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Monday, April 13, 2020

Unity & Division

"We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly, we will all hang separately"
-Benjamin Franklin

In a recent comment, our good friend, Tomy mentioned that the division we are experiencing as a country/society is weakening us from within. He suggested that it is better to seek a level of harmony than foster discord, adding that he prefers to try to avoid conflicts that would cause more division among people than there already is…….and admittedly there is quite a bit. However, I feel that while division is usually regarded as undesirable, there are pros and cons to both unity and division. 

Unity is certainly the ideal but it does require particular conditions for it to be efficacious. The best situation is naturally where unity exists because a group is in agreement. But there can be unity among differing parties if there is an underlying mission which supersedes the differences. The quote above is a prime example of this situation. Sure, there were arguments about what sort of government should be implemented after achieving independence, but achieving independence was still the unifying priority.

Rosa and I have long speculated that had Spain not appointed viceroys for its holdings in South America, once independence was achieved, the continent, perhaps with the exception of Brazil, would have ended up comparable in power to the United States. Simon Bolivar wanted this but was unable to convince those like Jose de San Martin to unite. Think of the richness of that continent united under one government constructed in a manner similar to our own and far less (though by no means immune) to petty corruption. Instead South America is a continent of individual countries, none of whom have the resource and power they would as one entity.

Jose, you should have listened to Simon!

Fast forward to 1861. The Civil War is fought primarily over the Federal government's assertion that a confederation of states could not secede from the aggregate of what was our unified nation. What better example of the concept of division compounded? The goal of keeping the country unified was so unyielding that we were willing to battle over it. In some ways you could say it was like when a woman wants to leave her husband and he beats her to make her stay. It was division and unity all rolled into one bloody conflict. But, given some of the ideological and financial differences, what alternative was there?

" 'A house divided against itself, cannot stand.'*  I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South."- Abraham Lincoln

*This quote-within-a-quote is from Matthew 12:22-28

And that's kind of my point now. While unity would be great, which side is going to give in to the other? Should one side just give in to the other? Are there times when people should stick to their principles even if it means going separate ways? In some situations it would seem so. I think that if I was in a survival situation with a random group of people and a portion of them adamantly clung to strategies I felt would get me and my family and friends killed, I think I'd rather go our own way.....even if it meant a smaller number.....than risk being brought down not just from outside threats, but from danger within. I gave an example of how division in gardening is sometimes a good thing. You take a large clumping plant, like a hosta or daylily that has grown crowded and weak, and  fork-split it, and replant the smaller portions. Soon you have two thriving plants where you used to have one struggling one.

However, we are not plants, and not every situation is the same. As a country our strength can come from numbers. The political concept of divide et impera or "divide and conquer" is as old as it is effective. And if anyone thinks it is not being utilized today, think again. We will split over the most minute issues and in the process, trade in our strength ......which for a population is in numbers....... for impotence. As a country we wield enormous power both through our votes and our dollars spent. We could change ANYTHING. But we are far too preoccupied over bickering over minutiae to succeed, and our individual goals seem to be perpetually at odds. But are they?

What do people really want? What is important to them? Are these things radically different from person to person? Are the divisions we find ourselves facing more about method than goal? I think so. And there is a solution to 'divide & conquer' that is just as ancient: compromise and unite......with each word being of equal importance. Unity is the goal because that is what gives strength, but to unite without agreement is a fragile relationship. Compromise is also key.  But there is a tragic requirement for compromise that is sadly lacking in people: intelligence. One needs to be able to think, evaluate, and then reason. Unfortunately, people seem far more inclined to follow someone else whose motives are likely not as altruistic as one might hope, than think independently so they can unify collectively with conviction.

[ In the next installment, we are going to take a humorous look at the serious issue of stupidity and how it keeps us weak. ]


  1. "Are the divisions we find ourselves facing more about method than goal?" I suspect not, unless we make the goal part really nebulous and 30,000 feet level. My view is the last three or four years have proved that some focus a lot on longer term, more abstract goals/concepts, like democracy, democratic institutions and conventions, rule of law, leadership character, etc., while others play lip service to those things (and can wax quite passionate about them if bitching about a leader from the opposing party), but when push comes to shove they are willing to set all those aside as long as the guy at the top of their tribe "delivers the goods." So, I guess you could call those things that get set aside "methods," but I think that stretches ends and means too far as concepts.

