It’s So Easy to Lose Our Heads: The Need to Secure and Advance Democracy

It is so easy to lose our heads. To get angry or depressed or want to run and hide. Or blame someone ⎼ that’s always been a strategy to clutch at. Blame this person or that group. Blame Muslims, if you’re a supporter of T, or blame Congresswomen of color or just women. Or just people of color. Or just journalists. Or people who actually examine the news and think critically about it. Or scientists⎼ that’s a clever strategy. Blame the people who actually study our universe and invent things and keep our technology and healthcare, etc. advancing.

 

Or blame the Democratic Party and DNC. But wait. Some of my FB friends do that, too. Fellow progressives, liberals and lefties. Afterall, the DNC has certainly been despicable at times in the past. Some even claim the Democrats are no better than the Grand Old Party, the party which is no longer republican, but despotic or dictatorial, or the party of denial, denial of global warming, of the facts in the Ukrainian scandal, of facts, period. The GOP will deny global warming, but the Democrats just won’t act, they say.

 

This equation of the two parties distorts the reality and undermines our ability to act effectively. Just compare the efforts of the GOP, for example, to undermine voting and women’s rights and public education while protecting foreign interference in our elections and increasing the wealth of the wealthiest Americans, with the record of legislation passed by the House since the election of 2018.

 

We know the costs to ourselves and others of the blame game. When we look inside ourselves, we can see and feel it. It is the deadliest game out there in terms of creating suffering and delusion. To blame like this we build a wall between ourselves and the rest of humanity and the rest of the world, between what we see and feel and what we won’t. And we use emotions like fear and hate for the construction materials. The more we use fear and hate, the more we crave it.

 

We should support Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg or Joe Biden or any of the other Democrats for President. Support whomever we feel will do the best job at building a truly democratic nation, creating a sane environmental and energy policy, providing good, affordable health care for all ⎼ and will support an equitable and meaningful public education system. But support them in a way that doesn’t undermine the other Democratic candidates in the general election if our favorite is not chosen.

 

Above all, we must keep in mind that without defeating T and his supporters, all that we hold dear might literally be destroyed. We can’t allow ourselves to lose our head or hope. Getting a little depressed might be common sense but we can’t let it go further than that. It’s just not an option we can afford. We must all put in time not only for getting T impeached, but for winning the Presidency and the Senate, getting out the vote and educating people about what’s at stake.

 

And we can’t allow ourselves to destroy possible alliances with would-be allies in the effort to unseat T and his followers. No matter how much I want Elizabeth or Bernie or Pete or Cory, I don’t want T.

 

We, those of us who truly value and want to strengthen democracy in this country, need someone in the White House who will listen to us, the people, not just rich white men. Who will give us a chance at saving our environment and thinking clearly about the problems we face, and who care about the other people and species that live in this world with us.

 

Many of the old Democratic politicians were bought out by corporate interests. But this is a different time. And this is a different party. Even if Democrats weren’t focused enough in the past on global warming, gun violence, etc. we have a chance with them, right now, that we will never have with T’s GOP. We must use this chance. Maybe we can also make the Democratic Party the party of democrats.

The International Strike to Save Our Planet: A Time to Act

Many have wondered what it would take for the general American public to go on strike. We have seen countless examples over the last two, almost three, years of this president violate the humanity of children and immigrants, lie, sacrifice our national security, act in support of misogynist judges (or ones who have credibly been accused of sexual assault) and White House employees who have done the same, support white nationalists and demonize minorities, fail to act to prevent massive incidents of gun violence even against school children—although this last did lead to huge demonstrations ⎼ and act in ways to undermine the constitution and rule of law. And now, tomorrow, an existential threat to the environment might lead to a strike of school children and hopefully thousands, maybe millions of people.

 

Why don’t we act? Are we too wrapped up in our social and work lives, or working too hard to put aside the time, or just feeling hopeless or overwhelmed? Or, regarding the climate, the warming of the planet, the weird weather, the changes in the environment, changes that happen so slowly that we don’t notice it until weird weather becomes hurricanes, floods, droughts, tornados and fires? Or is it that some of us can read and digest the science while others believe the lies by T, his GOP sycophants and some corporations that there is no scientific consensus on global warming, and we imagine what we see before our eyes is just bad weather or bad luck?

