The Rapidian

Discussing what "Out of many, one' means in today's society

Diversity will continue to grow, but it will not destroy us. It is a blessing, not a curse.

The last half of the eighteenth century (especially 1770 to 1790) was a very exciting and explosive time in the history of what was soon to be called the United States of America. Unlike today, our country was young, fresh, and optimistic! So, immigration was free and open! People flowed into “Columbia” from around the world to find a new life in this small frontier on a new continent. One of these men was a fellow from Geneva, Switzerland named, Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere. You might not know the name. Let me introduce him to you.

Pierre was elected, in 1768, a member of the American Philosophical Society (along with Benjamin Franklin, etc!). He was a naturalist, an American patriot, and a portrait painter. Du Simitiere served as the artistic consultant for the committees that designed the Great Seal of the United States, and he submitted the first proposed design to include the Eye of Providence. In 1779, this man painted the first known portrait of George Washington, later used for the one-cent coin minted in 1791. In 1781, he was conferred an honorary degree from Princeton University (then called the College of New Jersey), and he successfully suggested the adoption of what was later to become the de facto motto of the U. S., (a latin phrase,) “E pluribus unum” (which  means “Out of many, one”). That is our interest right now.

But, what did he mean by E pluribus unum? Well, first of all he did not mean turning all diversity into one singularity of thought, or formation. Everything you know and learn about this world and this universe points not to sameness. Rather it points to diversity. Ours, is an existence of difference. For example, look at DNA. Human beings are NOT the same. We are different colors, sizes, intelligence levels, cultures, philosophies, religions, emotional levels, etc., etc., etc. There are no two of us exactly alike. Even our children will always vary. There are trillions of different ways in which we are formed. Yet, we continually try to insist that we can make all of us the same. It hasn’t worked nor will it ever work. Diversity is the absolute characteristic of all things.

But, If this is true. If we are all different, without much possibility of ever coming together and becoming the same, then are we doomed? Will we eventually destroy ourselves? Or, will we find a way of turning our diversity into a pluralism that works?

Well, Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere thought he had found a way. He took those three words with a weird bunch of different letters “E pluribus unum” and noticed first of all that there were a total number of 13 letters thrown together. They happened to be the same number as the Colonies now formed on this new continent. Then, he noticed the translation of those letters into English and their meaning “Out of many, one”! It seemed to be a fit, and indeed for over 200 years, it has been. Well, almost a fit at any rate.

As time passed, that phrase would come to mean the U.S. was to be a melting pot, where different ideas would flow together into one great democratic ideal of “Unity in Diversity." Yes, the U.S. was designed to be a diversity, a pluralism, and at the same time a unity! But, later as the United States “developed," our melting pot was seen more as a tossed salad – a bunch of different individual pieces, some better than others but none fitting together.

Now, however, some 240 years later, with some 50 states, as opposed to 13, we find ourselves ready, not to melt together, as was the plan, but to explode. Most of our unity is gone. Our differences that were originally meant to unite us, to expand us, and to free us, are about to destroy us. What can be done?

Well, It would seem that the first thing to do would be to make everybody and everything agree and be of one mind or style. Get rid of all differences and the problem is solved! But, let’s think about that for a minute. Make everything the same? Is that really a good idea? I don’t know about you but that would bore me to death to make everything EXACTLY THE SAME because after all is said and done, variety really is, indeed, the spice of life.  Besides that, we will never find ourselves able to agree. The “Boomers”, the “Millennials”, and the “Z Generation” will never agree with one another or with older citizens. Diversity, it appears, has finally won out! But, is it a diversity that has defeated unity or a diversity that can cooperate with it?

Dr. John D. Inazu, Associate Professor of Law, at Washington University in St. Louis, School of Law, has just written a book, entitled, CONFIDENT PLURALISM: SURVIVING AND THRIVING THROUGH DEEP DIFFERENCE, in which he seeks to lead us through the quagmire of our diversity into a future, moving onward and upward to a continuing growth of human potential. I’m not sure if he has solved the problem but he is seriously working on the beginning of living in the midst of diversity and, a pluralism that will thrive even in deep difference.

The diversity that once brought us together and made us the greatest country in the world, can do so again. Diversity, correctly handled and confidently applied and allowed to take its natural, and inevitable course, need not destroy. This is not the end of the story but it does point to a future that can lead us to expand rather than to explode. E PURIBUS UNUM: OUT OF MANY, ONE

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