The United States has cascaded into polarization and dysfunction. Media has become fragmented into political camps with the abandonment of the fairness doctrine, and primary dichotomies have reappeared, more strongly than ever:
Right vs. Left
Conservative vs. liberal
Science vs. religion
Minority vs. minority
White vs. black
Red State vs. Blue State
Heartland vs. Coasts
The “job creators” vs. “The 99%”
All of these echo tribalism, an atavistic human trait ebbing and flowing throughout the history of cultures. In order to function as a pluralistic world, and in order for American society to overcome paralysis in its inability to provide equitable opportunity, education and healthcare to its citizens, these polarities must be overcome.
Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
It’s not a great leap of logic to surmise that prejudice comes from insularity. Small town America tends to be socially stable and homogenous, with communities of like-minded citizens living, learning and worshiping together, forging a relatively strong sense of shared identity. Those from outside the community – which could be as proximate as residents from a different neighborhood or church within the same town – are the “other,” carrying alien ideas and beliefs that can be perceived as threatening.
Residents of cities, on the other hand, are exposed to other cultures as a matter of daily course. In an urban environment, it’s possible that the inhabitants of any particular building represent as many different cultures as there are apartments. A neighbor might be an alien carrying radically different beliefs than one’s own, yet proximity demands tolerance, if not understanding.
Could it be the roots of prejudice in America reside in small-town tradition? It seems that these principal cultural differences recapitulate those separating the coasts and “flyover country.” Stoked by moneyed forces representing “the 1%” through the megaphone of one-sided, distortive media, money and power has harnessed the heartland fear of the “other” to create an unwitting voting bloc to further its own hidden agenda, fanning the flames of division in the process.
Phrases like “culture war” and “class warfare” have become part of the lexicon of American debate. How different is “culture war” from “holy war” from “jihad?” Why has fundamentalism come to prominence as the conservative answer to liberal secular humanism? How did the debate turn to hatred of the “other?” What has happened to tolerance, compromise and ecumenical culture?
During the last presidential campaign, John McCain said, “there is no greater happiness than serving a cause greater than yourself.” There is a happiness deficit in America. Compulsive material pursuit and self-seeking lead to misery. Contentment and enlightenment come from within, not from the size of a Happy Meal or McMansion. Americans are raised to compete, hate and consume, and our corporate overlords too often fulfill the role of the “greater cause” we serve. Some find temporary satisfaction in joining political teams to raise their voices in competitive or hateful discourse against their fellow countrymen. What if the cause we serve is Mankind? Or “the greater good?” Why do we have to pick teams composed of narrow minds and narrow agendas?
John Lennon said, “We’ve seen the alternative, and the answer is peace.” Peace begins within. We must become the change we seek in the world. Live and let live; let society be judged by how it treats the weakest amongst us. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.. Those preaching Christian culture and values should begin with the values Christ preached! We are not here for ourselves, our point of view, our prejudices, but for each other, and the greater good.