By Cal Braid
This is as good a time as any to ask ourselves — and each other — a question about national unity. It’s as good a time as any to ask ourselves about democracy. Does democracy unite us or does it divide us? In a democracy, which segment of the population has the authority to decide what’s good or bad for everyone as a whole?
This question gets spurred when something drastic happens, and drastic happens often. For instance — when a barrage of bullets is let loose upon citizens shopping for groceries, or upon schoolchildren within the ‘safe’ confines of a classroom. It’s a nightmare.
In Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas, the United States of America recoiled in horror at its own self-inflicted atrocities once again. The U.S. has superpower capabilities for guarding itself against foreign dictators, armies, and terrorists. Unfortunately, it seems to have a 98-pound weakling’s ability to defend itself against its own. Why? Because it’s divided from within? That’s the question, and the easy answer is yes. It can’t agree with itself about its policy on firearms.
The division is not a straight delineation between two sides: it’s jagged and broken into fragments, sort of like a national map. In matters of policy, it’s not Us vs Them; it’s a circus of many competing beliefs. Disagreements define us as much as our similarities, and as soon as you hop onto a soap box and start preaching to the choir, the choir will come to you. Gun control, Roe v. Wade, pandemic restrictions, you name it. If you scream “Injustice” loud enough, a crowd will gather.
However, it’s way more complicated than that. There are a thousand different little battlefields of belief where muskets and bayonets have been replaced by words and ideas.
Up here, We the North have the luxury of wagging our fingers at our southern neighbour, standing safely at arm’s length while criticizing gun control laws that resemble a free-for-all. Canadians can be susceptible to a sort of perverse pride, a feeling that we’re more genteel and civil, and polite than our American or international neighbours. Aside from the proliferation of gun violence though, in what other realm do we hold the upper hand, the moral high ground, or a special air of solidarity? A common fondness for Tim Horton’s and hockey?
This point was spelt out with an exclamation point when COVID decimated our sense of normalcy. There were distinctly different responses. We picked sides, and we all lost by lobbing figurative hand grenades at each other. A meeker, weaker person is subsumed by a louder, more powerful person’s sense of entitlement to personal autonomy.
Special interest groups routinely gather around bonfires with like-minded folks. They stoke that fire with ideologies while the marginalized huddle up in the cold. The loudest voices aren’t left to bear the worst consequences of their own furious ideas. A gun lobbyist may fight for the freedom for all to bear arms, but supermarket moms and tots usually travel unarmed, and ditto for elementary school kids. A pro-lifer can shout with a picket sign in hand but doesn’t often open an orphanage in their own home.
Does that sense of entitlement, or a commitment to ideology excuse the responsibility that we have to each other? If your answer is yes, well you’re free to think that. You’re also free to go ahead and move out into the woods and off the grid. A long time ago, a guy known as the Unabomber did just that — but couldn’t resist mailing bombs back into the population. We live in a society, and people who dislike society are free to go off the grid and leave it. They don’t though, because radicals who can’t validate their own beliefs to themselves look for victims or converts who will pay the membership fee for the ideas that their radical minds developed in an isolated bubble.
At some point in everyone’s lives, we must allow ourselves to be subjected to the common good. That’s a way of saying: What’s best for most of the people, most of the time, is precisely the greater good. Full stop. Gun laws, vaccines, speed limits, you name it. The ten commandments didn’t invent morality; living with each other in the community taught us about it. We don’t hurt others and don’t want to be hurt ourselves.
Of course, it gets tricky in a democracy, where freedom is given and taken for granted. This is where people start to panic and cry foul if they feel controlled. They get irate on social media and scream “Socialism!” They cry out “Misinformation!” and head off to create their own slanted version of the right information. We go nuts in absolute panic and fright when asked to submit to a new way of doing things.
It’s not as simple as saying, “Can’t we all just get along?” We find ourselves embroiled in debates of policy for so long that our view becomes myopic, and we end up peering through an ever-narrowing lens on a single point of focus. We invest our thoughts, passions, and energies into arguments that end in burnout, distress, and vengeful disagreement.
What starts as a civilized conversation ends as a demolition derby.