Take a look at the last few months: So much energy and so many resources put into heated clashes between people of opposing political views, culminating in a presidential inauguration unprecedented in the volume of resistance surrounding it. America now finds itself split in two, with political prejudices even deeper and stronger than racial prejudices. Is this the best a 21st Century society can come up with as a way to conduct itself?
In a recent Ted talk, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt speaks of the left-right divide as one that is critically important for the American society to address, one that poses an existential threat. President Trump just said in his inauguration speech that “we must debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.” Trump and Haidt are certainly different characters in very different positions, but both realize that the growing trends of separation and division are crucial.
In my view, the political divide we see today need not be an eternal reality we must begrudgingly accept; it is an evolutionary challenge designed to push us toward a more viable social order.
Why the Current Paradigm Is Unsustainable
Today’s so-called “democracy” is very far from its original form, and calling it the “rule of the people” is not a suitable definition. What we have is differing ideologies and interests taking turns controlling the helm, replacing one another every few years, and often doing their best to erase each other’s previous achievements.
Many Clinton voters essentially see only one track to the future- getting the Democratic Party back in power in another four or eight years. Yet this political banality of alternating from one party to the other enslaves us to narrow partisan interests, creates distance from the public, and generates societal division that results in growing instabilities across the board.
History shows us that every ideology, if applied on its own, has a limited life span. It may work for a while, but later come to an unbalanced extreme, which will prove its failure and set the stage for a different ideology to take its place. In addition, as ideologies become more extreme, they become very similar in a practical sense, which overshadows their seemingly opposite ideals. Take Hitler and Stalin: leaders of completely opposite ideological movements, and yet, quite similar in practical terms.
What we are now witnessing is how decades of postwar liberalism has disintegrated into a declining neo-Liberal order, as it created a culture of disconnected idealism and did not actually treat the public problems at hand. Instead, it allowed for reckless behavior that put our societies in unbalanced and dangerous states. Neo-Liberalism, too, has come to an extreme where it was gradually becoming totalitarian. This inevitable demise is evident in the rising nationalistic trends the world over, pushing a change in course.
However, today’s western society is so divided, that it is unable to accept such a reality anymore. In the recent elections, we witnessed how frantically each side felt that the other was threatening its very existence. The resistance to differing ideologies is so strong that many cannot come to accept the results of the democratic vote; while leaders acknowledge they must find solutions to, somehow, heal the divide, if they wish to govern stable societies.
The current paradigm of artificial transitions of power between differing ideologies, supported by only part of the population, has become increasingly dangerous. Prosperity and social stability can only be achieved when people of differing opinions and interests are able to come together under a shared purpose.
Systems Thinking: The Next Frontier of Human Society
Looking at complex systems in nature, we see that contradicting elements complement one another for their survival and progress. The brain, the immune system, antcolonies, and human society, are all examples of complex systems.
Findings in Neurophysiology teach us how behavior correlates with the cooperative activity of many millions of individual neurons rather than a favored powerful few. Similarly, the brain is divided into left and right hemispheres, which perform different, and contradictory functions, yet work together in complete harmony.
Despite its cooperative form, competition is not absent within a complex system. It operates to maintain or strengthen certain properties while constraining or eliminating others, contributing to the overall state of balance. A great example of this was the reintroduction of predatory wolves into Yellowstone Park, which brought about the astonishing revival of the dwindling ecosystem.
It is time for us to acknowledge that these natural laws apply to us too, as we are now reaching a point where the stability of the human system depends on our ability to adhere to them through mutual complementation.
From our subjective perspectives, we tend to look at certain elements of society as “bad” or unnecessary. However, in nature, all parts are essential as long as they serve the overall purpose: balance and prosperity of the whole.
In his essay, “Peace in the World,” one of the greatest Jewish sages, Baal HaSulam writes that “Everything that exists in reality, the good and the bad, and even the most evil and destructive things of our world – has the right to exist, and mustn’t be eradicated. The only thing that we must do is correct it and bring it to its proper use”. This can be achieved when inner tendencies, whatever they are, are used for the benefit of the whole.
Indeed, models of complex systems have long been adapted to explain human social behavior. Jane Jacobs has argued in her book, Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life, that when large nation-states govern their cities through centralized control and centralized problem solving, it can stifle creativity and prevent the development of greater efficiencies.
So from a systems perspective, it is folly to think that one governing ideology in itself can succeed. Ideologies should be treated as natural phenomena that evolve in our societies. Rather than taking ideologies to the extreme, we need to devise a process where they can complement each other and contribute to the stability and prosperity of society as a whole.
How to Proceed from Here
Pragmatically speaking, there’s no immediate step that will change the political and social climate all at once. Both sides will surely continue to fight one another as a result of decades of social indoctrination and growing alienation. We need to begin to remedy this situation with a socio-educational process that will gradually repair this mindset of division.
We need cultural practices and examples that will show how decisions can be made together; how representatives of different and even opposing views can sit together and connect, only to find higher understanding of situations and solutions.
In such practices, no one needs to sacrifice their opinion for the sake of another’s; rather, something new, inclusive, and more sustainable will emerge from the unity of opposites. Such experiences will build the experiential knowledge that we profit from our differences. The political process of decision-making will become a creative process. Different representatives will not aim to overpower each other, but to add to a system that is greater than themselves.
In the business world, many organizations are already practicing this. Throughout the world, my students conduct what they have termed “connection circles.” In these circles, strangers, people of different backgrounds, and even those engaged in active conflicts such as Jews and Arabs, learn to complement each other in ways they never thought possible.
Treating the Root Cause
As Paul Laudicina wrote in Forbes magazine, summarizing the Davos summit that took place this month, “The future, to be sure, is highly uncertain. But what is crystal clear is that ignoring the warning signs and doing nothing to bridge these gaps in wealth and understanding will put us all in a bad spot”.
Our current socio-political systems have been failing to understand and treat our global problems within their interconnected, systemic context. In a world where economic disparity has become so radical that it can no longer be ignored, and where automation is predicted to soon put millions of people out of jobs, we are given the opportunity to fundamentally change the social paradigm.
Instead of replacing one ideology with another and fighting for temporary power, we need to go to the root of our constant instability. The solutions to our modern day problems will not be found in one person’s truth or the other, but in the truth that lives between us, in the connection that exists above all of our different views and opinions. This solution begins with each and every one of us, as well as all of us together.