BLAKE BURLESON Board of Contributors
I recently returned to Texas after spending four months in Scotland. One of the benefits of traveling abroad is seeing your own country in a new light when you return home, and I’ve often felt a sense of gratitude upon returning to America. Traveling abroad, even if only on a temporary basis, allows for a reset of vision, perhaps offering an expansion of lines of sight usually limited by one’s local horizon. The proverb “you don’t see the forest for the trees” speaks of this apparent reality.
My recent return, however, filled me with anguish. I have returned to a country where dysfunction and confusion reign at all levels of society. This dystopia is discouraging on so many levels – personally, socially, professionally and politically.
While any truly democratic nation will necessarily have political, cultural and social dividing lines, Scotland was remarkably united on how to approach the pandemic. At the University of St Andrews where I taught, nearly 100% of students, faculty and staff were vaccinated; nationwide, nearly all citizens habitually wore face coverings in indoor spaces, including on public transportation, without grumbling; and public figures from the Prime Minister to the Lords Provosts have promoted a unified message of testing, vaccination and reinforcement.
Trying to maintain my health and keep my students safe during the rise of the highly transmissible variant of omicron in late fall 2021 was not without challenges, but what I had not to do was to waste time debating scientific consensus or public policy with students and colleagues. and neighbours. We just put security protocols in place and everything worked. I am aware, of course, that scientific consensus – which requires deliberation – is always in a process of revision and rediscovery based on new evidence, and that public policy – which needs rigorous debate in a democracy – is never without flaws.