and fairness. The disruption has no boundaries as it has ignited heated debates among families and friends, neighbors and co-workers as well as students and teachers. The other day I was in the grocery store of all places, when out of the blue two ladies were arguing with a young male checkout clerk in an attempt to persuade him to their way of political thinking.
WHAT’S HAPPENING? How can there be such passionate arguments over the views of the same two people? In response, I light-heartedly coined the below title from a book written by Ph.D. John Gray in 2009 that attempted to describe the differences between men and women, and have applied it to the strangely similar candidate views of this election:
“TRUMP VOTERS Are from MARS,
CLINTON VOTERS Are from VENUS!”
Anyone following this election knows of which I speak. If you’re not familiar, because of the rock under which you have called your domicile for the past year and a half doesn’t have cable or Internet access, I would like to illustrate for you a sample of the conversations that are happening in our social media almost nightly:
“OMG! Really Brian? What part of Trump’s rhetoric are you falling for? How could you even think about sending a fraud like that to the Whitehouse? He is a Bigot, a Racist, a Sexist homophobe with extreme narcissistic tendencies. You’ve changed man…really, I worry about you!”
“Hillary Clinton is not only a crook, she’s a two-faced, cheating, wife of a prick with no more sense than God gave a Turnip. Benghazi was her fault and, and, and, if you ask anyone with half a brain they will tell you that she willfully and with malice deleted those 33,000 emails to hide her so-called platonic relationship with Vladimir Putin! Look it up!”
And they just go on and on and on…
- “ Are you calling me a liar? She said it more than once!”
- “He wasn’t talking about that when he said it.”
- “Oh yes she did!”
- “NO! I’m telling you for the last time, Trump’s wife NEVER posed NAKED!”
- “…so let me get this right. You AND your wife know this for a fact!”
- “It’s all over Wikipedia man, there’s this NEW THING called the INTERNET!!! You should give it a try…. you fascist idiot moronic imbecile!!”
- “Who you calling a fascist??!!!??”
At some point, at least that’s what I keep telling myself, they will all tire of the hostility and eventually go about their normal everyday business of humble living. But I don’t believe that will happen until sometime after the November 8th election. Until then we’ll just have to endure and try to rise up.
Personally, I place most of the blame for this escalation of hostility squarely on the shoulders of Al Gore for creating the Internet in the first place. The secondary level of blame will go to Mr. Mark Zuckerberg and his Faceless-Book! Where people can and do embrace the Charters of Freedom and are endowed with certain inalienable rights to type what’s on their minds openly and freely from behind sheltered keyboards and obscured touchpads.
I for one welcome a time on social media where healthy intellectual debates on the issues that really matter take place, and where there is:
- Respect for the other’s opinion
- No tolerance for vulgarity
- Controlled tempers and temperament
- Equal listening to responding
- Less name calling and more objection silence
We are all unique participants in this thing called life. And as individuals, we should recognize that we will have differences of opinions, tastes and expected outcomes. In order to help the process of mending fences along, I wish to offer the following little ditty: -no, not about Jack and Diane-
ODE TO MY FELLOW VOTERS:
I apologize to anyone that I may have offended regarding your candidate of choice in this election cycle. My views, as I have come to reconcile, are no more important than yours and I respect the fact that we both want the best for our country and our families.
If our passions appeared to be on opposite sides of the fence, it’s because we arrived at the fence from two different angles. I came from the West, and you came from the East. What you’ve seen, heard and lived through is very different than my experiences. But neither of us has cornered the market on trials and tribulations and therefore don’t have the rights to declare our versions of a single Silver Bullet solution.
This country did not fall apart overnight, and we cannot expect it to be healed by one election, one person or one ideology appointed in November. Safety, Prosperity, Health and Freedom are what we all want, desire and deserve in this great nation of ours. How we get there has far less to do with who is in the Whitehouse, and everything to do what is deep and true within our hearts and minds.
This election should not cost friendships, family or relations. Humility will be our salvation, or our undoing.
Here’s to your candidate ending up right where they should be at the end of this election, and to you continuing to live a life full of purpose and Joy!!
The singer’s representatives dismissed Jenner as a ‘secondary reality television star’ in their bid to stop her from trademarking the name ‘Kylie’ in the U.S.