A Problem Defined

I am working through some ideas right now, while trying to develop a project proposal for a residency. In the process of doing so, I wrote this short essay tonight that I see as a an essay to which I will respond with propositions for solutions at some point in the future. For now, give this a look. Critiques appreciated.

A Problem Defined.

The phrase “United we stand, divided we fall” has been a powerful call to social unity in the United States since the American Revolution. Unity is a social quality extolled in times of economic uncertainty, war, and natural disaster, among other such trials. It is an ideal that espouses national strength, camaraderie, promise of bountiful times, and good will toward others. It is also an ambiguous concept that is easily invoked, sensibly elusive, and conceptually difficult to define.

If unity cannot be defined, then what does it mean to be united in America? Surely American unity does not indicate the absence of ideological disagreements among its population. Strict political and social homogenization would lead to unsustainable acquiescence and lethargy, rather than the innovation and action necessary for the perpetuation of the nation. American unity calls for iron to sharpen iron. Consequently, it calls for myriad divergent ideas to be put into a boiler of reason, wherein all of these ideas sublimate into vapor which explodes forth to power and sustain the Union. This is not to say that all ideas are excellent, nor that all interested parties must compromise. The inferior ideas will precipitate out of the vapor under the reasoning conditions of the boiler.

However, the presence of argument cannot itself be the measure of unity. For if it were, it would indicate that America in 2013 is in a state of social and political utopia. Instead, America in 2013 is a nation divided socially and politically. Because of the current divided condition of the country, the unity maxim foreshadows an unnecessary fall.

Political parties try to correct the course by striving for power and pushing their positions through Congress by dominance. While this course of action seems plausible to those who sincerely believe in their solutions, steamroller force is not unity. No, tyranny by the 51% majority, is still tyranny. This behavior results in the solidification of division.

The boiler chamber cracks and breaks down. The power necessary to sustain the Union wanes as vapor springs from the cracks. The boiler lets out the discordant shriek of a nation divided as its function comes to a halt.

It is time for the sludge and residue of those imperfections which by reason had precipitated to be scraped from the inside of the boiler’s chamber. It is time to weld up the cracks, stoke the fires, and power the system once again with lively, reasoning, and thoughtful discourse. But, this cannot be done without broad civic engagement in the system: The populace must initiate and take ownership of its own system of government. This is more easily said than done.

The United States faces many struggles with regard to civic engagement in politics. Among these struggles are disenchantment with the system, dishonesty within it, political and social power structures, class segregation, a lack of education on issues, a lethargic populace frustrated with the intentional slow-pace of the system in a modern society built around instant-gratification, and divisive rhetoric used to promote any given political issue. Many reflexive relationships can be defined between the challenges presented here, but the king pin issue in this set is the final point: divisive rhetoric.

Divisive rhetoric is often empty, manipulative, and hinders the ability of the populace to be well educated on the topic at hand. Its use entrenches political rivals against one another, rather than encouraging thoughtful problem solving. It oversimplifies complex issues, and thus proposes quick solutions despite the intentionally slow pace of American government.


Divisive rhetoric functions as a call to arms rather than an invitation to collaborative reasoning.

















Such rhetoric saturates American society. It is seen on bumper stickers and billboards, espoused by politicians and news anchors, it is read in newspapers and magazines, it is heard on the radio, it is spoken in places of great poverty and in places of extraordinary wealth. It sells entertainment, and it is savory like vengeance. It augments the ego and justifies cutting remarks. It is sexy and attractive. And it is killing America.

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