At its most positive, Democrats believe that you should help other people, Republicans believe that individual responsibility is what matters. Both are true and any path forward has to include both those basic ideas.
At their darkest, the progressive left is enraged and punishing over lack of justice in the world, the far right fearful and poisonously paranoid over the loss of their culture and the world as they knew it. This is what happens when you hit the extreme ends of each viewpoint.
At the extremes, the right is driven by fear, the left by rage. This is a look at how that plays out.
For the right, what has happened to them? They are losing their culture and they believe it is due to the government, creating and enforcing laws that liberals have advocated that have undermined traditional American culture. The right is traditional America, Christian, patriotic, believers in liberty and that hard work will result in success. They believe that those values are being undermined by government edict and leftist values.
Environmental laws, affirmative action, immigration, trade regulations that have shipped manufacturing jobs they depended on overseas, restrictions on guns, there has been a host of negative impacts on them coming from the government, at least in their view.
There is a perception of wages being lowered due to large amounts of immigration, but another more cultural issue is simply having foreign people with foreign languages and customs move into your home town. I thought about the impact of this one day when I went to play golf in my then home town, Ventura, California.
One thing I enjoy about golf is going out by myself at times and getting matched up with random strangers on the course. I have met some interesting people and learned about a lot of things I may never have otherwise encountered.
I was in that mood that day, and I got matched up with three Chinese men who were together. They were nice enough, but they spoke Chinese the whole time, except when addressing me when they spoke good English, albeit with an accent. They probably migrated there to work in one of the many tech companies around.
I don’t have any personal problem with that, but it made me reflect on where a lot of the animosity to immigration comes from. Your home town is not the place you grew up in anymore, and you can even be a stranger in your own home town. This is something that shakes your sense of belonging right down to your own home. This is where a lot of the animosity toward immigration comes from.
Belonging, familiarity, home town, safety, security all go together for people. That sense of security has been severely rocked for a lot of Americans, especially in small towns.
Where I live now in Southern Oregon, the main industry was timber harvesting, which was deeply pulled back after a major battle in the public, due to environmental laws. A whole way of life was made around the timber industry, and many of the well paying jobs and significant tax collections are gone.
Schools are run down, there’s not enough money for police or basic services. The local water plant was built in the 1920’s and with no money to repair it, it is about to collapse. There it sits as a struggle ensues to save it.
The loss of the timber industry happened about thirty years ago and they still have not really recovered. It is Trump country and that is no surprise.
Even more than that, their way of life has been overshadowed by liberal culture. The traditional American culture that they do indeed represent, of individual effort, lack of governmental interference, enlightenment liberalism, capitalism, free markets, has gradually been eroded. The problem is that they only included straight white males in that success formula. Everyone else got ignored or actively discriminated against.
I am reminded of a part of Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, where she relays how one day in 1961 a headline in the New York Times heralded that poverty was vanquished in America. Did you realize that? Poverty was vanquished?? The problem was that the “America” in the title only included white males. Everyone else was so marginalized that it didn’t even occur to them to think of that. And there was plenty of poverty then, of course.
For the left, there has always been that rage over the kinds of injustice mentioned above. Professor Barbara Ransby, writing in her recent book “Making All Black Lives Matter”, a history of the Black Lives Matter movement, writes that in the BLM movement and critical race theory “black feminist politics have been the ideological bedrock of Black Lives Matter”. Many of the originators of critical race theory -the underlying philosophy of BLM– have been black, radical feminist, many of them lesbians.
How marginalized do you think that group has been in traditional conservative America? Way marginalized. They are enraged and have every reason to be enraged. Their politics and actions in forming those politics has been informed by that rage at every step of the way. Now, there are others who have formed this woke politics, but it’s basis is very much those people who have been the most marginalized in American culture.
One could say it started with Marx, in the mid 1800’s as the rise of the industrial revolution turned workers into low wage slaves and made the owners of industry fabulously wealthy. That tension between the haves and have nots is probably timeless, and is very much part of the battle that is raging in our world now. It’s now expressed as income inequality, times past it may have been expressed as serfs vs lords, but it is the same issue.
What was unique about America is that with our constitution and enlightenment values of freedom and capitalism, a large middle class came about and wealth moved down into the lower classes to some great extent, enough that that battle was at least muted for generations. Marxism never quite took off like it did in Russia and China in the U.S.
However, since about 1980 we have been gradually losing that middle economic ground, and it is turning into a crisis. Moreover, a lot of the rage is over identities, i.e. race and the various sexual discrimination issues.
