Thursday, August 17, 2017

Ulysses S. Grant on the Next Civil War

Ulysses S. Grant's vision of the next civil war seems disturbingly correct.  He said that a future civil war will not be based on geography. He believed the conflict will take place "between patriotism, & intelligence on one side, & superstition, ambition, and ignorance on the other."  

State Department employee, Keith Mines has spent his career in the U.S. Army Special Forces, the United Nations, and State Department navigating civil wars in other countries, including Afghanistan, Colombia, El Salvador, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan. Mines concluded that the United States faces a sixty-per-cent chance of civil war over the next ten to fifteen years. Other experts interviewed by Foreign Policy  magazine predicted probabilities ranging from five per cent to ninety-five per cent. The consensus was thirty-five per cent.

Based on his experience in civil wars on three continents, Mines cited five conditions that support his prediction: "entrenched national polarization, with no obvious meeting place for resolution; increasingly divisive press coverage and information flows; weakened institutions, notably Congress and the judiciary; a sellout or abandonment of responsibility by political leadership; and the legitimization of violence as the 'in' way to either conduct discourse or solve disputes."[1]

Joni Avram writing in the Chronicle Journal reports that "various commentators have concluded that America is in the throes of its second civil war." Dennis Prager, a conservative radio host, believes  that the political left and right share no common value system. He says that the two sides cannot collaborate over core beliefs. Prager argues that the only way the new civil war will end is when one side “vanquishes” the other. 

Avram cites as evidence social channels "where the idea of respectful dialogue and consideration of opinions is long gone." 

According to the 2008 book The Big Sort, American have segregated themselves into "siloed communities" for years. However, the trend has intensified over the past forty years. People are choosing to live in homogeneous communities with others who share their political, religious and social points of view. This isolates them from people with a different mindset.

Cable news fosters this polarization by allowing people to watch coverage that reinforces their beliefs. Trends like home-schooling allow parents to keep strict control over which ideas their children are exposed to. Observers have likewise commented with alarm over the growing resistance by universities to welcome diversified thought.

This is dangerous because studies suggest that when a group is ideologically homogeneous, its members tend to grow more extreme. As a result, The Big Sort author Bill Bishop says that America "is splitting into balkanized communities whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible” and "culturally reprehensible." As the country becomes more polarized, debates turn into shouting matches and consensus on critical issues is "elusive."[2]

Faced with polarization and isolation we need to find an arena to have informed and courteous discussions. The issue we should be debating is how Americans can work together to uncover our common interests, identify areas that we have different opinions, respect opposite beliefs, and find solutions satisfactory to both sides. The lack of compromise caused the American Civil War to begin and catapult the nation into four years of war.  

[1] Robin Wright, "Is America Headed for a New Kind of Civil War?" The New Yorker, August 14, 2017. 
[2] Joni Avram, "Feuding ideologies next civil war?" Chronicle Journal,  August 17, 2017.

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