Thursday, January 21, 2021

A Reminder of Climate Change

You'd think that climate change wasn't a thing anymore, given how little I talk about it. That's the problem when you have a long-term but urgent crisis vs. many short-term crises.

So for today, here are a couple of data maps that I just saw, showing some 60-year data. These are from the Twitter feed of meteorologist Brian Brettschneider.

First, temperature change in the 50 U.S. states between 1961 and 2020:

My only argument with this map is the color key: white represents the largest temperature change, rather than the usual no data. (Maybe Hawaii has no data? It looks like Canada and Mexico.) So Alaska and those parts of the Southwest have the greatest change (+3.5°F), while the darkest red areas are next-most at 3–3.5°, etc. 

My home areas—the Twin Cities and central Upstate New York—are in the 2.5–3.0° range.

And then there's precipitation change in those states:

Again, both of my home places are in the upper range, this time 115–125% more precipitation. 

Other areas of the country, though, are getting dryer (yellow, and especially orange). Our local climatologists always remind us that Minnesota is becoming warmer and wetter, and then describe what that means for various aspects of life (humans, animals, and plants) and our economy.

As Brettschneider summarized the data in the conclusion to his thread, 

On this map (the first map shown here), 3,084 counties are warming at a statistically significant level, 0 are cooling at a statistically significant level, and the remaining 31 are warming but do not meet the 95% statistical significance threshold.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021


I don't know who John M. Crisp is, other than that he's a syndicated columnist with the Tribune News Service. I've never noticed his byline before. But I did read an op-ed of his that ran in the Star Tribune this morning, and and I still agree with what he said after watching this good day of inauguration activities, including Joe Biden's very positive speech.

The headline the Strib put on Crisp's article was Demcracy doesn't need unity, healing, and that fits it pretty well. The part that drew me in was this:

...unity and healing are wonderful aspirations, but they are not essential to democracy.

No, democracy's essential prerequisite is faith. Democracy works only if citizens believe in it.

Most important, they must have faith that their elections are legitimate. And this is Trump's greatest transgression against the nation, convincing millions, with no evidence, that the 2020 election was "rigged."

...our democracy has endured for decades when it was far from unified and healed, and its continuation does not depend on unifying all of its citizens or healing all of their wounds.

In fact, the videos of the insurrection indicate that many of the citizens who attacked the Capitol are beyond unification and healing.

Democracy has been impaired in the past by racism, but not at the level we saw two weeks ago at the U.S. Capitol. Unifying with people who still think what those people were thinking is not possible or advisable.

I would add, it appears that way too many members of Congress are indicating they're beyond unification and healing, too, from the extremes (Greene, Boebert, Cawthorne, Hawley, Cruz) to Kevin McCarthy who made a pretty speech full of unification cloaked in white supremacy. A Wall Street Journal rep today said on Fox News that the Democrats are being divisive by talking about white supremacy. So who's supposed to be doing the unifying?

Biden, of course, struck a more conciliatory tone than I am, which is fine so far. I don't want him to be a president only for the people who voted for him, the way Mafia Mulligan was. But the way to be a president for them is not by upholding white supremacy, even though they think it is. 

We won't be unifying with that.


Just after I posted this, I saw this from fiction writer Saladin Ahmed on Twitter:

division isn't the problem how can unity be the solution? (the problem is that some people don't want to share the resources and security and social power they stole from other people in the first place)


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

A Follow-up from Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Yesterday I saw mention of the fact that the Fair Housing Act was signed into law by Lyndon Johnson in April, 1968, during the riots that followed King's assassination. 

Five and a half years later in October 1973, under President Richard Nixon (!), Donald J. Trump was sued for violating that law because he wouldn't rent to Black people in the rental buildings he owned in New York City.

If you were to survey Americans of voting age, how many of them do you think are aware of that fact vs. how many of them are aware of the made up controversy about "Hillary Clinton's emails"?