 

Americans increasingly understand the threat posed by Global Warming. A poll by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation  reveals that 8 in 10 people understand that human activity is fueling climate change and about half state that action is needed immediately.

 

Tomorrow, thanks mostly to young people like Greta Thunberg, a 16 year old Swedish student and activist, the Global Climate Strike will begin. There will be strikes throughout the US and other nations. New York City will excuse students absent for the strike. And it won’t be just children, but adults, indigenous groups, workers, seniors, etc. Everyone who can, should. Everyone who can’t strike can make phone calls to politicians and CEOs, send in photos of signs proclaiming your view on protecting our earth, write letters to the editor, sign petitions, etc.

 

Actions will continue next week. On Monday, 9/23, the UN will hold a Climate Action Summit, to ramp up efforts to curb greenhouse gases set out in the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which Mr. T opposes. A second strike will be held on September 27th.

 

Tomorrow’s our chance to energize the nation to what we must do to save our planet ⎼ and democracy. To find events in your neighborhood, go to the GlobalClimateStrike website.

What Would We Do? ⎼ Celebrating the 4th by Fighting for Democracy

After listening to the news about a consultant for the T campaign creating a fake Joe Biden website in order to deceive people about who Joe Biden is, I realized T is borrowing from what Russia did in our 2016 election to once again undermine the electoral process. He is adopting techniques used by Russia to undermine the last presidential election in order to undermine the next one. And I asked myself: what would I do if I truly believed what my intellect was telling me about T and his supporters?

 

What would I do if I truly digested the fact that the President of the US joked with the Premier of Russia about eliminating journalists, and joked with Putin about interfering in our elections, not long after the GOP blocked bills in Congress to prevent campaigns from working with foreign governments to undermine our own?

 

Meanwhile, T called the New York Times treasonous for attacking him, just like, in Congress, he thought it treasonous that Democrats did not applaud his comments in his State of the Union Speech in 2018. And instead of a 4thof July to unite us, he divides us further by hijacking the government’s Washington, D. C. celebration and uses it to inflate his name and raise money for his campaign.

 

What if I truly allowed myself to feel my response to T inciting violence against journalists or against anyone who disagrees with him?

 

What would I do if I truly allowed myself to feel what it meant that he praised the Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un? That he said, in regard to the North Korean Dictator,  “it was an honor that you asked me to step over that line…I was proud” to be with such a brutal dictator responsible for not only the torture of an American citizen but of his own people.

 

What would I do if I truly let myself feel the pain and inhumanity of his border policy and treatment of young children? T calls asylum seekers fleeing gang violence in their own countries illegals. Meanwhile, he or his policies violate both US and international laws regarding asylum seekers, violate the law and court orders regarding the treatment of children. He is being investigated for violating so many laws ⎼ regarding emoluments, campaign finance, etc., obstructing justice⎼ it is laughable that he even utters the word ‘law.’

 

What would I do if I truly felt how T and the GOP are attacking women, refusing to renew the violence against women act and trying to deny women the right to control their own body.

 

What would I do if I let myself truly feel how the GOP are eliminating the chance to vote for thousands or millions of people and even, in some states like Florida, creating a poll tax?

 

What would I do if I let myself truly feel how T and his supporters are giving so much of the wealth of this nation to just a few thousand people, in a nation where 3 individuals own more wealth than the bottom half of the population?

 

What would I do if I truly felt how T and his supporters are attacking education, attacking scientific research, attacking protections on our food supply, attacking our future and making it more and more difficult for the U. S. to respond to emergency situations or to global warming or even to economic competition with other nations?

 

T has done so many inhumane, unjust,  bigoted, hurtful things, lied so much, ignored so much, that it is impossible to keep track of it all. My head spins, my heart hurts. Can I use this pain and confusion to teach myself how to go beyond my comfort zone, how to act with more strength?

