Something new is happening here.
Americans often disagree, but that’s not new, or even unhealthy. After all, we have our own eyes and ears and brains, so it’s a bit surprising that we ever do agree. There must be something we trust more than our personal perceptions – a unifying force that reconciles our many differences.
One such force is our belief in a shared physical reality. Though, as separate persons, we will see everything in a slightly different way, we don’t think our differing perceptions change the nature of the thing that is seen. This belief makes science, history, justice, and almost everything else possible.
And we think ideas are part of this shared reality, fitting together in an orderly and trustworthy way. This belief makes it possible for us to reason and learn from other people’s ideas.
We also think some things – even profitable and pleasing things – are best left undone if they will injure someone else. This belief makes it possible for us to be just, peaceful, and compassionate.
Each of these unifying beliefs – reality, reason, and morality – is essential to life in a community, but each one is rapidly losing strength.
This is the new thing that changes everything.
Our commitment to reality is at low ebb. The normalization of drug use continues to expand. Our media and education system present a carefully crafted picture of the nation and a revised version of its history, distorting reality and shaping the attitudes of a generation. We are retreating from the obvious in ways our parents could never have imagined, including our inability to distinguish between a boy and a girl. Departures from reality are widespread and increasingly dangerous to question.
Our respect for reason is withering – not merely the process, but the idea that we should be guided by truth. In the public square, and especially on college campuses, attempts at civil discourse on controversial issues are routinely shouted down. Voices in entertainment, literature, academia, and social media are silenced when they dissent from the preferred narrative. Constitution or not, our speech – and, thus, our reason – is no longer free.
Our conviction that we should not hurt other people is shrinking. Abortion has dulled our sensitivity to the destruction of inconvenient people, and some states have removed protections for children already born. The mentality of abortion is like Pandora’s box. You cannot keep it in the womb.
Our value as human beings is increasingly conditional, and because of this, our respect for ethical boundaries is increasingly conditional. When our neighbor is no longer sacred, civilization has collapsed.
So, while it’s important to talk about our disagreements, I’m not doing that here.
I’m talking about something new; our accelerating surrender of reality, reason, and morality – the unifying principles that make respectful disagreement possible. When that surrender is complete, nothing but violence will remain.