Unstable States and angry politics

 

Scapegoat blame background concept glowingI come from a family of teachers who liked to discuss politics and even argue about it. I have been watching the rise of angry politics. In my own home state, I saw one of the most balanced, fair politicians defeated by someone angry who made accusations against voters that cost the state lots of money. Why and who gravitates to this kind of unsubstantiated rhetoric? It’s a good thing to review as I move forward with my series, Unstable States, which begins with Mixed In.

There has been a good analysis of who supports angry politicians in the Netherlands.

What causes people to vote for the angry blowhards is insecurity. The most insecure people in a society are not at its top or bottom but in the middle. In a group, the people who most want to conform are those in the middle of the pack. People at the top are too secure to conform and those at the bottom don’t like the group enough to adhere to its norms. Thus, angry politicians knowingly play to the middle.

Scapegoating a group of people who can’t easily fight back and blaming them for the middle’s troubles has been a successful tactic of angry politicians practically since time began. Where does the word come from? In ancient days, a goat was selected to represent sins and cast out of the town to remove all evils. Groups of people have also been identified by politicians to be rejected by society. This is always a group without the means to effectively fight back. Thus, the people in the middle will fall for rhetoric that things would be better for them if only some authority figure did something about the lowly scapegoats.

Who likes authoritarians and who resists? This was studied extensively following the Holocaust. The Milgram study created a series of experiments in which volunteers were asked to deliver electric shocks to others who screamed in pain. Shockingly, most button pushers complied, especially if the study took place in an authoritative setting such as Yale.

People who follow authority are not much different than those who don’t. Those attracted to authoritarians tend to think harshly of those lesser than themselves and have less empathy for others. Most of all, cultural factors play a role in the love or distrust of authority figures. People with high insecurity are most likely to be conformists. Thus, creating an unstable society is highly beneficial to those who want conformist followers. Another factor that creates conformity is scrutiny. People tend to conform when others are watching.

Fortunately, egalitarian societies, ones that are best for all, have existed since before scapegoats began. However, they are harder to maintain as populations get larger and there is more competition for food and resources. People tend to share and cooperate with their kin. When it is too hard to identify kin, leaders emerge to make decisions for the group. The best leaders are those others can trust. However, competition gives rise to self aggrandizers who come up with reasons why they deserve more trust and others deserve less. These people are great at claiming the spotlight, motivating others,  and solving problems in the short run. Sadly, mean authoritarians will probably always be with us for these reasons.

A societal factor that plays into the selection of kinder leaders who are more egalitarian is low fertility.  Although the reasons for this aren’t entirely clear, low fertility allows women to take prominent roles in society and become educated. If this happens to the women of a group, it gives a group more social visibility and acceptance.

Egalitarian leaders tend to get less done. Motivating people to share and creating a sense of family is more time consuming than fear based politics. Cooperation takes more work. It is, however, the basis of society. Ironically, egalitarian societies have a lot of social cohesion that could be viewed as conformity.  Yes, even egalitarian societies have conformity although they do not coalesce around anger.

In the case of the Netherlands, educated people rejected angry politics. Why?  “Highly educated people …are socially mobile.. provid(ed) with opportunities rather than threats….Feelings of insecurity, whether justified or not, led people to vote for the PVV (angry party).” Education lessens the likelihood of viewing a politician who is angry as a valid authority figure. This is why, historically, educated people and those who are disenfranchised work together to stand up to any authoritarians who use scapegoating to motivated the “middle.”

What is the best way to reject angry authority and its use of scapegoating? Besides promoting education, the simple act of standing up to it and doing this consistently and repeatedly created heroes in the Milgram experiment. This tactic has been illustrated historically as with the development of the birth control pill and worker safety regulations. Scientists tend to be secure in their knowledge and challenge authority as well. In fact, science can’t move forward without some challenging of the status quo. Science provides a unique problem to authoritarian leaders who both need it and squash it.

In summary, creating a political dystopia involves several factors: insecurity, authoritarianism, scapegoating, scrutiny, conformity, social stratification, anger, encouraging fertility, and anti-intellectualism. Most angry politicians embrace some or all of these policies. If you don’t like these tactics, you must do more than vote against them. Sadly, you must speak out against them as well because when people are silent, these tactics are effective.

Strange Change and other Elements of Science Fiction

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One reason I enjoy writing science fiction is because it is at its best, social satire. It’s both serious and campy, insightful and strange. It is by nature, multidisciplinary, wrought with nuance and language subtleties that make it unpalatable for some readers and catnip for others.

Author David Ketterer says “Science fiction (in the inclusive sense) combines satire with the kind of visionary (or prophetic) imagination exemplified by Dante’s Divine Comedy or Milton’s Paradise Lost. ..”

If you look at the history of science fiction, you can see prime examples of  social satire. Ray Bradbury, who wrote during the era of segregation said that much of his work is about oppression and racism. The word robot derives from the Czech word for slave so often in science fiction, you can assume that a robot represents an individual who has  low social status and is oppressed, like Wall E. The term was first coined in a play, R.U.R.  In this campy melodrama, the robots finally accomplish a rebellion against their tormentors.

