While it seems that everyone has an opinion about “The Donald,” this post is not really about him, nor about Uncle Joe. But I do want to riff on “group-ism,” unity and resilience. I know that this will be controversial, but if we are ever going to have an adult conversation about these subjects somebody’s got to go first (Then again, you can always spot a pioneer by the arrows in his back and his blood-soaked boots!).
What’s group-ism? It’s simply identifying – defining – a person on the basis of the group he or she belongs to. Depending on your particular point of view, it may be called racism, gender-ism, identity politics (or a host of others). And it can have a profound impact on a community’s resilience.
Let’s start with what should be obvious – something like group-ism is a part of our human DNA; it transcends color, culture, gender and breeding. The ability to recognize “Others” was a key to our species’ survival. Whether it was a wild animal or a member of a different tribe, our ancestors’ inbred ability to recognize something or someone that was different was important for prehistoric humans’ survival. So in this sense we are all racist, sexist, anti-immigrant… – group-ists. To deny that we are is to deny our own humanity.
But the world today is very different from prehistoric times. Few of us live in isolated self-sufficient villages in the forest any more. Stones and spears and clubs have been replaced by laser-guided weapons. Many of us eat exotic foods from half a world away. Our standards of living exceed even the wildest dreams of our atavistic ancestors; for the first time in recorded history less than 10% of the world’s population lives in abject poverty (or at least they did before the pandemic).
But these advances have required that we become more connected. Interdependencies abound. Our isolated village in the forest has become one of many neighborhoods in a concrete and asphalt jungle. If a disaster strikes, we will have to work with our neighbors and friends and friends-of-friends-of-friends in order to return to something like our prior lives. And if we wish positive change in our communities that means working with other neighborhoods very different from our own. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, for community resilience “It’s the connections, Stupid!”
And it is in these connections that we can find the antidote to our inherited “group-ism.” Humans are social animals. We want to interact with other humans. If I have had a positive experience with blacks, or Asians, or women or any of the other “Others” then I am that much less likely to trigger my inbred “Others” instinct when I see someone from these groups. Conversely, without those positive interactions, that instinct will continue to hold sway. And that’s why the growing tribalism in our culture is so dangerous.
Clearly “The Donald’s” blatant and often bigoted outbursts are bludgeons battering the bonds that hold us together, threatening our communities and their resilience. Sadly, though, there are Montagues to his Capulet. Uncle Joe with his if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, you ain’t black, and calling Trump voters clowns, chumps and worse. Throwing boulders in the path to the unity he aims for. And the press: Trump’s boorishness and silly lies are matched (perhaps even exceeded) by the meanness, poor reporting and downright dishonesty of much of the media. Indeed, a plague on all their houses!
There is no greater threat to our communities’ resilience than these politicians (and media pundits) pandering to us in terms of the groups we belong to. Dripping a seductive acid into our ears that our weaknesses are someone else’s fault; that those “Others” are holding us back. All the while building suspicion and fear and reinforcing our atavistic instinct that leads to pathologies that further weaken our communities such as college students demanding re-segregation of residence halls (What would Dr. King make of that?!?). How can we prevent – let alone recover from – another Ferguson if we have not built bonds of respect among all of the groups in our communities? How can we spot the outsiders that truly threaten us – the Dylan Roofs and Omar Mateens – if we see everyone who is different from us as an outsider? How can we be resilient when disaster comes if we have no connections outside of our own group? The answer to all of these, of course, is that we can’t. Our politicians are “Trump”-ing our resilience – crimping our connections in a world that demands connectedness. Connections we must have to overcome our atavistic instincts; connections we must have to survive in this modern world; the connections needed for community resilience.