Thoughts on Unity

Happy Pentecost, everyone!

Overall, it’s been a fun couple of weeks for me. The Dungeon and Dragons game that Levi put together for Tami, Katie, and I went really well (with surprisingly minimal technical difficulties); especially considering it was his first time running a game. Last Sunday (the day our diocese commemorates the Feast of the Ascension), we went to Grandma and Papa’s house to celebrate Mother’s Day with the family, as well as Katie’s 20th birthday. It was a really fun day; we had Mexican food for dinner, Levi and I played New Super Mario Bros. Wii with Tami and Katie, and Katie and I were also able to play a couple of games of chess together. Yesterday, we celebrated Pentecost at the Vigil Mass (our parish priest is back, and overall seems to have made a really impressive recovery from his accident), and tomorrow (which is also the fourth anniversary of Levi adopting Pat-me) Papa Jeff and Ramona are coming out to visit us—it’ll be really good to see them, and we’re planning on taking them to the beach, which should be fun. The next week is probably going to be pretty busy; Mommy and Daddy are planning on testing for a one-year nursing program this coming Wednesday, and Mommy has to leave the next day for almost a week to attend some training in southern California for her healing touch therapy stuff.

 

I’ve been thinking lately about national unity the past couple of days, and the way it came up in my mind was a little unusual. My head has been not the best lately, and I’ve had to lie down a little more than I typically do, and so I’ve been watching videos on my phone to keep myself occupied. I’d been feeling a little more nostalgic than usual, so for fun I looked up old episodes of Zoom online (another show on PBS Kids that my brother and I liked a lot), and I found a special episode of the series that was made shortly after 9/11 called Zoom: America’s Kids Remember, which focused specifically on helping kids cope with the attacks. What struck me in particular was the largely positive message that the kids in the show communicated, and what ways they emphasized for coping; things like volunteering, resolving conflicts, and just talking to and being there for others. The general idea was that, while the attacks themselves were a really terrible thing that shook the country, people all over were trying their best to respond to it in a positive way by going out of their way to help make the world a better place. As I watched their musical ending, with “Zoomers” singing a song that was adapted from a hymn (Henry Burton’s “Love is Kind”), I felt sad, but not in the way that you’d think the subject matter of the episode was intended to evoke. I was sad because I missed the time when we as a country would unite when faced with tragedy.
We’ve had a plenty of national tragedies in the past decade, most notably at the moment being the many school shootings this year (we just had another school shooting a few days ago, this time in Texas), but they’ve largely seemed to have the opposite effect as the aftermath of 9/11: Now tragedy just appears to further divide our already very divided nation, and it seems now that only a minority sees it as a reason to unite. Seeing what seemed to me to be an almost idealistic level of support and solidarity people in our country had for each other just less than two decades ago makes me feel both touched and, honestly, kind of ripped off. I was born in 1997; to put that in perspective, I came into adolescence shortly after the recession, and into adulthood shortly before the 2016 presidential election. I wasn’t quite four years old when the World Trade Center disappeared so violently from New York City’s skyline; after which many Americans rallied together, despite differences in colour or creed, to help each other through what was a very scary and difficult time. I’m twenty now, and throughout the majority of my life time—perhaps especially in my teenage years, and what very little of my adult life I’ve lived so far—it feels like I’ve actually rarely seen Americans react to tragedy in constructive and (most especially) united ways, and we seem more divided into various camps now than at any period in my life. Tragedies have gone from an opportunity to stick together, to more of an opportunity for leaders to capitalize on disaster for some political gain, or an excuse to blame or ostracize people who are different from ourselves. So, what happened? Why, in general, is society as a whole so different today than in 2001?
I don’t know. I honestly really don’t; but, being the obsessive ponderer that I am (hey, I have a lot of time of my hands), I do have a hypothesis or two. One really big difference that I’ve noticed between the world of 2001 and that of 2018 will probably be pretty obvious to most people: The ubiquity of the Internet, and, specifically, the role social media has had on society as a whole, which I’m not sure has actually been all that positive. Now, before I go further, don’t get wrong; I’m not a Luddite, I actually believe that technology can and absolutely has had a lot of positive impact in peoples lives—and, although I’ve never personally really had a desire myself to open an account on something like Facebook on Twitter, I don’t have any problem with people who are interested in connecting with others on social media. I just want to get that out of the way, so that people know when I kind of put part of the responsibility for the way things are (for better or worse) on the way social media has impacted people’s lives in the “real world”, I’m not trying to put the blame on any individuals in particular.
On most social media platforms, people follow things and people that interest them, and sometimes unfollow things and people that they become offended by or are simply no longer interested in; the general result being that many such sites could theoretically be mapped to show its users in various overlapping circles or groups (perhaps sort of like a Venn diagram). The positive consequence of this is that users can—at least ideally—quickly and easily find other people that they have something in common in with; and content such as art, videos, stories, or news articles about subjects that they are interested in (which has obvious commercial value to advertisers, as well as informational value to politicians and other organizational leaders). However, the negative side of this is that, since people in this situation kind of axiomatically get their information (and the kinds of information they subscribe to) from different sources, they can end up almost literally living in different worlds. I sort of think people could more easily relate to each other back when our options for information and entertainment were more limited; before the Internet, if you had a random conversation with a total stranger from your area, I’m under the impression that there was actually a surprisingly higher chance that you read or watched the same news, watched the same shows, and even listened to the same radio stations. Now that we can pick and choose what sources of media we consume, with the narrative that each source sells often being quite different from the other, we may inhabit the same objective universe, but we perceive it incredibly differently. Combine this with confirmation bias (which, while I’m guessing to an extent is a quirk of our brains—perhaps it’s just more efficient in our day-to-day lives somehow to look for information that substantiates your hypothesis—I think might be exacerbated by the way our educational system tends to emphasize the shame of being wrong), and you have a recipe for a very divisive society.
