I have always looked this country as brimming with hope, not perfect by any measure, but evermore a high road of democracy. People risk their lives to come here for a better chance. Our democracy and freedoms are envied. Yet, a major divide exists internally, we are both a nation of people wanting to kick the door down, as signified by January 6, and those wanting to keep it closed to threats on our Constitution and the rule of law. It is pretty simple, but then it is not. Vaccines anyone? The other major firestorm of me verses we.
Stated differently, there appear to be two America’s, one group where people live collectively and embrace a social contract that includes rules and basic respect for the rights of other citizens, sometimes over their own. The other group is focused on individual rights over the collective, the choice of which rules to accept, and the sanctity of personal expression, no matter how unsavory or free from truth.
In the twenty-first century, living in a modern world of vast achievements in science, medicine, technology, communication and learning, we have thrived on building and searching for answers to questions and solutions to our challenges. We use the minds given us to explore, learn, debate and incorporate these results for the betterment of our lives and our communal arrangements. Despite our evolution, I am wondering if civilization is in retrograde.
Opinion, rumor, undocumented theory and commentary seem to pass for knowledge and truth. Instead of using facts and verifiable information to help shape our views, many people parse the flow of information that wraps around their views.
Cole Porter wrote “Don’t Fence Me In” almost 100 years ago, capturing the Western spirit about openness and independence. Fences also denote rules and limits to freedom, or at least, it does to a surprisingly large sector of America.
I want to ride to the ridge where the West commences
And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
And I can’t look at hobbles and I can’t stand fences
Don’t fence me in
Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
Don’t fence me in
Let me ride through the wide country that I love
Don’t fence me in
Unless the fence is to keep others out.
This silly little thing called the Coronavirus, dismissed and labeled mind control and other tinfoil conspiracies, is on the rise again, despite three effective vaccines. It started with masks and distancing, and then moved to the vaccine. I have watched the debates that occur at government board meetings, public health officials are hammered and elected officials denounced, all in the spirit of personal freedoms. Don’t tell me what to do, the science is wrong, you are taking away my right to operate my business, my personal freedom is under attack, don’t fence me in. Imagine if these debates had occurred when the nation was battling polio. I still have a scar on my arm where I received a polio shot when I was a kid.
“A study of more than 1,000 demographically representative participants found that about 22 percent of Americans self-identify as anti-vaxxers, and tend to embrace the label as a form of social identity.” – Callie Rainosek, Texas A&M University School of Public Health
Instead of “we” many only focus on “me”. Give me what I want. I’m right and you are wrong. My right to speech is absolute. Spock says, “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
Finding truth and revelation from television shows and popular music is really not that surprising. Truth is in play; truth has become malleable and open to alternative reasoning. The clash of “me” verses “we” is not likely to go away, in “truth,” the opposite may be true. We may be in a permanent state of reinterpreting the very pillars of our democracy and the meaning of “inalienable rights.”
Should this be a surprise? Perhaps it is more surprising that it has taken this long to build into a movement. Debate over laws, philosophy, rights and religion are as old as civilization. It is funny to use the word “civilization” when discussing aspects of this topic. When differences of belief become the fuel of violence, persecution, suppression, war and genocide – the term civilization loses its meaning.
The divide continues to widen, the sides so far apart. The biggest casualty is the inability to discuss and provide factual information in a civil manner. Intelligent and civil discussion is sacrificed by an effort to distort, defame, decertify and degradation of participants or the process, rather than the issues, and the forum of debate turns into the field of battle. The strategy is obfuscation, attacking credibility, changing the rules, marginalizing others, even playing the victim card. The expression of ideas and views becomes spectacle, pseudo-gladiators interested as much in audience numbers than the interests of the many.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.