By Robert A. Vella
“United we stand, divided we fall” is a phrase used in many different kinds of mottos, most often to inspire unity and collaboration. Its core concept lies in the collectivist notion that if individual members of a certain group with binding ideals – such as a union, coalition, confederation or alliance – work on their own instead of as a team, they are each doomed to fail and will all be defeated.
Back in the days of ancient Greece, where the earliest use of this phrase is known (attributed to storyteller Aesop), “we” meant no more than a culturally distinct group of people living together in a common land. The Greeks, a collection of bickering city-states and kingdoms, could not withstand the military might of the Persian Empire separately. Their very survival depended upon cooperation. Cooperate, they did, turning back repeated invasions. The names of the bloody battles were written into the pages of history, Thermopylae, Marathon, Salamis, and many others. When the Persian threat finally abated, the Greeks naturally returned to fighting amongst themselves… all the way up to their conquest by Rome, an even more powerful empire noted for its cultural unity.
Centuries later, after growing internal dissent and disunity, the Roman Empire disintegrated.
It appears that we humans can come together when threatened, when determined to achieve a common goal, or when properly led, but that our natural state is independence. Considering this, it’s no small wonder that civilization ever rose at all.
Today, in this globalized, technologized, and troubled 21st century, “we” has taken on a whole new meaning. The biggest threat we now face isn’t some aggressive neighboring empire, it is the myriad problems resulting from the success of modern civilization; that is, our burgeoning population. The Earth is getting too small for us. Habitable land and resources are becoming scarce, and we are increasingly fighting over what remains. Living in close proximity to each other triggers all manner of conflict, much like too many rats in the same cage. Compounding this sociological crisis is the specter of climate change which might put a permanent end to our bickering.
However, because we are currently threatened greatest by ourselves, there is no longer any external “them” to unify against. We do continue to try, though, as evidenced by the escalating demonization of immigrants, ethnic minorities, religious groups, sexual orientations, and even various ideologies and philosophies. It is analogous to combat inside a burning house, when killing the other guy takes precedence over extinguishing the flames.
This can be broadly described as cultural polarization; and, if it continues to worsen, will inevitably grow to calamitous proportions. Here are two current examples of how it metastasizes in our societies.
People from blue states like California typically don’t think “Alabama” when looking to plan a beach getaway. And most tourists visiting Alabama’s expansive, white-sand beaches either come from Alabama or from Trump-supporting states, according to recent data. But just why that is likely comes down to undue stereotyping more than anything else.
The trend in Alabama’s beach goers doesn’t just relate to Alabama tourism, but to the deep (and seemingly deepening) divides between people across political lines in the U.S. More than half of Democrats are wary of conservatives, according to Pew Research Center data, and 68 percent of Republicans think Democrats are “harmful” to the country. The local Alabama news site AL.com explores this issue in a recent, detailed piece on Alabama tourism and partisanship.
TANTA, Egypt—Like the Jews before them, Christians are fleeing the Middle East, emptying what was once one of the world’s most-diverse regions of its ancient religions.
They’re being driven away not only by Islamic State, but by governments the U.S. counts as allies in the fight against extremism.
The exodus leaves the Middle East overwhelmingly dominated by Islam, whose rival sects often clash, raising the prospect that radicalism in the region will deepen. Conflicts between Sunni and Shiite Muslims have erupted across the Middle East, squeezing out Christians in places such as Iraq and Syria and forcing them to carve out new lives abroad, in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere.
“The disappearance of such minorities sets the stage for more radical groups to dominate in society,” said Mr. Johnson of the loss of Christians and Jews in the Middle East. “Religious minorities, at the very least, have a moderating effect.”