False Dicotomy

by Peter Robertson

“Most voters still think Congress is doing a poor job and believe most of its members only get reelected because a fix is in.”  Over 80 percent of those surveyed disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job, and the majority of the respondents to a recent poll disapprove of the way their own representative in Congress is handling his or her job.  Trust in all three branches of government is as low or lower now than it’s been since Gallup started tracking this in the early 1970s.

In short, considerable evidence confirms that Americans are not happy with those who have been selected to govern our nation, nor do we have much faith in the integrity of the system.

It is easy to point to the polarized nature of politics– the ongoing battle between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives – as being a primary factor underlying the loss of public faith in American government.  But a more subtle analysis suggests that this polarization is really just a symptom of even deeper problems.  The polarized dynamics that make it difficult for Congress to pass reasonable and effective legislation are simply the natural consequence of institutional design features that in turn reflect key assumptions of modern culture.  Furthermore, this polarization is actually based on a false dichotomy, a fabricated bifurcation that, in turn, masks other important issues and distracts people from paying attention to some real, common concerns.

There are a number of facets to the argument supporting this claim, and after developing these below, I will discuss two alternative dichotomies that provide a better framework than the left-right distinction for understanding the preferences of the people, discussing the merits of alternative public policies, and evaluating the decisions of our elected leaders.

One place to begin the discussion is by consideration of the “red state/blue state” distinction promulgated by the media during national elections.  In a system where the President is officially determined by Electoral College votes that are usually allocated according to the winner of the popular vote in each of the states, there is some logic and value in understanding which of two candidates the majority of the voters are likely to pick.  But to extrapolate from this choice to the conclusion that a state is either red or blue, conservative or liberal, is clearly not warranted.  In fact, more sophisticated images make it clear that America is predominately “purple,” meaning that most of the population lives in places inhabited by both “blues” and “reds.” While rural areas tend to be more red and urban areas more blue, most states have a reasonable mix of the two.

On one hand, this false distinction between red states and blue states is to some extent a trivial matter, since it is primarily just a meme used by television “talking heads” to simplify the discussion of American politics.  On the other hand, because it is tied to the more substantive distinction between conservative and liberal political orientations, continued reliance on this dichotomy serves to reinforce the implicit premise that the American public is ideologically polarized into these two camps.  This premise is not very accurate, however.  In The Radical Center, Ted Halstead and Michael Lind point out that, at the turn of the century, more Americans identified themselves as independents than as either Democrats or Republicans, which they took as evidence that a large-scale political ‘dealignment’ is in process.  More recent data indicate that, in ten states with competitive Senate or Gubernatorial elections this November, there has been a 17.4% increase in Independent voter registration since 2008, compared to a 3.3% increase in Republican registration and a 4.8% decrease in Democratic registration.  While the media work to convey an image of an America polarized into liberal and conservative camps, evidence suggests that a large number of Americans actually see themselves in the middle of the two camps, and/or outside of either one.

Regardless of how Americans categorize themselves – liberal, conservative, somewhere in the middle, or independent– there are problems with the underlying left-right continuum itself that render it inadequate. One problem is that a single dimension is used to characterize a voter’s or a candidate’s political position, when in fact issues and attitudes fall on a number of separate dimensions simultaneously.

Left-Right

It is not uncommon for people to differentiate between their political orientations on economic issues and on social issues.  Some would claim to be economically conservative but socially liberal, suggesting they are in favor of free markets with low levels of government regulation while at the same time supportive of governmental provision of a social safety net to protect the disadvantaged members of society.  Others may say they are economically liberal in the sense that they support government involvement in the economy, such as regulation of business to uphold community values or prevent environmental destruction, while at the same time being socially conservative in the sense that they support traditional family values and, as a result, are opposed to liberal causes such as gay marriage and abortion rights.  Given such complexities, a simple left-right continuum, and the liberal-conservative dichotomy it generates, is not a very accurate or useful framework for assessing the diverse political opinions of the American electorate.