Which one of those things was a relevant topic that should have had substantial coverage in the 2016 presidential campaign? (Among many other relevant aspects of Trump's business career, not to mention any criminal aspects of his personal life.)

I ask this because, follwing the post I saw about the Fair Housing Act — which mentioned Trump's 1973 violation — there were multiple comment from people who had never heard of his violation. But I would be willing to bet money that they all know about "her email" to some extent.

Our media fail us, and continue to fail us.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Photos, Reality, Unintended Consequences

Twelve years ago (2009) on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it was one day before the inauguration of Barack Obama, and a Washington, D.C.-area photographer named Matt Mendelsohn spent the golden hour that morning and the next day photographing regular people who were excited about the inauguration. Today he shared some of his photos on Facebook. I can't figure out how to link directly to his post, but if you go to his wall and scroll a bit you will find the full post. I'm including several of them here. 

This is what he wrote:

It's MLK Day. Except that the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is closed today, thanks to the white supremacist insurrectionists who tried to take over our Capitol last week. But we are not deterred. As we look forward to Wednesday, I thought I would honor today's holiday with some photos that you've never seen.

Twelve years ago, I went outside at sunrise and photographed the unbelievable sense of excitement at the dawning of the Obama era. It was inauguration morning. And remember, despite what has been denied to us by our seditionist countrymen, an inauguration is supposed to be a joyous event. It's a celebration of democracy, not a wake for democracy.

It was a frigid morning, 1/20/09. If you weren't there I can't describe how bitter cold that air was that day. (Also of note: this wasn’t even INSIDE the security zone; these were folks waiting to get IN the security zone!) And yet there was only pride and jubilation on the street. Excitement and hope for the future. A feeling that maybe we were finally changing as a nation.

Over the years, I've published the photo of the little boy with the Obama hat several times. (Some day I might even find him!) But nothing else. It all just sits on a hard drive. When I heard the MLK Memorial was closed today, I figured we all need a little lift. I went back to the original 2009 inauguration folder to see what else I could show you. The terrorists can try and ruin a holiday, and they can try and ruin an inauguration, but they will never, ever succeed. Good always triumphs.

When I saw these images on Facebook today, I think they had the effect on me that Mendelsohn intended, but they also made me remember something I read just the night before in Isabel Wilkerson's book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

In the chapter called "Cortisol, Telomeres, and the Lethality of Caste," she describes the utterly depressing research that finds white Americans who score high on a measure of automatic prejudice have a physical reaction when shown photos of Black people. Their brains perceive threat and their bodies arm themselves "for vigilance within 30 milliseconds of exposure, the blink of an eye, the researchers have found" (pages 304–305).

The next section in Wilkerson's book is called "Backlash," and it's about what has come since Obama's presidency. It's been clear since the Tea Party, no matter how much denial we hear. Many Black writers and thinkers have said the same thing, and the Trump years have driven it home even more.

So when I see Mendelsohn's beautiful photos, I also feel sad, knowing that they trigger the opposite effect in some white people and there's nothing I or anyone can do about that. A photographer sets out to document the world, but also to make it a better place. At least I know that this photographer has that purpose.

This is why everyone hates social scientists: because they report what they find. How could anyone come away from looking at these images — which show emotional, real people — feeling fear and animosity toward the people, instead of empathizing with them and seeing that we are all one?

But that's what the data shows.

And some of these photos also showed that a Black man (no matter how "light, bright, and damn near white," as they used to say) was going to be president. And then he was president, and I'll be, he was a much better president than all of the white guys in recent years! It was just too much for a lot of white people. 

So here we are, cresting the second wave of our first Civil War.

(I'm not quite finished with Caste yet, by the way, but I highly recommend it.)

Sunday, January 17, 2021

What Do Conservatives Love About America That's Actually American?

I saw a short video shared on Twitter this morning, in which a young person asked conservatives what they mean when they say they love America, since they also seem to hate so many aspects of America. (Watch it here.)

The person who posted the video asked, "I’d love to hear someone answer this question."

