Something dark is occurring in our society today. Polarization is at the highest level since the civil war. The chasm between the far left and the rest is widening. Both sides have their share of the blame for that, but overall the polarization is driven by people on the radical left. They are not merely wrong. It’s far worse than that. They are ideologically possessed.
Consequently, normal political discourse is not going to work. It may even make matters worse, creating further polarization.
What is needed is the political equivalent of marriage counseling – or ideological exorcism. Sadly, no third party can help the unhappy couple, so the initiative needs to come from the parties themselves. Let us now consider the structure of such a therapy.
Step 1: Acknowledge that you have a problem
Before any healing and solutions can occur, both parties need to recognize that something unhealthy is taking place in society. Start by reaching out to the other party and propose to start a constructive conversation that leads toward healing.
The first step is the most important and admittedly also the hardest. If both parties were to recognize that something pathological was going on in society and showed a willingness to deal with it, then there likely wouldn’t be much of a problem in the first place. However, it is worth a try, as there are few if any alternatives left.
Step 2: Say something nice about your political opponents
Once you have managed to start a dialogue, a paramount icebreaker is to get both sides to say something nice about their political opponents. Breaking the bonds of ideological possession starts with recognizing that you are not dealing with the “other”, but with real human beings who also have positive qualities.
People on the left tend to score high on the personality traits of agreeableness and openness. This means that the people who we can call the creative class are composed largely of left-leaning people.
These people provide the impetus for creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. They are highly desired qualities. Without them, we would stagnate as a society.
Similarly, right-leaning people score high in conscientiousness and orderliness. People on the right get up in the morning. They work hard and keep the lights on. They’re honest decent folks who follow the rules and don’t create trouble. Without them, we would all be knee deep in the “jungle.”
These qualities neatly complement each other. Reasonable people should see that there is a potential for a wonderful division of labor in society and plenty of room for people of all political sides to prosper and contribute to the mutual benefit of all.
Step 3: Admit a weakness of your own side
If you have come past the initial icebreaker, it is time to get self-critical. We are used to hearing the other side attribute negative qualities to us. That is part of the polarization. Let us now instead turn the tables and identify a weakness of our own side.
Conservatives can tend to be a bit dull and set in their ways. They have their ways of doing things and are not always so happy about change –even when it is necessary.
Law-abiding conservatives can also become smothering in their demands for conformity. Most conservatives today have no problem admitting that they might have been too harsh on the fringe elements of society. This comes into play with gays and gender roles, for instance. The conservative demand for conformity to cultural norms can be a bit of a straightjacket and it wouldn’t hurt to loosen up a bit.
If leftists are honest with themselves, they have a similar list of troubles with their own side that can be brought to light. The creativity on the left is often used to break not only habits and norms but also laws. Crime is largely a left problem. For decades Hollywood had a culture of sexual misconduct, and it was covered over and excused as just something you had to expect from creative types.
Creativity with the truth is also not a good thing. Many people on the left have an honesty problem. Conservatives often regard truth as sacred and a goal that transcends self-interest. Leftists often think of truth as a tool for achieving their goals. Therefore, getting leftists to participate in this part of the exercise might be the greatest challenge of all.
Step 4: Find ways to learn from each other
When both sides acknowledge good traits in the other and bad ones in themselves, a real conversation is possible. Lots of kinks and icky problems need to be worked out, but at this stage, the ideological possession should have loosened up a bit.
So what can the two learn from each other? Conservatives can learn that rules have exceptions from time to time. Not everyone needs to follow the norms of society. It doesn’t mean that conservatives must love gay marriage and smoke pot, but they don’t need to be so harsh whenever they are the dominant cultural factor.
The left can learn to value honesty and truth more. Leftists are so concerned about feelings that they are willing to chronically lie. An abundance of political correctness often demonstrates they have lost their grip on reality and invented boogeymen that don’t exist. They should probably also learn to be a little bit more grateful for the benefits of capitalism. Conservatives keep the lights on, and the world would be an awful place without them.
Conservatives should also be a little bit more concerned with finding good ways to monetize creativity. Much of the resentment on the left can be traced back to the fact that most creative people will never make a living or decent income from their creations. In a capitalist society, a conscientious and orderly person can easily make a good life for himself and his family, but the same is not the case for most creative people. If that gap can be closed, left-leaning folk could pour their energy and creativity into useful endeavors rather than tearing down society.
Of course, it always takes two to tango, so perhaps it’s time to join the dance before we tear each other apart. Nothing can be gained from that.