Given such complexities, a simple left-right continuum, and the liberal-conservative dichotomy it generates,is not a very accurate or useful framework for assessing the diverse political opinions of the American electorate.

A related problem is that, even though it may be relatively easy to identify the conservative and liberal positions on key issues, it isn’t necessarily clear what the underlying principles or values are that bring consistency to these positions.  Both sides can be accused of reflecting a number of internal contradictions.  Historically, conservatives have been pro-business, opposed to big government, and supportive of individual freedom.  Yet they also tend to want a large defense budget, which constitutes a major portion of federal spending, and readily support policies (e.g., the war on drugs, abortion restrictions) that are intended to constrain what people choose to do with their own bodies.  Liberals, or progressives (to provide a better semantic contrast with conservatives), tend to be in favor of policies intended to enhance social justice by addressing inequalities in society.  But in their efforts to promote equality, they have relied on policies (e.g., affirmative action) that treat people unequally, and most are supportive of a capitalist system that is meritocratic and thus by definition results in greater inequity.

A third problem with the left-right continuum is that it really isn’t a continuum at all. The positions on the far left and the far right are actually more similar than different.  If being on the left means being generally supportive of government intervention in society, then progressives support a welfare state in a democratic society and socialists are in favor of even more significant government influence over the distribution of resources in society.  At the far left, communists favor governmental ownership over the means of production and thus greater control over resource allocation.  If being on the right means being generally opposed to government intervention in society, then conservatives want to reduce the role of government down to its basic functions and libertarians would prefer to minimize government influence or interference in any private behavior.  At the far right, fascists essentially view government as a tool to support private interests and thereby facilitate their own consolidation of resources.

So, while communism and fascism sound quite different from each other, in practice the primary difference is that, in communism, the government owns the major industries while in fascism, the major industries “own” the government.  In both cases, the same set of individuals – the country’s elite – runs the government/business nexus and uses these institutions to accrue more power and wealth, such that there isn’t much operational difference between the two systems and the beneficiaries of their activities.

While the dichotomy between left and right, liberal and conservative, is not as straightforward as it may seem on the surface, these opposing positions have become institutionalized in American politics by virtue of their association with the two dominant political parties.  Unfortunately, this simply serves to exacerbate the situation, in terms of pushing the two sides further apart rather than helping to bring them together.

On one hand, political parties need to differentiate themselves in order to attract sympathetic voters; parties have a natural incentive to play up their differences and downplay their similarities.  On the other hand, since each party’s main objective is to win – whether winning an election or passing only the legislation it favors – the whole political process becomes a contest for the supremacy of one’s party rather than an effort to determine what is best for the whole country.  Instead of working to find a viable compromise or a constructive solution that satisfies both sides, the easier role for politicians to play is simply to block whatever the other side is trying to do.  This dysfunctional goal displacement leads naturally to the kind of political stalemates that have threatened to shut the government down and more generally undermine congressional capacity to be an effective law-making body.  It’s little wonder that their approval rating is so low.

These competitive dynamics clearly reflect the modern worldview’s emphasis on competition as the natural order.  However, they also reflect another, more subtle aspect of the modern mentality, namely, an over reliance on “either/or” thinking.

These competitive dynamics clearly reflect the modern worldview’s emphasis on competition as the natural order.  However, they also reflect another, more subtle aspect of the modern mentality, namely, an over reliance on “either/or” thinking.  While the roots of this analytic orientation go back even further in the development of human thought, modern science has institutionalized this mode of thinking through its taxonomic approach to understanding reality.  By classifying everything that exists into distinct categories of phenomena, the world is construed as a place where things are defined as being in one category or another, or in one category and therefore not in another.  Either/or thinking is reflected in the Cartesian dualistic notion that mind and matter are distinct elements, and in the assumption of classical physics that matter and energy are likewise different phenomena.  More generally, either/or thinking has been incorporated into normative models of decision-making, in the sense that a rational approach to decisions involves identification of potential courses of action and then choosing one or another of these.  In our political system, either/or thinking is apparent in the expectation that the role of the electorate is to vote for one of two candidates or yes/no on particular propositions, and the role of elected officials is to establish a majority so as to defeat the opposition minority.  Indeed, our 21st century society is built upon the either/or logic embedded in the binary, 0/1 foundation of our digital infrastructure.

