For years I’ve ranted about the belligerent partisanism that’s dividing and conquering America. In a real sense I’m more afraid of that spirit of adversarialism than the threat of Islamic extremism.
Nikita Khrushchev understood it in the 1950s, and the leaders of ISIS understand it today: America can be conquered without a shot being fired. All an enemy need do is play an effective round of “let’s-you-and-him-fight,” and we Americans will destroy each other. ISIS attacks Paris, and Americans square off against each other!!! And the critical mass of Americans is oblivious—too obsessed with pointing fingers at “the other party!”
This demonic temperament is a growing cancer in the American ethos. Remember the iconic, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” from the 1976 satirical film, “Network?” The movies, “Born Loser” and “Billy Jack”, from the same era, touted the ineptitude of government and police, and flaunted an openly rebellious, vigilante type anti-hero. That genre continues to caricature one antagonist in the adversarial drama that is America.
More than one of my social media acquaintances has implied advocacy of armed rebellion as a way of “restoring our nation” to the way they want it to be. Some proudly advertise their gunslinger mentality while arming themselves against the various apocalypses they anticipate. (And that statement is not about guns or gun ownership or 2nd amendment rights.)
Perhaps it has been present from the beginning; but I trace the current manifestation of it to the understandable fears emerging immediately prior to World War II in response to the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Gandhi said, “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate, but it is fear.” Some circles acknowledge that anger is a “secondary emotion,” triggered by embarrassment, frustration, fear or other primary perceptions. I think The Scions of Shannara series has the quote: “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate to suffering. Travel too far down that road and the way is lost.” Western culture in general, and America in particular, is nearing the infamous point of no return.
The origin is fear: understandable, credible fear. And the cause of the fear was not totally resolved with the surrender of Japan. There followed the cold war, the fear of the bomb and that American travesty called “McCarthyism.”
Whatever drove Senator Joseph McCarthy, be it fear, ambition or a hyperactive need for attention, his drunken, obsessive diatribes exploited the fears of a nation and polarized its people. Lines were drawn and sides were taken. Innocent people and careers were destroyed in the witch hunt, and a new American ethos emerged: paranoia linked to ideological paralysis.
It is the nature of paranoia that when the object of one’s fear is removed the paranoia seeks another object. Like a heat seeking missile, it is indiscriminate in its search, and will lock on to any source of heat (read: any ideology different from mine).
Once McCarthyism was embraced by an identifiable portion of the population, its undergirding ethos was validated. Lines remain in place; sides taken remain virtually inviolate. Topics change and people change, but the polarization at the root of the phenomenon has only solidified.
Take it to the next level. Ideological polarization by definition manifests an “us vs. them” mentality. “Us” is right; “them” is wrong. Period. By extension, “right” equals good, and “wrong” equals evil. The resultant moral dichotomy feeds and justifies the polarization. The assumption of moral superiority is inherently an arrogant stance, and almost always triggers hostile reciprocation. Thus, a self-perpetuating cycle of antagonism is engaged. The subject or object is secondary; it is the fight, itself, that reinforcs the dominant American ethos.
I’ve been part of the problem. I’m working on it.
It’s no secret that I hold strong ideological convictions; but, it is not my intention here to point fingers at anyone at any point along the spectrum. There’s enough ideological paralysis and arrogance to go around, although each of us probably is more acutely aware of those qualities in those who don’t share our viewpoint.
What I observe almost universally is a rigid “I’m right syndrome”. People don’t want to discuss or resolve issues; they just want to “win the fight”—and virtually everything is a fight. It’s discouraging.
Recently I’ve made an intentional effort—sometimes effectively—to question my own ideological convictions. I’m trying more often to review all the evidence I can find, and to ask, “What if I’m wrong?” It’s a hard sell to most others. If I ask, “What if you’re wrong?” the almost universal response is, “But I’m not.” Doors are locked. An impasse blocks further conversation.
Years ago in my faith struggles I discovered (perhaps by Divine intervention) a concept that has served my peace of mind. My relationship with God is not based upon the correctness of my doctrine, but upon the grace of God. My Scriptural basis is II Corinthians 5:7, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” While I believe in absolute truth, I don’t believe any human, is capable of comprehending truth absolutely. St. Paul writes, “We see dimly, as if through a flawed pane of glass” (I Corinthians 13:12, my paraphrase). The title of this blogsite comes from that verse.
When Americans come to grips with our need to be absolutely right—when we are secure enough in our own identity (both individual and national) to humble ourselves and consider the possibility that I/we may be wrong (at least partially. Nobody is totally wrong—or right—about anything.), the polarization that is weakening America may begin to be healed. It at least would be a step in the right direction.
That’s how I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,