Are political dichotomies really so illusory?

Dear friends,

In anticipation of challenges to my assertion that our political dichotomies – especially the liberal/conservative, blue-red divide – are illusions, I offer the following references:

1. The “Purple USA” map –

2. My writeup of my first transpartisan experience – “A Personally Transformational Encounter of Left and Right”

3. The story of the first pro-life and pro-choice activist dialogue done by the Public Conversations Project in which participants were invited to confidentially discuss the “grey areas” where they weren’t FULLY comfortable with the archetypal public position of their “side”, but with which they compromised in order to be politically effective. What emerged was a full spectrum of different perspectives on abortion, not just two.

4. The “Crossing the Line” diversity exercise –

I don’t maintain that there aren’t differences of opinions in the US. There most definitely are – serious ones. That is clear from my argument that our diversity is far vaster than we acknowledge. I just don’t believe those differences fall into two mutually exclusive camps the way our dominant political dynamics make us believe. And I believe that our common ground is FAR vaster than those camps suggest.
My own experience in groups is that there are incredible differences within EVERY group – differences not just of personality but of values and opinions and preferences – even in an intimate partnership or marriage. Those differences surface at various times and must be dealt with one way or another – and some ways of dealing with them are healthier and more creative than others. But it doesn’t matter how we cut the political (or racial or religious or gender) pie. There will always be more differences within each pie slice than there are between the slices

For the well-being and wisdom of our democracy, I am proposing we pull our attention away from the polarized political labels and look at the issues themselves, at who we ACTUALLY are, at the values we hold, at the creative solutions we might create by understanding what we each bring to the table – and at the system designs (like winner-take-all majoritarianism) and special interest dynamics that (a) make us blur what we believe in in order to unite behind a given political party, candidate, or policy and (b) keep us from connecting with each other “across political divides” and finding allies for policy options we both/all believe in (like the ACLU and the American Conservative Union working together against the Patriot Act).

The forces of “divide and conquer” are quite aware that we are much more powerful together than we are apart.





Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, POB 493, Eugene, OR 97440
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