The boy who cried identity politics – my take on the Sam Harris / Ezra Klein race and IQ feud.

A recently online slap fight has emerged between progressive but critical, atheist and philosophy Sam Harris and Ezra Klein a progressive media figure, and former head editor of Vox.

Both of these are men who express nuanced and thoughtful opinions, and I admire and respect both.

The slap fight started as a result of Sam Harris interviewing Charles Murray, a controversial author who co-authored The Bell Curve, a book about intelligence, that controversially expresses the view that it is likely that there is some innate, gene based difference in intelligence between ethnic groups.

Vox then published a piece written by three scientists who criticised Murray’s views, and Harris’s facilitation of the interview; there was more back and forth, and the ordeal culminated in Harris publishing the email exchange between himself and Klein – one where Harris gets progressively more agitated, something he acknowledges himself.

The essence of the dispute, in my view, boils down to two main disagreements:

  • Whether the science that Charles Murray espouses is correct.
  • Whether the criticisms of Charles Murray are based on dogmatic identity politics and liberal taboos.

Having listened to the original podcast, and mostly read several of the blogs posts and the emails, I don’t actually feel qualified to comment on the science one way or another, and I think this demonstrates the difficulty in discussing topics such as this.

I can however weigh in on how information has been presented, or at least express how it all looks to me – a fairly intelligent non-expert, with no dog in the race.

Ultimately I’m of the opinion that Harris is guilty of what he is accusing his critics of – he dismisses criticisms as a conspiracy against him, rather than on their merits and he makes disingenuous arguments or neglects context.

At this point, I think it’s worth taking some time to talk about what I’m doing here. I was reluctant to start writing this piece – I think a big part of what’s wrong with the world is a culture of outrage addiction, and the feeling of needing to judge who’s right and who’s wrong.
It’s ironic then, that my previous paragraph includes ‘Harris is guilty of…’.

But instead, lets instead use this case as an exercise in ‘How do we decide the truth of some complex claim? Who do we decide to trust?’.

The way I’ll present this – is looking at the sources as they’re presented in Harris’s blogpost/email.

The Waking Up Podcast #73 – ‘Forbidden Knowledge’ with Charles Murray.

You can listen to the podcast here. The podcast is two hours long.

On my first listen certainly Harris and Murray sound like reasonable people. This isn’t a conversation where someone is out and out suggesting that there is a biological justification for race based class strata.

Here’s a few notable points made that I can remember:

  • IQ is considered a good predictor of success, and the notion that is culturally biased is fallacious.
  • Intelligence, like other traits like height, is a product of both environment and genetics.
    • For example: being tall is highly heritable, but if you are malnourished you won’t grow to be tall.
    • If you can observe differences between corn grown in the same area, the cause is probably genetics. If you take genetically identical corn and grow it in different areas, they will grow differently.
  • Success (eg academic success in high level physics) requires a high baseline of innate intelligence, but then the right circumstances and character on top of that. (ie. Innate intelligence is necessary, but not sufficient for success).
  • Affirmative action can backfire, where transplanting some black students in to an elite school may cause them to have less success than they might have had a lower level school, because they simply don’t have the higher enough level of innate intelligence.
  • Murray makes the point that in criticising his book, some of the critics he knew personally must have been lying, and knew they were lying.

Essentially – Harris and Murray acknowledge that a lot of intelligence is likely the result of environment, but make the argument that ‘but some of it is still innate’.

They make a point of offering the caveats that on an individual level – one shouldn’t discriminate, and assume that someone is less intelligent because they’re black for example, because that would be making error – at an individual level there would likely be more variance in intelligence determined by factors other than race.

There’s a couple of observations I’d like to make here:

  • The tone of the interview I thought was deceptive in that he’s presented as a biologist/sociologist, but the conversation moves to more discussions of policy, (eg, the note on affirmative action). Perhaps this criticism is unfair – after all Murray’s point may more be ‘given that there are these innate differences between races, public policy should reflect that’.
    • Sam could have done his audience a favour in talking about some of Murray’s credentials – the work he has done has been for conservative think tanks. Though, again, perhaps this is an unfair criticism – criticise the merits of the argument, not who’s saying it. But I would argue that who is saying it, is paramount in determining whether you trust what that person is saying.
  • When I first heard the point about his critics lying, I thought ‘Oh, that’s awful!’. But on reflection – perhaps it’s Murray that is lying here?

