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January 15, 2017

Humans need meaning.

It’s not enough to eat, sleep, procreate and lay in the sun.

For some reason we need connection. There has always been the ecstatic override of sex, but that sustains few (despite the Internet). Celebrity obsession, video gaming, binge watching are not connection, they, like almost all things Internet, are distraction.

But it used to be easier. We had more answers because we had less understanding of what we did not know. When ignorance was as overwhelming as the Internet is now humans needed that extra edge beyond existence to understanding. Of course religion was the cheat sheet to what meant what but not knowing also drove science. Connecting to a Great Truth seems as necessary as the eat/sleep/sex baseline.

Connection can simply be transferred to identity: a great family can be something to live up to. No matter the country, being a patriot can offer an entire set of values and beliefs. When patriotism becomes partisan, politics animates identity to the point where Red and Blue are obsessional. But this particular season has a radicalized connection that has spiraled into recrimination and hate beyond most.

The radicalization is not just about Leader Trump or Obamacare or immigration: the level of loathing for one another becomes a connection between loathers. That connection finds a fertile ground as science began to explode the universal fact solvent of  God’s will. Cancer was a lot of malevolent maladies, not judgment. The moon was not a pizza pie.

But even the extreme progress of science has not answered enough questions to create surety and connection. Our knowledge of everything is less settled than when the Bible outlined a 6 Day Creation Program. Things like “Dark Energy” seem like a fudge and Global Warming became Climate Change and God was not found in the Higgs Boson particle.

Absent easy answer religion or science, humans need tribes more than ever.

Specifically in this last election The Scarlet “T” makes enemies of friends who attempt to “normalize” what is believed to be evil by those who find connection in opposition to him.

Clearly, politics becomes religious when the word “evil” is ascribed to candidates. I think Hitler was evil (duh), Pol Pot is up there, and Stalin deserves a nod, despite killing the other evil in Berlin.

But this is where we are: a YouGov poll during the election had these results: “Asked which, if either, of the two candidates they would describe as “evil,” 42% of registered voters said Clinton, while 35% said Donald Trump.”

Looking at humans as evil dehumanizes them. But for all his orange freakishness, Donald Trump is a human. But when Faith ebbs in something more important than any human, the humans that we focus upon take on extreme importance.

Absent Faith, Fear rules: The 1% who wreck everyone else’s lives are in control unless we stop it. “Miserables” “cling to their guns and religion”. “Elites” are wrecking the America we want to be “great again.” Territory is marked: ideologically and aesthetically. The map is not demographic, it becomes faith-based. We become tribes.

Tribes need colors.image

But rather than symbolic, these colors are deeply meaningful to their believers – pro and con of any given tribe


The need to connect beyond yourself easily becomes hatred and demonization when we are unsure of the future, when there is insufficient faith to trust in anything but ourselves. We need to believe in something more that eating, sleeping, sex and laying in the sun – and if the facts are incomplete and religion is irrelevant, there is much to fear. When we are threatened we tend to find others who we can bond with, we get tribal.

That tribing is often easily defined by superficial aspects – skinheads, Goths in Black, but often in the simple application of color: Irish Catholic Green/Protestant Orange, the Red Cross of the Crusades, “The Reds”, “Code Pink”, “Black Ops”, “Red White & Blue” and, of course, Blue and Red of The Map and now Feline PINK.


I say this as a crypto-Puritan, who essentially worships work (while God never stops telling me it’s trivial). I commingle mission and earning a living with an architecture practice and a writing sidebar that is awash in beliefs. I know on one level its folly to find validation in the next commission or 3,000 hit web piece, but I do anyway. Like some who thought Trump winning validated their perspective.

The instinct to rely on the here and now to offer comfort to who we are is immune to faith – in me at least. I was giddy when, in 1980, writer Tom Wolf derogatorily declared the obsessional focus of my architectural education: The Modern Movement/International Style as “The Whites”.


But these distillations are inherently unsustaining: I love Modernist architecture (tho I loath the arrogance it spawns and imposes). But it was fun name-calling.

Trump is from the shallowest part of American culture, but I do not believe he is evil. The easy intensity of our desire to control is what made humans the dominant species, but it also causes our collective hopelessness if our lives are led only in fear.

It feels good to be part of something bigger than ourselves: but its just a distraction unless we believe in something beyond the here and now. Cosmetics do not offer meaning beyond the Kardashians. The rush of empowering connection in wearing our colors gives humans at football games and marches on Washington a temporary strength of commonality. Public declaration is what makes us a magically connected tribe: until the game ends, the march is over, and when, and it will happen, I promise, Trump leaves office.

But in the time until he leaves, if belief in Trump or hatred for Trump is at the center of our lives, we lose part of ourselves. In the near term I believe in the Constitution. Beyond that I have faith beyond this moment…

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