There was a time in the United States when people knew their neighbors. They never thought about “Washington,” but rather knew the answers to their problems were found locally. They relied on family, church and community. That community would vary from place to place. Each community would be largely homogenous, but then very different from other communities. Each community had its own quirks, but the communities were made up of people from all walks of life.
Over a period of decades, community started fracturing. Americans left the church, abandoning the gospel and with it a common tongue of stories shared between people. They moved off their front porches. Instead of looking ahead and making eye contact, they started looking down at the small bright screens in their hands.
That self-created world has become a tribe. In it, people are neighborly, kind and generous. Out of it, people are not people, but the “others.”
On that screen, they started building new communities. Instead of enjoying the world God made man, man made his own world. In it, he could select the people he wanted there. Five hundred television stations allowed him to curate his entertainment to reflect just him. The internet allowed him to select just the news he wanted to see and hear. Social media allowed him to abandon the neighbor next door for the digital neighbor with whom he had no need to find common ground because they agreed on everything.
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Liking Facebook posts replaced sitting around a table sharing a meal. The coffee conversation at the local diner got replaced with the real time Twitter feed where everyone complained about the same thing, the same way, and all targeted the same group to blame. God made the real world and we see him reflected in it. Man made his own world and we see his reflection in it. The former is beautiful. Not so much the latter.
That self-created world has become a tribe. In it, people are neighborly, kind and generous. Out of it, people are not people, but the “others.” Those others are to blame and there is no common tongue to relate to them.
The others soon become de facto bad. When the voices in your self-selected world tell you that the others are destructive and out to kill you, over time it becomes easy to believe it. After all, you never encounter the others anymore. And all the news you consume tells you the others are the problem.
The others then becomes the enemy out to destroy you and your way of existence. The only way to stop them is through violence. You see them not as a neighbor because you have no community with them. You see them not as fellow Americans because your news and social media tell you they are traitors. You see them not as children of God, created in his image because you no longer go to church. It is suddenly very easy to devalue the enemy.
This is the world to which we now careen. As local community collapses, the power of Washington grows, every hill becomes one to die on, and people continue to wall themselves off into worlds of their own design.
The violence we saw in Arlington, Virginia, right outside of Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, will become more common place. Political rhetoric in this country has always been incendiary and has rarely led the crazy to act. But now the rhetoric is not tempered by the reality of the community around us.
Instead, it is reinforced by the community we have created. It is amplified and the tribal instincts create a feedback loop to defend the tribe from the others. The crazy are cheered for defending the tribe.
After all, the other tribe started it.
Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.