The first blog response – ‘Charles Murray is once again peddling junk science about race and IQ’ by Eric Turkheimer, Kathryn Paige Harden, and Richard E. Nisbett.
You can read the post here.

In the Sam Harris post, he characterises this post as ‘a disingenuous hit piece’. This is a bunk characterisation. This post is mostly addressing Charles Murray on the science, but also making observations on how Harris agrees with him.

It also highlights the Flynn effect, which shows that IQ across the board has been increasing, and uses this to make the case that environmental factors are largely what determine intelligence. They criticise Harris for not strongly enough challenging Murray on this point.

Finally, they conclude with why they see Murray’s views as dangerous – because endorsing those views mean to say ‘therefore we shouldn’t do anything about racial inequality’. (And in fact, Murray’s criticism of affirmative action does seem to lend itself to that policy position).

Another post – ‘There’s still no good reason to believe black-white IQ differences are due to genes’ by Eric Turkheimer, Kathryn Paige Harden, and Richard E. Nisbett.

You can read the post here.

Harris characterises this post as Ezra Klein ‘keeping at it’. It’s curious that Harris’s beef is with Klein here. He’s not the author of these posts – he’s the former editor of Vox.

Again, this post is challenging Murray on the science, and criticising Harris for not challenging Murray.

In this post they address some criticisms of their earlier post.

What frustrates me about Harris’s views here – is he that he argues that these posts dogmatic identity politics, when it’s clear that they’re not. They’re comprehensively talking science.

A post by Ezra Klein ‘ Sam Harris, Charles Murrary, and the allure of race science’.

You can read the post here.

Finally a post by Ezra Klein. Harris characterises this as ‘another volley’.
In this post we’re getting into the mud.

It starts by quoting a tweet by Harris: (note that the tweet quotes a tweet by Charles Murray, who is quoting another person, who is quoting another person. For full context it’s best to click through.).

At the risk of sounding like one of the very people Harris is accusing the Vox writers of being – Harris sounds like an alt-right troll here – using hyperbole to suggest that criticisms of Harris and Murray are akin to accusations of thought-crime.

This post doesn’t get into the science, but instead talks about how the conversation of race and genetics has been used in history.

Some thoughts about Harris’s tone so far.

I think it’s clear that Harris had an agenda from the start. He feels that Murray had been unfairly treated in the reception of his book, and then in recent events at Middlebury College where Murray’s host had been assaulted.

I think then, Harris felt the need to give a safe platform the even the scales as it were.
I should be clear – I agree with Harris and others, that there is a toxic element amongst progressives, that favours narrative over the truth and has a dogmatic or authoritarian element. The assault is an example of this.

However, I think Harris makes the mistake of conflating these toxic elements with the criticisms by the Vox writers.
In a way, Harris is doing the same thing he is criticising toxic identity politics of. Where identity politics might take a genuine legitimate grievance, for example, racism, and then use that label to shut down any narrative they’re uncomfortable with, Harris does the same with accusations of identity politics. He now faces of positions of being the boy who cried wolf. Or in this case, the boy who cried identity politics.

The Emails

The emails are really where this turns to shit.
The first email is a long email from Klein, where Ezra, to my professional admiration, goes to lengths to create a conciliatory tone. Now that I think about it, the whole thing feels a little bit like tip toeing around the eggshells of an abusive partner.

Klein reiterates the argument, as he sees it, as presented by Murray, and then reiterates what it is that the Vox writers disagreed on. He acknowledges one mistake they made, in saying that the Flynn effect wasn’t discussed at all.

Harris’s response is curt.

He describes the writers’ work as shoddy, and says that it’s part of a moral panic. He acknowledges that his interest in talking to Murray isn’t so much about the genetic basis of intelligence, but addressing this moral panic:

Again, my desire to speak with Murray was not based on a prior interest in the genetic basis of intelligence—much less a fascination for racial differences in intelligence. Rather, it was out of my growing concern over how fraught our conversations on politically charged topics have become.

He accuses on of the writers of manipulating the data to fit a narrative:

but most of what I’ve seen from Nisbett on the topic of IQ betrays his prior ideological commitments. He knows what he wants the data to say, and he will twist them until he gets the answer he finds consoling.

