Any culture (ours included) sets the stage for what people learn to expect from their communities. In our culture, we hear about the importance of volunteerism, civic duty, charitable giving, and patriotism all the time. What we don’t hear enough about (in my not so humble opinion) is relationship. I have come to believe that our most common (and not sufficiently explored) cultural value is individualism, and, further, that even all our talk about community ultimately rests on the spirit of (rugged?) individualism. I understand individualism to mean that individuals shouldn’t need anyone, and we certainly shouldn’t have to worry about the well being of anyone beyond our own small group (if even that far). It could be argued that our individualism has brought us to the extreme political divide that has hamstrung our political process. Even the groups with which we affiliate are energized by the spirit of individualism in the sense that only one group can be “right” or “powerful,” so the strategy for survival necessarily devolves into the elimination of “the other.” Clearly, such a strategy leaves no room for relationship. Even compromise is not about relationship. Compromise is a political strategy designed to get the best possible deal for “our side.” That the other side might get something out of the process of compromise is simply a distasteful political reality – a necessary loss, if you will. In no way does political compromise imply any concern for the well being of the other side.

Upon that foundation, I plan to write a series of essays on the foundational issues in our culture, beginning with the existing political divide. I found Paul Krugman’s editorial, “A Tale of Two Moralities,” published on January 13, 2011 to be a useful entry point. (click here for the full article)
He defines the political split in this way:

One side of American politics considers the modern welfare state – a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society’s winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net – morally superior to the capitalism red in tooth and claw we had before the New Deal. It’s only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate.
The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That’s what lies behind the modern right’s fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.

It seems to me he has described the divide clearly and succinctly. If we continue the discussion at that level, however, there can be no resolution because the positions appear to be mutually exclusive. All that is left, then, is a political tug of war between pretty even sides where the slightest majority translates into winner takes all.
If we move down a level and look at the foundational ideas underneath the divide, we might find some possible ways through the apparent stand-off. The interplay between individualism and relationship as mentioned above can be useful. Along with that, several other perspectives could help us. So over the next couple of months, I will write at least some of my posts on the issue of the American Political Divide. I will look at the foundational issues from perspectives like The Archetype Theory of Carl Jung (particularly with reference to the projection of the shadow onto one’s adversaries), Moral Development Theory, Practical Theology, and Family Systems Theory.
If you think this sounds too academic, dry, and yes, boring, I will try to connect each of these perspectives with human experiences that you can relate to. My purpose is empowerment, not simply academic interest.
Remember, this blog’s purpose is to address issues related to healthy community. I hope to identify some useful and manageable approaches to our current political and cultural dilemmas. I plan to learn a lot and I hope you will join me.

Wayne Gustafson
“The Promised Land is within and among us.”
Community of Promise


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