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Reply To: The Air We Breathe

Richard Sumpter

    Hi Mary,

    I hope you don’t mind if I piggy-back on your comments to Johanna, particularly the second section regarding masks. I have seen in the news several commentaries on how the pandemic has been politicized.  The most visible sign of this has become wearing or not wearing a mask.  TV news outlets have aired numerous accounts of people who refuse to wear a mask.  I have heard them say things like, “This is America.  They can’t make me wear a mask,” or “It’s a free country.  Wear one if you want but don’t force it on me.”  People who do wear masks have tried to reason with or respond to non-wearers with a fairly consistent message: “It’s not just about you.  Not observing the rules can endanger others.”  Those who refuse to follow the rules are often self-identified Trump followers, and/or conservatives.  The others are largely liberals.

    Over a year ago I wrote a lengthy essay trying to determine the major principles that differentiated liberals from conservatives.

    Essentially, I concluded that the fundamental difference is that conservatives privileged individual freedom over the common good, a case of self vs other.  Liberals privileged the community over the individual and made the common good the higher priority.   The mask wearing issue is a clear illustration of my contention.  It is further borne out by the rules promulgated by Republican governors compared to those mandated by Democratic governors.  (These thoughts were what gave rise to my earlier post regarding integrating the hero individual with the community to which he returns.)

    Pundits in the TV news described the unwillingness to require masks as an example of how Trump followers deny science.  I think they are actually denying that they have any responsibility toward the common good when it impinges on their own personal freedom; and denying the science behind the pandemic is a necessary step to permit them to privilege individual freedom over communal good.

    Another of the ways our current identity politics is described is by the use of the word “tribal.”  This use gives the word a negative connotation.  That’s the opposite of its prehistoric usage, but more in line with Biblical usage.  In prehistoric times tribal living was how homo sapiens survived.  Humans existed as hunter/gatherers in small nomadic tribes of about 25 to 40 people for nearly a million years (Swimme).  It was a very successful model.  They were bonded together by both kinship and necessity.  To be outside of a tribe was practically a death sentence.  That’s why banishment was such a severe penalty.

    It wasn’t until humans discovered agriculture about 10.000 years ago that many hunter/gatherer tribes abandoned the nomadic lifestyle and settled in the fertile river deltas around the world.  When walled cities were developed and division of labor came about, tribal bonds were less necessary and were frequently replaced by loyalty to the city because it was the city that provided protection.

    In the Book of Genesis in about 1200 BCE we read about the 12 Tribes of Israel.  Each traced its lineage to one of the 12 sons of Jacob.  After leaving Egypt, eleven of the twelve were given specific territories and so the tribe’s bonds were based on kinship and geography.  The tribe of Levi was given the priestly role of tending to the Temple in Jerusalem.   As written in the Book of Exodus, in order to bind the 12 tribes and establish the Israelites as God’s chosen people, Moses was given a covenant from Yahweh.  Part of that trans-tribal covenant included rules of behavior.

    While Christianity later adopted these tribal rules and called them The Ten Commandments, they were originally Israel specific.  The covenant rules only applied to the 12 Tribes.  That’s why we find no contradiction in Exodus with Yahweh saying “Thou shalt not kill,” and in Leviticus Yahweh calls on the Israelites to annihilate other competing tribes.  The covenant means “thou shalt not kill another fellow tribal member (Israelite).  The rules were inter-tribal, not universal.  To make this clear, they used circumcision as a sign of the covenant (The original litmus test?).
    So far Republicans and Democrats have not gone this far.  But I’m not going to bet against it.