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The word "integration" has some unfortunate connotations for many in the U.S. It recalls the turbulence of the 1960's where racial segregation was decisively brought to an end with civil rights, voting rights, and affirmative action legislation, court decisions, FBI investigations, and the imposing presence of National Guard troops. Where "over my dead body" attitudes were faced down and driven into brooding malignant hiding. Where blacks found increased freedom to participate and whites struggled to find comfort with the notion that skin color and ethnic background mattered far less than worth as a contributing member of society. But there are other meanings to that word too. And given the continuing intransigence in Washington to the idea of working together, instead of against each other, a review of those other meanings seems in order.
Per several dictionaries, the three main root meanings of the word "integration" are "intermixing", "arrangement", and "coordination". One can "intermix" items previously separated to achieve a crude level of integration. The consequence is a lessening of energy required to maintain a separation. Secondly, one can "arrange" the differing elements of a mixed grouping to achieve a higher level of integration. The energy required to accomplish a specific arrangement may be substantial, but the consequence is often an increase in efficiency of some associated process. For instance, a bucket brigade will bring water to an out-of-control house fire more efficiently than all of one's neighbors trying on their own to help. Third, the notion of "coordination" can achieve still higher levels of integration. When members of a group differing in type, talent, and available resources decide to offer all their strengths toward achieving a common goal, the possibility exists for huge gains in both efficiency and efficacy. As an example, early settlers to the U.S. found that an entire community working together to build a barn for one of its members could see a decisive end to the task in far less time than a few individuals working on their own. As a result, the entire community benefited sooner with increased productivity from that particular member farm.
The stark reality is that integration of form and function, process and effort, talent and resource is at the heart of almost every modern technological and biological convenience we currently enjoy, from fresh water and sanitary sewer systems to reliable electric power to safe and plentiful food sources to transportation systems, educational systems, cell phones, and the Internet. They have all been achieved by humans figuring a way to integrate their individual strengths and weaknesses with both each other and the materials and laws of nature to form harmoniously integrated wholes that achieve ever higher levels of convenience, efficiency, efficacy, and sustainability. For a few ignorant souls to insist less integration, more high cost separations, and forced disintegration is the path to a more viable future for anything but a few is complete nonsense. It would do all of us good to wake up, recognize that fact, and speak the contrary. Reality teaches us that we need more flexible and more sophisticated integration of imagination and talent, effort and resource, to achieve a viable future for all of us, not less.
Contrarians have taken to using the term "socialism" to pejoratively label everything they fear from efforts to increase the effective organization of our society. Dilution of individuality, as well as dilution of racial, ethnic, and religious purity is what they fear, but for no rational reason. People working together for a common good, which is the essence of socialism, has been proven over and over again, especially within the U.S., to be far more effective at maintaining viability for more people, as well as freedom of choice for more people, than anything fascist, separatist, authoritarian, or plain old selfish thinking has ever put into practice.
May more and more of us wake up to that proven reality and convincingly speak its virtues.
As to the relevance of the pictures above: consider it a reminder that disparate talents, insights, imagination, and efforts, well integrated by choice, have produced, throughout the entirety of human history, some remarkably powerful achievements, though many now lie moldering and forgotten, even though we all firmly stand on grounds they helped create. May what comes next substantively add to that noble and humbling tradition.
Wednesday, October 15th, 2008