Will the Center Hold?

The photo above is William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

“The Second Coming”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

the falcon cannot hear the falconer;

things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

the ceremony of innocence is drowned;

the best lack all conviction, while the worst

are full of passionate intensity.


Surely some revelation is at hand;

surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

when a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;

a shape with lion body and the head of a man,

a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.


The darkness drops again but now I know

that twenty centuries of stony sleep

were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

and what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

I find there is something visceral about Yeat’s poem “The Second Coming”, his use of words and phrases that reach into my gut, grab hold, and demand my attention!  His poem has been often quoted when people write about social change.  “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold… The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”  These lines seem to perfectly describe events unfolding today.  Yeats wrote this poem after the end of the First World War, a time of great social and civil unrest.  The poem captures more than just political unrest and violence of his time.  “Its anxiety,” wrote Nick Tabor “concerns the social ills of modernity: the rupture of traditional family and societal structures; the loss of collective religious faith, and with it, the collective sense of purpose; the feeling that the old rules no longer apply and there’s nothing to replace them.”    How apt was his description!

The Saturday Evening Post (July/August 2017 issue) celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love by reprinting an earlier article published in September 1967 “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” written by Joan Didion.  They included a photo of Didion in San Francisco from the original article. I find the faces of these young people serious and intent in a way that argues with what I have come to expect from the generation that eventually became the counter culture hippy movement.

Didion wrote “The center was not holding. It was a country of bankruptcy notices and public-auction announcements and commonplace reports of casual killings and misplaced children and abandoned homes and vandals who misspelled even the four-letter words they scrawled. It was a country in which families routinely disappeared, trailing bad checks and repossession papers. Adolescents drifted from city to torn city, sloughing off both the past and the future as snakes shed their skins, children who were never taught and would never now learn the games that had held the society together. People were missing. Children were missing. Parents were missing. Those who were left behind filed desultory missing-persons reports, then moved on themselves.

It was not a country in open revolution. It was not a country under enemy siege. It was the United States of America in the year 1967, and the market was steady and the GNP high, and a great many articulate people seemed to have a sense of high social purpose, and it might have been a year of brave hopes and national promise, but it was not, and more and more people had the uneasy apprehension that it was not. All that seemed clear was that at some point we had aborted ourselves and butchered the job, and because nothing else seemed so relevant I decided to go to San Francisco. San Francisco was where the social hemorrhaging was showing up. San Francisco was where the missing children were gathering and calling themselves “hippies.”

Last week we witnessed “children” gathering again, this time in Washington D.C. and across the country, to express their anger and frustration for the senseless shooting of students and teachers in a Florida school.  “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere.  The ceremony of innocence is drowned.”  Drowning the ceremony of innocence!  How perfectly Yeats described something that seems to describe so appropriate what happened in Florida.  “How many times” these young students asked, “can we stand by and watch our classmates killed in school?”  God, what kind of adults are we if can listen to such anguish and not be moved to act?  But I am beginning to wonder if we have lost our adulthood, if we have become so polarized by our politics, bought and paid for by special interests, that we have gone deaf and will never find the courage to act even in defense of our children.  The fabric of our political and social life has never felt so close to tearing apart.  Will the center hold?

Full disclosure, I have a lifetime gun carry permit and in some circumstances I carry a gun for personal security.  The first time I took gun safety training was when I was 12 years old at the insistence of my father because I wanted to go deer hunting with him.  Although I eventually learned I didn’t enjoy killing animals I have enjoyed marksmanship, developing proficiency at target practice.  I am not a supporter of the NRA’s political position.  In my experience having lived in Minnesota and North Dakota (the state with the most guns per capita yet the fewest gun deaths), most gun owners are very careful with guns.

It was only after moving to Indiana that I encountered a different form of gun owners, people who brandished big pistols as if they somehow equate with genitalia.  It disgusts me to see misguided people who post internet photos of their baby daughter holding a semi-automatic rifle;  or listening to those who belligerently insist it is their second amendment right to own a gun no matter how irresponsible they act; or to read the bumper stickers on their trucks saying something about prying their gun from their cold dead fingers.  I think the first should be considered actionable child endangerment; the second a poor argument for not to amending the constitution based on current needs for guns; and the third as the sentiment of misguided idiots.

