I don’t believe our country is “more divided than ever before.” Remember the Cold War, when some of us collaborated with Stalin? You’ve heard of the Civil War? We aren’t shooting each other by the thousands yet.
The problem is the political spectrum that professors still encourage us to use. The spectrum might have been valid to describe the rift between Sir Edmund Burke and King George III. It might have helped people understand the conflict between France’s Ancien Régime and Robespierre. But it doesn’t fit the modern world. It might have even become irrelevant by the time Bismarck invented modern social welfare.
Some far superior models have been developed, mainly based on four-quadrant maps. I like the triangle model. I can’t remember the source, so I plagiarized it.
I see three ideological camps.
- Conservatives: this group sees the Great Conflict as a clash between barbarism and civilization. When a foreign government sets up death camps, we should intervene (sometimes with military force). Killing healthy babies after they are born is barbaric, so should be de-funded. Pornography objectifies women and provides revenue for human trafficking, so should be regulated.
- Progressives: the Great Conflict is a clash between educated elites and ignorant masses. People are stupid and lazy: they’re racist, they cheat on their taxes, they pollute the environment, and they eat Twinkies for breakfast. Carefully-chosen elites, trained at the right schools, are necessary to check the ignorance of stupid people. (You, dear reader, are not stupid like everyone else, even though you ate ice cream for lunch and threw the container on the ground). The masses will never willingly choose to enact anti-pollution measures or civil rights legislation.
- Libertarians: the Great Conflict is between the oppressive state and the individual. The state prevents us from smoking weed, takes our money to spend on military and social programs, and indoctrinates our children. The definition of marriage (only between man and woman or between anyone with mutual attraction) is irrelevant, because the state should have never been in the business of regulating marriage.
In the U.S., progressives have traditionally identified as Democrats, and Republicans have been a coalition of libertarians and conservatives. The coalition is showing fissures, as they don’t agree on some things (should children have open access to pornography?)
I believe the traditional bi-polar spectrum has some weaknesses:
- Because of social identity theory, we choose beliefs based on our social identity. Here is one example. Traditionally, Republicans fought for immigration, and Democrats (due to union support) fought against it. Then, during the Obama era, immigrants became pawns in an ideological argument. Now Democrats and Republicans have completely flip-flopped on the issue, and we all changed our beliefs because our tribes changed platforms. We think we’re rational. We usually argue what “works,” based on historical experience or science. But we actually pick and choose evidence to fit our belief systems. You can probably perceive my biases in this post.
- The number of issues is far greater.
- The population is much more complex and diverse than it was in the past. We’re no longer divided between serfs and nobility.
- I also believe conflict is good. I’m a strong believer in ideological diversity. I think it’s as critical to a healthy society as biological diversity is to an ecosphere.
- We mis-label. Hitler regarded Stalin as a mentor, and Mussolini was a career socialist until he built a coalition with Italian Fascists. But then they went to war in a classic power struggle competing for land, and followers of Stalin successfully convinced us that National Socialism should be placed on the right of the spectrum. For propaganda, they differentiated from each other through nicknames. Nazis called Soviets “Bolsheviks,” and Soviets called Nazis “Fascists.” This allows us to call those on the right “Nazis,” and those on the left, “Communists.” Both of those movements resulted in genocides from which the world has not healed, and are not related to our debates over funding for school lunch.
- Divide and Conquer: certain people in power want us to be divided. It is part of a strategy.
Unfortunately, we’re probably stuck with bi-polar politics. In order to amass enough power to accomplish anything, you need support from at least half of everyone. So we naturally gravitate to two-party systems. Three parties are never sustainable. The Republican Party was a third party created to push for civil rights of enslaved African Americans. By the time it gathered enough support, the Whig party had disappeared and we returned to a two-party system.
In the meantime, I exercise my right to freely choose to not eat a Twinkie.