(To his credit: the book review he mentions is worth at least reading the abstract of. )

He uses more sarcasm:

Yes, it is very hard to wish it away.

He constructs a strawman:

This is not an “anodyne” claim meant to conceal our white supremacy (as the authors suggest)

(I saw no claim that Harris and Murray were attempting to conceal their white supremacy).
Sam clearly feels like he’s a victim:

There are two points here: how the authors treated me, and how they treated Murray. I used that quote from Flynn in precisely the way they said I neglected to use it, so their attack on me is totally unfair.

This is where I’m perplexed. I didn’t feel like Harris was particularly harshly criticised. The worst he gets is the suggestion that he’s naïve or that he’s intellectually lazy, or unable to hold Murray to account. They’re hardly vicious attacks.
He makes a point on my first read stood out as a gross underappreciation of systemic racism:

If Flynn is right, then the mean IQs of African American children who are second- and third-generation upper middle class should have converged with those of the children of upper-middle-class whites, but (as far as I understand) they haven’t.

This would assume that being upper middle class is the only variable that affects intelligence, and not, you know unconscious racism on the parts of their teachers, etc.
Harris does make a point that I think is reasonable:

The thrust of the Vox piece is to distort Murray’s clearly stated thesis: He doesn’t know how much of interracial IQ difference is genetic and how much is environmental, and he suspects that both are involved.

This is what how I heard the interview too. My understanding is that this view can be criticised in two ways:

  • That even this is overstating how much biology plays
  • That the general tone of the discussion is a dog whistle for tolerating racism. More on this later.

Ezra responds:
He frames the disagreement the same way I do:

1. A dispute over the quality of and consensus about the science Murray discusses and the conclusions drawn from that science
2. Whether the article we published was part of some “machinery of defamation,” or in Heier’s terms, whether it framed the conversation “as inherently racist and malevolent.”

He acknowledges Harris’s claim that the criticism are the result of a moral panic, but criticises the way he selectively chooses his sources.

This is a moral panic, an effort to silence, a refusal to follow where the evidence goes, an issue where people lose their critical faculties and fall into a braindead feel-goodism, etc. In some ways, which side of the debate you fall on seems to be taken here as a test of legitimacy: The academics who agree with you are taken seriously, whereas you dismiss someone like Nisbett, who has done a lot of research in this space, very quickly.

And Ezra suggests regarding the interaction between themselves, that Ezra isn’t the best person to talk to regarding race and IQ, but that talking about the problem identity politics might be something they could discuss.

After this the exchange gets to a ‘we can’t seem to agree here’ stage.

Harris says that Klein is seeming less reasonable.

I think we get into the nuts of why Harris seems offended:

 You published an article (and tweets) that directly attacked my intellectual integrity. At a minimum, you claimed that I was taken in by Murray, because I didn’t know enough of the relevant science
You published an article (and tweets) that directly attacked my moral integrity. Murray is “dangerous,” and my treating him as a free speech case is “disastrous.” We are “racialists” (this is scarcely a euphemism for “racist”). There is no way to read that article (or your tweets) without concluding that Murray and I are unconscionably reckless (if not actually bad) people.

And he also suggests that Klein in the emails is putting on a polite show, but is remaining deceitful, an obseravation he repeats in his notes about the emails.

In your email, you seem to deny both these points—but they are not deniable.

There’s some back and forth about whether Harris was called a ‘racialist’. Ezra quotes the text:

We hope we have made it clear that a realistic acceptance of the facts about intelligence and genetics, tempered with an appreciation of the complexities and gaps in evidence and interpretation, does not commit the thoughtful scholar to Murrayism in either its right-leaning mainstream version or its more toxically racialist forms. We are absolute supporters of free speech in general and an open marketplace of ideas on campus in particular, but poorly informed scientific speculation should nevertheless be called out for what it is.

Some final thoughts

I have to wonder whether Harris was having a bad day(s) when he exchanged these emails, and then decided to publish them.

It’s something that I’m self-conscious of myself – that sometimes I’ll blurt something out and be less diplomatic than would be helpful to my cause. And I’m not an already successful podcaster or author.

