Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Blogger Challenge: Story Teller as Social Hero

I recently saw The Soloist. And though I know some people love it, I found it a little trite and formulaic, a bit movie-of-the-week. It’s certainly a decent enough movie, with noteworthy performances and a good heart, I’d recommend seeing it if you’re interested. The subject matter of how homelessness and mental illness is handled in this country certainly deserves as much attention as it can get.

The real thing that struck me though is the portrayal of journalist as social hero, as the guy that stands up in the public square and rallies everyday folk with a sense of outrage or injustice into some sort of action or social change. In the Soloist the change was both small and personal as well as large. There was some very real betterment in Ayer’s circumstances, as well as the larger benefit to Skid Row in the attention and subsequent funds channeled it’s way.

The movie celebrates this role that journalists have, of using their platform to address social issues. However, the movie makes no bones of also addressing the current state of newspapers today. There’s the talk of layoffs, people being escorted out of their offices by security with their boxes. Over the course of the movie the newsroom goes from a bustling claustrophobic cacophony, to a much more subdued floor with increasingly empty cubicles.

Who’s going to fill this gap? The internet and blogosphere are great at instant communication, at targeting niche markets, at being timely – but can it focus enough, and for long enough, and with a wide enough audience to really make a difference when it’s needed. The blogosphere is full of great sites that no one reads, crackpots, and a lot of preaching to the choir bloggers blogging for bloggers.

I’m trying to think of any current cases and Susan Boyle comes to mind. I know it’s a fluff piece, but it certainly grabbed everyone’s eyeballs for a while, and continues to. She became a new media celebrity overnight. In fact part of the mainstream news coverage, was not just about her, but about the number of YouTube hits, about the power of new media. But also in conjunction with the Susan Boyle web phenom story was a bit of a side story about how we tend to judge people by their looks, how we minimize older, less polished people, and again how we’re a society that values looks, and youth over talent. Did this sink in? Was there enough of a collective shift in the social zeitgeist to make a difference. The next time you’re at the record store, are you going to weigh talent over packaging a bit more? The next time someone asks you to sign a petition or come to a neighborhood meeting, are you going to hold off on those snap superficial judgments we always make on people long enough to give them a hearing?

Perhaps this is the shift though – from an individual such as a journalist championing the call; to this sort of collective blog consciousness? Instead of one journalist doing a series of columns over time, will we just follow link after link from one related entry to the next, each giving a bit more nuance, a bit of a different spin, an added dimension, then we blog on it and add our voice to the linkfest and we become part of the conversation, until we all reach some sort of consensus?

It’s going to be a challenge, but I think we can rise to it. It’s all part and parcel of this huge change in society where the traditional gatekeepers are falling to the wayside. The wonder and challenge of it all though is that we’re not just swapping one gatekeeper for another, but we’re sort of changing all the rules of the game. Those are always heady and frightening times. Bloggers aren’t just asking for the rules of the game to change, we’ve all just taken our collective balls home and decided we’re just not going to play anymore. We’re still just trying to figure out what this new game is though and that may take a while – let’s just hope the Nathaniel Anthony Ayer’s we’ve yet to discover aren’t forgotten in this brave new world.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Poem for Jaheem Herrara - The Peace of Gentle Waves

This is our child,
if not by blood
then by heart and spirit.
We hold him close
as we must all children
as we must hold all
innocents who cry alone.
Those sad and lonely ones,
Solitary and surrounded,
by those who care,
by those who listen,
and those who turn away.
We mourn as brothers,
as sisters, as family
he never knew he had;
those who know his pain,
united by kindred spirit.
We tend the signal fires
on safety of sandy beach,
a distant light some never see.
Send out the boats,
for there are other spirits
far from shore, from home,
who know only the
violence of the crashing sea,
and not the peace of gentle waves.

Movies as Ouija Board

Thanks for all the “Great to see you’re blogging again” comments. It’s much easier to find the time for it once you’ve been laid of. I’m sure something else will come up, and god I hated that commute anyhow. Spending 2-3 hours a day in traffic is absolute madness, it sucks all the life out of you. You quickly start doing the math in your head and realize you’re spending basically a whole extra shift a week just sitting in traffic, if you stretch it out further over a year, that’s almost an entire month out of a year I sat in traffic. Then start realizing too with that much time, all the things you could have been doing, with your family and friends, how you could have probably solved all the worlds problems, or at least written the great American novel. But no, all the while you were wasting your time watching people lip-sync to the radio in their cars. Wow, the crazy stuff we convince ourselves is necessary for our job.

