How a biology book taught me how fragile democracy is (ken grotewiel)

    And it can die at the drop of a hat.

    I particularly admire high school science teachers, and some of this is because my youngest sister is one such teacher. She started at a new school last fall, and I stopped by to visit her while going through a 20-year collection of beakers, burners and microscopes left by the previous science teacher at the school.

    I was admiring one whole wall filled with old high school biology books. Seeing the gleam in my eyes, my sister said why don’t you take one. That being the first time I ever had an offer like that, I obliged her generosity. Which one to choose was the dilemma. Great titles like Biology 101 and the like did not cut it.

    Then this book spoke to me

    Then a textbook literally jumped off its shelf titled The Nature of Life. Ignoring the adage not to judge a book by its cover, I did just that. More specifically, though, it was the title that invited me to learn about life itself, not just the components of life like cells, amoebas, and the rest.

    I was struck by the overviews at the beginning of each chapter that opened my eyes to the wonders of life, and not just the words that explain it.

    Right off the bat, I was struck with this quote:

    “all organisms must take in energy to maintain their internal order and organization, because all things in the universe, living and nonliving, tend naturally toward a state of disorder . . . and use energy to overcome disorder.” Adding that “living organisms face the certainty of death.”

    What struck me was that nonliving things move toward disorder and finally death. Not just the fly in my kitchen. It then dawned on me that this was true of our American democracy. It’s not fixed in the universe like the sun, it was created by our founding fathers who thought that all people should have a shot at happiness, and that freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of the press could help make this happiness possible.

    If democracy dies, there is no going back

    This means to me that democracy takes constant energy to maintain and advance. If we don’t provide the energy our democracy needs, then I fear that our democracy will face its own untimely death. And as with all death, there is no going back. Our democracy will be cooked. The grand experiment will be over.

    What kind of energy does it take to keep our democracy healthy? I have tried over the last two years to understand what drives the people with whom I disagree. It’s not easy, but for me it has been helpful. With some understanding, a little bit of empathy is easier to come by. And if I’m lucky enough to have a discussion with someone with whom I disagree, some civil conversation may find something in common. Imagine that.

    And it can only help to vote, vote, vote no matter what you hear about our elections. They have served us well for over 200 years. There is no reason to think otherwise now.

    Ken Grotewiel writes for the publication Our Sacred Democracy on Medium and is a Founding Member of the None of the Above Society.

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