For the left, group identity has taken hold, because marginalized groups were discriminated against. The right doesn’t even recognize them as such at all.
For the left, how did they get to the point where there is so much rage? There is a well developed sense of rage that is increasingly behind much of the rhetoric we see coming from the left. There has always been that sense of rage in liberal politics, rebellion against the system, bring down the man, protesting as a way of creating change, outrage against injustice and unfairness. That is good, mostly.
But what we are seeing now in some of the really radical rhetoric is a full blown raging that is far beyond anything rational. It has hardened into an overly intellectualized philosophy that is increasingly bizarre and unworkable.
Black Lives Matter as a philosophy advocates getting rid of the police, prisons altogether, that everything is racism, all are either oppressor or oppressed with no middle ground. This whole line of thinking leads to some absurd places. New born babies in Sweden are racists? A black child will be oppressed their whole life and will always be second and there is nothing they can do about it? There is no individuality, only groups, so if you are Jewish by definition you are an oppressor of Palestinians, who are by definition oppressed. Even if as a Jew you don’t support Israel at all. Doesn’t matter. You are an oppressor and you can’t escape it.
This week Oprah Winfrey of all people said that blacks in America were living in a caste system. A caste system means you are stuck at the economic level of your parents, and would not be allowed to move up from a position of poverty no matter what your effort or talent. And billionaire Oprah is saying this? It’s absurd.
This has all been generated from academia, university philosophy and English departments mostly. Eggheads sitting around enraged figuring out how awful the world is. They have created a whole philosophy out of this rage called post modernism and critical social justice theory.
Critical Social Justice is totally hostile toward every value that western society has used to create success, such as free speech, science, reason, objectivity, even being on time and working to get ahead in life, which is identified as racist behavior. They want to destroy everything, bring it all down. How much rage is that?
Current number one best selling author of “White Fragility”, Robin DiAngelo, wrote an entire academic paper on the problem with individuality. “Why Can’t We All Just Be Individuals?: Countering the Discourse of Individualism in Anti-racist Education” where she criticizes the very basis of viewing ourselves as individuals, like say in the Bill of Rights and U.S. Constitution, in the very basis of colorblindness to end racism and treat people as individuals! Again, it’s absurd.
Nikole Hanna Jones, author of the 1619 project, published by the NY Times on the history of slavery, rewrote history proclaiming that the United States was founded to protect slavery, and tried to convince others this was true. After a continuing uproar for the historical inaccuracy, she finally admitted in a tweet on twitter that:
I’ve said consistently that the 1619 Project is AN origin story, not THE origin story. Our intro says explicitly, what *would* it mean to consider 1619 our founding — not that it IS our founding”
This was news to the many historians that had been attacking her scholarship, indicating that she was finally forced to back down. Her attempt to change history to make America look even worse than it already does over slavery is an astounding amount of rage and hate toward the country. In the mean time many school children are now being taught this false history as a way of combatting racism, and the New York Times which published 1619 is actively promoting it to schools.
Rage feeds on itself. The more you rage, the more you will rage, and unless you put a check on it, it will only grow. It becomes an end in itself, what psychologists would call a secondary gain, or emotional pay off. Getting that hit of rage is like taking a drug, the pay off can become the rage itself.
From there, activist types who become judgmental, meaning very fixed on an ideology that they believe is the correct and only righteous one, begin to develop whole theories of reality and social rights and wrongs driven by that rage, rage becomes a silent partner that drives the creation of social theories.
This is how the left ends up seeming and actually being so extreme, the ideas of justice are colored by the rage that is fueling the ideas and distorting them. It gets to the point where it is justified to lie, because the rage has rendered those that might oppose you as evil, and therefore all means must be taken to stop them, even lying.
Returning to the right, they are driven by a deep fear of waking up in a world that they don’t know and in which they don’t belong, a world that is so changed and so contrary to what they believe is necessary for a happy life, that they are isolated and without hope. They are alone.
Making America Great Again means making America feel like the place where I grew up, where I feel at home. Unfortunately for them, that place is gone and is never coming back, even if it were here to begin with. It is certainly not in the way that they are framing it.
The world that the right wants to reinstill is gone and is never coming back. The left has won the culture war. Trump is a Hail Mary pass at the end of the game with time running out.
