Sunday, January 8, 2017

Science, Politics, and Remaining Sane in a Dystopian Wonderland

Right now, we're at a risk of entering a stage in US politics where the administration is explicitly anti-science, and anti-education. At this point, debates about whether or not scientists should engage in political activism are largely irrelevant, because science, education, and pretty much everything anthropologists do will be under attack.

The issue I struggle with is figuring out how to stay motivated, engaged, and actually make a difference. It's hard to stay sane when we're experience nationwide gaslighting. Since November 9, I've felt like we collectively fell down a rabbit hole and emerged in a ugly dystopian Wonderland where up is down and nothing makes sense anymore. As someone who values facts, evidence, and reason, it's a struggle to remind myself that I am still sane, when it seems like the world around us has decided to dispense with facts and reason.

But despite that, WE CAN'T GIVE UP. Nearly everything I care about is under threat, and we  have to fight to protect it. Here some of the ways of the Trumperdink* administration threatens the work I do:

*Many thanks to Cary Elwes for the appropriate nickname
  • Under a Trumperdink administration, environmental protections will be dismantled, climate research will defunded and banned (and climate scientists may face persecution), and destructive resource extraction will increase. This will intensify the rate of global warming and ongoing mass extinction--and that's going to determinentally effect spider monkeys and bonobos and all the other primates I love.
  • Under a Trumperdink administration, public education, both at the K-12 and universities levels, are going to be under assault. Betsey DeVos is anti-public education, and anti-teaching evolution. Teaching evolution is going to be under assault, so biology teachers, biologists, and anthropologists are going to face more obstacles to our teaching and our research.
  • Women, ethnic and religious minorities, gay, transgendered, and disabled people are already facing increased risks of harassment and violence. As a women of color, I'm increasingly scared for my own safety. Since my newest research project is looking at stress and resilience in female scientists of color, this is obviously going to have an impact on our research participants, and they research itself.
  • The biggest sources of scientific funding come from the government (NSF, NIH, NASA), and in an explicitly anti-science political climate, they are going to face even more cuts. 
  • Public universities have been facing systematic budget cuts because states refuse to adequately fund them. The combination of lack funding sources, and lack of resources to hire teaching faculty, means the job market for scientists and academics is going to get even worse. It's already been difficult and grim. Right now, my future is very uncertain. And I fear the jobs in science and academia will dry up entirely, and staying in science will require competing for the few international jobs available. 
Add that to the fact that I am terribly afraid that we are heading down a dark road may lead to erosion of  our rights, and potentially genocide or nuclear war. I am afraid, it's been hard to focus on my work, and I feel divided between my desire to stay informed and remain politically active, and my need to stay sane and preserve my emotional energy for the upcoming years.

One of my biggest fears is that I'll give in to hopelessness and apathy, and that will pave the way for much worse. My biggest fear, beyond the fear of mass deportations, internment camps, genocide, or nuclear war, is that when it comes down to standing up for other people's rights, and protecting myself, is that I will choose the cowardly option. 

So for now, I'm going to focus on preventing us from reaching that point. I'm going to join the people who are standing up, speaking out, and mobilizing to protect us. I've been calling my representatives again and again, and we saw last week that this works. I'm starting to become involved in local grassroots political activism, and need to learn more about government at the local level. The past semester, in the 21st Century Scientists working group, we've been talking a lot about how to communicate science across political and tribal identities. I'm still struggling with finds ways to put this into practice, but a common theme we've been discussing is the importance of storytelling and establishing common emotional ground. I hope I can find ways to adequately put this into practice. 

Another way that I've finding hope and establishing sanity is reading quality journalism (like Teen Vogue!), and occasionally detaching from social media to read fiction.  I've been processing the current political situation is to think about so many of my favorite books, both fiction and non-fiction, that dealt with individuals facing oppressive regimes. 

Here are few really important pieces I've read online. I suggest that if you haven't, you should book mark some of these to read, and re-read, to keep yourself sane and motivated.
I've heard so many friends say that they're losing hope, or that they are coping with the political situation by disengaging with news and social media. Please stay engaged, and stay hopeful. Here's one reason to stay hopeful: the 115th Congress is the most diverse we have ever had. We still have a long way to go, but let's do our work to support them.

The women representing us (Shared from Rep. Cheri Bustos on Twitter)

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