We've always been divided, those who've lived here in North America. When the first nomads wandered across the land bridge from Asia, 14-20,000 years ago, tribes soon formed--alliances and rivalries and prejudices and wars and more ensued.
And, as poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (her family and friends called her "Vincent") wrote in another context, "So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind."
There was no period of perfect unanimity in this country. During our Revolution there were many opposed to a war with England--and, later, there was that little thing--the Civil War? We did not go eagerly into World War I or II. Opposition here was fierce for both conflicts. We did not, in concert, rise up to support women's suffrage, Civil Rights, voting rights, workers' rights, etc. 9/11 did not unify us, make us all want to rush off to the Middle East--just look back at the op-ed pages those days.
These days the divisions seem sharper, though I'm not sure they really are. But the mass and social media seem to have exacerbated our differences, that's for sure. Deepened them. Made them more evident. (We all know about the news media we can watch/listen to, the ones that will not contradict anything we already think or believe.) On Facebook, for example, I see fiery exchanges on political and social issues; I see memes featuring tendentious and partisan slogans. I see--so often--isolated (or uncommon) incidents presented as definitive evidence--all in the not-very-persuasive category of the old "I-knew-a-guy-once-who ...."
It's a difficult thing to do--to look at an incident (perhaps heinous, egregious; perhaps merely annoying) and to say to yourself--and ask yourself: Yes, this is awful ... but is it anomalous? Or is it truly representative of anything? It's difficult because our outrage lies very close to the surface now--fanned as it is by news and social media.
We seem incapable, too, of placing ourselves in other people's situations. In fact, we don't even seem to think that doing this is even important. I've written here before about this dangerous failure of imagination. We need to think, if we can, what it's like to send our children to some of the worst schools in the country? To be unable to find a job. To work full-time for minimum wage and still qualify for public assistance. To live in--or patrol--a high-crime area. To be a disdained minority. To try to live on Social Security. To have no health insurance, even though you're working full time. And on and on.
The question I think we must all ask ourselves--if we ever even hope to have any unanimity--is this: What kind of country do we want to live in? And, of course, the consequent question: What do we have to do to get there?
Here are just a few things I'd like to see--a few answers. There are many more, of course. I'd like to live in a country where ...
- all public schools offer kids an equal chance to succeed (obviously not true today)
- all full-time workers can earn enough to provide for themselves and their families
- all races and ethnicities can feel safe and equal with one another
- all religions (or lack of same) co-exist peacefully and respectfully
- no one ever falls through the "safety net" ("to promote the common welfare" is right in our Constitution)
- we don't judge all by the actions of a few
- we try to understand before we judge--if, indeed, we judge at all
- we avoid putting people in categories
- we work hard to inform ourselves on public issues
Of course, there are countless other things--like, oh, having news media that educate rather than frighten or polarize, like having politicians who kick Big Money out of bed, like having ...
And, personally, I'd like to see the liberal arts return to prominence in undergraduate education; I'd like to see people with learning revered rather than disdained (elitist!); I'd like to ...
Some of these things just ain't gonna happen, I know ... but most of all? I'd like us to start asking questions and considering answers. Probably won't happen, I fear.. It's easier--and maybe even more fun--to spew invective and blame and judge.
"So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind." Oh, Vincent ...