Tuesday, November 22, 2011

North American political culture: Time to take to the wilderness!!

By David Brooks, New York Times, November 21, 2011
In 1951, Samuel Lubell invented the concept of the political solar system. At any moment, he wrote, there is a Sun Party (the majority party, which drives the agenda) and a Moon Party (the minority party, which shines by reflecting the solar rays).

During Franklin Roosevelt’s era, Democrats were the Sun Party. During Ronald Reagan’s, Republicans were. Then, between 1996 and 2004, the two parties were tied. We lived in a 50-50 nation in which the overall party vote totals barely budged five elections in a row. It seemed then that we were in a moment of transition, waiting for the next Sun Party to emerge.
But something strange happened. No party took the lead. According to data today, both parties have become minority parties simultaneously. We are living in the era of two moons and no sun.
It used to be that the parties were on a seesaw: If the ratings of one dropped, then the ratings of the other rose. But now the two parties have record-low approval ratings together. Neither party has been able to rally the country behind its vision of government.
Ronald Brownstein summarized the underlying topography recently in The National Journal: “In Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor polls over the past two years, up to 40 percent of Americans have consistently expressed support for the conservative view that government is more the problem than the solution for the nation’s challenges; about another 30 percent have backed the Democratic view that government must take an active role in the economy; and the remaining 30 percent are agnostic. They are open to government activism in theory but skeptical it will help them in practice.”
In these circumstances, both parties have developed minority mentalities. The Republicans feel oppressed by the cultural establishment, and Democrats feel oppressed by the corporate establishment. They embrace the mental habits that have always been adopted by those who feel themselves resisting the onslaught of a dominant culture.
Their main fear is that they will lose their identity and cohesion if their members compromise with the larger world. They erect clear and rigid boundaries separating themselves from their enemies. In a hostile world, they erect rules and pledges and become hypervigilant about deviationism. They are more interested in protecting their special interests than converting outsiders. They slowly encase themselves in an epistemic cocoon.
The Democrat and Republican parties used to contain serious internal debates — between moderate and conservative Republicans, between New Democrats and liberals. Neither party does now.
The Democratic and Republican parties used to promote skilled coalition builders. Now the American parties have come to resemble the ideologically coherent European ones.
The Democrats talk and look like a conventional liberal party (some liberals, who represent, at most, 30 percent of the country, are disappointed because President Obama hasn’t ushered in a Huffington Post paradise). Meanwhile, many Republicans flock to Herman Cain or Newt Gingrich because they are more interested in having a leader who can take on the mainstream news media than in having one who can plausibly govern. Grover Norquist’s tax pledge isn’t really about public policy; it’s a chastity belt Republican politicians wear to show that they haven’t been defiled by the Washington culture.
The era of the two moons is a volatile era. Independent voters are trapped in a cycle of sour rejectionism — voting against whichever of the two options they dislike most at the moment. The shift between the 2008 election, when voters rejected Republicans, and the 2010 election, when voters rejected Democrats, was as big as any shift in recent history.
Sometimes voters even reject both parties on the same day. In Ohio this month, for example, voters rejected the main fiscal policy of the Republican governor. On the same ballot, by 31 points, they rejected health care reform, the main initiative of their Democratic president.
In policy terms, the era of the two moons is an era of stagnation. Each party is too weak to push its own agenda and too encased by its own cocoon to agree to a hybrid. The supercommittee failed for this reason. Members of the supercommittee actually took some brave steps outside party orthodoxy (Republicans embraced progressive tax increases, Democrats flirted with spending cuts), but these were baby steps, insufficient to change the alignment.
In normal circumstances, minority parties suffer a series of electoral defeats and then they modernize. But in the era of the two moons, the parties enjoy periodic election victories they don’t deserve, which only re-enforce their worst habits.
So it’s hard to see how we get out of this, unless some third force emerges, which wedges itself into one of the two parties, or unless we have a devastating fiscal crisis — a brutal cleansing flood, after which the sun will shine again.
The culture of political parties need not be binary.  The Sun and Moon as the only symbolic representation of the mood, incline, thrust and culture of the country are far too simplistic, as any binary system eventually becomes.  History has demonstrated the proverbial "third option" and yet even this does not account for the complexity arising from normal human activity. 

