Merry Christmas to you all. As a believer, raised Byzantine Catholic, I am of the belief that a little over 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem of the Holy Land, a child was born, sent from God. Maybe you believe he was sent to preach the word of God, and to sacrifice himself to free us from sin. Maybe you don’t, and this is a holiday of nice gifts, good basketball games, and some good Chinese food. To each their own, I love y’all anyway.
Last week was probably the first time in my life that I started to believe that maybe life is just too hard for human kind. With all of the chaos, division, and crisis in our world, maybe we just can’t handle it. It’s not that division is new, for America or the world, but it is pretty crippling right now. We’ve always comforted ourselves with the idea that “we all want the same things,” or “we’re in this together,” or “we’re all Americans,” but none of that stuff is actually true. We don’t want the same things, which is why the government is partially shut down over $5 billion (a decimal point of our budget) for a wall on our Southern border that is at best symbolic. We’re fully freaking out over pulling our troops out of Syria, something the left would normally cheer, because we realize the damage to our credibility when the Kurds are left to die at the hands of our enemies, or our allies in Turkey. The market is tanking, despite the controversial tax cuts for wealthy people last year. Republicans are fleeing the very administration of the man they stood by and vouched for two years ago. There’s so much more going on right now too. Frankly, I think it all gets to be a bit overwhelming for the average person. We spend all day screaming and yelling at each other over each individual controversy. We do this because we’re not in this together, because we want very different things.
All of this division and anger can be pretty jarring, because it literally reminds us that we might not agree with the person next door. It’s important that we remind ourselves this isn’t peculiar, it’s normal. Americans were not a monolith when debating whether we should declare our very independence, or during the Civil War, or whether or not to enter World War II, or on the virtues of Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, or in our present divisions. Israelis and Palestinians live in neighborhoods near each other and disagree over the legitimacy of their government. Koreans don’t all agree on reunifying some day. Almost two in five French people voted for a Neo-Nazi, while the Brits are narrowly divided on whether they should be part of Europe. Puerto Ricans divide closely on statehood, independence, or remaining a territory. Brazil elected a man who wants to destroy their rain forests. It’s only been a few years since Canadians in Quebec almost voted for independence. Division is as human as breathing. It is something we do, uncomfortably, because we all have the sovereign individuality to do so. It is inescapable, even as it cripples our ability to function.
I am worried though. Our problems are fundamental right now. Our world view is in question, and we’re further apart than ever before. Western pluralism, the diversity that we have lived off of, allows us to grow ever more divided, as we welcome more different strains of thought. I’ve always been proud that my great-grandmother came here to Ellis Island from Czechoslovakia, but I’ve often glossed over the fact that we closed off Ellis Island just months after she got here. We did that then largely because of Asian migration to the United States. Today, migration to this country is more global than ever. The diversity of races, religions, languages, and cultures has caused many “traditional” Americans to seek more inward, ignorant solutions. They deny science, diversity, societal change, and basic progress to “maintain” what they think we’ve been. Are they right? I think not. Are they wrong? In the sense that many of their basic experiences have not improved, that they are not feeling the successes of our nation’s prosperity, it’s hard to blame them for feeling forgotten, left behind, and lost in a changing world that they can’t understand.
I know this though- despair brings about hate, and hate makes people do awful things. Surely people who are partaking in the success of humanity don’t join the Ku Klux Klan, Hamas, ISIS, or any other hateful group. Surely people taking part in the prosperity of nations do not vote to “expel the other,” and exasperate division. The failure of the state to both distribute success among both labor and capital, or to show the successes of a global, diverse community have lead the people to accept crackpot regimes, extreme radical parties, and a permanent “war state,” both militarily and in our society.
My only hope this Christmas season is exactly in the thing that I denied exists above- our shared humanity. We are not hard-wired to hate in our every day life, and if we just interact more, we’ll realize it. I had a beer tonight and talked to my Republican bartender friend as a person, not some horrifying other. When we live our every day lives, and talk to each other, we suddenly don’t have the time, desire, or ability to hate each other. While living on social media may make us feel more partisan, more divided, and more distant from each other, it also gives us the opportunity to connect globally, to see things we may not have otherwise, and to access other points of view we may not have otherwise. Connecting with the world has allowed me to discuss politics, theology, popular culture, economics, and war with friends from Tehran to Taiwan, from Moscow to New York, from Berlin to Montreal. Just getting out and talking to my friends here in Easton has allowed me the opportunity to see other perspectives. One of my best friends here is currently in Afghanistan, serving as a U.S. Marine, and our views on the world are very different- but listening to him tell me his experiences has given me a great, different perspective on life and the world.
We do not share the same hopes, dreams, and goals in this world, our ruggedly different outlooks on the world, our individuality, prevents that. It is impossible to have a globally shared vision, and for that reason I am very afraid this Christmas. Our challenges are great, and the pathways to solve them are different. That is inescapable. My hope is simply in the billions of interactions that every day people have every day. Maybe, just maybe, our desire to not live in constant chaos, constant contradiction, and constant conflict with each other will save us. Maybe getting to know people different than us will save us. Maybe the every day compromises we make with each other will win out as the example. Maybe not though. Maybe we’re doomed to argue ourselves to death on Facebook over our differences. Maybe the despair of our own lives will eat us alive. I don’t know right now. I can only hope not. Maybe our divisions do define us, but maybe our desire to live peacefully in our own way define us too. Only time will tell.
The political scientist in me forecasts doom and gloom this Christmas. The faithful believer in me hopes we can find a better way. The world is a contradictory place, and sometimes all we can put our faith in is exactly the things we swear to be impossible. To my family, to the friends I’ve made along the way, Merry Christmas, and I love you all. To those of you reading me, peace be with you, Merry Christmas to you too. May we all leave the world better than we received it.