Angst in Zone 1

Mike Berger says residents of this habitat in SA have the most to lose


"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, 
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy". - Shakespeare, Hamlet

The overwhelming majority of Politicsweb readers probably live in what I call Zone 1 habitat: that is, where we have literacy, reasonable expectation of personal security and comfort, a regular sufficiency of food and leisure, economic opportunity, legal recourse, medical care and are surrounded by signs of a civilised order. Imperfect as the South African Zone 1 order may be, public goods on such a scale are unparalleled in human history.

Yet at the same time many are intensely anxious, angry and depressed by feelings of disempowerment and hopelessness. These feelings are not surprising. Zone 1 inhabitants have the most to lose and they are the most exposed to the soul-sapping negativity of the daily media soap opera of partisan strife, political dirty tricks, violence, grand scale political theft, shaming and stigmatisation.

They (we, since I'm part of it) are also aware of its global ramifications, the horrendous gulfs between Zone 1 and the Zones of despair in the Middle East, Venezuela, much of Africa, Rohingya - and here in South Africa.

We know that with such massive inequalities and injustice comes envy and often hate. Such recognition along with disempowerment triggers different reactions in different people. Quite a number quietly get on with good works but, especially if white, it is difficult to escape the feelings of being trapped, angry and fearful of a future not in our hands.

We are trapped. We live with personalities shaped by millions of years of evolution for small-scale tribal life but now find ourselves in an interconnected, entangled world on the brink of the most radical and dangerous transition in history. And we're also trapped by habits of thought and ideologies which are no longer relevant to our reality or to the challenge which is fast coming our way - way too fast.

The fact is we may never find our path as a species into the glorious future available to us if we could only find the key to collectively using the extraordinary capabilities and knowledge in our hands while still retaining our individual freedom of opportunity, self-expression and self-fulfilment. But to do that humans, as a national and global collective, will need to restructure our minds and societies beyond anything we have achieved before. At the very least we must try.

Here are some thoughts from others around this broad topic. I have not bothered with detailed references and will leave it to the reader with the help of Google to find what may have tickled your interest.

"We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society." - The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What It Means and How to Respond, Klaus Schwab

"Biological survival and reproduction remains the fundamental, ongoing, inescapable challenge for all living organisms, including humankind; it is a problem that can never be permanently "solved."... Accordingly, every complex society represents – quintessentially – a "collective survival enterprise." As Adam Smith fully appreciated, we are (by and large) dependent for the satisfaction of our basic needs upon the skills and efforts (and ethics) of many other people....Evolutionary biology has recently experienced a major paradigm shift as “group selection” theory, and in particular Darwin’s own theory about the role of organized social groups in human evolution, has reemerged and gained support. Implicit in this new paradigm is ...what I call a “fair shares” ethic ...It could also be called “enlightened capitalism.” - Peter A. Corning, Complexity, Ethics and Creativity Conference, London School of Economics, September 17-18, 2003

"The various behavioral disciplines model human behavior in distinct and incompatible ways. Yet, recent theoretical and empirical developments have created the conditions for rendering coherent the areas of overlap of the various behavioral disciplines...The proposed framework recognizes evolutionary theory, covering both genetic and cultural evolution, as the integrating principle of behavioral science. Moreover, if decision theory and game theory are broadened to encompass other-regarding preferences, they become capable of modeling all aspects of decision making, including those normally considered “psychological,” “sociological,” or “anthropological.” The mind as a decision-making organ then becomes the organizing principle of psychology." - Herbert Gintis, Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2007)

"Recent findings demonstrate that heterogeneity of long-history migration predicts present-day emotion behaviors and norms. Residents of countries characterized by high ancestral diversity display emotion expressions that are easier to decode by observers, endorse norms of higher emotion expressivity, and smile more in response to certain stimuli than residents of countries that lack ancestral diversity...". - Paula M Niedenthal et al, https://www.biorxiv.org/content/early/2018/05/08/317289

"... cable news and the internet can beam them (the Culture Wars) right into our living rooms and smartphones. It’s never been easier to pick a rhetorical fight with someone without risking a face-to-face confrontation. Furthermore, social media encourages outrage about “the other side,” fueling a seemingly endless political cycle of outrage and indignation." - Tyler Cowen, July 3, 2018

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” - Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago

"COWEN: What do you think of the hypothesis that political correctness is a kind of virus that’s hijacked the left? It’s figured out some kind of weak entry point, and it’s come in and taken over parts of it, and it will bring down many victims with it, but actually, it’s crippling the left. LEHMANN: Yep, yeah. COWEN: True or false? LEHMANN: Probably true." - My Conversation with Claire Lehmann of Quillette by Tyler Cowen August 29, 2018

"I don’t know. A multiethnic society is a very hard machine to assemble and get aloft into the air, and if you get it just right, you can get a multiethnic society to fly, but it easily breaks down. And identity politics is like throwing sand in the gears... we’ll have to give up on doing big things in Washington, and do as little as we possibly can at the national level. We’re going to have to return as much as we can to states and localities, and hope that innovative solutions spring from technology or private industry." - Jonathan Haidt

And while you are thinking about this, remember politics is not the whole of life -- even bad, horrible politics. We won't win by being miserable. Even goats know that: "Goats can differentiate between human facial expressions and prefer to interact with happy people", according to a new study led by scientists at Queen Mary University of London.

Bet you didn't know that.

Mike Berger