The biggest problem is that the traditional America never included anyone but white heterosexual men. Traditional America also included a philosophical system that doomed that white male only culture to its own death. Liberalism, treating all equally under the law, free speech and free expression, tolerance, individual rights, this wonderfully successful system was created by those white European males and it doomed the actual reality of a sexist and racist world that their reality actually held to failure. We are now experiencing the end game of that process.
We are in the midst of that major change, it began to accelerate after World War II in the fifties and sixties. We are now reaching a tipping point of establishing a fairer and more inclusive world and the current upheaval is a reflection of that.
How should we understand this? What brings these two sides together is the issue of belonging. Belonging is the key issue that unites both the far left and far right. The mainly black feminist lesbians that started critical race theory and Black Lives Matter clearly were enraged that they lived in a world where they didn’t belong. The far right white supremacists are clearly afraid that the world they were used to was going away into a world where they no longer had a place, did not belong.
At the white supremacist march that took place in Charlottesville, North Carolina in 2017, they chanted “Jews will not replace us”. They believe they have been replaced, booted out of society as it were. They no longer belong and have developed a paranoid, and indeed delusional theory that Jews are somehow behind them no longer belonging in society.
According to Abraham Maslow, the psychologist who formed the hierarchy of human needs into a systematic approach, belonging is the next most important need after safety and security. That is incredibly powerful for people, if you don’t belong, then that threatens your safety and security. It threatens everything.
In order to work our way through all the muck we are stuck in now, we have to find a way for everyone to belong, to create a society in which all feel connected.
Even though it bills itself as a way to be diverse, identity politics is actually divisive, because it emphasizes group identity over individuality. The good thing about it is that it gives those formerly shut out a sense of belonging, a group that values them.
The problem is that it breaks everyone down into groups, and often those groups become antagonists toward each other. That is the actual negative impact that identity politics is having. It is the same old same old of one group dominating the others, it is just a reversal of the imagined order that identity politics has falsely created to begin with.
Intersectionality is a major theme in leftist philosophy. It means the world is about domination, and white hetero males are at the top, dominant, black lesbian females at the bottom, oppressed and marginalized the most. Others fall somewhere along the spectrum of the oppressed.
The goal of intersectional theory is to reverse that and put white males at the bottom, everyone else above them, especially black lesbian women, or maybe transgender black lesbians, whoever can claim the most grievance due to oppression. Neat how that happened, it is just as dominating, just new masters. In comes the new boss, same as the old boss. The true problem is domination, not which group is doing it.
What we need is a new set of values that combine respect and fairness for all members of all groups at the same time assuring that people are treated as individuals. It is the power of the philosophy of our Constitution and our American traditions that have brought us to this point, but all people, all races, sex, sexuality, whatever kind of person there is has to be included in that equally.
What is that going to look like? Our liberal values have created a very successful society for those who were included. A big middle class, unprecedented personal freedom, to work, to speak, to practice religion, and at least an ethic of acceptance/tolerance toward others, which obviously in practice wasn’t always done.
When we look to how we can succeed with bringing people together, we have to look at what has succeeded in the past for the clues about how to move forward. The truth is, we know what to do, we just need to do it.
There is a new centrism emerging that seems to be charting the correct path. Retaining classical liberal values centered on individual responsibility and freedom and making sure they apply to everyone is key. In making sure they apply to everyone, the need to value the community along with the individual appears.
The benefit of the extremism is that it has opened up a new range of possibilities for solutions and ways of viewing problem areas. Black Lives Matter proposed a solution to police violence–get rid of the police altogether, unfund them. An astounding 81% of black people in a recent poll by Gallup said that they wanted to increase or maintain current police levels, 21%, of those want to increase police in their neighborhoods.
However, there has been value in the BLM position because it reflects the rage over the police violence that is legitimate, and it creates an emotional force, an energy of working hard to solve the problem. It mobilizes energy and thinking, ok, we need police, but more than ever we need a realistic solution to move forward and resolve the violence issue. In that regard, BLM has shown leadership.
On the right, the attacks on the government, the “deep state”, the FBI, and CIA have not only been for political advantage they have often bordered on the delusional. It reflects the fear/paranoia that is generated when you feel that you are discluded and cannot trust the government or the powers that be to look out for your interests.
However, it has been an important corrective in destroying the bureaucratic intransigence of these agencies which often seem above and/or immune to needed criticism. In perhaps a bit of irony, the left has been heavily critical of especially the CIA as a corrupt and often out of control agency, and for the first time the right has joined them. The effort to break up their stranglehold on secrecy and immunity from criticism has been heavily damaged by the Trump administration.
