A few articles caught my attention over the past couple of days. The first is in the New York Times by Neil Gross, a professor of sociology at Colby College. He asks, “ Are Americans Experiencing Collective Trauma?
He starts off by providing references to “collective trauma” in sociology and goes on to look at the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Last month’s presidential election has collective trauma written all over it.
Many of my liberal friends are sharing this article. It resonates with them. Those who have conservative friends are seeing comments like a quote from the Op-Ed in Wall Street Journal’s, Notable & Quotable: Trumped-Up Outrage
Perhaps the most perceptive comment on this tsunami of anguished and vituperative incredulity came not from a traditional pundit but from the cartoonist and blogger Scott Adams, who suggested that the whole anti-Trump fraternity “look as though they are protesting Trump, but they are not. They are locked in an imaginary world and battling their own hallucinations of the future.”
Yet I believe that the responses on both sides are missing what is really important about the article. The trauma is not the Trump election. The trauma is much greater, non-partisan, and underlies much of what has been going on in our country over the past few decades.
The Times article talks about the Polish transition out of communism and the loss of American manufacturing jobs. The article also talks about the collective trauma of Hurricane Katrina. The real trauma is of society moving from an industrial society to an information society. It involves aspects of globalization and free trade, of changes in the way we communicate, and the impact that industrialization has had on the environment.
This is not an American trauma over the election of Donald Trump. Trump’s election is just an after-shock, just like Sandy Hook, and many mass shootings, Hurricane Katrina, and many other great storms, 9/11, and many other terrorist attacks, all are after-shocks of the tectonic shift from industry to information.
Reflecting on the global nature of this trauma, I shared an article from The Sydney Morning Herald, Former prime minister Kevin Rudd receives honorary doctorate from ANU.
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has used the platform of receiving an honorary doctorate to criticise the state of Australian public discourse, saying "civility is lost".
"We have lost a little of our national bearings, lost a little in a national culture of learned helplessness," he said on Friday at the Australian National University, where he accepted the degree.
He spoke of an unnecessarily "vicious public culture, well beyond the realms necessary for robust disagreement and debate. Where civility is lost and where to admit error is to admit weakness and therefore yield to defeat."
I’m not sure how we heal from this global collective trauma and all the traumatic after-shocks. We need to find places where we can work together. In a discussion about the Times article on a friends Facebook timeline I spoke with a person who shared the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed. One of my comments attempts to shift the discussion based on the sermon Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry gave at the Episcopal Church in Connecticut’s annual convention:
I'm not interested in blame. I'm interested in making America Great Again. Blame does not do that. Name calling does not do that. Liberty and justice for ALL, like we say in our pledge is what does that. Unfortunately, too many, on both sides of the divide have forgotten those two words, FOR ALL.
It seems hard to believe that New Year’s Eve is but a fortnight away. For the past month or two many of my friends have been talking about being so ready for 2016 to come to an end and I nod my head in agreement. I have a good family, a good job, good friends, a strong faith community, and much more. I am not fleeing Aleppo right now. Yes, there have been disappointments, setbacks, and grief during 2016 and there are various dark clouds on the horizon for 2017, but all in all, life is good.
Yet there remains a certain restlessness, something incomplete, something unfinished. It is coupled with a certain hope for the New Year. I feel like I am at a place of greater uncertainty than I’ve been in a very long time. All of this makes me sit and ponder, what should my New Year’s resolutions be?
I’m trying to get better at listening to what is going on around me so it seems like a good exercise would be to crowdsource my search for New Year’s Resolutions?
What do you think I should resolve for 2017? Should I participate in the resistance or seek reconciliation? Should I persist in current quests or change direction? How much energy should I put into current communities and how much should I be seeking new communities? What should I be studying? What should I be creating? How should I seek to share my thoughts and ideas?
These are very generalized questions, partly in the tradition of Vaguebook, and partly to give the members of my hivemind as much latitude as possible in suggesting resolutions. Yet I am hoping for very specific responses.