It requires a written test, a proficiency test, regular renewal of registration, proof our eyesight is adequate, and a photo Id for us to legally drive a car.  I think gun ownership should require no less.  The second amendment was not written to give a pass on responsibility for gun ownership.  When it was written most Americans needed guns for survival both for hunting and the protection of their home.  What are our needs today? Hunting is still a viable reason.  Home and personal protection are still viable reasons.  Ranchers carry guns for good reasons.   I am not in favor of taking away guns.  But they are dangerous tools and owners bear responsibility for their use and safety.  I think we have ample reasons for demanding gun owners accountability.  The students made a good point, they have the right to go to school without fear of being shot.  Every parent wants to believe their children will be safe at school, that they will come home when school is done.

Unfortunately even if we were to enact tougher licensing and restrictions it will not prevent suicide by gun, which is the most common form of gun related death in the U.S.  More than 65% of guns deaths are self-inflicted.  Sad but true.  Taking away guns will not protect us from mass killings perpetrated by mentally disturbed people.  How many times in the last 12 months have we heard news of a disturbed person driving a car into a crowd in order to kill people? Suicide is a manifestation of despair.  Mass shootings are a manifestation of insanity.  But I also know that my views don’t fall at either end of the argument. I’m sure I will either be condemned by the left because I own a gun or condemned by the right because I believe gun ownership should be better controlled.  The only people we are going to hear are those screaming from the fringe.

Where is the center and what happens when it cannot hold?  Richard V. Reeves writes that “Without a middle class, the upper class concentrates wealth and becomes ever stronger.  The lower class becomes disenfranchised and susceptible to rightwing nationalists.  Moderates tend towards the middle, looking at issues from both sides.  Extreme views fall outside of the middle.  Fanaticism occurs at the fringe of social views.”

We are witnessing opposition from the edges, the hollowing out of our social institutions and norms.  Speaking as a moderate I can’t help but wonder if our Republic will hold.  Americans seem to think we can treat Democracy with careless neglect and it will still continue to serve us.  We act as if we are entitled to citizenship, when in fact it requires hard work and sacrifice.  It is painfully true “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”  And the worst occur at the narrow fringes of our social views.

At the heart of a conservative is a person who wants to preserve culture and tradition.  Where it goes wrong is thinking only one form of culture or tradition is valid, thinking people shouldn’t be allowed to choose.  At the heart of a liberal is a person who believes in personal freedom.  Where it goes wrong is thinking that society should pay the consequences of bad choices, thinking people should be free to choose but not suffer from their mistakes.

Neither authority without freedom of choice, nor freedom of choice without accountability will work.  Both ideologies are dangerous when people who hold them think they have the right to impose their views on others.  Our national debate has devolved into one side convinced the other is going to destroy our country, while the other side is  convinced they are the only ones who are right.  Neither view will resolve the political rift that has grown in our society or help us to get beyond it.  Whether a person is Liberal or Conservative, educated or not, affluent or poor we all must learn to come back to the middle, to compromise.  The severity of the problems we face is likely to mean that no one gets what they want.

Take for example the issue of repairing our civil infrastructure.  It was built in the 1950’s and served our growing economy after WW II.  It was paid for with taxes from working class Americans at time when oil was cheap and jobs plentiful.  This is no longer true today.  Now our infrastructure is falling apart because of decades of neglect and deferred maintenance, and no one can agree on what form of infrastructure improvements would best serve us for the next 50 years.  I prefer renewable energy, public transportation, and fewer roads serving the needs of personal automobiles.  But the real question we must answer is “what can we afford?”

Our interstate transportation system was built to connect our cities and towns, allowing goods to flow easily across our country.  It is what helped our economy thrive and turned our country into consumers.  Consumption created jobs.  Jobs were and continue to be needed to live.  No jobs.  No life.  So can we reduce consumption and still maintain jobs?  Our economy survived the 90’s because of personal debt and cheap imported goods.  But goods are no longer cheap (unless you don’t fully account for all their costs), critical resources are being depleted, and the environment is losing its ability to regenerate resources.  What jobs will we find and what share of resources will they provide?

