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  • Gregory Zeigler

Will We Ever Evolve, Part 2?

Pam Beason posed the titulary question last week. I'm going to tackle it again this week.

No doubt the eighteenth century satirist, Jonathan Swift, would argue no, we have not evolved. Especially were Swift to hear of the animal pelt-wearing insurrectionists whose compatriots spread their feces around the capital building recently. You may remember that among other unflattering parodies of his fellow man in Gulliver's Travels, Swift depicted human-like Yahoos slinging their feces from trees.



Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels


Daniel Lubetzky would surely argue yes, we can and we will. Here's a quote. (The emphasis is mine.) "For society at large, independent thinking and even avoiding partisan fanaticism can be antidotes to unruly tribalism in the future. Embracing the middle space characterized by critical thinking and nuance gives us a pathway for avoiding absolutist and hateful thinking that preys on societies from both the outside and within. While extremists are passionate, moderates overwhelmingly outnumber them. We can seize back the agenda for reason by recognizing our individual power and duty to stand up, particularly against the sort of violent extremism and domestic terrorism we witnessed in our nation's capital.*


I have to agree with Lubetzky and come down on the side of yes, we can evolve. Otherwise I might as well be writing cozy mysteries intended solely for entertaining my many fans and enriching myself. (There's a little bit of self-parody there you no doubt picked up on).


I read an article recently:

Donald Trump gave America a four-year civics lesson — the hard way.

Scott Martelle Los Angelos Times


It was sent to me by my older brother, Jake, along with what I consider to be a brilliant suggestion. But first, let's revisit a few brief time-tested assumptions. 1) Thomas Jefferson wrote that a well-informed electorate is a prerequisite to democracy. 2) Civics classes, universally required in the US until the 1960s, focus on "the theory, politics and the practical aspects of citizenship."** 3) Our citizens need to be able to think independently and critically enough to recognize a lie no matter how many times it is told to them.


Okay, Here is my brother Jake's proposal. That is that every fifteen-year-old intent on securing a driver's license be required to successfully complete a course in civics. That is a great idea! One I believe that could easily get traction. You can even draw parallels between the trust that the aspiring teen is asking of society in being allowed to drive, and what the teen must give back. I've yet to hear any anti-masker, Covid-hoaxers, or don't-tread-on-my rights types claim that being required to stop at red lights and stop signs is an infringement on their God-given right to drive straight to the convenience store without inconvenient delays. Let's hope that doesn't change.


Allow me to drop a name because I have so few too drop. Renowned Hollywood actor Richard Dreyfuss spent an entire weekend several years ago huddled up here in Jackson, Wyoming with a creative team of educator-writers of which I was a part. Dreyfuss was concerned that civics was no longer required in our schools and was intent on creating an online curriculum to correct that deficit. At the time, even as a retired educator, I confess I didn't entirely get it. Now I do.



Devil's Tower featured in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" Directed by Stephen Spielberg and starring Richard Dreyfuss.




Now as to my own work. Since retiring from the headship of an independent school, I have dedicated much of my time and considerable resources to three environmental mysteries also classified as cli-fi (climate fiction) novels.


The Straw That Broke tackles western water issues in a time of climate change driven drought. Some Say Fire looks at catastrophic forest fires in a time of climate change driven megadrought. Rare as Earth discusses the deleterious effects of our continued dependence on the extractive industry (such as fracking) rather than relying more on alternative and sustainable energy sources. All three of my novels are classic mystery/thrillers with the same protagonists, Jake Goddard and Susan Brand.


My goal as an author is to entertain and educate on the critical issues I listed above. I believe in education. Most of my family members over three generations have been educators and that includes my older brother, Jake who proposed education as a partial solution to the kind of extremism and whole-hearted embracing of misinformation we are sadly witnessing today.


Forgive a personal anecdote to prove the point. My father, also named Jake, was born into a large blue collar family of twelve children. Many of whom were racists. He emphatically was not. He was the only family member to go to high school and college. He was a gifted teacher. When asked why he was not bigoted like many of his family members, his answer was one word, "education."


The extremism in our country right now is a failure of our education system and can be cured through education which encourages independent and critical thinking. Yes, we can evolve—through education.





*Daniel Lubetzky writing online at Opinion at CNN. Lubetzky is the founder of the OneVoice Movement "for building bridges across lines of difference."


** Back in the Day: Return to civics classes may be crucial for American society.

Alonzo Kittrels Philadelphia Tribune 9/12/2020

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