In a few hours, I will greet children at the Community Health Center’s holiday party in Middletown, CT. I have been doing this for a few years now and Santa journey has slowly become clearer.
On the way to work today, I had a discussion with my eldest daughter who is working on a master’s degree in gender studies in Japan. Her classmates have all seen pictures of me as Santa as well has have heard about my interest in postmodern theory. I hope to post a picture later today in my Santa outfit reading a little Pierre-Felix Guattari. Currently, I’m thinking about the title: Performing Santa Claus: Reimagining the dominant cultures concept of Santa Claus in a Postmodern Society.
A friend posted a reflection on Facebook today by Henri Nouwen about The Freedom to Refuse Love:
Often hell is portrayed as a place of punishment and heaven as a place of reward. But this concept easily leads us to think about God as either a policeman, who tries to catch us when we make a mistake and send us to prison when our mistakes become too big, or a Santa Claus, who counts up all our good deeds and puts a reward in our stocking at the end of the year.
God, however, is neither a policeman nor a Santa Claus. God does not send us to heaven or hell depending on how often we obey or disobey. God is love and only love. In God there is no hatred, desire for revenge, or pleasure in seeing us punished. God wants to forgive, heal, restore, show us endless mercy, and see us come home. But just as the father of the prodigal son let his son make his own decision God gives us the freedom to move away from God's love even at the risk of destroying ourselves. Hell is not God's choice. It is ours.
Before taking up my role as Santa, I like to watch a short video called “Validation”. I think of this as I smile at the children waiting to see Santa, as I wave at them, beckon them, and tell them I have been waiting for them and how glad I am that they came. I’ll think of all of this as I try to share even just a little bit of God’s love for them as a postmodern Santa.
I am starting to compile a dictionary of Newspeak 2016. Here are a few:
Fake News: Propaganda
Second Amendment Solution: Assassination
What should be added to the list?
Yesterday, I went to the regular meeting of a poetry group that I’m part of. I read aloud the draft of an ekphrastic that I’ve been working on as part of the at home exercise. I didn’t have as much time to work on it as I would have liked, and it feels incomplete. I think I’ll set it aside and perhaps come back to it on another day. I streamed my reading of the poem on Facebook as I start to experiment again with live streaming video.
Afterwards, Kim and Fiona met me at the library. From there we drove down to Hammonasset beach to collect shells and driftwood for a project Kim is working on. Hammonasset means “where we dig holes in the ground” in an indigenous language. Originally it referred to farming, but these days it better describes the activities of young settlers or European descent during their summers.
In the evening, I read, and went to sleep early. I’ve been feeling at loose ends a bit recently. The past couple of months have been particularly trying, between twists and turns in my spiritual journey, a rash of funerals, the election of 2016, NaNoWriMo, and simply trying to keep up with everything else.
There is plenty to write about and some emails I need to catch up on, but I haven’t had the time, energy, or sense of direction to get much of it done. In the middle of the night, the dog woke me up again with his barking. I got up and wrote for a little bit. I organized my calendar and my thoughts and while I’m still at a place of not knowing what I should be thinking about and working on next, I am at least feeling a little caught up.
The question of “should” is interesting. What should we do? Where does that “should” come from. For me, some of it comes from my upbringing, my family of origin. Some of it comes, perhaps from what Viktor Frankl calls “Man’s Search for Meaning”. Some of it comes from a life long love of learning.
I need to reconnect with my connected learning friends. Perhaps I need to learn more about the indigenous languages where I live. I was supposed to be Santa Claus at a holiday party, but at the last minute they decided on someone else so they could have a bi-lingual Santa. Perhaps I need to learn Spanish.
All of this fits back to the spiritual journey. How do we Love the Lord your God with all our hearts and with all our souls and with all our minds? How do we love our neighbors as ourselves? How do we practice the presence of God and do all things out of the love of God?
Here, I return to both absurdist theatre and Zen teachings? What do we do while waiting? We could do our exercises. We could wash our bowl and gain enlightenment.