Indeed, our 21st century society is built upon the either/or logic embedded in the binary, 0/1 foundation of our digital infrastructure.

A subtle but significant consequence of our cultural tendency to think in either/or terms is our ready reliance on debate as the primary rhetorical approach for identifying a preferred conclusion or course of action from among a set of competing alternatives.  High school students can develop their debate skills by participating on a school debate team.  Our legal system is based on an adversarial approach in which the two sides essentially debate the merits of their case.  Candidates for office participate in debates as a way to demonstrate the superiority of their positions to those of their opponents.  Members of Congress and state legislatures debate the pros and cons of potential legislation.  Public discourse takes the form of a debate as mediated by the media, with different media personalities and corporations taking opposing positions on key issues and thus fueling the polarization of opinions among the populace.  In a variety of ways, then, societal institutions reinforce a style of thinking and interacting that is competitive and oriented towards win-lose outcomes..  The polarization and political stalemate that results is essentially a product of our own creation.

A more cynical perspective on this socially-constructed polarization sees it not as an unfortunate outcome of deep-seated cultural tendencies, but instead as a contrived process intended to serve particular purposes. A “divide and conquer” strategy has a long history as a useful technique for helping to maintain political and/or military control.

By generating conflict and distrust among different factions of their subjects, rulers are better able to prevent alliances among those factions that could effectively challenge the rulers’ power.  When the leaders of the two political parties and their minions in the corporate media work to keep Americans focused on any number of issues on which they presumably disagree, the true purpose of those in power may be to insure that, together, they maintain control over the American political system and government.  In A Reason to Vote, Robert Roth explains how Republicans and Democrats have conspired to make it very difficult for third parties and their candidates to have any significant influence in state and national elections.  This “Republicrat” duopoly has established a wide variety of rules and regulations that serve as significant impediments to participation by anyone other than the major party candidates.  For example, third party candidates typically need many more petition signatures to get on the ballot, along with meeting discriminatory filing fees, filing deadlines, and other restrictions that are not required of the two main parties.  By maintaining control over the electoral process, and thereby excluding perspectives regarding problems and solutions other than those espoused by their own members and in their own platforms, the ruling elite are able to shape the national debate on policy issues by defining the boundaries of relevant or acceptable discourse on these matters.

Moreover, by keeping public attention focused primarily on the divisive issues associated with the false dichotomy, politicians and the corporate media have largely been able to distract the public from the fact that the two parties are essentially working together to serve the interests of the corporate sector and its wealthy owners rather than the interests of the American people.  This is the primary implication of by Martin Gilens at Princeton and Benjamin Page at Northwestern, who found that economic elites and organized business interests have substantial influence on U.S. government policy while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no impact.  

This bias towards the rich and powerful is not limited to Congress, as the Supreme Court decisions in Citizen United vs. Federal Election Commission and McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission demonstrated quite clearly that the apparatus of our democratic government (if not the Republic itself) has been subverted so as to institutionalize the ability of those with the most money to exert the greatest influence on the political process.  Of course, these most recent cases are just the latest in a long line of Supreme Court decisions that – as explained by Ted Nace in The Gangs of America – have served to bestow “personhood” on corporations and thus extend to them all the rights of real people as articulated in the Bill of Rights.

The false dichotomy between left and right thus serves to distract Americans from the reality that the more meaningful political distinction we should be focusing our attention on is between top and bottom, i.e., the 1% versus the 99%, or probably more accurately, the corporations versus the individual.  With the growth of the middle class in post-war America, along with nearly consensual cultural antagonism towards Communism and its underlying Marxist ideology, politics in the U.S. have not, at least for quite some time, included an explicit focus on class struggles as an important facet of political discourse.  Americans seem to have been lulled into thinking that there is no capitalist class that profits from exploitation of the labor class – a tragic irony in the U.S. is that workers readily support politicians who pass free trade legislation that has the effect of exporting American jobs to cheaper labor overseas. Ignoring the exploitative tendencies of the economic elite may have been understandable when the middle class was growing and the number of people living in poverty was going down.  But it is now clear that the neo-liberal economic policies and market fundamentalism ushered in by the Reagan Revolution have led rather systematically to greater inequality in the U.S. and the world as a whole, with the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and the middle class disappearing.

