This year’s presidential campaign exposed many Americans to new touchstones of political incivility, but none more dangerously than our nation’s children. Many parents, educators and community leaders have expressed concern over the rampant public exposure of children to excessive levels of disrespect, lying, bullying, and emotional violence; stories abound of children modeling this behavior in their schools and communities. Of greater concern is the fact that this exposure is a form of adverse childhood experience well established to have long-term developmental and social consequences.
The crux issues in the election had their foundation in three key evolutionary trends:
1. How our society has responded to natural trends in social evolution
2. Whether we have invested enough in our citizens so that they have the capacity to thrive in a changing America,
3. The changing relationships between America and the rest of the world.
There would be no need to “bring back” ways of life, and ways of being, as a nation, if people’s lives had been able to keep up with social evolution.
Evolution is a process rooted in interaction with – and perception of -- the outer world. Species in the natural environment use these kinds of interactions to advance their effectiveness; this “exploratory behavior” is a mark of the most successful developing organisms (think fish who try and leave the pond, thousands may have tried and failed but the one who made it started something big) and highlights ‘learning after maturity’ in particular as an important evolutionary advantage (hence our brains developing consciousness to the disadvantage of our once massive musculoskeletal systems).
Our American society is probably considered by many of its members to be a “mature species” – resulting in discomfort with exploratory behavior and unconsciously resistant of ‘learning after maturity’.
We live at a time in human social history where major ‘exploratory behaviors’ – globalism, multi-culturalism and gender equity immediately come to mind – have come to bear on more people faster than their current capacity to adapt to them.
Irrespective of their inevitable nature, these trends have stressed those affected by the changes they have wrought; leaving them with limited recourse or opportunities to acclimate.
The forces of evolution are so strong, that, when stressed, species may make desperate attempts to achieve equilibrium – retain their status quo - even when equilibrium is impossible and change is unavoidable. These attempts may seem to impede evolutionary progress, but they only create temporary solace to the disaffected; only the pace changes, not the path.
This phenomenon partially accounts for the 2016 Presidential election...“a desperate attempt to achieve equilibrium when equilibrium is impossible and change is unavoidable”. It may impede evolutionary progress and create temporary solace to the some of the disaffected, but will only change the pace, not the path.
As David Galenson, a world-class economic researcher and professor at the University of Chicago has said about change:
“(Innovation is) not simply initially unappreciated: it is vigorously attacked. Any (innovation) necessarily involves the rejection of older values. For practitioners and admirers of those older values, this causes “a sense of loss, of sudden exile, of something willfully denied . . . a feeling that one’s accumulated culture or experience is hopelessly devalued.” It is hardly surprising that those committed to established forms refuse to accept innovations that would make those forms obsolete, and thus cause a devaluation of their own knowledge and skills. This phenomenon is not unique to art, but in scholarship is known as Planck’s principle, named for the physicist Max Planck, who observed that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
Which is why the answer to any social problem facing America in 2017 and beyond is in the next generation: “Better Children”. While I wish we could make substantive changes in educational and skill levels of all adult Americans, we have an extraordinary opportunity to assure the education of their children, who are the future of America. Let’s put our collective focus on assuring all American children have the knowledge and cognitive skills to ensure their success, create a society of inclusion and mutuality, and never has to fear or impede progress.