One big thing people like to do in bad times, especially when they’ve been laid of is go to the movies. Now I have a nice DVD player and all, but I’ve never really joined the whole Netflix revolution. I like the full blown big screen experience. Give me a large diet Coke, bag of peanut M&Ms, and a seat where I can put my feet up on the rail just behind the place reserved for wheelchairs and I’m a happy little movie goer. It’s said that the Depression was a boom time for movies, people flocked to theaters to forget their cares for a while. These days too, Movies are bringing in the big crowds and big bucks.

We have a great little Art Cinema here in town, one that brings in all the independent films, foreign films, and documentaries. They get a lot of my business. They show all the “real” movies. I also go to a big chain theater that’s not too far up the interstate. I used to refer to these places generically as the “Hell Mall Octoplex.” At least the one I go to these days isn’t in a mall, not exactly. It’s in a big “new urbanist” development. It also has not just eight theaters, apparently eight screens just isn’t enough to be profitable anymore, this place has 24. I don’t even know the prefix for 24 so wouldn’t even know what to call this place.

They do have have this great little rewards card though, so occasionally when they print my tickets out, I get an extra little coupon. It’s usually a free soda, or popcorn, but occasionally a free movie. I apparently have reached some mythic level of movie goer status though. I’m apparently some Nth degree black belt movie goer. Now they give me this little remote thingy, with buttons for Bad Sound, Picture Quality, Audience Disruption, or Movie Piracy. I’m sure they’re most concerned about the Piracy thing at the bottom, but the power of Audience Disruption that goes to your head. On a couple of occasions now I’ve had to whip it out, stand up and wave it at inconsiderate movie goers carrying on conversations, all I have to do is point to it and say “don’t make me use this.”

So yeah, I see a lot of movies. I used to believe that the Universe sent me to the movies I needed to see. Whether there was some life lesson I needed to learn or fresh perspective I needed to be shown. It’s almost like God was talking to me through the movies. I know that sounds silly, but I’d noticed that whenever I had a big problem, I could find some advice to address it in whatever movie I went to see. That theory didn’t hold up long. Maybe I was just missing it but what was I supposed to learn from movies like “Showgirls” or more recently “Strange Wilderness” or “Meet Dave.”

I realized that what was really going on was more of a Ouija board effect. I was actually pulling out of the movie, the message I needed to hear. Movies work that way, just like a Ouija Board or Tarot Cards. We listen to what we need to hear, and focus on the things that fit and ignore everything else. We often know what we need, what the decisions must be. It just has so much more truthiness to it, when it comes from a mega-million summer block buster or the hottest new acting sensation.

So I’ll continue to go to the movies, and as I continue to do my job hunting and soul searching about my future and purpose in life. Hopefully sometime this Summer I’ll find a new job, get some more writing gigs, get that new book published. I’ll see a new movie where I’ll see myself as the main character, identify with all his trials and tribulations and eventual neat happy ending and walk out of the movie saying something like (with appropriate swelling orchestra movie theme in the back ground) “YES, I am a talented and valued member of society, and yes, this is a great world we live in!” (Crescendo, lights fade, credits).

Please God, just don’t let that character and movie be Will Ferrell in “Land of the Lost.”

Thursday, April 23, 2009

In Praise of Bookmobiles from a Kid that Talks Funny

People never how to react when I tell them about “the accident” – as in, is it really okay to laugh when someone tells you about their brother running over their head with a tractor? Many think I’m joking, then I go on about being in a coma for days and the doctor spending the night because they were afraid they’d have to rush me into the operating room at any minute to crack my skull open. However, this accident would lead me down a long winding path that would one day make me a writer and poet.

The brain’s a wonderful thing but it doesn’t like being thrown around and run over by a tractor. Recovering from brain trauma can be tricky, there’s a thousand little connections and networks running around in that mess and it’s hard to tell just how any individual person will react to any individual trauma. There were a couple of totally quirky little things to get over though. I couldn’t remember phone numbers, strings of randomness like that were beyond me, and I had to remember numbers like dance steps on the key pad. Some people with numbers where digits repeated were like little cha-chas, the more random ones waltzed all over the place.

