Totalitarianism, anxiety, polarization, alienation, conspiracy, violence, hate, frustration, and extremism: Some common words in our reality, words that should not surprise us!

Totalitarianism, anxiety, polarization, alienation, conspiracy, violence, hate, frustration, and extremism: Some common words in our reality, words that should not surprise us!

We live in a topsy-turvy world. Advances in information, technology, etc., are reversing many historical, traditional, social morés. Instead of a conversation, we are often confrontational. Instead of seeking negotiated solutions, we now act as if we must win at all costs. We may take great delight as others lose. The world of the past is gone. In turn, the postmodern world swirling around us is changing faster than we can humanly accommodate.

Here is an example. A few decades ago, we largely communicated by face-to-face conversations, by telephone calls, or by writing letters. If we made a phone call and if the was busy, we thought nothing of calling back later. If so radically adopted, we were able to leave a phone message. Then the Internet arrived! In this radically shifting world, we suddenly discovered, and become obsessed with new realities. We found e-mail – I have three accounts myself. However, the one I use for my fantasy sports is must be rigged because I rarely rise above last place.  Billions of websites and social media platforms surround us. Instead of daily face-to-face conversations or a few phone calls, we are prone to send (or receive) many texts, perhaps hundreds at once. Unlike postage, these are at little or no cost! Instead of receiving or making phone calls or having conversations, we can promptly accommodate, the volume of conversations we may send or receive in postmodernism may weigh us down. Unfortunately, many unsolicited “spam” emails slip past filters and enter our in-box. Consequently, we become jaded and we tend to brush off many legitimate emails!

Likewise, phone calls can now be global and on video without the old issue of the expense of “long distant fees.” With the COVID-19 plague, greatly restricting our lives video calls, and video meetings are the new world order. This activity might become the new normal. There are fewer business expenses, and less unnecessary travel that may suit many enterprises, especially those trying to recapture some lost pre-COVID business.

Polarization became a reality as we lost the middle ground on issues and sadly began to lose the middle class to the old model of “haves and have not’s.” Likewise, ongoing polarized views moved us into patterns of alienation. One of the realities of alienation and polarization is tribalism. In fact, how often do we hear in jest the term, “my tribe,” but fail to realize that while it may seem affirm? It is an intensive social reality that greatly segregates, and divides.

Another illustration of the topsy-turvy world is that a mere fifty years ago, when people prayed at church or  home, they bowed their heads with closed joined hands. They prayed for the sick and worldly issues beyond themselves. Today, few attend church, but an even greater number of people than ever who attended church now bow their heads. They bow them everywhere, at all times. Today, closed hands clench devices. Instead of praying or considering the world beyond themselves, they are tethered to games, movies, etc that are entertaining them, or simply fulfilling inward consumption.

Unlike the past when we gathered insights from a few local television, radio stations, or newspapers, we now can connect to almost any station or news source in the world! We once read newspapers that were actual hand-held pieces of paper. We read thoughtful research opinions. Today, we read the paperless newspaper on devices. Today’s “Opinion Editorials,” unlike in the past, are thousands of “blogs,” that are opinion pieces by people with opinions – facts or the true situation seems secondary! In turn, whereas opinion pieces of the past were well researched, well constructed, and grammatically written, today’s pieces are “stream of consciousness” single-focused rants that seem designed to evoke emotional responses rather than walk us through a constructed argument. Bluntly, we can no longer get our arms around everything like we use to. We are no longer “limited” to rational points of view. Furthermore, we are so confused with countless choices we became very selective – this includes news, opinions, consumer choices, and personal actions.

Alas, we have too many choices, conversations, messages, news items, and other daily (can we say, hourly) pressing needs that we are overly burdened with how to cope. Sometimes I feel like humming that iconic line from the Beatles’ song Eleanor Rigby. Instead of saying (since I do not sing very well) – “Father McKenzie, Writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear. No one comes near.” I slightly change the words to be more appropriate, “Father Robson, Writing the words of an email that no one will see. No one come has time.”