But it does I think point to something I suspect about the identity-politics-critical movement – the iconic example being Jordan Peterson, where a legitimate criticism of identity politics can morph into giving a pass to equally disingenuous alt-right politics. It’s not the first time I’ve noticed it on Sam Harris’s podcast – there was another episode that gave me pause too, but I’m not sure which one it is.
An irony is, at the time this feud was going down Harris published podcast #121 – White Power – an interview with former white supremacist Christian Picciolini.

In it, they discuss the changing rhetoric of white supremacists, moving from ‘white supremacist’ to ‘white nationalist’ or ‘alt-right’, from ‘global Jewish conspiracy’ to ‘globalism’ – all in an attempt to make their politics sound more innocuous.

It’s ironic then, that Harris wittingly or not, fails to appreciate that context that discussions of race and IQ occurs in, and doesn’t seem to seriously consider that he’s taking part in this toning down of racist rhetoric.

This isn’t to suggest that Murray is infact a secret white supremacist. But certainly it’s reasonable to ask if he is.

Overall – I hope that this was just Sam Harris having a bad week. The alternative to consider that he’s becoming more cynical.

It’s something I wonder about myself – I imagine, that but for that I have older sisters with strong personalities and that I live in a fairly safe and forgiving society, I could easily be alt-right kind of person. Yet, for all my own criticisms of identity politics, I remain optimistic, and not cynical asshole. What is it that causes some intelligent men to go the path of alt-right, and others to remain progressive, like Ezra Klein has? I’d argue the difference is cynicism – but what causes one to become cynical?

Compatibility and the spectrum of cynicism.

I would argue that the main thing the prevents people from getting into relationships isn’t a lack of basic compatibility with others – but a mismatching of their level emotional cynicism and bad timing.

Let me explain.

Basic compatibility

There are some core things are basic deal breakers about whether someone is a romantic match for us or not, things like:

  • Whether they’re a smoker or not
  • Their level of exercise
  • Whether they do drugs or not
  • Their age
  • Their employment and/or social standing
  • Their political views
  • Their religious views

Different people are going to have different deal breakers. Many of us would never consider dating a smoker – but some people are ok with it. Some people couldn’t stand the thought of dating someone with an opposing political ideology, others are political apathetic and don’t care.

The point is – of the entire dating pool, there’s a subsection of people of people who you’re actually going to have some semblance of realistic compatibility with.

Now, if you’re an intelligent progressive-minded person living in a small shittown – then it’s likely that your eligible dating pool will be unworkably small – and working with that is not what I wish to deal with here.

For somebody in a decent sized progressive city – your compatible dating pool is still going to contain hundreds or thousands of prospects.

Chemistry

After basic compatibility is met – there’s still whether the two of you get along or not.

It’s possible that you both have similar lifestyles and share similar world views – but you go on a date, and you just don’t get along. You don’t find their jokes funny, or you finding their flirting wooden. Maybe they have a certain physical appearance that you just don’t find attractive.

But even if after we eliminate all of these – I would still say that people in decent sized progressive cities still have a healthy sized dating pool of people they’re compatible with, and are attracted to – so what prevents people from getting into relationships?

Perhaps people are too picky

Let’s get this point out of the way first. It’s plausible that many people are being too picky. They want someone who earns $100k a year, and has rock hard abs, and is super intelligent, and likes dogs, and shares their taste in movies, and always knows the right thing to make them laugh. If they’re not considering dating anyone who doesn’t meet all of these criteria – then perhaps they narrow their dating pool too small to be workable.

I’ll concede that this may be the case for some people – but I don’t think it’s the primary factor that prevents most people from forming relationships.

Enter the emotional cynicism spectrum

People, in a given moment, have an emotional state that fits on a spectrum of distrusting and cynical on one end, and joyous and willing to love on the other.

Being more cynical will mean when a guy says hello in the supermarket line, the person is more likely to dismiss them as a creep or give a curt response. Whereas existing on the more open to love side of the spectrum will more likely result in a friendly conversation that leads to a date.

The point here is – whether this date happens or not – isn’t due to their inherent compatibility, but their respective emotional states at the time.

People’s day to day life experiences affect their emotional state. For example, being sent some abusive messages or being ghosted will likely make someone more cynical – while having a stranger pay for your bus when you were out of cash will make you more willing to love.

Our emotional state is likely to fluctuate. You go on one friendly date – it goes well – you become more willing to love. That allows a date with a different person to occur. You get ghosted. You become more cynical.

