Every person has their balance point politically.
So does every culture and country, Tension Force is that system in groups.
Tension Force is my coined phrase for the relationship between what we often call conservative and progressive forces, culturally and politically. Individuals are born with a predisposition toward the right or left: With personal traits that predictably sort themselves into one camp or the other. Every population naturally seeks a homeostatic point of balance between them. Even though it feels like conflict or even hostility, Tension Force is essential to community health. The death of tension force comes when the opposition is 100% demonized, all talk is done.
Tension Force: Cohesion from Opposition
The tension force is the force that is transmitted through a string, rope, cable, or wire when it is pulled tight by forces acting from opposite ends. The tension force is directed along the length of the wire and pulls equally on the objects on the opposite ends of the wire. –Physics Classroom
Please imagine the totality of American politics as groups of people. Not just the official representatives, but all the voices contributing viewpoints from right-wing 1% super-PACs down to organic coop vegan hippies. Now assign all those people to one of two categories: Conservative or Progressive. Imagine the sum total of conservative opinion vs the sum total of progressive opinion as a tug of war. As they struggle against each other imagine the area between them vibrating with the force of their resistance.
That area is expressing the Tension Force of their opposition to each other. It describes the range of political reality for this community, in this time and place. The entire spectrum of opinion on the issues of the day are all in this area: Immigration, economic policy, male/female roles, war, etc. Now, imagine some quick snapshots of progressive and conservative forces in other countries contending against each other in the same way. Picture Sweden, Mexico, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Each has their version of the spectrum of these opposing forces. Open societies have a broader spectrum than closed societies but every country has its own. The area of tension force (TF) contains the questions being struggled over and the possible policies that might result. Economic justice TF in Sweden and Mexico are wildly different. Sexual politics TF in America and Saudi Arabia also starkly contrast. TF = the local reality that is up for discussion and the current limits of that discussion. Progressive and Conservative are the internal states of the ones pulling the rope. Across these cultures, the range of viewpoints differs radically but the nature and motivation of those pulling the rope are the same throughout the human world.
No matter the specific issues of the moment, these forces are always present in varying but predictable amounts. Events befalling a community will temporarily affect the numbers of each but this settles after a time. This struggle is always there in every culture because these forces are the critical counterweights of every community. They hold up the tent by their opposition. Both groups are easy to predict and define.
It might look like I’m making a partisan political statement of good and bad here but I am not. This isn’t judging, it is about recognizing patterns. Progressives often wonder about the cognitive dissonance of American conservative Christians because logically Christians would support a peaceful “Love thy neighbor” approach rather than being in favor of any military action we take on. Likewise, that those who believe “what you did for the least of my brothers you did for me” would support a kind and generous attitude toward the poor rather than voting against every compassionate social program aimed at lessening the pain and dead ends of poverty.
Conservatives don’t think of themselves as warlike but as patriotic and happy to show it. They don’t think of themselves as harsh toward the poor, or helpful to the rich (though they are) rather, they say: “Nobody ever gave ME anything.” It just feels wrong inside them to be generous to the poor. For conservatives it isn’t what is written in the theology that matters, it’s being a member of whatever religion is the cultural bedrock. If America mostly worshiped Ba’al or Zoroaster (and if their parents did too,) conservatives would have bumper stickers reading: “Ba’al said it, I believe it, and that’s that.” or a little sticker of the holy fire, maybe with a family warming their hands over it. But in their outward behavior, they would express exactly the conservative attitudes they do now. It isn’t about thinking and deciding, it’s about playing your hardwired role.
Progressives have cognitive dissonances of their own. A progressive bumper sticker says: “If you can’t change your mind, how do you know you still have one?”. But if you ask that progressive to reconsider their viewpoints on pretty much anything, they are fixed and defensive. Flexibility and an open mind are guiding light values of progressives, but operationally they HAVE to have fixed points of view. Another Progressive cognitive dissonance is the near-sacred status granted to other people’s cultures, but not to their own. Progressives act like any show of a protective feeling towards their own culture is regressive and possibly even a hate crime, while protecting the expressions of other cultures as an absolute good. This is because progressives structurally counter xenophobia and anti-immigrant viewpoints. This isn’t about thinking and deciding, it’s about playing your hardwired role.
For conservatives AND progressives, the “Bullet Points of Reality” are not flexible or optional. Nor are these stances truly rational though we all think so in our own case. They can be expressed rationally but they are not chosen rationally. As your phenotype expresses eye and hair color, you also express your end of the political ball field. Your own political stance seems sensible because, OF COURSE, IT DOES. The opposition is stupid because, OF COURSE, THEY ARE. This is why “swaying the opposition with logic” is a fool’s errand. Your logic isn’t logical in that person’s body.
