With the recent anniversary of 9/11, I’ve had a chance to reflect on our unity as a nation. For those of us old enough to remember, it was a defining moment 19 years ago. You have a clear memory of where you were, of what you thought when you first heard of the planes, of what you felt when you saw that smoke-filled skyline.
Out of that tragedy, though, came remarkable unity. We saw the stars and stripes everywhere — even television commercials promoted solidarity. For most of us, we felt the comforting bonds of what it was to be an American.
I contrast that experience with today’s historic challenge of the pandemic. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel the same consonance. Rather than uniting, we seem to have our very fabric being ripped at the seams. What’s different this time?
I don’t propose to know that answer, nor would I even begin to try and explain. I have sought perspective, though, to see how we can view the world so differently as Americans today. Recently, author and pollster John Zogby remarked:
“We didn’t get a portrayal of disagreements; we got a portrayal of two completely different realities and that’s kind of astounding. If a Martian came down and watched both (political) conventions, they would be puzzled and get back on the ship. It was amazing, a completely different reality about COVID, about the economy, about Black Lives Matter.”
I’m sure you wonder, like I do — are we on two separate planets?
As I’ve mentioned in the past few months, this pandemic has given me lots of time for yardwork and reading. As September passes, I’m finding less of a need for yardwork, and for my own sake, more of a need to read and understand this world in which we’re living.
I recently finished a book that has been on my “meant to” list for several years. As I’ve watched election commercials, viewed the news and heard friends and family discuss current events, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion,” passed every other book on that list and went to the top.
Written by Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist, it helped me better understand the two “different realities” we are seeing. I won’t review the entirety of his work, but to briefly summarize, he posits there are really two types of brains. He also postulates there are six moral foundations, ranging from care/harm to sanctity/degradation, which we as humans possess.
The “liberal brain” is more predisposed to just two of these. “Liberals hate the idea of exclusion,” he writes. “(They) stand up for victims of oppression and exclusion,” but their “zeal to help victims” is often at the expense of the “loyalty, authority, and sanctity” foundations.
For the conservative brain, he suggests, they consider all six moral foundations, but “preserving those institutions and traditions is their most sacred value.” He points out that “we think the other side is blind to the truth, reason, science, and common sense, but in fact everyone goes blind when talking about their sacred objects.”
Me quoque? Yes, me, too.
So with these divisions, is there even hope now? Sen. Cory Booker recently said “Hope right now in America is bloodied and battered, but this is the kind of hope that is successful. It’s hope that has lost its naiveté.” More on where we might go from here later, but as Dr. Haidt ends his book: “We’re all stuck here for a while, so let’s try to work it out.”
Please ... unless you indeed find that second planet.
Brian Fogle is the President and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.