How to Bring People Together?

By Robert Bernstein   |   September 10, 2020

It is a common perception today that our country is divided. Some even suggest we are on the verge of civil war. Is there a way that we can bring our country together?

One common suggestion is to have leaders who are “moderate” to be in line with the views of the widest range of citizens. In an earlier article, “What is Normal?”, I explained the fallacy of this type of thinking. What is “moderate” or “normal” can change very quickly and then can remain unquestioned for decades.

Another problem with this strategy is that it is not very inspiring. Whether we are talking about a corporation, an individual, or a nation, it is important to have some sort of mission statement.

While my family heritage is Jewish, I was brought up without any actual belief in or reverence for a sky god or other particulars of that religion or any other religion. Five years ago my wife and I were in the Holy Land and we enjoyed the immersion in a place with a long history. But each guide that we hired wisely told us the same thing: “In the Holy Land, stories are more important than facts.” Much of the “history” consists of good stories rather than historical truths.

However, I was brought up with a reverence for truth and understanding. My father was an English major who went on to be a pioneering research biologist. I understood the value of many varieties of truth and understanding. But science always had the strongest draw for me.

Although I loved biology and started out headed for that career, I realized I really wanted answers to the most fundamental questions of reality. And it seemed that physics was the path to that understanding. Which led me to another quest for a Holy Land: The European Laboratory for Particle Physics, which in French is the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, or CERN.

In 2010 I was traveling in Europe for a month and I was eager to visit the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. A Swiss physicist friend explained the logistics of going there to visit the largest machine ever built by human beings. This was the machine that was going to find the so-called “God Particle” or Higgs Boson. (The name God Particle was a joke. The story goes that Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman referred to the Higgs as the “Goddamn Particle.” The nickname was meant to poke fun at how difficult it was to detect the particle.)

While I waited for my tour of the Large Hadron Collider I was invited to visit the CERN museum and I was glad that I did so. I had always assumed that the primary purpose of CERN was to be an international research center for cutting edge particle physics. But that was actually its secondary purpose. I took a photo of the explanation and here is what it said:“Science and peace.”

In the aftermath of World War II, Europe was on its knees. International cooperation emerged as a major instrument of social reconstruction. The United Nations Organization and UNESCO were both founded in 1945, their common aim being to foster peace between nations, in the latter case through the promotion of education, science, culture, and communication. Physics and fundamental research could contribute to this endeavor through their intrinsic neutrality, consistent need for objectivity, and their ability to stimulate thought and bring people together in a common purpose.

It was in this spirit of bringing peoples together in the pursuit of peace and human progress that CERN was founded. These visionary scientists realized that “peace” could not be maintained just through an absence of war. To have a truly sustainable peace it was necessary to have a shared common purpose. Achieved through ongoing collaboration and cooperation.

If we want to bring people together in our country, perhaps this is what we need to do? To have a shared purpose that everyone can feel they are a part of?

For much of human history about the only way this was achieved was when a country went to war. Everyone was unified around beating the “other side.” It is sometimes joked that we need to have space invaders from another planet to bring our entire world together.

But the Space Race of the 1950s-1970s showed how we could come together for something more positive. Much technology that we use today, including solar panels, came from that massive shared project.

What is your idea of a massive shared project that could bring people together today?


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