The big problem though was being able to talk. I can still remember the frustration of “talking” in my head and nothing coming out. Somehow that connection had been fried. Not completely, I could mumble incoherently, but that great thing we know as speech where you think something in your head and it comes out of your mouth, and you communicate a thought – that had escaped me. Thus began the long years of speech therapy – eight long years, long years of having to relearn English as now my second language. How to shape my lips, where to put my tongue, all those gymnastics the mouth does that everyone else took for granted. Every Tuesday and Thursday I’d have to go down to this little room in the basement of our elementary school. There I would mostly recite tongue-twisters and read from flash cards and look at diagrams of how your mouth and tongue were suppose to work.

Now the timing on this accident couldn’t have been worse, I was six, and it happened the summer before first grade. So I began my school career with all three of the holy triumvirate of reasons kids get picked on – I was a little sissy, a redhead, and now – I talked funny. Those eight years at Glendale-Chapel Elementary would be torture.

If there was one thing though that saved me though, it was the Johnston County bookmobile. For those of you that didn’t grow up out in the country, a bookmobile is a large panel truck fitted out like a traveling library. It makes it rounds around to host homes all over the county. My mom who had always loved books and had had this rather mysterious past job in Raleigh as a magazine editor made sure that we were on the route. So once a month, it would pull up in our driveway while the neighbors all turned in their old books and shopped around for a fresh read. I’d spend the entire Saturday afternoon sitting on the steps reading whatever I could get my hands on. I still remember the smell of the thing. It wasn’t air-conditioned so it would show up and be all stuffy and dusty at first. Then they’d crank open the little ventilation window in the roof and open the door and it would be tolerable, but the smell, oh that smell. If you love the smell of a library, a bookmobile has that times ten. It is to the smell of books, what that little room in the back of a tobacco shop is to the smell of cigars – pure and concentrated.

The bookmobile saved me. Soon the librarians were bringing me boxes and boxes of paperbacks. Apparently at the time, the library didn’t shelve paperbacks, so they’d sell them off or give them away. The librarians knew I had developed a love for science fiction. The summer between fifth and sixth grade they presented me with a whole box of science fiction paperbacks from some estate donation. This was a good box: Asimov, Le Guin, Niven, all the classics. I went through the entire box that summer, averaging sometimes a book a day. This would be on top of long days in the tobacco fields and curing barns. It would also be after that summer that the “incident” would happen with Mrs. Lucas, my Sixth Grade teacher. During the first week we wrote that typical “What I did Last Summer” deal – and I wrote about reading books all summer. I remembered how much I loved just writing that piece, how it came so easily and freely. Mrs. Lucas patrolled the aisles supervising the whole time, an intimidating presence. When I turned it in, I was fairly pleased with it, and anxious to see what sort of grade I’d get. A couple of days later I’d find out – a big fat “F”. I was in shock, tears were rolling down my cheeks – how do you get an “F” on a perfectly clean paper with no red marks paper? This was my first experience with an editor’s rejection slip. I went up after class and asked Mrs. Lucas myself, in a shaky voice, “what was the “F” for?”

The answer would haunt me for years. “You couldn’t have written that.” I pressed on, asking for an explanation, “that paper is on a college level.” In other words, there was no way she was buying that a redheaded little sissy boy that talked funny could have written it. I was devastated; she wouldn’t even yield to logic. Just how was I supposed to have a ghost writer when it was an unannounced pop essay written in class under her constant supervision? She countered with semicolon use. Pointing to a sentence she asked, “what is the rule for using semicolons?” I had to admit – I really didn’t know about any rules for semicolons. “Then why did you use one there?” My answer just infuriated her more “It just seemed to be the right thing to do.” The concept of learning grammar and complex sentence structure by reading and osmosis escaped her. Had she not read the piece? the whole point was about who much I’d come to love reading.

Despite Mrs. Lucas, my love of reading continued, mostly escapist fare – I was after all growing up on a tobacco farm in rural NC. I was still a bit shy though. High School would turn out better for me – lots better. I’d be playing sports, get my letter jacket. Date a nice girl, have friends, go on beach trips. I’d have burgers and fries with the gang at the local diner. It was in ways idealic, but in many ways torture. Especially being a gay teen, confused by sexuality, trying to pass for straight, and trying to work things out.

