/A nation of contradictions

A nation of contradictions

From Shaman’s Rock
By Jim Poling Sr.

I don’t get out much, spending most of my time among the birds and squirrels who dance in the woods surrounding my place.

So my recent trip to the U.S., the first in several years, was a voyage into reality. A genuine eye-opening educational experience.

The main lesson learned, or perhaps just confirmed, is that America is a country of confounding contradictions. So many things are the opposite of what they are believed to be.

Shortly after arrival I find myself at a Catholic church in Orinda, California. I walk in, take a seat and see that I am surrounded by two dozen or more nuns in habits. I haven’t seen a nun in habit in decades.

A priest appears with an incense thurible and begins incensing the altar. Then he walks through the church swinging the thurible and incensing the congregation. Later he takes another pass through the church sprinkling holy water with a whisk.

I haven’t seen any of this since I was a child. A church filled with praying people as a priest performs rituals not often witnessed today. It’s a trip back to the 1950s.

This is not the America I see on television and read about in newspapers and magazines. 

It is contrary to the gone crazy, violent America that likely will return an orange-haired misogynist buffoon to the presidency.  If not him, it could be a right-wing extremist who slags the legacies of Walt Disney. (I mean what kind of a person has bad things to say about good old Walt, rest his soul?)

After church I visit a bookstore in Oakland. It has thousands of books of all genres, used and new. It’s an incredible place where I could spend days soaking up the works of the world’s best writers.

The 2020 census reported there were 10,800 bookstores in the U.S. Their numbers, however, are declining, and so are the number of books that fill them.

PEN America, a writer’s organization promoting freedom of expression, reports that from July 2021 to June 2022 there were 2,532 book bannings in the U.S. affecting 1,648 separate titles.

A nation that loves bookstores, yet a nation that spends much time and effort banning books.

Wandering the streets of San Francisco I see dozens of interesting shops and eateries staffed by folks chatting in foreign languages mixed with English. 

Some Americans see these people as immigrants changing an America that needs no change. They want to choke off immigration to a country that had no immigration before 1492, then became a modern state and world power because of immigration.

There are many other contradictions here. 

The U.S. produces Nobel Prize scientists, but has more conspiracy theorists and science deniers than any other advanced nation.

It has some of the world’s best medical expertise and advanced medical facilities but people who can’t afford them get sick and die. The Commonwealth Fund, which promotes high-quality, equitable health care systems, reported in January that Americans have the worst health outcomes of any of the world’s high-income nations.

The greatest contradiction: 48 per cent of Americans see gun violence as a very big problem, while another 24 see it as a moderately big problem. So almost three-quarters of Americans see gun violence as a problem, but gun ownership and gun violence continue to increase with little efforts to control it.

These contradictions continue to exist because of widening divisions in the country’s politics. Pew Research Centre studies show that 77 per cent of Americans believe their country is more divided than it was just three years ago.

The political divide between the right and the left has become a chasm preventing bipartisan efforts to fix the country’s serious problems. The political divide now is not only just over political issues. It has generated deeper divides in culture and character.

The contradictions seen in my visit leave me with the impression of an extremely disturbed country, whose troubles could have a major impact on the rest of the world.

Americans have pulled off many comebacks from adversities. Hopefully they can pull off another. One that will restore the country as a nation of truly united states and people working together.