I come from a house divided. I have long recognized that I was not alone in this, but it has taken a lifetime to realize just how divided all of the houses I have ever belonged to are. In fact, it is very difficult for me to think of any united houses that I have belonged to, and this fact bothers me very deeply. As a result of nearly constant experience with division, I am keenly aware of cracks in the foundation, of upcoming tremors and splits, and more than a little skittish as a person, doubtful that any institution or structure made by man can last in such a world as this.
I was prompted to think about the subject recently by an article in one of the blogs I am subscribed to that complained about how Republican congressmen compromise too much with the Democrats in making government bigger. I then read an article about Thailand where grassroots redshirts complained about the compromises made by the victorious Pheu Thai party to stay in power. The problems are the same everywhere. The world is full of apparently insoluble crises and divisions between radically different worldviews, and no victory seems to be a large enough mandate to overcome these divisions given the closely divided nature of so many countries. Most politicians would rather compromise and ensure peace and a continued civil atmosphere rather than dig in for battle to wage warfare over the crises that threaten to overwhelm them. And the grassroots wants to wage those battles, but there are grassroots on both sides losing the interest in compromise and desiring a big and total victory. This bodes ill.
As a student of history I am reminded of the period just before the Civil War. Endless debates (even physical violence) in Congress. Corrupt courts making decisions that were seen as blindly partisan and lacking in legitimacy. Grass roots pushing for politicians to make firm stances to draw lines in the sand. Hotheads pushing for war, and eventually a massive and ugly conflict that resolved the crisis at the cost of 600,000 lives and the permanent (so far) removal of the South from the elite area of society to an internal colony of the North. Right now I see a similar sense of crisis, not only in the United States but it many parts of the world, from Europe to the Middle East and North Africa (forget that, all of Africa), Latin America, Southeast and East Asia, and even into Australia. Civil society depends on a consensus. One can disagree (even in a spirited manner) about peripheral matters while retaining unity so long as one is agreed on the essentials. But when there are worldview differences that cannot be compromised and that are harshly divided into two (or more) camps, with the middle trying vainly for some kind of compromise, then war clouds are on the horizon. The red horse looks fully ready to pounce.
I have lived my entire life in a state of crisis. I was born in 1981, to a deeply divided family (that broke up when I was 3), in a nation that had just elected a president to help fend off ‘malaise’ and in a church that was in a dark ‘reign of the ayatollahs’ that pretended to be ‘back on track’ after a period of attempted reforms. I have spent most of my time in schools in periods of economic and political crisis, and once almost got caught in the middle of a race riot in the sixth grade (after which my school was put under marshall law–no joke). Even my high school was divided between an “International Bacchalaurate” and “traditional” program, and I was a very devoted partisan to the IB program, at least until I was a senior and saw how grim the high school was for everyone, and not just me. I have gone to college in a period of crisis–where educational standards for jobs are increasing, but wages and the job availability for qualified graduates has not kept pace. And of course there is the crisis of college sports and its lack of legitimacy, a subject about which I have blogged often.
And that is not to include the fact that I have been involved in internecine religious struggles, as well as an atmosphere of political crisis within my nation, since at least the mid-1990’s. This sense of crisis has been constant and never-ending, without resolution. Nor has this crisis just been in the United States, but it has been in just about every country I have ever visited. My first international trip was to Trinidad & Tobago, normally a pleasant island spot, except the fact that I visited there seven weeks after a Libyan coup attempt and the island was under marshal law, with the troops marching outside of my hotel room at night (which is really scary for an already nervous eight-year old). I visited Guatemala at the tail end of their 30-year civil war in 1996. I visited Great Britain during the mad cow scare in 1998. I visited Ghana during their election season in 2000 that removed their longtime dictator Flight Lt. Jerry Rawlings. I have visited Chile several times (2000, 2008, 2009), and witnessed contentious fights over the legacy of their dictator Pinochet, as well as the struggle between the left and right wing politics there. I have been to Thailand during a period of longstanding crisis going back at least five years. Wherever I go there are problems and deep divisions.
My concern about the constant state of division in the world around me has led me to examine why this might be the case. Part of it appears to be a spectacular case of bad timing. According to scholars Howe and Strauss, who study generational cycles, the period since 1973 or so has been a period of general crisis. Since the late 1960’s there has been a cultural crisis in Western civilization, and so my whole life has been spent underneath a cloud of deep division without any room for compromise. Eventually these conflicts will have be settled by some kind of war–neither side in the many conflicts that are a part of the cultural war are going to lay down their arms in surrender any time soon. It’s just sad that so many years have spent in craven attempts at compromise and papering over the divisions and so little time has been spent preparing for the seemingly inevitable conflicts. I have spent my whole life at war in one way or the other, and yet all around there are people crying “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace, and no peace in sight.