In her landmark book, The Hero Within, Carol S. Pearson documents the development of individuals through novels and films from the American cultural landscape. In her analysis, she postulates a succession of archetypes that seem to define and outline the maturation process of these individuals. She suggests six, in almost identical order for men and women: Innocent, Orphan, Victim, Wanderer, Warrior, Magician. Pearson also speculates that North American is fixated, roughly, on two conflicting archetypes: Victim and Warrior. Women, according to Pearson, are the victims, men, the warriors. (For men, the Warrior precedes the Wanderer, whereas for women, the Warrior follows the Wanderer.)
What is significant, according to Pearson, is that all five archetypes (excepting Magician) operate on a premise of scarcity. There is not enough of the significant ingredients in their world view for these developing individuals, whereas, for the Magician, the premise of his/her life and world view is PLENTY. There is enough time, money, love, challenge, beauty, relationships, power, comfort, happiness for everyone including him/herself.
First, the Pearson analysis supercedes any binary analysis, that would see Sun and Moon as the two operating principles in the universe.
Second, while there is no prescribed order to Pearson's succession of archetypes, there is significant work (inner work) for each individual in each archetype, and if that work is not completed upon the occasion of some significant event like the death of a family member, for the first time, in the person's life, then the work, for example, of the orphan is about to begin.
The work of the Orphan includes recognition of one's aloneness, one's need to reach out to others who, themselves are likely lonely, in order to generate relationships needed for a complete and sustaining life.
When doing the work of the Victim, one accepts the reality that one encounters in being victimized, without remaining in that state, because there are others reaching out to help the victim move, and within the Victim acknowledges his/her own potential to park in this state, as one that provides some short-term attention, comfort and healing.
However, the Warrior work involves finding and using the voice of one's own attitude, character, need and boundaries, in the establishment of healthy relationships of mutual support. This is the capacity to recognize and to deploy those skills of the executive, in decision-making and in organizational leadership, not merely the power to "hit" or "shoot" another to achieve one's objectives.
In the work of the Wanderer, one is alone in the wilderness, (as for Christians during Lent) souring one's life, looking for the signs and countersigns that indicate where one needs to change, to grow, to amend, to make amends,...it is a time of deep reflection, a state to which men seem strongly resistant, whereas women welcome its gifts.
In the Magician, one is unusually celebrating the many gifts around that support, sustain and energize her/his life...and while this state seems the state to which we all aspire, it is not an automatic "threshold" in every life.
And all of the work in the other five archetypes need not be fully completed for one to enter into the gift of the Magician.
With respect to political parties, clinging to simplicity does not allow growth on any front.
The country, I submit, is expected to "grow" into and through the various archetypal stages outlined in Pearson's work, and one of the first recognitions in such a process is that we cannot "purchase" plenty.
Plenty is a state of mind-heart-spirit that comes from a combination of DNA and experiences in all of the various archetypes that sustains the belief, perception, attitude and foundation that the universe is kind, loving, generous and, while sometimes malignant, fundamentally benign.
Unfortunately, the current cultural climate, globally I would suggest, points far too emphatically to the scarcity of clean water, clear air, clean land, excessive turmoil and tragedy through natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes, typhoons, tsunamis, epidemics, hunger and starvation, fiscal crisis in too many countries, resistance to generosity from too many other countries, a dearth of trust between countries, institutions, cultures and ethnicities,
a tidal wave of stories of narcissistic and selfish greed for both money and power, a failure of systems to cope effectively with all of these "scarcities" and a collective myopia and hyper-short-sightedness of our tiny spec of time in the longer history of the universe...supported and sustained by our over-developed appetite for negative information, supported and also sustained by a massive invasion of technological devices streaming bad news of increasing negativity and scarcity that literally walls up against our normal development as individuals, and certainly as political parties, not to mention the demise of many of our social groupings like churches, service clubs, and face-to-face interest groups.
