A little Armchair-Statisticallizing goin' on here…

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So I'm not entirely sure what prompted this, but I think I've stumbled across something interesting (admittedly, I know very little about this subject). There's this idea that historically, America has been this diverse "Melting Pot" of different cultures (at least, this idea persists among the White majority – I wonder how other American groups view this idea?), but something made me ask myself, “If this is true, why does it feel like we have more racial tension and animosity than ever before? Why is there such a vigorous Immigration debate right now?" Maybe it's because we've never actually been a ‘Melting Pot.’ Looking at the data, America has always been far-and-away culturally ruled by one group of people, which is a takeaway that, on an individual level, isn't something that probably shocks too many of us.

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For The First Time…

The point I’m trying to make is that I think it's only now, for the first time in American History, that we're approaching the very real possibility of the only American Majority that has ever existed (White people, specifically the older White male), no longer being the majority, or at least having their cultural influence and significance reduced considerably, which is probably the more important point to make. This feels like another "Transition Point" similar to other aspects in our society we’re seeing, such as rapidly-changing technology, employment arrangements, and socio-economic statuses. In an attempt to back this idea up with data (compiled from https://en.wikipedia.org/…/Historical_racial_and_ethnic_dem…), I created the image below. Notice the historically significant change in the percentage of the White population from years 1970-1980 – a drop of 4.6%.

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Never before has there been anywhere near that large of a drop in the percentage of American’s White population. The drop from 1990-2000 is even larger. It’ll be interesting to see what the 2020 census reveals.

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We Can All Agree…

Now I think we can all agree that if there’s one thing humans as a whole hate, it’s change. People go to ridiculous lengths to avoid, or completely deny, that anything in their neat little packaged-up world is changing, especially if that change is felt to be negative. Like I’ve written about before, people simply want to feel safe, comfortable, accepted, and included in all aspects of their lives – financially, emotionally, socially, culturally. If this holds true, then it makes sense that there should be increased racial tensions at a time when our society and culture is changing to include more sources of diversity than ever before.

Slavery may have become outlawed on-the-books, but, aside from desegregation, never before have the majority of Americans had to face such a cultural shift in their own daily lives – from the media they consume (piped straight into their homes and smartphones), to the racial and ethnic makeup of their coworkers, to the “Political Correctness” one adheres to in polite society, no matter how much they WANT to “cut through all the politically-correct bullshit.” Even if this change is more “felt” by people, and isn’t really backed up by data, that “feeling” is really all that matters. It’s as if we’ve “talked the talk” about racism, tolerance, and inclusiveness, but we’re now being asked, more and more in our own daily lives, to “walk the walk.” 

People are at heart emotional beings, who do not instinctively jump to cold logic and reason when assessing their opinions and viewpoints on nearly any subject

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Shifting Demographics, Shifting Economics…

There’s a reason there’s so much conversation about how massively successful the new “Black Panther” movie has become – perhaps it’s because there is finally enough of an increase in the size of the Minority the movie features (or enough of a decrease of the Majority) to significantly sway the box-office numbers, proving that movies of this kind, that feature a predominately Black cast, are not only financially feasible, but are potentially untapped goldmines. This hints at another mainstay of our culture, for better or for worse – eventually, our society succumbs to changes that reflect the direction the money is flowing in (which is why some businesses' recent reluctance to donate to the NRA or stop the sale of some types of firearms and their accessories is important – but that’s another issue).

Anyway, bottom line seems to be this: the demographics of America are changing, or at least the perspective is that they’re changing, like never before, highlighting more differences and inequities throughout our culture that are becoming harder to ignore. It’s important for us all to remember that change is hard, and people are especially vulnerable to feeling as if they’re under personal attack when certain things in their neat, comfortable, packaged-up lives are modified in some way. Again, we all want the same things – to feel safe, comfortable, accepted, and included in all aspects of our lives – financially, emotionally, socially, culturally. Some groups feel they still have a long fight ahead of them to achieve these things. Other groups feel as if these things are in danger of being taken away from them. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Also, become comfortable with change!