 

I keep thinking: What if everyone who reads this piece talked with their friends, pledged to vote in the next election, worked for a candidate, worked to get out the vote, to speak the truth at a town hall of a GOP candidate, gave money to those fighting for civil or immigrant’s rights, and made 5 calls a week about one injustice or another ⎼ and shared this blog?

 

Let’s do away with T anxiety and sleep disorder and replace it with the excitement of defeating hate and recognizing the humanity of everyone we meet.

 

I think we all have to ask this question: what will we do? What political, social, compassionate or creative actions will we take if we truly allow ourselves to feel how T is robbing a great majority of us of our rights, freedoms, justice, and a sustainable environment? What will we do?

 

And then ⎼ we do it.

 

This post was syndicated by The Good Men Project

 

 

The Best Cure for the Numbing Effect of the News: Taking Informed, Compassionate Action

After two years of T, it’s so easy to give up and feel numb. How often can you feel outraged or frightened before you want to distance or distract yourself or take a holiday from the news for a day or a decade? The fight-flight response also includes the possibility of a freeze response. One response to a threat is to freeze.

 

Just in the last week or so, we have seen new evidence from indictments of Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort (by the Mueller investigation and the Southern District of New York) of T working with a foreign government in order to attack our own self-government and election system. Take that in: we have seen more conclusive evidence this week that the president of the U. S. has been working with a foreign power hostile to democracy in order to destroy our government. Wow. We can never normalize that.

 

We have seen evidence of T using his office to gain millions of dollars. We have seen his fellow Republicans commit election fraud and, in two states, Wisconsin and Michigan, work to nullify the midterm elections, and undermine the voice of we the people.

 

Many of us could go on and on about how this administration has become a direct threat not only to our liberty but our survival. Even this administration’s own report has shown the seriousness of climate change and the threat it poses to all of humanity.

 

T’s solution to global warming is to hide the evidence. Like with the fraudulent tax cut for the middle class, the actual tax cut to the rich, and the resulting increase in the debt, he tries to arrange it so the real pain won’t be experienced until after he is out of office.

 

Some people respond to the horror of T’s corruption and distortion of the truth by saying (mirroring T himself) there is no truth, or all politicians are corrupt. All politicians in this country do need money to run and keep themselves in political office. Yes, they probably take money from people many of us distrust. But equating that with putting one’s own personal business and profit over that of the nation’s, shaping foreign policy in order to gain financial reward, or acting as the agent of a foreign government in order to hide one’s own misdeeds ⎼ that is a very different species of corruption.

 

It seems very likely that T ‘s financial dealings with the Saudis shaped his response to the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. And his attempt to build a Trump Tower in Russia, financed by a sanctioned Russian bank, put him in a compromised position that the Russians would later exploit to force him to call for the removal of sanctions against Russia (and motivate Russians to interfere in the 2016 election to put T in office).

 

And it’s clear that creating this numbness is part of T’s strategy. So many facts have been revealed this week that two years ago would have led to outrage and angry phone calls to Congress, yet I noticed I haven’t called a single Senator of any party to complain or urge action on an issue in at least four days. If we’re numb, if we’re on perpetual holiday, we won’t, we can’t, act. Likewise, if everything is simply an opinion, or if everyone is equally corrupt, then there is no way to know how to act or who to support.

 

But hoping he will be out of office soon is not enough. Even voting is not enough. Despite how tiresome it might be, we can not stop calling Congress. Even if we think members of Congress won’t listen, we need to speak. We need to protest even if we think it won’t lead to immediate change.

 

We need to build community and help others in whatever ways we can because it is the right thing to do. And we need to take appropriate political action even if we believe (or other people tell us) it won’t do any good, or won’t lead to the results we want. Because we can be wrong (about this and most anything). Taking action always does something, for us. And when combined with the actions of others it can work surprising results.

 

We research, consider and act on what we think is right not because we think we must get exactly what we want, but because we don’t ever want to give up on being just and compassionate people. We don’t ever want to give up on making a more just and compassionate world possible.

 

This post was syndicated by The Good Men Project.

T Is A Hurricane Of Historic Proportions

I have many calm moments, when I meditate, exercise, walk in the woods, talk with friends or simply breathe. Beautiful moments. And then—I turn on the radio or my phone and who knows what insanity might ensue.

