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Sender: Tom Atlee
Subject: Re: Where Does Polarization Come From?
Date: Fri, May 16, 2014
Msg: 100989

Dichotomous - binary, oppositional - thinking has existed for thousands of years. Taoism (ref the yin-yang symbol), Buddhism (interdependent co-arising), Rumi ("Out beyond right-thinking and wrong-thinking there is a field; I'll meet you there."), Hegel (the dialectic), Polarity Management, and numerous other non-polarizing perspectives have tried to give us positive ways to look at and deal with dichotomies. Many of these perspectives also highlight the tendency, when one side of a polarity is enhanced, for its opposite to be invoked into even more powerful manifestations.

Of course reducing reality (or an ecosystem or spectrum of perspectives) to two is itself drastically reductionist. There are always more than two kinds, energies, options, etc., present. But our minds have a tendency to oversimplify in order to navigate the complexity of life, to find factors or ways of knowing that are more relevant or productive than other ways. Furthermore, having two options gives us things to not only be clearly for but also to be clearly against, supporting the kind of conflicted life-dramas that engage our attention. Two are better than one, and simpler than three, and so much more comprehensible than eighty-seven or infinite possibilities!

Those who seek to confront the true complexity of reality end up "knowing that they don't know"; they become humble, nuanced, and curious in their thinking, knowing that "there is always more to it" than whatever is asserted. They look for "the third way" or "the emergent possibilities" which no one is currently asserting.

The kind of polarization we see today - usually defined as liberal/conservative, left/right, Democrat/Republican - is grounded in this ancient dichotomous thinking. But it is helped along by a number of other factors in addition to those already mentioned:

* The majoritarian system itself. It is MUCH easier to get 51% when we are dealing with two options than when we are dealing with three or more. Thus we get people aligning into parties or polarized framings pro-life vs pro-choice, which is not only ridiculously reductionist (since it hides a broad spectrum of feelings and opinions about abortion, forcing people into these two opposing camps where they may not feel totally comfortable in order to have political impact) but also thoroughly misleading (since many on the pro-life side are in favor of many death-dealing policies - like capital punishment and wars - and want certain choices - like where to send their kids to school - while many on the pro-choice side are against certain choices - like parents being free to genetical design their babies - and for many life-affirming things - like stopping child abuse and climate change).

* The culture and techniques of debate - being for and against a proposition (rather than engaging in a shared search for an optimum solution), and all the tricks - both logical and illogical - for seeking to win (rather than to resolve a conflict or co-design an optimum course of action). Debate, like war, is a dichotomous manifestation of the culture of competition and contest which itself usually involves more than two parties but often generates simplified alignments into "sides" in the pursuit of the power needed to dominate challengers.

* As a modern manifestation of the culture of debate, we see massive and increasing funding being loosed into the field of political PR and electioneering. Successful PR is usually based on emotion-laden oversimplifications, unduly glorifying one side while demonizing the other (a debate strategy whose power is increased by money and PR techniques even as it has departed ever further from fact and reason).

* Physical and virtual mobility has allowed people to cluster geographically, in networks and information ecosystems, in relationships, etc., where they share worldviews and self-reinforcing information with each other (the "silos" John referred to). Numerous books and articles have been written on this - e.g., Online searches and sites help people find these enclaves even as search algorithms (like Google's and Netflix) feed them results in all their searches designed to support their current interests and views. Furthermore, political redistricting is being increasingly practiced to create concentrated or isolated partisan districts and secure incumbents. All these feedback loops are becoming extremely dense and interactive.

* Increasingly real and visible economic, social, and situational injustice, inequity, and insecurity. The greater the observable differentials between the haves and the have-nots, for example, the more oppositional and conflicted energy is generated in the system as a whole. Some of this energy is dissipated by promoting the individualized partial truth that "we are each responsible for our own conditions and success or failure" - and some of it is enhanced and channeled by those who hold or seek power by demonizing the enemy or some scapegoat. Neither of these actually address the systemic sources of the negative energy but rather serve to accentuate it.

Another article of mine on this subject is

(I'm sure there are other factors as well. Do we want to explore them as a shared exercise in clarifying them and mapping how they relate?)

When I do thought experiments that involve all of these factors reinforcing each other, I find myself wondering if we are approaching a political reality where civilization will either terminate itself or radically shift to a new order quite beyond polarization.

That's why I see bridge-building Left-Right dialogue as a transitional strategy. It undermines the dichotomy as a polarized system while simultaneously buying into the idea of "two opposites" as somehow fundamental. Ultimately, I think that multi-option deliberations (like Citizens Juries and National Issues Forums), community problem-solving, choice-creating (like Dynamic Facilitation), non-directive self-organizing approaches (like Open Space conferences), and (perhaps especially) random selection (as a slate-cleaning, corruption-stopping form of selection) are potentially game-changing strategies that could reduce polarization to minor eddies at the far edges of a strongly co-creative mainstream current.