The bills for our past consumption of fossil fuels are come due and climate change is going to control our future whether we like it or not.  Climate change is accelerating the damage to our infrastructure.  It is going to continue degrading no matter what President Trump promises, or no matter how much deficit spending Congress approves.  So how should we approach living with decaying infrastructure that we can’t afford to repair and replace?  How much of the dwindling resources available can we confiscate in order to meet our future needs?  What do we owe others in society, future generations, or the other species we are driving to extinction?

What will we do when the only bridge that connects our small community to the main highway system is again damaged by landslides?  What will we do when the next hurricane floods our home for the fourth time? Will we demand our government repair them?  Can our nation afford to spend hundreds of billions of tax dollars each year rebuilding infrastructure that will continue to be in danger from hurricanes and floods?  Do we want to waste precious resources rebuilding an outdated system that served us during oil boom years but is inadequate for our needs today?  Can we demand people to move, provide assistance, but stand by and do nothing if they choose to stay and are wiped out again?  Consequences are hard to live with.

Some would argue we can afford to do many things if we reduced military spending.  That may be true but the question remains how much of our freedom are we willing to give up to protect our national security?  Good point in case is the last presidential election and Russians amplifying social division within our country though social media.  How do we stop it from happening again?  Are you willing to shut off your internet, close your social media account in the name of national security?  Perhaps their meddling wouldn’t have worked if the cracks hadn’t already been there.  So how do we repair the cracks?  How do we relearn communication skills with people who think and feel differently than we do?  What happens when society can’t meet our needs, when social problems are exacerbated by the growing economic inequality in our country?  It is easy to think raising taxes or borrowing money will solve our budget deficits.  Borrow money and bill will come due someday.  Raising taxes is only going to be possible if we elect an entirely new government.

Currently we have a broken health care system and an unsustainable food and agricultural system.  We are being held hostage by the healthcare and insurance industries.  We are forced to work at jobs we hate in order to receive health insurance.  We dare not quit because we can’t afford to pay the obscene amounts we are charged for medical care.  How insane is this?  We are at the mercy of corporations that profit more from our sickness than our health.  They have no incentive to make our life better.  But most people are too busy struggling with today’s new emergency to adequately deal with yesterday’s or worry about tomorrow’s.  We have even less time for politics.

We go from one crisis to the next, and history continues to repeat itself.  The opioid epidemic rages yet we can’t see it for what it really is, self-medication of seemingly unending emotional pain.  What we need to do is stop acting as if the same actions will bring us different results.  Why do we think pain medicine will help when the underlying emotional causes still exist?  How many people are still being prescribed opioids even though we now know how addictive they really are?  This is what it looks like when the center cannot hold, when problems multiply because we are unable to address the underlying issues.

The outer shell of our culture and society still remain but the middle ground is gone, hollowed out from the ends.  What institutions can we depend upon?  Marriage, family, government, religion…nothing seems to serve our interest or remove our apathy.  Change seems to be coming at us faster and faster and one wonders if the center will hold.  We are social creatures dependent on social bonds that are fraying.  We cannot plan for what is to come because the future is uncertain and our past coping methods fail.  We don’t seem to recognize how hollow our institutions have become.  We still think we can depend on them to carry us.

How can we adapt to living with uncertainty, living one day at a time without worrying we won’t have enough to satisfy tomorrow’s needs?  Few people are comfortable living pay check to pay check.  And what if we have no paycheck?  Who will take care of us?  We have grown complacent about the abundance of our lifestyle.  In a world of fast food and fast tweets, on time deliveries, and stores filled with surplus goods we feel entitled.  We deserve the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  Perhaps we can live the American Dream, but we’ve forgotten it was only accomplished with hard work and sacrifice.