Likewise, an encounter with an alien or “other” may be a subtle comment about racism, classism, or sexism, often accompanied by an anti-colonialism sentiment. One of my favorite classical examples is First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells in which a scientist and a businessman have competing ideas about studying the moon vs conquering it.

James Gunn argues that science fiction has its own set of protocols set apart from literary fiction. Like science itself, it is a genre in which characters encounter the unknown,  solve problems, and create understandable universes. He describes it as “the literature of the human species encountering change.”

Margaret Atwood calls Science Fiction “Social Commentary about Now. ” She doesn’t write a novel without a modern detail hidden in the story line. An older woman, she warns what life was like, and could be like, if women aren’t allowed to control their own bodies, as happened in the past.

Since science fiction is mainly about today’s society, a person doesn’t need to be a scientist to write science fiction. Some scientists avoid it because they dislike the anxiety about science that is often found on the pages. However, the science must be plausible and based on scientific information or the story won’t have authority. To paraphrase the late author and biochemist Isaac Asimov, science fiction needs to make brains respectable.

One way that an author can gain credibility is to accurately name chemical substances. For example, vibranium, found in Wakanda, carries the Latin noun ending -ium which became common for elements in the Victorian era when many elements were discovered and named. Despite a lot of well-known memes, keep in mind that scientists are most often drawn to science because they want to help people To create fresh, realistic characters, here are some traits that scientists feel help define them.

Through its discoveries and ways of looking at the world, science creates change that society adapts to. This is why we have science in science fiction–to create strange new change.The most important parts of science fiction are people and change, and in the best cases, satire based on today.

Cough, cough. Birds, pigs, people, and Influenza A

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I’d like to thank https://informationisbeautiful.net/licensing for letting me use this for free because fewer than 100,000 people visit my blog.

If I had a vivid imagination, I could conjure up some sinister reason for cutting funds to the CDC and the NIH as our recent Congress has done and create a fiction from it. Perhaps a corrupt leader wanted to kill off the type of people he didn’t like and had secret vaccination programs for his followers. His enemies would become infected and die. One way to do that would be with Influenza A.

There are two main categories of Influenza viruses, A,B., and C. Type A viruses cause the most trouble and can be found in humans and animals, including whales, cats, horses, and other animals,notably birds and pigs. (Bats have their own special viruses.) Influenza B is uncomfortable to humans but not deadly. There is also a human C virus which is milder yet. Influenza A can be deadly.

Besides A and B viruses are then categorized by their H and N types of proteins that they have in their outer coatings. If you want to read more about that here is a great description.  Let’s just say that it takes a match up of the right H and N to allow a virus to invade your cells, hijack them, create “baby” viruses, and pop the cells to release moe viruses. That is how we get the designations such as H1H1 (the deadly Swine flu) and H2N3 (this year’s virulent strain.) Both of these, and all Influenzas, are zoonoses–infections that can move between people and animals.

Many Type A viruses can creep between birds, human, and pigs. If you look at charts from the CDC (why are we underfunding them by the way?) you can see that birds are a significant reservoir of these viruses. Shore birds including geese are potent carriers but other types of domestic and wild birds also carry viruses. For example N3 viruses are associated with ducks.

Most Influenza A viruses originate  in birds. However, not many of these are easily transmitted to people. They can be transmitted to pigs. Pigs are a common go-between for viruses. Pigs and humans can infect each other with influenza more easily than birds and humans can infect each other. Pig flu symptoms are much like human flu symptoms.

Domestic pigs get wild bird viruses when birds interact with water used for cleaning their housing facilities that sits on site in ponds. In my opinion, deregulation of such facilities is asking for a new flu to be created.  However, the global flu pattern is that influenzas originate in Asia.

Therefore, pigs act as mixing vessels for bird flu which is hard for people to catch and pig flu which people can catch.  They create new types of flu inside them–possibly in their snouts/respiratory tracts. 

H1, H2, and H3 viruses are common during flu season and all can infect people, birds, and pigs. These viruses begin in birds, then infect pigs, where they mix, and then move on to people. There are several other diseases that can be transmitted between pigs and people. Sick pigs are a serious thing.There are even plans in the works for the government to begin an educational program for kids who handle pigs at state fairs.

And there are/were government funded scientists working on a universal flu vaccine, which we all want but is not profitable enough for big pharma to develop. That’s why we have to rely on public funds. Or if you have a sinister mind, the people who currently are in charge here in the United States do not want the common people to have this vaccine.

There is even a professor at Iowa State who is working on a universal vaccine that can be delivered via eating corn!

Another bit of good news is that UV light can kill airborne flu viruses. and these may soo be installed in hospitals and airports.

And a Japanese company has a drug that can keep the influenza virus from entering our cells, stopping it from multiplying within a day. 

So before you vote, ask your politicians what they want to do with the meager bit of taxes they’ll be collecting. Do they want a Universal flu vaccine or something like a wall or a military parade? When you are laid low with the next flu epidemic or even pandemic, you probably aren’t going to care about all that stuff you accumulated. Consider your priorities.