Potential mental-health concerns in a poorly understood democracy?

As you can see from the question mark in the title, I’m considering this not so much something I know, but rather a topic about which I would like to collect information and feedback on.

A lot of people at the moment seem to be quite upset with their experience of the “media landscape”, which includes newspapers, traditional broadcast media on TV or radio, internet publications (e.g. Huffington Post, Medium, Breitbart, podcasts, etc.), as well as individuals “speaking through” platforms, like wikipedia, YouTube, but also Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. These are sources of information about parts of reality that people don’t have direct access to. And people can select from these, yet the content is more or less a mere “stream of information”, in which the reverse channel is of questionable quality–who knows whether what someone contributes back has any real effect? Other than grabbing more attention, serving the advertising industry…

What does that have to do with democracy? And with mental health?

For me, one of the reasons that people are quite dissatisfied with the media landscape is that it seems less and less possible to “make sense” of the divergent “opinions” and “perspectives” being broadcast. Instead of people having an experience of conversation or communication, it more feels like “being talked at”–and often with relatively poorly concealed motivation to “influence” and “incentivize” opinions in the readers, listeners, and viewers. In other words, I have a strong hunch that people feel that what is being presented to them (across the landscape, not necessarily in their medium of choice) is not so much a coherent image as it is a cacophony of voices, each becoming shriller and more demanding by the day, in an attempt to denounce the other voices as either “lying” or as “dangerous” or “unstable”, or some other label, suggesting one need not listen to those other voices.

And that’s where democracy and mental-health come in–at least insofar as democracy is understood as “majority rule” (over a minority).

Let me take you on a brief detour… Imagine being given a computer game, and being told you get to play 10 rounds, and that it’s somewhat difficult to win. You start playing, and lose the first round, win the next, lose the third, and then win every remaining round. That feels like quite an accomplishment, doesn’t it? Now, imagine that the person who gave you the game told you that during the first three rounds the computer “learned” from your behavior, and then, starting in round four, your actual choices in the game have little to do with your success and that you aren’t really in control. If you can, for a moment at least, assume and try to “believe” this, try to sense how that “feels” inside. My own experience is that it feels like I’m powerless, not in charge over the outcomes in my life.

And that, in a nutshell, is what I believe a democracy (if poorly understood as majority rule over a minority) comes down to: the experience that a lot of voices don’t matter. Even worse, imagine that starting in round 4 you lose every round, and you are informed the computer learned from your behavior, and then became better at “controlling you”.

That’s where the mental-health problems set in. It’s not only unfair, but also deeply humiliating. And I really feel more and more convinced that the situation we’re facing in the US right now, with a Trump Presidency which a “majority of people” (by pure head-count) didn’t seem to want, and where the same majority of people now seems to push for changes that would make the minority (the ones who did vote for Trump!) even more powerless than they already feel they have been for the past decades, mainly through calls for reforming if not abolishing the Electoral College, making the nation even more “democratic”. People reject the idea that they “need to be controlled by elites”.

And what do you think the outcome will be, if we in essence say that, yes, we don’t need to listen to the people who are angry at the establishment for not listening in the first place? I really shudder to think what might happen then…

As an outlook, I would like to point out that democracy could also be understood as a process of common sense making, in which every voice is heard. And my weird intuition is that, among other instruments, the Senate Filibuster exists precisely for that reason: that in a situation in which there is only a “numeric” but far from “definitive” majority, someone can actually stand up and say, “no, you haven’t really listened to the arguments on my side to the point where I’m satisfied, so I ask that you to listen a bit more, until I feel that you understand why what you’re proposing is a pretty bad idea from my perspective!” In the case of the filibuster it is quite unfortunate that it has become a farce, since what the person is saying often doesn’t have any relevance for the matter in hand. But to some extent I believe that’s mostly because at the moment we no longer listen to the other side–at all.

So if we want to have a democracy that is a process of sense-making then, yes, I do believe we need to start listening more, and listening better, and deeper. Why is it that so many people seem to be angry, and afraid, and in pain? Does having access to an advertising-financed news cable TV channel and Facebook and Twitter really explain all that unease? All by itself? I find that rather difficult to believe, and strongly suspect that the main reason for the relatively strong “negative mood” (and expressions of frustration) in the general population have more to do with their sense that they “don’t matter”, and they experience a lack of autonomy and dignity and respect, and that their life has too little meaning. And that’s true whether you are in the “majority” as well as in the “minority”, because what would be needed is an experience of making sense together, with everyone involved, not just half the country.

Anger, Lies, Truth, Courage, and Forgiveness

This morning, I tried to answer a question that I’ve been mulling over in my mind for the past few days. I’ve asked myself how a truly genuine and still bold and courageous candidate for being “the leader of the free world” (someone believing in their ability of being an effective U.S. President) might want to address the public about the crisis I see happening going on. And what’s below is what I came up with. I wrote it, trying to be as “unscripted as possible”, writing “from the heart”, but given that it is in written form now, I fully appreciate that (especially in our current times) nothing will ever be as genuine as unscripted remarks–one of the many reasons Trump will always have an edge with people who have been woken up enough (by their anger).