We are so overwhelmed we limit ourselves to known sources that think like us so we do not have to strain to discern. This means email, other social media, news sources, and even other contacts. While a “sent” email may very important to us, the “receiver,” may perceive it as “spam,” or “garbage” or at best, not in their interest. This can lead to “sender anger.” Accumulated “sender” hurts and other snubs can lead to, as noted, polarization. I

Since we are overloaded, at many turns, we often seek black and white solutions. Likewise, we do not desire to invest time or interest to sort through the mountain of information or sources around us. Sadly, it may become easy to wittingly, or unwittingly, to turn our thinking over to others who are like us. Have we not undertaken this with computers?  In other words, in complex matters we become myopic because it is a way out of too much thinking, too much investment of time, or just disinterest. After all,  we just want answers.

Since we are appeased, we do not see we have fallen into a rabbit hole when single-mindedness reigns and single solution answers make us feel like we are right and any other viewpoint is wrong. A consequence of these movements is that they may gather such forceful momentum that they become dominant in society leading to totalitarian realities where one voice speaks for every voice.

In many ways, the internet and the environment it created compromised our ability to cope. We deal with so much information, and choices we, as noted, are choosy. Then the smartphone arrived. It pushed the envelope even further. Can we say we hit overload wherever we are? Perhaps we say we live in a time of reductionism where we like bite-size, chewable, and good tasting, pieces of information be it societal issues, ideology, religion, and politics. In turn, we use our smartphones as less smart people to provide answers and solutions to societal issues, ideology, religion, and politics. When that takes place we can turn our attention to what  matters, being entertained! We are so addicted to these walking computers that we rarely even take our eyes off them. We are anxious if our phones are not in our hands. It use to be that the clock controlled what we watched or listened to but with the advent of streaming, we are in control. We have greater power in being entertained.  One of the great ironies of postmodernism is that smartphones, etc, which can reduce anxiety are often a source that creates anxiety!

In modernism and postmodernism as disposable income emerged a significant social focus targeted people to be consumers. Today, consumerism is so much part of our lives we must say that we morphed from consumers to the consumed! The Internet, social media, and smartphones are central to our existence. Yet they created an environment where we can no longer get our arms (Or minds) around hourly information. Then even sell us medication for the anxiety that they created! Those images are just a few illustrations of the postmodern reality of consumerism, rampant individualism, instant gratification, polarization, commercialism, and tunnel vision that are clogging us individually and our society.  Sometimes we may become so wound up in one viewpoint on one issue that it becomes us. We might even become so enraged (Patience is not a postmodern word) that we weaponize the issue between us, the “good guys,” and everyone else. Sadly going “postal” may take place more frequently in future years. Heck, the single-issue topic of anti-vaccine even created truck conveys that shut down downtown Ottawa, a normally placid community in a clam nation!

Consciously and unconsciously, we are sometimes so overwhelmed (Yes, this is a very popular word in postmodernism)  that we begin to shift from rational- emotional souls, that think with our hearts and minds balanced, to souls where we become so emotional that may weaponize ourselves and those like us and attack anyone who is not of our ilk. For example, we have to slide to the point where a single issue or topical manifestation like no-vaccines for COVID-19 become hot button topics that go far beyond respectful conversations or sharing of ideas, facts, and opinions. In fact, in postmodernism, opinions outweigh facts. After all, these individuals believe and accept that they with scant information from very selective sources know more than seasoned well-informed experts!

Very often, in our postmodern dilemma, we tend for remedies or solutions that previously worked.  As the difficulty in coping expands, the world suddenly entered a pandemic. The open postmodern envelope of change opened even farther! For some, as noted, coping morphed into extremism. For some tunnel vision, etc. lead people to affirm nonsensical conspiracy theories.  Why? It was because these theories seem well supported, and they fit within our wheelhouse of information, and known solutions. Sadly, those who slide into extreme thinking and actions are those at the edges of both left and right political, religious, and social views. Unfortunately, a tunnel vision action, in each of the noted scenarios, hooked some people.

