Historian, Daniel J. Boostin, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, feared we were on the verge of a most painful period of cultural warfare and human suffering. He wrote, the “menace to America today is in the emphasis on what separates us rather than on what brings us together—the separations of race, of religious dogmas, of religious practice, or origins, or language.”
Just how pervasive this segmenting has become in our society since 1989 is plain for all to see. Howard Synder in his book, EarthCurrents, called this the “niching of America.” The bonds that traditionally bound Americans together in larger communities are dissolving, we are splitting into smaller and smaller groups, which Synder called “cultural formations.” These cultural formations are seen in the Boomers, the Xers and the Millennials. Other cultural groups include Hispanics, African-Americans, Republicans, Democrats, urban folk and rural folk. Each group views the world differently, each has its own set of values, and each has its own language.
I am very aware of this when I meet with younger people. Their perspective, their language, their values and understanding of the world are so different from my own. I use words that do not register with them. They use words that do not register with me. They have little religious background and are biblically illiterate, while I, in turn, am illiterate of the things they find meaningful and important.
This is more than a generation gap. This is Synder’s “niching of America”—the development of cultural formations that are closed off to those who are not of a certain age, race, sex, religion, politics, or dogma. These groupings are like little countries or nations—living unto themselves—separate and distinct from all others. They are ghettos, where a unique life-style has developed that you cannot understand unless you are a part of it. (Chris Hayes’ new book, A Colony In A Nation, deals with just one of these ghettos or colonies).
Divided we fall, united we stand (attributed to Aesop). “And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Jesus, Mark 3:25). Ghettos must go! We must build bridges instead of walls!