I'm also obsessed with this question, and grew up in a conservative area, so I was interested to see what people had to say. I filtered through the obvious answers about white supremacy (which is definitely a key part) to see what else might be suggested.

There were a variety of responses.

As a former Republican I can answer this. When they say they love America, they love the America that only exists in the minds of children who haven't learned better. It's why they hate the left so much, because the left knows America isn't the greatest country in the world.
Kris @Kariodude

That reminded me of Stephen Colbert's great bit about how people tend to want everything to be like it was in some mythical past, which always turns out to be around when they were 8 years old. No matter how bad things were at that point in history (people who were 8 during the Depression think it was great, people who were 8 during World War II think it was great, and so on). It's because they were children then and didn't know how things really were.

I think this specifically is what they love. The “American” dream:


That one reminds me of George Lakoff's explanation about the strict father as the base of conservative morality. (Even more on it here.)

Oooh! Oooh! I know! I know!
1. Guns.
2. Being able to control a woman's uterus.
3. A community of citizens who look/act like me.
4. Guns.
5. A voting system that insures I'm represented by people who look and think like me.
6. The ability to never feel uncomfortable.
7. Guns.
Steve Turner

That point about never having to feel uncomfortable. That is definitely part of it.

And I'm trying to remember if I've seen a good analysis of how guns play into it. Something about penises and insecure masculinity in a culture of toxic masculinity? I know, it reminds me of that amazing article by historian Walter Johnson from 2018 about his life growing up around guns, which included these words: "guns are tools: tools for making emotionally stunted men feel whole."

The only real answers I have gotten from conservatives are:
1. This is a Christian nation and they like that (even though this is inaccurate)
2. They like the flag and think liberals are un-American for burning it (they seem to think this is a big hobby)
That’s it.

I get the sense from a lot of material I've read, written by people who've left evangelical Christian communities, that this point about a Christian nation is even more true than I already think in all my fear of theocracy. Ugh.

My brother had a good answer to this question. He said they want to live in their small mostly white towns and not have anything change, ever.
Tyler Hendrick

This is exactly it. Even a change for the better! If that happens, then they're pissed that they didn't benefit from it for the first few decades they lived there, so it's not fair that others will benefit now.

It's such a weird ideology like, while there's nothing wrong with being a bit weary of sudden change and what not, the way they go about it is like, almost parasitic in how utterly and aggressively stubborn they are of ANY change. Pretty much since the civil war, they've been the defacto opposition to any sort of societal change for the better, Ending Slavery, Civil Rights, LGBT Rights in general, Inter-racial Marriage, etc etc. Hell I bet they were the main ones opposed to ending child labor too.

Oh, they were definitely opposed to ending child labor.

That complete opposition to change is one of the things at the core of conservatism. I think these three comments touch on some of the main aspects of conservatism, especially the loss-aversion angle, which we hear repeated all the time on topics like student-debt forgiveness. It's like freshman hazing or the continuation of child abuse: I had to live with it, so everyone who comes afterward must also... I turned out all right despite it, so you need to live through it, too. Or even the more twisted, it made me what I am today.

MAD, 1968:


Super Patriot and conservative are not the same thing, of course, but they often see themselves as interchangeable, and this 52-year-old MAD magazine page shows us that we are not making new observations. 

But we already knew that.


Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt ascribes conservatives' stances to the way conservatives vary in their feelings about six core forms of morality, compared to liberals. Other social psychologists look to the big six personality traits

Saturday, January 16, 2021

So Young, So Full of Vileness

I don't remember when I first heard of Madison Cawthorn, newly elected member of Congress from North Carolina's 11th District, which is the seat formerly held by Mark Meadows (Mafia Mulligan chief-of-staff).

It may have been at the Republican National Convention this summer or just before that. I know I read his Wikipedia page that night and shook my head over his lie about how his partial paralysis from a car crash is what made him unable to attend the Naval Academy. (He had been rejected before that.) Then there was the part about how he went to college (at Patrick Henry College) for one semester before dropping out with D grades. That 22-year-old private college, by the way, appears to be part of the parallel universe of institutions the Religious Right is constructing to keep its young — mostly home-schoolers like Cawthorn — hermetically sealed from the rest of the world and to train the vanguard of the future they foresee.

