Descriptions of the Nondescript

Bind Up the Nation's Wounds

Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration speech was not received at the time with great joy. He refused to take advantage of the Union's situation where a win was virtually certain and the Confederacy was on its knees. Instead, he focused on the future.

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

As a wise and intelligent leader, he was focused on what the future would bring to a country exhausted by war to begin the slow process to reunite it with common goals. One may imagine he knew very well it would take decades or more to heal the wounds wrought by the war and the philosophical disagreements that caused it.

In the face of this week's armed insurrection in Washington DC, our country finds itself in some ways in a similar situation that of Lincoln's time in April 10 1865. We have philosophical disagreements between two major blocs: those who believe in equality and equity of opportunity for everyone and those who believe some members of society are entitled to these things but others are less so. Despite the fact that no years-long war has been fought, the struggle over this has consumed much of the energy and passion of both factions for all of this country's history.

Human societies thrive when they channel the power of the talents, passions, and energies of educated and thoughtful people. In some cases this is done by gathering together around a single purpose like sending explorers to the moon or building a global network for instantaneous communications or fighting the spread of fascism. All of these examples yielded enormous eventual benefits in addition to achieving their goals, earning rich dividends for all of humanity.

Human societies have always divided along racial, ideological, and philosophical lines -- not for the progressive and useful purpose of debate of the merits of these divergent ways of thinking, but instead to enhance the power of one side's view by diminishing that of its opponents. This is probably endemic in the human psyche and continues today through some animal trait inherent in our multi-layered minds.

Raw instinct and psychological propensity must not drive a modern civilization. For example, despite the built-in envy one might feel for another's property or place in the world, in our society that envy must be held in check. Without this, our animal selves would immediately tear our civilization apart.

One such instinct manifests itself in an unconscious yearning for the "good old days" when we were all younger and the world was a simpler place. Historians have shown in many ways that this perception is largely false. The "good old days" are neither simpler, better, nor even "good" compared to today.

Another animal drive is the fear of difference -- xenophobia. Unchecked, this leads to reflex suspicion and rejection of everything and everyone that is strange to our experience. Taken to its logical conclusion, this drive leads to ostracism, stagnation from lack of new "blood" and ideas and ways of viewing the world, and eventual death to our civilization. If we truly followed this path we would all die - if not from wars, then from starvation and stagnation and hopelessness. Xenophobia has long been used by powerful and charismatic people to exert control others -- and usually with a tragic outcome.

Progress toward a greater society will rest on several pillars. First, we must be vigilant to detect and thwart our tendency toward animalistic behaviors dividing us and limiting opportunities for our fellow humans. We need to see division when it is being used against us as it has so often been throughout history, and especially in recent decades, to divide and conquer us. We need to provide education, health care, and other opportunities to everyone who wants them and reap the incalculable harvest that will result from such extensive planting and nurturing of more seeds.

Second, the enormous problems we all face in the world -- global warming, diminishing resources, stagnating economies -- can also be huge opportunities. Investment to solve these will not only provide solutions, but will also motivate us to achieve other benefits as we have all seen in the past. In John F. Kennedy's famous Rice University speech he says, "We choose to go to the moon in decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills..." The extra dividends flowing from the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs that resulted from this direction are enormous and have been well documented.

Third, the entire world needs to eliminate energy as a leverage point for greed and political gain. With abundant, clean, and cheap energy, the world would be freed from exploitation by those who have siezed control over the supply of gas and oil reserves, eliminate the need for global warming gas emissions in energy production and in other energy uses. Such a change would also serve as an additional "Apollo program" style of investment to steer us into not simply existing and fighting today's daily battles, but toward a future where energy can cheaply produce drinking and agricultural water from seawater, can drive our transportation of food and commodities across the globe to where they are needed, and eventually end the scarcity economic model that has enslaved all of us for all of human history.

The future is bright if we choose to go toward the light.