On the Global Women’s Marches

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The top news story of the past week was clearly the one event that overshadowed the Trump inauguration—both in numbers and in historical significance. The world has never seen a grass roots expression of global unity like the Women’s Marches of January 21, 2017. If you haven’t seen the January 22nd New York Times’ series of photos entitled Pictures of the Women’s Marches On Every Continent stop reading at the end of this paragraph and “google it.” It will bring tears of joy and wonder to those who have longed for a sign that humanity is capable, as a species, of responding to the threats to human dignity—and to human survival—by the rise in right-wing nationalism.

The signs women carried as they marched the streets on every continent, including Antarctica, revealed the marchers’ depth of feeling as well as their sense of humor:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” (quoting MLK)

“Men of quality don’t fear equality.”

“Grab your own…”

“Marching forward because we refuse to go backward.”

“I survived cancer. Trump made me uninsurable.”

“Women’s rights are human rights.” (quoting Hillary)

“We shall overcomb.” (a personal favorite)

“Respect existence or expect resistance.”

On the face of it, the cause celebrated primarily by women but actually for all of us was straight-forward: women were insulted and worried by a host of issues relating to a male-centered turn to the right and its divisive agenda.

What might we find, however, if we look for the underlying forces involved in these events? Is it possible, for example, that both the Trump election and the Women’s Marches represent a surfacing of a deep rift in the psychological and social organization of humanity?

Everyone knows that a young child’s view of the world is more self-centered and narrow than the adult view. Likewise, when vulnerability due to fear or severe illness begins to dominate the adult mind, one’s focus narrows to those factors most relevant to personal survival or freedom from pain.

We also know that societies around the globe have, from time immemorial, been vacillating between economic policies based on self-centered individualism and competition on the one hand, and on the other, a more empathic concern for others combined with a sense that individual well-being is best achieved by sharing and cooperation among members of the group.

These two different orientations are the result of tendencies in the human mind that may be partially genetic in origin, i.e., the result of natural selection processes based on “the selfish gene” and on “group selection,” perhaps partially cultural in origin based on ideological and educational processes.

The extreme examples of these two approaches to socio-economic organization may be represented by the histories of 19th century laissez-faire capitalism (condemned by both Keynes and Hayek) and 20th century Stalinist-type socialism neither of which in practice proved to win the lasting support of its citizens. What system, in history, has empirically and consistently won the support of its citizens?

The answer, it turns out, is reasonably clear. It is the balance between self-interest and sharing that has been achieved by the social democracies of Northern Europe. How do we know this is true?

Surveys of the citizens of these countries consistently show them to be happier than the people of most other countries, with Denmark at last check, ranking first according to the World Economic Forum. A broader spectrum of evidence, the Human Development Index, 2014, based on health statistics, educational levels, wealth, and the distribution of wealth, shows that four out of the five highest ranking countries are northern European social democracies, with Norway at the top of the list and Denmark among the top five. What more proof do we need?

Oh yes, and the Northern European social democracies also happen to have Universal Health Care, free university education, paid paternal and maternal leave, state-supported day care—and the highest percentages of women in government!

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