There are nice people sitting under both umbrellas. But if you explore ideas with them you’ll find very little flexibility about any core issues. You will not encounter many people who like a strong, dominant authority figure in charge but also support flexible modern sex roles and generous social programs. When you see someone from either side expressing one of their templated points of view you are seeing a single building block of the local TF, one pixel if you will. They DO come in different “strengths”, there are hard and soft versions for both sides and a Bell Curve distribution for all. Even people in the gentle middle of the road are structural elements of the tension force…just like everyone else. The middle of the road is never an objective location btw, it can only be defined as the center point between the outside edges, whatever they are, of current opinion. All of us add our weight to the scale of local and national politics.
A progressive in one age might suggest treating the slaves more gently but not suggest freeing them because that’s a hopelessly optimistic non-starter idea in her society. She might even feel that that much change would be rash. A conservative in another time might take freeing slaves for granted, but not give a hoot if they then live or die. The baseline shifts but the roles don’t. This is worth stopping to consider: Your specific beliefs about how things should be handled right now are not what makes you conservative or progressive, but rather your opposition to whatever the other side says about the issue. Conservative and progressive define each other with the context of the existing tension force. It isn’t the issue, it’s the attitude. In this way, the local reality is defined.
It’s clear that these types are a predictable part of human population dynamics because every human group generates them automatically. In early hunter-gatherer tribes, this tension force already existed as individual personality characteristics; some individuals were curious and open to strangers and some attacked them on sight. The resulting intrafamilial compromise handling the tension between these sides was important, it was like the surface tension of the tribe. It had to be open enough to let some things in and closed enough to keep some stuff out. The tribe is an organism and this behavior is its self-management as it relates to the outside world.
Tension force scales up and down automatically with population size. This coined idea of Political Tension Force isn’t a mystical power controlling us from outside, it is an emergent property of something we do naturally. As individuals, we show a range of open or closed responses to strangers and different cultures and behaviors, and political tension force is just the scaled-up expression of masses of people holding a similar range of instinctive opinions as a “hive mind”. These hive minds express the dominant traits constructed from the local tension force. In a simple, colorful way we could compare it to how defensive an insect hive is. Maybe North Korea is like killer bees and Canada is like calm honeybees.
Small towns and big cities naturally lean more conservative and more progressive by type as a logical outcome of caring for few or caring for many. Liberalism is about the problem of caring for many, conservatism is about the problem of caring for a few. In every generation, the same basic proportions of opponents are born. Is there some system maintaining the population density of the opposing sides? Whether there are sophisticated species-level algorithms controlling any of these functions I don’t know. This isn’t science, it’s mere observation, but it’s possible because our homeostasis includes many diverse human types delivered in the same consistent proportions, year after year.
I suspect conservatives will tend to be the slightly larger group because the forces driving human behavior are cautious and pro-survival by nature. Resistance to change is a braking system preserving the identity of the culture. A modest conservative majority keeps whatever structure has been accomplished here from suddenly destabilizing. Yet over time, successes have piled up on the progressive side in a way that starts to seem inevitable (if extremely gradual). Generally, conservatives are reasonably happy with these outcomes as long as they were born into that outcome, rather than watching a cultural transition to it. As deep as the entirely natural dislike is between progressives and conservatives, we absolutely need each other for our communities to maintain balance and integrity. One maintains, and the other reforms. This is a system for preserving our structure but opening it for editing out things that are too cruel or unjust or restrictive.
Chaos and collapse would quickly follow either side completely and absolutely empowered. Picture one team in the tug of war disappearing and leaving the other in complete control. The winners don’t stop pulling and enter a golden age of enlightened governance, instead, they begin to pull against themselves internally because that is all they have left. This mechanism of finding a difference and pulling against it is absolutely reflexive. In the natural course of seeking balance through opposition, they begin to tear into their own “flesh” in search of otherness. Neither can stop opposing because that is the mechanistic yet essential role they play. A lack of opposition is a state dangerously out of balance. It develops a cultural auto-immune disorder attacking its own healthy tissue. This unbalanced state is essentially what political correctness is for both sides: Deprived of healthy push back there is a spike of “purity madness” on the left and “loyalty madness” on the right that begins searching for enemies within. Blacklists, loyalty oaths, and purge trials do a good job of eventually stirring up some opposition. It’s grimly funny, but in doing so they ACTUALLY begin to create the opposing force needed to re-establish a kind of balance.
