It is impossible to build a movement without having a shared understanding of the problem we are trying to solve. The difficulty in doing this is that all of us view the world from different perspectives, often radically divergent ones. To build a movement of sufficient influence to change the dangerous trajectory the world is currently on, we need to be able to get the broadest coalition of individuals of differing philosophies possible.
We are up against a powerful network of wealthy and influential individuals with a common goal of consolidating their control over the nations of the world and their resources. Our objective has to be just as simple and must appeal to people across the spectrum of political ideologies. In this third in a series of articles about how to dismantle the New World Order, I consider how opinions are formed and use my experience as a psychotherapist to explain how even deeply held beliefs can be challenged and changed.
Listening to self-identified “liberals” and “conservatives” debate, it almost seems like you are listening to people who live in different worlds. In a very real sense, they do. That is because each of us exists within a mental reality we construct based on concepts we acquire early in life and that far too often, we do not challenge. The more divergent our most fundamental beliefs are, the more it seems that we are speaking in different languages when we try to discuss politics. The solution is not to avoid the subject, but to recognize the source of these differences and try to find a common language with which to discuss possible solutions to problems that affect us all.
It helps to understand that we are fundamentally more alike than we are different. It is our commonalities that make us human. Our diversity helps society evolve to overcome new challenges. Thinking of ourselves as humans first and members of any other group second helps us keep in mind that we all share important basic values and concerns. We must use the awareness of our common interests to stay focused on the task of building a future in which all can thrive. Rather than fighting each other, we must remember that our differences are a source of strength if we are willing to listen to each other with respect, learn from each other and integrate diverse points of view into a formulation of a problem that we can agree on. If we then put ideology aside and develop common strategies based on shared goals and values, it is possible to change the world. We have to try, because the alternative is almost certainly the self-destruction of human civilization.
We are all born into a world that is an undifferentiated confusion of sense impressions. We only gradually come to make sense of it by forming concepts that approximate what we perceive and experience. When a young enough child sees something round, it sees “a ball.” It doesn’t matter if the round thing is a baseball or a basketball. The concept serves the purpose well enough until the child is old enough to understand that various balls are used in different sports for specific reasons. But what if a child looks at the sun and sees only a ball? It certainly looks round. The child has to learn to develop more sophisticated concepts about round things to understand how an apparently round object that they cannot touch is fundamentally different from the “ball” it resembles. Understanding such differences is essential to building a personal model of reality that corresponds to "objective" reality as defined by logical conclusions based on observations and the applications of internally consistent theories about the world.
So it is with all simple concepts. As we grow and acquire more information, we have to modify and refine the concepts by which we construct our views of reality. Failing to do so in a changing world leads to increasing divergence between our personal world and objective reality. When people who disagree start to rely on ideological arguments that conflict with observable fact, the collective consciousness becomes literally "schizophrenic" in the sense that it is a "split mind." That is the key to understanding why those who think themselves liberals and conservatives really do live in different universes. Only when they find a common language to share their world views can they come to a common understanding of how the world works and how we can change it together.
The fundamental obstacle to people uniting around common values and goals is the nearly universal conservative impulse. Far from being unique to those who identify as conservatives, it is based on a fear of change that most of us have whether we are conscious of the prejudice or not. Any psychotherapist knows this from experience. Many if not most of the people we work with come to us with problems so painful that they are willing to ask for help, yet seem to reject any suggestion that solving the problem requires sometimes painful questioning of basic philosophical beliefs that form the core of their identities.
This tendency is of course even more pronounced in those who blind themselves to the fact that they are in pain. It is even harder to address this pain when the individual insists that he must solve all his problems on his own. At least those who seek help in psychotherapy have taken the first steps of admitting that they have a problem they cannot solve on their own and are willing to seek help thinking through the problem from another person’s perspective. When therapists encounter what they call “resistance” from those who find it difficult, they may throw up their hands and place the blame on the patient. However, the effective ones try to find ways to help motivate patients to change. That is the essential task we face in awakening our fellow citizens to what they have to do to change the political reality that is the ultimate source of our pain.
The first step in establishing dialogue between people of different political philosophies is to abandon the notion of “conservative” and “liberal.” As soon as you label yourself, you start to see people who see things differently as “the other.” You attribute beliefs to them that they may not hold, at least when their beliefs are held up to close questioning. When we try to talk to each other in a friendly and nonjudgmental manner about our differences, we are showing that we are not engaged in a contest of wills but seeking genuine understanding. If we manage to communicate our desire to work together toward common goals based on common values, we have the basis for healing the artificial left-right split. This is the Great Divide that keeps us fighting each other instead of the common enemy: the economic elite who would have us become their slaves in a permanent fascist New World Order.