    I also do think there are big differences in policy goals both between and within parties. On foreign policy, I probably have more in common with Nikki Haley and former Sen. John McCain than I do with Obama and his foreign policy team. I cheered on Hillary when it was reported she characterized the Obama team as "feckless." On economic policy, I probably have more in common with some moderate Republicans than I do with some Bernie supporters. And I disagree with many on the left about the propoer role of government, but also with those on the right when it comes to social policy around things like gay marriage. Particularly on the economic and social policy fronts, there are legitimate differences regarding the goals.

    If anything, it is our commitment to differing goals but common methods that has taken a beating lately. We used to agree that "elections have consequences," and that each disagreed within a common institutional framework. Now, any method is fair as long as your side wins.

    I read an article over the weekend (I can't find it now), that compared what has happened in Britain and the US in reaction to the coronavirus, and it was thought provoking. The British have been almost as polarized as us over the last few years, thanks to Brexit. Yet, they have really rallied around their leadership, even though Boris Johnson was very, very unpopular with about half the country just a couple of months ago. They also have rallied around institutions like the NHS and the monarchy. While, here in the US, Trump's popularity ticked up modestly for a few days, and is now edging back down to almost exactly where it was pre-covid.

    1. Hmmmm, I'm not sure where I am losing you on this. You mention'nebulous goals'. What do you mean by that? I'm thinking perhaps it's right there, because I am talking about very basic primary, near-universal human goals. (I say'near-universal' because there are always those who want more than their fair share of power, money, land, etc. )

      I shared this with Rosa and she gets what I'm trying to say about the average person and what they really want deep down. It goes back to what I said in that other post about a modicum of happiness, a better future for ones kids, and a reasonable amount of freedom.

      You mention foreign policy. Perhaps that might be a good example area. What does the average person want out of foreign policy? A certain degree of ease of getting what they want at a reasonable price? A degree of security that their homeland will not be attacked? So take somewhere like Saudi Arabia. What's the best policy on Saudi Arabia? People will argue over this or that but ultimately, unless you have ulterior motives for your own greed or power, isn't the goal the same? The difference coming down to the best way to achieve it? Do you take a hardball stance? Do you threaten, partner up, offer something in return? Do you leave them alone hoping they will be nice and do the same? The thing is, it's hard to know for sure which method will be the best, and folks will argue over it.....but the goal is the same one: safety and trade.

      Health care is the same. What does a person want? They want to know they can afford to take care of themselves and their family if something happens. So what system will do that? Universal Medicare? Private enterprise? Government regulation? No government regulation? Again those in it may have a selfish reason to prefer one method over another, but the basic goal for most people remains the same: good, affordable, health care......regardless of what one wants to call it. If someone could PROVE, honestly and without error, that one particular system would be the best answer, who in the regular world would care if it was socialistic or long as it worked? Those worrying about the difference are doing so because they are being told to worry over one or the other. But does that person really KNOW?

      How many people would know to deny rights to Gays if they weren't TAUGHT it somewhere?

      How many people would fight over immigration if no one was telling them it was a huge, dangerous problem?

      I think people do want the same things. They just have no clue how to ensure getting them and therefore listen to their tribal elders as to what way is best. And those elders have a vested interest in promoting one method over another....whether it's greed, power, or just arbitrary division.

    2. I guess you could apply this to everything. "I want the best life possible". And then each tribe offers their road map to get there while warning against the horrific danger in using a different route. And that's it in a nutshell. Big government is best. Small government is best. Which is it? Is it that simple? each side will tell you so, but which is it? Does the average person KNOW? Or do they just trust? Do the leaders even KNOW, or are they just selling a belief system? Politics as secular religion. Which one were you born into? Raised into? Take more comfort in? And whichever it is......that means the other one must be wrong.

    3. I think you are finding the commonality by ignoring the differences at the level that actually matters. Your example of health care is a great one. Yes, everyone (except the youngsters who think they'll never get sick and never need a doctor) wants good health care. For themselves. The differences start to show as soon as you start asking who pays for it and for whom. How about public education? You and I have enough libertarian experience to know there are many people out there who believe that we're each on our own when it comes to paying for any form of health care or education. Medicare? Nope. Medicaid? Nope. Socialism. Private insurance? If you can afford it, without any subsidy or government involvement. Education? Pay for it yourself - no government student loans. Did Trump's fake college rip you off? Too bad -- you should have been a smarter shopper. Do we all want some level of happiness? Sure, but that is so 30,000 feet as a goal, it's totally undefinable in terms of what makes people happy, and do they have some right to it, and if so, only if they can pay for it? The devil is in the details, and in those details many of the goals are NOT common and the means sure as hell aren't.

