Of Tribes, Truth, and Our Country

We have some decisions to make about how we connect with our fellow Americans.

The 21st century has, so far, harshly demonstrated to us the fragility of democracy.

The train wreck that is the Republican Party of today and the Trump presidency, both built on fear, resentment, and a wholesale dismissal of facts as just one of many approaches to life, has been coming for a while; they did not start just last year.

And so, one of the big questions is:

How does this situation get corrected; or does it?

Have we come to a period wherein our choices are this mess? Or do we follow the cynical control typified by China today? It’s a bread and circuses motif that says if you keep the economy promising enough, people will accept an astounding level of control by government of everything, especially information and the ability to freely associate and peacefully assemble.

We probably know enough about our species now and have some clue as to how technology impacts us to at least make a guess as to how a better way might look that rejects and prevents these two extremes. Perhaps the lingering, overarching question is whether we can (re)instill a civic culture that carries the values and brings forth the community dialogue needed to progress and stabilize as well.

This seems to me possible, but it’s not a sure thing by any imagination.

And so too we might ask what conveyance could bring all this forward. Political parties and the media seem incapable of doing the job at this point. What is the new lynchpin, flywheel, foundation (pick your metaphor) that might get this done?

It’s not an idle question we ask. If we fail to grasp what the total system is and how the failures connect, we are unlikely to come out of the pit in our lifetimes. There are too many among us who thrive on the tension and turmoil, on having an opponent, for the rest of us to just let it all ride along and see where it goes.

People on the right always decry taxes, without seriously addressing what those taxes buy. People on the left decry military spending without actually addressing what we ask the military to do. Religious leaders skew their theology to fit circumstances and candidates.

Is this really the best we can do?

How to Move Beyond Constant Conflict

If we are to accomplish more than constant conflict with each other, it seems to me that a few things need to rise up higher in our personal and collective value chains. Allow me to suggest three such advances:

  • A willingness to be at least a bit skeptical of everything until we can see the reasoning and the facts behind a given decision or position. Just because it comes from someone we dislike intensely is not enough to reject. Similarly, just because it comes from “our side” should not be enough to win our support. If we automatically support or reject based on what side it comes from, our own positions are launched with essentially no credibility. Let’s do our homework and give our support to sources that do the same.
  • Recognize that this is a remarkably diverse country. It simply is not reasonable to expect everyone to have the same experiences, the same beliefs, the same values. That sort of community only comes from sustained effort by more of us to understand what the hell led to positions that to put it mildly, seem nuts to us.In the first place, there are reasons – valid or not – for why people feel the way they (we) do. In the second place, most of us are unaware of all of our own motivations, what second order issue drives us on a given position. Untying those two knots takes some persistence, but it can be worth it to have the discussions.
  • Stand for the idea that Governance and Compromise are not dirty words. One is a necessity of civilization and the obligation of leaders. The other is not only a useful tool to accomplish governance, but a way of saying complete victory or defeat is fine on the battlefield, but not useful in a large, pluralistic democracy.I want a government that goes out of its way to find space for both/many sides, that seeks to govern from an ever-broadening citizen base. I would rather find a solution that is 80% of what I want that includes many constituencies than to have 100% of what I want, supported only by my tribe. The latter is a formula for perpetual civil war and governance by complete reversals every time there is an election.

What do you think? Can we find our way or are we to choose a Perpetual Game Show as our model?

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