Our politicians have a hidden agenda.
They don't talk about it.
They might not even know they have it.
But it affects you, me, and everyone so much that it's time that it be brought into the open. It is this:
Which is more important, the individual or the society. Me vs. We.
How you answer this question is at least, and probably more, important than any other political issue. Yes, it matters that much.
New Old Dimensions in the Political Landscape
The conflict between the individual and the society is as old as humanity. Too often there is a conflict between my needs and our needs. An argument between me and we.
But doesn't the good of the many outweigh the good of the one, or the few? Isn't this an axiom we would all agree upon?
The answer is "no." We don't all agree about this. In fact, some of us think that it's every person for themselves. What matters most is my survival, my success, my reproduction.
Ron Paul vs. Mitt Romney - Same, Same, but Different
Let's move into the current political context to show you what I'm talking about.
Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are both conservatives. They both believe in tradition, God, safety, and stability. However, their ideas about how to achieve these goals, and even what would constitute success, are far apart.
Ron Paul, the Libertarian cum Republican, is a clear-cut case of the "Me." Here's a man who clearly has adopted a strategy of individual action. His politics speak entirely of personal responsibility and minimal societal responsibility.
Government, by his definition, should consist primarily of defense and justice institutions. Both are protective mechanisms that support the individual at a minimal level. In other words, it's a step up from true survival of the fittest. Ron Paul sees the ability and power of the individual as paramount.
Looking at Mr. Paul's natural talents, it seems quite clear that he's an intelligent, soft-spoken, and introverted man. A perfect profile for the individualist, the "Me."
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is a "We."
Active in his church, socially active as a business man and president of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics Organizing Committee. As governor of Massachusetts he implemented a universal government-sponsored health care plan. Obviously, Mitt Romney sees that there is a role for social action in the betterment of society.
Mr. Romney is in many ways the opposite of Ron Paul. Extroverted and genial, and while certainly not unintelligent, that isn't his focus, rather being friendly takes the lead. The profile of a "We."
Political Left, Right, and Wrong
I have often wondered where the terms left and right came from as they make little sense in terms of visualizing our politics. Since our real political spectrum is between conservatism, the past, and progressivism, the future, I prefer to visualize it like a timeline with the past on the left side and the future on the right side.
Spectrum is a key concept here. It is important to understand the bell curve and that most people fall somewhere near the middle between truly conservative and truly progressive. Unfortunately, it tends to be the fringe elements that steer us most strongly.
Seeing our political spectrum in 2D, the simple bell curve, however, is missing the critical dimension of We vs. Me. What we need is another dimension:
As you can see, individualism (me) contrasts with socialism (we) and is a separate idea from conservatism vs. progressivism.
When viewed this way, you can see that the traditional conservative / progressive dimension has nothing much to do with the individualist / socialist dimension.
Socialists and Sociopaths
Which would you say is worse, a total sociopath or a total socialist?
It's a bit of a trick question as both are radicals. Far away from the norm.
The true sociopath cares only for him or herself, seeing others as tools to meet their needs. Keeping in mind that we're dealing with a bell curve here, it's not many of us who are down at the far fringe of individuality, though depending on how you define sociopathy, estimates place the number of strongly individualistic people at between 4 and 10% of the population.
A pure socialist would see everything as an opportunity for social interaction, for community, and consensus. A pure democracy would fit the bill, in an enlightened socialism. Think of a democracy where everything is put to the vote by everyone all the time and the concept of hierarchies did not exist.
Thankfully, wiser minds have usually prevailed and we live in a balance between individuality and society.
Fundamentalists and Futurists
On the other radical fringes are the fundamentalist conservatives who see our human past as a map for our human future. Think tried and true (if probably no longer applicable). And their opposite, futurist progressives who see our future as a technologically enhanced super-species living in peace and harmony (optimistic, if at least slightly more practical).
