This once great, ‘indivisible’ nation is being divided. This once great nation is corroding from within. Bitterness and enflamed emotions rule in a land once unified by a sense of common purpose. We Americans are being cajoled into a surreal drama that reads more like a Marvel comic than the Olympian tale that was envisioned by the founders of this country. Was it always just a myth? I refuse to accept that.
I am not a heathen, nor an elite. I am an American, born and bred. I understand all things indigenous to this land. I understand loving God, I understand wanting to own a gun, I understand despising big government, I understand fearing ‘the other’.
I also understand that what makes us human is our morality – the source of which is love, is kindness, is sympathy with the other. Our innate sense of virtue, of what is moral, predates our religions. How could we otherwise have conceived of (or if you like, recognized the existence of) God?
We live a world of ‘others’. On one level or another every one of us is an other to everyone else. But if our identity is built upon exclusion, then we isolate ourselves and make ourselves vulnerable. If our identity is so frail that it cannot withstand the co-existence of equal identities, then the human race splinters and falls. If instead our identity is, at heart, based upon inclusion, then we forge a stronger, unified entity. Whether you consider, on the one hand, the aftermath of war or, on the other, the phenomenon of rebuilding cities after environmental disasters, all of history bears out this truth.
I also understand wanting ‘freedom’. But are we truly free when others are not? Hardly, because then we live in fear, fear that others will take our freedom away. But freedom is a state of mind. It is an act of will. It requires vigilance. And at its core is strength, not weakness. As a hero like Nelson Mandela proved, it cannot be taken by physical force.
Fear and negativity are a natural function of survival on this planet. We leap first to the negative response because we fear. This is ingrained in the workings of our brain. But these responses are millennia old – they come from a time when much of the flora and fauna on the planet were potentially hazardous to our existence, as were other primordial homo sapiens. Over the centuries, human society has, arguably, managed to modulate many of those dangers. And yet we still function within a primitive mindset, continuing to anticipate aggression from ‘the other’. And thus, operating from the realm of fear, we are quick to react, quick to overreact. We pull back to our safe zones – to our tribes. We arm our safe zones. And we no longer think for ourselves.
But as humans relentlessly continue to populate, the planet becomes more crowded, and resources become increasingly strained, the threats are less from ‘rival’ tribes than from overarching nation states jockeying for power. The tribal system is obsolete. And yet it has become an exceedingly useful tool for the major nations, most notably our own. Freedom is supposedly America’s most essential value but in fact it is no longer useful for the regime in power. What is useful to them is fear. What is useful to them is ignorance. What is useful is herd mentality.
Just as primitive hunters drove herds of wild beasts into tight canyons to slaughter or control, our current leaders are driving us into negative and narrow thought patterns, not for slaughter but for domestication.
The ancient Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius used a simple mental exercise to gain perspective on earthly life. He imagined, long before man had transected space, what our actions on this planet would look like from a distant heavenly body. One can only surmise what that wise philosopher king would see from such a vantage point in our own time. I expect he would have been sorely dismayed.
But Aurelius was a Stoic, and that pivotal Greek philosophy championed action, virtuous action, where it could enable positive change. It also envisioned a world in which each individual was centered within a larger circle of family, of town, of country, of continent, and finally of the Earth. It is time to reconnect to this philosophy, one which predated the technologically advanced and yet technologically debilitated world we currently live in. It is a philosophy rooted in the basic elements of life – individual and collective power, love, courage, virtue.
We are now, whether we like it or not, all one tribe on this planet. We need to get behind this concept as soon as possible. It is imperative that we work together to modify our consumption, manage our resources, and sustain the fertility of the earth so as to continue as a species. This means summoning the kind of moral strength that comes from unity, not division. This means tearing walls down not building them up. Whether person to person, or country to country, we need to recognize our common humanity and make this the foundation of our future, the base of our actions.
Whether it’s Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Gaia, or the Beatles you revere, their refrain would be the same: Come together, right now, over me.