The Road to Divisiveness

The Road to Divisiveness

Looking back on the last 20 years it seems we got here on diverging roads leading to the same place – divisiveness. How do we talk ourselves out of this self-laid trap?

I'm not sure we can. The USA may just be too big to hold together as one, but it does seem worthwhile to ask if we can still find common ground. In some ways it seems inconceivable that we have gotten to this place. For instance who would argue with the following:

  • killing of kids in their own schools must be stopped
  • it is an act of patriotism to make sacrifices to protect other americans from a disease you might have
  • injustice and inequality should be rooted out and expunged
  • owning and operating dangerous devices should be left to those who have proven they can do so without endangering others
  • you get the idea ...

Unfortunately when these ideas come up, through some event in the news, we are fed automatic responses from special interest groups to galvanize us with narratives, slogans, and ready allies. It seems too hard to meet these issues with rational thought when special interests offer such a seductive shortcut.

Let's take just one, not much in the news today so we should be able to look at it with some dispassion.

We should not allow our children to be killed in their schools.

We see juvenile shooters take out children and educators in a school and automatically jump into pro and anti Gun Rights camps. Why? Both sides agree that the result of the shooting is horrific but we pick the most divisive way to look at the problem and shout at each other until all energy is spent.

How did we argue ourselves into inaction? Surely this is the worst outcome we could have.

Anti-Gun Rights people: Make assault weapons illegal!

Gun Owner: Over my cold dead body! The constitution protects this right. If we give up one weapon you'll take them all and we will resist this.

Gun Owner: Arm teachers so they can stop the killers

Anti-Gun Rights people: Shudder, noooo not more guns!

This would be silly if it weren't so deadly serious. What reasonable person would argue that children should be allowed unfettered access to deadly weapons? How did this become about violation of the second amendment of the US Constitution? Because special interests did everything they could to make it about this. What responsible Gun Owner would hand a loaded weapon to a child and say; "here you go, be free!" Ridiculous. So why do they resist pressure to curb such access in the larger world?

The Anti-Gun Rights people here are not blameless. Why do so many insist on the very action that triggers the Gun Owner's ire when so many other actions would avoid the trap laid by special interests? How about legislation that forces gun buyers to also buy a trigger lock or gun safe? They might argue that this is insufficient and, of course, it is. But would it move the dial? If you don't like this one there are any number of other things we COULD do but insisting on one solution means that none are acted upon.

Why do Anti-Gun Rights people hate the idea of arming teachers? They say; "guns should not be in schools." Ok, but they are. They say, "teachers are not police." Ok, how about trained professional security staff for schools? We have this for all manner of institutions, courts, large office building, air ports, ... They say, "this won't solve the problem." Again, ok but will it move the dial?

In reality US culture allows gun access to be too easy and makes guns too much the first choice in dealing with conflict. Laws can help but until the culture changes we will still have a problem with gun violence – truth is, even after. We can't move culture if the two side are so entrenched over the wrong issue.

Again I ask, does anyone disagree with:

We should not allow our children to be killed in their schools.

This is the issue, if you like. There are many routes to moving the dial, let's pick several and at least try them, instead of picking the first misdirection argument as an excuse to avoid engagement and action.


If you have read this far you may think I'm a naive idealist and veiled progressive. You have glimpsed my better angel. More often I'm cynical and terrified. I worry that democracy is an unnatural state, after all what other long lived institution is democratic? I'm well aware that the scenario I've presented as a straw man cannot possibly influence many people and is hopelessly idealistic. I'd go even further and say I suspect finding common ground may not be a natural trait of human nature. I worry that our current divisiveness will upset the fragile stability of Western Democracies and devolve into worse systems of governance – authoritarianism first among them.

Maybe a better subject would be, what is better and more stable than democracy?

Show Comments