Friday, February 15, 2019

The Schizophrenic Nature of the American Experience

Contemporary life in America today can be likened to a schizophrenic experience. On a daily basis the news describes events and circumstances that seem to come from entirely divergent worlds. On the one hand there are instances of irrational violence and behavior that seems to have its origins in realm of the darker emotions devoid of any input from the rational mind. This is readily exemplified by the mass shooting of innocent victims attending a public event; the erratic policy decisions of a white-supremacist leaning president; racially-motivated police actions, or the daily occurrences of irrational, aggressive and provocative behaviors that permeate daily life in life of humans in the United States.

In parallel with this kind of news, there are those stories that suggest the existence of an alternate reality in which inspired and heartening events unfold. I am referring here to the many instances of compassionate acts of kindness and unqualified assistance that are offered to those who suffer misfortune; to the many divergent voices that incessantly advocate for peace and social justice; to those who act with passion and resolve on behalf of the natural environment and those who directly put their own lives and risk for the sake of the weak and vulnerable.

Within this category, I also include those whose professional lives are dedicated to the advancement of science with the goal of furthering our understanding of the natural world, the nature of life, the human body and the vast and wondrous cosmos in which we live. Within this category, I also include the many individuals responsible for developing technologies that directly impact the quality of life as we have come to understand it. It is interesting that there is a significant segment of the American population that regards scientists, technologists and professionals with advanced understanding, within their particular domains, with disdain and characteristically describes them as “elitists.” Ironically, these individuals who choose to scorn the intellectual achievements of others are the very benefactors of the products of their collective labor.

This discordant set of conflicting values lies at the very heart of the schizophrenia of which I speak. In my mind, this dissonance is a reflection of the dichotomy that persists within the infrastructure and fabric of the human brain – between the seat of the emotions, the source of suspicion and hatred and xenophobia, and higher-order thinking that incorporates acquired knowledge, reasoned judgment and thoughtful decision making.

Throughout human history, civilizations have become shipwrecked upon the hazardous terrain of the dark emotions. Whether or not, America can weather the storms prevalent in the 21st century remains an open question.

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