If it has been your misfortune to watch the news any time in the last few years, Rodney King's question might have popped into your head, and I'm just guessing that you might have found it difficult to answer in the affirmative: there's seemingly little evidence to support the idea that we can get along, and visual corroboration of the fact that very often we don't. If you're possessed of a modicum of historical perspective, you might notice that it's seemingly always been this way, and there's a reason for that:

The fact of the matter is that ninety-five percent of humans are narrow-minded Puritanical assholes. It's how they all survived to the year 2014; their ancestors were the people who were too hidebound or hateful to trust other tribes or families. All the people who really think we're all equal and all beautiful on the inside and so on aren't here now because their ancestors who felt the same way ended up with their heads on the ends of crudely fashioned wooden spears wielded by the Puritan folks. The world was populated by tribes who ostracized the sick and murdered the crippled and left the old to die in the winter and relentlessly punished even the slightest bit of variation among their numbers. Everybody else died of some ancient virus that they got because they didn't drown the demon-possessed sick child and burn his body.

The only thing I'd change about that is to lose the capitalization on "Puritan," which, at least in the States, suggests members of one particular movement, popular in the seventeenth century. This level of assholery extends to all people in all nations in all cultures; it's not something that was invented by, say, Jonathan Edwards, who delivered the sermon we most commonly associate with American Puritanism of that age, a sermon which today has basically drowned out anything else Edwards ever said. And Edwards wasn't even a Puritan. In fact, he was a Calvinist of the New Light stripe, the actual Puritans having faded half a century before; but our newly mandated lack of historical perspective makes everything before 1776/1865/1913/2009 [choose one] a blur.

Today, anyone with a newspaper within reach can get all the repercussions of unrepentant tribalism she can possibly want in a matter of minutes. It must be hard-coded into the genome: for every Us, there must be always be at least one Them. And this propensity runs all the way across the graph, from the evangelicals to the social-justice warriors. The major difference between those two groups is their choice of enforcer: the social-justice warriors desire to persuade the State to kick your ass, while the evangelists merely point skyward and say "Just you wait." And no, those evangelists don't have to be adherents of some form of Christianity, either; Sunni and Shia Muslims have been nursing a grudge against each other — and pretty much the rest of us — since the seventh century.

So: despair, then? Not necessarily. To a certain extent, your garden-variety asshole can be taught to keep the noise down, though not much more than that. As for Rodney King, who eventually drowned because he was too stoned to swim, well, that doesn't mean he was wrong. "Other people, I can hear them mocking me for when I called for an end to the destruction," he said, "like I'm a fool for believing in peace." If anyone's a fool, it's the person who thinks that eventually we'll evolve beyond this, or that we can be somehow completely educated out of it. Still, all of us fools have to live side by side, and we're going to have to make adjustments here and there, so we may as well get used to the idea.

The Vent

  7 September 2014

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