It is a simple one-word message: SLOW!
How many times have you passed by the little plastic neon green figure with the word “SLOW!” on its midriff? This “Kid Alert! Visual Warning Signal (V.W.S),” with its bright red cap and reflective orange flag, encourages us to be careful in our neighborhoods. It gives us a moment to pause and to think of others, to protect the vulnerable, and increase our mutual safety.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting social upheaval, we need to embrace this same advice to slow down in our everyday lives. The “new pandemic normal” is not just about social distancing and wearing face masks. It has also meant that extremism, violence, and the threat of violence have become more commonplace in our politics and social interactions. Thoughtful compromise and negotiation have been replaced with fear-driven “pandemic politics.”
More than we can remember in recent history, there are two sides of violent propagandist protagonists that are emerging from the politics swirling around the pandemic:
The “violent establishment advocates” claim that it is essential to violently defend the peace at any cost. That law and order are more important than racial and social justice. The threat becomes that violence is the only way to restore peace. These extremists believe that massive increases in police and paramilitary troops are necessary to maintain order. That the protection of property comes first. Such supporters of violence include fascists, white supremacists, militias, nationalists, sociopaths, and others.
The “violent change advocates” claim that racial and social justice cannot be obtained without severe violent disruption to our everyday lives. That white privilege must be eliminated forcibly. The threat becomes “No Justice; No Peace.” These extremists believe that massive property destruction in the name of justice is acceptable and inevitable. That property is not as valuable as lives. Such supporters of violence include anarchists, arsonists, looters, communists, sociopaths, and others.
Most of us, in normal times, realize that peace and justice must be achieved simultaneously. We also know that human life and property rights are both important. But this virus has not only ravaged the world economy by killing nearly 1 million people, it has also damaged our ability to reason, negotiate, and live in peace as well. The global pandemic has made us much more susceptible to the irrational political perspectives of the extreme right and the extreme left; of the up and the down; of the backward and the forward. We now ride every day on a roller coaster of unsustainable social and emotional upheaval leap frogging from one sensational news or social media story to another.
We need to slow down and realize that we are caught between two unhinged sides of violent extremists that want to infect us with their irrationality. The chaos of today has tenderized a large portion of our population into becoming blindly reactive instead of thoughtfully reflective. So many are now willing to jump to conclusions without waiting for all the facts. This has led to chaos, death, and destruction on all sides with unfounded rumors triggering both “social justice” riots and establishment “law and order” over reactions.
Such extreme bi-polarized politics are based upon the reliance on a mythic “they.” “They” don’t care about others. “They” just want to get “their” way. “They” cannot be reasoned with since “they” are too stupid to see reality. “They” are evil and must be stopped by all means necessary, including violence.
But who really are “they?” In many cases, doesn’t the political opposition include many of our family, friends, and neighbors? Political disagreement today no longer features a marketplace of ideas and civil debate. Now, it has become a dangerous game of chicken that uses violence, name-calling, and stereotyping.
What will happen if the candidate you back loses the election? Will the world come to an end? Think about how you will cope if the opposition wins. Will you accept the results of the election? If you cannot see this possible future, you are trapped deeply in extreme pandemic politics and are primed to support thoughtless violence in the future.
What we need is that little neon green figure as our mascot for 2020. We need to calm the violence and extremism in our nation and in our hearts by following the warning to SLOW! Instead of racing about uncontrolled in this era of anger, frustration, and fear, we need to seek time for reflection. We all need a moment to pause and to think of others, to protect the vulnerable, and increase our mutual safety.
Only by better understanding the politics of those we oppose can we realize lasting peace and change. They are not the enemy. They are fellow members of our community.
Dave Berger of Plymouth, Minnesota, is a retired sociology professor who taught for nearly three decades at Inver Hills Community College.
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