Thanks to a corporate media and the politicians whose interests it serves, the concepts of “conservative” and “liberal” have been turned on their heads. Traditionally, the intellectual defense of conservatism was the belief that radical change can lead to chaos and the loss of all the gains that have been made in creating governments more responsible to the needs of the people who form them. It is based in part on the idea that everyone is inherently corruptible, or at least those who seek the power to determine the destiny of nations and the world.
There is a logical basis for this fear, given lessons of history. However, thanks to the politics of division and corporate media and politicians that frame political debate to serve the interests of their wealthy patrons, most people who consider themselves conservatives today have supported the most radical turn away from representative democracy to date. Those most dissatisfied with the results not only blame “liberal” politicians and their supporters but fault the party most have supported for years because they do not think they favor change that is radical enough.
Modern liberalism has been as drastically perverted. With the Democratic Party moving ever closer to outright support of fascist policies in an attempt to appeal to what the corporate media defines as the political center, it is gradually moving that illusory center away from the ideal of representative democracy and toward an ever more powerful plutocracy. The effect is to have turned traditional liberalism into its antithesis. Instead of realizing that radical change has become imperative, partisan Democrats seem content with the incremental efforts of a corrupt party that claims to challenge the economic elite while voting to support it on nearly every issue where the corporate interest conflicts with that of We the People.
This can only end when partisan Democrats learn to question their deeply held belief that if and only if they can elect more Democrats can the country be saved from the depredations of a wealthy and powerful aristocracy that has in fact gained control over both parties. As with the Tea party movement, liberals most angry at the direction the country has taken have taken to actively opposing the Democratic Party. They blame the stubborn refusal of the rank and file to hold their leaders accountable for the miserable state of what passes for liberalism in America. In their ridicule of all Democrats, they fail to acknowledge the legitimacy of trying to work within the system for those who choose to do so. Instead, they are abandoning the political process altogether or forming an ever-expanding array of third parties that further divide their cause because they cannot seem to work together.
Fortunately, psychotherapy offers a way to resolve the conflicts between political reality and the way most people perceive it, whether they consider themselves liberal, conservative or neither. The trick to dealing with the patient who resists examining their own role in creating their problems is first establish rapport, then help them explore their beliefs. If those which are healthy and life-affirming can be shown to be incompatible with those more deeply held, one of the beliefs must change. If the person is capable of honest self-reflection, the healthy belief will be retained and beliefs based on cognitive distortions will be rejected. As a result, the belief system itself changes. The alternative is to distort information that reveals the contradiction so that one can resist that change.
However one deals with them, being aware of two contradictory beliefs simultaneously creates a form of anxiety known as cognitive dissonance. It is the reason Albert Ellis' rational emotive therapy technique works. In RET, the therapist’s job is to help patients look at their lives objectively so that they may choose to change rather than resist it at a cost to not only their psychological integrity but their happiness. When the therapist succeeds at helping the patient see the connection between the simplistic beliefs that made the world make sense to the child and the problems they experience when they try to hold onto these beliefs as adults, it is possible to help them find more nuanced ways to view the world that are consistent with their core values.
I will not go into the basic differences in the modern conservative and liberal mind sets. I have little to add to George Lakoff’s description of the one as favoring a stern, paternal view of government that encourages individuals to succeed on their own in a rigged system and the other as favoring a nurturing, cooperative society with a prominent role for government. I suggest that those interested in exploring these ideas read his excellent treatise Don’t Think of an Elephant. What is more important is what he doesn’t say, which is how to reconcile these different world views. That requires focusing not on the differences in the beliefs we are raised with, but the ideals we were all taught to regard as sacred. Among these are the principles of representative democracy and liberty and justice for all. While concepts of these ideals differ, there is nearly unanimous agreement that they are thwarted by a system that is deeply corrupted by special interests.
By framing our common interest as ending the corruption that is threatening America and the world, we can find a way to talk to each other about how to create a united national and international front against fascism, even if we choose not to put it in those terms. How we might best have that discussion will be the topic of the next essay on tactics for conducting a nonviolent, democratic revolution.
Previous essays in this series are here:
Part I: Toward a strategy for dismantling the New World Order
Part II: Setting goals for real global revolution