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Navigating the Storm of Global Change
Part 4: A Creative Way Forward (Installment 2)
This is Installment 2 of Part 4: A Creative Way Forward, the final part of my series Navigating the Storm of Global Change. The previous essays in the series can be found HERE.
I ended the previous installment with the following questions: Why has our culture become so sharply polarized at this particular point of time, right at the very end of the Piscean Age and the beginning of the Aquarian? What does this tell us about what is trying to be born?
As simplistic as it may sound, one way to understand the polarities represented at the extremes of our culture war is in terms of archetypal masculine–feminine dynamics. With its emphasis on individual responsibility and self-determination, the right can be seen to hold more archetypally-masculine values whereas the left, with its emphasis on inclusion and compassion, tends to hold more archetypally-feminine values.
This is admittedly a simplistic, binary frame. Nonetheless, I find it useful, in part because the dynamics of the collective unconscious tend to be simplistic and binary. This basic intuition corresponds, for example, with linguist George Lakoff’s analysis that the root political metaphor for conservatives is government as ‘strict father’ whereas the root metaphor for liberals is government as ‘nurturing parent’. It also fits with the left’s tendency to be sympathetic toward female grievances whereas the right harbors a simmering male rage.
Having said that, one of the consequences of our increasing social fragmentation in recent years has been the emergence of many significant divisions within the left and right. In an influential essay from 2018 (The Memetic Tribes of Culture War 2.0) Peter Limberg (a.k.a. The Stoa) identified 34 new digital or ‘memetic' tribes that share a distinct value system. This includes several new centrist tribes whose members feel at odds with the more totalizing positions of the extreme right and left, while sharing some of their values. These new cultural sub-divisions have resulted in the development of strange and unexpected alliances across the political spectrum, e.g., “Never-Trump” Republicans aligning with Democrats to defeat Trump or certain feminist groups finding common ground with conservatives in opposing the participation of transgender athletes in women’s sport. Despite this complexity, the mainstream media continues to cover most issues through a simplistic left-right frame, resulting in a growing number of people suddenly finding themselves politically homeless.
This has been my situation in recent years. I’ve moved in urbane, left-leaning circles my entire adult life and consider myself profoundly committed to core progressive values, such as love for the Earth, appreciation for feminine wisdom, and a passion for healing the historical wounds that have separated us from each other. But I’ve found myself increasingly disturbed by the pernicious authoritarianism that has overtaken much of the left, even while I’m equally repelled by the cult-like dynamics associated with the Trump-aligned right. My real support is for the genuinely creative mutations in consciousness I see coming that will bring through new political forms that transcend these polarities.
In his article in The Atlantic (referred to in Installment 1), Jonathan Haidt referred to a social science study in 2018 that identified seven groups that shared beliefs and behaviors. The two extreme groups on the right (“devoted conservatives”) and the left (“progressive activists”) comprise just 6% and 8%, respectively, of the U.S. population. But these two groups dominate social media, not only in the amount of political content shared, but through their ‘take-no-prisoners’ ethos that crowds out more moderate voices.
What this suggests is that most of us are not as sharply polarized in outlook as we are being led to believe. On the cusp of the Aquarian Age, consciousness is in fact radically complexifying, making many of the old political categories irrelevant. But we are being bullied by the mob dynamics of social media and the polarizing frameworks of legacy media into feeling that we have to pick a side.
Still, the appearance of polarization itself, as misleading as it may be, tells us something interesting about the dynamics of the collective unconscious. If the culture war in general can be understood in terms of masculine-feminine dynamics, the groups at the extremes driving the conflict might be said to represent the more immature or narcissistic versions of the masculine and feminine principles.
Our extreme polarization and political gridlock can thus be seen to reflect the surfacing of profound tensions between the masculine and feminine dimensions of the collective unconscious, whose resolution is crucial to the emergence of our next evolutionary level.
Advances in technologies of information warfare mean that we face the prospect of a total collapse of the epistemic commons — and with it any basis for societal cooperation — unless we find a way to transform the dynamics of all-out partisan conflict. It is critical in this context to recognize that the culture war cannot ultimately be won; it can only be defused and transcended by the development of novel strategies that address the genuine needs and integrate the healthiest impulses of both polarities.
Yet the question of how to engage constructively within a milieu incentivized for division and conflict is not at all simple. Entering the fray of public debate these days can seem like being lured into a trap designed to lock us into a polarizing stance that only furthers the cycles of reactivity and feeds the logic of war. Yet fence-sitting or staying ‘neutral’ can feel like cowardice in the face of genuine authoritarian threats to humanity. I have come to feel that the only way is for each of us to stand in our truth as authentically as possible and to trust that humanity’s evolving collective intelligence is figuring something significant out through this chaotic process.
For myself, if I’m going to take a stand, it will be to draw attention to the ideological dogma that has come to dominate the left and most public institutions in the West over the last few years. While I find the extremes at both ends of the spectrum highly problematic in different ways, the dogma of the left is closer to me, having affected me more personally and being much more pervasive in the circles I tend to move in. I imagine that’s also true for most people who read my essays. And since its brand of authoritarianism tends to be more covert, leftist dogma seems to me the less widely recognized and thus in some ways the more insidious threat to our freedom.
At the same time, I’m in alignment with many leftist critiques of mainstream culture. I come from a politically conservative family in Brisbane, Australia (albeit one that is quite liberal-minded). I know first-hand, and greatly appreciate, the fundamental decency and solidity of the healthy conservative mindset. It gave me my foundation. Yet by far the most transformative experiences of my adult life have occurred in the context of progressive spiritual and intellectual communities pushing conventional boundaries to explore new ways of relating to each other, to nature, and to the mystery at the heart of existence. I was initially drawn to these communities because I had become acutely dissatisfied with the superficiality of conventional modern life — with its consumerist emphasis on private material success — to the extent that it had precipitated in me a debilitating existential crisis. In their experimental approaches — and later my own — I discovered profound possibilities of human liberation and fulfillment beyond what I ever imagined from within the mainstream cultural paradigm.
Perhaps as a result of these positive conservative and progressive influences, though, I tend to resonate most of all with integrally-informed approaches that seek to synthesize the kernels of truth contained in all perspectives in a higher, more complex embrace. I think it’s necessary at times to own our opinions and to take a stand on certain issues even if the effects are polarizing. It can be refreshingly honest to do so. But I wouldn’t feel true to the deepest part of me if I settled for long on any one partisan perspective. Thus when analyzing various issues in today’s culture wars, I often find myself wondering what higher order integral pattern might be trying to emerge that would incorporate the deeper evolutionary impulses of both sides.
Next time, we’ll examine in detail what this emerging integral pattern may look like.
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