Like everyone I know, since the Kavanaugh hearings and his appointment to the Supreme Court, and almost two years of the T administration, I have become overly sensitive to bad news.

It’s just eight days since I heard the news about Hurricane Michael smashing into the Florida panhandle with winds of up to 155 miles an hour (on Wednesday, October 10). The hurricane is now recognized as the strongest to strike the coast in 100 years. And it grew so quickly, from a category 2 on that Sunday, to almost a category 5 on Wednesday. It grew so quickly probably due to waters overheated by global warming, the same global warming the GOP deny despite the overwhelming scientific evidence.

Nature itself seems to be yelling at us to wake up to what we humans are doing to our world. The day after the hurricane, a neighbor called to tell me of two sightings of Fishers, a carnivorous mammal related to weasels. They have only recently returned to this area (along with other recent and not-so-welcome additions, like coyotes, coy-wolves, and ticks) and kill squirrels and other small animals, including porcupine and hare, occasionally wild turkey, bobcat, and even house cats. They are excellent climbers and can be vicious. I immediately went to the front door of my house to call in my cats.

This administration puts us all on a continual threat alert and I think this is exactly what they want. People continually stressed are not as likely to think clearly or feel powerful or vote. According to Tali Sharot in the book The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others, fear is most effective in influencing the behavior of others under two conditions—when what they are trying to do is cause inaction and the person they’re trying to influence is already anxious.

 The last two weeks and the hearings and discussion on Judge Kavanaugh were especially bad. They were a continual assault, a political hurricane of historic proportions threatening not only women but all of us who are not misogynists, not white nationalists or sycophantic supporters of the President, or who are not in favor of considering corporate rights or the rights of the wealthy as more important than any other rights.

These GOP attacked anyone who called for a real investigation into Kavanaugh’s past and were especially vicious in their attacks on any of the women who came forward. In fact, T even mocked Dr. Ford.  He called for holding those who made “false” claims against Kavanaugh liable. What about false claims by, or in support of, Kavanaugh? Would Kavanaugh or any his supporters who lied or rushed to hide the truth be held accountable?

Many wondered: was the GOP rush to judgment due to fears about what will happen in the November election? Or was something else involved?

The Supreme Court is going to hear a case called Gamble v US. It involves a felon arrested for possession of a firearm. It could, however, have grave implications if T is ever impeached, indicted, or tries to use his power to pardon anyone from his administration or campaign who have been prosecuted for crimes or called to testify to the Mueller investigation….  

 

To read the whole piece, please click on the link to the Good Men Project.

 

 

 

 

T Is A Hurricane of Historic Proportions

I have many calm moments, when I meditate, exercise, walk in the woods, talk with friends or simply breathe. Beautiful moments. And then—I turn on the radio or my phone and who knows what insanity might ensue.

 

I just heard the latest news about Hurricane Michael, which struck the Florida panhandle with winds of up to 155 miles an hour. It is now called the strongest hurricane to ever strike the coast. It grew so quickly, from a category 2 on Sunday to almost a category 5 today, probably due to waters overheated by global warming, the same global warming the GOP deny despite the overwhelming scientific evidence against their position.

 

Yesterday, a neighbor called to tell me of two sightings of Fishers, a carnivorous mammal related to weasels. They have only recently returned to this area and have been known to kill squirrels and other small animals, including porcupine and hare, occasionally wild turkey, bobcat, and even house cats (although rarely). They are excellent climbers and can be vicious. I immediately went to the front door of my house to call in my cats. After the Kavanaugh abomination and almost two years of T, I am, like everyone I know, a bit sensitive to bad news.

 

This administration puts us all on a continual threat alert and I think this is exactly what they want. People continually stressed are not as likely to think clearly or feel powerful.

 

The last two weeks and the hearings and discussion on Judge Kavanaugh were especially bad. They were a continual assault, a political hurricane of historic proportions threatening not only women but all of us who are not misogynists, not white nationalists or sycophantic supporters of the President, or who are not in favor of considering corporate rights or the rights of the wealthy as more important than any other rights.

