The Three Paths to Social Peace in a Tribal Land

I am a self-confessed compulsive writer. Lately, my compulsiveness has been commandeered by cottage building. Carpentry ruled my mind and my time. Then early last week I had my first accident, falling off scaffolding and injuring my leg. A plantaris muscle tear I suppose with a hematoma behind my knee. I used to be a PA in a previous life and still have some sense of diagnosis, although self-diagnosis is never a good idea. But anyway, my leg has been very painful and limited my ability to walk.

Trying to rest the injured leg, I’m spending more time in the house. But when I sit within eyeshot of a computer, my writing compulsion returns, like an reformed alcoholic doing something dangerous, like sitting in a bar.

If you know me and my ramblings, for years my theme is the loss of truth as we are living in the final days of post-modernism. Again, when I say “truth” I am simply talking about that which is consistent with reality. Religious and political people use the word “truth” to represent what they believe, and that is not how I’m using the term.

After a couple of people confronted me about my unfairness to post-modernism, (including my own son) I had a moment of recantation. All philosophical movements start with some good ideas. The problem is that they all swing too far over time. The Enlightenment is one of my favorite times in philosophical history of the west, however, it went too far into scientism, or scientific positivism, also called “modernism” the belief that reason and science will solve all our problems. It cannot, and when this was realized, western culture moved into “post-modernism.”

Post-modernism, from my understanding, began with deconstruction. That is simply questioning societal norms, looking for a more honest motive. This type of questioning was the cornerstone of Socrates’ approach, which got him in trouble with the authorities in Athens for “corrupting the youth.” In my opinion, the historical Jesus, was the most effective with such deconstruction. Read his words through the lens of deconstruction and it seems to fit.

So, in the case of post-modernism, when confronted with social norms, it challenged them. For example, “Black athletes can play linesmen well in football, but they can never be quarterbacks because they lack the intelligence.” These are actual words I heard as a kid. Or, “women can make great secretaries, but can’t be executives because they are too emotional.” The post-modernist would challenge those statements and ask, “Are you sure about that, or is it just your racial an sexual bias that leads you to think that way?” The so-called “woke movement” which I think has more positive attributes than negative, was only made possible on a societal scale due to post-modernism.

Lately, I have again been thinking about the American state of tribalism and social tension and how this tension is resolved. I see three avenues to reducing this tension, only one being healthy.

The first approach, and the most primitive, is the demonization of those with different opinions. While that does nothing for societal peace, quite the contrary, it does reduce the internal tension. It paints those who have a different opinion than yourself as sub-human. Stupid, evil, and uncool. So, when opposite viewpoints are only held by these Orcs (as in the Lord of the Rings), you feel less of a threat because you are so smart, good, and cool in contrast.

To create this mismatch, you must ascribe to these Orcs viewpoints that they may not have. This is why it feels good if you are a liberal person to listen to liberal talking heads on TV and the same is true for conservatives. Rachel Maddow on the left, and Tucker Carlson on the right are reassuring to those who share their common view that it is you the good-guy, Vs the Orcs and they lie about who the Orcs really are.

The second approach to reducing societal tension is why I think post-modernism was so successful for the past 50 years. Post-modernism is defined as having no overarching narrative, no absolute truth. To take this idea further and into granular life, post-modernism eventually asserts that all religions are the same, even atheism and religion are the same, and all viewpoints are the same. This does bring the appearance of societal peace, at least on the surface. But it comes at a great sacrifice, the loss of the aspiration of finding truth.

So, if I say that there is no difference between the teachings of the historical Jesus, and The Buddha, where there is a profound difference in the two, I must give up the aspiration of truth. It is a mathematical equation, upon which logic is based. If A = B, and B ≠ C, then A ≠ C.

The post-modern approach only works for a while. Yes, I can get along better with my Buddhist friend or even my Trump-loving friend or relative, if I pretend there are no differences between my viewpoint and theirs. But when we sacrifice our aspiration of truth, soon we must also give up our aspiration for ethics. How can I condemn the neighbor who is a white supremacist, if all opinions are the same? Let’s take a step further to prove the point. How can I criticize my neighbor who rapes his own children, if in his opinion, child-rape is okay. All opinions are the same, right?

The third way of societal peace is via unconditional love. This was the center of the teaching of Jesus of Galilee. The Greek philosopher, Plutarch, also thought that “brotherly love” (De fraterno amore) was central to societal peace.

The way of love does not have to sacrifice truth to find peace. This type of love is unconditional. Because love is connected to empathy, the first step of this type of love is to try to understand the other side. Listening to Fox News or MSNBC thwarts this noble endeavor by seeking to Orc-ize those on the other side. This goes a long way. It is hard to hate someone who is very much like yourself, except for a modest difference in opinion, as compared to an evil, stupid, uncool, subhuman Orc. In the end you may find profound differences in opinions and those differences are real, steeped within the framework that truth and untruth exist but that does not hinder love in the least.

The way of love is the most difficult path to pursue, while the way of hatred, the most “natural.” I’m not sure why that is. I know that I’ve come across at times as the demonization of those I don’t agree with. If I did so, I am sorry. But my greatest calling is to preserve the notion of truth in a age when society is screaming there is no truth and that notion does not conflict with love. With true love, you can greatly enjoy your time with your most challening opponent.

Yesterday at church I listened to a recorded speech by Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NIH and the human genome project and Christian. He shared the story (link below) of how he became good friends of an outspoke atheist, Christopher Hitchens. You can see the demonstration of love between these two men, who had diametrically opposing views on the existence of God. That is what I’m talking about.



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