I have found Family Systems Theory (FST) provides a most useful frame of reference for many of life’s dynamic and perhaps confusing situations. FST makes particular use of the function of anxiety in a system, demonstrating that the level of dysfunction in a system is directly related to its level of unprocessed anxiety. In my opinion, anxiety flooded systems have a hard time making wise decisions.

While the timing of dynamics may vary with the size of the system, the basic principles still apply. Anxiety has the same function in a whole country or culture as it does in a nuclear family. We live in a culture that is flooded with anxiety from a variety of sources. Some of it comes from the fundamentally dangerous nature of our current world. Danger from violence is the most easily identified source of our collective anxiety, but financial uncertainties and the cultural value of rugged individualism adds considerably to the mix. Furthermore, our arbitrary standards of “excellence” and productivity cause everything, and everyone, to be measured and compared. Can anything create any more systematic anxiety than that?

We can ask a couple of important questions about the anxiety problem:

  1. Who benefits from the prevalence of high levels of anxiety in our communities? And
  2. Is anxiety simply a natural consequence of our economic and cultural structure, or is it purposefully generated for unethical purposes?

For starters, it is apparent that anxiety generates lots of revenue. People don’t like to be anxious, so they will buy whatever product or service promises to reduce it. On the surface, it seems perfectly legitimate for a business to address such social distress, but of course, we need to ask whether the preferred remedy addresses the source of the anxiety or simply its symptomatic expression. Many remedies that work primarily at the symptomatic level can be addictive, physically, emotionally, or both. In that case, the remedy succeeds in creating more anxiety-based demand for the product or service. It is conceivable that some business interests might do this “in good faith,” honestly believing that what they sell is only valuable to consumers and is in no way dangerous to them. It also appears true that the more money is on the line, the greater the temptation to keep levels of anxiety artificially high.

While the above may be interesting, what does it have to do with the problem of the political divide?

It would be simple to conclude that the political right, with its obvious bias toward corporate interests, would have the greatest motivation to keep anxiety high. While the political left seems to champion the well-being of the people, it is unclear to me whether the left really addresses anxiety’s source, or if it, too, offers superficial, symptom-oriented solutions to troubled people, albeit unintentional.

What is crystal clear to me is that the two sides spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and money railing at each other about the shortcomings of the “enemy” position. Unless both sides can look more deeply at the sources of anxiety and not just symptomatic expressions and remedies, we will get nowhere. Of course, in the meantime, lots of money is still being made on goods and services. Hmmm?

That’s the dilemma as I see it. What do you think?

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

 

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