But it doesn’t have to be that way.
We need to ask ourselves what kind of people we want to be, what kind of society we want to raise. As I see it, we have always been threatened by a grave cynicism that tears at our social cohesion, a cynicism that is becoming more prevalent today. It seems as if the benefit of the doubt is parsimoniously given and the worst assumptions are rushed to. Why would we do this to ourselves? In the past several years, with the rise of social media and the tension that has risen as a result of the 2016 election cycle, I firmly believe that this societal masochism has gotten only worse. Neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend, brother against brother–a civil war of hearts has broken out, and we are doomed if it does not end soon.
Anger and cynicism is pervasive–it’s in our politics, our entertainment, our families, and relationships. Obdurately devoted to an idea or a side, we lose sight of our humanity. Yet simultaneously, clear convictions on matters of profound importance are lacking. Ours is an era of fray and fogginess, and this can be no more evidently seen than in the political scene. Our politics have turned beyond party political into tribal political. We don’t question those in which we agree with, those waving our same banner. This is a result of our need for association and identity–necessary aspects, surely, of society. But ever since we began looking to the government for what we should have found in our communities, institutions, religions, and in ourselves–sources of conviction and identity–we set ourselves on a path of tribalism.
So what now are our convictions, what now are our identities? We are either Democrat or Republican, left or right. Taking a view that contradicts that of your identity means exile, and we so much want to be attached to our identities. We let issues of lesser importance be the bringers of apocalypse, and we are voiceless, even milquetoast when objective truths must be defended– beyond civility we have devolved into modulation. Tax and entitlement reform mean either heresy or evangelism, while debate and action on issues like abortion and the death penalty, matters imperative to the preservation and sanctity of life, are left as mere talking points to be forgotten. One need only to look at the great ire caused by the FCC’s decision on Net Neutrality in order to understand the ridiculousness in which we have found ourselves. The headlines were apocalyptic: CNN declared that the decision would cause the “end of the Internet as we know it.” Never mind that the policy was only instituted in 2015 and that the internet had grown and thrived under a regime of light-touch regulation–the end was nigh. I still say that I have never before been as surprised as I was by how many people felt so passionately about a policy they knew so little about.
Anyway, enough with Net Neutrality.
So where is the way forward? First we must understand what isn’t the enemy. We’ve been told that our country is divided. It makes one ask- when has our country been united? After the Revolution? Well, if we were, it didn’t last long, and we have a Civil War to prove that. We’ve never been united, we’ve never avoided discourse, and I say: let discourse always remain a part of our society. As long as we come from a common, strong foundation, one built from basic principles of natural law and distinctions between right and wrong, then I say let us always be divided.
What afflicts our society today is motive asymmetry- the concept that everything you believe in is founded on love, on sugar and spice and everything nice, while everything your opponent believes in is founded on greed & hatred. This is what afflicts our country–not division. We have thrown ourselves into a sea of cynicism, and by emphasizing perceived vices, we have only indulged in them, as well as ourselves.
This does not mean we should walk through life with an optimistic naïveté. We can accept that there are wicked and evil people who do wicked and evil things, but we can engage in an optimistic realism that acknowledges such possibilities while placing such an emphasis on them. We need to recognize that the worst scenario can be true, but bend over backwards trying to prove that that is not true. We can and we must be happy warriors, Easter people that, to quote the Life of Brian, “look on the bright side of life.” By unhinging ourselves from our tribal identities this will come all the easier, and we will have the greater sort of positive freedom to explore the world as it truly is.