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In which Hank thinks about the diversity and productivity of the boundaries between biomes and what that might mean for individuals, culture, and democracy. Particularly, our democracy, which maybe needs some help.

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Good morning, John. It's Friday.

For the last couple of weeks, I've been thinking a lot about boundaries. The boundary between public and private, the borders between nations, the thresholds of our lives, and the fault lines of ideology.

Interviewing president Obama was something that I could never regret, but being being thrown into the public eye has resulted in some people saying nasty things about me, which I'm not actually that used to. So, I've been trying to look at it all from outside of my own experience.

My graduate degree is in environmental science, so I often see my experiences through the lens of ecology. Boundaries are exceptional places ecologically. The area where two biomes blend is called an ecotone, and they tend to be more diverse and biologically productive than either biome alone. Many species specialize in survival on that edge, where access to both biomes increases the available resources.

The edge, in other words, is a fantastic place. But it's also a violent place. Predators have access to more prey and prey have to watch out for more predators. That tension is, in nature, what drives increases in productivity and diversity.

The edge between land and sea has always been and remains a source of great biological productivity, but it's also given rise to great cultural and economic productivity as well. The edge effect, it seems, exists outside of ecology.

There are personal edges, whether it's the finite moment of a person becoming a parent, or a more drawn out transition like that of a child becoming an adult. Difficult times, yes, but full of deeply valuable personal growth. And just as ecological boundaries are massively productive and tumultuous and wonderful, so are boundaries between cultures. And in the last week, I've tried to see the political debate in this country that way.

I've tried to imagine that the boundary between ideologies is a tumultuous yet productive place. And occasionally, it is. But the benefits from a boundary come not from a harsh edge. Where the ocean meets a wall, the ecosystem does not become more productive. The most productive ecotones are those that stretch for miles. The ocean eating the land and the land eating the ocean in a never-ending burbling that gives rise to beautiful but impenetrable wetlands.

Instead of reaping the benefits of a gradient between ideologies, I see people intentionally poisoning it, in order to protect their perceived righteousness. Eventually, you have what ecologists call a monoculture. One plant, as far as the eye can see. A desert of diversity that may be productive, but is extremely unstable. Any outside influence can crash the entire system.

I do not want to live in a world of ideological monocultures, and I do not think that I do. But pretending like we do is in the best interests of a few people who happen to have a lot of power. So, I do not propose dismantling the boundary. I propose celebrating it.

Ideological diversity is not a sign of a divided nation, it's a sign of a thoughtful nation, and I found that the best way to really believe this is to simply stop listening to the people telling us to hate each other.

As wrong as you might think other people are, you are never going to be always right. Everyone will be stronger if viewpoints are allowed to mix into a diversity of ideas and strategies. The ecological success of the edge comes from this mixing, and I think it's an important part of the success of democracy as well.

Yes, one side is gonna feel safer to you, it's gonna make more sense to you. But to reach our full potential, we need merge that divide into a biome all its own. More diverse, more fertile, and more productive than we could ever be alone.

John, I'll see you on Tuesday.