Mac Clayton: The Downswing

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The march to equality in America is replete with steps forward and a lot of steps backward, upswings and downswings. Mac Clayton argues we’re in desperate need of a new upswing.

After the Civil War, Reconstruction brought economic and political progress for former slaves, only to have both crushed by Southern white backlash. That same one step forward two steps back happened again when decades of racial progress in the first half of the 20th century came to a halt following the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The culprit, according to Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett in their book "The Upswing," was once again white backlash and a societal shift from communitarian values to selfishness.

When we pull together, we all prosper. When we don’t, the disadvantaged get left behind. The course we take depends on the threats we perceive. When they’re external, as in WW I and II, we put aside our differences to defeat the common enemy. If we see threats as internal, though, from those among us who are not like us, our instinct is to weed them out. One might call the last four years an attempt at a “great weeding out.”

The thing about weeds, is they’re persistent. Long term, it's hard to see how privileged gardeners can do much more than carve out botanical sanctuaries for themselves.

What they’re fighting is not weeds, but the diversity of our species, the very thing that enables us to survive plagues and pandemics, both viral and economic, that would wipe out a more homogeneous group.


We understand now that climate change is a threat, but it’s not the only one. If we don’t nurture the diverse members of our society who give us the strength of heterogeneity, then even before rising seas swallow Miami, an upheaval of the kind that inevitably follows egocentric reigns of monarchs and despots will scatter economic and political wreckage over the landscape like ruined huts and foundered boats after a tsunami.

With a Perspective, I’m Mac Clayton.

Mac Clayton lives on the Peninsula.