Reflections On Charlottesville
Charlottesville Unrest

I used to Live Here, Work Here, Relax here…

I’ve

walked the exact spot this car plowed through quite a few times. I definitely second those that say this incident is in no way reflective of Charlottesville in general – it’s actually a great town, surrounded by beautiful countryside, with a diverse, inclusive, tolerant, and intellectual culture. This one incident does however perfectly highlight the larger divide in the Country as a whole – the divide between uber-conservative and uber-liberal, between rural and ‘cosmopolitan’, between those that want one type of America over another.

I think it’s important to remember that everyone’s opinions and beliefs are formed by nothing more than the sum of their experiences – by their upbringing, their community, their education, their family and friends, their co-workers, and the myriad other influences in their lives. It’s only natural – we all like to think we’re free from the sway of others, that we make our own decisions based on our own free will, and we’re certainly capable of this, but I would argue that very often, we simply don’t take the required time and effort to truly ask ourselves, ‘why do I believe this?’“I think it’s important to remember that everyone’s opinions and beliefs are formed by nothing more than the sum of their experiences” And that’s just step one – step two requires some emotional courage to face the answer to that question – the true answer (and deep down, you know if you’re being honest with yourself) – regardless of how uncomfortable it makes us feel. Regardless of how it might throw some fundamental assumptions about our lives and beliefs into question. Regardless of how it might radically challenge our very identities.

Of course, the above paragraph can be viewed as pointless navel-gazing… the product of having enough wealth and privilege to be afforded the time and education required for such reflection. The midwestern farmer or factory worker could care less about this ‘mushy-feely’ crap – they simply want something done about the fact that it’s harder and harder to make a living. But I think approaching every situation involving people, whether you’re a blue-collar worker or a Wall-Street millionaire – with the knowledge that we all truly want the same things – financial and emotional security, a sense of belonging, the knowledge that one’s way of life is solid and stable, the hope of a brighter future and a better day to come – provides us with a common foundation from which to base all our conversations and decisions on.

Don’t mistake me – none of this excuses any real-world actions taken by individuals whatsoever. We all must be held fully responsible for our actions. It’s one thing to hold certain beliefs – it’s another thing entirely to act on them. The man who drove his car into the Charlottesville crowd should be punished to the fullest extent of the law, along with any other violent protestors. I’m simply saying this way of thinking about people is a useful framework from which to try and understand one another and to build empathy for our fellow human beings. “We all simply want to feel safe, secure, loved, and included, and become frightened, combative, and angry when those things are threatened” The beauty of this ‘framework’ is that it applies to every person in the world, from that Wall-Street millionaire to a 9-year-old Afghani child to a taxi driver in Europe. We all simply want to feel safe, secure, loved, and included, and become frightened, combative, and angry when those things are threatened – or simply if we feel they’re being threatened. That’s it.

Ok, so what then? How do we take actual concrete steps to resolve the glaringly-obvious real-world problems that plague America today? I think first we cultivate the ‘framework’ I described above in ourselves, then we acknowledge that life is messy and that the one and only constant in the world is change. At any given point in time, there’s some amount of change occurring. Right now I would argue the amount of change we’re experiencing is significant. Economic change mostly, a widening of the gap between the haves and have-nots, or at least the perception of a widening gap, which, at the end of the day, is almost equivalent to actual change taking place. After all, we’re emotional and irrational beings at heart – to a large extent we act based on how we feel, not based on facts, unless we take the time to reflect. Acknowledging change, understanding and accepting that much of it is out of our control, and attempting to work with it, instead of against it, no matter how uncomfortable, is, in my view, a healthy and productive way to handle things.