Ignoring the exploitative tendencies of the economic elite may have been understandable when the middle class was growing and the number of people living in poverty was going down.  But it is now clear that the neo-liberal economic policies and market fundamentalism ushered in by the Reagan Revolution have led rather systematically to greater inequality in the U.S. and the world as a whole, with the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and the middle class disappearing.

The natural tendency of capitalism to lead to greater inequality is clarified in Thomas Piketty’s influential book Capital in the Twenty-First Century.  In particular, his analysis of data spanning centuries and many countries documents conclusively that the share of income and wealth going to those at the very top of the income distribution has risen sharply over the last quarter-century. He demonstrates that it is unrealistic to believe that capitalism can ever solve the problem of inequality, since its basic dynamics lead rather inevitably to a concentration of wealth into the hands of the fortunate few.  However, he also suggests that public policies can make a significant difference in terms of halting or even reversing this trend towards a system of “patrimonial capitalism” in which the economy is essentially controlled by family dynasties.  But in the absence of the political will needed to implement such policies, global capitalism will remain a winner-take-all system that continues to divide the world into the haves and the have-nots, while the richest among us just keep accumulating more and more.

Since it is clear that the effect of capitalism is to concentrate wealth into the hands of the capitalists, the key question is whether or not this is also their intent.  It is generally agreed that the capitalists’ goal is to extract as much income as possible from the productive activities they are financing.

Since it is clear that the effect of capitalism is to concentrate wealth into the hands of the capitalists, the key question is whether or not this is also their intent.  It is generally agreed that the capitalists’ goal is to extract as much income as possible from the productive activities they are financing.  For most Americans, this desire to maximize profit is seen as the legitimate objective of private business owners, which in turn justifies owners’ efforts to keep workers’ wages as low as possible.  In the absence of any Marxist class consciousness, however, most Americans don’t pay much attention to the coordinated efforts by the capitalist class to make it easier for them to gain an even larger share of the wealth produced through economic activity.  Of course, it is probably widely known that industries and corporations spend considerable amounts of money lobbying lawmakers to pass legislation favorable to their interests.  And by now, most people would likely not be surprised by Gilens’ and Page’s research findings that Congress readily serves the interests of the corporate sector.  The Occupy Wall Street movement was galvanized by frustration with this status quo, yet mainstream America didn’t support their efforts and the movement lost momentum.

The lack of any widespread public outcry about corporate dominance of the political system likely reflects the fact that Americans have been led to believe that capitalism benefits rich and poor alike, and thus what is good for business is good for everyone.

In other words, we have been conditioned to think of corporate leaders as positive contributors to the betterment of society, not as a cohort of capitalists conspiring to increase their own wealth and power at the expense of the working class and the public more generally.  But as Paul Krugman pointed out in a review of Piketty’s book, in light of the amount of political donations coming from wealthy families, the possibility that a substantial part of our political class is actively working to restore a system of patrimonial capitalism is not as outlandish as it might seem.  Given that over half of the members of Congress are millionaires and thus likely to share the capitalists’ interests, they enable the passage of legislation that serves to distribute more wealth to the wealthy while leaving more people living in poverty.  Instead of the trickle-down flow of prosperity promised by proponents of  , capitalism actually creates a suck-it-up economy that is designed to transfer wealth from those with less to those with more.

