Unity is a superficially simple concept, that I would define
as something like an agreement among individuals, or individual parties, to
maintain alignment on a specific cause, philosophy, or purpose. For example, a group of friends can find
unity among their individualities to defend each other against some other group
of friends, who have likewise found a unity.
Those in group A may practice varying adherence to the same or different
religions, come from families of no common lineage, or all be transplants from
different states. But in their one
purpose, defense, they find a unity.
But unity is also a relative concept which has its magnitude
defined by the number of participating individuals and the number of
overlapping differences that are smoothed over to accommodate a common
front. A recent example I came across
was a video celebrating western culture, full of Christian religious symbolism
and references to both artwork and figures of the European Renaissance and Enlightenment. I am assuming the motivation behind this
video was a longing for the traditional values of a homogenized western culture
and sorrow toward its apparent erosion. Now,
this is no attempt to opine on the validity of that longing or to imply any
form of judgement on that video. Simply,
I saw it as a showcase of smoothing over all the historical, cultural, and
linguistic differences among the western European nations and peoples, blending
together thousands of years of different histories to propel a writ-large
statement. I must emphasize the idea of
it blending together and effectively glossing over all historical and cultural
differences between, say, the Greeks and Austrians, the English and Italians,
in order to make an artistic point. But through
the shared sense of a perceived loss of identity, some found unity under the
perceived collective culture being lost.
In other words, unity was found through differences.
Unity is a pillar of American identity erected in the
aftermath of the Civil War. After its conclusion,
the American mindset shifted from that of being state-centric, i.e. “I am a
Virginian,”, to that of nationalistic, i.e. “I am an American”. Unity, from sea to shining sea, across a
landmass the extent of Europe, where people living under fifty different sets
of laws were still connected by a common sense that they were Americans. This sense of a common identity was strengthened
by external, international dangers that threatened all living in the United
States, requiring a need for all to act as one.
Unity was maintained as long as the common threads of the blanket of freedom
were acknowledged, accepted, understood, propagated, and held in reverence. Americans recognized each other as Americans,
and so long as all held to a common concept, a common respect for each other as
Americans, unity was maintained. With
that could come purpose, a driving goal, an answer for every challenge thrown
at the American people, where the American spirit and ingenuity thrived.
But if unity is the tamping down of differences to find agreement
toward a common cause, philosophy, or purpose, then two complications arise. The first is understanding how wide commonality
may be stretched before the magnitude of differences (as a function of the number
of differentiating factors and their importance to people) overwhelms it. Consider categories of differences as the
conceptual divisions that define individuals from each other. These can be very wide and blatant (ex. Immigrants
and non-immigrants) to much more refined (students same town but rival high
schools). So the question becomes, how
many people or how many categories of difference can be held together by a
common purpose? For example, it may be
easy for Catholic Christians and Methodist Christians and Seventh Day Adventist
Christians to find unity under Christianity to find purpose in, for example,
supporting an education bill. But can
that unity toward a purpose also be extended to religious non-Christians or
non-religious people to align on and make the desired outcome? Likely that would depend on the how well bill
itself provides a non-religious common thread to pull the groups together. The other complication stems from the first,
which is the presence of separatist agitators who would prefer to see the magnitude
of unity collapse to fit smaller categories of differences. There was never a time in American history
where it was difficult to find separatist agitators, but in the 21st
century, their reach, the number of outlets available to them, and their volume
has reached an accumulation not seen previously in our history.
This is a problem, and it is a self-exacerbating
problem. With a growing United States,
in the number of its citizens, in the ever-increasing complexity of its
cultures, which births more categories of differences, the apparent common
threads appear to be growing tauter, while the volume of agitators grows. Unity itself is in danger of being drowned by
the need of the agitators to embrace the weight of our differences. Without unity, we find ourselves without the willpower
or purpose to resolve any of the major issues facing our nation. To be clear, we the people have become
focused on the arguments and not the solutions.
To listen closely to the major parties, for example, one finds they offer
no solutions, spend time casting stones, and play at government standstills
while toying with trillions of taxpayer dollars.
Unity of a people, any people, is a mainstay of society, and
is an evolution from family to tribe to city to the nation. The growth and majesty of any civilization
was never found by euphorically relishing in the differences but in
understanding and owning those differences while understanding that the
neighbor is not the enemy and working toward a common objective benefiting
all. We cannot afford to focus on
separatism any further as we proceed through the 21st century. We must regain unity.