Most everyone agrees that either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States. No matter who gets elected, a large proportion of the population will be more afraid than they are now.
Some will be so afraid of the consequences they will consider leaving the country. Some will actually leave.
Fearful people often become aggressive and look for someone to attack. We’ve seen that kind of violence against police officers as well as violence perpetrated by police officers. Fear and anger also leads to terrorist attacks, bullying and aggression towards “outsiders.” It also leads to the kind of shaming and blaming we’ve experienced during this long election cycle.
Meanwhile the major problems we face continue to get worse:
- Global warming and climate change produces more droughts and heat waves.
- Population increase puts greater pressure on limited resources.
- Conflicts and wars cause more destruction and displacement.
- Refugees flee their lands and create additional fear as they seek safe havens.
- Extreme capitalism has generated massive wealth for some, but has devastated the planet and failed to improve the lives of many.
- Environmental degradation and loss of species threatens the foundations of a stable ecosystem.
- Overt and institutional racism undermines our shared humanity.
- Sexism creates distrust between men and women and keeps our economic and political systems from being as effective as they could be.
We could add additional major problems we’re concerned about. But let’s be honest, how many of us feel confident that, given the state of our divided country, these problems are likely to be addressed constructively if either candidate is elected?
In fact, a recent Pew survey of a large sampling of both Republicans and Democrats found that few are excited about the prospects of either candidate getting elected.
- Just 11% of all registered voters say they would be excited if Trump wins.
- 26% say they would be relieved.
- A majority say they would be disappointed (34%) or angry (25%).
- Just 12% overall would be excited if Clinton wins.
- 36% would be relieved.
- Nearly half would be disappointed (29%) or angry (20%).
It’s no wonder that more and more people suffer from anxiety, depression and Irritable Male Syndrome (IMS). But what underlies all these problems? I believe it’s the feeling that things are out of control and we feel helpless to solve any of the real problems that threaten our peace and well-being. It’s why so many people are willing to take a chance on electing Donald Trump. And, although it’s easy for many people to demonize Donald Trump, and easy for others to demonize Secretary Clinton, it really does little to solve our problems.
The Real Problems Facing America and the World
There are two underlying problems that we need to understand if we are going to actually solve our problems, not make them worse. The first is that things are changing so rapidly our brains are constantly on overload. The second is that the world has become so complex we can’t really figure out how to fix things. We have become “strangers in a strange land.” We feel we’re on a runaway train heading over a cliff.
The futurist, Alvin Toffer (who died in June, 2016 at the age of 87), warned us about what was coming our way in the international best-seller Future Shock written in 1970. In the book Toffler notes that he coined the term “future shock” to describe “the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.”
He recognized that future shock may be the core illness of our time. “Unless man quickly learns to control the rate of change in his personal affairs we well as in society at large, we are doomed to a massive adaptational breakdown.” It’s clear that we have not dealt with the speed of change in our lives. Of course, the rate of change has increased dramatically since 1970. We are experiencing a new kind of “craziness” in our world resulting from too many choices, too much stimulation, too much noise, too much novelty, too much to figure out.
The second cause of our problems is the brain overload resulting from increasing complexity. Sociobiologist and futurist, Rebecca Costa, has done extensive research on the underlying causes of personal and societal overload. In her book, The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse, she says, “When we examine earlier civilizations, such as the Mayans, Romans, Khmer, Byzantine and Ming societies, a clear pattern emerges. They all experienced gridlock when the magnitude of the problems they needed to solve exceeded their abilities. In other words, they hit some cognitive threshold where they could no longer understand or manage their biggest, most dangerous problems.”
In a world where we come to believe that human ingenuity can solve every problem, we find it difficult to believe that there are limitations on our ability to function with the pressures of rapid change and increasing complexity. “I am always surprised at how people react when I point out the uneven rate of change between how slowly evolution moves and how fast humans create new technology, processes, institutions, laws, and make new discoveries. One requires millions of years and the other occurs in pico seconds. Eventually there’s a gap between how fast our brains can evolve new capabilities and the complexity the brain must process. When this happens we hit a biological cognitive threshold.”
Costa’s book has been endorsed by a host of luminaries including Sir Richard Branson,
Entrepreneur, founder and Chairman of the Virgin Group, adventurist, environmentalist, and humanitarian; John Perkins, Economist and bestselling author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman; Dr. James Watson, Nobel Laureate responsible (with Francis Crick) for the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA; Dr. John Ratey, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, bestselling author of Spark: A User’s Guide to the Brain; and Dr. Edward O. Wilson,
World-acclaimed naturalist, Professor of Biology at Harvard University, father of sociobiology and biodiversity, two-time Pulitzer prize winner, and member of the National Academy of Sciences.
In her historical analysis of indicators that a culture is on the verge of collapse, she cites six early warning signs.
1. Gridlock. As social complexity exceeds the brains ability to cope, the system gets overwhelmed and locks up. No matter what the issues, we are unable to address the problems adequately or work together to solve them. All our institutions begin to slow down and eventually stop working altogether.
2. We increasingly substitute beliefs for knowledge and facts. For example, instead of addressing the complex issue of global warming, a large percentage of the population believe global warming is a hoax, despite the fact that a vast majority of knowledgeable scientists offer detailed evidence in support of the truth.
3. Irrational Opposition. We see this occurring in many aspects of our social life. Its particularly noteworthy in our Presidential election. “Irrational opposition,” says Costa, “occurs when the act of rejecting, criticizing, suppressing, ignoring, misrepresenting, marginalizing and resisting rational solutions becomes the accepted norm.”
4. The Personalization of Blame. When things aren’t working, we often look for a scapegoat. The causes of the problems may be complex, but we foist all the blame for things not working on to someone or something, such as the president, terrorists, Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump.
5. Silo Thinking. There is a natural tendency in the human brain to try to reduce complexity into discrete, manageable components. As we are forced to deal with more and more information we tend to isolate ourselves and focus only on the areas within our comfort zones. Rather than reaching “across the aisle” for potential partners with a different way of looking at the world, we reduce the world to “us” and “them,” with us being the “good guys” and “them” being all bad.
6. Extreme Economics. When complexity overwhelms us, we lose our ability to see what is truly valuable in our lives. Making money becomes a simple way to measure success. More and more aspects of our culture become “monetized.” Success is measured by a person’s wealth and the divide between the rich and the rest of us continues to widen.
One of the benefits of this Presidential election is that it is demonstrating clearly the state of our country. It is becoming very obvious that our government is gridlocked. We recognize the irrational beliefs many employ as they increasingly reject science and factual information. It’s time we quit the fighting and name calling and recognized that we are all in this together. We will figure out how to survive together, or we’ll all go down with the ship. It’s time we awoke from the nightmare of 2016 and recognized the signs of a culture on the brink of collapse.
Trump and Clinton supporters may not be able to get together before this election, but we better get together soon or we will become another of the interesting species that the earth created and then rejected. Survival depends upon us recognizing the real causes of our problems. People who care about the future of our children and grandchildren will lead the way. Will you join me?
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