On a global scale, the premise of a capitalist class that orchestrates the economy to serve its interests is supported by the results of a recent study investigating the links among the world’s transnational corporations.  Starting with a set of over 43,000 corporations, researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology examined the ownership ties among these companies and identified a subset of about 1300 of them that had interlocking ownership, with each corporation connected to, on average, twenty others in this group. Together, this subset represented 20 percent of global operating revenues, and collectively they owned the majority of the world’s large blue chip and manufacturing firms that together represent another 60 percent of global revenues. Further analysis identified an even more central core of about 150 tightly knit corporations – less than half of one percent of the total, and most of them financial institutions – that were completely owned by each other and controlled about 40 percent of the total wealth in the full network .  While the existence of this “super-entity” does not necessarily reflect a capitalist conspiracy to control the world, these financial interlocks certainly make it viable for a relatively small number of very rich and powerful people to make decisions that impact the conditions and consequences of the global economy.

Zoom on some major TNCs in the financial sector. The network of global corporate control , tStefania Vitalihe study by Stefania Vitali, Glattfelder, and Stefano Battiston of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
Zoom on some major TNCs in the financial sector. The network of global corporate control
– the study by Stefania Vitali, Glattfelder, and Stefano Battiston of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology

Regardless of the extent to which there is a conscious, coordinated effort by those with wealth and power to further enrich themselves by exploiting the masses, the point here is that the conflict between the interests of those at the top and those at the bottom of the economic pyramid constitutes a much more pertinent framework for analyzing the value and desirability of public policy than the false dichotomy of the left-right continuum.  It is important to recognize, widely and explicitly, that corporate interests are not compatible with the interests of people, communities, and the natural environment, and that public service should not be taken to mean serving the economic elite.  Political discourse and policy analysis should be grounded in an assessment of the likely consequences of proposed legislation or policy implementation in terms of the benefits and costs to corporations and capitalists relative to the benefits and costs to those who already have the least.

. . . the conflict between the interests of those at the top and those at the bottom of the economic pyramid constitutes a much more pertinent framework for analyzing the value and desirability of public policy than the false dichotomy of the left-right continuum . . .

With no reasonable justification for enabling continued wealth aggregation by those at the top of the pyramid, public policy needs to be directly and intentionally oriented towards reducing inequality and improving the quality of life for those living at the bottom.

Creating an equitable society is a key step towards improving our collective well-being, as a wide variety of social problems can be mitigated when very few people are living in poverty.  However, to really re-orient society towards one in which the objective is sustainable development rather than merely economic growth, it will be useful to take into account another dichotomy, based on a different type of vertical dimension than top to bottom of the economic pyramid.  An alternative continuum that can be used to evaluate political positions and proposed policies is based on what can be thought of as stage of development or level of consciousness.  A well-known framework of this type is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with lower-order survival and security needs at the bottom, social needs in the middle, and self-esteem and self-actualization at the top.  At present, public policy is heavily oriented towards addressing the lower-order needs of society without paying much attention to promoting the achievement of our higher-order needs, individually or collectively.

More generally, many theorists over the years have proposed frameworks that identify the different stages of development human beings go through, either personally as they mature from infants to elderly or collectively as they mature through stages of civilization.  As Ken Wilber explains in A Theory of Everything, a common feature of these frameworks is the inherent order of progression from a more limited to a more expanded level of consciousness.  One good example is the spiral dynamics model originated by Clare Graves, developed by Don Beck and Chris Cowan, and now being incorporated into the work of others like Wilber.  The various stages of development specified in this model can be used to better understand the level(s) of consciousness at which a particular person, organization, or society is operating.  It also constitutes a normative framework in the sense that it provides a vision for how contemporary culture can and should evolve to a more mature stage of development.

One way to characterize the step humanity needs to take if we are to establish the foundations for a sustainable society is to shift from a materialistic towards what might be called a spiritual worldview.  Modern culture is materialistic in the sense that only that which is “matter” matters – by focusing investigation only on material reality, modern science has relegated spiritual matters to a secondary and even suspect status.