How hard are we willing to work?  How much are we willing to sacrifice for family, culture, and community?  Because without them what is there to work for?  What does equality mean if it’s every person for themselves?  How do we find a center, a home base, a sense of knowing where we belong when institutions fall apart and nothing that once seemed true remains?  How do we reconstruct our sense of social belonging and purposefulness?

I believe that one of the reasons our social institutions are degrading is because we seldom make an effort to converse with “real” people.  We have dissociated ourselves from real social interaction.  We comment on the internet and think of it as socializing.  We tweet things we would never say to someone’s face but have no shame in publishing it for everyone to read.  We are more concerned that others should like our recent Facebook picture than if we shame, insult, or bully people on the internet.  We are losing our perspective on what is civilized behavior.

Recently I sat in a waiting room and every other person (across a wide range in ages) sat looking at their phone.  When was the last time you recall talking to a stranger while you waited in line?  How often do we feel alone even sitting in a room with other people?  Are you afraid if you don’t check your phone every minute you’ll miss something?  Is it any wonder we feel separated from others, when we spend the majority of our social time interacting with faceless, nameless people on the internet?  I’ve read that as many as 30% of Twitter accounts are bots, not even real people.  Perhaps it’s time we acknowledge that social media is anything but social.

Our worldview is formed by corporations that want us to see things a certain way.  We experience society through the internet, the computer, our smart phone or T.V. and we seem to have forgotten that this electronic media-driven view of the world is controlled by corporations that profit from our misery as long as it keeps us consuming their products.  What do we know for certain is real?

When the center cannot hold it is a frightening thing for our mind.  Our mind wants knowing.  This equals that.  This means that.  But perhaps the world is not structured the way we imagine.  Perhaps the world is simply the unfolding restless energy that never ceases changing.  Perhaps this is how life evolves.  History tells me that humanity has been in jeopardy of destruction before.  We survived the terrible failure of modern society that resulted in two world wars and inspired Yeats to write his famous poem.  Is this time different?  Will we survive this failure of society to respond to the threat of climate change?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  We can imagine all sorts of reasons for failure, but can we imagine reasons for success?  Perhaps we will never know.  It is not easy to think when the center does not hold.   It is a form of vertigo convincing us we are falling.  But now and then the only option is to let go, to simply fall, and just do what today requires.

Take a breath.   Let it out.  Move on.  Relax the fear that grips your mind.  Feel the space you occupy and how it connects with the world around you.  Let go of the idea that you are separate, different, higher, lower, better, or worse than anyone or anything around you.  Hold onto the feeling of being present with whatever is in front of you.  Ultimately it is up to each of us, with or without a world wide web connection, to seek solace in the space we inhabit.  It is up to us to find and create “home” and keep said space comfortable, share it with others we call family.

Maybe if we learn to let the day unfold, to be present with whatever is happening right now, and stop letting fear of the unknown control us.  Maybe if we learn to be respectful of our neighbors, to listen without judging, to consider with measure and patience.  Maybe if we find reasons to have faith, hope, love, and yes, charity.  Maybe the center will hold.

16 Replies to “Will the Center Hold?”

  1. You’re right, Yeat’s poem is ever more apt. Thank you for the passage from Didion, I haven’t read very much by her and will have to remedy that.
    Like you, I know how to use a gun if necessary and am not a Conservative’s caricature of a Liberal in that respect, but am disgusted by American gun culture. There is so much raw fear that is expressed in the idolization of guns. The fear is really about something deeper than the guns, I think.

    1. Michelle,
      I agree, the fear is really about something deeper than the guns. It’s hard to get past fear, whatever it’s form or source.

  2. Wow.

    So, I’m not really here. I’m at home spending quality time with family. This is just my web bot sending a message out into the ether. Wanted to say “You go girl”… but thought that might be either sexist or derogatory in some way. So instead I’ll chew on the meaning of all the thoughts you’ve shared. There are plenty.

    If I were here I might take a poke at the final sentence – “Let the center hold”… and maybe suggested “Make the center hold”… but as I’m enjoying some down time, away from the frenetic pace of modern life, I’ve chosen to instead contemplate your emphasis on the outsized roles of the fringes. Quite relevant, btw. And then it strikes me that a suggestion to the fringes should indeed be – Let the center hold. Here’s hoping my web bot is programmed well enough to sense my thought and transcribe it here.

