Thursday, July 22, 2010

Party Politics from a Psychological Perspective




by Evan 

Among human concerns, politics is a vital one – it governs the way we approach our lives in a most personal way; not only the way we relate to ourselves, but the group we most relate to. How we conceive these relations is part of the foundation upon which our realities are based. It should be a vital concern to inspect these foundations closely; for these relations just happen – and not until they are consciously considered can they be changed....

“Hence the god, when he began to put together the body of the universe, set about making it of fire and earth. But two things alone cannot be satisfactorily united without a third; for there must be some bond between them drawing them together.” 

So wrote Plato in his Timaeus in the fourth century B.C. – an intuitive illustration of the way people have long perceived the dynamic forces of life. 

To see how such ideas apply to party politics, read with me as the noted Swiss analyst, C.G. Jung, reflects upon this philosophical notion: “The number one claims an exceptional position, which we meet again in the natural philosophy of the Middle Ages. According to this, one is not a number at all; the first number is two. Two is the first number because, with it, separation and multiplication begin, which alone make counting possible. With the appearance of the number two, another appears alongside the one...” 

As Jung goes on to explain, this results in opposition and conflict: “Also associated with the number two is the idea of right and left, and remarkably enough, of favorable and unfavorable, good and bad.” But as Plato observed, there is a “bond drawing them together.” Jung continues: “The One will not let go of the Other because, if it did, it would lose its character; and the Other pushes itself away from the One in order to exist at all. Thus there arises a tension of opposites between the One and the Other. But every tension of opposites culminates in a release, out of which comes the “third.” In the third, the tension of opposites is resolved and the lost unity is restored.”

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Similarly, if we look round to see where the two-party system has landed us, an analogy begins to emerge. The close presidential elections of 1960 (49.7% to 48.6%), 1968 (43.4% to 42.7%), 1976 (50.1% to 48%), 2000 (48.38% to 47.87%), and 2004 (50.7% to 48.3%) appear to express a division which may be seen in terms of energy. Frequent attempts by the two-party system to keep a third party off the ballot in many states, the stagnation Congress represents as a result of such division, and the ineffectiveness of government in providing the individual with basic protections all conform to a general trend. 

Of course, no analogy can make it to first base in the mind of a modern reader without scientific validation, and the laws of energy point in this direction. The principle of equivalence states that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. The law of entropy states that, in an energic system, differences in intensity are gradually reduced to an even temperature, whereby any further change is prohibited. This is how energy works and it is as applicable to social dynamics as it is to quantum physics – or even political processes, for as Jung writes, “The psyche, too, can be regarded as such a relatively closed system, in which transformations of energy lead to an equalization of differences.”

These transformations have been described by Jung in his eighth volume, and one more quote from it (the last – I promise!) pushes the analogy further: “These functions are based on the principle of the exclusion of the inappropriate, or unsuitable, which might bring about a deviation from the chosen path. The elements that “belong” are left to a process of mutual equalization, and meanwhile are protected from disturbing influences from outside. Thus after some time they reach their “probable” state, which shows its stability in, say, a “lasting” conviction or a “deeply ingrained” point of view, etc. How firmly such structures are rooted can be tested by anyone who has attempted to dissolve such a structure, for instance to uproot a prejudice or change a habit of thought.”

You can see now where the analogy is headed: for this tension of opposites to be  resolved and for change to occur, a third viewpoint is required.

Webster's dictionary defines democracy as: “Government exercised either directly by the people or through elected representatives.” The popular vote was invalidated by the 2000 election, and our representatives are elected – but not unless they are first approved by the two parties. Our representatives are elected by the parties, and that is who they represent. Who is representing us? I think we will have to find an independent party for that.

Evan is an artist, poet, and long-time student of Carl Jung. He is the author of "A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations with the Unconscious," an epic poem of psychic development in the second half of life inspired by Goethe's Faust. He makes a living as a contractor in the Richmond, Virginia.  The illustrations above are his.

6 comments:

The Angry Independent said...

Using physics and psychology to analyze politics is definitely an interesting and unorthodox approach.

Evan is basically describing an inflexible, almost immovable system system where actual structural change is unlikely by going through any of the normal processes. Why? Because new voices and new ideas face entrenched barriers that are extremely hard to penetrate. The two party system is the norm...and most Americans are hardwired by tradition not to challenge it. They are hardwired not to even imagine a multi-party system where the varied interests of all Americans could be represented, and where gridlock could be broken. They can't even conceive this...because the traditional 2 Party barriers have been up for so long. But it creates a kind of complacency that the 2 Parties perceive as a license to do whatever they want....which just creates more disulosionment among the population and makes matters worse in the long run.