These extreme and unrealistic positions can create the space, the opening, through their destructiveness to replace them with more creative solutions to the very real problems that are here. Creating a crisis through destruction allows these institutions to be first broken apart in a certain sense, and put back together in a new and better manner. Without the destruction that would not be possible.
In Buddhism, the path to enlightenment is the middle way, or the path of moderation. It is an ancient wisdom that applies well here. It is moderation that will resolve these partisan dilemmas , using the opening for new policies, the possible solutions being bandied about, and the emotional energy and desire for change that extremism generates and then channeling it into realistic solutions.
Indeed, in the middle of all the partisanship a new and still somewhat nascent movement toward moderation and centrism has emerged, a new centrism. It perhaps began with psychologist Jordan Peterson, as well as Joe Rogan and Dave Rubin, emerging in the world of podcasting.
Podcasts have become huge over the last several years and they are characterized by a centrist view of talking to those from all sides, and attempting to merge and reconcile the partisan wrangling into some kind of honest debate.
Rogan in particular is perhaps the most successful as well as being the best exemplar of the trend. He states that he is a liberal but has been willing to talk to just about anyone with a compelling point of view, including alt right to far left. At times he has expressed support for both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. He has hosted Abby Martin to Russell Brand to Milos Yiannopolis.
His show is fantastically successful, with millions of viewers for each episode, and it shows that there is a big hunger for a centrist oriented search for the truth in the midst of all this partisan extremism. That new centrism is growing, and a host of new magazines, podcasts, and outlets for the centrism are emerging, Quillette, Arcdigi, The Dispatch, Blocked and Reported, New Discourses, and many others even within the last year. This is a very new phenomenon and brings a lot of hope with it.
People are looking for a way to come together, and to some extent it is still hidden from the mainstream media and conversation, but it is rife on twitter which appears to reveal the leading edge of thinking that is soon to break out into the mainstream. For now, spurred by the Floyd killing and the irrationalism of the Trump presidency, woke politics has taken over the mainstream media, particularly the New York Times, which is often said to set the agenda for all the news in the country, along with the Washington Post and others. The best selling books recently have been by critical race theory authors like Robin DiAngelo, who is clearly in the woke category.
That won’t continue because woke ideas are completely unworkable and divisive, and the majority of Americans have repeatedly shown that they look for solutions in the middle. Besides the obvious example of Joe Biden being the choice of Democrats as their candidate for VP despite an entire primary campaign dominated by the far left, there is the issue with police.
Americans including blacks do not want to unfund the police, they want to reform them to reduce police violence and racism. New ideas on policing and how to manage police forces are evolving and being implemented, and the government is not going to be reduced to abandoning its basic responsibility to maintain law and order. This is a perfect example of how the new centrism can create new realities out of the partisan extremes, maintaining basic values and applying them in new ways to create a new society out of those two opposing forces, to reconcile them into something new and more just, more successful for everyone. It is also inclusive of those who demand an end to racism and violence in the police forces and those who demand law and order.
Another good example is the prison system, which is being challenged to go through the same transformation. At this writing, the Seattle city council is considering a proposal to let 60% of its prisoners out of jail at the behest of the woke left who see incarceration as racist, and blames the government for the crimes and not the individuals themselves. Somewhere between the woke extreme of let them all out and the right wing extreme of lock them all up, a focus and an energy is building due to all the attention paid to this by the woke left, and the true fact that a lot of the prison population is there unfairly, and that for many crimes prison is not the answer. What can emerge from these extremes are more centrist solutions of using prison for what it does best, protect the public from violent people, and not for drug offenses and long sentences due to racist misapplication of the law.
What is important out of this movement is that it is primarily not only a revolt from the middle, but is characterized by a position best described as classical liberalism. These are the eternal values that have built the success of America, rule of law, freedom of speech and religion, personal freedom from government interference, and importantly depending on science and evidence based knowledge to light the way.
When extremism is being driven by a lack of belonging, a lack of shared values, a new way must be found that resolves the problems and does so by creating a new set of values that everyone has a stake in.
The New Centrism holds the promise of shared values, creating a world/society where everyone has a stake and a way to be included. Eventually, after the outbreak of extremism we are currently going through, a middle path must be forged out of the dissolution, new solutions based on American values, but applied in a broader and more inclusive way. They must be applied in a way that brings people together, not tear them apart.
It represents an integration, maintaining that which was valuable, while destroying that which was not, and integrating a new view and new society based on preserving what was good and adding those who were left out of that formulation in real life.