Monday in Whitewater will be rainy with a high of 52. Sunrise is 7:21 AM and sunset 5:55 PM for 10h 34m 08s of daytime. The moon is a waning gibbous with 79.9% of its visible disk illuminated.
Whitewater’s Urban Forestry Commission meets at 4:30 PM, the Community Development Authority Seed Capital Committee meets at 5:00 PM, and the Whitewater Unified School District’s board meets at 6 PM in closed session and 7 PM in open session.
In small-town Whitewater, most local officials advance either boosterism (excentuating the positive to spur development and promote officials’ own actions) or sheer positivity (insisting that conditions are amazing! awesome! wow!). Boosterism uses Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt as an instruction manual, and positivity takes Voltaire’s Candide as a guidebook. Both approaches are objectionable, as they ignore actual human need in favor of diversionary happy talk. See Boosterism’s Cousin, Toxic Positivity and Tragic Optimism as an Alternative to Toxic Positivity.
(Much of FREE WHITEWATER is a critique of the boosterism — the accentuation of the positive without regard to real conditions — of some in Whitewater before, during, and after the Great Recession.)
There is, however, a different approach to the intense political turmoil of our time that hopes to rely on simple human sociability to overcome factional animosity. (It’s clear the approach is about overcoming political tension, not poverty or individual distress.)
Writing in the New York Times, Episcopal priest Tish Harrison Warren writes We need to talk about the weather:
The nation is coming apart. The world is in turmoil. We need to chat about the weather.
I mean this sincerely.
A recent poll by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics showed that 75 percent of Biden voters and 78 percent of Trump voters believe that their political opponents “have become a clear and present danger to the American way of life.” A majority of Trump voters (52 percent) and a large minority of Biden voters (41 percent) support splitting the country into two along blue/red lines.
David French points out in his newsletter that when you survey these same people on actual policies, the hard lines blur. A majority of Trump voters express support for the nuts and bolts of President Biden’s infrastructure and reconciliation plan, for example. French notes that our “mutual loathing is based more on emotion than policy.”
“We are dealing with a spiritual and moral sickness,” he writes. “Malice and disdain are conditions of the soul.”
To learn how to love our neighbors we need cultural habits that allow us to share in our common humanity. We need quiet, daily practices that rebuild social trust. And we need seemingly pointless conversation with those around us.
The great urban activist Jane Jacobs wrote about the social function of casual conversations and interactions: greeting your grocer, passing a pleasantry with a neighbor, playing peekaboo with a toddler at the crosswalk.
“Most of it is utterly trivial,” she wrote in 1961’s “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” “but the sum is not trivial at all.”
“The sum of such casual, public contact at a local level,” she continued, “is a feeling for the public identity of a people, a web of public respect and trust.”
This advice is serious, and far removed from the superficial approaches of boosterism and positivity: it is grounded in natural human sociability.
And yet, and yet, a difficult question presents itself: is our national conflict too far advanced to allow for an approach of natural sociability to reconcile political differences?
Any caring person would hope it is not too far advanced; some of them would hope yet feel this is a faint hope.
The most likely resolution of this national political conflict is for one side to settle the dispute lawfully but decisively.
We are, it seems, past the point of reconciliation even through natural sociability.