      Saudi Arabia is another great example. I would argue that we have FAR more in common culturally with Iran than with Saudi Arabia. And, we have gone from being dependent on their oil to being the biggest oil producer in the world. And, in terms of shared values, they are an autocratic feudal monarchy and among the most repressive regimes in the world. So, do I see them as some necessary alliance partner? Not in the slightest. Do I share a common goal of trading with them, peacefully or not? Nope.

      How about freedom? Freedom from or freedom to? Freedom from things like jury service? The Libertarian platform declares jury service a form of involuntary servitude. Freedom to do drugs? Until recently that was pretty controversial. The most divisive issue in the country, abortion, comes down to fundamental views about personal freedom versus the power of the state to put bounds around personal choice. Or, how about BDSM? As you've pointed out, your freedom to consent to being spanked could make Rosa a felon in some states. So, is there really a common view of what freedom is and how much of it we should have? I don't think so.

      I recall a class I had back in college that was focused on philosophy and religion. There were kind of three camps: (1) the fussy little current and future evangelicals whose view was "My god is right, and the rest of you are sinners; (b) the mushy Unitarian-like "God is love," and that's all that matters; and (c) those of us who were more interested in the philosophical debates and got amused listening to the other two camps go at each other. I had a lot of personal affection for the "God is love" types, but I could never really get their view, which just sort of nullified all the differences around doctrine and belief--which some religions held as so important as to hold one's immortality in the balance--with a pithy "God is love." That's basically how I feel about the argument that we all want the same things out of politics -- maybe if you crank the abstraction level up so high that you're left with something like, "Everyone wants to be happy."

    4. >>>>>>>>"I think you are finding the commonality by ignoring the differences at the level that actually matters."<<<<<

      What do mean by 'matters'? I don't think the differences matter to the average person. They just want the best end result.

      >>>>>"Your example of health care is a great one. Yes, everyone (except the youngsters who think they'll never get sick and never need a doctor) wants good health care. For themselves. The differences start to show as soon as you start asking who pays for it and for whom. How about public education?"<<<<<

      Again.....AVERAGE person. You think they have a plan? You think they have it figured out and are waiting for someone to implement their program? No, they are depending on their tribal leaders to take care of this for them.

      The differences you are talking about arise from the leaders and their respective media propaganda. You have brought up the drastic changes to what it means to now be a conservative/Republican. Some current positions are total reversals. So, why is 'Joe Average' Republican still a Republican? Why hasn't his internal sense of what he believes forced him to change sides? Because he hasn't a fucking clue! He doesn't believe anything he has learned on his own. He just wants his share of the good life and he will follow the tribal elder he believes IN to tell him what to think.

      Elder: "Repeat after me: 'Debt is bad.'

      Joe Average: "Debt is bad, debt is bad."

      Elder: "Wait. Not anymore. Debt is now good. Repeat that."

      Joe Average: "Debt is good."

      >>>>>>>"Do we all want some level of happiness? Sure, but that is so 30,000 feet as a goal, it's totally undefinable in terms of what makes people happy, and do they have some right to it, and if so, only if they can pay for it? The devil is in the details, and in those details many of the goals are NOT common and the means sure as hell aren't."<<<<<

      You must travel in a very elite circle. Don't you have any average people friends? People who work minimum wage or basic blue collar jobs? People who watch like zero to tiny bits of news in favor of 'The Bachelor' and then eat at McDonald's? ;-) You hear me talk about my little circle. Do you want me to introduce you to Marta? Nice lady. Can bake up a storm. Ask her her personal position on the details. She gets her opinions from Wally and he listens to liberal media. I could go on and on. We have another friend. Nice guy. Collects Depression Glass. Knows a ton about it. Gets all his political views spoon fed from Fox.