 

These GOP attacked anyone who called for a real investigation into Kavanaugh’s past and were particularly vicious in their attacks on any of the women who came forward. In fact, T even mocked Dr. Ford.  He called for holding those who made “false” claims against Kavanaugh liable. What about false claims by, or in support of, Kavanaugh? Would Kavanaugh or any his supporters who lied or rushed to hide the truth be held accountable?

 

Many wondered: was the GOP rush to judgment due to fears about what will happen in the November election? Or was something else involved?

 

The Supreme Court is going to hear a case called the Gamble v US. It involves a felon arrested for possession of a firearm. It could, however, have grave implications if T is ever impeached, indicted, or tries to use his power to pardon anyone from his administration or campaign who have been prosecuted for crimes or called to testify to the Mueller investigation.

 

The Gamble case involves the question of whether “double jeopardy” is limited by “dual sovereignty.” In other words, whether a state can separately prosecute anyone after they were tried by the Federal government.

 

Right now, T can pardon people for Federal crimes, but anyone so pardoned can still be prosecuted in state courts. T wants to destroy this possibility. And Kavanaugh could help make that a reality. He might be the deciding vote in expanding T’s and the GOP’s power, so they can’t be held accountable for crimes they commit or their assaults on the rest of us.

 

While hurricane Michael was striking Florida, hurricane T was in Erie, Pennsylvania at a fundraiser and then a rally, yelling “lock her up” and such. Even a threat to the lives and property of millions of citizens did not stop him from focusing on himself and trying to rake in money.  He needs to be stopped.

 

And let me repeat what many have been advocating: each of us needs to vote, make calls, volunteer as an election official, write postcards to get out the vote—to do whatever we can to energize ourselves and throw T and his supporters out of office.

 

**Thank you to Jill Swenson and other friends who first posted on FB about Gamble v US.

Natural and Human Disasters

I had planned to post a more relaxing, reflective blog, but the latest reports from Florida stopped me. The suffering I see on the news is so powerful that I can almost know what it is like for my own home and life to be threatened. I feel my heart beating more quickly, thoughts race, and the world seems darker, like the storm clouds are racing towards me, not Florida.

 

This is made worse by hearing about the fires on the West coast and memories of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana. It is made worse by the political and social disasters, of the hate riot in Charlottesville, and the human disaster, the prejudices, shortsightedness, lack of empathy and caring expressed by the President’s response to Charlottesville, his actions to end DACA, and his first trip to Texas after Harvey. It can feel like the earth itself has lost its center, weeping one minute, angry the next. And yet here, right now, in central New York, it is cool and beautiful.

 

These physical hurricanes make the greed and shortsightedness crystal clear. Before Harvey, the Washington Post and other reputable news organizations reported that the President proposed cutting funding for FEMA, for long term preparedness for disasters; for HUD, which helps rebuild homes, parks, and hospitals; the National Weather Service, which forecasts extreme storms; and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), which does crucial research and applies that research to help coastal residents prepare for disasters. In the middle of August, he signed an executive order which, along with other things, rolled back standards set by President Obama requiring that federal infrastructure projects take climate change into account. During the election, he claimed, in a debate with Hillary Clinton, that global warming was a myth perpetuated by China. Despite denying later on that he said this, he still nominated climate change denier Scott Pruitt to head the EPA.

 

And all along, the number and severity of weather disasters have been increasing. According to NOAA, the number of weather-related disasters which caused a billion dollars or more in damage have increased from 5.5 per year, starting in 1980; then for the last 5 years of this study, 2012-2016, the average was 10.6. This year might exceed that. Yet, despite his denials and his proposed cuts to government services, he says to the people of Houston that he cares about their well-being. His supporters, like Rush Limbaugh, even say that the press is hyping, exaggerating the dangers of Irma “to advance [a] climate agenda” and create panic in order to sell products. And then he leaves Florida.