It’s this dynamic that ultimately makes finding a mate seem difficult, despite the apparent abundance of potential romantic partners – we may be just meeting each other at the wrong times; had you met that person a week later – the date might have gone entirely differently.

There’s a couple more points I’d make:

  • Both partner’s being open to love isn’t what’s necessary for a pairing to occur. I would argue that both partners being cynical can also allow a pairing to occur – as both go in with a more standoffish stance – and both feeling like that’s what they deserve. I would say though – that this kind of relationship is ultimately going to be less satisfying – or, at least not what this writer is looking for.
  • I think there’s also a similar timing problem in terms of social maturity. For example we might be meeting people who we’re fundamentally compatible with, but who still find upfront communication awkward. This kind of timing problem doesn’t have the same fluctuation that the emotional cynicism does; it tends to be something that develops in a linear fashion.

The cute optimist in me says that in considering this – maintaining an optimistic emotional state in response to events that might make you cynical is the important takeaway here – as it’s the being optimistic that is going to be opening the doors.

That said – it’s good to go in optimistic, but with an attitude of detachment – anticipating that there’s a decent chance that something won’t pan out. That atleast lets that eventuality not affect your emotional state as much as it might have.

It’s hard to say what this means in practice. Say you’re arranging a date for a Friday night. A common likelyhood is that they’ll flake on the date. I guess a healthy technique to manage that outcome – is to have also made plans for what you’ll do if that happens, one that doesn’t involve acting cynically yourself. For example you might make plans of ‘If this date doesn’t happen, I’ll go for a run instead’. I don’t think this would necessarily negate all negative emotional experience – but it’s the best you can do.

It’s funny – I feel like the tail end of this post might spread a little cynicism. But I think it does objectively demonstrate a healthy and emotionally mature thinking. I would hope this has an uplifting effect in knowing that there are others out there with with this kind of emotional consideration.

Post-truth politics, Trumpism, and cynicism.

The results of the 2017 New Zealand General Election are disappointing.

It’s a little disappointing that we have a national-populist in the position of kingmaker – but what the real issue is that National got 46% of the vote.

If I were to summarise what people were voting on this election, with the caveat that I’m possibly in my own ideological bubble, it was voting on ‘supporting welfare dependency’ vs ‘supporting liars’.

For me, it’s disappointing that in regards to the dishonest tactics National used in this election, that so many voters either believed the lies, or thought the lies were an acceptable technique in our political process.

From an outside perspective looking at Trump-era America, it’s mind-boggling to many that Donald Trump still commands a 40% approval rating.

I wouldn’t equate the National Party with Donald Trump – I don’t think they practise the overtly bigoted, uncivil or hateful rhetoric that Trump does – but they have been practising a similar lack of regard for the truth the Trump does.

Other than that people who voted were apparently ok with National untruths, it’s also disappointing how many people didn’t vote in their own interests. This election had a 78% turnout, up from 74% in 2011, and of those that don’t vote, they tend to be poor and/or young.

This is where it’s tempting to become a bit cynical. Parties like Labour and Green seek to represent the interests of people who aren’t bothered enough to vote.

As an educated person earning more than the median income, it’s tempting to consider that perhaps I shouldn’t be concerned to supporting policies for people who aren’t bothered enough to support themselves.

There are a few points in response to this though:

  • Issues like climate change do affect me.
  • Arguably, homelessness and poor mental health affects our society as whole, through crime, etc.
  • I don’t own a house, and Labour’s Kiwibuild plan would benefit me a lot more than the National’s $10k extra homestart grant.

But let’s continue with this line of thought. Perhaps I should narrow my scope of empathy, and to hell with those less well off.

I suspect, that this is the calculation that many people have made – acknowledging that it must suck to be earning only $25/hour and supporting a family on that, or that home ownership would be near impossible on that income, but ‘The important thing is to provide a good life for me and my family – so long as my kids are ok, then it’s ok’.

I think that the home ownership thing where National got a lot of support. I suspect that many of those who are already on the property ladder, don’t want to see more affordable housing – what they want to see is continuing increasing prices, so that they can make bank on the house they’ve purchased in the recent years.

