This odd thought has been germinating on my mind for a number of years, and with the recent elections just behind us it seemed a good time to reflect while connecting some dots, one of which is culture, in this case politics as subculture. There may not seem to be an obvious connection between politics and culture, but bear with me. These are, albeit, small dots, but well worth trying to connect them.
My plan had been to move to looking at the Culture of Nations, and then return to organizations, but mid-term elections just seemed too good to pass up.
Basically, I am relieved that the process has passed, at least until it gears up again for the Presidential elections in 2016. The robot phone calls and the attack ads have ceased. Now all that remains are the media correspondents who carry on with the polarizations.
What happened over the last sixty years or so?
Politics, I seem to recall, primarily used to be the process by which able leaders and people debated and decided the best ways to move a group of people forward (be they clan, tribe, organization, society, or nation).
In the last sixty years this has changed, at least at the highest levels. It now seems to be more about the position and who the people are who will occupy it.
As a consequence, politics has moved from
- a reasonably positive subculture (“Who We Are”) that was defined by contributions, the (+∑) value added to a society, into
- a negative subculture (-∑) that focuses more on “Who Is NOT One Of Us.”
While attack ads date back to the founding of America, the impetus for the current shift can be traced back to 1964, to the most notorious political attack ad, run by Lyndon Johnson against Barry Goldwater in that year’s Presidential election.
While the slow course of this deteriorating change can be traced, what is more interesting is what I think is driving it.
To illustrate, take a moment to think about which political subculture or party philosophy least appeals to you (I’ll give you the choice so as not to reveal my own leanings). Chose between
(left-wing liberal progressives || right-wing conservatives)
(Formal disclosure: in an attempt to demonstrate nearly complete neutrality, please note that I have placed the left wing to the left, and the right wing to the right).
So, after having made your selection, now consider the general behaviors and attitudes you have observed being practiced by this group (“I”) through their speeches, publications, and ads directed towards the other group (“They”), and then consider if the following simple visual reasonably reflects what you conclude are their attitudes about the other group:
Now, return to our two choices,
(left-wing liberal progressives || right-wing conservatives)
and pick the other political subculture, the one that most appeals to you. Once again, consider the general behaviors and attitudes you have observed practiced by this group (“I” – and probably feel yourself) in their speeches, publications, and ads directed towards the other group (“They”) and see if the following visual reasonably reflects what you feel your and their attitudes are:
Nice, eh? There really appears to be no difference in the driving attitudes behind these two subcultures.
The reason for this is that both subcultures demonstrate a number of Fundamental Principles introduced earlier:
First, they are heavily populated by Fundamental Principle 7c people: People who don’t ‘get’ that they don’t ‘get it,’ but think they do;
Second, they also suffer from Fundamental Principle 6: They are working from Incomplete Information, but can’t admit it; and
Third, they have slowly succumbed to Fundamental Principle 16b: Regression to a Cultural Mean (the mean here representing what each group considers its “norm,” which is actually relegated to the extremes).
The first application is then typically followed by the second: Cultural Enforcement or Exclusion (punishment, shunning) in order to keep the “subculture” pure. Then Cultural Exclusion Creep has led to a continual escalation of attack ads as a means to win voters (draw/force them to the desired cultural “mean”). This is the practice of FP16c: Coercion of You to Their Cultural Mean, or Exclude You.
It now seems that it no longer matters what our elected politicians DO (if it ever did), but only who they ARE (or claim to be).
It would be nice if they actually DID something that aligned with who they said they WERE (here’s the Say-Do-Are framework of Integrity again).
Most of all this political dancing would like to focus on “what actions to take to move us forward.” However, I suspect that a further consequence of practicing Regression and Cultural Exclusion is that there is not yet agreement on what “forward” actually means, and heads begin to butt from that point onwards. This seems to me to be a classic case of “either/or” thinking.
What to do?
Having come from a scientific training (which I like to think has many good traits to it, including the ability/need to identify our weaknesses in understanding and find the “missing information“), I observed that I and nearly all of my professional colleagues (the quick, not so quick, and the long dead) have many of the same following characteristics (whether these manifest themselves in one political subculture or the other):
- We are Progressive Liberals.
We see our passions centered on unlocking/discovering new knowledge about the natural world, hypothesizing things unknown and then devising ways to prove (and apply them), or disprove them (and try something new). We tend not to be satisfied where we are, but attempt to “push the edge of the envelope,” to “go where no man has gone before,”
- We are simultaneously Ultra-Conservative.
Those things we hypothesize we presume must be self-consistent with what is already known, accepted, and applied. We build on the shoulders of giants and the knowledge that came before us. If it is not consistent, then we pursue “Why Not?” until we can get it resolved. Occasionally, this calls into question assumptions about what we “know” or thought we “knew,” and this sparks (passionate) debate. More rarely this leads to what we call a paradigm shift (TS Kuhn), the need for an entirely new and different understanding. The shift from Aristotelian to Newtonian mechanics, then to quantum mechanics are two primary examples. Another shift, still under great debate, are Keynesian economic principles.
The bottom line is, we are not “either/or.”
We must be “and/and,” and any debate stirs us to pursue our “missing information.”
So, I suppose this makes me a Conserviberal. And upon occasion a Liberative. And vice-versa.
But I don’t have a position, like “squarely in the middle,” or “middle of the bird” (neither left wing nor right wing; thank you Pat Paulson).
I adhere to a process: hypothesize, test, verify. Validate the outcomes and then hold myself accountable to them. The process generally keeps me from venturing to the extremes.
It also forces me to recognize that there can be aspects in the extremes that have a certain validity.
We really have to move back to the middle, the higher ground from which you should be able to see both extremes. And use relationships to debate achievable outcomes, and then together DO something that achieves them.
There is an old adage that goes:
Those who can, do;
Those who can’t, teach.
Unfortunately, I have always had the (observationally supportable) idea that this adage is not only wrong (teaching is what raises up doers), but also incomplete. There is, once again, “missing information.” I suggest it should be completed by adding the following:
Those who can’t teach, administer; and
Those who can’t administer, go into politics.
What we need to accomplish is to move the people in the last category up into the first category. Or demand that “first category” people be elected.
There’s a lot a stake in this. Consider one of my earlier analogies, the ice hockey player who keeps his head down focusing on the puck so intently that he eventually skates off the rink, under the bleachers, and is pinned under the Zamboni. Only now it’s politicians on skates, not with a party platform on the stick, but the health and future of society, cultures, and a nation, if not a civilization.