The Danger in a small circle of friends

The Homer tribal wars of 2017 that began with the political ineptness of a city council and then became fully inflamed by the baser instincts of people who are quicker to judge than to forgive was an appropriate time for examining the real meaning and implications of diversity.

It is not surprising that people tend to hang with others who share similar sentiments about many things in life. As a result, you grow to expect a certain amount of commonality about the direction society and government should evolve. It is part of the classic definition of a tribe, and tribes generally have a self-limited view of tolerable diversity. It helps them survive while gaining the benefits of some level of experimentation and imported novelty.

This is all fine until you actually meet up with another tribe. They often don’t think like you at all, and they certainly have their own ideas about what constitutes tolerable diversity. It can go downhill fast when you start telling them how to think.

Homer is far from unique in having very sharp social, political and religious divisions, but it is sophisticated enough to generally avoid turning minor friction into flames. What is surprising to me after 40 plus years in this town is how blind people are to how deep those philosophical divisions are amongst good people, and what an incredible truce we have developed to live side-by-side in such a naturally beautiful place.

A recent editorial in the Homer News mentioned the need for city council candidates. It also mentioned the job was made more difficult because the 2017 council recall effort “divided” the town so badly. I don’t think so. This town was not only divided before this happened, it was fractured into many subsections and has been for 50 years. If we don’t know this, and what it implies for governing and social harmony, how can we be so smug as to think our own personal views of diversity and inclusion are the only ones that “civilized” people should have?

The conservative viewpoint — which has been hijacked and distorted beyond belief — was originally an attitude towards governing that recognized the dangers of imposing new laws onto groups of people whose lives and thinking were quite different. The liberal viewpoint — which has also been distorted — was that personal liberty and new thinking was equally as important to legislate across a broad spectrum if we hope to evolve. Essentially, both of these viewpoints have been proven correct in various ways.

The great contribution of modern congressional democracy was to reconcile the conservative and liberal approaches by regulating the speed and direction of change in a pendulum-like fashion. The ability to do that in our own lives rests on our willingness to learn that our neighbors don’t think like us and they certainly aren’t interested in being told what to tolerate. That is very hard to do when you have a small circle of friends.

Mike Heimbuch is a life long Alaskan and former Homer City council member who plays jazz piano because country music is just too difficult.