Anyway, here goes–and I would appreciate feedback of any sort.

wow, this is hard
today, I’m asking for a favor
and it’s so damn difficult
because you’re used to being manipulated and lied to

and I’m afraid that I might not get through
because of all the lies in the past

and what I’m asking is hard for you as well
because of all the distrust, and all the anger
maybe you listen and think: bullshit! this guy’s a phony, too, he’s not angry!

I know you want the truth
and I guess that you may feel that someone who’s not angry, who’s talking calmly, just screams: LIES!

as I said, what I’m asking you is hard
because it goes so against what you’ve learned to do
to protect yourself from the lies and manipulation:
you built a wall around your mind and heart

what I’m asking you is to open yourself
maybe on the off-chance that what I’m telling you is the truth
I’m asking you to listen with your heart

and I get it: that sounds crazy
and it’s f-ing difficult to trust

I, too, am afraid to just say what’s in my heart
because I then feel weak and unprotected
and anything you might yell back at me will hit me, deep inside

but I believe I’m ready now
to give up on that flawed sense of being safe
by having a wall of my own,
by not letting anything in,
and by pretending to be hard as rock

and I hope you can believe that I’m being honest with you
because we’re running out of time

we’re living in a system that is based on selling us “news” for profits
and maybe when it started it got the job done
of informing people about what was going on

but then the people running the system found something out:
the more you tell people they need to be afraid, the more it sells
that was how news turned into stories and then into lies

and by selling us stories of how this group or that group is bad
and how we need to fear each other or even hate each other
the system became powerful,
but it also became blind

and i’m not saying that the problems don’t exist
they’re real, man:

people are living in conditions so much worse than a couple decades ago
working multiple jobs, and still not able to make ends meet
families not holding together

but you know what the real problem is?
we live in a country where so many people don’t get the respect they need
and where so many are being denied the dignity of a free people

instead, people at the top and corporations are making decisions
about what we eat
about how we are being educated in schools
about what we can see and hear on TV
about what we can find on search engines and see on social media

but the system is so blind it didn’t see the change coming

now, if you’re still with me, if you feel that what I have said so far rings true, even if just a little bit
I’m asking your for one more favor

and that one might be even harder
because we’re not only lied to

we’ve gotten so used to that
we have created a lot of armor around our minds
because we feel it’s so damn dangerous to let anything in, and move us deep inside

maybe you’re angry about this whole mess, and rightly so
the anger is telling you that how things have been going is really bad
and that we need to change
, all of us,
because things can’t go on like this

what I’m asking may sound stupid and maybe also impossible
but think about it, please!

I’m asking you to forgive,
first and foremost to forgive yourself
for anything you’ve said and done
over the past couple years that, if you’re honest, you think hurt someone

when you look back, I hope you will see that most of that came out of anger
and the anger has played an important part
all the anger was necessary to wake us up to the fact that we’re being played

and then I want to ask you to forgive everyone else as well
all the people who said or did something that made you angry, or that hurt you

if you need a reason, other than that without forgiveness, we cannot move forward, consider this:
on our way to this point we had to go through many periods of pain and suffering
and each time, we learned a bit about how people sometimes treat others poorly
and each time, more or less, we were given the chance to overcome this

so the anger and distrust and fear and even hatred are part of the process
they tell us that we need to grow
but it’s important to understand that anger and hatred are not the solution
they’re really just the signal that we need to grow
and it’s on us to figure out how to do that

in the past, we often resolved this by having a war
and then the anger spills really out, and it turns into a bloody fight over who’s right
and I fear that if we don’t learn how to grow otherwise, this next fight will be the last
because we’re going to kill every human being on the planet
or if not, we’re going to make it uninhabitable for those who remain standing

so I’m asking you to forgive yourself and everyone else
because I hope you can see that anger and distrust and hatred were all part of a necessary process

so you didn’t do anything wrong by feeling that way
but that continuing on that path also doesn’t look like the solution we need, not this time at least

I’m asking you to look deep, deep into your heart
and trust that what you find there is not malevolence
and instead what you find is that you care

you care so much that you were willing to hurt those who you see don’t care the way you think is right
and you want to tell everyone what you care about

so that’s the last thing I’m asking of you
to find the courage to tell people what you care about
in a way that makes you vulnerable, and not hard as a rock

we can move on, all suited up in armor for battle,
and on that path lies, so I think, another war

or we can move on understanding that,
no matter how much I currently do not understand what people “on the other side” care about
it is worth understanding,
and that if we can all lower our guard, and listen
we don’t have to kill each other in the end