The right sort of people

This video has heart; I even teared up at one point, as was no doubt intended. But I also had qualms.

I want to appreciate the message, that sometimes the things that connect us are invisible yet more powerful than the obvious points of division. And I know a 3-minute TV spot can't address every "yes, but..." counter argument.

But all this good natured bonding might look a little anemic if you told the participants "Everyone who believes that brown-skinned people are genetically inferior to white-skinned people, please step forward." That self-identification overrides the temporary affiliations formed by identifying all the step-parents and people who had sex last week. "Yeah, we're both step-parents," one participant might say to another, "but as a white step-parent I will inherently do a better job than you, and my offspring deserves its privilege due to its inherent superiority. I hope your step-kid enjoys its libertarian-justified poverty." Some group affiliations trump others. 

On the other hand, every shift at the firehouse I sit across the lunch table with some people who did not vote the way I did and have radically different understandings of the goals of our society. When I dwell on our differences, I become very depressed. But then I consider that I can still joke and laugh with them on many topics, that some of our political discussions end in qualified agreement. When the tones go off and we are dispatched on a call together, we perform as a team. 

You can sort people into functional groups despite their differences if they see a common goal. But when one group's goal is the suppression and disenfranchisement of another, all the superficial stand-ins for empathy won't amount to much. 


I can barely speak about the election. Please don't take my silence as a sign of apathy or complicity. 

Garrison Keillor wrote:

The government is in Republican hands. Let them deal with him. Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids and we Democrats can go for a long brisk walk and smell the roses.

I know Garrison is revered as an elder shaman, and that he's being a bit facetious, but it's not time to lighten the mood. 

I work among people who are treated as disposable by our civilization: the poor, the chronically sick, the mentally ill, addicts, immigrants, unprivileged people of color. They won't be tasting artisan beers. They'll be suffering at the hands of an empowered segment of our society that treats dehumanization and degradation as blood sport.  

Don't spend four years perfecting your heirloom tomatoes. Don't escape to Canada. Stay and fight. Fight for people who can't. Fight for the soul of your nation. 

The only thing we have

Two political scientists suggest that the most powerful factor driving your partisan beliefs in the charged political landscape of the United States is fear - most notably, fear of the other side

This is a pretty depressing conclusion, because it implies that not only are we failing to appeal to anything more elevated in our humanity than a simplistic reaction to real (or perceived) threat, but also that people of both sides of the political spectrum are easily manipulable through appeals to fear, which form a disturbingly large fraction of the shrill social media shares that are becoming a common means of gathering information about the world. We're beyond preaching to the choir; we're howling to the other torch bearers in the pitchfork-weilding horde. 

Not you, of course, I'm sure you're entirely rational and right-thinking. Funny how everyone thinks that, even people whose world-views you would find odious. The trope of "everyone else is an idiot except me and my in-group" has become so common that I've begun to believe that it's also a powerful, manipulable state encouraged by those whose power is fed by partisan divisions. The more that you consider other people to be fools, the more fearful you are of the effects of their idiocy... and the more likely you are to stick to the ways of the people close to you, defending your shrinking piece of the turf from all comers. 

Easy for me to say. I struggle with the same feelings. It's a stretch for me to be inclusive in my thinking, even though I work with (and fundamentally trust) many people whose belief systems seem alien, even corrosive. 

When you seek consensus to manage a conflict, one of the first steps is to establish the many things you have in common with the other party. Sometimes in American politics, it feels as if we're living in entirely different worlds than our opponents. Is common ground shrinking? Or is no one looking for it any more? 

Of course, if you're going to fight your opponent to the death, there's no need to seek consensus. 

When worlds fail to achieve consensus

I'm of two, entirely contradictory minds when it comes to politics and everyday life.

Part of me believes that there is a time and place for such discussions, and that other spaces should be free of the noise. People sometimes talk about politics over the lunch table at the firehouse, and I seldom take part. In my job, we have to trust each other with our lives, and discovering that your colleague has world views you find ridiculous/incomprehensible/laughable/vile can only corrode that trust. 

On the other hand, I also believe that no aspect of our lives, public or private, is free of the profound effects of our social and political milieu. When we ignore that, or remain silent about our views, we tacitly endorse what is happening around us. We have a moral obligation to speak out about the issues we care about. 

Like most people, I walk a line between these mindsets. I pick my battles, speaking out about the stuff I feel I can't ignore, letting the rest pass by. To its credit, the fire service has by far the most diverse spectrum of political thought of anywhere I've worked. Diversity of opinion benefits a group, and might lead to better overall decision making, so the idea that the world would be right if everyone thought like I do is self-serving narcissism. It can be tough, on any specific occasion, to know - is now the time to speak my mind? Am I exhibiting weak moral fiber if I let it pass? Or am I indulging in pointless, divisive grandstanding by speaking out?