The Dark Side Of Good Works

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It seems to be increasingly popular and even fashionable these days for  people to get involved in doing what they perceive as good works.  A lot of these good works on the left involve social justice projects – projects that involve social justice for minorities, for women and for lgbtq people.  And increasingly, as the evidence of extreme weather events is displayed, climate change has also become an issue of utmost importance for people particularly on the left, people who realize that they are going to be living with the consequences of climate change for a long period of time.  And obviously this primarily impacts the people who are just beginning on their life journeys, the young people.  On the right, the perceived good works mostly involve fighting what the people there perceive as infringements of individual liberty.  Government interfering too much in the right of people to bear arms.  Government forcing people to wear masks or get vaccinated.  Government taking too much money away from people in taxes.  Government forcing parents to accept the teaching of certain views of race that don’t necessarily correspond to what the parents are thinking about the matter.        Social justice and climate change, on the one hand, and individual liberty, on the other, seem to be the main matters involving the time, energy and state of mind of political people today and particularly the youth.  But I would submit that perhaps something else motivates these people over and above the issues as presented.  What a healthy way it becomes to pull out of the numbness generated by modern technological society.  What a fantastic way to separate themselves from the experiential vacuum in which they find themselves.

So over and above the actual problems at hand, there is an additional motivator to be found in their technologically transformed state of being.  My concern is that this additional motivator could distort their response to the problems they face in such a way that they don’t deal with their problems as effectively as they would like to.  Or else they are led to create a group of secondary problems that can be as or almost as disturbing as the original problems to which they have directed themselves to deal with.

One way to pull out of numbness through a good works project is to become intensely earnest in one’s execution of the project.  Now obviously, one needs to have a certain amount of earnestness, defined discrete focused passion, to carry forth a project through all the potential friction generated by obstacles to the project.  But when that earnestness is too strong, it means that the person who is the agent of the project is going to have difficulties changing the rhythm of the reparative process involved when it is required.  Sometimes to succeed in a project, one has to slow down one’s execution or even pause.  Sometimes, one has to perform certain procedures that don’t seem to be obviously connected to the main strategies of the good works project.  In other words, too much earnestness prevents the development of agility and flexibility in maneuvering towards a solution.  One needs a certain amount of flowing blendable continual thinking in order to succeed.

Flexibility and agility are particularly needed to avoid perseveration regarding inappropriate game plans.  And regarding game plans that have been ignored and that should be more thoroughly considered.  Without flexibility and agility, people can very easily run into a brick wall, by always moving along a linear path.  Right now, I’m thinking of the trashing of property that accompanied demonstrations of Black Lives Matter after George Floyd was killed.  And of the January 6 insurrection in our nation’s Capital.  In both of these cases, the political movements that accompanied the sentiments involved in these actions were perhaps strengthened regarding the more hardened extreme members in each case.  But for much of the mainstream public, there was a turning away from both of these manifestations of violence, which had simply lost the direction and purpose of the ideas which this uncontrollable behavior was supposed to move forward.   When things were not going in the desired direction for many of the people in these movements, and they felt stuck in a vacuum, they burst forth in an explosive emotional expression to pull away from the numbness they were feeling.

In damaging and destroying property, people affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement ended up hurting the neighborhoods and the downtowns of the cities that they were trying to transform and rebuild.  The people who stormed the Capitol of the United States on January 6th of this year almost ended up destroying the democracy which is the foundation of the U.S.  Talk about being overly earnest.

The point is that there is no perfect pathway for carrying on a designated good work.  But one always has to be careful not to allow numbness to distort one’s aims.  Personally, I am much more afraid of numbness distorting the aims of the Republicans than the Democrats.  In a recent poll, 30% of Republicans said that it may be necessary to resort to violence to achieve their aims.  That’s a lot of Republicans who feel a need to pull themselves out of an experiential vacuum.

Acerca de Laurence Mesirow

Durante mi estadía en la Ciudad de México en los años setenta, me di cuenta que esta enorme ciudad contenía en sus colonias distintos "medio ambientes vivenciales", que iban desde muy antiguas a muy recientes; desde muy primitivas a muy modernas.Observé que había diferencias sutiles en la conducta de la gente y en sus interacciones en las diferentes colonias. Esta observación fue fundamental en la fundación de mis teorías con respecto a los efectos de la tecnología moderna sobre los medio ambientes vivenciales y sobre la conducta humana.En México, publiqué mi libro "Paisaje Sin Terreno" (Editorial Pax-México), y luego di conferencias para la U.N.A.M. y la Universidad Anahuac. También, presenté un ensayo para un Congreso de Psicología.Ahora que mis hijas son adultas, tengo el tiempo de explorar mis ideas de vuelta. Le agradezco mucho a y en especial al Sr. Daniel Ajzen por la oportunidad de presentar mis ideas.

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