The great struggle for Americans (and Westerners more generally) is their crippling atomism. They struggle to manage the concept of both. I know this struggle. I’ve dealt with it. The struggle is real.
Here’s the South African Trevor Noah on that:
After ceding the spotlight to Larry Wilmore on Wednesday, Trevor Noah made the latest series of unarmed black men killed by police the centerpiece of The Daily Show Thursday night. He began with a plea for the two opposing sides in this conflict to find common ground. And this was before two snipers left at least four officers dead during a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas.
“Did you guys see the shooting that happened two days ago?” Noah asked his audience at the top of the show, referring to the death of Alton Sterling. “Because don’t worry, if you missed it, there was another one yesterday,” he added of Philando Castile.
“You know, the hardest part of having a conversation surrounding police shootings in America, it always feels like in America, it’s like if you take a stand for something, you automatically are against something else,” the host said. While he said he understands how someone can be a “cat person or a dog person” or like the Red Sox versus the Yankees.
“But with police shootings, it shouldn’t have to work that way,” he continued. “For instance, if you’re pro Black Lives Matter you’re assumed to be anti-police, and if you’re pro-police, then you surely hate black people.”
“When in reality, you can be pro-cop and pro-black, which is what we should all be!” Noah said to cheers from the crowd. “That is what we should be aiming for.” Or, he added, you could be anti-cop and anti-black, which would make you Mel Gibson.
The struggle of both is real for Westerners and Americans in particular. And yet, that’s exactly what’s required to fix America…or any country.
Take a look at this excerpt from The Gardens of Democracy:
We wrote this short book to offer a new way. We aim to reach not “moderates” or “centrists” who split the difference between left and right. We aim to reach those who think independently. That might mean those who claim no party affiliation, though it also includes many loyal Democrats and Republicans. It definitely means those who are uncomfortable being confined by narrow choices, old paradigms, and zero-sum outcomes.
If you can hold these paired thoughts in your head, we wrote this book for you:
–The federal government spends too much money. The wealthy should pay much more in taxes. –Every American should have access to high-quality health care. We spend far too much on health care in the United States already.
–We need to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels. We need to ensure our economy continues to grow.
–Unions are a crucially important part of our economy and society. Unions have become overly protectionist and are in need of enormous amounts of reform.
–We need strong government. We need strong citizens.
Contemporary American political discourse sees these pairings as either-or. Independent-thinking Americans see them as both-and. Our goal in these pages is to push past the one-dimensional, left-right choices of contemporary politics— between more government or less, selfishness and altruism, suffocating collectivism and market fundamentalism— and find orthogonal approaches to our challenges. The great challenge of this age— and the point of this book— is to rethink how we as citizens create change, how the economy truly works, and what government fundamentally is for. The great challenge of this age is to change how we see, and by so doing, improve our ability to adapt.
If these sound like Buddhist koans…that’s because they are. Figuring out how to reconcile these tensions is exactly what it takes to make a successful society. It takes a lot of work. And we need a lot of minds on the problem to solve it. America will have to overcome its cultural bias towards blindly breaking things down and separating things out and figuring out how to reconcile seemingly contradictory things together.
In short, America will have to become more Eastern. It will need Mixed Mental Arts.
I’m not sure what the sound of one hand clapping is. But I do know that the sound of reducing government waste and raising taxes on the rich will sound like. It will sound like greater prosperity, greater stability, greater inclusivity. It will sound like sweet, sweet music. Happy Holidays!