I'm reading a book, A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War, by Thomas Fleming. I am struck by several common threads and behaviors about then and now, and how, because of those threads and behaviors, the Civil War could not be avoided. And because we were unable to effect a reconciliatory peace, those threads and behaviors bedevil us still.
Our founders were not unanimous in the declarations of rights established in our statement of independence; serious disagreements regarding perpetuating the institution of slavery, of defining property, of defining states' rights and responsibilities versus those of the Union, and of deciding representation among others, were nearly impossible to overcome. Our founders punted on a few of the issues, in order to get sufficient agreement to write the Declaration and get enough members to sign it. One issue they punted, of course, was slavery. Tied in with slavery was states' rights versus Union rights. And the descendants of these issues vex us today.
Then, and into the mid-1800s, public discourse and print media inflamed the differences. A policy of 'faking it' was well-known -- journalists would tell a complete fabrication because it made the news and opinion more passionate or sympathetic. Can you imagine it -- a press deliberately making up the news. Those opposed to slavery resorted to outright lies to convince the public of the South's depravity, laziness, and cowardice, as if there weren't enough true stories to inform public opinion. But the main behavior was to shout more loudly than those who disagreed with you. If only your voice could drown out theirs, you could win. Win what? Eliminate slavery? No, that didn't happen, and the country sadly went to war. An estimated one million people died in direct and indirect ways. One in every 10 people in the U.S. died during that war. As a percent of U.S. population, today that number would be 36 million.
And today, we carry the same thread and behavior forward. If I can tell my version louder than you, if I can get more media spreading my lies and misrepresentations, if I can keep the focus on the way I see things and ignore any difference of opinion, I will convince you to see things my way, right? Argued with a teenager lately? How's that work for you?
So what does work? Short of going to war and wearing everyone down with death, misery, grief, infrastructure and economic ruin, what works? Negotiation. Mediation. Education that you will never get exactly what you want, and I won't either. Realization that there is no win-win, or win-lose, or lose-lose. There is only win/lose-win/lose. And we only can find that place by putting real items on the table -- not revenge, not greed, not superiority, not righteousness, not vindication, not punishment, not judgement.
Are we ready? Are we able to step into a new paradigm? Are we doomed to repeat the Hatfields and McCoys, the Southerners and Northerners, the Protestants and the Catholics, the Shi'a and the Sunni, the Israelis and the Palestinians, the right-wing and the left-wing into perpetuity? Or will we finally say enough is enough and do the right thing? Are there enough grownups yet?