Friday, November 11, 2016
So,clearly, Trump is a bad and stupid man and Clinton is a reptilian shape shifter. I want neither of them anywhere near anything I care about. From where I stand, which is somewhere between my Facebook location of Standing Rock and the toilet I clean for a living, it feels all care and toil. I want none of it. The Earth groans under our weight, and we groan with her.
Media wise, I watched the Democrats talking about going high where the Trump supporters went low. Very broadly, they appealed to reason and civility, those cornerstones of liberal thinking that go back to the founding parents of the USA and the whole Enlightenment project from which sprang the Constitution. I suspect they assumed that reason and civility was built into the bones of Americans - that the truths really were self evident.
They weren't, of course. I won't go into the many reasons people voted Trump because they are well canvassed almost everywhere among the chattering classes. But I will say this.
Over the last two years I have learned by very personal means the shocking truth that we are not rational beings. Even if we see ourselves as rational actors, we are also creatures of instinct and drive. I know this is tiresomely Freudian and Weberian and really rather trivial, but I am not sure we can escape it. In part this is not our fault. We can only be truly rational actors if we are in possession of all the facts, and we never are. We have largely bought a world view that goes back to the idea of enlightened self interest, and yet even if we are educated and thoughtful we often have no idea how it all works. We want our views vindicated. We gravitate to people who are like us. We want to be loved. We would rather save one named child than a thousand children. We want to be fed. We want to be free. We want the world to be unified, kind and safe. We want the world to be vibrant, diverse and progressive. And all we get is one tiny vote.
Liberal and left wing commentators were disappointed with Brexit and the Trump win because they saw it as irrational. I say we, the voting public, always were. It doesn't take a lot of pressure for rationality to collapse, and especially it collapses when the rational options seem oppressive and opaque and cruel. Remember how bemused we were when we saw interviews with people who had voted for Brexit and then regretted it, as if they had no idea what the consequences were. Well gosh, I stand here as a person who has often felt I was on the wrong side of history. I have in fact often made decisions I have not only regretted but poorly understood even after reflecting on them. Rationality is a luxury for the safe and the well. There is no point in being told to eat your greens when there is no food at all.
Here in Aotearoa/New Zealand I know no one who states they would have voted for Trump, and many who would see themselves as natural Democrats even if they disliked Clinton's hawkishness. This goes across the strata. For example, I was with a group of intellectually disabled people when Michelle Obama came on the radio, and announced that Hilary was ready for the presidency. All the intellectually disabled people spontaneously clapped and cheered. Natural Democrats, natural rationalists.
To explain our fraught relationship with rationality, I want to reference those great heroes of ancient times, those Colossi who bestrode our cultural straits and inspire us even today. I am talking about Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris and Mel Gibson. There have been others as well, perhaps Chris Rock and Samuel L Jackson, although as actors they are not so culturally bound to types. These guys taught my and subsequent generations all we need to know about the power of the irrational. They didn't exactly think. They followed their unerring instincts and their guts and their sense of the sentimental, and even if the details went a bit runny at times they were always right. Or even Right. While more reasonable heads around them planned and considered, they would just act from their noble hearts. They were genuine individuals who had no time for systems or social context or theory or eve much self reflection. Their motivations were often on the personal scale - to save one boy or find their ex wife or seek personal revenge. And in doing so, they saved the whole world again and again.
Mostly it doesn't bother us that we are irrational. It's too bloody hard and we have no attractive role models.
For the educated and liberal, never make Trump voters the repository for the dark, the primitive and the childlike. Especially women must remember that under active patriarchy we have often been the repository for just those things. Never judge or scoff until we ourselves have fully understood all that is dark, primitive and childlike in ourselves. And remember we can never be truly rational actors until we are in possession of all the facts, and we never are.
Instead, I want to listen, share what I have, fight for principles, keep awake, and stay away from the oncoming headlights.