MINOT, N.D. — Like many observers of these times, I am fond of blaming the rising tides of acrimony in the world on social media populism.
Mass communication has been democratized, and everybody from the history professor at the local university to that cranky bigot who lives down the street has an audience. And, worse, they all know they have an audience and feel the pressure to perform.
But perhaps that's not as fulsome an explanation for what ails us as we who observe it would like to believe.
Is there another? One more geographical in nature?
Generations of Americans, far more than just the young men, have followed Horace Greeley's advice to "go west."
People seeking something new. Religious freedom. Economic opportunity. An escape from past mistakes. A place with fewer rules than the one they came from.
That's my family's story. The Ports left Europe for Canada, then the Upper Midwest of America. Based on my amateur genealogical endeavors, these people were a bit wild, with a greater than the average number of rogues and brigands. Eventually, the Ports ended up in Alaska, which is so far west it's nearly the far east.
My father's generation may represent the first Ports to move east in centuries because there's no more west.
Previous generations in our society had frontiers that served as pressure relief valves—a place for the outlaws and the misfits and the restless spirits to go.
We don't have that anymore.
The frontiers are mostly gone; where they once existed is now just more society.
"And Alexander wept," Hans Gruber once told us, "seeing as he had no more worlds to conquer."
Consider, in this context, the Great Masking and Vaccine Imbroglio of 2021, which has pitted the proponents of vaccines and other pandemic measures against the anti-maskers, and anti-vaxxers, who insist that these things are an affront to individual liberty.
They have a right to forgo these provisions, they tell us. The risk is theirs to take.
The rebuttal is that the risks attendant to going unvaccinated and refusing to comply with other safety measures accrue to everyone, including those whose specific medical situations leave them unable to choose vaccination.
At another time, this debate may have been settled geographically. We'd simply separate. The dissenters would "go west," and our communities would find relative tranquility again.
Except, the old frontiers are gone, and what new frontiers there may be in space aren't available to us yet.
For now, we're stuck with each other and obliged to figure out how to make things work despite some fundamentally incompatible notions about how the world ought to work.
Compromise, a dirty word to the most strident among us, is what's needed, but any political leader running on that platform is bound to lose to rivals promising to work even harder to make the other side bend the knee.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.