Two hundred and forty two years ago, today, our founding fathers put forth a declaration, conceived in liberty, stating that all men are created equal. The spirit of this declaration was enshrined in a constitution, ratified by we the people.
This is the story of the conception of the United States of America. But the work always was and continues to be incomplete. From the very beginning, we have been amending our laws and our government in order to form a more perfect Union. The first of these many changes, the Bill of Rights, was ratified only a few years after the Constitution. And this was just the start.
This sacred process—change—has always been accompanied by debate. From citizens at dinner tables to their representatives across aisles, rigorous discourse has shaped public policy in this country since its inception. Such disagreements are the very heart of the adversarial two-party system and are, in large part, what made America great. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we did not strive for a “negative peace which is the absence of tension,” but rather a “positive peace which is the presence of justice.”
Today, however, we have lost all civility in our discourse. We cannot agree nor can we disagree agreeably. As a result, our politics is broken. Everyone can agree on that.
It is not hard to realize why. Increasingly, our country is being segregated by political party. We simply don’t come into meaningful contact with anyone we disagree with anymore. If we do, we don’t know how to productively discuss politics with them. Discussions quickly become debates—debates that someone has to win and where no one attempts to understand. We have forgotten what we learned in Kindergarten: to listen. If we are in a group, such discourse quickly becomes a verbal prizefight to see who can land the best blow on their opponent. Attacks become about people, not policy. And as blood pressure rises, ironically, the chances of someone convincing anyone of anything vanish.
The internet and social media have exacerbated this problem. In many ways, our virtual world is a reflection of our physical world. Silos and echo chambers filled with information and opinions from people we already agree with. But additionally, the internet—the modern day Pnyx—is a medium that inevitably results in violent disagreement behind the security of our screens. We might be more connected but we are less tolerant. Paragraphs later, we are no closer to a conclusion. We are merely further apart.
I believe there is hope, though. Many people, who I am proud to call my fellow citizens, are deeply concerned. Many more are discontent. And, as Thomas Edison said, discontent is the first necessity of progress.
I don’t think any one person or initiative will be the entire solution. And nothing will be the perfect solution. But with each choice we make we can send forth, in the words of Bobby Kennedy, a tiny ripple of hope. I hope Divided We Fall will be one such ripple in the effort to reinvigorate civil discourse in this country. If one conversation across a dinner table is a little calmer, if one mind is a little more open, if one hand is reached out across an aisle that is growing ever wider, then I think it will have been worth it.
Starting today, Divided We Fall will be a place for a community of concerned citizens to publish, discuss, and model productive civil discourse. It will be a place for differences of opinions, yet agreeable disagreement. Divided We Fall is not about forgetting our disagreements. It is about remembering how to disagree.
It is said that justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible as only first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens. May it be so. And on this, the 242nd anniversary of the independence of this great country, let us dedicate ourselves to that.
Joe Schuman is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Divided We Fall. He works to set the vision of the organization and to build the team to meet that mission. Joe works as a civilian for the Department of Defense promoting innovation and emerging technology. Joe is also an Officer in the Air National Guard and a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In his spare time he can be found reading non-fiction, playing piano, and running triathlons.