The Problem with Partisan

The problem with partisan politics is that they’re, well, partisan. Ditto partisan economic interests; partisan religious institutions; partisan laws, judges, and enforcement, and all other personal or group preferences that somehow get calcified into the structures and systems that are killing us now. Of course it’s easier to accept these realities when the system is tilted to our advantage, and mightily uncomfortable – or deadly, when they’re not. In my best moments, I am grateful for Trump’s election for revealing in stark delineation the flaws in this thinking, for, in recent decades, I, too, was lulled by what I mistook to be ‘progress’ towards the goals I hold dear: peace, environmental protection, social justice & etc. Pragmatically speaking, how do we – how do I, step away from my partisan longings?

Partisan politics are predicated on the idea that having one person-party-policy-perspective in control is not only preferable but viable – provided it’s ‘our side’ that predominates. And that’s the catch: domination by one ideology at the expense of any other is, by definition, a bad idea, just as domination by one species or one religion or one race or one anything to the exclusion of all other anythings is, thankfully, doomed. In Nature, it is unnatural for one species to dominate. When that does occur, it is an indication of a grave imbalance. Monoculture of any kind (including, in my opinion, monotheism) is, by definition, deadly. The dominance of humans is no different.

Just as we must now think about sustainable systems of energy, food and community, we need to start thinking about a sustainable ideology as well. When we focus on the details of what we think we want now, the larger patterns - particularly context and time, are cast aside. When we lose sight of context, and of cyclical, long-arc time, we risk sacrificing the future on the altar of the expedient now. As such, our thinking is already unreliable. This is literally true: Because we humans live on artificial flat surfaces and depend on machines to move us about and describe our reality, we have lost our ‘baseline gait’, ie our natural, relaxed way of moving through the physical world. The term, ‘baseline gait’ comes from the science of animal tracking. It refers to the prints made by an animal moving through her environment in a relaxed and confident manner. If an animal is afraid, injured, pregnant, etc., those stresses can be seen in her tracks. Our brains are overwhelmed with stimuli, so they compensate by frantically taking snap shots of everything coming at us, and cobble together a composite picture which we then believe to be reality. Not surprisingly, in our day-to-day lives we respond to that false composite in distorted ways. This can be seen clearly in our hyperactivity, our short attention spans, and our reactiveness. The deeper insanity of colonialism, trauma, ecological devastation and greed has left centuries of tracks: pollution, war, illness, hate, dysfunction of all stripes (families, immune systems, and even less functional social and political systems) and, yes, partisan politics. We speak of our ‘carbon footprint’ but our cultural and ecological footprints are far more comprehensive.

All these years, I, too, thought that if only ‘our’ candidates were elected and our points of view became policy and, better yet, law, things would finally be OK. It’s true that strong environmental policies would protect our health and that of the systems we and other life depend on. Robust civil rights laws protect the vulnerable and relieve horrendous suffering. The problem is in believing that the way to create these kinds of protection is by winning to ensure that our ideas prevail. Winning for some means defeat for others. Defeat means suffering, death, humiliation, silencing, and exclusion, leading to trauma and resentment. Trauma and resentment fuel the desire for revenge. Winning takes on exaggerated importance and exaggeration perpetuates imbalance.

More than agreeing on a particular ideology, we need to agree on the principles that shape the human-created systems we rely on - and ensure that those systems are, like Nature, diverse, inclusive, relational, and responsive. Is it acceptable to hire one’s daughter and son-in-law as ‘senior advisors’? To prevent one president’s Supreme Court nominee from due consideration and fast-track the nominee of one’s preferred candidate? Is it acceptable to scream hateful epithets or gun down someone we fear? To manipulate other countries’ governments, and, therefore, accept manipulation of our own? If we like Candidate A or B but s/he came to power dishonestly, is that acceptable in the future?

If these are the foundational principles of our society and the behavior we expect of our government, then these same principles have to apply across the board, regardless of who is in power. Those of us appalled by the consequences of Trump’s election must ask ourselves: if this behavior were that of our preferred candidate and people we agree with, and the changes taking place were our preferred outcomes, would the end justify the means?

What might the alternative to this dead end look like that could replace the ceaseless jockeying for control? As an example, if we stepped away from the win/lose paradigm, and sought to revitalize the principles that apply beyond political preference, then our Supreme Court justices (and all leaders whose decisions affect a multitude) should be selected based on a lack of specific ideology or affiliation. Of paramount importance would be finding people with a comprehensive understanding of history and the workings of the natural world such that no decision or policy could harm any habitat, population, place or process upon which lives depend. This would include bodies of people and also bodies of water; groups of people and also groups of animals and trees. We would have to act on the understanding that, in order to create a sustainable ideology, our leaders’ first loyalty would necessarily be to the principles that ensure the thriving of all life as the inevitable outcome.

As I write this, I ask myself if and how I can live the shift I am advocating. For example, how can I engage my neighbors in talking about their preference for shooting the bear that’s been threatening their chickens and sheep over my preference that they strengthen the enclosures for their livestock instead? Our ways of being are based on our experiences. We all have good reasons for what we believe, no matter how outlandish those beliefs may seem to someone else. How to remember, sentence by sentence, to listen with an open heart and to speak from the understanding that there is no actual separation between us – that human is human and human is bear and bear is goldfish is tree is sky? What does a difficult conversation look like, feel like, sound like, from the knowing that we are just different expressions of the Life Force interacting with itself? No one loses if no one wins.