I’m not suggesting we simply tell people to ‘get with the program’, take out huge loans to go to college, get a tech-related career, and move to a big city, although, to actively fight against what is very much a steamroll-type trend in our society akin to the industrial revolution might not be the most stress-free path to choose in life – rather I think a more balanced approach is appropriate. I’m suggesting those who know deep down their way of life is eventually coming to an end (the coal miner, the rural farmer, the oil-rig worker), take small steps to prepare themselves for the ‘new world’. This could mean taking a few Community College courses, reading a book on a subject they know nothing about, or taking 5 minutes to learn something – anything – about the culture of an immigrant. These small actions could result in positive, tangible outcomes for that individual’s future, as well as having a significant psychological benefit – actually doing something about the thing you’re worried about tends to make one feel better. On the other side of the coin, these individuals can, at the same time, advocate for their way of life – I know it’s a cliche, but they can get involved in the political process with local, state, and national elections. Simply attending a town-hall meeting, sitting in the back and not saying a word, is a huge positive step. “accept that some of this change is coming no matter what, and spend some of your resources on preparing for it. Pick and choose your battles… hedge your bets” Donating 5 bucks a month to a cause you believe in is a huge positive step. Trying to become more educated about issues is a huge positive step (although this only helps if you’ve learned a little about how to discern objective facts from what is simply someone’s opinion, but that’s a topic for another post). The point is, those whose way of life is changing need to accept this change to a certain extent – I’m not saying lay down and give up without a fight – but accept that some of this change is coming no matter what, and spend some of your resources on preparing for it. Pick and choose your battles… hedge your bets.

Conversely, those who enjoy economic and career security, and who feel they will for quite some time to come, have a bit of a responsibility to make the road to that lifestyle easier to traverse. This means advocating for policies that would accomplish things like lowering college tuitions, better healthcare for all, and removing other socio-economic barriers (gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.), in all aspects of American life. Again, small steps can work wonders here, such as attending that town-hall meeting, learning the objective facts about the issues we face, and donating time and other resources to the cause, whatever that may be.

I know this is all pie-in-the-sky talk to some. Probably to most. The reality is that the vast majority of people whose way of life is threatened right now will bitterly cling tooth-and-nail to a bygone era, one that will certainly never return. They will actively choose to bury their heads in the comforting sands of ignorance. Most of those who enjoy privilege in life will continue to look down their snouts at the other half with barely-concealed (sometimes outright blatant) contempt and derision, maybe even actively participating in systems and constructs that further ensure their societal positions, and that make the path to success harder for those without. These are facts of human nature, things that have been with us since day one and that show no real sign of being eliminated anytime soon. And again, these behaviors and actions are a result of those individual’s experiences throughout life. But the shining ray of hope we can all cling to, regardless of which side you’re on, is that there is that small majority, on both sides, who continue to fight to change things for the better and create a new world for all. This isn’t just inspirational rhetoric I’m spouting, but rather something based on concrete evidence; history is full of examples of the minority (sometimes even the individual) affecting great change in the world.

I know it’s easy to think your small efforts don’t matter, that the deck is so stacked against you and your cause that you shouldn’t bother. The thing is, simply placing a sustained, continued pressure against that stacked deck, chipping away at it card by card, is all that’s required. Your efforts don’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be a ‘winner-take-all’ battle… life is messy and nothing is ever perfect or black-and-white. And that’s ok. As long as some of us continue to try, with honest, sincere efforts, then in the long run, things will be better. History has shown us that the overall trajectory of the human experience only improves, with horrible and tragic setbacks to be sure, but nonetheless, a happy ending is in store. It’s up to us to always try and make that happy ending all the more happy, for as many people as possible.

Donald Trump
Holy shit, Donald Trump is president.
Donald Trump

The Donald. 45th American President. Hmm.

