Today—finally!—is Election Day. No matter which candidate or party you support, I think you would have to admit that the last four years have exposed the deep fault lines that run under and through our country. They are fault lines of ideology, of wealth, of race, of gender, of religion, of sexual orientation, even of something as seemingly benign as our changing climate. Like Hamlet, we’re constantly prompted to ponder our own existence: to mask or not to mask; to gather or not to gather; to appoint or not to appoint. These, and so many more, are the questions of our day.
To a geologist, a fault line is simply a fracture or a fissure between two blocks of rocks that allow those blocks to move relative to each other. They may be as small as a few millimeters, or as large as continents, extending over thousands of miles. Our two most famous faults—maybe ‘infamous’ is a better descriptor—are the Hayward Fault and the San Andreas Fault that run under large parts of California, the tectonic boundaries between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate. Separately and together, these two faults have already reached a stress level sufficient to trigger an earthquake of a magnitude greater than 7.0, or what erudite seismologists refer to as “the next Big One.”
Now I’m no geologist; I wouldn’t even dare to play one on tv. But I know this: to a political scientist or a cultural anthropologist, fault lines are the perfect metaphorical equivalent for cataclysmic social change. By tonight or tomorrow or whenever the last ballots have been counted, we’ll see exactly where the fault lines in our society are cracking. Will the next Big One come from suburban women or Floridians or Latino voters or African-Americans or senior citizens or some other subset of the population? We’ll know soon enough.
Fault lines are formed as a brittle response to stress. Geologically speaking, it’s the movement of tectonic plates far below the surface of the earth that produces enough stress to break the rocks on the ground upon which we stand. Culturally speaking, the stresses affecting us these days are just as profound as the movement of tectonic plates: a global pandemic, racial injustice, inequities of wealth, discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation, even excessive carbon emissions. The litany of sins is sadly endless. Moreover, the dubious motives, methods, and morality of the current administration has emboldened the right and galvanized the left, widening all those fault lines that lie beneath the surface of our body politic. It would be nice to think that in time, our wounds can heal, but the truth is that fault lines don’t just go away. The best we can hope for is that they will remain inactive for thousands of years but that’s not the way of this world. Those underlying plates will continue to move and shift and eventually, the ground above them will shake and crack. What do we do then? That’s the question to ask Yorik, but alas, Hamlet’s jester is long-since dead.
Here’s the best response I can come up with: try. Try to forgive. Try to understand. Try to love your neighbor as yourself. At the very least, try to reduce just one of the stresses lying along one of our myriad fault lines, whichever one you can. That might not seem like much, but maybe—just maybe—your ounce of effort might be enough to stave off the next Big One.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.
Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com