Social media, purposefully, in order to sell ad space, separates us from each other so completely by our TF role that it generates an unbalanced runaway state like this within both groups. “Safely” sealed in our bubbles, each side scales up the rhetoric because they encounter no opposition to extreme views but will likely be punished for expressing more moderate views. The real problem is that these hard voices and positions are grown in us in this abstract half-real mono-culture of social media but are expressed towards our real neighbors in our real communities where we have to get along and get things done. The other side is as demonized as an enemy in war. Scorn and contempt for differences become automatic. This kills representative Democracy.
If we are such simpletons that we accept these hateful terms as a given that can’t be changed, we are doomed.
Accept the need for opposition and the sanity of the opposition even as you fight them. If their talk is so extreme that it leaves sanity as an unsettled issue, remember that opposition itself is the thing we need. Respecting the people voicing that opposition is the most effective way we have at this moment to cure the political autoimmune disorder induced in us by those who profit from our collapse.
That kind of respectful action will not come naturally to anyone right now unless they recognize the Yin/Yang essence of Tension Force. Consider sharing this mental model of how we work with others as a way to shape a paradigm of healthy conflict. Getting people to merely acknowledge this need for opposing beliefs improves us considerably. It makes people pause before setting fire to the house we all share out of bitterness and spite. We need a healthy political macro-biome and every one of us can play a part in achieving that.
© Hugh Miller Feb. 2016
Is to create a dynamic tension of necessarily opposing forces.
This tension defines the overall moral character of a place. In balance: Conservatives provide cohesion with tradition, patriotism, following authority, and defense of borders. In balance: Progressives provide introspection, conscience, and doubt. Working together (by working against each other) they create a structure strong enough to hold together but flexible enough to admit change. Meeting in the middle is sort of irrelevant, the goal is achieved through opposition. And if either side has no pushback from the other, it becomes a political autoimmune disorder, digesting itself alive as it strives for purity.
A word for the Progressives: You know at some level that those asshats are holding the line for you, right? They are throwing themselves into battles in faraway places because they will actually do that when it has to be done (as well as when it doesn’t). And they hold down a certain kind of solid decency in a lot of places.
Conservatives are the base note. Conservatives are the ones prepared to homestead on the goddamn prairie all over again if they have to. They are representing the basic voice of humans organizing for survival and fearing change. They like things predictable and familiar and they don’t like all those weirdos they see sniffing around. If humanity was an inchworm they’d be the reluctant back end. If you are picturing a bunch of southern white Americans you aren’t exactly wrong but you aren’t sufficient, either. You must picture this same type in Cameroon, Belarus. Uganda, and Fiji because everybody has them. From where they are sitting most of the world seems to be a bunch of weirdos sniffing around with their funny ways in their dumb clothes. Highly suspicious, I’d say.
And a word for you too, Conservatives: You know that these self-righteous, holier than thou do-gooder jerkoffs are right once in a blue moon, correct? Historically about things like not buying people and how you shouldn’t kill your daughter for being a lesbian (yeah, I heard about that). They may be a bunch of insufferable unrealistic ninnies for thinking that the world could ever really change for the better, but I mean kids think that way, and we always say kids are the hope of the future so maybe…No. Fuck ’em. Progressives are the high hopeful note that may or may not be true…yet. Progressives are a hand feeling around in the dark for a better future. Sometimes injustice will burn down YOUR house if it isn’t fixed and you sure aren’t going to do anything about it.
Anyway, both of you A-Holes, like it or not, actually need each other. Progressives need conservatives so they don’t give away the whole goddamn candy store to them weirdos in stupid clothes who’ve been sniffing around. And conservatives need progressives so the rich people don’t start actually selling them again or making them into soup one of these days.
The good news is, you aren’t supposed to get along, you’re supposed to fight. But you aren’t supposed to kill each other, that would be a great victory akin to the kidneys killing the liver. All you have to do is continue to recognize each other as members of the same community (which would be awesome and perfect if they weren’t around).
You have to fight them and you have to recognize them as part of God’s plan, maybe like dung-beetles.
Meanwhile, you might as well hate each other, you’re both pretty goddamn annoying.
A talented and esteemed lecturer in early childhood education has resigned from teaching at Yale because an email she wrote suggesting a little flexibility about Halloween costumes resulted in an inferno of moral indignation and demands for her (and her husband) to be fired by the college. (Demands by the students of course).
Here is the intolerable message:
“This year, we seem afraid that college students are unable to decide how to dress themselves on Halloween,” she wrote. While noting that she did not wish to “trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation, and other challenges to our lived experience in a plural community,” Christakis went on to question the imposition of “standards and motives” on others as well as the feasibility of agreeing on how to avoid offense. “Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?” she asked. “American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition.”