    So long as the web bot will take all the blame for this drivel I suppose it might do to suggest that humanity has been here before. Not really at February 2018 of course, but in dire straits, with doom and depravity all about. There might be some salient need for a good old fashioned disaster of some sort to focus the collective consciousness. Something that might tear the eyes away from the electronic toys for a moment. A Martian invasion? Ten horrific volcanic eruptions? Something really big. Heaven knows a mere 3 hurricanes won’t do it. Spraying a parking lot in Las Vegas with bullets won’t do it. Another school shooting won’t be sufficient.

    A really tuned in web bot might suggest it is ultimately incumbent on each and every human, with or without a world wide web connection, to seek solace in the space they inhabit. Be responsible for keeping said space comfortable. Share it with others respectfully. Listen. Consider. Have faith. Be hopeful. Love.

    If all else fails – reboot.

  3. Clem’s bot,
    “Be hopeful. Love.” I like that. In fact I enjoyed your comment.. er.. your bot’s comment, and I’m ok with the phrase “You go girl” neither finding it sexist nor derogatory. Maybe a little strange but strange is ok.

    I accepted your criticism and changed the last line. I thought a lot about that line and came up with several different words to start it. I thought of Make…as you suggested but I rejected it. I guess I’m tired of the idea that we can just make the world what we want it to be, as if by not backing down reality will conform eventually. I can see how “Let…” might be kind of wishy washy, but I agree it might have been the fringes I was hoping would listen. So I changed it to Maybe the middle will hold. We don’t know how things are going to work out.

    I’m feeling too heart weary to joke right now about whether we need another disaster or not. I guess I am hoping that maybe the middle will hold. But even if at times it doesn’t maybe that still ok. Maybe we’ll get through it. Or maybe we’ll do as you…er your bot suggests and reboot! I could say to your bot “Easy for you to say!”

    Hope you’re enjoying some quality time with the family.

  4. Michelle and Clem,
    I’ve reworked the post. I’d like to know what you think of the changes before I submit it to Resilience.

  5. Fascinating post Jody. You give voice to these inchoate fears I think a lot of us feel gnawing away at the back of our minds.

    Interesting to me how that fear of things falling apart manifests differently according to the classic ‘conservative’ and classic ‘liberal’ mindset.

    For the conservative, in Yeats’ day, that fear may have been fed by female emancipation, workers rights, disintegrating class structures, imperial retreat… In Didion’s day conservatives may have feared young men refusing to follow the order go to war, sexual liberation, civil rights and counter-cultural political movements… In our day it may be a fear of industrial decline, of gay marriage, and of smart, hard-working immigrants seizing their share of our own unearned privileges.

    For a liberal on the other hand, today, the sense that the centre cannot hold reflects fear of the brazen way that the institutions of democratic society are now being undermined in the name of crass self-interest, and possibly a fear of our world’s chaotically accelerating militarisation, and certainly a fear that the bill must soon be paid for decades of rampant environmental despoilation.

    That different conception of what matters, and of what makes us anxious, reflects fundamental differences between the two mindsets.

    The essence of conservatism, as I see it, is there in that wish to preserve unearned privilege, and protect if from being recognized and named for what it is. Hence the classic conservative fetishes for gun “rights” and controlling women’s reproductive choices, among other things. Being a committed conservative means being in a continual state of war to defend the indefensible, beating off facts and viewpoints that expose and weaken deep-rooted networks of privilege, control and violence.

    The essence of liberalism, on the other hand, is a refusal to blind oneself to the hypocrisy and a refusal to disassociate the sweet marvels of the way we live in this blessed realm of peace and plenty, from the price in misery that is being paid for it by some poor soul somewhere in space or time. Most of us ‘liberals’ may never quite manage to be “the ones that walk away”, as in the Ursula le Guin story, but we do our bit to fashion a society that better serves those who are paying the price.

