It’s Monday again. So let’s start the week with something that pisses me off:
When someone tells you some way you should be, but leaves out the part about how to be that way.
What I’m talking about, to be specific, is when someone – usually presenting as an authority – proclaims a result we should be living without even suggesting a method by which we can achieve said result.
(as an example, suffering from depression for most of my life, I have often heard people say that I just shouldn’t be sad. Thankfully it’s not often been someone close to me, but that has happened too. But really, don’t be sad? Why didn’t I think of that? Oh yeah, I did. I don’t know how to get there. As it turns out, with depression as with many other things, the old saying holds true, “Oh there, you can’t get there from here.”)
There are, in all probability, those among us who can be informed of a goal and just orient themselves – somehow – in that direction, and then mystically make progress. They are the lucky, and I suspect, the very-fucking-few.
But how does that help those of us that have to work our asses off to get anywhere?
Yeah, I don’t know either.
The truth of the matter is that most of us, I suspect well more than the majority, need a path. We need steps to follow. There needs to be some sense of how we can move in the desired direction.
So, why am I talking about something that is probably obvious to 99% of you?
Well, for some time I have been thinking about our culture; its accomplishments and its deficits. (Okay, mainly its deficits, but its just in my nature, currently). One of the things that stands out to me is that we seem to have a lack of cultural cohesion. That is to say, as Americans, no one can really say what being an American actually means – aside from legal definitions, of course.
As I have stated elsewhere, diversity in our culture is one of its main strengths. We find that this mirrors genetics, where diversity fosters survival. But here’s where I think we fall a bit short. In genetics, the object is survival. Organisms take advantage of diversity to foster reproduction and thereby perpetuation of the organism. In genetics diversity is the tool, but that tool is used to achieve a goal. (Yes, I do still hold a materialism-centered view of the cosmos, but sometimes anthropomorphizing can be useful). We have diversity in our culture. What we don’t have is direction; a goal for that diversity to work on/ towards. Diversity is one of our strengths, but strength – undirected – often becomes weakness.
I think people on all sides of the political debate, in America, can agree that it feels like this country and culture may have lost its way. Even if the directions of the past feel, or are irrelevant to our modern life, we can still feel a bit ‘at sea’ with who we are as a nation and a people.
Here’s where I come back to my original point: method.
I don’t know the method. I feel like something needs to be done. That we have to change in order to survive and to preserve those things that make us one country and one culture. Those things that make us whole.
But I don’t know what those things are, or how to preserve them, or how to forge new things to allow cohesion to emerge.
Like many of you, I have notions. Intuitions. But how useful are unarticulated intuitions?
I am inherently skeptical of anyone, especially in the media, telling me what the goals of this country should be. I am also skeptical of anyone online doing likewise.
Hence, I’m trepidatious of attempting to do so myself, even in a venue as small as this one.
But I think we have come to a point, as a nation, where a discussion about common goals and common standards – mostly of behavior and public decorum – needs to begin. Somehow, I don’t think I’m the only one that feels this necessity. I hope I’m not the only one having this discussion. (But in truth, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve talked to myself).
And my initial point is why I haven’t written more on the topic. It’s been quite some time since I posted about Putting the Civil back in Civilization, mainly because I didn’t want to encourage, in myself, a habit of incoherently ranting in public. Also because even if I suggest a way we ought to behave towards each other, and comport ourselves in public, I don’t want to leave that suggestion hanging in the ether without some delineation of the methods by which one can attain the desired result.
I don’t want to be the person that rails about where you should be without giving you a path to get there. And right now I don’t know what to tell you, or how to get there.
(Disclaimer: I’ll still rant, sometimes without offering solutions. It’s not something I’m ready to quit, cold turkey.)
Something else to mention: I am a heterosexual, white male. I’m not affluent by any stretch of the imagination, but I recognize that the first three aspects do bias my thinking. I take a certain amount of pride in intellectual rigor, and as such I try to see where my privilege, such as it is, skews my perception. I’ll continue to do that. If you have something constructive to offer along the way, regarding that or anything else, I welcome the interaction. Unconstructive comments will be unceremoniously told to get fucked.
With exception of times of dire and national crisis, we in America often think of ourselves in reference to our small groups: ethnicities, religions, local communities, etc… I think this is just hardwired into us. We haven’t yet evolved to feel like we’re part of a group larger than a tribe – say of 150 members. But the fact that we can put aside our innate tribalism in times of need should be adequate proof of our ability to do so in the long term. Is it sustainable in the long arc of history? I have no idea. It might not be. But life isn’t sustainable over the duration, and we try to keep that shit going for as long as possible.
The one thing I know is that we can not replicate the past. We can’t just pick something out of a time gone by and layer it onto today’s people and today’s needs. That doesn’t mean we can’t crib notes from history, it just means we can’t try to relive it.
There are over 300,000,000 minds in the US, most of them at least as good as mine, and I am no genius. We have the resources and the sheer mental processing power to make this happen, or at least to start down the path.
So, back to method. I may not know where we’re going just yet, but I think I know how we start to get there:
We discuss it. Talk to each other.
Not at each other, but with each other. Talk about the good ideas and the bad. Talk about what makes you cringe and what makes you cheer. Talk about what you think is acceptable in public, from our police, and politicians, and whoever matters to you. And talk about what you think isn’t acceptable.
The conversation is the method.
If we start walking, we’ll figure out where we’re going along the way.
Time to start.