It seems as though before that, the first thing I had heard about Cawthorn is that he visited Hitler's vacation home in 2017 (because it had been on his bucket list... since when do 22-year-olds have bucket lists?). He had posted a photo of the visit on Instagram.

That's quite an outfit you've got there, Herr Cawthorn! (This is not the photo from Hitler's place. It's also not that guy from Raiders of the Lost Ark who gets melted near the end, though I could see why you might be confused.)

Since being elected, Cawthorn has been an enthusiastic backer of Mulligan's ongoing coup, and, of course, voted not to certify the election and against his impeachment. He's been recorded telling people to contact their representatives and "lightly threaten them" and he spoke at the rally before the insurrectionists stormed the Capitol on January 6.

And — deep breath — I wouldn't be writing any of this tonight if it weren't for an additional bit of Cawthorn's personal history I just heard about today. 

During his single semester at Patrick Henry, he was so well known as a sexual predator that 150 fellow students from his time there signed a letter to that effect (there are not many more than 300 students at the school!). One signer is the woman who was the head Resident Assistant in the women's dorm and had personal knowledge of residents who reported his behavior to her at the time. 

This story from October 2020 has many details from women who reported him for various levels of clearly bad behavior:

...there was a whisper network about Cawthorn among PHC’s women students. “Girls were warning other girls not to go on rides with him,” .... “It was generally well-known among the girls there, and there were always stories coming up” ... Several women told her at the time that after they would rebuff Cawthorn, he would continue to pursue them. “They’d be like, no, I don’t want to go out with you, but he would just follow them around and continually ask them out over and over again, and just wouldn’t take no for an answer” ... She added, “I think most people knew he was kind of misogynistic and kind of a flirt. But there were a decent number of girls who were like, he’s more than just a flirty guy.”

So that's just great. He's perfect for the Party of Trump in every way (and there's even more if you read the linked articles).

By the way, this is the person Cawthorn defeated for his seat in Congress: Moe Davis, a retired Air Force colonel, attorney, and former administrative law judge. He was one of the chief prosecutors of the Guantanamo military commissions, but "resigned from the position after he refused to use evidence obtained through torture and because of political influence and pressure in prosecutions." We sure don't need anyone like that in Congress. 

No, we need more neo-Nazi sex abusers for sure. Who the hell voted for him in a district that was newly redrawn to not be gerrymandered?

I hope North Carolina's 11th district throws this jackass out as soon as possible, like these folks who rallied outside the office in Cawthorn's home town yesterday demanded.

Friday, January 15, 2021

A Really Old Warty Pig

The oldest ever human figurative art was recently reported. It's this evocative painting of a warty pig (Sus celebensis), found in a cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi:

I love so many things about this finding:

  • Warty pigs are still living on Sulawesi and look essentially the same.
  • While archaeologists have dated the painting to about 45,500 years ago (forty. five. thousand. five. hundred. years. ago!), they do not know what species of hominim painted the pig because...
  • Skeletal remains of Homo sapiens dating anywhere near that old have never been found there, while other hominim remains go back more than a million years.
  • The pig's coloration was made with mulberries and ochre. So next time you want to make some dye or paint with mulberries, remember that.

Mostly, I just want to run around in the streets chanting, "Warty pig! Warty pig! Warty pig!" But I will contain myself.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Randy Rainbow Gives Us Sedition!

I've been wondering if anyone had written new lyrics to the song Tradition! called Sedition! 

Or was I going to have to do it?