Even -asking- the profoundly politically correct to consider being a little more relaxed results in a take no prisoners purge of the impure. Left wing. Read your history. You do this. Stop.
There’s some disagreement about how long modern humans have existed but the figure of 200,000 years is frequently cited. The lifestyle of the stone age was wandering groups of associated families usually between 25 to 50 people. Pretty much anyone you knew, you knew for a lifetime (yours or theirs). The stone age ended as the neolithic revolution in farming transformed the lifestyle of people into the sort of population dense settlements that have basically carried on to this day.
The Population Reference Bureau estimates that about 107 billion people have ever lived – since the beginning. Scientists suggest that out of that huge number, only about 12% of those people lived in the stone age. 12% doesn’t sound like a very significant number to influence the sort of people we are today. Until you realize that every person since then is a descendent of that 12%. And even more importantly that that 12% of all people was us during 96% of our time on Earth. Our roots are deep, deep in the stone age.
So our inner cave clan easily breaks through the surface of our modernism. 192,000 years of comforting small groups of closely related people with a distrust of strangers is not something you shake off like a daydream. When we utterly detest racists and xenophobes we are behaving toward ourselves as we might to our dog humping legs at a party or chewing shoes. We shout “NO!” and we drag them off, “stupid dog” we mutter. The dog’s behavior has been momentarily suppressed but not altered in the slightest. And certainly not for the next generation of dogs. Continue reading
I think there’s an odd problem waiting for the right wing media who keep desperately trying to officially classify the San Bernardino shootings as Islamic terrorism (because it’s about blaming Obama for terrorism on American soil, get it? So much for not politicizing).
The main killer, the guy, seems to be using Islam as the rationale but really he’s perfectly in the mold of the seething, isolated grudge holder who we’ve seen so often. He’s an unusual new hybrid for Americans: He’s killing because he’s a fucked up jerk, but he’s hitching his wagon to a larger cause, Islam. Of the two issues here I would say it’s more like he did it because he was a fucked up angry jerk. Since he would identify this act as Islamic terrorism though, who am I (or the news media) to argue with him? His stockpiling of weapons and the readiness of his wife to join him in suicide/mass murder indicates a long period of drifting toward this moment.
But if THIS is terrorism then so is the more common garden variety carried out more typically in this country by angry right wing men who have hitched their wagon to anti-abortion or anti government causes. The personality type for these events is a mostly a forgone conclusion. If we can’t register guns maybe we can register bitter, grudge holding bastards. Of course it would just become one more thing on their list of reasons they plan to kill some folks.
I am 100% in favor of calling Islamic terrorism what it is. There are people who balk at the phrase, instantly complaining that it indicts all Muslims. * Of course it doesn’t represent all of Islam…It represents the terrorist side of Islam. In its own way it’s as ridiculous as arguing with the phrase “Islamic charities” because not all Muslims are charitable! This is simply using words meaningfully, to describe what something in particular is.
I would like to extend this logic though. When we have an act of right wing terrorism let’s call it loud and clear. When we have an act of left wing terrorism let’s call it loud and clear. We haven’t had an ongoing issue of left wing terrorism in this country since the sixties but we do have a chronic right wing terror problem. And for some reason it’s virtually taboo to state this fact. That reason of course is that the American news media are made of entirely of jelly and kissing up to power. To protect their commercial revenue and increasingly meaningless “access” they keep within the lines approved of by those they report on.
Truth in naming is notable for its absence in most public conversations. But I would adore hearing Bill O’Reilly say “Another act of right-wing terrorism” (I got your “no spin” right here, pal). Potentially some acts should even be called Christian terrorism if the rationale put forward by the perpetrators has some Christian theological justification.
But somehow I don’t think the right wing media is going to start calling it that.
— Update: It’s come out that in their online courtship the two killers shared an interest in martyrdom and prepared for an attack far in advance.
*(Honestly, the left is SO concerned with being nice and not offending anyone that they virtually become BFFs with the some of the most regressive, hidebound, anti-woman, anti-gay theology on the planet. But that is another topic.)
Some humans can live as wild and solitary as tigers. Humans can live as isolated families miles from their neighbors. They can live in tribes, villages, clan groups, small towns, cities and mega-cities. Humans are not infinitely adaptable but they are capable of many different modes of existence. It’s well known that these different life styles operate under different rules. Neighborliness and charity for example, are different things when surrounded by ten, ten thousand or ten million people.