By: Butch Swank
It seems to me that we’re at a point in our culture where politics has replaced community and religion. That means many have chosen to look to politicians for moral guidance. Really? I’d rather we look to scary circus clowns for moral and spiritual guidance than politicians. When we decide to idolize people who are professionals at avoiding the truth and speaking in circles, then we are going to have problems. Guess what? We have problems! Before, when you belonged to a church or a gym and you actually knew your neighbors, you could not help but have a sense of community, purpose, and belonging. These three things are now in rapid decline along with a lot of people’s mental health. In today’s environment, a sane person running for office talking about getting together with the “other side” and working things out has zero chance of being elected. We’re actively creating a culture that rewards ignoring half of the population. Patrick Henry, one of our founding fathers, warned us about this by saying, “United we stand, divided we fall.” We were warned, but we’re going full throttle toward division anyhow.
Now, I prefer not to be a total Debbie Downer, so let me share some good news. I love stats, and I’m sure you do, too. Who doesn’t? (I am so much fun at parties!) Over the past two hundred years, we’ve gone from ninety percent of people living in extreme poverty all the way down to ten percent. Three hundred years ago, only fifteen percent of people could read, and now even that number is at ninety percent. Isn’t that wonderful? If you’re curious about these numbers, they are from Dr. Steven Pinker. He’s a professor dedicated to proving that, despite what the news yells at us, things really have been getting better and better compared to days past. The question I ask is, why have they been getting better?
I say it’s because of Western civilization in general and America in particular. For example, let’s talk about the Scientific Method. What is that you say? It is a system that allows a scientist to develop an idea, and then ALL the other scientists are free to attack it. By attack it, I mean they study it and try to poke holes in it. If the scientist’s idea is good, it stands up to the other scientists trying to disprove it, and we, as a society, advance because of this new knowledge. By scientists verifying and questioning each other’s work, they can all feel comfortable knowing the work is rock solid and then build on it.
Back to the current day. Science is no longer science – now it’s The Science, and it, of course, has been politicized. That means no one is allowed to question things anymore. I don’t care if you’re on the left or right – both sides do the same thing. “How dare you question my favorite scientist’s opinion!” C’mon. Are we really to the point that we’re at each other’s throats because your nerdy scientist disagrees with my nerdy scientist? Keep in mind that this is coming from a nerdy insurance agent. Heck, even insurance people disagree sometimes, but I certainly don’t find it necessary for a politician to back me up. The big point here is that our whole culture is based on the concept that ideas are made to be questioned. Both left and right used to cherish freedom of speech in its purest form, which to me is: Everybody is free to share thoughts, and the best ideas win out while the bad ones fall by the wayside. People’s feelings, of course, get hurt when wrong, but let’s stop pretending that some of the best lessons learned in life do not come from failure and hurt feelings.
If we cannot question things, we have only one direction to go: backward. All the progress Dr. Pinker has demonstrated will go away if we stop being a free and open society. During the Cold War, Americans were truly united because we had a universal foe in the USSR. Now, we face another real threat, and it’s ourselves, and for the first time since the Civil War, we are no longer united. President Reagan had a quote that I feel is appropriate to end things with: “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction.”
I ask that we take half the energy we’re currently spending to follow politics and invest that time in our community. Go to a Farmers Market on a Saturday instead of scrolling bad news on your phone. Go to a church on Sunday instead of watching the talking heads on the morning shows. Call and ask a school if they need help, and then go help them. All three of these are far more likely to make us appreciate how great and precious our country is than spending one more second paying attention to politics. We’re so much better than this, and I firmly believe that if we break this grip of division, everything will look a whole lot sunnier.