The tectonic plates of our fractured country shift and grind against each other. The red-hot magma of our mutual anger exerts increasing pressure. Because the antagonism has been building for decades, we barely perceive our inevitable trajectory, lost as we are in the concerns of the immediate moment. Wrapped up in the latest outrage, we fail to understand our place on this geomorphic continuum. With enough friction, the movement will beget an earthquake or volcanic eruption or some other seismic event. Even if intellectually aware of our fate, it may be that we need this type of cataclysm to fully understand the error of our ways.
These are tough times. Divisive discourse abounds. It seems impossible to have a discussion that does not end up in fisticuffs. Protests are met with counter-protests and counter-counter-protests. Half the country floods while the other half burns. Eyes are fixated on screens to the exclusion of all else. Foreign powers regard us warily, as we do them. We seem to teeter on the verge of something indefinable, but nonetheless terrifying.
Despite the apocalyptic mood, things could be much, much worse. Recall that this is a country that fought itself; that saw 23,000 fellow countrymen go to their graves in a single, dark day on a Maryland battlefield. This is a country that turned attack dogs and fire hoses on its own peaceful citizens. This is a country that warmed its native populations with blankets contaminated with smallpox. This is a country founded on violence and conflict.
In theory, we study history so that we do not repeat the mistakes of our forebears. We are meant to study science to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and our surroundings. Yet it seems that no matter how much we try to proactively educate, we will only truly learn the hard way. We have to reach such a disturbing bottom that it shocks us back into better behavior for a few years before we begin the cycle again. In the aftermath of the cataclysms of wars, terrorist attacks, stock market plunges, natural disasters, our country has been at its best. We have united, exercised compassion, envisioned and pledged a better future. Only it never lasts.
It does not have to be this way. After centuries, millennia of repeating the same mistakes, perhaps we don’t need a nuclear holocaust or a plague or a supervolcano to induce us to make a course correction. We know that our current path is not going to lead us to a good place. Because our divisions are no longer aligned with geography, the likelihood of a full-on civil war is low. But the odds of becoming embroiled in another global conflagration are not as small as they should be. A few belligerent words here, an errant missile there, and we are fighting for our survival. No less likely is Mother Nature finally having enough of our abuse and taking affirmative steps to wipe us from terra firma.
We have the power to stop this. As concerns our environment, radical action must be taken, if it is not already too late. Fixing our sociopolitical relationships is simpler. Loud though they are, we must ignore the rallying cry of the extremists and remember that our commonalities are more prevalent than our quarrels. We must step back from partisanship and brinksmanship and work cooperatively, in steps large and small, to repair the damage that we have wrought against each other.
Without a shift in attitudes, we are doomed for a cataclysm. At least we know we will have to band together when the aliens invade.