After the racial unrest and division of 2020, perhaps that title is jarring to your eyes. Or perhaps it resonates so closely, you could write this.
For me, 2020 and into the winter of 2021 was a time when my worst fears for our nation seemed imminent. From the riots, looting and pillaging of the summer, to the divisiveness and political rancor of the election season, to the culmination in the storming of the capital in January, 2021, I watched in horror as my country walked the path of division.
And why not? Unity, compromise and reconciliation are just so stinkin’ hard. They take effort. On the other hand, division, suspicion and bias are the path of least resistance. Living divided is the default setting for most people.
In crafting the world of Divided, I envisioned the division and racial hatred in our hearts becoming the reality in our physical world. We would move beyond the realm of inner thoughts and social media arguments into armed conflict.
Why? Eventually, hatred harbored within our souls expresses itself. It is the law of sowing and reaping. Sow hatred, reap violence. Sow peace, reap unity.
How did my fictional world end up under the control of a cruel dictator with ethnicities locked behind walls never to meet each other again? There are three easy steps to sow division:
1. The Seed of Suspicion
When we disconnect from people who don’t think, act, or live like us, then we will have trouble seeing the world through their eyes. Our thinking will be reduced to an “us vs. them” mentality, in which we blame the other people group for the ills of society.
And before you say this could never happen in the US, were you on Facebook during the summer of 2020?? I saw a lot of “those people need to just do (insert whatever “those people needed to do”)” or even better, “if only ‘they’ would appreciate the freedoms we have.” I was saddened, but not particularly shocked.
And further, I’ve noticed an alarming trend since then - ads and news anchors fanning the flames of division.
It sells ad time on news networks (pick your flavor). It sells newspaper and online news ad space. It sells clicks on websites. Suspicion also fuels voter turnout.
Are we doing this to ourselves?
At some point, we, as the people of America, will face an impasse. Will our need for unity overcome our need to be right, protected, prosperous, and privileged? If we can leave our echo chambers and refuse to return, we might have a chance at reversing the current trends.
If I wanted to be a dictator in a nation like the US (or were crafting a dystopian world in which one seizes power), I would fuel the flame of suspicion however and whenever I could.
2. The Seed of Insecurity
Following closely on the heels of suspicion is the notion of security - or trying to cover up or fix our insecurity. When our way of life is threatened, insecurity is one of the first emotions to manifest.
Anyone remember what life was like in the fall of 2020? We didn’t know what was going to happen in a week, let alone a month. Were schools going to be in-person, hybrid or virtual? Would restaurant workers and hair stylists and cruise ship workers be allowed to return to their jobs all over the nation? Would anyone ever be able to travel again?
Uncertainty was the only certainty. And anxiety, depression and anger were near epidemic levels, erupting all over social media. We’ve all seen the “I can’t stay quiet any longer” posts that are mostly rant about the “other” side, whatever that “other” is.
Even my “happy place” on the internet, Instagram, became toxic with insecurity bleeding into creativity. I don’t know about you, but my feed on Instagram was schizophrenic back then. Maskers, anti-maskers; republicans, democrats; conspiracy theorists, activists. Everyone was fighting for security - and still is, imho. If I can shout the loudest about my viewpoint, then people will understand and stop threatening me. Right? Maybe not, if everyone else is also shouting.
Why does Insecurity threaten our unity?
Because unless we're willing to engage in honest dialogue, open-minded listening and genuine cooperation, we will end up being aggressively defensive when anyone challenges the status quo.
Insecurity drives us into our echo chambers, where we can see others as “them” instead of “us.” It is the second seed sown by the savvy future dictator.
3. The Seed of Safety
Safety is a good thing, right?
“Safety” in our current vernacular assumes the complete absence of threats, danger or risk.
Which is impossible.
Life, by its very essence, has risks. Every time you drive a car, you accept danger AND risk. Let me say, being safe from physical harm or being respected for your opinion aren't, in themselves, bad.
So why is “safety” as an end goal of society so dangerous?
The idea of “safety” is rooted in the maintaining our current situation. Maybe it's our health / financial stability, the political status quo, or the racial makeup of your neighborhood. All of these, when elevated to primary importance, divide us. In order to maintain our status quo, we must compromise on other ideals. Things like social justice, equal treatment under the law, an individual’s rights versus the collective’s needs, or freedom of speech / religion / right to bear arms. You know, Bill of Rights type stuff.
When conflict breaks out, many people will retreat into a safe place, avoiding conflict at all costs. Will we hand the keys of the nation to the loudest dictator who can guarantee our “safety”? What would we give up to be safe - personal liberty, religious freedom, freedom of speech, our right to vote? Would we so quickly set aside our Bill of Rights to guarantee our safety? From what I've observed lately, many would.
The opiate of safety is the third seed sown by the smart future dictator.
And so you see how division has already been sown into our nation, ready and waiting for a full-out conflict. Only a concerted, open, and honest multi-ethnic conversation can stop the current trends.
It’s why my Divided Series is so timely.