Sociology

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I found the attached picture on Reddit a few days ago with the headline “This photo taken in Paris perfectly captures the spirit of an era.”

My first thought was that the poster was right. We live in an era characterized by a willful disconnection to many social problems. It seems like if it’s not impacting people directly, they would prefer to ignore the problem – presumably out of selfishness or a belief that they can’t do anything about it, so they shouldn’t let it be a burden.

But I think that there’s more that needs to be said. The trouble with social media is that it boils down complex issues into pithy, superficial headlines. And, let’s be honest, most of us just read the headlines. This results in taking sides without thoughtful consideration of the context or other pertinent factors and could likely be a leading cause of much of the polarization we seem to be experiencing.

Our era is characterized by much more than mere selfishness. Don’t believe me, check out reddit.com/r/wholesomememes. Here’s a taste:

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Most people are not walking around looking to one-up each other. Sure, there’s a lot of competition. But to boil down the 21st-century Western world into a unique kind of psychopathic self and technological-absorption is ridiculous.

We are complex creatures, experiencing unique realities with different values.

However, there has been some progress made that gives insight into some common themes.

At our deepest, for instance, we all want connection, a meaningful life, and to feel loved and accepted – both by ourselves and by others.

Selfishness, greed, corruption, ego trips, prejudice, and abuse have existed since the dawn of civilization.

Moses freed the slaves. Native Americans battled for territory. And tycoons built America on the backs of people with no access to education.

Never underestimate the difficulty in attempting to define an era. There are powerful stories and nuanced truths everywhere.

The story of the grass growing can be purely scientific. You can focus on the photosynthetic process and the intricacies involved with the conversion of sunlight to energy. Or it might be about values and ethics. Kentucky grass is foreign to many areas, and its use in many yards is contributing to a decrease in native prairies, which harms local wildlife. Or they can be spiritual and enchanting. The Talmud says that “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.'”

Yes, there are problems. There always will be. But you can choose faith, hope, idealism, and wonder or you can choose cynicism and nihilism. Both tend to be equally correct. Right now there’s simply no way to know for sure. And secretly we all want to take the first route.

Here’s a simple reminder you can keep with you for hope when all seems to be going wrong: we tend to crave a happy ending.

Our schools are about teaching kids facts and discipline.

They don’t encourage them to think creatively.

And they don’t build character.

Curriculums, sports, and misguided cliques tend to foster people who value competition, lack a toolkit for critical thinking, and don’t know how to think seriously about what the moral thing to do is.

Schools should be asking more of kids.

Instead of turning in boxtops or cans, they should be working on a community garden, feeding and spending time with the homeless, and sharing their talents with kids in lower-income communities.

There should be lessons about what a dollar does for their neighborhood and how it’s wasted at a big corporation.

And acting out needs to be understood rather than punished.

Technology threatens the old saying that “it takes a village.”

Let’s be proactive, get grounded in the fundamentals of loving homes, and think seriously about how to raise good villagers.

 

Large companies asking for donations at the end of the checkout process is a useful nudge to get shoppers to be more generous

But a few large companies doing it just isn’t enough.

The local economy is where the biggest direct impact is made on people’s lives in the long-term.

So community leaders should start thinking about how to get local businesses to support important local causes.

In this way, people in the community who are at-need get help and whenever kids go to the store they see a society that cares.

 

Sites like CharityWatch and Charity Navigator rank charities according to their level of effectiveness. This is great for individuals who are actively looking to give their money to good, trusted causes. But it’s ineffective for the casual giver. These are the types of people who would benefit from these two improvements.

Here’s the first one: sites like the two mentioned work together to develop a certification program. This gives a helpful heuristic for shoppers asked to donate at cash registers. Asking if the cause is certified with the program would help them rest assured that the money they’re giving is being spent wisely.

