I am a Psychology Lecturer. In fact, right now I should be marking essays but things are happening around the world that are making it difficult for me to concentrate. Specifically, Donald Trump seems to be intent on making worrying decisions. From bringing a lot of rich white men into his close circle to banning certain Muslims from entering the US, I am concerned on a number of levels, a couple of which I’ll talk about here.
Firstly, inequality exists in society because in the years of old, rich white men with resources have created systems that function to oppress, whether that oppression is aimed at people from different racial backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations or classes. That might seem like a hippy-type thing to say, but just look at the statistics on social mobility. Poor people work 9-5 from youth to old age because they are not wealthy enough to receive the best education, they do not swim in the circles of powerful people and they do not have enough capitol to take a risk on money making ventures. Their lives are constrained by a context that has been created, at least to some degree, by the upper classes. The last thing we need right now is more rich white men constructing the world in such a way that it furthers their interests at the expense of equality and diversity.
Secondly, in order to further their interests without huge uproar, people in power need to convince the electorate that they are doing so for the electorates benefit. Hence the politics of immigration, which is the metaphorical equivalent of pulling wool over our eyes. Right now, many of the Americans that voted for Trump are only seeing the ban on Muslims and the Wall of Mexico, and I am sure that they are convinced that such decisions will make the US great again. They don’t see the misdirection. They don’t see how Trump is marketing himself as a representative of everyday Americans in a left of centre socialist kind of way, while pursuing a far right political agenda. It makes no sense and yet it has clearly worked with a disillusioned people.
The result of this is a nation divided. The people who voted for Trump will, for the most part, remain consistent with their vote in order to maintain a coherent self-identity. This means that they will support Trump no matter what he does. The people who didn’t vote for Trump will protest and petition but nothing will come of it because rich white men in power want to stay rich and powerful i.e. the oppression will continue in a variety of forms. The two sides of that story will eventually turn on each other. Hates crimes will go up and up. And, in the background, while the people fight each other, the rich white men will find a way to provoke, shape and benefit the conflict in a way that benefits them.
How did we get to this place? Do we really think that people of different races, faiths, genders or sexual orientations are different to us? That they don’t experience hurt and hunger and crises? That they don’t love and laugh and experience joy? Do we not think that having diversity in our schools, our businesses and our governments is a good thing? Surely such diversity allows us to have conversations that help us to ‘see’ other people’s perspectives and therefore make decisions that benefit as many as possible. I sit here at my computer feeling helpless with no idea how the world can dig its way out of this hole. Divisive politics is leading to a chaotic and divided world that benefits but a few people.
I’m not a political scientist. In fact, I’m not even a political enthusiast. For most of my life I’ve viewed politics as something that rich people do while us poor people make the most of what we have in a world that we can’t really change. But recently, in light of Brexit, Trump and assumptions about mental health, I’ve become a lot more interested in politics. And I keep asking myself the question; is a politics of compassion possible? Would everyday people from different faiths, from different racial backgrounds, from different sexualities, from different classes be able to somehow unite under the banner of tolerance, compassion and cooperation? Would it be possible to topple the current political system in such a way that we change the world for the better and save the planet? Is it possible to both have an economy that thrives whilst also having communities that are filled with opportunity, companionship and love? I’m not sure what the answers are to these questions. Like I said, in truth, I don’t know much about politics. But what I do know, in the context of recent political events, is that the psychological literature of cooperation and compassion suggests that those avenues may be worth exploring.
So I need your help: I want to get involved but I don’t know how. It is not as if I can join the “Compassion-Focused Party”! So what do I do from here? Who do I approach? What should my strategy be? Dr. Anthony Biglan recently wrote a beautiful blog about how we can make changes at an individual level that you should read, and his wonderful book (The Nurture Effect) has some great ideas about how to move forward at a societal / institutional level. But more locally (in the UK), what organizations can I support that have a firm focus on compassion and yet still understand the political game? Please email me any answers or leave them below in the comments box.