Unfortunately, for some when they are overwhelmed they may slide into extreme thoughts. They become consumed to the point where they might implode (Can we say ever-increasing societal mental health issues!) or explode – in other words, go “postal.” I sometimes wonder will we continue to slide to the point where shootings in schools, churches, and malls are no longer news and reported like the days’ baseball scores. How do we respond to those consumed with notions of righteous truck conveys, support anti-vaccination, or even create a selfish war in Europe?(All wars begin because someone or some state is selfish).

When challenged by too many choices, every moment, we retreat. We put walls around ourselves, or others. We fall into our safe predictable history! Likewise, we fail to see decades of advertising on radio and television, and now the worldwide web, where products are marketed to individuals to purchase, buy and accumulate. The message remains, “You need this product to be complete and happy. You need our perfumes, this food, or these clothes to smile.” I like the car advertising show the new owners of car (Which on television show all the extras options!) having a good time – it does not show people struggling to make the new car payments – which were with taxes, delivery costs, and other charges so much higher than the advertising told.

In postmodernism, scammers constantly let us know that we are heirs to millions in some foreign bank account (Darn, I wish it were true). Advertisers, also let us know about their incredible products (No, I do not need pizza 365 days a year). Because of these countless imposed and unsolicited messages, and real messages from real people, that we receive on our various media sites we need to learn how to discern what is important to us. As noted, while “senders” may think their notes are vital, we as “receivers,” may not. As the online invasion of space is crowding around us, we started to feel jaded. Trying to choose between 36 brands of toothpaste, deodorant, and other wide choices impedes us. I am waiting for “Car grease” as a deodorant smell since every other known smell is already developed! (Yes, this is sarcasm). Likewise, have you ever noticed how one advertisement keeps saying eat, eat, eat and the very next commercial says, diet, diet, diet!

Consequently, we are very discerning about whom we allow in our space – and whose space we wish to share. This is normalized behavior. We also find it difficult to make good choices given the vast array of options around us. Unknowingly and knowingly, we are frustrated. We sometimes wish for a return to simple choices. It is no wonder that “Returning to Bible basics,” though very flawed, has recaptured a sizable segment of society. To those in this camp the Bible seems to spell out life’s issues and solutions and lets you know that you are God’s righteous – such a soothing assurance with no “deep thinking.” (Read Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows!)

In our self-centered, consumer society where the focus is on one accumulating and being paid attention to, the very idea of being disregarded hurts both senders and receivers on social media. Too many consumer decisions are also frustrating. In turn, as jaded consumers we expect the new car to make us happy, just as it looks on television, only to discover, that life never changes – expect larger car payments. Sometimes jaded behavior moves us to “unfriend” our friends on social media instead of ascertaining the root of the problem.  In the age of instant gratification, we react and do this quickly with little thought. After all, it is “all about me.” The same is true about the conflict in making other daily decisions. We shifted from a rationed (head-thinking) society that sought workable solutions and answers to complex issues to emotionalism (heart-focused) where we want instant answers to soothe our anger, hurt, or displeasure. Sadly, we fail to realize, or do not care that in meeting our emotional needs we may be destroying the emotional needs of others.

This frustration, and our sense of entitlement, in part, is leading us to polarization.  We can certainly state that the society-driven, commercial-created image of “Have it your way,” where we seemingly can personalize everything has molded us into believing that we can have (Anything you want). We expect to get what we want because for no reason we believe we deserve everything. Sometimes when we do not get our way temper tantrums to ensue. In turn, we seek out like-minded people because they respond to our notes, messages, and shared opinions. I call this the “Robson’s Reverse Bell Curve Phenomena.”