I’ve

had quite a few mixed opinions about this election season, and Donald Trump in particular. In the beginning I was pleased that Donald Trump was running, that someone was willing to break all conventions and by doing so, might cut through political correctness and get something done, might be able to produce results and trade in the currency of action as opposed to rhetoric. During the primary, I naively hoped his crass, bombastic, vulgar style was a “… and that he’d ‘pivot’ to a more decorous, ‘presidential’ candidate. He did not.” tactic devised to help him clench the republican nomination, and that he’d ‘pivot’ to a more decorous, ‘presidential’ candidate. He did not. The longer the general stretched out, the more disillusioned I became with him. By election day, I wasn’t worried; there’s no way Donald Trump could become the President of the United States. At 6 AM on November 9th, 2016 I learned otherwise.

Months ago I remember having this deep, quiet certainty that, if elected, Donald Trump would turn out to be a slightly better president than most expected; that he’d be a pleasant surprise. That feeling thrived only as long as election day was an intangible concept months removed from reality. I don’t have the luxury of allowing myself to feel that way anymore – he is here, and this is reality, today – Donald Trump is our president.

I’m under no illusion that every past president has been a pillar of moral virtue and that we’re now politically ‘slumming it’ with The Donald for the first time in American history- I imagine we’ve had quite a few presidents whose character has come up lacking… I think the difference here is that Trump’s not hiding it – indeed, he’s flaunting it, which, turns out, is one of the reasons for his popularity in the first place.

In my opinion, based on my current knowledge of history, politics, economics and technology (and I’m sure I’ll have a radically different opinion 10 years from now), Donald Trump is a symptom of a country undergoing a change not seen since the Industrial Revolution. We’ve had significant economic downturns before, but the difference with what happened almost 10 years ago has been timing. Had the Great Recession happened maybe 30 years ago, we might’ve quickly bounced back and regained everything we lost, as the economy was ‘typical’, with more predictable market demands and ways of doing business that we all understood, and that a larger percentage of Americans could readily take an active role in without higher education, from the coal miner to the steel worker to the assembly-line employee putting our cars and planes together.

But the world is simply different today. it’s easy to chalk that difference up to corporate greed or the moral failings of our country, but those are cop-outs, nothing more than simple, comforting excuses. The real answer, the underlying issue, is “The world has continued it’s accelerating trend of social and technological progress while we slept.” more significant and frankly, frightening to most… we simply don’t need the worker of yesterday. The world has continued it’s accelerating trend of social and technological progress while we slept. What we need is a more educated workforce to fill current and emerging jobs that will replace the blue-color jobs of yesterday. Right now, the ‘App Developer’ seems like an exotic, intellectually-loaded job title… instead, it, and other job titles like it, need to be viewed as the new job of choice for blue-collar workers. We need to accept and embrace the fact that changing technology and socio-economic situations have upended everything. Once we do, we can move forward and create a new, different – but still fundamentally American – country.

I get it, the frustration and anger of those that voted for Trump… I understand. I came from the Midwest, I’ve seen that side of things. I’ve had the same frustrations myself. I’m in no way downplaying the motivations behind Trump’s election. My argument is one of ‘what to do about the frustration’. What scares me, and I hope I’m wrong, is that, instead of electing a candidate that understands the world has changed, and that we must change with it and not fight against the current, we’ve elected someone who may do everything in his power to fight against the real world, to deny it’s validity.

What we need are concrete solutions. We need to push workforce training and re-training for tomorrow’s demands. We need to emphasize higher education. We need to look forward to where the country, and more importantly, the world as a whole, is moving, and ready ourselves for that, instead of lamenting what’s been lost and futility trying to hold on.

Maybe I’m wrong about Trump. Maybe Trump has simply been playing the showman. Maybe he’s been doing everything in his power to pander to the greatest amount of Americans, whether he believes in what he’s selling or not, just to get elected, and now he can begin the job of leading the country in a direction that it must go to become prosperous again. I’m not holding my breath. Instead, I’m putting my faith in larger, more long-term social and economic trends, and in those silent, dedicated Americans – and other global citizens – empowered by technology, who initiate grassroots change for the better from a computer in a basement or from an app on their smartphone. Oh, and I’m putting a whole lot of hope and faith in that whole Seperation-of-Powers thing.