Civilians Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota; Dallas police officers Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, and Brent Thompson; civilian Delrawn Small in Brooklyn, New York; Michigan courthouse bailiffs Joseph Zangaro and Ron Kienzle have all died this week (at the time of writing this column) in encounters between law enforcement and civilians. Many more have been wounded. Is it not time for a social Marshall Plan to heal the American society?
“We’re hurting… we are heartbroken,” said David Brown, Dallas Chief of Police “All I know is that this must stop, this divisiveness between our police and our citizens.” Brown, who has become the “face” of the tragedy of the clash between law enforcement and civilians in America, knows what he is saying. He has lost his only son, brother, and partner to violent incidents involving police officers and civilians.
In many ways, Brown’s pain stricken face reflects what many Americans feel these days. Since the beginning of the year, 509 people have been killed by police. The American society is growing increasingly violent, and mounting racial tensions, primarily between African-Americans and law enforcement personnel, have reflected that trend with painful clarity.
An Interracial Volcano
Fifty-two years ago this month, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act, and stated that “those who are equal before God shall now also be equal in the polling booths, in the classrooms, in the factories, and in hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and other places that provide service to the public.” And yet, the racial tensions never fully healed, and today have resurfaced with new ferocity.
Officially, all people—of all races, religions or sexes—are equal in the eyes of the US government. There is even an African-American president. But if you venture away from where tour guides would normally take you, you will discover a different America. Poverty, crime and drug abuse can be seen in broad daylight, and gang wars are routine. In these “hoods,” a sense of insecurity and oblivion take over. This can hardly be the equality that Lyndon Johnson had envisioned when he signed the Civil Rights Act into law.
And yet, the sense of discrimination and injustice within the African-American communities expresses a much deeper process than the government’s attitude toward people based on the color of their skin. All over the world, people are becoming increasingly isolated and self-centered, to the point that today the majority of the population shows at least several symptoms of pathological narcissism. This trend is separating people and communities, and causes hatred and sectarianism. In recent years, intensifying clannishness has erupted and its violent gushes claim ever more victims who fall prey to hatred. If we do not reverse this trend, it can easily result in the outbreak of some form of civil war. America already tasted civil war on the grounds of civil rights for blacks; it should be wise enough to avoid another such trauma.
Nature vs. Nurture
Numerous indicators point to the fact that the self-centeredness rooted in human nature has become too intense and uninhibited to contain. Racism and anti-Semitism are on the rise, social inequality is increasing, economic gaps are widening, and violence and terrorism are spreading throughout the world. Man’s inclination, which is evidently “evil from his youth,” is quickly destroying the foundations of human society.
The solution to this crisis lies not in waiting for the government to sign more laws, but in tapping into the forces that create our evil tendencies toward each other, and changing them at the core. If we look at our education system we will find that it is geared toward unabashed competition. It indoctrinates us into the “survival of the fittest” mindset. But nature does not work this way. Since all parts of nature are dependent on each other for their sustenance, unrestrained competitiveness is, by default, an unsustainable approach.
In nature, the emphasis is on harmony; in humans, the emphasis is on hegemony. If hegemony wins, all of us will lose. Just as there is a force that separates us from each other, there is a force that connects all parts of nature, including humans. The goal of education should therefore be to introduce the connecting force into the human society. If the separating and connecting forces can exist harmoniously within humanity, we will find peace in our lives. And since our ill-will toward each other is already rooted within us, we need to focus on nurturing the force of connection.
There are many ways to go about introducing this force into the human society, but the key element in building positive connections over our alienation is simply the efforts that we make toward it. In a way, we need to introduce a sort of “positive discrimination.”
Just like violence induces violence, kindness induces kindness. Positive actions invoke the positive force that already exists within us and stir it into action. And just as the separating force makes us see the world as hostile and fragmented, if we activate the connecting force, we will see the world as amiable and connected.
If these words seem unrealistic or naïve, it shows how compelled we are to see the world through our own ill-will.
All the More Reason to Hurry
In 2008, African-Americans had high hopes that the first black president would make things better for them. He didn’t. He couldn’t have. A government can make laws and attempt to enforce them, but it cannot change human nature. This is why the solution to all forms of racism is education and not tougher law enforcement, especially when eradicating racism is not among its goals.
Since the Obama administration came into office, and especially during its second term, the president has engaged extensively in admitting immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East into the US. Unlike African American communities, which are predominantly Christian, the new arrivals are by and large devout Muslims who have no wish to Americanize their way of life and values, which they consider an abomination. Without an intention to assimilate, it will be impossible to integrate them into the local society. In all likelihood, the Muslim migration into the US will ignite even worse religion-based conflicts than we have already seen.
Therefore, alongside the three branches of government—legislative, judicial, and executive—there needs to be a fourth entity, whose purpose is to establish a sound social basis for mutual connection. Such a system should incorporate educators and facilitators of all religions, denominations, cultures and races, who will help facilitate a multicultural society whose highest value is unity above differences.
Even a short-term educational campaign to increase people’s awareness of our inherent connectedness will help us see that we must learn to unite. This effort will invoke our sense of connectedness and will help us see the world through connected eyes, rather than our current, self-absorbed perspective.
The battle against racism is raging everywhere. We have not yet lost, but we have got to act fast, and with resolve, before the rifts grow too deep and wide to bridge.
Reprinted with author’s permission from The Jerusalem Post