Hating ourselves into paralysis

People gather outside of Tops market on May 15, 2022 in Buffalo, New York after a gunman motivated by racial hatred opened fire at the store, killing ten people and wounding another three. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

Robert Frost is on to something. His poem “Fire and Ice,” from which I’ve culled the lines above, contemplates the end of the world by ice: hatred. But how about a nation? Especially one whose self-proclaimed narrative includes cooperation, collaboration, compassion and plain decency? Can a nation’s citizens hate one another into a civic, social and political paralysis, impaired and indistinguishable by its own acrid juices … the bitter brew of enmity?

Will we work to keep ourselves safe from war or terrorist attack or natural calamity, but succumb to hate? Will we skip pestilence, plague or contagions still only a nightmare under the microscopes of epidemiologists or in the minds of science fiction writers because we simply refuse to stand one another?

Maybe we already have.

Please excuse my negativity in this season of light, but I’ve grown weary of dinners with Nazis, of simple disagreements erupting into threats of violence, of cancel culture and gunfire, of civic discourse a causality of lying liars and the general malaise of menacing.

Case in point is the recent rise in antisemitism, a staple among haters. According to the Anti-Defamation League, “attacks against Jewish institutions, including Jewish community centers and synagogues, were up by 61 percent in 2021, incidents at K-12 schools increased 106 percent, and incidents on college campuses rose 21 percent.” The White House held a meeting of Jewish leaders earlier this month in an attempt to address the growth in antisemitism — expressed both as hate speech and in violent acts.

More numbers tell a similar story. According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State-San Bernardino, in 15 major U.S. cities incidents of hate-fueled crimes went up slightly. I suppose that would be good news if in the same cities the number hadn’t climbed 30% in the last two years. Brian Levin, the center’s director, said anything but a dramatic decrease needs perspective. “If you’re flat [compared with] the highest year in 20 years, you’re still bad. Any way you slice it, there’s a lot of meanness in the pie.” And a lot of ice, too. Read more

Hit me with your best shot of science

Researchers work in Monoclonal Antibody Discovery Lab at TLS Foundation in Siena, Italy. (Gianluca Panella/Getty Images)

The recent photographs from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope mesmerized millions of Earth-bound mortals, myself included. On display was both the spectacular beauty of deep space and the power and creativity of science.

Shortly after those photos arrived on our timelines did we learn of the uptick in cases of polio in the U.S. On display was an ongoing and by most reports growing skepticism of science.

Framing this dichotomy for me was several weeks in COVID isolation, wondering where my mild to moderate symptoms were going.

Unlike the cold or flu or any respiratory ailment, the coronavirus can play with your mind. A sniffling, sneezing summer cold or a flu bug from hell can make you feel as if you may die. With COVID … well … you know the end of that story. With nearly a million Americans lost to COVID, the deadly degree of separation is small.

On the other side of COVID, I’m left with a singular feeling: gratitude … for the healing power of science, because vaccines and boosters and antiviral medication kept me out of the hospital or worse.

Science, now in the crosshairs from Facebook University Ph.D.s in epidemiology and other online experts, has saved me for over seven decades. This newfound repudiation of lifesaving and life-enhancing has, dangerously, diminished the role and importance of science in many American lives, however. Read more