We have an accumulation of wisdom distilled from centuries of human experience. We call it the U.S. Constitution.
We have a wealth of laws to guide us.
We have institutions of every description to operate our society.
None of it can function without trust. Trust, an uncodified, unregulated, intangible concept, is the necessary lubricant of a civilized society.
We are witnessing a wave of vile behavior that threatens to destroy our trust. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives us the right to say anything, true or false. Social media technology gives us the capability to exercise that right without restraint, without good judgment, without civility.
We have operated public schools with unarmed school teachers since the days of the Thirteen Colonies. Respectable people now suggest that the teachers who guide our children should carry firearms. Have we declined so severely that we need to operate as a third world country, an armed camp?
“Divide and conquer.” That advice has been handed down through the ages. It is an effective strategy, but it needs an update: Divide, and we will be conquered! Divisive is the word that describes the effect of vile language and vile behavior. Unity gives us strength.
If the company that you work for tasked you to determine whether City A or City B would be the better place for the company to establish a new facility, you would start by gathering information. You would probably list the advantages and the disadvantages of each city. Then you would compare the information, make a conclusion, and give your recommendation. Our political processes should work something like that, but they don’t. Here is an example.
Just a few years ago, the streets of one of our East Coast cities flooded during an intensive rainstorm. A local university professor and some scientists from other institutions took samples of the water flooding the streets and conducted laboratory analyses of the samples. They discovered high concentrations of sewage — the type of sewage that can cause disease. The professor gave the information to the city engineering department so that they could work on preventing a recurrence.
About a year later, a newspaper reporter learned about the evidence of contaminated flood water and wrote a newspaper article. The city mayor and his associates criticized the newspaper and did a character assassination of the professor. That kind of reaction doesn’t solve problems.
Functional democracy requires civility. We have the ability to discuss our differences in a civil manner, and that practice will produce good results.
Jack Stevenson is a retiree who served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer, retired from military service, and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee, as well as in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America.