On top of all that though, I’d bitten the apple, my eyes had been opened. I knew there were other worlds out there, other people, other ways of thinking. Deep down I knew I didn’t belong in this place, and never would. But I had also been blessed/cursed with reading about other possibilities. Just the fact that there was other cities, countries, other worlds, other ways of living out there was intoxicating. Believe me, at the time big city life and alternative lifestyles were as alien to me as anything Asimov could have ever written.

Years later, I’d become a writer and a poet. Get published have people read my stuff. I’d get the nerve and overcome my shyness to get on stage and read in front of crowds. Then have to face the revelation that it’s not enough to be able to write, be able to get out in front of people and make yourself heard, that’s just the first bit – you also have to have something worth saying.

When it all comes down to it though, I have two things to thank for that: that inappropriately funny story about my brother running over my head with a tractor, and the Johnston County bookmobile.

Beating Up Little Sissies

Okay it’s happened once again, a young preteen boy has hanged himself rather than face the schoolyard taunts of bullies. The papers and social networking pages have been ablaze with sympathy for the family and outrage at this recent tragedy in Georgia, but sorry folks the deed is done. No matter the excuses about knowing he was being teased, but not knowing just how bad. No matter the pleas about why couldn’t he have come to his mother – a boy can always talk to his mother. It just didn’t happen. The blame seems to be falling on the school system for not enforcing bullying restrictions, but there’s lots of blame to pass around.

Why is it that even today, it’s still perfectly acceptable, even condoned in many parts of our society to beat up sissies? This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I’m sure the families of these bullies are going to plead ignorance as to where their little hoodlums picked up this behavior, learned these vile words. Those parents just need to look in the mirror.

We incite young boys every day to be men, to buckle up, to not cry, not be a sissy, anything but a sissy. And then what is the best way to prove you’re not one – point the finger elsewhere and prove your being a true man by brutal enforcement, by joining the no sissies allowed club. Then we express surprise when it ends in relentless bullying and a kid killing himself. Face it – this is one of the earliest and most profound lessons every boy gets when growing up.

I really feel for the family, I don’t know them, but if I can use my own experiences and those of countless others as an example, here’s my guess. The boy probably wanted to talk to his mother but feared rejection or just outright condemnation, children know just what they can talk to their parents about and what they can’t, believe it or not, parents telegraph this to their children every day in ways subtle and sometimes not so subtle. I remember as a young teen asking my Mom if I could see a doctor or psychiatrist cause I thought “something was wrong” and I’ve never seen anyone change the subject faster in my life. Parents don’t want to talk about this stuff. The stepfather, who seems genuinely distraught probably would have reprimanded him, and tried to come up with ways to “man him up”. It’s fine to play the distraught family after the fact, but in many ways it’s easier to play the grieving parents, the victim of a school gone wild, than to face up to their role in this. No where have I read anything about the parents talking to school officials. The claim that they didn’t know just how bad the bullying was, is a smoke screen. Everyone knows that once your kid becomes a punching bag and target of taunts and bullying and no one says anything, it’s open season. How do you not make the first whiff of school bullying a cause to call up the school? It was probably written off as “boys being boys.”

There’s some larger responsibilities here on the school as well as our society as a whole. Why – is it still okay to beat up sissies? Is it that everyone realizes they’re likely to grow up to be gay, to be fags? That was probably the word the bullies used the most – the “f” word. About as brutal a thing you can call an eleven year old boy. Especially one with no gay role models, no counseling, and with a family that is benign at best and surely not supportive. Families of gay teenagers have this remarkable ability to go into denial and somehow claim that they love their children but at the same time condemning them. I’ve been there, but most people can only imagine, the world of a “different” preteen has to be one of the loneliest most self-incriminating, self-hating lives you can lead. I’ve often told my black friends, to imagine growing up in a white household and actually being white, then sometime around adolescent, you find the white skin starting to rub off, to discover to your surprise you’re actually black. The very thing you’ve always heard referred to in denigrating, brutal, loutish terms, something you’ve been taught to hate. You’d be putting on makeup, wearing long sleeve shirts, you’d be doing anything at all to not be discovered – you just wouldn’t know any better – how could you?

