We don’t love each other. That’s what this presidential campaign is about, as far as I can tell. Maybe it’s not much different from past campaigns, though it feels more extreme. Liberals hate conservatives and conservatives hate liberals. Majorities hate minorities and minorities return the favor. All this is counter-productive because we have real problems it would be nice to solve, but because we hate each other, we won’t.
Some of the problems are exactly because we don’t love each other. If we can’t love the people in our own country, we can’t very well love the rest of the world either, and our lack of love produces its own reaction. 9/11 was horrible enough, but we only understood we had been attacked, not why. We couldn’t understand that the power of our nation and its various representatives had injured many others, even if power and wealth hadn’t by themselves made us a target. I recently read that the so-called War on Terror had killed some 13 million. My initial response is that the number sounds inflated, but I think we can trust that whatever the number it is a grotesquely unbalanced response to an incident that killed some 3,000 people. On some level we know that, and hate Muslims because we know they have reason to hate us.
And not just Muslims. We have mistreated native Americans and blacks since our ancestors arrived here. They don’t have much reason to love us either, and we hate them for having tempted us to victimize them.
Relations between rich and poor are much the same. Hatred and fear are in control. Each would just as soon eliminate the other. Liberals and conservatives the same. Each side hates and fears the elites that exercise and monopolize power. Since each side seeks power, they accurately observe that the other wishes to dictate to them. Which will try to stop first?
We didn’t try to stop with our own country either. We exported violence. We took much of Mexico’s territory away, then relieved the Spanish of the remains of their empire. If we had really believed in democracy we would have let their former colonies be free to pursue their own way, but we retained control of them. We built armed forces to interfere in other countries to take their natural resources. Many nations have little reason to love us.
Of course many nations would have done the same to us, if they could. Just as Christians conquered Europe and the Americas,and colonized much of the rest of the world, Muslims conquered much of Asia, Africa, and Europe. Eventually they were driven from Europe, but some would like to conquer it again. Those who fear Muslims think that’s what all of them want to do. Because that’s what they would like to do themselves.
If nothing else, we ought to be able to agree that fear and hatred produce violence. It seems obvious that the best way to treat others is by the Golden Rule, but instead we generally do violence to anyone we don’t understand. Consider Africa.
In the twelfth century Timbuktoo was far larger and more civilized than London. It had a large library and produced the world’s first encyclopedia. It also produced tremendous amounts of gold. It wasn’t the only large city in Africa. There were others, and a number of civilized nations. But from almost the beginning of the sixteenth century Europeans began kidnapping people and bringing them to the New World to be slaves. That enterprise wrecked Africa, culminating, according to the article I read recently, in the English destroying about a hundred African cities by the end of the nineteenth century. I doubt the English acted alone.
Actually, culminating is the wrong word, as it implies that the process doesn’t continue. I also recently read that millions have died in the Congo almost silently, as far as publicity in the media goes, because minerals there are used in cellphones. Africans now perform grotesque acts like forcing children to be soldiers. Not all of that is our fault, but if our ancestors hadn’t engaged in the slave trade, things might be different there, as elsewhere.
Not that we’ve treated people in our own country much better. Besides the native Americans and blacks, Southerners still hate Northerners, still feeling like a conquered nation, and are cordially hated in return. Few who victimize are willing to acknowledge that they deserve to be hated, and to ask forgiveness. Those of us who enjoy the wealth this nation has generated by taking advantage of others are complicit. We fear to ask the next logical question: how should we make up for what our ancestors did and what representatives of our nation continue to do?
It isn’t impossible for humans to forgive, especially if those who violently took advantage sincerely regret and try to make up for what they did. In Africa in particular, in countries like South Africa and Rwanda, Truth and Reconciliation groups try to undo the bitterness that violence caused. Of course these groups are as subject to corruption as any other human enterprise, but that seems like the sort of thing that best makes sense if we wish to leave a secure world for our children and grandchildren to live in.
Humans aren’t the only ones who can forgive. Nature has been very forgiving, but may be on the verge of allowing us to take the consequences of our behavior. Science tells us that our behavior is interfering with the very processes that keep us alive. We prefer not to believe that. Climate change has become a political football that prevents us from addressing the problems we have. If human responsibility for global warming is false (I happen to believe it’s true) there are plenty of other things we do that are stupid and short-sighted.
We pump all kinds of chemicals into the environment. Some of these chemicals leached lead from pipes in Flint, Michigan recently, causing large amounts of lead poisoning. Insecticides don’t poison only insects, but also crops and water. Artificial fertilizers poison water too. So does mining. So does fracking.
Fracking provides an example of our choice between pure water and power literally. Oil and natural gas obtained by hydraulic fracturing for much less than the kind of oil production common during most of the twentieth century is very convenient in the short term. But it pollutes massive amounts of water and causes earthquakes when the wastewater is injected back into the ground. There were places in the world that were going to run out of water in the 21st century anyway (Los Angeles is probably one, along with the Arab peninsula); we’re making sure it happens more quickly and widely. Fracking is a very bad idea, but it’s too convenient to renounce.
In the Amazon region gold is being mined illegally on a massive scale (it’s gold and diamonds in Africa). Indigenous peoples there get run over and decimated. What is arguably even worse is that the forest is being logged, destroying habitat for many animals and plants there. The forest is a natural resource which, once destroyed, will be gone forever. As we destroy the forest we destroy the trees and plants which filter carbon dioxide from the air and replace it with oxygen. Leaving the forest alone could help address the imbalance of CO2 and oxygen which arguably drives climate change. We humans prefer to profit immediately and not concern ourselves with the viability of our planet.
Plastics are a product we hardly even notice, but which are used in almost every product we manufacture. It’s another example of the convenience of oil hydrocarbons, from which it is made, being convenient in the short term, but not in the long. The problem with plastics is that they don’t biodegrade. That means they eventually fill up the landscape and ocean interfering with natural processes and killing plants and animals. Another example of our mistreating our planet. I think we will begin to see that it’s also an example of the mills of God grinding slow, but most exceedingly fine when we have more and more ecological catastrophes. Nature is adaptable and accommodating, but there are limits, and when these are passed we will begin to experience consequences. I would prefer not to experience them. I doubt I have that choice much longer.
It’s a shame we don’t know how to love. We may not live much longer because of that.


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