What Unites Us and What Divides Us

Created September 16, 2022

Welcome to this week’s Bill Harvey Blog.

Please allow me, courtesy of Wikipedia, to begin with all of the stanzas of Francis Scott Key’s Star-Spangled Banner, including the fifth stanza added by Oliver Wendell Holmes Senior in 1861. For I believe that these lines most truly express what unites US:

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

When our land is illumined with Liberty’s smile,
If a foe from within strike a blow at her glory,
Down, down with the traitor that dares to defile
The flag of her stars and the page of her story!
By the millions unchained, who our birthright have gained,
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained!
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.

Would you be surprised if any American would object to anything said in the Star Spangled Banner? The song has conveyed our bravery, our love for liberty, and that we acknowledge our protection by God. Well, yes, that last part about God, at least three out of ten Americans today would say “Whoa!” to that one. In fact each of the two political parties in the US are led by people who claim that God is on their side, and they’re nowadays likely to claim that the opposition is not aligned with the Almighty. So far, then, we are divided by our disagreement as to whether God is on the side of Republicans or Democrats.

How silly. Any Being worthy of being called God would not choose sides among Her children. And if my Theory of the Conscious Universe happens to be right, we are made out of Her, and represent Her, with what we think of as our self actually being The One Self, combining all opposites, all deviations, all avatars, all of us.

But from the standpoint of this article, so far, we have identified one factor (God) which has been used divisively lately. Let’s continue the analysis.

Freedom, Liberty, Individual Agency without unnatural restrictions. We all want that, right? I don’t hear any objections. Freedom is something we all want.

Willingness to fight and die for what we believe in. Troublemaking as it is, yes, it is in the core of our being, here on the continent that revolted from the old ways. We have always been fighters. Balancing that with also being better diplomats – in the class with Franklin and Jefferson – might be a good thing.

In the era of Locke and Montesquieu imagining what the optimal organization of government might be, Jefferson and other Founding Fathers became impressed by the way the Native Americans governed themselves via a “stacked-government” model, giving tribes autonomy yet coming together as a federation of tribes for accomplishing larger missions, such as increasing sediment yields to the Delaware River basin. This idea became known as federalism. We still practice it today. We fought a Civil War over it and that system’s inability to agree on a slavery policy. States’ Rights are a second factor dividing us. Or is it?

There is no question as to the power of the States today. It is an established fact. So long as there is true unrigged unobstructed unweighted voting by all, if someone does not like what the voters decided, they can move to another State. Although there is talk of changing the Constitution, States’ Rights are in no visible danger, so far as I can see. If it’s a factor that seems to be dividing us, we ought to agree publicly that we are not actually divided on that one point. What we may actually be disagreeing about are the ways in which free voting needs to be protected for the benefit of all citizens.

And we might also benefit from similarly scrutinizing what else appears to be dividing us, because in many cases we shall emerge from the process with a more specific set of disagreements, smaller and more controllable than the general animosity would suggest. If we can speak civilly to one another about such matters again I predict we will find that there is much less disagreement on specifics, and once we do that, our minds can creatively collaborate to find a synthesis in those areas of true dispute. We owe it to ourselves to attempt this and to doggedly pursue the process, point by point, until at least the hypnotized part of the divisiveness goes away.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior, son of the poet and physician of the same name who added the final stanza to the National Anthem, the son being the most famous of the Supreme Court Justices, and an intellectual thought leader who, a Republican, influenced progressives such as FDR. His 1881 Common Law is the history and logic of how the law evolved. According to History.com, “He emphasized both that the ‘life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience’ and that the law develops according to the ‘felt necessities of the time’ rather than according to any set of deductive premises.”

Thus doth the Law rest upon “the felt necessities of the time”.

That would be worrisome if our necessities are always changing. But they are always the same, or they wouldn’t be necessities in the first place. We shall always want our freedom, and most of us would want our equality. But there that equality thing – that’s a third divisive item (after God and States’ Rights). Or is it?

It’s possible to think “I myself must be treated like an equal by everyone” and at the same time say “but I work hard for my money, and I don’t want one of my equals to be a person who gets a handout out of the money I pay for taxes”.

Transfer payments are definitely a divisive factor. I first wrote about that in my 20s, suggesting that we invest in developing people with our transfer payments, with an eye toward gradually reducing the need for transfer payments.

If not the best answer, at least it suggests that we might get creative.

Those divisiveness factors we’re reviewing – God, liberty, equality, free speech (the latter item covered below) – are not meant to be an exhaustive list, so please think further and identify other causes of division.

Please do use this method of speaking civilly and peeling the onion to find where true disagreement lies (if it is there at all) and to try for solution directions to take together.

So far the list has been pretty rational and cognitive. How about that larger part of ourselves? The subconscious, emotional, non-rational part that makes 95% of our decisions according to Harvard don Gerald Zaltman?

The possibly biggest divisiveness factor is not a rational thing. It’s more of an animal-instinctive feeling: “These people are not for me at all.” Right now that’s how we are sorting ourselves into these two groups (Red and Blue), while the rest of us are trying to bring us all back to the table as citizens of the USA.

Metacognition, which humans apparently do better than the other species although the jury’s still out, is the art and science of watching what is going on in your own mind and inner theatre of feelings, and understanding the why of it. Here’s how metacognition applies to this situation.

We can actually turn the tide on this divisiveness thing by catching and neutering that automatic response of being repelled by a perceived “Other” group. Hold that automatic response with your will and your mind, like a dangerous squirming toad, and inspect it. What did it feel like? Who did it remind you of? When in life did you start to feel that way?

Don’t accept the feeling of being repelled by a person. It’s more of an alarm signal about you than about that other person. Meditate on what it is in you. In less than a week you shall definitely have a deep intuition about it.

Who said “I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.”

It was Abraham Lincoln.

We are all in this together and are collectively losing the game. This shocks game theorists. Why would there be just losers? How could that even be?

The weaponry stacked around is certainly enough to make this a dead planet.

Wasn’t WWII bad enough?

We have to accept each other.

We need to be able to cooperate or none of us may survive.

Give up the “bad guy” idea. (Don’t stop incarcerating criminals convicted by due process of law, whether seditionists, murderers, rapists or whatever. No one should be exempted from such accountability to justice. It’s more useful to think of them as being psychologically diseased/unbalanced than as “bad guys”. The “bad guys” construct triggers autonomic emotional reactions that are pragmatically obstructive to solution finding. We can think more effectively and creatively without that construct.)

Then we can easily talk the rest of this out so that each tribe can be satisfied. But not if we can’t talk to each other without negative emotion flaring up. Master your selves. Talk civilly and respectfully to all.

Free Speech, the Right guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, became a divisive factor when the enormous megaphone called the Internet happened.

We felt that we were given license to say anything we pleased, true or false, whether it would hurt someone else’s feelings or not. Not all of us activated that. But many tens of millions got into it as if they had been holding it in since kindergarten. And they are now a bit stuck in it. If they try to back out of it too gracelessly they will be attacked from all sides.

The people still walking around in rage. Stop avoiding them. They need help. Have infinite patience. They will be blessed by it. You will be blessed by it. Use this post as a study guide to prepare for such meetings with your own ideas about what are the divisive factors and how can we peel each one away like an onion so that we can see reality together, agree on what we see at that moment, or do further research on any areas in which we cannot agree. But always civilly in recognition of the seriousness of the situation in which we had all better be on one side, the side of the human race, or we are quite literally doomed.

Love to all,



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