I have come to believe with increasing conviction that to continue drawing all political positions on a bipolar spectrum is a gross oversimplification of our reality. The world is not so simple as left and right. We are more different than that and so are the public issues.
The science of psychology has clearly demonstrated that there is a strong link between our inherited personal dispositions and our political and moral values. But any one of these tendencies might be considered ‘left’ and another ‘right’. On top of those inherent dispositions we trigger one or another latent attitudes when our conditions change.
For instance, you may generally feel a strong sense of empathy with other people. However, if you feel sufficiently threatened, your empathy will likely dissipate and be replaced by a stronger defensive posture.
You may feel quite egalitarian until you are promoted to a management position. When promoted you start to feel justified to use your position of power and over-ride others’ votes.
You can reverse these as well. When a threat is removed, you can afford to be more empathetic. If removed from a position of power, you are likely to become more egalitarian. Your sense of fairness changes.
Underlying many of these dispositions is your hormonal balance. For example, high testosterone levels make you more competitive and feel a sense of dominance. High oxytocin levels make you identify with others and feel more compassionate. You have a natural baseline for these and other hormones that changes with your perceived circumstances (e.g. opportunities/threats).
Where did these core personal differences come from? The diversity among us cuts us across all races, cultures and religions and is rooted in our genetic evolution. We have personal differences (diversity) because it helps us survive in the long run as communities. We each have big brains, but not so big that we can be equally excellent in all skill areas. We need each other and to share our strengths.
Society is ever-more complex. To continue down this simple and artificial bi-polar construct will lead to our doom. The two ends of the spectrum beat the war drums in a call to war with the demonic others. It seems that each year the resolve to destroy the other gains fervor, bringing us closer to the brink. They both claim there is no middle ground. You’re either with us or against us.
Many people are identifying left or right as their tribe in defense against the evil others. Their tribal bond (empathy) is growing while their hatred of others (defense) grows. Their sense of party affiliation is becoming stronger than their sense of affinity for community or nation.
Social science also tells us that there are two moral codes, one for how we threat our group members, and a different one for how we treat members of other groups. This means we can think of the others as lesser animals or even evil. It also means we can treat them accordingly without remorse or penalty.
‘Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.’
– Albert Einstein
Unfortunately, what is driving this tension is not simple either. There is a general background anxiety in our world precisely because our civilization is becoming so complex, chaotic and unpredictable. We suffer from information overload, fear of missing out (FOMO), decision fatigue, distractions, rumors and propaganda. We seek the comfort of black and white, good and evil solutions. With more pressure we become more sharply defined tribes. The emotional quotient rises.
Yet, at the same time, public policy issues are not necessarily aligned with either left or right ideologies. Are these clearly and inherently left-right issues: freedom of speech, abortion, gun control, public assembly, public education, liberty, separation of state and religion?
Many policy positions have been identified with left or right, but if you look carefully, you’ll see there is no necessary logic flow from core ideologies. The positions may simply be legacies of some long-forgotten political debates when opposition parties had to oppose legislation because of a sense of duty. After making a position, its all about rationalization.
Remember that the modern political party system arose in Britain and Europe as a simple way to manage public debate. It was an artificial construct from the start that depended on our natural human tendency to form tribes. At that time the big debate was about supporting or rejecting the crown. It got embedded in practice, locked in and rarely questioned!
Now, to disagree with your party position is heresy, treasonous, and subject to ostracism.
There is a wider range of potential solutions to public issues. We need to invoke our personal differences in order to match the diversity of issues we face today. As long as we line up behind only two positions we are missing out on far better solutions to our very complex world.
“Where everyone thinks alike, no one thinks as much.”
We need to recognize all our differences as strengths if properly managed. The personal traits which make us appear inclined to one pole or the other on different issues are needed for our mutual survival and prosperity. We need to respect and embrace our differences, not demonize them.
This means being ready to let go of your assumptions. This is particularly difficult when we’re under pressure. People tend to hang onto their beliefs with greater rigor when they feel threatened – and we are under greater pressure than ever!
What we’re going to have to do is cut the crap!We have to get past these archaic lenses and drill down together to find our common humanity beneath our differences. We have to understand that our genetic diversity is there for a reason. It is there to enable us all to cope with a wider range of challenges and opportunities.
Simply put, Nature, including Human Nature, and our civilization are far more complex than the left-right spectrum. We need to be inclusive of all our personal tendencies if we are going to survive as a civilization and as a species.