The author is a regular contributor to Voices. He lives in Solvang.
Thunderous rhetoric from the right, left and every other political voice repeats ad nauseum that we are a divided society. It’s the repetition of that mantra that creates the impression of a truth that, in turn, is absorbed by our society itself.
In that context, we are led to see others who don’t share our political or religious preferences and beliefs as “divided” from us. That division is, in most cases, totalized and lays in the background of individual and group relationships. It forces choices that, despite their unworkability and severity, are, nevertheless, the muck of a false reality into which much of our society has fallen.
Such shallow thinking stands in the way of developing civil and thoughtful relationships with one another and between political entities that are commissioned by us to refine and define paths for our social being in a world that is changing rapidly. Adaptation to these changes calls not for division but for alliances of leadership that produce clarity and creativity.
How can we avoid this destructive thinking? How fulfilling might it be to engage with each other in conversation, debate and relationships based on mutual values.
Across this country, there are greatly varied interests resulting from geography, commerce, religion and ethnic origins that produce different values and moral vision. Yet how do we find common values and locate the essential foundational thought process that can permit conceptual alterations and agreement on values and a social contract?
I believe there is a method available to answer this question.
Imagine that you stand behind a wall. You are rational, you know nothing of yourself, your natural abilities or your position in society. You know nothing of your sex, race, nationality or individual tastes. You do know that in the “real world,” however, there will be a wide variety in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, and that there will be differences of sex, race and culture that will distinguish groups of people from each other.
Now you must make choices — choices that you feel would be ideal for you after the distribution of the aforementioned goodies. The only problem you face is that you have no idea where you will end up after the wall is taken down. You may be the exact opposite of what you chose.
So, your dilemma is to decide upon a principle of justice that avoids a bad and unchosen condition, a principle that would result in a social contract that guarantees equal basic liberties for everyone, like freedom of speech and religion, and even economic and social equality. You would want the possibility of social and economic inequalities that nevertheless would work to the benefit of the least well-off members of your society.
Thus, when the wall is down, you would live in a world that does not allow you to end up in a condition that you would not have chosen.
This sort of thought process demands that you choose the condition that would be best for you and know that while it might not be your exact imagined choice, you will end up happy, safe and comfortable. You will have an opportunity to prosper, to be healthy, to worship without prejudice, to inhabit the skin of another ethnicity without fear or embarrassment, and so on.
When I hear that our society is divided, I think of these very basic values that we all embrace. If my conclusion is valid, then I believe that all of us seek the same benefits from life. So, this division that we hear about is a construct of political salesmanship, calculated to draw us to one party or another and to one or another value system.
Happy New Year!