I do a lot of thinking in the car. It’s almost like a shower for me.. very meditative. Yesterday, I literally pulled over to make a note of this thought.
The western world is clearly divided right now. Democrats vs. Republicans. Liberals vs. Conservatives. Blue vs. Red. Left vs. Right. Sometimes it seems downright silly… like division for the sake of division. I can confidently say that I don’t identify with either side. One champions a compassionate approach but fails to act intelligently. One champions an intelligent approach but fails to act compassionately. Neither seems very interested in accountability or honest conversation. And neither seems to realize that for one side to win, both must win.
With tribalism continuing to be one of my biggest personal frustrations, I’m motivated to understand it. When I think about why people choose to be divided, the reasons usually aren’t that hard to find. More often than not, it seems to be driven by fear. And that fear tends to be driven by scarcity in some way. Perhaps a scarcity of resources, opportunity, or safety. In a position of abundance and security, we are much more likely to extend a helping hand to a stranger. In a position of scarcity and fear, we only take care of those close to us. As scarcity and fear increase, that circle gets smaller.
This would suggest that in times of peace and abundance, things like Left vs. Right don’t exist. Yet the liberal and conservative mindset have existed since well before modern politics. While the politicians certainly have a hand in playing up that narrative, today, perhaps there’s something else worth exploring here.
Humanity seems to be defined by some mode of evolutionary progress. If you look at what separates our species from other intelligent animals, it’s the rate at which we’ve progressed. Genetically, we’re almost identical to chimpanzees but in a more practical sense, we couldn’t be more different. Comparing humans to all other known life, we seem to have stumbled onto the secret sauce of forward progress. Yet we have such a hard time agreeing on which direction is forward and what should be considered progress. Maybe, whatever this secret sauce is, it exists primarily is the collective subconscious.
If I were to guess at what that secret sauce might be, I would say it’s how we’ve evolved to instinctually understand the status quo. Quite simply, there are those who would prefer to maintain it and those who would prefer to challenge it. Generally speaking, you’re more interested in maintaining the status quo when you’re happy with your situation and challenging the status quo when you’re unhappy with your situation. Sounds rather sensible doesn’t it?
I had a Eureka moment yesterday: You can’t challenge a status quo which doesn’t exist. I’m big on challenging the status quo and I’m no stranger to the frustrations of those who look to maintain it in the face of progress. Yet I was never dismissive of their value to the bigger picture and I think I now understand why. The status quo seems to provide the foundation on which forward progress is most likely. If everyone looked to challenge the status quo, what would they challenge? Sounds like chaos. Ironically, maintaining the status quo seems like an exercise in order. Perhaps forward progress is a fine balance between chaos and order.
When I step back and think about how this perspective applies to modern society, a lot starts to make sense. The right tends to be defined by their conservative approach – aka maintaining the status quo. The left tends to be defined by their liberal approach – aka challenging the status quo. Many of history’s great cultural and political clashes can be distilled down to those who wanted change and those who wanted to keep things the same. And yet both were and probably are necessary.
One dynamic which ties in here is the dichotomy of intelligence vs. compassion. I’ve found that the left behaves significantly more compassionately than the right while the right behaves significantly more intelligent than the left. It has crossed my mind that those who lean more towards intelligence are more likely to find success in their lives, especially in their careers. This would lead towards greater financial prosperity and a higher quality of life. If you’re aware that you’re enjoying a higher quality of life than the average, would you not be motivated to maintain the status quo? Would you not be more motivated to support those around you who have used intelligence as a path to success? Would you not begin to assume that a path of intelligence is more rewarding than a path of compassion? But what if you leaned more towards compassion? What if you were sensitive to the injustices in the world and were motivated to pursue equality and social justice more than income? And what if you were willing to accept financial disparity for the sake of helping others? And what if you’re aware that you’re enjoying a lower quality of life than average because of that sacrifice, would you not be motivated to challenge the status quo?
The political division of our species sucks. It often leads me to think that the best solution is no division at all and that we’re destined to arrive at some variation of a cybernetic hive mind. Perhaps that’s still the case, but maybe not. There seem to be some evolutionary divisions which have proven rather practical. Males and females might be the most classic example.. having evolved a remarkably well balanced partnership over the course of evolution (albeit a little bumpy at the moment). When it comes to the progress we’ve made over the last 10,000 years though, I might just attribute that to the balanced partnership between those who look to challenge the status quo and those who look to maintain it.
If we could learn to see one another as partners in forward progress instead of obstacles between us and power.. I can’t help but think everything would run a little more smoothly.