This needs explaining. Whereas politically and socially we use to appease the middle of the bell curve where most people “resided,” we no longer do so. Again, while we use to move slightly to the left or right of the center, this changed! If we flip the bell curve upside it shows that people seem to align to “live” on the edges. Another term for this is polarization. This means we try to appease either those leaning to the left or right edge, or those very near the edges. In today’s society it is those who are on the edges are the most heard, and sometimes receive most of the attention from media and society because it gets our attention. After all, they make the most noise. Thus, the ones making the most “noise” are seemingly appeased when media and society respond. Instead of the rule “silent majority,” we morphed to catering to the “noisy minority.” The “silent majority,” still exists, but more polarized than a few decades ago and often quiet – why? Perhaps they were motivated into apathy over the lack of attention. Perhaps those on the edges alienated those in the middle that the middle slide to the closer to the edges to avoid being hurt or abused and upset.

In our consumer-driven society of instant gratification, we want to be appeased – and right away! We do not want to wrestle through issues (As we use to when people occupied the middle ground). If not provided with our “happy meal” we become irritated. We are so consumed with being right or appeased we expect the powers involved in the situation, or issue at hand, to give in and meet our needs. Since we look to meeting our specific personal and like-minded needs, we reject, or at best ignore the positions or needs of others. We have limited vision, and are shortsighted! In other words, all we may care about is our narrow perceptive that speaks to our entitlement. Somehow, the image of looking out for widows, orphans, the poor, the homeless may be beyond the vision of the enraged.

Speaking of “happy meals,” we are a society that likes fast quick meals (Meaning solutions) so we can move on to other matters that seemingly require our immediate attention, The “family meal” as a meal or as a metaphor for exploring a whole issue does not exist. Besides family meals or dealing with issues in detail takes precious time, and with our dwindling attention span and need for quickness, we do not want to give matters time. Instead, we want and expect resolutions. We also become agitated when emails or other social media messages receive no response. We become mad when our personal needs and those “just like us,” with common goals are not met. Even if we understand that those like us, comprise less than 1% of the population we still demand that others change to what we want. After all, we are right and others just need to acknowledge this! Sometimes the small groups like to note that they are doing God’s will! “If God wants us to wear masks, we would have been told. Likewise, perhaps the pandemic is HIS way of sorting out sinners!” (Yes, this is more sarcasm – BTW – did not Moses wear a mask when he came down the mountain?)

Violence is sometimes a by-product of all the issues that overwhelm us – consumerism, instant gratification, limited and narrow vision, the need for constant entertainment, shallowness, lack of humility, etc. For example, do we need 100 choices of olive oil or pasta (Metaphorically speaking)? Smartphones have exaggerated the problem. Today, if we have and question we expect Google, or other search engines, to provide answers, and answer in milliseconds. If web pages take too long to load (Meaning a few seconds), we become anxious and seek another source. Patience is not a word used in the postmodern world. Heck, our smartphones chirp and we cannot wait five seconds to see what is happening. Pavlov’s dogs have nothing on us!

Years ago, Andy Warhol said everyone would have 15 minutes of fame. Today, I would counter that if he had lived and was aware of the internet, social media, smartphones, and our overloaded society he might have modified his comment to say we will have 15 seconds of fame. Unfortunately, George Floyd, experienced nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds of torture replayed millions of times.

In recent decades in our accelerated, always quick, non-reflective, non-co-operative, or non-conversational society rooted in instant gratification, we may see more school, church, and mall shootings. People in traffic jams may start blasting each other over trivial matters, without thoughts of consequences ever dawning on them. Rage is replacing compassion – compassion given and or received. As poet, singer, and social reflector Pete Seeger mused, “When will we ever learn?” Again, we need to seriously take time to “step back, and step down,” from emotive responses and rationally take time to assess, reflect, and ponder countless situations, every day, before we act foolishly or respond with knee-jerk reactions based on instant gratification.

In other words, to heal and reform from the pain all around us it is critical and essential that we “pause,” before we act or respond. Without question, this would reduce the pain we inflict upon others, and upon our souls!

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