The arrow of time, of history, would tend to favor the progressives on this count. Life progresses and our civilization moves forward, though this is not a given. Certainly the dark ages were a period of retraction in Europe and not the only example of prolonged stagnation and even retraction.
All in all, however, we live in comparatively radical times. Our knowledge has advanced our lifestyle in amazing and unpredictable ways. That is the nature of progressivism. Progress is change.
Therein lies the source of our conservatism. Radical change is responded to with radical fear. The faster we move forward, the harder we put on the brakes. As a result, we've seen an increase in the distance between progressives and conservatives. With our exponential knowledge growth, this divide will only widen.
The Four Quadrants of Politics
At the four intersections between the radical edges, Me / Conservatism, Conservatism / We, We / Progressivism, Progressivism / Me, we have some really radical and destructive ideas.
The intersections between radical fringes lead to truly radical and destructive ideas.
All of these corners have been tested out and some are heavily in operation in the world today. What lives in which corner might surprise you.
Old School Survival of the Fittest
At its most basic and least evolved corner, the intersection between Me and Conservatism, is survival of the fittest. In its purest form you are completely self-sufficient and independent. You're a tiger in the jungle surviving.
Moved up a few notches from that primitive state, you might be under the control of a king or other dictator seeking to control and repress you for his own benefit. Think peasant farmers.
Humanity has not outstripped it's lowly animal beginnings and the foundations of it are still to be seen in dictatorships worldwide, though, as you will see, not all dictators live in this corner.
You need look no further than the Arab spring movement to see the latest rebellion against these Conservative / Me dictators.
The Intersection Between Conservatism and We
Most people associate communism with progressivism but it need not be implemented that way. Communism arose in response to highly individualistic rulers (sociopaths?) who saw themselves as above the people. Living traditional and conservative lives, ordinary individuals were left essentially to survival of the fittest, with the added plus of an obligation to serve their ruler.
In a radical response, communism, the philosophy of We and equality, arose to offset centuries of dictatorial oppression.
Of course, if all you're trying to do is move from Me to We, you might tend to overlook the fact that you're still over at the conservative side of the spectrum and you wind up with the polar, but not the diametric, opposite instead.
Radical back-to-the-land communism has been the result. Think Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, as the prototypical example, and the multiple generations of Kim family rulers in North Korea for a slightly less conservative example.
Under Pol Pot, anyone who even looked like they might have a progressive idea (or ideas, generally) was killed, ostensibly for the good of the collective.
Worrisome is trend among the newly free Arab Spring countries which are moving this same general direction, maintaining Conservatism while moving towards We without a significant step towards Progressivism.
Power to the People
Of course, not all communism lives at the Conservative / We intersection and much of it moves to the true opposite side from survival of the fittest, the intersection between We and Progressivism.
Naturally, we're talking about extremes here. In this case progress is emphasized and individuality lost to the good of the many. The main flaw in this approach is that it fails to harness human creativity - a very individual act. Like all radical ideas, it doesn't work.
More moderate versions have had some success given time and adjustment (e.g. China, Vietnam, and Kerala, India). When coming from the survival of the fittest intersection between Me and Conservatism, communism or at least some form of progressive socialism, can help transition to a more balanced approach. Usually, as was the case in both China and Vietnam, the initial response overshot the mark (with devastating results in China) and it took time to find the right balance.
Moguls and Mad Scientists
At the intersection between Progressivism and Me we have the breeding grounds for wild ideas executed by crafty individuals. Here lies the domain of the innovative but selfish business mogul and, in the most radical approach, the lair of the mad scientist. His plan to rule the world based on invention. Think radical geek sociopaths.
It seems to me that this corner is the least likely to actually rule the world, at least aside from in James Bond movies, as in order to innovatively rule you need people to be innovative with you and that automatically brings you up towards Progressive / We. It's a lot easier for a "Me" to oppress than to convince others to join in.
