This last week there was a widespread call for unity, from certain political leaders in Washington, D.C. It seems a hollow call if the speaker and listener are not agreed on what their proposed unity is meant to accomplish.
A fashion statement at the Inaugural, combining blue symbolic of Democrats and red symbolic of Republicans, making purple, isn’t really enough to convince the wounded sensibilities and dramatically different ideologies of these two opposite franchises. This got me thinking about the concept of unity and agreement.
Instead of a plea for a gathering of minds, might this call for unity from the powerful to the disenfranchised, be more so a demand that all of you agree with me and mine? Karl Marx could easily have said this.
Marx would, however, have been referring to the industrial-capitalist elite, demanding compliance from the laboring class. My statement was about the contemporary American political elite, demanding compliance from the rest of us regular folks.
Who are they kidding, our former and current national political leaders are all wealthy, some of them, uber-wealthy from long careers of political influence? Like on Wall Street, there is no such thing among the elite in politics, as insider trading or they would all be spending some time in the jail where Martha Stewart once traded recipes.
These leaders are in a position to demand our agreement, unity, or obedience because they increasingly hold our purse strings. How many times have we heard from our elite political leaders or would-be politicians that they know what America wants and what America needs? Really?
A hundred years ago when I taught Introduction to Sociology, I particularly liked teaching several sections, among them, the Melting Pot (Assimilation) vs. the Salad Bowl (Differentiation). Assimilation spoke to European emigration to the U.S. in the 19th century, when the goal was nation-building, and one nation, under God was the ideal.
People agreed at that time, that the nation would be best served by a people with one identity, therefore, the various immigrant nationalities were expected, or forced – depending upon one’s perspective, to set aside their unique national heritage and identity for the sake of becoming American. We, the people, became a melting pot of many different nationalities.
I’m okay with soup, but its consolidation of a bunch of flavors, textures, and solids into a smooth, singular sensation leaves me wanting. In fact, the soups I prefer are chunky, not a pulverized, smooth amalgamation of nothing in particular.
I overwhelmingly prefer salad. The crunch, surprising changes in flavor, and discernible differences in ingredients are what satisfy my palate.
Differentiation (the salad bowl) speaks to more recent emigration to the U.S. and a “we are the world,” multi-culturalism. The salad bowl metaphor depicts our culture as one in which a flavorful, colorful, crunchy mixture of unique cultures work separately and together to freely form a diverse people into one union – unity within diversity.
Personally, I think the crunchy part of the salad is the most telling, culturally. Differences between groups produce a crunch. “You’re being crunchy today,” is another way of saying you’re not so easy to get along with. The clash of cultural or ideational textures sometimes “rub us the wrong way;” just like wool bristles against the skin.
Speaking of the crunchiness of culture, how about that Tower of Babel in Genesis, chapters 10-11. The history of our “Christian nation” suggests that many of us have understood this story as an allegory about God’s judgment on a narcissistic bunch of unruly, mean-spirited control-freaks with one mind and goal, trying to set themselves above God.
I learned a potentially more plausible truth of the matter of The Tower of Babel, from a Rabbi (Sacks, Not in God’s Name). Genesis Chapter 10 tells of seventy nations with seventy languages (think salad bowl) – God-given differences and each respected for their uniqueness, working at nation-building.
By Genesis Chapter 11, one imperial power imposed its will on the seventy nations, making them follow one God, one truth, and one way, and speak one language. This now, one nation was orderly and compliant (a primary goal of nation-builders), but bland and devoid of life and color (think melting pot or soup).
When God confused the language of the builders of the tower (Genesis 11:7) He was not pronouncing judgment, but restoring the nations to their distinct, unique, cultural identities. Sacks (Not in God’s Name) suggests that the whole of the Hebrew Bible is God’s attempt to show humankind the way out of our “fundamental human dilemma” of difference.
It appears to be a fact of life that people have trouble getting along. Homogenous, we are not; that’s only for milk, not people.
Even if we come from a similar geographical location, share a history, have the same faith, agree pretty much about how to save or spend money, and so on, we’re bound to have differences in gender identity and roles, personal preferences about little things, who’s in charge of this or that, and really countless selfish inclinations. We won’t see eye to eye on everything, all the time.
People who disagree are all convinced they’re right. I guess the question is then, how important is it to be right?
The thing is, if you insist on being right, there is an opposite, a person you believe is wrong and you want to prove it. Those of us dressed in purple, standing on the Mason-Dixon line, or symbolically living in Switzerland, just want us all to get along, find a middle ground, a place of peace and hope and kindness. What do you say we let the other guy be right?