Letter: The imperiled center

Thursday, January 11, 2018
The imperiled center

While walking along a path or across a field, have you ever experienced the ground feeling rubbery – shifting beneath your feet? No, not quicksand or an earthquake – just not solid and secure like it should be. (Some call it soil liquification.)

In this unstable time, our social and political institutions seem to me to be becoming rubbery – shifting beneath my feet. This is not new. In the 1890s Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, wrote of a condition he called anomie, where society provides little moral guidance to individuals. Others in this field wrote of a feeling of normlessness – kind of a social and political liquification.

The Nigerian novelist and political activist Chinua Achebe took a line from a W.B. Yeats poem for the title his first prize-winning novel, When Things Fall Apart. The poem had it, “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”

Maybe I’m just becoming discombobulated, but as I read, listen and watch, our center is not holding. The left and right elements of our American political spectrum are tearing our nation apart. This is an expression of concern not fear, or as Achebe has also written, “People say that if you find water rising up to your ankle, that’s the time to do something about it, not when it’s around your neck.”