By Nathan Kern CC BY-SA Wikimedia Commons

By Nathan Kern CC BY-SA Wikimedia Commons

Lumpers lump things together and call them the same. Splitters make a point of differentiating things. So while a lumper might say “All women are alike,” a splitter would go to great lengths showing how women are all different, and in fact might get into things like height, weight, personality, ancestry and so on until you get bored and start thinking about something else.

Lumpers love stereotypes, because it goes right along with their “all things are alike” point of view. You say “Republican,” and liberal lumpers see “white supremacist” or some kid in a MAGA hat who “hates poor people and is a closet fascist.” Conservative lumpers hear “Republican” and they see themselves and their friends – hard-working, religious, gun-loving but law-abiding good people fighting to keep the country true to the Constitution in the face of the comrades and commissars.

A Christian baker does not believe in same-sex marriage and won’t bake a same-sex wedding cake. Lumpers call him a homophobe a bigot, an oppressor. Splitters might look closer and see a devout baker following the dictates of his faith, and a same-sex couple wishing to formalize their relationship, in a state where it is legal, being refused and humiliated. One set of rights against another, with no winners, no matter what the Supreme Court rules.

Religions are not the same, even within denominations. The United Methodist Church, for example, is in the process of splitting over acceptance of LGBT members and ministers. The split has been postponed because of the COVID pandemic, but so far the split has been amicable, each side trying to respect the other.

Unfortunately, it seems to me Americans have become less tolerant of each other, and to that extent, the lumpers rule. Black lives do matter to nearly everyone, but then late at night looters and rioters take over a BLM march. I watch the protests on television in Portland, Ore., in Wisconsin, and elsewhere and I see lots of different people reacting differently. Some are throwing rocks and screaming. Others are watching or walking along waving signs, a few recently have put out fires and tried to keep things non-violent. There’s a difference between people who protest injustice, wave signs, shout and make a point about police shootings of black individuals, and people who smash windows, throw urine and loot stores. I see differences, so I guess I’m a splitter at heart.

And police are different as well. I was stopped one time by a Georgia State Patrol officer. I was just passing through, had out of state plates, but I did have the thought that if I were black, I might still be in some Georgia jail. I’m not saying all Georgia Highway Patrol officers are looking for trouble, but that one officer most certainly was. On the other hand, I have several friends who are officers and I know how difficult it is for them when they have to do things like pull dead children out of wrecked cars.

The way I see it, lumpers see holograms – unreal pictures spun out of thin air. Recently one of my daughters told me she thought Marx had some great ideas. I thought she was talking about Groucho, but she was referring to Karl the founder of communism who was not very funny.

My old Marxist hologram blazed forth, and I launched into how Marxists penalize the productive and reward the unproductive and all Communist countries either fail like Cuba or North Korea or the USSR, or they put in Capitalist incentives like China. But when my daughter and I backed off and actually began communicating, we discovered that as individuals we still loved each other, and took a look at what we were saying.

I told her I admired Bernie Sanders for his clarity of vision and persistence, but disliked his leftist political and economic positions. She dislikes what she calls “organized religion,” but was willing to look at the positive effects of my faith.

It’s very easy to shout and rant about some group or ideology, but it is much different speaking directly to an individual who belongs to that group or espouses that ideology. The lumper view falls away, an individual stands before you, with a history, with decisions they have made for various reasons that you might have made yourself were you to have similar experiences. And for that individual at least, you become a splitter. “Well, I don’t like the gay political agenda,” one finds himself saying, “but James is a good guy,” and to that extent the lumper hologram is less distinct, less certain, more nuanced.

James thinks to himself “Sam is white and straight and middle class, but he has some good qualities, and he brought me some food when I got sick, so he’s OK.” What was once a stereotype comes into focus as an individual. It doesn’t mean that person will become your best friend, but getting rid of the stereotype is a relief, like putting on glasses and seeing the differences between things.

Often, media (both mass and social) highlight the outrage, the trolls, the conflicts because it attracts viewers like manure attracts flies. Media tries to pack us into lumper mode. Even political parties are lumpers. Michelle Obama made a lumper speech on the first night of this year’s Democratic National Convention when she said: “This is not the time to withhold our votes in protest or play games with candidates who have no chance of winning.” But what is a voter to do who likes neither Trump/Pence nor Biden/Harris?

Michelle Obama is not a bad person, but she’s wrong on this one. How many people really vote for the candidate that they think would be best for the office? How many vote for the lesser of two evils? How many don’t vote at all because they don’t like either candidate that “has a chance of winning”? They are forced to vote for one of only two parties or their vote is “thrown away.”

Lumpers see a black man walking down the street and instead of seeing what’s there in front of their eyes, they see a criminal, a hood, a gang member. They see a Sikh with a beard and turban and think they see – of all the stupidity – a Muslim terrorist. They see a MAGA hat and immediately bridle at the “alt right bigot.”

Some religious groups have embraced Black Lives Matter (BLM) as a spiritual group of individuals forcing the rest of us to face the reality of racial injustice. Others – perhaps hearing BLM founder Patrisse Cullors describe herself and co-founder Alicia Garza as “trained Marxists,” – think BLM is a radical anti-religious group trying to tear American society to pieces. Neither of these are completely true or completely false, because no two individuals are ever the same, and even though joining a group selects out a narrower range of beliefs, most have a wide range of reasons for joining.

I think if we raise the level of discourse a bit, some of the recent nastiness might turn into actual communication. There may always be extremists on both ends of the political spectrum, but the vast majority of people are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum and so if that majority will step back from confrontation to tolerance or even respect for one another, we can get through this difficult time – of racial unrest, political clashes, COVID-19, wildfires and economic distress – with some measure of maturity and grace.