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End of Times?

Updated: Jul 19, 2021

As I read the New York Times this morning, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse came to mind. I haven’t read anything about those guys for decades and they don’t cross my mind with any regularity. But today they did.

In a nutshell, according to the Book of Revelations in the bible, the four horsemen appear to prepare the earth for the end of times. That almost seems fitting these days. The horseman on the White Horse represented the savior, the Red Horseman - war, the Black Horseman - famine. And, the Pale Horseman represented plague.

Although some interpretations put the White Horseman as the AntiChrist, our presidential candidates seem to be vying for the White Horseman role as the savior. Both claiming the capacity to lead us on the right path. Each with a different method. One focuses on pulling the nation together to reestablish the idea of a united nation. The other seeks to demonize and diminish his opponent while accentuating the dichotomy between two polar extremes that he sees the nation to be. Both positions pose a challenge to the people of America. Some of whom are voters, but all of whom will live with the results.

To me, the Red Horseman is represented by the warring factions created over the past 4+ years. Robert Putnam, in his book, Upswing, details how these factions have actually been developing over the past 50+ years. There are at least three of these as I see it. One is the protestors, on both sides, who march against the parts of the system they find objectionable. One is the looters who use the backdrop of the demonstrations as a distraction for their criminal behavior (This is far more complex than simply lawlessness, and too much for this small blog post). The third faction is comprised of the militant supporters of the current regime who have been given license and encouragement by the regime to wreak havoc. All three factions contribute to social unrest and uncertainty about the future.

The Black Horseman is represented by the current situation of shortages of goods and food due to climate change and Covid-19. Both have been disruptive of the supply chains that serve our communities. The impact of climate change on the food chain is not so obvious to most of us, but farmers see it. Covid-19, on the other hand, has posed real challenges resulting in shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE), respirators, etc. Anxiety about the future, as well as the desire for individual comfort, resulted in hoarding, which left store shelves empty and the stores rationing certain products.

Finally, the Pale Horsemen, representing plague, has been with us since the beginning of 2020. At this point there are tens of thousands of new cases identified each day. Over 230,000 Americans have died thus far. Some states are discussing how they might ration the respirators; with younger patients given priority over the old. It is hacking away at our productivity, finances, economy, and social system.

Historically, this picture could have been painted any number of times. My point here is that these challenges call for a higher level of mental development than we as a nation seem to have at this point. We cannot solve these challenges sustainably without a higher order of thinking. We cannot solve them with the same level of mind that created them (an Einstein paraphrase).

The “us versus them,” “my way or the highway,” “it’s all about me” adolescent mindset is a powerful driver for many adult Americans. They don’t look adolescent anymore, but they still think and act that way. For example, they don’t speed because they don’t want to get caught. They do not work well with others unless they all think similarly, and they demonize or ostracize those outside the "group." Disagreement is resolved through ejection from the social circle by shunning or through physical violence.

The next level of mental development includes those who have incorporated certain rules and regulations into how they see the world. They are "grown up." They don’t speed even when they won’t get caught because the “law” says not to do it. They may be governed by any number of sets of rules and regulations like family, church, school, state, etc.. The downside to this type of thinking is that important things might not get done out of fear of breaking the rules. For example, one might not tell another something very important for the other to know because one doesn’t want to hurt the other’s feelings (the rule: don’t hurt peoples’ feelings). Certain beliefs, and rules, are handed to us early in our development that become sacred to us. In those situations, it is even harder to violate the rule…it is sacred. Jonathon Haidt does a great job describing this in his book, The Righteous Mind.

The next level of development includes thinking for oneself unconstrained by what others think. It is not the less responsible adolescent lack of constraint, where one does what he wants because that is what he wants. Rather, it is the self-authoring frame of mind that understands the value of policies, rules, regulations, but makes decisions based on what he believes is the responsible thing to do. He takes everything into consideration, not just his personal desires. Many Americans have achieved at least some of this thinking.

Individuals are not necessarily of one mind or another. For most of us, it is a mixed bag. We have grown more in some areas that in others. We follow the rules in some areas; and things for ourselves in others. For all of us, however, neither of these levels of thinking will help us effectively meet the challenges we currently face. We can continue to reapply what we have been doing as we push the rock up the hill (really more like pushing the can down the road). Currently, our political leaders use their bully power to override each other when they can. One side gets its way…for a while. When the other side gets the power, they set out to blow up what the other side had done, and then install their stuff. The cycle repeats.

This type of behavior doesn’t go unnoticed by the electorate. On the contrary, they are energized by the battle as their side either wins or loses. Their sense of helplessness, anxiety, frustration, anger, and all the other non-helpful thoughts and feelings motivate them to support their side against the mongrel hoard on the other side.

As a nation, we need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps through dialogue and a focus on examining our thinking in an effort to overcome the assumptions that might not be correct, or at least not as correct as often as we think they are. Although it is not easy, we can do that.


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