Well, not only has someone gotten ahead of me, but Randy Rainbow also did a full video production of the song and it's really fun...if you can say that about such a subject:

I think I will watch it again. It's all we can do: ridicule this embarrassing, cruel, cheating liar while we wait for him to leave office. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Conspiracy Theories

I've been wanting to write about one of the underlying problems of our whole damned time for a while: belief in conspiracy theories. From QAnon to weird beliefs about COVID vaccines and masks and 5G, we've got all sorts of new ones lately, not to mention the backlog we've lived with for years about the moon landing or whatever. (And that's not even mentioning Stop the Steal, which isn't so much a conspiracy theory as an intentionally created lie by Republicans, knowing it would appeal to their conspiracy-theory-loving base in multiple ways.)

Slate had a piece a couple days ago called Why People Believe in Conspiracy Theories: They're Not Stupid, which put me back on this track. I thought it was one of the better explainers I've seen of the phenomenon.

First, it sets the stage: we live in an era that's ripe for this kind of thing because this truly is a time of "fear, anxiety, mistrust, uncertainty, and feelings of powerlessness." Huge technological change, income and wealth inequality, demographic change, the pandemic, recession, police violence and white supremacy — it's a whole lot, and all at once. "For those who feel that everything is spinning out of control, a narrative that explains their feelings and encloses them within a safe community of believers comes as a soothing relief."

Who does this relief appeal to the most, though? That's where it gets interesting to me. I already know that it's not about intelligence because I've seen intelligent people believe in conspiracies, though statistically, people with low levels of education are more likely to believe. For instance, survey answers on the question, Was the coronavirus intentionally planned? show that people with a high school education or less = about 50%, some college = 38%, college = 24%, graduate degree = 15%. But none of those numbers are even close to zero. Conservatives are more susceptible than liberals, but again, it's a tendency, not a certainty, and both ends of the political spectrum are the most susceptible.

So what is it, then?

A cocktail of personality traits. Those who believe these theories typically show high levels of anxiety independent of external sources of stress, a high need for control over environment, and a high need for subjective certainty and, conversely, a low tolerance for ambiguity. They tend to have negative attitudes to authority, to feel alienated from the political system, and to see the modern world as unintelligible. Conspiracy theory believers are often suspicious and untrusting, and see others as plotting against them. They struggle with anger, resentment, and other hostile feelings as well as with fear. They have lower self-esteem than nonbelievers and have a need for external validation to maintain their self-esteem. They may have a strong desire to feel unique and special, and an exaggerated need to be in an exclusive in-group. Belief in conspiracy theories often also goes along with belief in paranormal phenomena, skepticism of scientific knowledge, and weaknesses in analytic thinking. Proneness to belief in conspiracy theories is also associated with religiosity, especially with people for whom a religious worldview is especially important. These traits are hardly universal among or exclusive to conspiracy theorists, but they help create a vulnerability to belief.

As a self-critical person, I can't help but analyze myself to look for all of those traits. If I were to make that into a check list, I would mark high levels of anxiety and need for control of environment, negative attitudes to authority, and lower self-esteem (impostor syndrome? yes!). I'm a bit alienated from the political system but not highly so. But what I don't have is the other items I bolded or the ones I didn't even bother to bold. I have a high tolerance for ambiguity, I love the modern world most of the time, I'm much too trusting, I don't think I'm particularly special, I have no belief in the paranormal or religion, and a pretty high regard for science.

The article goes on to talk about how conspiracy theories, after fitting some of these traits in people, also must fill their psychological needs, which leads to motivated reasoning and other errors of thinking that protect a person's self-image. A bunch of (probably familiar) psych terms get thrown into the article at this point (confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, projection). 

It ends with a podcast (and transcript) called How to Rescue Someone from a Conspiracy Theory, which looks like it could be useful.

You may have seen this text graphic that was being shared widely on social media since January 6. When I was just letting myself question whether it's possible I'm the one who's wrong, I found this to be a bracing answer:

Nazis. Always wrong. Making sure you're on the opposite side is a good reality test.


For more on conspiracy theories and how they work...