More broadly, our modern materialistic mindset serves to maintain a collective focus on an economics-based definition of the public interest that emphasizes the pursuit of self-interest, survival, and security.  At a deeper level of understanding, this focus on lower-order needs reflects the existential fear that is associated with what can be referred to as separative consciousness, i.e., the experience and belief that we are separate and distinct from the world around us.  In contrast, unitive consciousness is the experience and belief that we are not separate but instead are connected to everyone and everything else.  And this sense of interconnectedness – to people, to nature, to a higher power – is the essence of what is meant by the notion of a spiritual worldview.  Spiritual cultures surely take care of their safety and survival needs, but they also honor the higher-order values that have been espoused in the world’s wisdom traditions throughout the ages.

While the collective benefits of a culture that practices such principles as peace, love, compassion, and respect should be obvious, these qualities are hard to come by among people and groups still rooted in a separative, fear-based, either/or way of thinking.

But as the forces of globalization over the last half-century have induced much greater awareness of and attention to our interconnectedness as a global village, the foundation has been provided for the next step in our collective development towards unitive consciousness.  Duane Elgin, in Awakening Earth, describes this step as a shift from the scientific-industrial era to the era of reconciliation, reflecting our growing capacity for collective reflection and the resultant awareness of a need for cultural transformation.  This emerging consciousness shift manifested as the “New Age” movement of the 1990s, with Michael Ray and Sherry Anderson estimating in their book Cultural Creatives that, by the turn of the century, as many as 50 million Americans were aligned with a worldview that led them to care deeply about ecology and saving the planet, about relationships, peace, and social justice, and about spirituality, authenticity, self-actualization, and self-expression.  Moreover, the integration of information/communication technology into our daily lives over the past quarter-century has generated what Peter Russell dubbed the “global brain.”  By allowing nearly instantaneous access to a virtual world full of information as well as person-to-person contact between almost any two places on the planet, the creation of this brain is facilitating the development of a more unitive level of collective consciousness among humanity.

An emergent spiritual worldview is supported by an extensive amount of scientific evidence that has contributed to our growing understanding of the inherent interconnectedness of the material universe as well as the interpenetration of materiality with the realm of consciousness.  Mark Woodhouse, in Paradigm Wars, provides a remarkably thorough presentation and analysis of a broad range of this evidence, but more has accrued in the twenty years since he wrote that book.  Some of this newer research was summarized in a report issued by the Institute of Noetic Sciences, an organization that conducts, sponsors, and collaborates on leading-edge research into the nature of consciousness.  Titled “The 2007 Shift Report: Evidence of a World Transforming,” the primary conclusion was that “(s)cience is telling us that we live in a highly dynamic, interactive, interconnected world that is full of potential…This interconnectivity means that from a certain perspective we are not really separate from one another, even though our senses trick us into believing we are.  Since our actions and thoughts have such potential to impact one another, we can no longer afford to act out of this illusion of separateness.”

“(s)cience is telling us that we live in a highly dynamic, interactive, interconnected world that is full of potential…This interconnectivity means that from a certain perspective we are not really separate from one another, even though our senses trick us into believing we are.  Since our actions and thoughts have such potential to impact one another, we can no longer afford to act out of this illusion of separateness.”

In short, science is generating compelling evidence that supports the validity of a more spiritual perspective on the nature of reality, with the unity of all that is reflected in the physicists’ notion of the unified field. In The Tao of Physics, Fritjof Capra describes the many parallels between the findings of quantum physics and various teachings of traditional Eastern religions and philosophies.  This integration of science and spirituality is laying the foundation for what Wilber calls an “integral” culture.

A primary feature of an integral culture based on a higher level of unitive consciousness is the stimulation of “both/and” thinking that helps to overcome the limitations of the either/or thinking that has dominated the modern era.  An early marker of this shift was the early conclusion of quantum physics that subatomic phenomena have properties of both particles and waves, or matter and energy (E=MC2), which in classical physics are seen as separate and distinct, either/or phenomena.  Likewise, the more recent notion of “fuzzy logic,” based on work by USC professor Bart Kosko, reflects the idea that an object can simultaneously be both partly A and partly not-A, e.g., both hot and cold at the same time.  This contradicts Aristotle’s “law of the excluded middle,” which holds that an object is either A or not-A with no middle ground, and provides the basis for a new way of computing that transcends constraints inherent to systems based on binary logic.