When the Internet first came out, I think people had the idea that it would bring people from all over the world together; and, to an incredible extent, this is true: The world has, effectively, shrunk—you can, theoretically, find someone you have something in common with almost anywhere in the world now, about almost anything—but it hasn’t formed a unified whole; rather, it’s more like it’s congregated into several vying coteries. To be absolutely fair, I don’t think this is entirely the fault of the Internet; I kind of think our more tribalistic tendencies might be (at least to a small extent) native to the human condition, but I’m inclined to believe that social media has exacerbated them considerably. With the decline or lack of more overarching affiliations—such as religion, or a unified national identity—people have increasingly divided themselves into more narrow and exclusive cliques—such as ethnicity, sexuality, profession, or even fandom. This makes me incredibly sad; my parents, and probably lots of other people who grew up largely in the 1980s, expected things like language or skin colour to not even matter much at all in the future, and didn’t expect their children to grow up in a world with such sharp class and ethnic divides, at least not in their own country. Was this naïve of them? Is it ingenuous of us to be disappointed by an increasingly divided world, and the social regression we’ve seem to have had? I don’t think so. We, humanity, can—and, I hope, eventually will—do better. Just believing that we’re capable of improvement is vital to changing the world for the better, because people who think that this is just the way it is, and that society can’t be improved, are probably unlikely to try to ameliorate things—why waste your energy on something that’s effectively impossible, right? I think we need that belief, that unifying hope and idealism, again in this nation. Now, I’m sure I’m idealizing things a little; we could argue that our country has always been divided one way or another, sometimes violently so (coughcough—1861—cough); but, in terms of the past fifty or so years, I can’t help but notice a considerable downtrend in national solidarity.
What is sad (and a little strange) is that there don’t seem to be very many politicians with a big emphasis on unity, outside of party or class lines. Granted, President Trump has tried appealing to Americans to unite, but the problem is that he’s incredibly inconsistent; one day he’ll be asking everyone to unite, the next day he’ll be saying that Mexicans are rapists, insinuating black people shouldn’t be trusted, et cetera. The idea of being unified just by virtue of living in the same country seems to have largely disappeared. Many people perceive patriotism as being largely abandoned by the left (which, to be fair, hasn’t been done entirely irrationally, considering you could argue nationalism as an ideology in one form or another has been largely responsible for both world wars) in favour of a more narrow approach, celebrating specific communities first and foremost; while the right (specifically the far right), frustrated by the hollow identity politics intoned by the left, has seen a rise in an increasingly jingoistic ethno-nationalism—in the mindset of some, you’re now only really “American” if you’re white, speak English, et cetera (not that that makes much sense, since relatively few people in this country are of indigenous descent; you know, people who lived here way before anyone who was white or spoke English, but I guess there’s nothing really logical about racism).
I myself have said that I thought that patriotism, as a quality, is pretty overrated. Now I’m kind of ambivalent about that sentiment. On the one hand, if patriotism means supporting your country—and, by extension, its policies—no matter what, then I’d still say that I think it’s kind of a weird position to have; and, in extreme forms, dangerous and kind of idolatrous, setting the nation and its leaders up in place of God. But, if patriotism isn’t about boasting in some kind of perceived national superiority, but simply in loving the people of your country, then I’m all for it; that’s a patriotism I can get behind, because it can not only inspire action in caring for your neighbours, but also motivate people to change things for the better. Love may be unconditional, but, I think if people really love their country, then that love shouldn’t be without scrutiny; if you really care for your fellow denizens, then you should strive to do your very best in making their conditions the most optimal they can realistically be—and that means working together to improve policies and legislation, having each other’s back; and being aware that, even though we may often disagree on the best way to achieve things, we all want—and believe in the possibility of—a better world. If we can just remember that, perhaps we can reverse this trend of divisive rhetoric, political gridlock, and our schismatic tendencies as a people. Maybe we would do well to reclaim the sober but hopeful patriotism that people felt in the aftermath of 9/11, an emphasis that, no matter what we’re going through, we’re all in it together, because we are all Americans—regardless of who we vote for, how we worship (or don’t), what language we speak, how much money we have (or lack), or what we look like. Because unity doesn’t have to be totally uniform; I believe that the vast majority of us, just by virtue of living in the United States, hold many of the same values regardless of culture, even if they’re sometimes for different reasons—kindness, individual liberty, democracy, rule of law, helping those in need, the desire for economic opportunity, and the hope for a better future. We might not be able to agree on very much today, but I think it’s still enough; and certainly sufficient enough to unite us all when we are faced with tragedy, big or small, and try to cooperate together to make our nation a better place.

 

 

 

 

Today’s Question: What are some of your thoughts on unity? What does patriotism mean to you? (I know that’s technically two questions).

 

 

 

 

Today’s Joke: A woman was sitting at her deceased husband’s funeral. A man leant in to her from across the pew and asked, “Do you mind if I say a word?”.
“No, go right ahead,” the woman replied.
The man stood up, cleared his throat, said “Plethora”, and sat back down.
“Thanks,” the woman said, “That means a lot.”

 

 

 

 

-Isaac““

 

 

 

 

 

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