“Another plan I have is ‘World Peace through Formal Introductions.’ The idea is that everyone in the world would be required to meet everyone else in the world, formally, at least once. You’d have to look the person in the eye, shake hands, repeat their name, and try to remember one outstanding physical characteristic. My theory is, if you knew everyone in the world personally, you’d be less inclined to fight them in a war: ‘Who? The Malaysians? Are you kidding? I know those people!'”
– George Carlin
Events of recent days have me thinking back to the “Know-Nothings.” Formally the “American Party,” the “Know-Nothing Movement” was a short-lived, but influential, anti-immigrant organization in the 1850s. Its focus of extreme nativism centered on Catholics, particularly the large number of Irish escaping the potato famine in the 1840s. Know Nothings favored preventing immigrants from voting and a 21-year residency requirement for U.S. citizenship.
Yeah, you might see some parallels to November 2016.
One less initially obvious parallel is the the idea behind “know-nothing” itself. Members were supposed to keep everything about the fledgling party secret, responding “I know nothing,” when asked about it. Of course, the moniker was and still serves as a bit of a historical “double entendre.” For returning to George Carlin’s idea above, what was true about humans in 1850 is just as true in 2016:
The less I know about something, the easier it is for me to have grandiose and categorical opinions about it.
The Know-Nothings of 1850 would have loved the Internet, for perhaps never in human history has it been both easier and more “productive” to be ill-informed. As the ‘Net exploded through the 1990s, one of its most alluring features was that it was going to bring the world together. Obviously, just the opposite has happened. We know less about anybody who disagrees with us, even those just down the street, than maybe ever.
We’ve all retreated to the safety of “our” bubble, a series of preferences toward isolation that include limitation on which Facebook “friends” we have, which online news sources we read and so on. We have “our” stuff, to use another famous Carlin reference, and all the other stuff is “theirs.”
And that gets me to cars and pedestrians.
The automobile provides us with maybe the greatest “our bubble” in history, even better than the Internet. It’s a literal, transportable bubble that we escape into, one that provides a level of perceived safety rivaling the womb. In addition to this isolation (falling carpool rates furthering this even more), we also have “our shared” experience of being drivers. We “all” drive, or damn close enough to it. Only “they” don’t drive. Moreover, something must be wrong with “them,” if “they” don’t drive.
And we don’t wanna know nothing about “them.”
Into this mixture of reality and automotive nativism, a person was killed walking across, I believe, Cesar Chavez at/near University while a basketball game was letting out at The Pit. I say “I believe,” because the number of available facts about the incident are extremely low. This is typical with regard to reports on pedestrian fatalities. It’s remarkable, in fact, that the name of the victim in this case has been reported and that he was in his 70s, and “is believed to be a fan at the basketball game.”
Note what these simple facts do to our perception of this incident. More powerfully, the reason we probably know these small facts in this case is that, unlike most pedestrian fatalities, hundreds, if not thousands, of “regular people” witnessed the death scene. They “shook hands” visually with what a pedestrian fatality really is. They, to use Carlin’s phrase, were “formally introduced” to the recent spike in such incidents both nationwide and throughout New Mexico.
What power, understanding and action might be unleashed if we truly “shook hands” with issues, and others, instead of isolating ourselves in the comfortable world of “us”? How many wars against the myriad “them” might we stop and avoid? Below is a table showing New Mexico traffic fatalities through October 2016, including what a bit of research shows to be the single highest monthly total of pedestrian deaths since at least 1995, fourteen, just last month.
Let’s remember what many of us saw Monday night. Let’s also stop “knowing nothing” and try to find out at least a little more about the fourteen in October, the 66 so far in 2016, and the others sure to come.