What a strange and disquieting time 2021 has been. We might all be advised to pause and reflect upon its impact, personally and socially, individually and collectively, locally and globally. A significant theme running throughout, it strikes me, from the family to the global stage is the ever present one of freedom and security, the indispensable if not immediately compatible conditions of humane society. The tension between these paradoxical pillars of existence remains piercingly topical in the current climate of political, economic, environmental and relational change. It is a time when our attention should be aimed in a continuous, laser like fashion toward this balance, our critical thinking (and re-thinking) active and honed in its preservation. When we fail in the task we run the risk of collapsing into fundamentalist thinking and all that proceeds it, an entirely more toxic proposition.
Polarised thinking can exist on all sides of the political and religious spectrum. When we are caught in its vice we adopt an “either/or” approach to issues that might be better served (though less easily talked about or solved) with degrees of nuance and ambiguity. Whilst fundamentalist groups can meet real and genuine needs for human connection and community, they will more often do so in ways that are regressive. The price of belonging often requires blind loyalty to the group and submission to “group think” with a consequent relinquishing of complexity.
When we close our minds to complexity we will fail to evaluate data independently and objectively. Since the group is always right there is no need to consider other points of view or indeed how other people might feel, especially when doing so might threaten our own experience of belonging. Children who have grown up feeling powerless and uncared for may become adults who find comfort and protection in authoritarian structures. For many, submitting to something or someone more powerful than their chaotic and fragmented selves will create the illusion of safety, power and purpose.
From the American election to Brexit to the seismic impact of the coronavirus and too numerous to mention severe and unusual weather events the issues of freedom and security abound. Truth and objectivity are up for grabs in an information overload economy. Many of todays culture wars are incubated and permeated through the channels of social media. Algorithms that tap into our negativity bias’s push them to the top of our Twitter, Facebook and You Tube feeds. Slowly, slowly, click by click social media serves to amplify our very worst qualities. Our dopamine guided appetite for push notifications and news feeds is akin to addiction and this it something that should rightly concern us. We should all beware entering the echo chamber and the uncomfortable truth is that we all linger somewhere in its corridors. Culture wars are driven by emotions and derive their power from being unconscious and out of awareness, they depend on primitive and childlike forms of thinking and the inability to fully value or acknowledge different points of view. The battleground is the power to define reality.
Our contemporary dramas, Covid and climate change amongst them, now play out on a global stage. Recognition of our inter-dependence in respect of our present as well as our future is crucial. Nothing we do or fail to do can be indifferent to the fate of anyone else. All of us who share the planet depend upon each other for our present and our future. None can remain untouched by the storms (viral or otherwise) that originate in any part of the globe. So as the New year beckons may we consider how our psychological and moral capacities are inextricably entwined. May we (re)claim and care for our minds, may we hold space for the minds of others, may we be sure to pay attention to the development of young minds. The freedom and security of the planet may depend on it.
Gerry Gilmartin is an accredited, registered and experienced psychotherapeutic counsellor. She currently works with individuals (young people/adults) and couples in private practice. Gerry is available at our Brighton and Hove Practice.
Further reading by Gerry Gilmartin –