There’s two main problems I have with this kind of thinking:

  • I think this self-centered (I don’t use that term as an ad hominem, but as a literal descriptor of the philosophy) thinking is counter-productive when it comes to tackling global issues like global warming. This kind of thinking would have one saying ‘Global warming won’t be a problem, so long as I can purchase a piece of land in an area that wrecked by global warming, and purchase the means to protect it’. Possibly a viable option if you’re super rich, but not if you’re just upper middle class – which chances are, you are.
  • The idea of supporting a system that advantages the more well off relies on you being one of those people. In that sense, it seems like this race to be one of the privileged is a bit a scam. Of course, it’s easier to say this, myself not being a homeowner .

So that’s where I’m at. Ultimately I think post-truth politics is a dangerous game. It might suit you today, if your party wins, but there’s nothing stopping a party that you don’t like winning tomorrow using the same techniques.

I do think that both Labour and Green could do more to reform. It makes sense that seperate their bleeding heart welfare platform, from their climate change and housing problem platforms. That way – they might attract the votes of people who want an alterative to National, but who really don’t want to support to welfare dependency. But all of this, is a post for another time.

Is ignoring politics a reasonable course of action?

I’m sure I’m not alone in being in a fairly perpetual state of anxiety about incoming Trump presidency.

Take a look at this Google trends chart:

trump 1.png

However, for balance – the search volume for anxiety doesn’t appear to have particularly spiked, it just has a continuing steady upward trend.

t2.png

I find myself spending a lot of time thinking, and watching news commentary about whether this means Russia is going to invade its neighbours, what’s going to happen to the economy in the light of Trump protectionism, etc.

Thing is – there have been plenty of political crises in my lifetime, and even before I was born. The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Thatcher government, the collapse of the Soviet Union, September 11.

While all of these events have clearly shaped the world we live in, it’s reasonable to say that my paying attention to them or not hasn’t had any effect on how they’ve played out.

If paying attention to and engaging with the current climate of politics is causing me anxiety and is disrupting my life, then perhaps the best individual course of action is for me to quit engaging.

But: Lack of voter engagement and uninformed voters seems to be precisely one of the things that got us into this mess in the first place.

While the Trump phenomena can’t be explained by any single dynamic – I think that out of touch politicians doing what they want to do without regard for their voter base, and disenfranchised voters is one of the key contributing factors that elected Trump.

It would seem that me dropping my engagement would indicate a further exasperation of this dynamic. That’s concerning.

One positive is that this does increase my empathy for low-engagement voters. When potential voters say ‘I don’t really pay attention to politics’ or vote along the lines of a single buzzword, or say ‘voting doesn’t change anything’ – I’m a lot more sympathetic – because it seems true – whatever happens is going to happen anyway – I might as well spend my effort worrying about something I can change.

 

 

 

Dealing with Trump president related anxiety.

I’m generally optimistic about the future of the world – and I disagree with arguments that ‘the world is getting worse’. People are more literate than ever, health care is improving around the world, people are more free to choose there career and so on. The 2014 Annual Letter from Bill and Melinda Gates reflects this sentiment.

However, like many people I was surprised by the result of the US 2016 Presidential Election, and experienced a range of anxiety, cynicism and worry about both the future of the world and the current state of society.

What’s to worry about?

I’d divide this in to two categories:

Worry for the future.

  • Causing a global war.
  • Causing an economic recession.
  • Increasing risk of terrorism.

Cynicism about society now.

It’s a little disturbing that so many people weren’t put off by some of Trump’s more awful remarks (‘We should bomb the terrorists familys’, ‘I’d bring back waterboarding and worse’).

The election result demonstrates that there’s more deep rooted hate than we’d perhaps anticipated.

A case against optimism.

It’s tempting to say ‘She’ll be right, things always work out in the end, look at the world now’.

I think we should be a bit careful here. Life isn’t a movie that always has a happy ending. And while our society right now is pretty good, there have been periods of turmoil in the past.

For example,  let’s take the the election of Adolf Hitler to power in 1933. Although 80 years later things have turned out OK for us now, things were not OK for the people living in Europe at the time, and saying ‘she’ll be right’ in that context, seems misguided.

So that’s my first warning – it’s not a foregone conclusion that everything will be alright – though of course that wouldn’t be the case had Hillary been elected either.

With that said – it’s valuable to make the most of your life, regardless of what the election results are. Generally stress and anxiety are disruptive or distracting (though presumably someone could use them as a positive to launch their political career or similar), so it’s good to be in a frame of mind where one proceeds with their life.

