(Yes, there was a movie by that name. Pretty good movie too, though a trifle bleak. No, this piece won’t be about it.)
The polarization of America has reached a level that endangers every man, woman, and child in this country. We no longer “do politics;” we make war, and others make war on us. And let there be no misunderstanding about it: it’s not just Democrats versus Republicans or conservatives versus progressives.
It’s men versus women.
It’s whites versus non-whites.
It’s urbanites versus non-urbanites.
It’s Christians versus non-Christians.
It’s Europeans versus non-Europeans.
It the white-collar class versus the other classes.
And the beat goes on, through as many demographic cohorts as you care to name.
That’s from my perspective, as a white male Catholic European-descended engineer from the suburbs. If you’re a black female Muslim field hand of Nigerian descent, you could compose your own list of just as many entries.
Why do we have so many enemies?
The late George Alec Effinger penned a stunning short story that’s far too relevant to the animosities of our time. The title, “All the Last Wars at Once,” should give you an idea what it’s about…but only the faintest idea. Please read it and reflect.
An old movie, Malcolm McDowell’s star vehicle If… treats with the same thesis as Effinger’s story, though with a smaller scope: a British boys’ boarding school. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth your time.
Remember the “Manson Family” and the beliefs that animated them? It’s the same subject as the aforementioned story and movie, though one must look beneath the surface for the common thread.
Science-fiction writer Joe Haldeman once had a minor character say that Man has an angel half and an animal half. We’re close to letting the animal half have free rein. Hobbes’s “war of each against all” is a fair encapsulation of what awaits us if we fail to leash the beast.
I’m not about to sing Kumbaya. Conflict is part of human existence. Our decisions and actions bring us into conflict with one another in many ways. Whether our actions are personal or social, commercial or non-commercial, self-chosen or by direction, with every one we assert our individual personalities: that which distinguishes us from any other member of Mankind.
To be individual is to be in conflict with others: not necessarily destructive conflict, but still assertive. Individual existence proclaims an individual creed: a statement that “this is a valid way for a man to live.” Even those who suffer the starkest misery throughout their lives express such a creed by continuing to live.
Intolerance of differences has come to characterize a great part of our nation. The disinclination to restrain the aggressive expression of that intolerance colors a significant fraction of the mass. The consequences are visible all around us.
Time was, if an American couldn’t stand the crowding, or the stench of his neighbors’ cuisine, or the local Tammany Hall, he could cross the land frontier, stake out a claim, and build himself a refuge. Thus he could have everything his own way…for a while. But as ever more Americans moved westward, the irritations that accompany the proximity of others came with them. Those determined to be left alone to follow their own course continued further westward until they couldn’t any more, “which is why all the nuts ended up in California.” (See that movie! As well as being wildly funny, it contains insights enough for a whole library.)
Is proximity to one another driving us murderously insane? It hasn’t gotten that bad yet. But the portents are not reassuring.
Perhaps you’ve been wondering where the “love” will appear in this “love story.” In a departure from my usual practice, I chose the title of this piece before I set to composing it. What was on my mind at the time was Christ’s Second Great Commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” The Redeemer didn’t add any qualification clauses to that statement. He didn’t say “Unless your neighbor is the wrong race, or the wrong religion, or the wrong politics, or some such.” There’s every reason to believe that He meant exactly what He said.
There are persons who hate Him and His Gospel. They want you to hate your neighbor. They seek to exacerbate the conflicts among us to the point of bloodshed. Pressed to the limit, it would fulfill their highest ambition: your self-destruction. For the hatred of the neighbor leads directly to the hatred of God…and of oneself.
Can you see it yet? Hatred is destructive. It empties the soul! Why else would warlords strive to get their troops to hate their enemies? Why else would the forces of social division at work among us foment suspicion and distrust?
But wait: there’s more! He who hates loses his ability to control himself. He becomes ripe for control by others. What others? Generally speaking, persons who want to deflect you from your priorities to theirs. Persons who want what you have and are unwilling to pay your price. Persons who hate you as a free and self-sufficient individual…and who want you to hate yourself as they hate you.
Many of those folks are in “education.” Others dominate our communications and entertainment media. Still others are in politics.
Sun Tzu has told us that he who knows his enemy and himself “will not be defeated in a hundred battles.” But you cannot know your enemy in Sun Tzu’s sense until you can identify him. It’s time for all of us to contemplate a dangerous proposition: Your enemy isn’t who you’ve been told he is. This somewhat plaintive piece is intended as a step down that path.