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Why Bob Dylan Won the Nobel Prize: The Pattern of Divisiveness

In tonight’s debate, Hillary called Trump’s behavior “a pattern of divisiveness.” The reality is, our collective, longstanding cultural manifestations of insecurity, fear, and uncertainty have created the white space for a Donald Trump. I don’t understand how it can be 2016 and we’re really not much further along in our thinking – we’re only marginally more evolved – than we were in the 1960s, when Bob Dylan was writing. But, there are a lot of things I don’t understand. (I actually keep a list.)

I know I’m not the only one scratching my head over Bob Dylan winning the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. The New York Times wrote, “his selection on Thursday is perhaps the most radical choice in a history stretching back to 1901.” While that may be true, and, as an English Major “radical” doesn’t even begin to explain my conflagration of conflicting emotions, I think I might have come to a deeper understanding between tonight’s debate and yesterday’s article.

By now I’m sure everyone has seen or at least heard about the Arabic billboard on 1-94 in Dearborn, Michigan. Herein (I think) lies the essence of the convergence of Bob Dylan, literature, and cultural consciousness: “Donald Trump, he can’t read this, but he is afraid of it.”

In 1964, Dylan wrote, “Come mothers and fathers throughout the land and don’t criticize what you can’t understand.” We are still in the same place, people.

A YouGov Poll from 2015 shows high percentages of Americans have very unfavorable views of Islam.

Now, at the risk of turning this into a soapbox on tolerance (as that’s not the intention of this particular post), the data also prove that fear and uncertainty drive negative sentiment, just as Bob Dylan warned us about more than 50 years ago.

Familiarity with the Islamic Religion and people who follow the Islamic faith is very low (13%) in the U.S. What’s perhaps most interesting about the data is 39% say they would be interested in learning more about Islam and nearly 1 in 5 aren’t sure whether or not they want to learn about it.

At the very core of Dylan’s admonition is this ambivalence.

“Come gather around people Wherever you roam And admit that the waters Around you have grown And accept it that soon You’ll be drenched to the bone And if your breath to you is worth saving Then you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone.”

We the people, have sunk like a stone, folks.

So, when we wonder how we got here, we need to think about our lack of education in this country, our consistent unwillingness to learn from the past, and our steadfast resistance to change. Thirty years ago, America was the leader in quantity and quality of high school diplomas. Today, our nation is ranked 36th in the world.

According to a 2015 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, 29 international education systems had higher average scores than the United States in mathematics literacy, 22 had higher average scores in science literacy, and 19 had higher average scores in reading literacy. It comes down to education.

With education comes understanding and understanding reduces uncertainty and fear. But if nearly 20% of Americans aren’t even sure whether or not they want to learn about something they don’t understand, what can we do?

Bob Dylan and others throughout history have tried to help us see that acceptance, in the absence of understanding, is the only real choice.

While I now understand why he won, I still don’t understand why the times, they aren’t a-changin’.

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