Evan takes a longer, more philosophical route to reach many of the same conclusions that disillusioned independents have made - that the current 2 Party system just doesn't work...especially in a Country that is more socially, culturally, ethnically and economically diverse than it has ever been. Two out of touch, heavily monied political parties cannot possibly represent the interests of 300 million people. They can't properly represent even half that. And it's frustrating to see the structural barriers holding. The U.S. has, in essence, become a failed State...although only politically at this point. It will take many more years for other segments of the system to start unravelling which would make the problems more noticeable. Right now...everything appears o.k... but with political gridlock in Washington....the U.S. will not be able to maintain enough economic, social and political progress to keep up with the rest of the World. Not to mention the fact that we have a budget that cannot be sustained.

The Angry Independent said...

(Con't)

Meanwhile...while we are stuck dealing with political gridlock... Countries across Europe, Asia and South America are entering the new global economy and are poised to embraced new energy technologies, etc. Even Canada's economy is the envy of many nations right now. Many of these Countries are able to avoid gridlock for a number of reasons...but the main reasons are... 1). Some are one party States...like China...that can get things done quickly and efficiently. I'm not advocating this form of government...but it is what it is... we will have to compete with this and the fact is, China has a political advantage in that regard. 2). Most other modern nations have multi-party systems where policy is created much more effectively... and with more representation/participation from the public. Many of them have developed austerity plans...after a few weeks...or months of debate. This is a debate that the U.S. can't even start, even after decades of trying. Our political system is grossly inefficient. 3rd and 4th Parties in other Democracies are able to make things happen....not by their size...but due to the fact that they break deadlocks. They also have a moderating impact on Governments all around the World....usually for the better. Look at the UK right now. Cameron can't do anything major without consulting with the Libs.

The fact is... the system of "two" isn't working out so well for us anymore. Notice that we are already being surpassed by nations with systems of "one" or systems of "three" or more.

If we stay in this system of "two"...we are going to be left behind as a nation. The U.S. will eventually lose its position of strength in the World. Yet, I don't see any major signs that this will change. The two parties are so corrupt, just from a structural standpoint, so beholden to entrenched interests, and influenced by so much money which has perverted the system that Republican and Democratic politicians have no personal incentive to change the course of politics, and thus won't change, even if their selfishness is harming the Country.

d.eris said...

An interesting and thought-provoking post. And I think Angry Independent hits the nail on the head when he writes:

"Two out of touch, heavily monied political parties cannot possibly represent the interests of 300 million people."

If we go back to the very beginning of ancient Greek philosophy, Parmenides' theory of THE ONE is based explicitly on the negation of multiplicity. We might say that the form of THE TWO recognizes the insufficiency/incoherence/inconsistency of the One, but still relies on the negation of multiplicity as such, which it attempts to collapse into the One and its Other. In this way, the TWO is arguably more unstable than the ONE because it is self-contradictory, since it negates the condition of its own existence.

I also have an extended response to this post at Poli-Tea, which focuses more on the inability of the two-party state to represent the interests of the two-party state and how the principle of party is slowly degrading the principle of representation and the separation of powers.

Debra said...

I find Evan's perspective fascinating. He appears to be a talented and insightful author.

Baylah said...

Baylah said:

Thank you Evan. I like your grappling with psychology, philosophy, science and politics.

I believe that dualism stands in the way of social, emotional, cultural and political development: Is it body or mind? fact or feeling?, inside or outside?, nurture or nature? Republican or Democrat. In my field, social work, this is expressed as the split between private troubles (fix a person) and public issues (work for political reforms).

How do we get out of the either/or fly bottle? I agree Evan that an independent third force is needed to create something new, something developmental for people, for our communities, and our country. We are stuck in what Heiner Muller calls The Frozen Storm. Help, I want out of this 2-system box!

I suggest Fred Newman’s “Where’s the magic in cognitive therapy? (a philo/psychological investigation) ” published in Against and for CBT: Towards a Constructive Dialogue?: Amazon.co.uk: Richard House, Del Loewenthal: Books, .
http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:ofcOv63lEcUJ:www.eastsideinstitute.org/bibliography/bibliography_assets/CBT.Final.Short.doc+where+is+the+magic+in+cognitive&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

I particularly love your image of a a hand growing out of a foot on a face!!!

Baylah Wolfe

June said...

Thanks Evan for your thoughtful piece and fantastic illustrations!

I'm particularly moved at how you brought it all together with your last, as you promised ;) quote.

“These functions are based on the principle of the exclusion of the inappropriate, or unsuitable, which might bring about a deviation from the chosen path. The elements that “belong” are left to a process of mutual equalization, and meanwhile are protected from disturbing influences from outside. Thus after some time they reach their “probable” state, which shows its stability in, say, a “lasting” conviction or a “deeply ingrained” point of view, etc. How firmly such structures are rooted can be tested by anyone who has attempted to dissolve such a structure, for instance to uproot a prejudice or change a habit of thought.”

The biggest obstacle to democracy is the 2 party system. Challenging the "way things are" by building a non-ideological independent political movement to reform politics from the ground up, is a series of mighty feats! As a long time activist, I so appreciate your thoughtful and moving contribution to this effort that is being led by growing numbers of independents around the country. Welcome aboard and thanks, June