Everything is unsustainable but it will be ok

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

I have found myself struggling to discuss politics recently, and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. It’s never been an easy subject to discuss, but I’ve found that it’s taken on a different level of darkness in the past couple of years. It was hard to pin down why, but I remembered one interesting research paper I had read a while ago that got me thinking about an answer.

The paper in question is a bit long and technical, but there is one important and key takeaway. There’s been a decline in the social fabric of the country, particularly social trust, and that decline is driven by a loss of confidence in political institutions, dissatisfaction with income, and unemployment. It seems obvious, but it’s one of those points that only clicks once you see its effects play out. Right now, we are at a period in history where we are watching this play out around the world.

Unfortunately, this decline in social trust drives a lot of the racial tensions we see in the country. It’s much easier to distrust those who don’t look like you than it is to distrust those who do. Our opinions about politics and culture are becoming more extreme and polarized, and social media is accelerating the rate at which we understand our own suffering as well as accelerating the rate that misinformation is spread. Combine that with the declining trust and constant stress of 21st-century late-stage capitalism, and we have a deadly concoction for social, political, and economic instability that is entirely unsustainable and leads to violence, particularly against minorities.

This was one of the reasons I found myself struggling to articulate my feelings about racism in America against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. On one hand, we need to understand the reasons for violence committed against the AAPI community. But on the other hand, we can’t and shouldn’t inadvertently legitimize violence against a group of people just because the majority in a country feel insecure and unstable in their own lives. There has to be a balance between understanding what drives violence and condemning the violence that is committed. But I couldn’t find it.

In the same way, I had found it difficult to talk about the fetishization of AAPI women and the way that drives violence against AAPI women. I don’t want to inadvertently give any legitimacy to desperate men who entrench themselves in right-wing and white supremacy spheres because they’re lonely and frustrated. There’s also the other issue that I am a man and will never experience this. But these are difficult conversations that we need to have that are only getting more difficult to have. So how do we do that?

The short answer to that: I don’t know.

I think it’s okay to not know at this point in time. That was a tough pill to accept. The best thing any of us can do is listen to those who are vulnerable to the ills of our unsustainable social fabric. Part of increasing social trust is listening to the most vulnerable, and of course, it differs based on different contexts and scenarios. Harm reduction is our best strategy in this current time period, and hopefully, we can do enough of that to start rebuilding our social fabric again.

Yet I can’t help but feel scared. When I first moved to this country, it wasn’t the rosy American Dream picture that gets pitched to all immigrants, but there was still a certain warmth that I remember the country used to have more of. Even though I have experienced racism before and have been bullied by racist people when I was younger, I still wasn’t as afraid of going outside then as I am of going outside now as a pretty big 21-year-old guy. I know there are many others who feel the same way.

But the night is darkest before dawn. We have had many dark chapters in history, and this is one of them. It doesn’t help that social media makes this dark period more difficult to manage because there’s so much information and news out there. But I’m certain of one thing: just listen and remember to take breaks. You don’t have to be worried about every issue all the time. Change will take a lot of time, and you won’t miss out on it just because you took a few days off from caring about the world to take care of yourself. Ultimately, we’re all in this together, whether we like it or not. If we listen to each other and ourselves, I think we’ll all get through this just fine.

Or maybe we won’t. It’s a frightening possibility, but we’ll figure that out when we get there.