I recently read a story about a man who had been judged to be in perfect health after a checkup and died two weeks later from what the doctors diagnosed as COVID 19. Apparently, while still able to speak, he refused to believe that he was infected by a hoax virus. According to this story, this particular instance is not unique. The ability of belief to persist even when your death is disproving it is truly amazing. If proof on that order is unconvincing, it is hard to conceive of anything that would suffice.
This brings me to considering the task we have before us of reconciling the alternate realities that we and our fellow citizens inhabit. If the above example fails to convince, how are we going to arrive at a consensus on the climate crisis, much less establish that we have a crisis at all? I am genuinely baffled when I see what appears to be a sane, intelligent person dispassionately express appreciation for the fine job that President Trump has done. Would anybody allow, much less approve of their child acting like our president? I think everybody has a built-in integrity meter, and I simply am baffled by the loyalty and support that anybody could have for this man.
Yet, as I say, these folks that I can’t understand are half the country, and we will have to find some common ground to move forward. In marriage or friendships, we can simply accept irreconcilable differences and walk away. We could create two countries, but we know what that cost the last time it was tried. Nobody wins in a war, and the terrible waste and destruction at a time like this is unthinkable. Reconciliation is the only viable alternative. I have to think that there is some logical reason for people to distrust each other at such a fundamental level, and that sitting down together, we might begin to establish some kind of mutual trust and respect. In fact, we have to.
In saying that, I’m not talking about a compromise or an abandonment of ideals. The present frame in which we see each other truly is irreconcilable, so we need to find a new perspective or frame through which we can all see a way forward, at least on some things.
I was surprised to read someone saying that the evolution of individual freedom was at the heart of our problems. Until now, there has been enough space and resources for disagreeing parties to go their separate ways. Now, it is all too apparent that we are on the same small boat and we either find common ground or violently suppress one side, and, if we do that, we will need a dictatorship. This dilemma is playing out right now as mutual accusations are being made that the other group is putting party before country. As we reaffirm the importance of democracy in this election, we need to reconsider the importance of balancing our individual freedom with our collective responsibility.
If we consider a beehive or ant colony as a scary model for a human collective, consider for a moment that these collectives have no leader or any separate body that enforces conduct. The queen is not a ruler; she is a servant of the hive. It is the hive itself, through the collective predominance of chemicals exuded by each individual, that decides when to swarm, where to live, where to find food, assignment of duties, protection of the hive—every aspect of life. And, although bees don’t think or act on individual impulses, they nevertheless all participate in the group decisions. We are not exclusively collective animals like these, but we are collective beings, especially today, and we must learn to cooperate.
I see a few possibilities for agreement. Nobody likes that the wealthy corporate interests run the country and concentrate all the wealth. Rebuilding infrastructure will directly and indirectly create jobs and prosperity for all. Regenerative farming is surprisingly very popular in the vast conservative rural hinterlands. All of these can positively impact the climate crisis without having to say so beforehand.
It will certainly help to be rid of someone as divisive and disruptive as Donald Trump. He has shown us how susceptible we are to being ruled by our baser instincts (and, although I naturally see the other side more to blame, it is apparent on both sides). To bridge the divide, we will first have to agree that the collective is more important than the individual. We will also need to find new words (or at least new definitions) and new concepts that we can forge together to define a reality we can both agree on, based on mutual respect. It may take a while, but we can begin to see a way to the peace, security, fairness, and happiness that we all want. It could lead to the understanding that defines the new paradigm that needs to be born.