By Christopher W. Larimer, University of Northern Iowa Professor of Political Science
My mother likes to tell the story of her dramatic rescue of a monarch butterfly earlier this summer. While working in the yard she noticed the butterfly lying lifelessly on its side in the shade. She gently picked it up and, after several seconds, the butterfly started to move and then ultimately flew away. I was thinking about this story while reading Thomas Edsall’s latest column in the New York Times. The column provides a comprehensive, albeit depressing, review of existing research on the unbending influence of partisanship. While there is some debate about the causal arrow between partisanship and policy attitudes, there is little debate about the divisiveness that currently exists. As others have suggested, one of the culprits feeding our partisan tribal mentality may be the social media environment in which we live.
As Frank Bruni writes,
“…technology both speeds us to people who think precisely as we do and filters out anyone who might challenge us. We can click, scroll, sweep, share, like and favorite our way into a meticulously tailored and reliably validating tribe. There’s no real surprise, no true spontaneity, no actual serendipity.”
Or, consider the words of Roger Cohen,
“Technology, twin-souled like Goethe’s Faust, has changed the world for good and ill. We like. We dislike. We follow. We unfollow. We broadcast our lives. We fall silent. Adrenaline surges. Status anxiety follows. Contemporary life is a restless experiment in global direct democracy.”
By moving so quickly from one moment to the next during this “restless experiment,” we have inadvertently wondered into the shade. We need someone to put us back in the sun and silently, slowly, reflect on what is important. David Brooks has written extensively and elegantly on this very subject. To quote from one of his recent columns,
“The Greeks had a concept of Kairos time, which is not quantitative like our normal conception of time but qualitative — rich or empty, the meaningful hour or the hurried moment. When you’re with beauty, in art or in nature, you tend to move at Kairos time — slowly, serenely but thickly.”
We need to find a way to “move thickly” through life, to slow down and perhaps try and understand others with whom we disagree. Otherwise, we will remain in the shade where the focus is inward rather than outward.