For what guidelines might be, CharityWatch’s top-rated organizations generally spend 75% or more of their budgets on programs, spend $25 or less to raise $100 in public support, do not hold excessive assets in reserve, have met CharityWatch’s governance benchmarks, and receive “open-book” status for disclosure of basic financial information and documents to CharityWatch.

And secondly, when asked to donate at self-checkouts there should be an option to get more information. Companies like WalMart expect shoppers to donate to charities out of altruism.  Sure people could take out their phones and look the charity up, but the whole point of the process is to give a nudge. So why shouldn’t they give this easy additional nudge? It would help ensure accountability and give further ease of mind.

 

Please accept my apologies for not getting the daily blog out lately. I have just returned from an intense conference in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  I am back now, though! So back to it. In the future, if I’m about to head out for a conference, I’ll give a heads up. I had no idea my networking activity would be so demanding.

A consistent theme I saw while networking was competition. The entire time I was there I witnessed it – competition between schools for ranking, between journals for prestige, between students for job placement, and between colleagues for publication. (I’m preparing to go into academics.) The takeaway: I’m about to set forth into an incredibly competitive climate.  But I have a secret weapon; that is, the awareness between the difference between hierarchy and territory.

In Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art it’s said that “In the animal kingdom, individuals define themselves in one of two ways – by their rank within a hierarchy (a hen in a pecking order, a wolf in a pack) or by their connection to a territory (a home base, a hunting ground, a turf).”

To sum up Pressfield’s argument, most of us define ourselves hierarchically, and it’s likely that we don’t even know it. This is because school, advertising, all of the materialist culture tells us that we need to define ourselves by others’ opinions.

He says that this definition of our identity, which you will notice breaks down in places with a ton of people like Manhattan, is detrimental to our creativity. You will witness the development of the following characteristics:

  1. You become caught in a vicious cycle of trying to elevate your position in the hierarchy and defending against those beneath you.
  2. You come to define your happiness by your rank in the hierarchy, feeling satisfied at another’s defeat.
  3. You treat people differently based on their rank rather than other, more important, factors.
  4. You act, dress, speak, and think for others.

So we must live territorially.

What’s a territory?

  1. It’s the place that gives us sustenance, the core element of our soul’s nourishment.
  2. We love our territory alone. We don’t need anyone else to claim it. The work itself satisfies.
  3. It is something that takes work to be claimed. It doesn’t give, it gives back.

I’m going to leave his line of reasoning here. There’s more to it, but for the rest, I suggest you read the book.

In close, don’t get caught up in the competition. Just do the work you’re passionate about. Try not to think about the competition. Just have fun. Don’t care how praised someone is or where they stand in whatever fabricated pecking order exists. Just search for two things. First, who has interests that overlap with you? And second, are they a good person?

 

 

 

Yesterday I may have gotten some things wrong. Bloggers often speak about topics they may not have the qualifications to speak about. But I think that’s okay.

It’s okay, at least in this instance, because I admittedly don’t have the answers. I have my best guess, but that’s all I can offer. I can provide you with my best educated shot at what’s going on in the world. It’s likely not much yet, but I’m really, really striving to make it something. And that should count for, well, something.

I made a lot of assertions. I realize some of them might be controversial. They might even damage some career prospects. But I think that’s okay, too. Because there needs to be more people willing to give a thoughtful perspective. There needs to be more of a meaningful dialogue about important issues of our time.

A lot of folks keep their head down. That’s all right. I worry, though, that it might stop them from reaching their full potential. I fear it might cause a life of mediocrity.

I really care that people are judgemental and that their behavior is antithetical to a more connected, inclusive society. And I really care about global inequity. History is riddled with exploitative practices, and we aren’t given the personal toolkit to have a considerate conversation about the real implications or normative principles undergirding them. To not share that perspective would be a disservice to humanity.

I want to be clear that I’m not opposed to different perspectives. In fact, I sincerely welcome – even crave – them. The day I allow myself to live in an echo chamber is the day I’ve died intellectually and philosophically. It’s the day I’ve let myself down for comfort.

