I've been meeting some extraordinary people recently.
On Monday, went for a coffee - tea in fact - with someone a mutual connection suggested meeting over our shared interest in writing. He turned out to be one of the very smartest people I have ever met, and I know some very smart people.
Smart is not always something that impresses me, not least because it often means someone who's stuck in their rationality. And what this guy does with his intelligence is much more interesting. More so, given that he's also somewhere on the autistic spectrum and thus supposedly has difficulties processing interpersonal matters.
Now, one of the things this chap does is profiling work for people operating in military intelligence. And the way he does it is really interesting. Asked, say, to put together a profile of people active in some or other sect implicated in ugly behaviours, it's heartening to me that he steadfastly refuses to label or judge, and especially not in a negative way. So, invited to pass comment on an Islamic group for instance, rather than define them in terms of their supposed dislike for the West, he instead looks at a uniting factor that works in its own right - say, for instance 'we like to celebrate community with family members of all ages'. You'll note that this pretty much presupposes no alcohol at such gatherings, without making a point of it...because the focus is on 'celebrate community' and not 'refuse to drink the cursed alcohol that Allah forbids'. The starting point is commonality. And I love the fact that this guy does work for people that may cause them to reconsider their assessments of those we label 'other'.
The other person I met is a woman who heads up an organisation that gets results around dealing with loneliness and isolation. It's verifiable that the impact she makes can impact health budgets, for instance - because people who find ways to cope with their social isolation feel better and make different and better choices. For her though, the data she gathers is necessary for stakeholders but not vital in terms of her priorities. What she's about is creating circumstances in which people experience love.
These are interesting times. And one of the things it's very easy to do is to feel bad, and hold some or other individual or group responsible for those feelings. It's called 'othering'. That is, we make fellow humans who we have so much in common with, something less than human. You can see Donald Trump do it in the way he talks about Mexicans, about women, about pretty much anyone outside his immediate family. You can see it in media stories like a recent one about a plane passenger who was taken off a jet because a fellow passenger felt nervous in his presence - all on the basis of his skin colour and the things she hallucinated on the basis of it. A few pointed questions would reveal the ugly thinking that had led her to feel uncomfortable, but right now it's somehow acceptable to go along with that kind of toxic mental activity because it chimes with what some political and media interests would like us to believe.
There are other ways to experience the life we share with the fellow denizens of a rock that's spinning round the sun and getting more densely packed with people as it does. Elon Musk's mass market priced Tesla 3 electric cars have an amazing 325,000 pre-orders. These eco-friendly vehicles can make a real difference with regard to our reliance on fossil fuels. And the solar batteries Musk also makes mean the cars can be charged at home, without the need for centralised power that fossil fuel based distribution is predicated upon.
The ability to control what people do and have access to is based on a model that says someone else knows better than you. Which itself rests on assumptions that people at large can't be trusted. True enough - we are after all the people who implicitly support such a system. And it's not far from there to the dawning suspicion that the whole model of state control rests on a kind of othering made a lot easier when the media - which colludes with the state more often than not - makes it clear who the heroes and villains of the world are, and where our attention should be focused. Or, in headline form - ISLAM BAD, GO TEAM GO, NEW KARDASHIAN PICS.
There isn't a 'them'. All there is, is us. And if people in military intelligence are learning to understand that such a separating out is simplistic, and that action to address loneliness and isolation is rooted in getting people to engage with each other more...
Well - if all that's the case - and it is -
Then maybe love really can change the world.