I have no idea what it takes anymore for Americans to calm down, think rationally, feel empathetically, and stand together as one people in one nation.
I now believe that our technology has doomed us to never come together in a common purpose as Americans again; we have become Shia and Sunni, and this may divide us forever.
Historically, we can look back and point to those trying, sometimes horrific, events that pulled our nation’s people together with the energy, the spirit, the honor of coming together, despite the usually petty and irrational things that we allow to separate us, because we understood the necessity of clear-thinking, or even because we had finally just had enough.
When our nation has been attacked, we came together through the clear necessity of defense; when our nation has gone far off the rational and moral course, we came together once we had finally had enough and were able to understand the obvious. There are events, historical moments, that trigger our national reconciliations. In the hindsight of history, they stand out clearly. Some are obvious to everyone — the bombing of Pearl Harbor, most obviously, and 9/11, although our reconciliation then lasted weeks, not years, and that will reinforce the point I want to make about how technology has permanently divided us into warring, hate-filled ideologies, without hope of reconciliation — the Shia and the Sunni.
Some are not so obvious as moments of war, but still the catalyst for Americans to realize that we have gone too far, become too mad (and I mean more than angry), and we’ve just had enough. In my experience, the end of Joe McCarthy, when he was revealed as the buffoon he was on our new television screens, thus allowing Americans to transition away from the destructive Red-baiting decade that utterly, uselessly destroyed so many lives, and the bombing of the Alabama church in 1963 that burned to death four innocent little girls, and forced us to finally face what our racists attitudes had wrought, allowing passage of the so long overdue Civil Rights Bill.
This country is insanely in love with guns. No matter how senseless or stupid or dangerous is this irrational love affair with weapons of death, we go to absurd lengths of “reasoning,” cling to every shred of ridiculous posturing, in order to save our romance with the tools of killing. The 2nd amendment to the US Constitution, as any clear-thinking person ought to understand, meant exactly what it said; that because of the experience of the times and that of the writers of the constitution (times and experiences far removed from our own), a “well-regulated militia” could be seen as a deterrent to an unhealthy concentration of power in a federal government and should have constitutional protections. Only a moron or someone blinded from reason by a mad love affair with killing instruments could construe that amendment to mean your neighbor needs an AK-47 and a 50 cal machine gun to keep varmints off his lawn or to shoot tin cans off his fence. Yes, the NRA definitely needs to change its name to the assassins’ lobby.
But that’s just one hot-button issue that divides the rational thinker from the irrational reactor, and in that sentence I fall into the same irreconcilable posture I intend to decry. Some of us are intelligent, rational, critical thinkers, and some of us (like members of the NRA) are not.
I bring up guns because of the murders in Tucson of a week ago. Not only should that particular killer never have been allowed to purchase a firearm of any kind, even a starter pistol, but further, why does anyone need a Glock 19 semi-automatic handgun with extended clips? This killing tool is made and sold for no purpose other than to kill something. Buying one is an admission that you really just want to kill something.
Why does anyone not in active fire war zone need any automatic weapon? Why does anyone outside law enforcement and the military need any firearm? Hunting? Go to Safeway, and let the critters live in peace. (What have they ever done to you? Do you get your jollies killing something, slaughtering a living being?) Protection? Statistically far more people are injured and killed by their own private firearms than by some nefarious criminal out to get you. That’s what the police are there for. Admit it. You don’t need a gun. You just lust after the penis extension you think it gives you, or, admit it, you just like killing. I have no problem with people who will admit honestly that they don’t need a gun, they just love guns and killing stuff with their guns. Honesty is a start.
But this isn’t about guns or gun control, either, regardless of how flagrant obvious controlling the distribution of weapons is. It is only one rather small example, albeit a hot one.
What I have been wondering this week is why the time of “come together and be civil” after seminal events, like I have described in the preceding, are becoming shorter and shorter? My conclusion is technology, simply the time it now takes to disseminate information and spread opinion because of the Internet. We no longer have time to think about what has happened, to evaluate and let the dust settle. Within minutes of the murders in the Tucson parking lot, the venom spewed, the opinions ranted, and the hate bloomed. Within a week, Fox and the like were already back to nasty as usual. Technology allows us, essentially funnels us, into more and more narrow compartments; the compartments we are already in, now magnified and reinforced.
Before this technology, almost all Americans shared a few dozen common sources of information, and for the most part those sources were honorable, dependable, and rational. Now you have the small but noisy Fox News mob getting their overheated reinforcement from people (who are themselves not in the least honorable, dependable, and rational) who are paid very well to do nothing else but stir up their most irrational, most bigoted, and most unsympathetic emotions (mainly to sell more cars and soap). On the other side, you have MSNBC, and to a lesser extent a website like Huffington, telling its audience that “the other” is crazy as a loon.
Whatever your compartment, however wacky or moronic your beliefs, you will find a warm home on the Internet, friends just like you, who are themselves just as crazy, so you all look normal to one another. And it’s instant. There isn’t time to think or evaluate or consider — your craziness has a home and you can move in right away.
That is what public figures like Sarah Palin (only the obvious figurehead for many just like her) seem incapable of understanding. Yes, what you say matters, how you say it matters. If you don’t believe that to be the case, then shut up, since nothing you say matters anyway, has no influence anyway. No, Sarah, you have created a compartment and it appeals to people who have compartments like yours, and some of those people may have a lot less to lose than you do, or be a lot more irrational than you are, but you open the door for them and welcome them home. How can you be surprised when some of them take you seriously?
Because there are more public Sarah Palins than there are Barrack Obamas, because the Internet and similar technology has destroyed the time frame required for thoughtful consideration and the development of empathy, I do not doubt that Americans have become Sunni and Shia, and nothing we can do now will change that.
Best wishes next generation.