    I do by the way think it’s possible be both liberal and conservative in the same body. Nothing disgraceful about being a gun-toting progressive, for example! We are all complex souls. Also I realise that the way I’ve used ‘liberal’ here probably doesn’t tally with conventional usage in the US, but I believe that’s only because the conservative powers-that-be have pulled a fast one on the rest of you, making liberal into a dirty word that reeks of big government, welfare queens and general unAmerican foppishness.

    For those of us who hold liberal values, I say stand up for them and don’t be browbeaten into accepting that there’s some kind of equivalence with conservatism. Let’s honour the outraged teenager within, not the crusty colonel.

  6. Chris,
    Thank you for your comment. It is always nice to read another point of view. Yes, I agree totally that “it’s possible be both liberal and conservative in the same body.” It’s called being moderate. 🙂 I think we all have convictions that can be found at both ends or anywhere along the spectrum in between. When our views cover a wide range we tend be more comfortable seeing issues from either side.
    When my husband and I discuss politics we agree on many things but not all. He tends to be a bit more conservative and I a bit more liberal. On some issues I am way out on the liberal end of the spectrum, such as a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices including abortion. But my views of motherhood, marriage, and family are somewhat more conservative.
    I have learned from experience that women bear much greater responsibility for pregnancy and children than men. So I believe a woman should be very careful in choosing her sexual partners, especially a marriage partner. My second marriage has been with a man who loves me and supports me, who wanted to be father and husband, and it has made it much easier to be a wife and mother. This wasn’t true of my first marriage. So it isn’t the marriage certificate that is important, it is the commitment and the bond of love (and compatibility) that has made my second marriage work so well. Being a parent is hard enough. I found being a single parent was much more difficult.

    I agree that we are complex souls and most people hold views that cover the range from conservative to liberal. I think the important things is to be willing to listen to someone else’s views and maybe even reconsider our own. I also think it’s ok to disagree and still remain civil and even friendly in most cases. This is what it means to be civil and to be better citizens.

  7. Michelle, Clem, and Chris,
    With all the focus on guns right now I’ve edited the post to tighten up the focus. I’ve saved it as a draft new post. If you wouldn’t mind reading it and telling me what you think I’d appreciate it. Since its a draft you can just add comments in the draft on any suggested changes. I’ll take a look tomorrow. I’d like to submit it to Resilience tomorrow.

    1. Jody,
      Sorry I missed looking at the draft of what you submitted to Resilience. I do appreciate your asking my opinion.
      Will have a look at the finished product.
      I don’t comment at Resilience, but have been known to skim through some of the comments there. Sometimes it’s quite entertaining… other times, not so much.

  8. As hopefully many others will do, I followed your post over from Resilience. I plan to look around here, but will say now that I found your essay an excellent expression of many of my thoughts.

    My personal response to what we are seeing transpire is a bit further down Maslow’s hierarchy. I am planting trees and learning how to grow food without fossil inputs. (I have a way to go, but the direction is clear)

    Empires come and go, but are obviously a pretty hard wired emergent condition of humans tribal nature. While I tend to see things more in terms of thermodynamics and energy flows, I do puzzle over why self reflecting primates can’t figure out how to get out of our tendency to switch from collaboration modes to competitive modes.

    Was raised on a farm, and so I think some of the impetus for the current pattern is the disconnection from the land that urbanization has caused. Direct interaction with mother nature to get sustenance is humbling as we come up against our limits. On the other side of the coin, it causes us to viscerally feel the connection to nature and appreciation that we have a place in the web.

    I’m no anthropologist or historian, but it seems to me that all big complex hierarchies end up urbanizing a large share of the society, causing this same disconnect we see now.

    I am not saying we should have stayed as hunter gatherers, but I think there might be ways to have a complex culture that also intentionally stays connected to and respects nature. Easier said than done, but I think that is a key piece of a “solution”.