I’d implore parents before they started ranting to the TV during the evening news, ranting about all the damn homos trying to get married, about how it was so unnatural, disgusting -- that they take a good look around in their own living room. Even passing jokes, the casual use of “that’s so gay” it’s all like a dagger through a young gay or lesbian teenager. And it’s not just the “sissies” it’s often the football jock, the cheerleader, the debate team captain – believe me if a young gay or lesbian can pass, they probably will do so at all costs, and at great cost to their own self-esteem and self-worth.

But just think what this says about our society, what barbarians we are that we as a society are somehow “okay” with the bullying and name calling that drives young teenagers to kill themselves. That they just weren’t tough enough, not emotionally stable enough to handle it, were just too weak, too fragile. That they just couldn’t muster or man up to the challenge.

This is an outrage, and the rabid leadership of the religious right should be looking long and hard at hateful attacks on the “day of silence” to bring attention to this very topic in schools. They should be looking long and hard at their actions and what they’re teaching their children. They need to look long and hard at the demonizing and vilification of gays and lesbians. That they’re not destroying their own children. That religious groups can sit idly by and help promote this atmosphere, can help build the hostile environment in which this takes place – is beyond the pale.

Please parents, if you think your kid may be dealing with these issues, dealing with these problems at school – get help – all of you.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Myth of White Male Privilege

When the universe keeps repeatedly hitting me on top of the head with a topic from several sources along the lines of “White Male Privilege – The Problem with the World Today” I finally have to take the hint and realize it’s something I need to write about. That also means it’s something I have to give thought to, mull over, weigh, and form a real opinion on. First a bit of disclosure – yes, I am a white male. Secondly, a bit of qualification – I am a white gay male. Did you feel the shift in your thinking there between those statements? I am at once part of the problem, I’m a conspirator in this evil white male oligarchy and in the next breath I’m an outcast, a pariah, another victim – we live in a complicated society. I will freely admit though that in the hierarchy of who gets the raw deal, I’m better off than most. I absolutely concur that if someone sees me standing next to an equally intelligent, thoughtful, personable, black feminist lesbian with an accent – yeah I’m going to get the job, they’re going to trust me more, they’re going to value my opinion more. I get that.

First let me put out a thought and let’s use politics as a metaphor – regime change is not the solution, it wasn’t in Iraq, it’s not true in most cases, it’s not the case here for changing society. That’s not to say that the people running things aren’t total assholes, haven’t totally messed things up, don’t deserve to get their butts kicked, but changing one group’s rule for another just invites a changing of faces with no real change in the business model. If you could wave a magic wand and suddenly women, or blacks, or Latinos would suddenly be running things and making the rules, you’d quickly have the same problems, the same abuses, the same outcries, just the faces would be different. This is as far though as many people have seen this problem through though. They’d be perfectly happy seeing different faces in the same system. There are plenty of countries where other groups run their society and all they tend to prove, is that the world gives us all an equal opportunity to screw things up. Let’s think bigger than that.

Nation building is the way to go, building an inclusive, solid society that looks beyond tribalism and privilege. We need to look hard at the institutions that maintain these, but actually we need to look hardest at ourselves. We’re all, ALL, part of the problem. We are all hardwired from an early age to buy into certain concepts, certain ways of thinking, based solely on what we are. In some ways subtle, sometimes not, the world is full of lessons for all of us, full of indoctrinations and programming. As human beings we inherently always seek to learn how things work, what the system is, what the rules are, we’re constantly, judging, evaluating, weighing – it’s just how things work. Here I must remind everyone of my unique status, as a white male I’ve been sold this same package of goods and hardwired to believe it in a thousand different ways, as a gay white male, I’ve had to question, evaluate, and rewrite all the rules I had once bought wholesale and with little doubt of their validity. Sometimes living in two worlds has its advantages, here it’s being able to see a bit of both worlds and trying to reconcile the differences.

One common theme that keeps coming up that raises my hackles every time – is this concept that somehow white males need to relinquish their power, as if the power we each hold in our society is something physical, like a scepter that we hold in our hands, that we can literally hand-off to someone. It’s not that simple. Believe me most white males today if you walked up to them and told them that well you know all this massive power they hold as a white male, just won’t do, that they’re too powerful, too strong, too privileged, that they need to spread the wealth around a bit – they’d be clueless, they’d be asking “excuse me? Just what power and tell me where I can get some of this stuff.” Remember power is relative, most white guys feel they’re doing all they can to make it, put food on their table for their family, struggling to be heard, and make a place for themselves – stuff we all worry about. So let’s be specific about who the bad guys are here, not every white male is the enemy, in fact most aren’t, I will grant you though most are part of the problem as unwitting pawns.