Man in the Middle
Aside from these fringe extremes, our everyday politics lives in that middle ground. What, in the US, counts as radical is really pretty mild compared to the truly radical. And that's a very good thing.
Specific ideas vary from radical to moderate, from progressive to conservative, from me to we. Each of us, and this is true of our politicians, is a complex arrangement of ideas spread over the 3D domain of politics, though, our general tendencies can usually be localized in one of the four quadrants.
For those who seek the Presidency of the United States, it is most likely that they will be somewhere on one side or the other of mountain that is the man in the middle but not too far out into the surrounding sea of radicalism.
Movers and Shakers
It takes a certain amount of radical thinking to want to change things. It's easy to see why, when you you look at the big picture.
When your ideas are near the summit of the large mountain of the average person's ideas and the other person's ideas are on the opposite side of the mountain but still near the summit, you don't have all that much to argue about. You're not going to be come an activist over small differences.
There are three conditions in which you're likely to act. All depend upon a large difference between you and your opposition.
- You are radical compared to the norm
- You are near the norm but your opposition is radical compared to the norm
- Both you and your opposition are radical compared to the norm but on opposite sides
Because it requires some degree of difference to motivate us, candidates have to work a bit away from the center or they seem dull, uninspiring, and far away from those who are most motivated - those outside the mainstream.
That's why you see big money moving early towards candidates who declare themselves as somewhat radical outsiders. Later, once they have achieved some level of success, you'll see their positions moderate to be more in line with the norm. Where their hearts truly lie is something we may never know.
We live in increasing uncertain times. There is both a sense of possibility and of fear of the unknown. Knowledge has placed our traditional values under attack. Family structures have been restructured. Jobs are in flux as new technologies replace old workers and manufacturing becomes the domain of the least paid or most automated.
Our planet, once a healthy support system for our human flourishing, is struggling to cope with its exploitation and we are just beginning to see the effects.
Economics has become the domain of supercomputers and hedge fund managers. Finances in the global economy are beyond the common understanding.
It is little wonder that we are seeing a conservative movement worldwide. Fear of the unknown and a desire for safety is the reason why the conservative mindset has remained a core of our human nature.
But that conservatism is not the pure conservatism of tradition and a movement to the past but has become closely associated with the movement towards "Me." Lower taxes, less regulation, less government, less "We" and more "Me."
The brilliance of the Neo-conservative movement was in convincing "We" conservatives that "Me" conservatives were on their side. They are called Neo-conservatives precisely because they are not family / church / tradition conservatives.
Neo-cons should be really be called Meo-cons. Some are conservative but some are actually progressives looking to advance their personal and business agendas. The TEA Party is largely a Meo-con movement.
When it comes time to vote, you need to look at your candidate with a clear eye. Determine where they fall in the four quadrants, and decide what is most important to you.
Are you, as many active church members are, conservative but more interested in We than Me? Then maybe a not-too-radical progressive candidate would suit your values better than the radical Republican Meo-con you might normally have selected.
Likewise, as we've already started to see, Ron Paul is attracting a lot of attention and some of it from Me Progressives who usually vote for the Democratic candidate.
It's funny to hear President Obama referred to as a radical. He's pretty middle of the road slightly towards the progressive side and a bit up towards We but not very far.
Mitt Romney is probably in about the same position except on the conservative side.
These are your moderate candidates.
For a bit of fringe, look towards Ron Paul (Me / Conservative) or, rather less radical, Ralph Nader (We / Progressive). Looking back a bit, we can see candidates in the other quadrants, too. Pat Buchanan (We / Conservative) and Ross Perot (Me / Progressive).
Here are my best guesses about a variety of politicians. It's not all about Conservative or Progressive, Me and We have as much to do with their ideas as anything else. Choose wisely.
When it comes right down to it, how you vote will determine whether we try to get through all this new and uncertain future together or whether we go it alone.
My vote is for teamwork. How about you?
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