      Everyone does want to be happy. Most haven't a clue as to how to achieve it, so you have politicians (IF they're from the right tribe) and religious leaders (if they're from the right religion) to tell them what to believe. Who do you know that has taken the time to solve major issues on their own? Even those way more informed could be misled despite their best attempts at analysis.

      [This would be such a better conversation to have in person, with a few drinks. LOL]

    5. I wanted to add: Essentially my point is that if you take the 30,000 high goal, it would be pretty well shared across party lines. The parties then endorse one method to achieve the goal and demonize the other. People who follow the party line, end up believing it and remain divided. But logically if you have a goal, there may very well be an objective route to achieve it .....but most things are not that easy to know for sure. But they might be knowable if approached openly and honestly. That is not happening and will likely never happen under the current polarization and pandering that is defining our society.

    6. "This would be such a better conversation to have in person, with a few drinks. LOL" Totally agree.

      "So, why is 'Joe Average' Republican still a Republican? Why hasn't his internal sense of what he believes forced him to change sides? Because he hasn't a fucking clue!" I don't really agree with this, or at least I think it is overstated. First, I think much of what you see as "clueless" I see as blatant hypocrisy. I have Republican friends and relatives who are plenty smart, and when pressed they know damn good and well that they they have gone 180 degrees on what it means to be a "conservative." As for hanging out with "real people," neither of my parents went to college. My dad is a walking, talking archetype of a Trump voter--no college, raised poor, blue collar jobs his entire life, from the south--and yet he hates Trump and is pretty well-informed in his views. If I want to hang out with "average people" all I have to do is go to a family dinner. Most of the people I hang out with are, indeed, in my profession. But, many if not most of them came from pretty humble backgrounds, and my own was working class in a very poor area of the country.

      Part of the explanation is Trump is a populist, and there really isn't much difference between right wing populism and left wing populism where economics are concerned. Hence, a lot of Trump voters listed their second pick as Sanders or Warren. So, why do some of those voters go "all in" for Trump instead of Bernie or Warren, even though arguably the latter two would be more aligned with the Trump base's economic self-interest. Well, I posit that it comes down to three issues: immigration, guns and abortion. And, that's where some of your "good life" abstraction breaks down. You are underestimating how many people see excluding immigrants as a requirement for their "good life." Same with owning a gun. If you are a gun owner in Texas or Oklahoma and grew up in that gun culture, you'll see Bloomberg and most of the Democratic candidates as the devil.

      So, I get what you are saying that everyone wants "the good life." I just think that's so high-level that it's meaningless and neglects all the things that actually motivate people and what they believe is required to have what they deem to be a good life. And, while I think people are influenced by the media echo chamber they put themselves in, I do believe many of them DO choose which echo chamber they put themselves in. They aren't mindless sheep who hold their high level views because Hannity tells them to. Rathey, they choose Hannity because he reflects their high-level views better than does Rachel Maddow.

    7. Maybe. Or maybe it's the relative size of their amygdalas that makes the choice for them? ;-)

      As an aside, "humble origins" are not a predisposition to a lack of awareness and intelligence. I have a couple of friends, husband & wife. We used to be very close and have sort of drifted after my divorce but we still bump into each other and are friendly. He was a construction guy who never went past high school, while she has a Masters and worked in a business science field. Put the two in a room and he will be far (and I mean FAR) away and ahead of her in political savvy and awareness. Maybe not immune to misinformation, but way beyond her. I have countless other examples. I grew up very lower middle class in an urban/suburban town. I still live in a very blue-collar neighborhood, with a lot of mixed immigrants, in an overall blue-collar town.

      I'm curious though. How many in your circle do you have to avoid conversations like this with because they have zero political awareness and watch only the briefest of headline news? Folks who have no idea how science or politics even work, let alone have substantive opinions on either.

      You may be right that there is a dark nastiness to some people's politics. As cynical as I am about intelligence, I try to be more optimistic about mean selfishness being more rare than the opposite......but you could very well be right. And you are dead on about hypocrisy. >sigh<.

      My next installment was going to be a look at stupidity and then a tie-n to how if people were a little smarter, they could explore real solutions to getting the 'happy life' they want. But now I'm wondering if that might only be true for those who are essentially decent, but not that sharp? LOL, it seems like our disagreement here comes down to you thinking people are smarter but nastier and more selfish than I do, whereas I think they are basically decent folk who just aren't that bright. Wow, I'm not sure which I think is worse. ;-)