  9. Steve,
    Welcome to our little website. I hope you enjoy exploring our archives. I think you’ll find that most of us commenting here agree with you that “there might be ways to have a complex culture that also intentionally stays connected to and respects nature.” Yes, it is “easier said than done” but we all agree it is a key piece of a “solution”.
    Everyone is welcome to contribute posts so please feel free to do so if you have something you’d like to add to the discussion. Planting trees and growing food are excellent steps in the right direction. Being an avid gardener I find the activity brings me a great deal of well being. These are the kinds of “positive feedback” from which we can all benefit.
    Hope to hear more from you,

  10. Jody- thanks for your heartfelt thoughtful post, you cover a lot of concepts. the US has always had a great range of POVs… and we have pushed and pulled wildly in all directions since before the start, a fitful balancing act, with discontent the seeming driving factor, two steps forward, we the people, one and half steps back, with the rise of the robber barons continuing through what seems essentially corporate takeover, branding, polarizations, and paralysis.

    i grew up with the split, twisted from the start, with a father in the Army, a post WWII Eisenhower Republican, and a stepmother from a family who had come to New England way back, with her father’s branch of the family having gone to the South also way back , such that the branches of her family fought each other in the Civil War. So he was a federalist and she hated the damn Yankees, carpetbaggers all, and spoke about the rape and pillage of that war as if it were last week. Personally i believe it is still going on today, and have little hope that the differences of that split will ever be truly resolved, certainly not in my lifetime, or my children’s children. The seventh generation theory…. if we can survive that long. It is after all oh so fragile, and this is but a young very recent experiment.

    Although there are no coincidences i stumbled into a very instructive insight entirely by happenstance in the form of a an historical novel, something i rarely read by choice, but it was all i could find while assigned to a new vessel some years ago, and wanting something to occupy the off hours of someone else’s somewhat uninteresting and repetitive science project (of course my projects are always interesting but in truth i always find something to read even then).

    The well thumbed paperbook was titled “Annapolis” and was written by William Martin, and followed two families from the time of the original land grant of what we call Maryland to Lord Baltimore and followed them through the 20 odd decades up through Vietnam. Martin presents the thoughts and passions of the times at specific critical points in US history via characters in each family representing the two primary opposing views of the time.

    I’ll try to remember the key elements of the book.
    The first schism was whether to stay within the British empire or declare independence. The second examined the differences before and during what we called the War of 1812, where the English ships fired on and burned many of the east coast coastal cities. What we call the Civil War was next, a generation on, where ranks of foot soldiers marched directly into the lines of cannon, and cities, towns, crops, and forests were burned to ashes where no opposing armies were present, altogether killing more citizens than all the other wars combined. The novel continued on to WWI and II, and finally to Vietnam with characters presenting the sides and details of the why and how.

    It is not a war action movie thing, and initially i was left not really grasping the purpose of laying it all out over more than two centuries. But after a bit it took root, and grew into an understanding that the real message of the book had been how nearly equally divided we had been for our entire history. Call it Republicans and Democrats or what ever you want since the focus and meaning of those labels has changed so radically even within my lifetime that they are hardly recognizable. Remember that the Republicans of bygone eras freed the slaves and gave women the vote, something hard to imagine being allowed to happen today given the sterling examples of statesmen that we have in the Congress today.

    And the realization dovetailed with an old rhetorical question i had been asking myself for years: What would happen, what would America be like if the other guy had won at critical junctures in US history? Not Lincoln but Douglas. Not Eisenhower but Stevenson. Not Kennedy but Nixon. etc. Sort of a looking glass world. But would it be that ?

    Each time we go a little too far in one direction, the middle, the swing vote if you will, kicks the stall, and we swing back the other way… until we go too far and the process repeats.

    I have an uncle in his 90s that has been waiting (and voting) since Franklin Roosevelt came in, blaming him and the Dems taking the Congress for nearly 40 years, for the sad state of affairs in DC until now. Now he believes there are good possibilities but all this time we were living the road to perdition, hellfire, and damnation. Yikes!
    Until the last of that thinking is gone we have a long way to go yet. Work to do. Seems i heard there were 63,000,000 votes on that side of the scale…. Yikes!!