 

Other Republicans say “don’t bring up Global Warming” during a hurricane, don’t politicize the suffering from these natural events. I agree that our first priority should be safety. But after that, understanding why the number of natural disasters are increasing is crucial to preparing for and creating policies to slow down our deteriorating climate. We must take into account how the increased temperature and water vapor over the Caribbean and Gulf, due to Global Warming, are adding fuel to the storms. To ignore global warming is like saying don’t take facts into consideration when you think. It is like the President and his cohorts are saying: Don’t think rationally. Don’t care about others. Don’t consider the implications of our policies.

 

The timing of these hurricanes, after so many other human hurricanes and disasters, makes crystal clear just how lacking in foresight, empathy, and understanding, just how delusional these politicians are. They themselves are a hurricane wind trying to devastate the economic stability and the remnants of political power that remain in the hands of the poor and middle class. As investigative journalist Naomi Klein pointed out, they are using natural, corporate and politician-created forms of disaster to get us to feel fear and accept or ignore policies that we would never accept otherwise. But hurricanes devastate the world for everyone.

 

So, please. We all have to help the people of Florida, Louisiana and Texas in any way we can. But the best way to help them long term, and help us all, is to learn all we can of the science of global warming. Practice compassion and mindfulness to keep our thinking as clear as possible. Call out politicians to stop the policies based on hate, short-term greed, and denial of science. Give the EPA back to scientists who know what they’re doing. Give to environmental organizations and those working to end this disaster of an administration. Vote, Demonstrate. Join with others who are caring people. To recover long term from these physical disasters we will have to put aside differences and work together to end this political disaster.

Fearing Science #2 and The Value of Money in Distorting Understanding

In the last paragraph of my latest blog, I spoke about needing the “intention, the commitment, the care” as well as a clear mind in order to act constructively to limit or slow global warming—or to take any effective ethical action. We act according to what we value. Valuing the earth, and our intellectual understanding of human caused climate change, is purposely undermined by corporate and other parties creating false, frightening countervailing claims. Claims such as “addressing global warming is too expensive, cost massive job layoffs, increase energy dependency, and so on.” We’ve all heard these claims, all largely false. (See George Lakoff.) How is it that people who make and believe such claims don’t consider that an uninhabitable earth would really undermine the economy? Why don’t they consider (or admit they are already considering) the growing economic and personal costs we are paying now for extremes in climate change, costs of increasing droughts, floods, fires, loss of animal habitat, maintenance of infrastructure stressed by climate extremes, etc.?

 

As George Lakoff put it, “… when the wealthy control what appears in the public media, they can control public discourse and public thought mechanisms through the control of language and imagery.”

 

Mirriam Webster defines money as a medium of exchange and the storing of value. Viewed psychologically, it is a reification of value or value symbolized in matter. What is labeled as costing one million dollars is more valuable than what costs ten dollars; or someone being paid one million or more annually is more valued in our culture than someone paid ten thousand dollars annually. Money can be invoked to distort our understanding and caring.  I hope we, all of us, can learn how to better discern and control its influence. Lakoff says that, “Global warming is the greatest moral issue facing our generation” and increasing concentration of wealth in the few runs a close second. “Together, they present a clear and present danger, not just to the United States, but to the world.”

Why Deny Science? What Do You Do When You Don’t Know?

I was reading a great article in the latest issue of National Geographic, by Joel Achenbach, on the modern movement against science. Actually, I can’t stand calling it a movement. There should be a better word for it, maybe collective delusion. The cost of denying science is incalculable. Science shows the state of the environment, for example, is degrading rapidly. Yet, if the article is correct, only about “40% of Americans accept that human activity is the dominant cause of climate change” and thus realize we can and must do many things to improve the situation. I encourage everyone to read the article.

 

The article shows that strong sentiment against science is not new. The persecution of Galileo is one good example. There was a great outrage against Darwin, that partially continues even today. The novel Frankenstein is in many ways an expression of the fear against not only technology but science. You might think that by now, when we’re in the age of information technology, which depends on science for its very existence, there would be more trust in science. But as the deniers of  global warming prove, as people who argue against teaching evolution in schools prove, scientific thinking, and maybe critical thinking, is clearly misunderstood and probably feared.

