Signaling outpost of the fort du Salbert in Belfort, France, dusted with snow in the moonlight. (Photo: Thomas Bresson)

The current cultural climate imposes self-censorship on reasonable individuals by threatening personal relationships and career prospects for breaking with the perceived consensus. This dynamic will only grow more extreme as our civic culture continues to fray and we view each other as enemies rather than neighbors. I have refrained from contributing to the public conversation because it is thankless. Under normal circumstances, the risk is high and the reward is low. But these are not normal circumstances. Everyone intuitively feels that we have entered a period of profound change. Whether you think that change is for better or worse, the only way to successfully navigate reality as a group is to speak honestly with one another. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts I have about our current state of affairs, in no particular order:

1. If you are reading this, congratulations! You are likely in the top one percent of privileged people to have ever been born on planet earth. Enjoy your iced coffee, indoor plumbing, and humanity’s entire body of knowledge at your fingertips.

2. Our current era is characterized by a breakdown in institutional authority. That someone has a PhD or is on television is irrelevant. Stop fetishizing credentials and start thinking for yourself. The dominant force in our culture are preening elites who exploit the good intentions of regular Americans to their political and social advantage.

3. There is no such thing as objective news. Everyone is promoting a narrative whether or not they are consciously aware of it. The best thing you can do to stay informed is to account for the bias of what you are reading or watching.

4. Liberals and conservatives are predisposed to their beliefs based on objectively measurable personality characteristics. This serves an evolutionary purpose. Conservatives preserve what works and liberals update our systems to adapt to an ever-changing reality. Over time, one cannot function without the other. Stop assuming everyone you disagree with is dumb or evil. Chances are they are both, but so might you be. Show each other the courtesy of assuming good faith if you want the same in return.

5. Allow others room to grow. Do not assume that the morals of the moment are the same as they were five or ten years ago. Barack Obama did not support same-sex marriage until 2012. If someone is saying something different than they were before, do not assume hypocrisy. Maybe you were just successful in persuading them.

6. A culture that demands apology but lacks forgiveness is unsustainable. Read this and think about whether it looks familiar. “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

7. Social media is making us all insane. We cluster in echo-chambers, self-selecting the online communities that we prefer based on comforting ideological homogeneity. The less our preconceived notions are challenged, the duller we become.

8. Protesting is as American as apple pie. The message is irrelevant, the current protesters have a constitutional and moral right to be out there, full stop. Coronavirus lock downs be damned.

9. The same principle applies to those who were protesting the lock downs in April.

10. Wear a mask when you are going to be in close proximity to others in public. Your constitutional rights are not being violated if a private business asks you to wear a mask. That is not how the Constitution works. If it eventually comes out that masks were not all that helpful, the worst you will have done is made others feel safe.

11. There can be absolutely no tolerance for looting and violence in our streets. The veneer of civilization is too thin to allow our worst instincts to take hold on such a large scale. Hold people legally accountable for their actions. Personal responsibility for your behavior still must be made to matter.

12. Juneteenth should absolutely be a national holiday. It marks a crucial moment on America’s path to fulfilling its founding ideals. While we are at it, swap out Andrew Jackson for Frederick Douglas on the $20.

13. All cultures throughout history have been racist to some extent. Humans are narrow minded, parochial creatures by default. Believing in the fundamental worth of every individual, regardless of their racial or cultural differences, is a recent development, historically speaking. The U.S. has more immigrants than any other country in the world by a large margin. Asian Americans have a higher per capita income than white Americans. These facts do not mean we are perfect, but they do indicate that we are doing something right.

14. Slavery was and still is evil. Modern America is one of the most tolerant societies to have ever existed. These two things can be true at the same time. There is always room for improvement, but our standards must be grounded in real world comparisons, not imagined utopias.

15. Some members of every profession are terrible. Bad cops, bad doctors, bad mechanics, bad people. The cop that killed George Floyd should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

16. There is a human tendency for those in positions of power to abuse their authority. This is true in almost any domain, policing included. Calls for additional police oversight and training are perfectly reasonable.

17. Anecdotal evidence is not relevant to any discussion of public policy, including police reform. Bring hard numbers or nothing at all.

18. Black Lives Matter is a self-evidently true phrase that nearly every single American agrees with. If you do not agree with it, you are a monster. It is also a political movement pushing to defund the police and disrupt the nuclear family. Besmirching someone’s character for believing the truth of the phrase but not the principles of the movement is the same logic that leads dictators to name their country “The Democratic People’s Republic.”

19. Collective guilt is reprehensible. No one is responsible for the sins of their father. Individuals cannot be held accountable for the behavior of a group, real or imagined. If you disagree, you have much more in common with the Nazis than Donald Trump.

20. Tribalism has been the rule throughout human history. Understanding that skin color is an irrelevant accident of geography has been the happy exception. No one is worse or better because of the color of their skin. There is a reason we revere Dr. King: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Any deviation from this principle should be viewed with overwhelming suspicion.

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