Empathising with Trump voters.

Empathising is the act of imaging yourself in the shoes of someone else – understanding what their thought processes are and what they’re feeling.

Empathising humanises a person, makes them more familiar, and thus less scary. I think it’s often the not understanding why someone acts a certain way, that we find frightening.

Let’s try an empathising exercise now. All this involves is engaging our imagination. Ask yourself, what is it like First, let’s acknowledge that Trump voters aren’t a monolith – people have voted for Trump for a variety of reasons.

  • Disenfranchised and relatively less privileged whites. Working class whites who relatively speaking have fallen behind in society. For example less educated people in manufacturing jobs, who have been laid off or their wages haven’t kept up with more modern occupations like IT. Combine this with increasing ethnic diversity and the awareness that they’re not being paid much more than a social group (people of colour) they’ve typically seen themselves as significantly higher than, and you see how someone would want someone to take action to give them their social status back.
  • Children of hateful parents. Imagine if you’ve grown up surrounded with racist and sexist rhetoric, and then more recently there’s been more attention to people calling this out as hate speech. Your very way of life is under attack! When a candidate appears that opposes these now long present forces, you like the guy who is batting for you team!
  • Bored people. Your life is unsatisfying and a bit overwhelming. You expect Donald Trump to cause trouble, and that’s going to stir things up.
  • Protest voters. I imagine that lot of people who voted for Trump, never expected him to win. People who were frustrated at the lack of options in the election – not trusting that Hillary Clinton had their interests at heart, and voted for Trump more to make a point, rather than genuinely preferring him as president.

When you think about things this way – how Trump came about is a lot more understandable – and for me, the feeling changes more from anxiety to sadness. It’s sad that so many people have lives like this that voting for Trump seems like a good move.

Accepting that we live in a world of assholes.

One of the disheartening things about the election result, is that it appears that a lot of people are gleeful, bitter, hateful or ignorant.

This may feel depressing, as the world isn’t full of the happy, loving, intelligent people we’d like a utopia to be.

But – instead of feeling like you’ve lost something, just accept that that’s actually how it is. Imagine you are a buffalo on the African Savannah. There really are lions out there want to eat you. Being depressed about this isn’t going to help – what’s going to help is being aware of it, and being strong in the face of it.

Or similarly – imagine that it’s discovered that in the forest near your park resides real genuine monsters, who’ll pop out at night and eat people. Instead of being terrified, or despairing that the world is worse than you thought it was,  accept it and change your lifestyle to suit. Start carrying a weapon, and avoiding the forest at night.

What this attitude means practically, is in your day to day interactions, perhaps being a bit more emotionally standoffish with people you don’t know – after all – they could be bitter or selfish. It also means looking out for the people who are intelligent, loving and full of life and actively seeking them out and appreciating them!

Life does go on.

Even if something bad happens, it may have long term consequences, but we still deal with it, and still move on. For example 9/11 really did happen, and it end up causing chaos in the middle east, and there was a global economic recession – yet we’re still here, things are still alright.

Now of course – for people who did die as the result of a terrorist attack or in one of the wars – things weren’t alright – so we should quite rightly be concerned about personally becoming a victim. But that said – every time you drive in a car, you also risk dying in a car crash. Personally – I don’t like driving for this reason, but in the wider context of things – and depending where you live, on the balance of probability, you can probably keep doing what you’re doing.

But if, in your assessment, you do need to take action – then take action! Become a doomsday prepper, or move to a safer neighborhood or whatever.

Blame social media/the media.

I think a large part of Trump’s success was that he sold headlines with the outrageous things he said. The media would report those things, knowing that people would click the headline to indulge their desire to be outraged. Whether it’s the responsibility of the media for producing the headlines, or the consumers for reading them, is a discussion for another time.

I think it’s a philosophy that’s worth considering – the reason that someone so outrageous has risen to power, is partly because we’re addicted to outrage and we feed it. Perhaps it time we get more choosey about the media we consume.

Conclusion.

Ultimately, I think the right response is a mix of optimism and agitation. Keep feeling positive and enjoying your life (we do live in a pretty golden age, after all), but also use this as an opportunity to be more inspired and motivated, and do your part to improve our culture.