Saturday, March 23, 2019
Can You Feel It?
It's been building for quite a while, at least a decade, perhaps two. It's this gnawing feeling that we're losing civility. It's ever so gradually fading away.
We're moving from a society into tribes within a society. We cling to our differences both real and imagined and almost always exaggerated or inflamed.
The rift that divides us serves as a fertile breeding ground for xenophobia, racism, and bigotry of every description.
We have our tribes. Everything else is "the other," something to be viewed with hostility, suspicion, even paranoia. They are not "of us" even though we may actually agree on just about everything except a few hot button issues and even they may be exaggerated, inflamed.
I thought of this today after reading an item in The Guardian about the "Brexodus" underway in the UK. It was about young people now choosing to leave Britain for a better life elsewhere. There were repeated comments about how Brexit has changed the British people, hardened them, made them less tolerant and more xenophobic; how Brexit has fractured British society and left old friends refusing to even speak to each other.
This, of course, is not unique to the UK. It seems to be happening everywhere across the West in varying degrees. We're certainly not immune, not really.
Imagine a Canadian senator on the lawn of the parliament buildings, half-laughingly exhorting protesting truckers to run over every Liberal in the country or the leader of one of two major political parties playing footsie with white nationalists.
Perhaps our tribe doesn't do that but don't we use that to justify embracing the divide, widening the rift? Where does that end? How do we stop it, reverse it? Do we even want some sort of reunification or do we prefer to hunker down within our camp, imagining how we'll trash the others in the next election? Do we have any sense of what's at stake as this deepens, what we might be losing?
We think of our constitutional institutions as a bulwark against extremism but are they really invulnerable? The Americans have got what they consider the most bulletproof constitutional settlement in the world, a divinely inspired gift from the Creator no less. Yet they elect a president who sees that constitutional fabric as a hurdle, not something to be respected and upheld. Worse yet, he has a Republican Congress that prostrates itself before him and stands by and lets him run roughshod over that vaunted constitution. We haven't yet seen how far his ideologically stacked Supreme Court will go in colluding with him but, let's face it, they haven't been chosen to administer justice equally.
This has happened before. The history of authoritarianism is replete with examples of law makers transforming into law benders before turning into law breakers in service to the tyrant of the day.
Why am I so vexed at this? It's simple - we are embarking on an era far different to anything experienced in the history of human civilization. The world is becoming a place unknown to us or any of our ancestors. It will be more difficult, more challenging, more dangerous and to rise to those events will require a deeply cohesive society in which all - rich and poor, right and left, of all skin hues, religions and ethnicities - collectively shoulder the burden, mutually sacrifice for a greater good and look after each other.
Is there any other way to defend and preserve all the good things that we have? Can we hope to do that if we stand divided in camps glaring and hurling insults at each other?
I don't think the future will go well for us, especially for our youngest generations, if we don't overcome this tribalism. And, if we fail, is it not conceivable that these two camps we have today, left and right, will break down further into sub-groups that do define themselves by rich and poor, by religious faith, colour, ethnicity, geography, demography? How far does this go before tribes break down into gangs?
Optimism is hard to muster. We're not even preparing our nation and our people to meet the truly existential threat of climate change. This is not something that is thirty or fifty or seventy years off. I'm convinced we shall see the world transformed in the course of the 20s even if countries of the northern latitudes are least impacted. Perhaps that will shake us, bring us to our senses, heal the rift. If not, then what?