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!

On Confederate Statues
Confederate Statues

Robert E. Lee In Emancipation Park, Charlottesville, VA

Personally

I’m not too concerned about the confederate statues coming down. I don’t have any significant skin in the game one way or another – I’m a white male, so I don’t feel subjugated by some bronze statue looming down at me, reminding me that I was at one time denied my freedom by the institution the statute seemingly represents. I’m also not a native Southerner, imbued with a feeling of historical and cultural significance towards The Confederacy and/or The South, with family and community legacies stretching back to that time.

“…this confederate statue issue is not, in reality, about history whatsoever…”I’ve read a little history – not nearly as much as some, but enough to understand that this confederate statue issue is not, in reality, about history whatsoever, regardless of what each side claims. The vast majority of those in favor of the statues are not in favor of racism, and instead hold a feeling of warmth and pride, of historical significance towards the statues, the same sort of nostalgic feeling one gets for something from childhood. Those opposed view the statues as nothing more than totems representing not just a time when they were persecuted, but that, by their continued existence, an assumed societal acceptance and endorsement of racism and hate… a small (or maybe not so small), persistent thorn in the back of one’s mind.

So the question to be considered is: what do these statues represent? Our natural inclination to this question is to first respond in an emotional way. When someone asks us this question, or makes a definitive statement in opposition to our opinion on the matter, we don’t dispassionately think, ‘this person is wrong because of X, Y, and Z.’ Instead we first feel something, an emotion, and a strong one probably, given the amount of unrest we’re experiencing. This emotional reaction then biases our argument. It puts a filter over our minds that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to objectively debate and, more importantly, see the argument from the perspective of the other party. Empathy becomes a casualty of this state of mind.

Now, I could argue that we should strive to think through our emotions, to not react to our feelings, and instead take a moment to let them subside, only then moving forward with the debate. We should all strive to do this, but I won’t make that argument today. The fact that we’re already embroiled in large-scale demonstrations, protests, vandalism, and even some violence is evidence enough that the time for calm, rational discussion has somewhat passed – there’s too much emotion, too much momentum to turn the tide. It’s become this thing with a life of it’s own. I’m not necessarily condemning this turn of events, i’m just calling it out for what it is – human nature. “…there’s too much emotion, too much momentum to turn the tide. It’s become this thing with a life of it’s own.”

So what we do now is make a decision. Each one of us individually. It’s obvious that the statues will come down. They already are. That’s the direction the tide is taking us. The decision left to us is how to respond to that tide. Is this a battle we should choose to take up? Should we swim with the tide, or against it? That’s obviously a question only you can answer for yourself, but just try, for this one moment, for the next 30 seconds, to put aside your emotions on the subject and think objectively. What is really, truly at stake here? What could the actual, real-life ramifications of the removal of Confederate statues result in? If tomorrow every objectionable statue vanished, in what way would the world be affected?

One group of people within our society would feel less culturally oppressed. It doesn’t matter if slavery has been legally abolished. It doesn’t matter if no one alive today was personally impacted by slavery. It doesn’t matter if ‘history’ teaches us that some Confederate statues are about more than slavery. These statues have become nothing more than symbols of racism and hate in our popular culture. That’s simply all that matters – the court of popular opinion rules supreme.

“But don’t we visit Museums for this very purpose, to be reminded of, and learn about, the past?”What will we lose if the statues come down? Yes, we’ll lose some cultural and historical mementos, some reminders of a time simply different from the ones we live in, for better or for worse. But don’t we visit Museums for this very purpose, to be reminded of, and learn about, the past? How many other publicly-displayed relics representing a different time do we have scattered throughout our society? Not many.

Putting aside all moral arguments, if you want a cold, pragmatic viewpoint of the situation, here it is: the removal of the Confederate statues will eliminate one grievance of a large swath of our society. The removal will eliminate one cultural reminder of division between different factions of our country. The removal will help to cull from our collective consciousness a time when there was a ‘lower class’ of citizen, and may help us as a country to move forward as a more united people.

“Somehow I doubt North Korea will take a break while we argue over some statues.”So much of the events in our society today come down to those things I outlined in ‘Charlottesville Unrest’ – we all simply want to feel safe, secure, and included in every facet of our lives – emotionally, financially, culturally. If we can take a step towards providing more of this for more of our citizens, or at least preventing the further spreading of division, then shouldn’t we? Especially when the solution doesn’t require solving any of the really hard problems we face today, such as unemployment, economic division, rising healthcare costs, rising educational costs, and a steadily-warming planet – not to mention the threat of Nuclear War. Somehow I doubt North Korea will take a break while we argue over some statues.

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.