A while ago, the news included a fast-food customer driving, furious because the soda ran down the side of the cup. He drove into a parking space, rushed into the restaurant, jumped on the counter and assaulted two teenage girls. One needed 11 stitches and the other had his jaw and teeth broken. The prosecutor ruled that this amounted to bad behavior, but not a prosecutable criminal offense, as the young employees apparently fought back.
A bit extreme, perhaps, but this kid just might be a poster boy for the age we live in. Everyone seems crazy about something. And some seem crazy about everything. Discontent is endemic in our country. We saw it in a local election that flipped incumbent commissioners in one of Michigan’s best-run counties in favor of inexperienced candidates running on a platform opposing mask mandates for children. , imposed by health officials struggling to contain a pandemic that has killed a million of our people.
We saw it in the refusal of a thousand regional libraries because the librarians had put aside in restricted access 50 books out of 60,000 which could have a particular attraction for my homosexual granddaughter. Or yours. We see it in one religious denominational assembly after another turning into arenas of battle over who gets a seat at the table and who is relegated to the balcony, primarily because of sexuality. The myth of Christianity being one big tent is unraveling as the religious landscape is increasingly dotted with small teepees.
If our tolerance for opposing points of view is diminishing, it is because the chasms that separate us are widening. We all aspire to be a great nation, but we differ greatly on measures of greatness. Is it about military dominance, wealth, compassion, environmental stewardship, technological superiority, punitive justice, restorative justice, education and health care funded by the state or privatization, limits on obscene pharmaceutical profits, gun control, sealed borders or open arms, prayer at school or on the football field, and the list goes on long ?
Within my own family, there are people whom I love, but with whom certain subjects are forbidden. Politics and public policies are simply taboo. Religion may have existed at one time, but fewer and fewer people seem to really care about it today. It’s like we learned that two people talking about religion usually generate three points of view, so why stir the pot.
The days of respectful disagreement are over. We used to call people we disagreed with idiots behind their backs. These days, we shout it to their faces. Road rage ends well if it only threatens to drive. It ends less well if it’s a shootout. Gun violence used to make headlines. Now that’s filler. The United States has approximately 120 weapons in civilian hands for every 100 people. Yemen comes second with 53 firearms per 100 inhabitants. What does this bode for people who seem increasingly inclined to carry guns to rallies and shopping malls or use gunfire to resolve conflict?
Countless public figures, including no less than Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, have joked that the only thing that will unite the human race is an alien invasion. Even that seems wishful thinking. Evolution seems to give us a comfort level with a circle of about 70 people. Beyond that, people become ‘others’ or ‘strangers’ or ‘enemies’. Politicians have learned that one path to power is to rally supporters in fear and hatred of “others” and blame them for our anxiety, poverty or discontent. But to sow division is to gas on bonfires in a world of 8 billion people, where we increasingly inhale the air that others exhale.
I often fear that our legacy is an increasingly troubled world. Domestic violence sometimes seems just around the corner. The global trade in dwindling resources is increasingly essential to survival. If trade ever fails and nations once again resort to gun barrels to secure their wheat, rice, fossil fuels, lithium or other resources, civilization will have reached its peak and chaos will ensue. Some days the human trajectory looks rosy, but others it looks ominous. Charles Dickens described it 163 years ago: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of madness. .it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” This is the time we too live in. Which one will prevail? Simple enough. The one we nurture.
— Community columnist Dale Wyngarden is a resident of the city of Holland. He can be reached at[email protected].