Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Remember Unity

First appeared in the Missoulian, Fall 2010 sometime.

We live in a culture of debate. “Either-or”, “all-or-nothing”, “us versus them”, seem to be the major sentiments of our cultural discourse. Watching the nightly news or reading the daily paper, every issue is shown bi-chromatically as the struggle between two possible solutions, two diametrically opposed viewpoints. As if there were only two sides to any story, only two perspectives on any issue! We have a politics of encampment, of red states and blue states, democrats and republicans, conservatives and liberals.

Whether through the nature of our two party political system, or because of some perverse blindness in our collective psyches, all of life in modern American society seems characterized by this dualism. On the individual level, this type of crude “either-or” thinking is typical of small children and schizophrenics. Unsurprisingly, the level of social discourse that emerges from such thinking often resembles that of [mentally un-hinged] children, with name calling and threats of violence predominating.

This is important (and troubling) because our social discourse is the way in which our society, as a whole, thinks. The political processes of social decision-making are our communal thought processes. If we take it as a given that “we are all in this together,” the dysfunction of our current collective thought process becomes abundantly clear. How is it possible to live together in peace and harmony when we are constantly demonizing the other, whoever that other may be? We seem to have contracted a social variant of multiple-personality disorder, with different personalities vying for full control of the communal body. But if we seek any sort of social unity, cooperation, not control, must be our highest ideal.

A more sane method of social discourse would take discussion, not debate, as its guiding metaphor. We might imagine a different world in which the job of the politician is not to be the human incarnation of some particular ideology, but rather someone who solicits ideas from the populace-at-large and puts together the most interesting for popular appraisal. We might imagine a media that tries to present as many viewpoints as possible and seeks out those with innovative, outside-the-box solutions to our social ills, rather than frame every issue as a struggle between two absolute and opposing camps. We are one nation, one people, whether we willingly admit it or not, and a house divided against itself cannot stand, as has been known for at least two millennia.

Social discourse worthy of adults demands that everyone respect, and show respect for, everyone else. This requires an understanding and a reverence for the various viewpoints and perspectives on reality, that do not contradict but rather compliment one another, each illuminating a particular piece of the divine milieu. Creation is not black and white nor, thankfully, is it endless shades of gray. It is teeming with colors or every shade and hue. “Either-or”, black-and-white thinking denies the truth of reality and fails to do justice to the splendor of sacred creation. May we all recover this truth some day; may we remember our unity and put away this divisiveness.

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