  11. Richard,
    I have never thought about what it would be like growing up in a family with parents split politically. My parents were pretty much on the same page; Democrats, blue-collar union member working class father, and stay-at-home mother. Although Minnesota Democrats are a bit different. The community I grew up in was mostly second, third and even fourth generation Scandinavian immigrants who came to Minnesota in the late 1800’s as a result of the Homestead Act of 1862.
    I have come to realize that Scandinavians are a very unusual culture. Hard working, simple people with a live-and-let-live attitude, which makes them both conservative and liberal. So even though they have strong “family values” they don’t seem to mind unusual cultural differences. They are mostly Protestant, but religion seems a very pragmatic thing. They like to grow things and are very earth orientated people, which combined with their work ethic makes them very good farmers.
    I would also say that they value fairness and aren’t particularly impressed with money. If you want to impress a Scandinavian you will need to work hard (physically) from dawn to dusk. Having a big bank account isn’t a measure of your worth! But they generally do have large bank accounts because they also value frugality. “Waste Not. Want Not.” “A penny saved is a penny earned.” So that is how I grew up to be the kind of person I am.

    I loved your outline of the book Annapolis. And I agree that our country’s division goes far back into our history, although I’m not sure it has been equally divided. I don’t think it’s equally divided now, political power isn’t about the population numbers. Its interesting how often culture seems to swing between polar opposites.
    The book sounds like a very good read. Like you, I was never much for reading historical fiction, but I also found an author that I enjoyed, Edward Rutherfurd. He has written many very long historical fiction novels that focus on various specific locations, a country or a city. He follows a story all the way from pre-history forward. He has a very interesting way of developing a story line through a number of the descendants of a few family lines. What I find intriguing is how he develops personality types and characteristics that follow descendants, usually skipping generations but popping up again and again. It’s like your great grandchildren being like you and carrying on the family line. I don’t know if this is really how families work, and genetics, but I find this a very interesting idea.

    I suspect we could have lots of lovely conversations if we were ever to meet. Perhaps someday I’ll visit Hawaii. Or if, like Michelle, you plan to be nearby, it would be interesting meeting you.
    Take care,

  12. hi jody –
    my grandfather on my mothers side was a squareheaded scandahoovian from norway, with his wife from bohemia what we now call czech republics or once czechoslovakia . And the large families all got settled in minnesota and upper peninsula michigan. could never figure out why they settled in a place where it was so cold that you could not bury your dead for 4 months a year even with a backhoe. Until i went to where they lived in norway where it was dark 4 months a year and the exposed rock was covered in ice even in June… at least there are hot summers in minnesota, like miami beach compared to norway. Am not sure where you are but have a brother near minneapolis who is struggling for his life and if he is not successful may have to come that way. all to say yes a conversation would be wonderful. or you could come here and get two conversations … :–)

    guess i left out some of the details with the Annapolis book. The message was that all the major course changing decisions like going for independence and seceeding from the union were made by a 1% vote or less, think nixon-kennedy with the popular vote margin, not electoral, 0.17%, so the center, the sway of the center, the critical amount was miniscule. Believe it was ~70,000 votes swung the electoral college this last time around, spread over many precincts in several states, out of 125,000,000 votes cast. Or maybe you were not speaking about the voting, but from the real mindset and heart of the people, a whole different thing… me i think that most of us are in the dark ages though probably redeemable, and that the only way forward or out is to live the best life, the best world one can imagine, every hour, every day, but of course easier said than done, with some very disappointing and sometimes disastrously failed efforts strewn along the path behind…
    and a few very good shipmates and friends…

  13. Richard,
    I now live in Indiana so not very close to Minneapolis. I’m sorry to hear about your brother. Seems like a fact of life we all start dealing with when we reach our late 50’s and 60’s. Parents die and then siblings, if life is lived out without accidents.
    I wasn’t writing about voting, but it certainly is an interesting topic. As we get closer to the midterm elections it will be interesting to see how many people get out to vote. I also wonder what kind of candidates we will see.

    ” live the best life, the best world one can imagine, every hour, every day, but of course easier said than done”
    Very true indeed!

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