Tom Atlee Co-Intelligence Institute Eugene, OR 97403

On May 16, 2014, at 9:22 AM, Rick Raddatz wrote:

> Yes, but why do the silos exist? > > The two biggest silos are the left and right. And I believe these silos exist because nobody has united the parallel pursuits of ideal social justice and ideal freedom under a single vision of government. > > My hope is that once the left and right see that cap-and-prioritize unites the parallel pursuits of ideal social justice and ideal freedom, the silos will crumble and we will find a new issue to divide us. > > - Rick Raddatz > Http:// > > > > On May 16, 2014, at 7:46 AM, millershed@EARTHLINK.NET wrote: > >> My take is that polarization is a symptom of the underlying (and increasing) siloization (hope that's a word) of our society. In a complex system, the parts are interconnected through webs of feedback loops. This is what distinguishes a group that knows one another and has formed relationships (which is a compelx system) from a group that is suddenly thrown together--like a crowd--that doesn't have much in the way of relationships (and which is a collection of fragments rather than a true system). A collection of fragments will exhibit chaotic behavior, while a complex system maintains a dynamic equilibrium (a flexible order). >> >> So the question is, why do we increasingly live in our own silos, communicating with and relating to only those who are most like us? (Which, BTW, results in positive (amplifying, as in snowball effects) feedback loops within those silos, or what you might call radicalization, because there is no reality check on their ideas and values from outside their silo, since they don't really live outside their silo and can just view the rest of the world as aberrant and misguided, and therefore ignore and condemn it. We see this everywhere today.) >> >> By answering the question of what drives and sustains siloization, we can look for ways in which non-siloization (a really awesome word!) can be encouraged. That, I think, would be the best thing an effective transpartisan movement could do. I don't think there's one answer to this question, but a range of many answers, from small to large, from the very local (and even personal) to the macro. And the real trick is acting simultaneously in many ways, on many levels, in a somewhat coordinated fashion (facilitated by frequent and effective communication amongst the various parts or members of the system)--something that an effective transpartisan movement could help to do. >> >> John Miller >> (952) 887-2763 >> Green Tea Party Movement >> -----Original Message----- >> From: Rick Raddatz >> Sent: May 15, 2014 4:10 PM >> To: TRANSPARTISAN@LISTS.THATAWAY.ORG >> Subject: Re: [TRANSPARTISAN] Where Does Polarization Come From? >> >> I would like to offer a dissenting opinion. >> >> The first rule of blame is that the thing being blamed has to be changeable. >> >> This article fails that test because activists are going to exist as long as humans exist. >> >> The second rule of blaming is that the thing you are complaining about must be something bad. >> >> Thus article fails that test because polarization is not clearly a bad thing. E.g., If it's true that both sides have a piece of the puzzle, then polarization is a necessary phase on the way towards solving the problem. >> >> - Rick Raddatz >> Founder, Http:// >> >> >> >> On May 15, 2014, at 1:26 PM, Brian Sullivan wrote: >> >>> Where Does Polarization Come From? >>> >>> From the Daily Dish, a blog by Andrew Sullivan (no relation) >>> >>> >>> Hans Noel tries to answer the question: >>> >>> Members of Congress are not polarized because voters are now better sorted. And voters are not polarized simply because legislators now are. The missing piece is ideological activists, who now dominate the political parties. In short, policy demanders. These politically engaged activists are the base that legislators are increasingly playing to, because they are the ones who provide campaign resources and who threaten primary challenges. Their polarization also filters to voters, through elected officials but also through the media and informal networks. (And ultimately, these activists themselves may be polarized because elite political thinkers are polarized, but you don't have to buy that story to believe that activists are important.) Of course, studying legislative and mass polarization is very important, but its far from the center of the story. >>> >>> Seth Masket adds that almost no one "gets into politics with the goal of driving the parties further apart." Instead, he argues, individuals "get involved in politics usually because they want the government to do something different from what it's currently doing": >>> >>> Activists have become better at this over time. They're increasingly organizing over a broader range of issues and they've become adept at getting political parties to adopt their stances, making it even harder for politicians to resist them. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, this is how governing ideas are generated and translated into law. But it's important to remember that the parties aren't far apart because people hate each other; they're far apart because people want the government to do things. This is why exhortations for common ground tend to fall on deaf ears. People favor compromise in principle, except on the one thing that drove them into politics in the first place. >>> >>> Julia Azari partially blames growing polarization on growing distrust of government: >>> >>> [P]artisanship and declining trust in government have become mutually reinforcing. In my research, I find that mistrust of governing institutions (I focus on the presidency, although I think we can all agree that Congress has not been immune to this) emerged around the same time that the parties began to sort ideologically in response to the collapse of the New Deal coalition and the rise of cultural issues on the agenda. These began -- in the late 1960s -- as distinct phenomena. But as time went on, they became intertwined. A general lack of reverence and respect for the office of the presidency -- not without good reason after Watergate and Vietnam -- have merged with party polarization to create an environment in which presidents tend to be divisive, rather than uniting figures. They also tend, as I argue in the book, to rely more on language that appeals to their supporters and their campaign promises, which does little to alleviate the problem. In turn, these developments shape the incentives of individual members of Congress, who have increasingly little reason to collaborate across party lines. >>> >>> -- >>> >>> Brian Sullivan >>> Practical Evolution, LLC >>> San Francisco, CA USA >>> 011 415.305.3651 >>> >>> Perth, WA AU >>> 61 8 9467 4445 >>> Producer of CivicEvolution >>> >>> >>> >>> >>> To unsubscribe from the TRANSPARTISAN list, click the following link: >>> >> >> To unsubscribe from the TRANSPARTISAN list, click the following link: >> >> >> >> FB: green tea party movement >> Home: (952) 887-2763 >> Cell (952) 797-2302 >> >> >> To unsubscribe from the TRANSPARTISAN list, click the following link: >> > > To unsubscribe from the TRANSPARTISAN list, click the following link: >


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