When I was a kid in the 80s & 90s, every time I went with my grandfather to the bank he verbally abused a teller. He devised a complex system of investments so he had an excuse to visit the bank regularly — it was a safe place for him to release the career-soldier rage that regularly erupted. (He enlisted when he was 16 and was on the ground in every war I’d heard of.)
During the 2000 holiday season I worked at Borders in The Mall. (I got the gig because my friend worked there; I needed health insurance and Borders only had a one month waiting period.) One day I was working the register and an older white man handed me a credit card that wasn’t signed; I asked for his ID. (We still did that in those days.) He screamed at me for “disrespecting” him by asking for his ID, told me someday my job would be done by a computer, tore up the receipt, threw it in my face, and spat at me. (I never did get the health insurance; due to a “clerical error” in HR I was never given the paperwork, missed the deadline to apply, and would need to wait a year to apply again. Whoops, my manager said, sorry.)
I stayed informed throughout the election without hearing Trump’s voice. I still haven’t heard it, not since years ago, flipping through reality tv in some hotel room. My season of listening to angry men yelling is over. I’ve done my time.
November 8 we woke up to the reality that every dude who was ever a jackass to us or sexually assaulted us had been fused together and “elected” president.
And now here we are.
Yesterday Obama gave his last speech as president and he wants me to be a good citizen and I am trying.
Today I woke up and took my son to daycare, dropping off the monthly $850 check for two days a week of childcare. I moved my car for street cleaning. I made food for my family. I worked to build my portfolio to try to make money after spending 1.5 years as a my son’s primary caregiver. (After a year of being unemployed, a citizen’s chances of finding a job are 10%.)
I check Twitter.
I scan fast, can’t wrap my mind around it. In 10 minutes, the Trump update is already more than I can keep track of:
- refusing to answer questions
- unresolved conflicts of interest
- glibly referencing Nazi Germany
- “Trump team at the Sessions hearing just passed out a dossier citing an article about "how black Democrats stole votes"” x2
- some argument about Buzzfeed and CNN that is difficult to parse at a glance
- the black representative has to testify last
- a man’s opinions on “the demagogue” and “the way”
- a man’s opinion on “the road to authoritarianism”
- reporters being threatened with being thrown out if they try to ask questions x2
- CNN’s response to Trump’s accusations of false reporting
- a movement to #StopSessions
- a man’s opinions
- a number to call to resist Sessions
- a man reporting ethics lawyer’s reaction to Trump’s plan
- life in authoritarian states is mostly boring and tolerable
It’s impossible to know how a good citizen should respond to these 10 minutes of Trump. The overwhelm triggers complexity paralysis.
Every day a new poll, a new number to call. I pick up the phone. I’m worried that these calls are a fool’s errand; a waste of time, or worse — a waste of time designed to give the cathartic feeling of resistance.
I first recognized complexity paralysis when I felt it rising in me and around me as a high school teacher during the beginning of No Child Left Behind, when all lesson plans had to be precisely aligned, moment-by-moment, with the state standards, so no district / school / teacher could be sued, in the event of a student failing a high-stakes test, for failure to provide “opportunity to learn.” The exercise was so convoluted and degrading that it sapped the creative energy from teachers and classrooms nationwide, paving the way for online curriculum that was “better” than teachers because it came, out-of-the-box, aligned with the standards. (The Arizona high school standards “placemat” remains a classic in the complexity paralysis genre; a pdf “best to print on 11X17 paper.”)
I wonder what power might come from refusing the rising complexity? What time might be gained by refusing to try to make sense of the senseless? What new models could we build with that power and time?
I am sure very many people have written about complexity paralysis before me — I’ll add those references at the end, when I find them. I am still trying, after all, to be a good citizen: making the arguments; sharing the references; reading the history; it is useful, important. But also, remember: we don’t have to be good students anymore. Or even good citizens.
The Women’s March on Washington has an amazing Mission & Vision that is beautiful and thoughtful and better than what I’m writing here.
But today I feel like this:
Why do we march?
We march because
We march because fuck you, that’s why.
We march because power needs to be reminded what real citizenship looks like.
Arizona Social Studies Standard Articulated by Grade Level Kindergarten (pdf)
Strand 3: Civics/Government
Performance Objective 2. Recognize the rights and responsibilities of citizenship:
a. elements of fair play, good sportsmanship, and the idea of treating others the way you want to be treated
b. importance of participation and cooperation in a classroom and community
c. why there are rules and the consequences for violating them
d. responsibility of voting (every vote counts)