Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Our Divided Selves: Relating to Political Divisiveness in America


“The divided self. That is the root cause of divisiveness in American politics. 
We, along with many others, have helped to foster terror at home and abroad because, 
like other colonial, post-colonial and world powers, we are afraid to face our 
deepest terrors within. Often this occurs on a subconscious level. It is time to end the blame game and look in the mirror. And when we see our unique beauty as well as our flaws, we can smile and sigh and leave everybody else alone.”

--Helen L. Stewart

Helen Stewart -- author, futurist, retired university academic administrator -- says the truth is Americans face contradiction all the time, but when those who assume they are “supposed to have it all” and “have it easy” struggle to stay afloat like the rest of “them,” they experience great shock. This is particularly apparent where there is radical conservative extremism among working class and poor white men in the U.S.

Stewart says …

“There is a socially dominant component of the self (race, gender, class, education, ethnicity, religion, for example) that revels in being favored, but there is also a subordinate component that festers anger and bitterness for being left out by virtue of one aspect only of their very being.

"In tough economic times especially, limited resources are parceled out based on how people fit these categories. It is that shock which forms the breeding ground and foundation of political extremism in all its forms not only in the U.S., but in other countries as well.

“I would venture to say that somewhere deep within they are blaming themselves for not having 'made it' the way they expected they deserved or could.

“And they do not have a categorical reason or excuse to explain away their felt failure. Facing the guilt and shame of not meeting these expectations is so tortured they have to lash out and blame somebody else.”

Politicians who capitalize on the feelings of angry Americans that believe they have been denied the American Dream employ that resentment to strike out and blame their opponents for every conceivable ill. These politicians even create scenarios that show “someone within another group has it better.” The result is predictable – those who feel they are “owed” everything feel a categorical hatred of whoever they assume is the opposition.

(Helen L. Stewart, Ph.D. “The Root Cause of Divisiveness 
in American Politics. SSD Blog. 2016)

Divisiveness in politics attempts to place voters squarely on the horns of one dilemma after another. Calculated weapons of fear such ad the blame game and the pointing finger of accusation exacerbate feelings of anger and mistrust for scapegoats. This creates the doom and gloom mentality.

I believe ...

“We” have long practiced avoidance of placing the blame squarely and justly upon “ourselves.” Instead of facing problems and realizing “we” are the solution, “we” have sucked in the threatening rhetoric; “we” have chosen to believe the talking heads; and “we” have walked partisan lines that feed "our own" gullible, lazy brains.

Pew Research Center (2014) found when Americans look at the political battles between President Obama and Republicans in Congress, they tend to say both sides should meet in the middle. For roughly half of Americans (49%) the preferred outcome is to split the difference at exactly 50/50 — each getting about half of what they want.

This view holds across party lines. While some Democrats would prefer to see Obama get more of what he wants in negotiations with Republicans, 46% of Democrats and Democratic-leaners say the ideal outcome is 50/50. Exactly half of Republicans and Republican-leaners agree that splitting the difference is the right end result. Remember, this is what Americans say should be, not the reality of what is.


Research shows …

Partisan antipathy has risen. Among Republicans and Democrats who have a very unfavorable impression of the other party, the vast majority say the opposing party’s policies represent a threat to the nation’s well-being. The share of Republicans who have very unfavorable opinions of the Democratic Party has jumped from 17% to 43% in the last 20 years. Similarly, the share of Democrats with very negative opinions of the Republican Party also has more than doubled, from 16% to 38%. But these numbers tell only part of the story.

In addition, the share of Americans who express consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades, from 10% to 21%. As a result, the amount of ideological overlap between the two parties has diminished. The “median,” or typical, Republican is now more conservative than 94% of Democrats, compared with 70% twenty years ago. And the median Democrat is more liberal than 92% of Republicans, up from 64%. Among Republicans and Democrats who are highly engaged in politics, 70% now take positions that are mostly or consistently in line with the ideological bent of their party.

The moderate position is significantly smaller, and to those on the ideological right and left, compromise now means that their side gets more of what it wants. About six-in-ten across-the-board liberals (62%) say the optimal deal between President Barack Obama and the GOP should be closer to what Obama wants. About as many consistent conservatives (57%) say an agreement should be more on the GOP’s terms.

(Carroll Doherty, Director of Political Research. “7 things to know about polarization in America Pew Research Center.” Pew Research Center. June 12, 2014.)

It is evident that we, the American people, are pawns of political intimidation. We allow ourselves to be swayed by the divisive tactics that do little other than to foster election and re-election through fear mongering and promoting civil unrest. Once elected, politicians fight bipartisanship tooth and nail in fear of losing a power base resting upon tactics of intimidation.

Be it through the use of fear -- the fear of immigration, the fear of gun control, the fear of terrorist threats, the fear of gender legislation... or be it through the use of terror -- the terror of losing religious freedoms, the terror of police brutality, the terror of suffering every conceivable discrimination – there are politicians who survive only through tactics that generate genuine division.

Let me ask you this: Are you willing to accept the apocalyptic visions of those who belittle others and blame every problem or concern on those they brand as “villains” – people who do not practice their own narrow interpretations of right and wrong.

Or …

Are you willing to accept your own responsibility to oppose those who would have you live in a constant state of terror and unrest and rededicate yourself to restoring American freedom, justice, and liberty?

I believe our obligations to ourselves and to our loved ones must involve understanding how positive change first comes from our own recognition that when we cave to fear, we become our own worst enemy. And, when we cannot confront our own “divided self,” we avoid the most basic terror of all. Those who seek to control my trepidation desire not only my vote but also my free will. I refuse to surrender my own God-given gifts of individuality.

"This, then, is our situation, lamented by St. Paul, Buddha, Ovid, and so many others. Our minds are loose confederations of parts, but we identify with and pay too much attention to one part: conscious verbal thinking.
"We are like the proverbial drunken man looking for his car keys under the street light. ('Did you drop them here?' asks the cop. 'No' says the man, 'I dropped them back there in the alley, but the light is better over here.') 

"Because we can see only one little corner of the mind’s vast operation, we are surprised 
when urges, wishes, and temptations emerge, seemingly from nowhere. We make pronouncements, vows, and resolutions, and then are surprised by our own powerlessness 
to carry them out. We sometimes fall into the view that we are fighting with 
our unconscious, our id, or our animal self.

"But really we are the whole thing."

--R.D. Laing, The Divided Self  


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