Both Republicans and Democrats are grasping for the next available vote, through the most short-sighted scarcity and both deprived and depraved sense of emptiness, hollowness and existential angst that, like the proverbial Victim archetype, they are paralyzed with fear...fear of both acting and of not acting.
Fear of themselves and of the other; fear of failure and fear of success: fear of the other holding power and fear of their losing power; fear of facts and fear of illusions; fear of questions and fear of answers; fear of attacks and fear of not being noticed; fear of winning and fear of losing....
And these frozen archetype negates the potential of both Sun and plenty; it is a state of spiritual exhaustion, spiritual hopelessness and spiritual lying..
In the Christian lexicon, Satan is depicted as the Great Liar, and it is on the lies of Satan in the broadest sense of that word that we have impaled ourselves, over the last three or four decades, in our obsessive and phoney "godliness" and "righteousness" and "sanctimoniousness" and spiritual warfare, based not on discovering and deploying our healthy 'warrior' but on deploying our negative and sinister warrior, because we see demons demanding slaying everywhere. In demonizing others, we have contributed to a cultural landscape of demons, all of them lies of our own making, and believing. In short, we have become Satan, through adoption of the lies that perpetuate the ultimate liar.
If we are Republicans, Obama is demonized; if we are Americans, Iran, Iraq, AlQaeda, AlShabaab, Syria, Libya (prior to the fall of the dictator), Hezbollar, Hamas....are all demons needing to be eradicated, not to mention the terror groups in Pakistan. If we are Democrats, Republican presidential candidates are demons, so is Rupert Murdoch, and Grover Norquist, the Koch Brothers and Rush Limbaugh. In short, we are projecting our fears, in metaphoric terms, on names and faces we do not like, trust, tolerate or even have respect for. Rather than doing the hard work of looking inward at those things in our own lives with which we are uncomfortable, but about which we remain largely unconscious, we are flinging images of those "Shadow" archetypes around like missiles at "the other" whoever that may be. As a result our unconscious is effectively in charge, to our own self-sabotage.
It is time to bring those Shadow images to the light of day, and reap the gold that can and will emerge from such an exercise.
As Victims at war with other Victims, attempting to lead any country, we are doomed to failure. The most nasty weapons, strategies, tactics and rumours will and are being deployed in a desperate attempt to take the victory. However, in such a war no one can win, because the prize has eroded, disappeared and perhaps even suffered extinction through a constant barrage of political, cultural and psychic bombing, under cover of headlines, of gossip about irrelevancies and inanities and of disasters both natural and man-generated.
Civil perceptions, attitudes, world views, dependent on PLENTY have been replaced by uncivil perceptions, attitudes, world views dependent on SCARCITY....and it is time for a truce, and time for all Victims/Warriors to lay down their arms and to wander in the wilderness of confusion, deep and profound reflection and list-making of all those they have wounded, destroyed, maimed, imperiled, and even killed whether deliberately or not...in order to return to the "playing field" where civility, honesty, humility, creativity and both compromise and hope have a chance. Only through considerable time in the wilderness, as Wanderer, confused, anxious, hurting, vulnerable and seemingly lost, will we come face to face with our Shadow, wrap our hearts and minds around all of its complexities and listen carefully to the rhythms and the melodies that emerge.
And the return from the wilderness must not be too soon, because if it is, the hard work that needs to be done will not be accomplished.
One of the most memorable phrases of the last week is the one used to describe herself, by Christine Lagarde, on CBS' 60 Minutes, in her interview with Lara Logan, when she agreed that she had told unpopular truths in her public life to people less than receptive to their hearing. "Speaking the truth," she said, "has become my brand."
Would that it could and would become the brand of leaders from all countries and public agencies, both for profit and not-for-profit. The gift of such clarity, as an integral component of PLENTY, cannot be overestimated.

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