Let’s not underestimate the power of those with real power and influence to get huge chunks of society to do their dirty work for them and even get the average working Joe to work against even his own best interests. That’s what all the labeling has been about lately with “socialists,” and “True Americans”, it’s what’s been driving so much of this recent action with the tea parties. You have all these middle class people fighting to keep taxes from being raised on the wealthy. You have outrage that our black president may have bowed to a foreigner, that he’s all about turning us into a bunch of whiney Europeans. Average Joes are terrified that they’re going to lose their American dream, when, I hate to break it to them, they never had a shot at. Okay – right there, that last sentence – I know I just lost most of my white male audience, for I’ve dared to speak a truth they don’t want to face. Their power to improve and change their lives is limited and mostly out of their control. The American dream they’ve been sold on, is for them, mostly unattainable with the current system. The crap about working hard, being a good citizen – basically translates into please work for as little as possible, buy everything you can, and keep your mouth shut. I’d ask most of my other readers to give them a bit of a break for the truth is – they’ve been played.

So then who are the bad guys in this battle. Is it one of these mythic shadow groups, that secretly pull the strings and truly run everything – mmmm, probably not. Is it an oligarchy of big business and privileged families that have an inherent interest in status quo – more likely. Most are probably convinced they’re working for stability, a greater common good, and the American Way. Well, that’s easy for them to say. Oh, and I’ll whole heartedly agree that they’re predominately (99.9%) white, and that part of the status quo and their greater common good involves keeping it that way. However, that’s not any great master plan other than keeping their own asses in power.

So what to do? First I’d ask the long list of power-deprived lesbians, blacks, latinos, gays, etc., etc., etc., Please to just give these guys a break. Have some pity. They’re not your enemy but they are a big part of the problem. They could be your greatest ally. The average Joe (even Joe the Plumber) has much more in common with any of you, than they do the power elite that’s pulling the strings. Win over even a small fraction of these guys and you’d have the votes in our democratic society to make some serous societal change. We all benefit for a better society. We need to remind these guys that they’re losing in a game that’s been fixed. That sometimes the solution, contrary to everything they’ve been told, is to take their ball home and stop playing. If you keep coming up on the short end of the stick, don’t just change the rules of the game, change the damn game. Mainly, just to think, think hard, be open, really examine all the things they’ve taken for granted. Also, to remind them that a good starting point is to start a conversation with all these people they’ve been told they’re not supposed to like, cause they’re not supposed to be like them. This is their great potential for strength as well.

We need to build a nation that can get beyond this intense tribalism that our system here in the United States has fostered, has built between sexes, races, genders. We have to make valuing diversity non-threatening, make it a true American value, not just give it lip service. We have to win over hearts one at a time, do a lot of work in the trenches. We all have to listen and we all have to talk – all of us. We have to risk sounding ignorant, and stupid and bigoted, and shallow, and extreme. We have to let go of egos and preconceptions, suspend the rules. Every white guy isn’t a redneck. We all have to acknowledge and feel our inner bigots, and racists, and classists, and sexists and work though it – on all sides. Let’s not pretend that any of us are pure or untainted in this fight.

In conclusion though, the myth of white male privilege is that it’s somehow a product of exclusion, involving smoky rooms and side deals. That all the white guys in the world get together in secret meetings and decide how they’re going to stay in power – they don’t. Most white guys are as clueless as the rest of us. If anything they just need to wake up, realize that change is a win-win proposition, and to not believe the hype they’re fed. Remember that in the grand scheme of history this whole business of wide-spread immigration, mass communication, all sorts of people living altogether everywhere is relatively new. Look how just in the past decades we’ve gone from warring nations, to nations so intertwined we can’t really afford to go to war. It’s increasingly that way with societies too, and it should be, societies and cultural groups fighting with each other and vying for power becoming societies and cultural groups so intertwined so sharing in common interests – that we can no longer afford a culture war.