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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 2/24/21

Good morning! There is much talk these days of the need for our country to “unify” and attempts to bring people together in conversations to share their views in a constructive and sensitive manner. A number of organizations struggle with how they can “convene” conversations among disparate political views in a meaningful, constructive and respectful way. Ron Cappello sent me the description of one such project, the “Vanderbilt Project,” which states on its website: “As America wrestled with the unfolding and growing turmoil of the 1960s, President John F. Kennedy, speaking at Vanderbilt University in 1963, observed “In a time of tension it is more important than ever to unite this country … so that all of our people will be one.” Important words then—and now.” The site goes on to describe trying to break through the angry world of tweets and fighting and try to develop quality discourse. And it proceeds to advertise some of the speakers in their series. These are all great thinkers, politicians, intellectuals, and pundits. But they’re the same crew I listen to on NPR, at the Aspen Ideas Festival or in the New York Times. These conversations are occurring amongst the liberal elites and do not often tread into the areas of far-right thinking or populism (of the right or the left). I honestly fear that we are just talking to each other, rather than engaging others… IF WE MET AN ALIEN CIVILIZATION, HOW WOULD WE COMMUNICATE? It is a common trope of science fiction moviemaking that mankind has to figure out how to communicate with other civilizations. In Close Encounters of the Third Kind, they did so through the purity of music. In ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, communication was in the form of emotion. In Arrival, communication is more complex but connected to memory. Books by Heinlein, Pohl, Asimov, Niven and others tackled the question of “first contact” in a variety of novel ways. There is, of course, the Star Trek movie, First Contact (one of the better in the series): In each of these stories, the humans and the aliens they encounter exist in a universe that shares scientific facts. And while there are exceptions, where aliens are of ill intent (Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Alien), more typically they seek common ground with humans through shared goals and values (shared “humanity”?). When we sent Voyager I and II out into space to ultimately leave the solar system, we sent information on golden discs that speak to an unknown civilization. It includes a dense amount of data that is based entirely on facts. It contains detailed information on music and art, to share what we have created and love. What it doesn’t contain is conjecture, rumor, conspiracy theory, even religion and belief. Just facts. If we think about how we approach each other, as if we were alien civilizations, how would we choose to present ourselves? In the end, in order for any conversation to begin one requires common facts, common vernacular. Whether it is the rising musical notes from Close Encounters or communication of facts through Voyager or even communications of love in Arrival, there must be a common entry point to the communication. And there has to be a desire to understand one another. Today Americans increasingly seem to exist in two different civilizations. The only way we will be capable of speaking with each other is if we can agree on a common baseline of facts. After accepting certain basic facts, we then can attempt to understand the values that drive the others to adopt the positions they maintain. Only then can we seek to reconcile different value systems—but first come facts. HOW DO WE START COMMUNICATING? Start with the basics… We can’t just keep on lamenting that we are so polarized. We have to start considering how positions that may seem polar opposites still possess some shared facts and even shared goals. Before meaningful dialog must first come a mutual acknowledgement of shared humanity and an acceptance that the other side is acting in good faith. Then, there needs to be a list of facts that are agreed upon before any conversation about differences. These facts could include:

  • The election results were real. It's been proven six ways from Tuesday. Enough.

  • 9/11 and school shootings were not “set ups” or hoaxes or false flag operations

  • Jews don’t have space lasers; there is no pedophile ring; George Soros isn’t manipulating history; men landed on the moon (the point is that there is no “grand conspiracy”)

  • America is a great experiment with a great history and a troubled history (and these two thoughts can be held in a single mind simultaneously, without diminishing either thought)

  • Neither power nor wealth is evenly distributed in our society (or any society) and society bears some responsibility for these inequities

  • Regardless of one's position, past, or possessions, all people bear at least some responsibility for the decisions they make.

We need to take a careful look not only on the words being uttered by those with whom we disagree, but the possible motivations for those words and the failings of our society (and educational system and media?) that may cause them to hold beliefs--even absurd ones.

All this being said, we must first operate from a position that disagreements are held in good faith and that facts are facts. We cannot base our debates to be grounded on what we want to believe--but on what actually "is."


There is a great Twitter site that finds unintentional haikus in The New York Times. I’m sure most of us did some haiku creation in school way back. As you may recall, it’s a 5-7-5 structure of syllables. It was the most approachable and reproduceable of poetic forms. Apparently, a software algorithm has been created to search these out from random phrases contained in news articles. Here are a few fun ones:

As dawn broke we warmed

Strawberry Pop Tarts over

The dying embers.

Stop the machine and

Scrape down the sides of the bowl

With a spatula.

As the day progressed

We moved across the mountain

Like a herd of goats.

But, as we all know,

That isn’t always helpful

In a modern world.

She was talking on

The phone to a friend when she

Started to feel tired.

In his spare time, he

Likes to sit on his couch and

Stare out the window.

Warm regards, Glenn

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