Like a lot of people, I was shocked last Tuesday when, instead of the Hillary Clinton win that I expected, I went to bed with the nightmare of a President Trump coursing through my still-awake brain.
It took me a long time to fall asleep. I did my best to relax, to reassure myself that this wasn't the end of the world. But damn, it sure felt like it.
During the past post-election week, I've been exploring mental defusing approaches to keep my head from exploding.
They seem to be helping, though it's difficult to separate the healing that comes from the simple passage of time and relief provided by the three philosophical approaches described below.
Your results may differ, of course, because you and I are different people.
I'm a godless scientific-minded materialist. So "Trump's election is part of God's plan" doesn't do anything for me, while it may for you. However, my first philosophical approach has some similarities to this sentiment. Minus God and plan.
It's my favorite, so I'll describe it in more detail than the other two approaches.
(1) Determinism rules the world. And, elections. I'm a big non-believer in free will. (Type "free will" in the Google search box in the right sidebar to find my many posts on this subject.) There's just no evidence that anything other than deterministic laws of nature are responsible for why things turn out the way they do.
It's easy to accept this when it comes to events involving entities that aren't alive, such as earthquakes. When a town is devastated by the ground shifting underneath it, nobody blames the earth for doing something wrong.
Likewise, if a lion attacks someone in an African jungle, the animal isn't viewed as blameworthy. At least, not in the sense of "it could have acted otherwise." Lions do what they do because that's their nature. But most of us view human beings differently.
We have this strange idea that Homo sapiens is a species that isn't governed by the deterministic laws that everything else in the universe, living and non-living alike, must follow. The reason: evolution has given us a sense of being an ethereal free-floating consciousness that is able to freely choose what the mind and body do.
Almost certainly, this is an illusion, one that has benefits, yet also drawbacks.
Just as a wrongly-held belief in free will makes us judgmental toward criminals (vindictive punishment isn't scientifically justified in a deterministic world, while controlling their behavior and rehabilitation is), so does it make us think "Donald Trump wouldn't have been elected president if only... ."
Clinton hadn't wanted her own email server. Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic nominee. FBI Director Comey hadn't released his letter soon before the election. Etc. Etc.
There's no such thing as "if only" in a deterministic world. Only one thing can happen at a time. Then another thing happens. And a following thing. There is no reality where anything happened differently than what actually occurred.
I find this comforting. This is why I enjoy dispassionate fact-based analysis of 2016 election results, as described in a recent post on my other blog.
As weird as Trump is, his winning the White House wasn't a random unexplainable bolt of electoral lightning. Like everything else in life, it was the result of causes and effects, some of which can be understood by us humans, and some of which elude our current ability to make sense of political reality.
I don't like what happened on November 8. But then, I don't like a lot of things that happen in the world.
Having Dover remind me that everything happens for various reasons, including presidential victories, helped me view the reality of President Trump as simply one more explainable undesirable event -- like an epidemic, earthquake, or economic downturn.
Now, I want to be clear: believing in determinism doesn't mean that one is fatalistic. Rather, just the opposite. Earthquakes and lion attacks have to be fought, resisted, dealt with, anticipated. But our reactions to determined events also are determined. (As is someone writing a blog post about determinism, and other people reading it.)
The advantage of a deterministic point of view is that energy isn't wasted in non-productive negative feelings of "this shouldn't be happening."
A skilled boxer doesn't worry about the punch that didn't land, or his opponent's blow that did. He uses that information in deciding what to do next. Focusing on a non-existent might have been distracts from bringing about the potential actuality of what can be.
(2) There is no objective right or wrong, good or bad. Related to my strong belief in determinism is a conviction that nowhere in the universe does an objectively real entity known as "right," "wrong," "good," or "bad" exist.
These labels are applied to things, people, events, and such by subjective human beings. They don't possess any reality outside of the human mind. Which doesn't mean they are unimportant judgments; deciding what is right or wrong, good or bad is an inescapable part of being human.
Our makeup is such that, in contrast to animals, we continually draw abstract conclusions from concrete happenings.
An earthquake isn't only that. It gets adjectives: devastating, horrific, terrifying. Similarly, the election of Donald Trump isn't only that. It gets the same sort of adjectives from people who were opposed to him: frightening, disastrous, dangerous.
I try to keep in mind that about half of the electorate was pleased, if not overjoyed, by Trump's victory. At the same time, about half was saddened, if not seriously depressed. Was one of these reactions correct, in tune with objective reality, commensurate with the way the world really is?
No. Both were subjective. The only objective truth is: Donald Trump has been elected president of the United States.
(3) Expanding our perspective alters our point of view. Obviously. Yes, it is possible to see the universe in a grain of sand. Still, there is a difference between the universe and a grain of sand.
Science-lover that I am, news that there are hugely more galaxies in the universe than previously thought helps me to view Trump, myself, and everything else in our world as less cosmically significant.
Recent research conducted by an international team led by Christopher Conselice, an astrophysics professor at the University of Nottingham, found that the universe has about 2 trillion galaxies, which is 10 times more than previous estimates.
Two trillion galaxies. Not two hundred billion, which is still a heck of a lot. Two trillion. Each containing on average maybe 100 billion stars.
I feel very, very small. Not insignificant. Just small.
Understand: it is vitally important that we protect the livability of our one and only planet Earth. All those other galaxies, all those other stars with all those other planets, they don't do us a bit of good, because we're stuck with our galaxy, our star, our planet.
Still, I enjoy having my mind blown by the thought of those 2 trillion galaxies. It doesn't change the reality of what just happened in the 2016 presidential election. But it damn sure gives me a different perspective on it.