"We" need to evolve our thinking in 2019

January 6, 2019

2019 is a year we must evolve our thinking. In 2018 Donald Trump was very successful in one regard - dividing people along political ideology. In fact, it's gone beyond simple disagreement. People are now so stressed out by perceived political division, they won't even talk with or listen to those with whom they disagree. This is psychologically and socially unhealthy, and I propose we are now stuck in a feedback loop that is decades in the making. We are virtually trapped within our tribal groups, and our strong unconscious resistance to having any kind of meaningful engagement with anyone who sees the world differently has our society and political system in a critical state. Further, I would argue that unconsciously, because of how our brains work (framing), we are incapable of actually "hearing" any of the pain or problems of those with whom we disagree - just as they are of us. The foundation of our political/societal strife was laid eighty years ago, has had unintended consequences, and has come to fruition across our society and political culture only recently. Extremist conservatives have succeeded in making us a "me" society. It's time to leave that idea in the past, and evolve into a "we" society.


Eighty years ago, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt was putting the nation on the road to the New Deal, the conservative US Chamber of Commerce was scared. They viewed the popular acceptance of the principles of the New Deal ("Good Samaritan") as being a direct threat to the Free Market and Capitalism. Instead of attacking the law itself, they went after what it represented in THEIR frame - an immoral expansion of government, and something that would impede people's freedom to pursue and achieve their own self interest. The US Chamber hired Reverend James Fifield to lead their moral crusade, and began a campaign that equates capitalism with Christianity - and made personal freedom to pursue wealth and self-interest morally superior to an evil, immoral government that impedes that freedom. 


Thus began a decades-long societal march away from the "common good," "love thy neighbor," and caring for others through democracy; and into our current state - the politics, culture, and society of self-interest and "me first." And my, how we have arrived. Researchers have been tracking the rise of narcissism and decline of empathy for decades. Such a widespread, well-funded, and coordinated campaign aimed at changing the way people think through effective marketing methods ("framing") is most certainly one of the root causes of this shift occurring over decades.


The "me" culture in politics is everywhere - in both parties. Republicans have it at the core of their moral system, and after decades of work, it is now dominant even beyond politics. We see it dominating everything that comes out of Trump's twitter feed, and the evoked psychology of "me" in Trump's worldview (i.e., the United States being morally better than other nations; whites being morally better than other races; rich being morally better than poor, etc.) about "building a wall" - is a metaphor for protecting "my" (Trump's) way. What most Democratic strategists are missing is that "the wall" is a metaphor for Trump's vision of "me" politics.


The political "me" culture is rampant in the Democratic Party as well. Democrats and progressives find themselves constantly being pulled into various issue groups that are based on relevant social/economic justice needs. There can be no denying the critical need in our world for greater freedom, opportunity, and prosperity for many of the people on this planet. And there can be no doubt that it will take an enormous amount of energy and action from everyone to accomplish the necessary change. But I urge you to consider - in the context of the power of cognitive framing to drive unconscious actions - that most of these issue groups, though having the noblest of intentions, very much evoke a "me first" action and message psychology. Again, while having the noblest of intentions, this serves only to evoke the idea of a hierarchy placing one's own interest first. The net effect of this is to reinforce and strengthen our existing "me" political culture and fuel division and hate between groups of people. Meeting hate and division with more hate and division only leads to increased hate and division. How does this happen?


Since the "me" frame is being activated, here's how people's cognitive unconscious process this information - "if you want your issue or interest first, and my issue or interest isn't aligned with your interest (or maybe not even my top priority), then that means that I lose out on MY issue interest being acted on. That's not right, and it scares me." The net effect is that even Democrats and progressives can find themselves divided by the issues - especially in the absence of a cohesive, well-communicated cognitive strategy that puts unconscious values first. They can also find themselves responding to perceived threats to their interests from a place of fear and by expressing hatred for those they feel threatened by.


The fact that top Democrats and many of the newly elected class of Democrats are so aligned with Wall Street and big corporate money means that the "me" culture in our politics will only grow stronger - unless "we the people" act to change it.


2019 needs to be a year where good people, in both parties, come together for the common good. The only way this will happen is if the idea of "we the people..." replaces "me the individual..." in every respect, in every aspect of political discourse. And the only way this will happen is if we start from a point of having a moral responsibility to care for the freedom and prosperity of others (not just "ourselves" or "me") through acting in our democracy. It's actually a simple idea - my freedom comes with a responsibility for the freedom of others. If my brother or sister isn't free to prosper, then my freedom and prosperity is diminished. It's acting on a message of love and hope in the face of hatred and fear. This is a basic truth on every issue, for every person, regardless of political party. 


Let's start 2019 out as a "we" year, and leave the "me" era in the past where it belongs.