A filmmaker named Kirby Ferguson started out with something called Everything Is a Remix, then moved on to his fascination with the why of conspiracy theories in our culture. His short video, called Constantly Wrong is 47 minutes and worth it! His full length video is called This Is Not a Conspiracy Theory (3 hours, 22 minutes. I haven't watched it myself yet, but I plan to.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Janet Yellen's $7 Million

Still not posting about our impending civil war. Hey, Republicans are trying germ warfare now and refusing to go through metal detectors so they can bring their guns onto the House floor! But enough about that. Instead...

I haven't mentioned the columns of our local economics writer Ed Lotterman in a long time. On Sunday, he took up the topic of Janet Yellen and her $7 million in speaking fees from Wall Street. It hasn't gotten a ton of attention in the midst of everything else that's going on, but of course it's not a great look.

I appreciated Lotterman's measured take, which was that it troubles him, but compared to just about everyone else who's been in the job, Yellen's $7 million is nothing so it seems a bit disingenuous for the Very Serious People to suddenly be upset that this woman, with her 50 years of expertise paid at government and academic salary levels, got compensated for it at the rate that people in business get compensated for two years.

...after stepping down at age 71, with a first-term president who repeatedly had excoriated her (and her successor) and thus was probably not likely to be offered another administration job, and retired from decades in academia, why not accept money offered for what she had done as part of moderately paid jobs for years?

She is not culpable in any way. Yet one can also sympathize with the average citizen who saw Wall Street firms treated with kid gloves in the aftermath of the financial debacle a decade ago, saw hundreds of thousands of ordinary families foreclosed upon, and therefore, justifiably, concludes the system is not fair.

It's a broader problem, as Lotterman says, and blaming it on Yellen is not the solution.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Linda Zall

Time for another break from the burning fire hose of our withering democracy (how's that for a mixed metaphor?).

Have you heard about Linda Zall? I hadn't until yesterday when the Star Tribune reprinted a New York Times story about her.(unpaywalled at the Seattle Times here). Now 70, she spent her career out of view at the CIA, using her doctorate in civil and environmental engineering to "improve the analysis of reconnaissance images and to plan new generations of spy satellites."

Linda Zall in 1973 while in graduate school.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, however, we did get one piece of the "peace dividend" when Zall convinced her bosses to keep using the satellites for earth science and particularly climate change research:

Many spy satellites orbit on north-south paths that pass close to the poles. Spies had little use for the sweeping images. But they dazzled environmentalists because it showed the extent to which the Arctic and Antarctic ice was retreating.

"It gave us the first real measurements of the ice budget — how much loss you have from season to season," said D. James Baker, who directed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from 1993 to 2001 and served on Zall's CIA advisory panel.

Zall's environmentalism for the CIA began in 1990 when then-Sen. Al Gore asked the agency to examine whether the nation's spy fleet might address environmental riddles. Zall quickly saw how the nation's archive of surveillance observations could also serve to strengthen assessments of Earth's changing environment.

As the Cold War thawed during the Clinton years, the Russians pitched in with their own archive of pictures, and altogether we ended up with the declassification of 800,000 satellite images showing deforestation and more. "A 1962 image revealed the Aral Sea before an ecological catastrophe left it bone dry", for instance. 

Her program, not surprisingly, languished during the George W. Bush administration, but was revived in late 2008. She retired in 2013, and it was ended in 2015. 

In interviews, former Medea members said the incoming Biden administration might want to establish a similar panel for helping the world push ahead on knotty issues of environmental change. Zall agreed, adding that Medea’s agenda was unfinished. She said her group, knowing that Earth’s fate might hang in the balance, wrestled for years on how to monitor climate treaties. She called the problem “very difficult” and argued that its resolution was even more important today.

“It needs to be done,” Zall said. “We have to figure it out.”

Zall is a fellow upstate New Yorker who grew up on a dairy farm near Hornell. Her family moved to Ithaca when she was in high school so her father could go to graduate school at Cornell University, and she followed him there later.

