Most find themselves on one side or the other. A few voices call for unity. Can't we all just get along?
In the first century St. Paul faced similar divisions and side-taking in one of his churches. He urged his friends, "fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind" (Phil 2:2, AKJV) His voice sounds similar to those today calling for unity. It seems a noble sentiment.
I've been pondering how much unity would be a good thing, and what exactly unity might be.
If unity means everyone agreeing with each other, I don't think unity is a good thing. Here's why. Conformity in thinking reminds me of Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Utopias always become dystopias. Majority views "we all think the same" stifle creativity, and invariably crush minorities. Nations where 95 percent of the population vote for the supreme leader are always dictatorships. The unity is false, created by fear and persecution.
If St. Paul was urging his friends to find this type of conformity, then I fear I would be a dissenter!
German philosopher G.W.F Hegel, in a long tradition of thinking, gave us the notion of dialectics. In brief, a function of everything is that there is thesis and antithesis in creative tension. Thesis and antithesis produce a new synthesis, which in turn becomes another thesis with associated antithesis. Dialectic is a creative process. It is how we learn, how we grow, and is the way science functions.
But is is also a messy process. Dialectical thinking is full of contradictions. Nothing ever seems definitive. Much is ambiguous. Understood correctly, dialectical thinking comes with a large dose of humility, too, for we know that for every thesis there is inevitably an antithesis. Such is the way of the world.
Our current culture wars have lost sight of dialectics. In our society at present both "sides" see their view as the absolute truth. There is no antithesis to my thesis. And so friendships falter, families divide, and respected academic journals fall into the trap of unmoving monisms.
I do not want to throw out the notion of unity altogether. I want to think about unity differently—more like a unity of spirit, or purpose, in seeking the best we can be. Such a unity allows for, and accepts, the dialectical nature of reality with all its contradiction and ambiguity. It does so with the humility of listening to the Other, in the knowledge that the messiness of dialectic will produce a new creative synthesis.
It's a tough call when I am convinced (as most of us are) that my thesis is the one and only and best.
It is true that as societies in Europe and America we are seriously divided. It is likely not true that this is something new.
[Pic Chimney Bluffs State Park, NY Sep 2017]