Amidst all of this heavy discourse (and particularly in the wake of Grand Synthesis I), it’s nice to step back now and then and remember what it’s all in service to.
I’ve always walked my seven-year-old daughter to school and back home again, whenever my schedule has allowed. This year, I’ve been able to do both almost every day. We usually run into a group of six neighborhood kids (mostly second and third graders) at the park across which we walk to get to the elementary school. Together with my daughter, I dubbed them “the seven dwarfs,” which makes me, by default, Snow Whitehair. Sometimes we create running jokes together, such as singing our theme songs for both going to school (“Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to school we go. We learn all day and get no pay; hi-ho hi-ho hi-ho”) and returning home (“Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s home from school we go. We learn all day, and then we play, hi-ho hi-ho hi-ho”). They love to tell me about the things that are important to them, and I love to hear about it.
My daughter and I have an amazing relationship, full of laughter and stories and spontaneous games. When people talk about how difficult teenagers are (as a former high school teacher, I know both the degree to which this is true, and the degree to which it is highly variable, and more dependent on how adults handle it than some realize), I think about that relationship, and feel confident that, despite the inevitable challenges ahead, we have created a bond together that won’t simply be whisked away by the onslaught of adolescence. I worry about my daughter’s safety, but not about her future choices, because I already see in her a deep well of personal responsibility and goodwill to others that is only going to grow richer and deeper.
And that’s what this blog is really all about. Beneath the jargon and soaring rhetoric and complex analyses is a simple commitment to my daughter, and the other six dwarfs, and the other millions of children in the country and billions in the world. I’m less concerned about my welfare today than about theirs tomorrow, and less concerned about abstract values fluttering in the wind of patriotic rhetoric than about the human spirit that those values and that rhetoric are meant to serve, but often commit violence against instead.
When I see people defend the contributing factors to devastating violence and suffering with blithe disregard for the devastation and suffering itself, or react to news of violence with the hatred that only feeds it and increases it while simultaneously obstructing efforts to do what it takes to actually diminish it, I feel a deep, painful frustration that is visceral rather than academic, that is informed by the smiles and happy voices of “the six dwarfs” who accompany me and my daughter to and from school, that knows that the greatest tragedy of our existence is our own resistance to improving it, together.
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even know all of the questions. There are legitimate areas of debate, and legitimate ranges of uncertainty about what works and what doesn’t, about unintended consequences and unidentified risks, about what degree of decentralization of decision-making, what balances along the spectrum of individual liberty through increasing levels and degrees of social coordination, best serve humanity, all things considered. But the degree to which we bury these legitimate debates beneath mountains of arbitrary assumptions, inflexible ideologies, unexamined platitudes, and truly abhorrent rationalizations for complacent indifference to the suffering of others, form together an on-going tragedy far more consequential than hurricanes, floods, terrorist attacks, and all other natural and man-made disasters combined.
Whatever we believe, whichever way we lean ideologically, we need to strive first and foremost to all agree to be, to the best of our ability, reasonable people of goodwill doing the best we can in a complex and subtle world. That should be our mantra –everyone’s mantra– everyone who wants to have some basis for self-respect. We need to shed our false certainties, unbind ourselves from our imprisoning platitudes, liberate ourselves from the rhetoric of division and enmity, and strive, with full recognition of the difficult reality within which operate, to work toward an improved quality of life for all people, all things considered.
That shouldn’t be a controversial notion.