I hope there's more information forthcoming on her and her career soon. Her Wikipedia page is very, very short.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

They're Not Wrong to Be Looking for Something

Richard Florida, best known for his book on the creative class, had a thread on Twitter yesterday that began to get at a point I've heard several other people make about the larger problem underlying our country's upwelling of populism/fascism, increasingly on display in the Trump years.

Here's what Florida had to say:

There is a "1%" (actually less) of enormously wealthy oligarchs who essentially own and control the means of production and are the robber-barons of our own gilded age.

Then there is a 20-33% of highly educated (dare I say creative class) knowledge workers and professionals who are doing just fine....

Then there are the rest, two-thirds or more of working people, blue collar workers, routine service workers and the truly disadvantaged who are sinking further and further behind.

What REALLY worries me is not the classification scheme. But what I keep thinking about is how this will affect my two girls ages 3 and 5 ...

I come from a working class family. My grandparents migrated here from Southern Italy, and my father had a 7th grade education ... I got a scholarship to Rutgers and was off the proverbial races ...

What terrifies me is that I don't believe my kids have virtually any shot of doing what I did, of finding a career so to speak and making it on their own, even with the advantages we can give them. So much more than my parents could give me.

What terrifies me is that I don't even think giving them access to the best education — schools and universities — in the world will help all that much in the class structure of today's late capitalism.

I find myself saying to [my wife], it doesn't matter where we send them to school or how well they do, we have to save and save and save and essentially have enough money to set them up in some kind of vocation they want to to.

Every time I say it or think it, shivers run down my spine. How did we as a nation and a society get to this point ?... To me this seems like the defining issue of our time. How do we enable individuals to find rewarding, meaningful and purposeful work?

As a society, we certainly have the means to do it. The question is: Do we have the will?
As Florida said, the classifications' names (and the percent of people in those top-two tiers) are less important than the general idea of wealth-hoarding and what we're going to do about it. His thoughts are worth noting in three ways: for pointing out the problem, that he doesn't identify the cause, and that he admits to thinking of his personal need to hoard opportunities for his own children... like lots of other well-off white parents.

He doesn't offer a systemic solution here, but I know he has written such thoughts in other places, particularly paying much more for service work. He has said frequently that there is no intrinsic reason that manufacturing work has a higher use value than service work, for instance.

Jason Szegedi, head planner for Akron, Ohio, has also written a lot about the need to restore the hollowed-out working and middle class that he sees all around him in his state and city, and connected it with the blue-to-red political shift in that state. Here's one example from his blog. (He also writes similar things on Twitter but recently deleted all his tweets.)

Both Florida's and Szegedi's solutions are premised on the idea that the 30-year, post-WWII prosperity bubble the U.S. experienced — which made it possible for white men with only a high school education to support a family on one income — is something that can be recreated. And, if they bother to think of it, that the prosperity can be extended to everyone who was excluded from it the first time around. I doubt that's true, given the climate crisis and the fact that the prosperity was premised on colonialist wealth extraction and the specifics of the post-war period.

This, from a fiction writer named Sarah Schulman, posted to Facebook, is more in keeping with my thinking:
You could arrest all 74 million Trump supporters, close and open a hundred apps and fire every person in government and it wouldn't solve the problem.  

A better strategy would be for the new regime to do things that actually help people like: excellent national healthcare with top-notch drug rehab, a huge infrastructure re-build creating widespread high-skill job training that provides interesting well-paid jobs, equal educational opportunities, and child care, and make decisions humanely and fairly, and I think things would get better around here.
Schulman's answer is also closer to the idea of the Green New Deal, which is to transform shared prosperity on some level by — yes — taking from the 1% and some of the 20% while changing a lot of other things about our energy use so we can live on this planet together.

The people I've watched rampaging through the U.S. Capitol (and I've watched rather a lot of raw video showing just that) are looking for something and it's not going to be found by blaming, excluding, and killing immigrants or Black folks. 

Someone benefits from their rage, though. Let's blame the correct instigators and reconfigure things in a way that works for the vast majority of us as well as the places we live.