 

Why is this true? It’s certainly a great question for teenagers to think about. My students in the past had theories. Maybe the dependence on science makes the fear of it more potent. It’s easy to fear what you depend on but don’t understand. Is there a general anti-intellectual bias in American culture? Is it, as has been argued in books like The Closing of the Western Mind, a phenomenon arising originally from uniting Christianity with imperial power, or religious belief with politics?

 

Many people I know hold religion responsible for this lack of understanding. Certainly, scientific and religious explanations often disagree. And there have been countless examples of delusion by religious people claiming to act out of faith or belief. But the same could be argued regarding adherents to political and economic theories or analyses. Without any fact checking, I think I can reasonably argue that for the last 150 years, adherents of Fascism, Communism, and Capitalism have caused as much delusion and suffering as has any religious belief system.

 

The article conjectures not knowing what evidence is, which I interpret as not knowing how to critically examine evidence and bias, contributes to science denial.  I agree. However, I think the problem is also due to not knowing how to deal well with not-knowing and uncertainty. Achenbach says “our brains crave pattern and meaning.” The craving for an answer can be overwhelming; the more basic and important the reality, the stronger the craving. You perceive something and in microseconds you assign meaning. You need to know that the earth under your feet won’t give way when you step on it or you won’t be able to walk. You learn early on that certain uncomfortable sensations in your midsection are hunger pains. The good taste of food was originally there to tell you that the food you’re tasting is not poison. Uncertainty is hunger for certainty; it’s uncomfortable. How do you understand discomfort? Is it “bad”? Does it mean you are in danger and must do whatever possible to end it, including believing in what restores comfort instead of what is best supported by evidence? Achenbach talks about a “confirmation bias,” the “tendency to look for and see only evidence that confirms what they already believe.” In that case, you will not do very well with adversity or stress or anything requiring complex thinking.

 

And science demands complex thinking. The National Geographic article points out that “scientific results are always provisional,” subject to change;  “Uncertainty is inevitable at the frontiers of knowledge.” How do you hear that? Do you want truth to be absolute, simple and forever? If so, I doubt that many “truths” are like that. For example, the good taste of food indicating something is safe to eat depends on where and when you’re talking about. 10,000 years ago it might have been true. Today, thanks to pollutants and pesticides, the taste of raw foods can’t be counted on to indicate safety. Even something like the boiling point of water is dependent on elevation, amount of salt and other contents in the water, etc.. The relativity and provisional quality of truth can be disturbing. Achenbach points out how difficult it is for us to look beyond our intuitions, to see the evidence for the curves of the earth despite the everyday assumption of flatness. Although scientific studies can be distorted by funding sources and bias, the very fact that science is recognized as provisional makes it possible and mandatory that critical minds engage with it.

 

To live with discomfort and uncertainty and be able to think and act with clarity, you need first to understand that discomfort is part of learning. It is there to wake up your attention so you can consider whether to say yes, no or maybe to something. You need to know about neuroplasticity, a word meaning that the brain changes, you change, with every experience. Who you are is not set in stone; if it was, learning would be impossible.

 

You need to know how attention and perception work. Back in 2003, I started using a book called Multimind, by Robert Ornstein, in my psychology class unit on perception. Ornstein theorizes Mental Operating Systems in the brain, which process and assign value to information according to specific criteria. Information that meets these criteria is given attention and other information is ignored. The MOS has an “extreme sensitivity to recent information,” to what’s new, what’s changed. It values relevance to you and everything becomes meaningful through comparison. Something that changes gradually is lost. Global warming is gradual, so gradual that most of us don’t perceive it until the tidal wave or tornado or six feet of snow or extreme hot or cold temperatures hit you. Actually, we don’t perceive it unless we carefully study it, unless we value such studying and thus know the relevance and power of the information.

 

But intellectual knowledge is not enough. You need the intention, the commitment, the care. You need an experiential method to calm your mind and clearly observe and learn from whatever is present to you, even discomfort and pain. Constructive action is likely only when you perceive the situation clearly. Somehow, we all have to get better at cradling information, cradling the world in our arms so we can feel depths of meaning without hiding from or reacting against it.

 

*See the addendum to this blog.

**The photo is of the Temple of Athena in Delphi, Greece.