I think a part of living rightly is being willing to take a stand on some issues, particularly ones with such far reaching externalities like corporate greed. If everyone stood idly in fear that they wouldn’t get hired, the bad guys (and girls) would triumph unopposed.

I hope that we can foster a culture where professionals can be more than replaceable cogs in bureaucratic machines. I hope we can create a culture where they’re considered well-versed facilitators of cogent values. Not necessarily champions of a cause but moderaters who offer thoughtful lenses or ethical paradigms with a keen eye toward the disenfranchised.

We must consider the human. And professionalism needs empathy.

 

A lot of adults go to therapy because of problems stemming from their childhood. I’m convinced this is because many people grow older and never learn to reconcile their past. They just get better at hiding from their feelings or distracting themselves with media or drowning out the pain with substances.

Acts of dysfunction like violence and abuse arise out of an inability to communicate our innermost thoughts and feelings. I’d go so far as to say most people lack the self-knowledge and reflective discipline to conduct regular psycho-emotional system status checks, so they can’t tell they’re driving through life with their check healthy emotional regulation light on.

In school, they should teach us applied ethics. Teachers are so caught up with teaching facts they fail to develop well-rounded, cognizant individuals. Imagine if we had daily meditations on the relationships between social conformity, misaligned societal norms, and unrealistic media portrayals. Or the rise of industrialism in America and how Andrew Carnegie and Rockefeller destroyed families and people’s health to become evil tycoons. Or how anti-trust laws are becoming weakened and the consumer protection bureau has no teeth. Or thoughtful interventions regarding the nuanced discussion that should be had about historically prejudicial race and gender relations.

Kids can’t be kids. Those high school actors are in their twenties. And I know a grandma who remembers when women were finally allowed to wear jeans in America.

What would it be like if as early as age 13 girls were welcomed to a discussion on the pressures of feminine mystique and Western culture’s sick propensity for hyper-sexualization and the selling out of our kids’ well-being through objectification?

Shocking, I know, to try to provide an anti-venom to the viral Internet.

There are no role models. There are no leaders. The moral vanguards are hidden behind the gates of academia because ethics ain’t profitable. Shout out to Matha Nussbaum and Peter Singer. There is no voice of reason, yelling from a bully pulpit the urgency that is our kids’ well-being.

But, please, accept these thoughts and prayers.

We’re so caught up in keeping up with Joneses (or Kardashians), chasing the almighty dollar, our own emotional issues, our fear of lawsuits, getting by on jobs we hate so we can afford things that don’t satisfy us, the selfishness of our neighbors, earning social media likes, becoming famous, or finding the next big thing that we never stop to consider the damage we’re doing to each other.

Here are some facts that we should be talking about probably on a weekly basis:

1. Despite the social hierarchy, we all fundamentally want the same things.

2. These things are acceptance, inclusion, belonging, and love.

3. Even though we want this love, most people expend way too much energy judging the inadequacies of others, most likely because people tend to operate on a vicious cycle of ego-tripping.

4. We’re not happy, and no one is being honest about it.

We’re letting the media decide our debates. Caravans of immigrants aren’t the problem. Political corruption is a distant issue. Instead, leaders need to be addressing the fact that:

  • The majority of the wealth being generated in the world is going to a fraction of a fraction of the global population;
  • Millions are going to die because of corporate greed destroying the earth;
  • Corporations can anonymously funnel money into campaigns;
  • Great, unbiased journalism is threatened internationally by assassination, hot takes, and pandering for views;
  • Almost 1/3 of the global population doesn’t have access to safe water;
  • And poor Americans can’t afford quality dental care or access to mental health resources.

We’re eating dinner alone. We’re lonely. We’ve stigmatized mental health but we celebrate the grotesque fakeness of pop icons. They’re packaged. They’re surgically improved. It’s all smoke and mirrors. And too many of us are eating right out of the hands of these savages.

We don’t know how to fix ourselves.

And no one is talking about it.

So talk about it.