“The electorate is more polarized that anytime in history,” intoned the ‘oh so serious’ talking head.
I laughed so hard that I spilled my drink. Seriously, I spilled my drink.
“How about 1960’s?” I yelled at the screen.
Yes, this election has been nasty, but really – worst ever?
Collecting my thoughts, I remembered a phenomenon that I call viewports of history. Sadly, most people only understand the history they have lived, ignoring earlier history. If they did not live it, then it didn’t happen.
“What’re you talking about Willis?”
Let me try to explain. Everyone has what I call, foundational history – the history each has lived. The rest, recent and ancient history, is just dusty dates and stories – a subject to pass and then forget. Perhaps this is an indictment of our schools, or perhaps it’s just human nature.
We become aware of world events around the age of nine. Often a single event triggers interest. Once triggered, that interest continues until age 20 or 25 when we become too busy to care. During these foundational years, we form our perception of the world and our place in it. Later in life, we look at current events through this viewport or this mindset. Each generation faces different outside events, so each develops markedly different viewports.
A viewport is the frame of reference through which we observe life, and interpret events.
Perhaps an example would help. Outside events intruded on my world the day Kennedy was assassinated. Then I was bombarded by the cold war, space race, Viet Nam, Beatles, hippies, civil rights riots, anti-war protests, and Kent State. My foundational period ended with Watergate and the Nixon Resignation.
Now consider my Dad’s foundational history – The great depression, massive unemployment, Pearl Harbor, WWII, culminating with his service in the Philippines.
Clearly, Dad and I held starkly differing viewports.
Looking back, I marvel that our generations were able to co-exist at all.
Subsequent generations developed individual viewports, based on their experiences. Viewports so disparate, that we often fail to find common ground. Instead, we end up yelling past each other, refusing to listen.
Yes, today our country is polarized. The rhetoric is deafening, numbing the senses. It is at a fever pitch, but not unprecedented.
In the 1960’s we saw riots in the streets. Young men and women died protesting the war or striving to improve race relations. Overseas, thousands perished in an increasingly unpopular war. Those who did their duty returned to the sneers and ridicule of protestors. The rift in our social fabric widened, tensions built to a crescendo that exploded in 1968 with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.
Can we truthfully claim to be more polarized today than we were then? I do not think so; however, we are as stupid about history today as we were then.
I’m not condoning nasty political arguments, nor am I advocating for one party or the other. My purpose is to demonstrate that we approach life with vastly different points of historical reference.
Until we recognize this difference, until we respect our adversaries, until we recognize that the opinions of others have value, we are doomed to repeat past bad actions.
Now, do your duty and vote.
— David L. Dahl
Hello, I’m David Dahl. When I’m not being Bugga (grandpa), I do some woodworking and write children’s books. My latest is Olivia’s Story: Protector of the Realm.
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