Photo of A Bridge in Pittsburgh. Image Credit Jason Pischke on Unsplash

Just Look To The "City of Bridges" (Pittsburgh, PA) For Inspiration

I grew up in what is often referred to as the "City of Bridges" because there are 446 bridges within the city limits. In fact, it has more bridges than any other city in the world. You know why Pittsburgh has so many bridges? So people can get together without having to swim across one of the three significant rivers that divide up the territory. 

Today, our country is like Pittsburgh was before the bridges were all built; groups of people were separated from each other then and somewhat isolated, each in their own corner convinced their own area or group is the one and only best. In Pittsburgh, it became obvious to waves and waves of settlers and immigrants that each group would have to get together with people from the other side to prosper.

You see, people who manufactured things needed to cross the river to sell more. Often, consumers had to cross the river to buy what they wanted. Or, some relatives moved across the river and everybody in the family had to cross a river to see each other. And that old, wooden, rickety ferry just wasn't getting it done.

I Propose We All Consider "Crossing The River"

Forget, for just a minute, that there are states, cities or people labelled as "red" or "blue." Forget how much you admire President Trump and dislike Joe Biden. Or maybe it's the other way around for you. Whatever.

After the 2020 election, we're still going to need to work together to get as many people under some kind of health coverage umbrella to have a healthier nation. We're still going to have together to cut overall healthcare costs and, in particular, prescription drug costs. If your family can't afford healthcare or medicine, does it really matter who wins the presidency? We're all going to have to cross the river now and then to get this done.

Our current president, in an interview, admitted that, "Yes, a lot of people died. It is what it is." Maybe he's a student of Stalin who was quoted as saying, "One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic." If our fellow citizens don't have good health or the means and manner to improve their health status, does anything else really matter?

What about money? As reported in the Observer, "Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, for example, has seen his fortune grow a whopping $70 billion in the first six months of 2020, thanks to Amazon’s booming e-commerce business during the nationwide lockdown." While millions of Americans contracted a potentially lethal disease and couldn't buy toilet paper in the local supermarket, Bezos increased his net worth - based largely on a rising stock market - by an average of 11.66 Billion every month in the first half of this year.

All while a nurse in your local hospital or a teacher in your local school can barely afford necessary living expenses. Is this the kind of financial equity that will propel America once again to the top of the world's economies? I don't think so..

I Don't Want Your Guns And I Don't Want To Get Shot On The Way To Buy My Ammunition

There can be no rational argument that says my next store neighbor has to have two dozen AR-15s, 5,000 rounds of ammunition in old coffee cans in the basement and a stockpile of 100 magazines that each hold 100 rounds. Or that he needs a tank.

I don't believe my local cop shop needs a tank, either.

I've owned guns most of my life and have been qualified for a concealed carry license in four different states, so don't even go there on me.

While we're on the subject of gun deaths and violence, I don't believe our country will prosper if vigilantism is encouraged so that some whack job assassinates law enforcement officers in their vehicles (the Explorers, not the tanks). We need law enforcement to truly "protect and serve" all citizens equally, fairly and compassionately. But, we do need something for public safety, right?

The USA will not prosper if we allow law enforcement to continuously denigrate, humiliate and kill certain groups of Americans. Really, is it OK for cops to kill a man on purpose in broad daylight (on video!) by slowly suffocating him with a knee on his neck? Will we move forward together in health, wealth and prosperity as a country if police officers are allowed to "jump" and murder a young Black man who is just walking down the sidewalk doing nothing illegal (Elijah McCain)?

If it continues, there will be - rightfully so - war in the streets.

Back To Bridges

What brought this to the forefront of my mind was an article about morality. In 2012, Oliver Scott Curry was an anthropology lecturer at the University of Oxford. One day, he organized a debate among his students about whether morality was innate or acquired. Seems that nobody really knew.

In 2019, Curry, now a senior researcher at Oxford’s Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, can offer up an answer to the seemingly monumental question of what morality is and how it does—or doesn’t—vary around the world. Spoiler: Mostly, it doesn't vary.

"Morality, he says, is meant to promote cooperation. “People everywhere face a similar set of social problems, and use a similar set of moral rules to solve them,” he says as lead author of a paper recently published in Current Anthropology. “Everyone everywhere shares a common moral code. All agree that cooperating, promoting the common good, is the right thing to do.”

The team found that these seven cooperative behaviors were considered morally good in 99.9% of cases across cultures. Curry is careful to note that people around the world differ hugely in how they prioritize different cooperative behaviors. But he said the evidence was overwhelming in widespread adherence to those moral values.For his study, Curry’s group studied ethnographic accounts of ethics from 60 societies, across over 600 sources. The similarity of values revolving around morality in all these societies is nothing short of jaw-dropping amazing.

The Seven Moral Rules

These are the seven moral rules Professor Curry and his team found across virtually all societies on the face of this earth.

  1. Help your family,
  2. Help your group,
  3. Return favors,
  4. Be brave,
  5. Defer to superiors,
  6. Divide resources, and
  7. Respect others’ property.

"The team found that these seven cooperative behaviors were considered morally good in 99.9% of cases across cultures. Curry is careful to note that people around the world differ hugely in how they prioritize different cooperative behaviors. But he said the evidence was overwhelming in widespread adherence to those moral values."

It seems to me that #2 presents us with an enormous opportunity if we can agree that our "group" is Americans. I left Pittsburgh long ago and now reside in the western part of the US. Does it help our country if I believe my "group" consists of Coloradans? Should I be relieved that California is on fire almost everywhere and we're not? No. Guess what? The smoke from California fires is polluting the air all over my state. We can no longer consider ourselves, our cities, or our states as islands. It's all connected.

Number 4 also has many interesting possibilities. Be brave. One philosophy that could come out of this point would be to speak truth to power. That requires bravery, don't you think? How about the strength to "cross the river" to meet people on the other side who are different than we are? There's bravery there.

I'd also say that it's a brave soul who can protest against power and maintain a posture of nonviolence. John Lewis (the celebrated, long-time civil rights icon) maintained a brave posture of nonviolence even when state troopers in Alabama almost clubbed him to death. We're all lucky he wasn't killed on that day. 

If we divided resources in a more equitable way, would Bezos really be in line for an increased net worth of 11.66 billion every month while hundreds of thousands of his fellow citizens died by Covid-19 often due to a lack of resources? 

Dr. Curry's morality list opens up a world of possibilities for all of us to move forward.

Final Thoughts

I do feel like a bit of caution would be advisable here. Ben Franklin's words in 1787 come to mind. Franklin was walking out of Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention when someone shouted out, “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” To which Franklin supposedly responded, with a rejoinder at once witty and ominous: “A republic, if you can keep it.” It feels right now that keeping our republic will take a lot of strength and bravery from a lot of people.

The other caution is from Dr. Curry himself. “Humans are a very tribal species,” Curry says. “We are quick to divide into us and them.” Tribalism. It will divide us and cause us to lose our republic. So, what do we do now?

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