In the public policy arena, both/and thinking can be incorporated in two important ways, focusing on means as well as ends.  Focusing on ends, an integral perspective suggests that the best public policies can be forged if they aim to incorporate a synthesis of the core values underlying both conservative and progressive positions, rather than treating these as opposites from which we must choose one or the other.  A consideration of what this kind of synthesis could entail has been offered by wise authors such as Michael Lerner in The Politics of Meaning, Gordon Davidson and Corinne McLaughlin in Spiritual Politics, and Marianne Williamson in The Healing of America.  Focusing on means, the process of establishing public policy could and should take place through dialogue and deliberation that encourages mutual learning and integration of interests, rather than the debate-oriented discourse that generates the polarization currently undermining effective policy-making.  By enabling dialogue and synthesis, both/and thinking can facilitate the process of designing and implementing public policies that will improve the quality of life for the people and communities these policies are meant to serve.

As we transition out of the modern industrial era and into the already-here Information Age, slowly but surely we are moving into the next stage of development of human civilization.

As this shift unfolds, continued adherence to the false dichotomy of the old left-right continuum will keep us mired in ineffective governance processes that are demonstrably failing to address the significant problems undermining the well-being of global society.  By recognizing the distinction between materialistic, lower-consciousness priorities grounded in a separative, competitive, either/or worldview, and those based on an integral, spiritual perspective reflecting awareness of interconnectedness stemming from higher, unitive consciousness, it will be possible for humanity to start making wiser choices about the approaches we utilize to guide the future development of the planet.  Indeed, the evolution of consciousness brings with it both the prerogative and the responsibility to be more mindful and intentional about the path of our progress.  This is the essential point made by Barbara Marx Hubbard in her book Conscious Evolution.  Suggesting that the societal crises we are facing can be thought of as labor pains accompanying the birth of a new era, she points out that we now have the capacity and the obligation to consciously choose the path of our evolution.

If we truly want a world of peace and justice, it is imperative that we implement public policies expressly designed to achieve those goals.  This will be accomplished only if we discontinue policies that exacerbate the real dichotomy between rich and poor, and start transforming our institutions to take into account the fundamental interconnectedness of all life.

 

 

 

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect in any way those of the USC Bedrosian Center. 

Comments

4 thoughts on “False Dicotomy

  1. I deeply appreciated this post. This is not a view I often hear around Price or discussed inside the classroom, and it is really heartening and refreshing to hear a faculty member say all of these things.

    Not that there is a heavily partisan or ideological divide at the school. I think most of us agree with the idea that partisan and ideologically based approaches don’t offer the best pathways to solving really big problems. However, the other pieces discussed here: addressing the massive inequalities that our current economic structures create, that this is something we have to confront as policy, public administration and planning professionals, and that we have to reach a higher level of consciousness that move us away from divisions to do that… has not been discussed in any of my courses to date (as a second-year MPP student). More to say but will leave it at that. Just wanted to say many of us are craving these types of conversations that are key to our field but not part of our technical training in school.

  2. I echo Heddy Nam’s sentiments. As a student I crave for more inclusion of these concepts and ideas in my coursework. I’m mystified by my current economics course and it’s focus on endless growth and consumption when we know these practices are unsustainable and heading us in a direction of collapse and chaos.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Heddy. My primary purpose in writing these posts is hopefully to stimulate conversations on issues that I think need more discussion than they typically get, in academia and in our public discourse more generally. So I appreciate your expression of a desire for more of those conversations!

  4. Christina, I don’t know if you are referring to my previous post on The Growth Problem, but as suggested there, I share your confusion about why economics continues to focus on growth and consumption when all logic and rationality indicate this is not sustainable. I for one would encourage you to push back when professors seem to assume that growth is a necessary and/or tenable strategy for the future. Thanks for your input.

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