Our county is at a crossroads. The Butte Fire brought profound changes and we are now faced with some important choices that will determine what kind of community we will live in.

There were a couple of public events held in Calaveras County this week that gave us a peek into two of these possible worlds. The first event was billed as “The Great Cannabis Debate, Part Two” and was held in Valley Springs. The second was the Mountain Ranch Day in the Park.

The Great Cannabis Debate, by most accounts, was a disaster. Grown human beings, some of whom aspire to be community leaders, behaved like thugs. The room was full of tension, with disrespect being the order of the day.

Those doing the acting out have a very distinct vision of the community they want. It is homogenous in thought, appearance and action. Everyone worships the same God, votes the same way and has roughly the same skin tone. They value independence, but only for those that fit the mold. They value the free market, but only so far as they control it. They value property rights, but only in regards to their own property. They want their grandchildren to visit, but hate it when they actually show up. It is the world of “Pleasantville,” where everything is black and white, moral dilemmas do not exist, and emotional safety is valued above all else. In this world, you don’t have to fear anything. You don’t need to be afraid of young people who you don’t understand because they move away as soon as they get the chance. And you don’t need to be afraid of choices because they have been limited to a degree that risk is nonexistent. Sin is everywhere and, while the concept of forgiveness is sometimes spoken of, it is rarely displayed. There are no scary answers because there are no scary questions.

And then there is the other. The other is not us. No dialogue is allowed with the other because the other is a liar and dialogue would be pointless. The questions posed by the other are designed to trick us. The worst thing about the other is that they know they are evil. They don’t really have different opinions than us; deep down inside, they know that we are right and they take pleasure in disrupting our lives and corrupting our values. Most importantly, the other is not us.

These dynamics manifested at the Valley Springs event in the form of yelling, screaming and door slamming. It was a violent, unpleasant event.

The Day in the Park kickoff was something else altogether.

There were people of all ages, races, political affiliations, you name it. There were people who are openly opposed to cannabis cultivation in the county. They mingled freely with the score of pot growers in attendance. Trumpsters broke bread with Bernie Sanders supporters while Hillary Clinton fans served them food. Athiests drank beer with Catholics. Local politicians mingled with the crowd, and the sheriff did the same, treating everyone with equal respect and dignity regardless of age, income or vocation. Everyone had a great time.

In this world, tough questions are analyzed and discussed. Sometimes people arrive at different conclusions, but it’s not cause for alarm or worry. People are secure not because they agree on everything but because they accept others as they are and have faith that they, themselves, will be accepted. There is no other, because everyone is in the same boat trying to reach the same destination. The fact that there is sometimes disagreement about how to reach that destination matters little because they are making the journey together and they will work it out.

These are two very different communities. When you analyze them, these issues actually have very little to do with cannabis; the fight over cultivation is only symptomatic of a deeper question: What does community mean? Is it about rival factions fighting it out or is it about moving forward together toward a common goal?

In the first world, we embrace spiritual and emotional fascism in the name of a false unity. Newcomers are treated with suspicion and often driven away. Change is to be avoided at all costs. The grand irony is that this world designed to keep people feeling safe is built on a foundation of fear.

In the second, we embrace a certain amount of uncertainty in exchange for freedom and true unity. Strangers are met with a greeting. People are judged as individuals rather than by their membership in a particular group. Disagreements are met with discussion, with everyone understanding that they may never reach agreement but that they can live together anyway.

Which world do you want to live in?

Tom Liberty is a resident of Mountain Ranch. He is a former cannabis activist and youth counselor. You can reach him at mackskimperty@gmail.com.

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