The purpose of life is a life of purpose. – Robert Byrne
It’s impossible not to think about one side and another at this time. Opposing factions, good versus evil, diversity versus conformance, the differences that lie between sections of society and sections of humanity. This duality is so much a part of the lives we live that it’s hard to imagine an alternative, consider any other way of doing things.
What really, when it comes down to it is the difference between the extreme left and the extreme right? I don’t know enough about either to really dig into this but that isn’t going to stop me having an opinion. After all, it never really seems to stop anyone else.
For one reason or another I’ve been exposed to more of the left/right worldview than I would normally come across. I think it boils down to the collective versus the individual – equality for everyone versus your right not to wear a mask if you don’t want to. I’m aware that it’s never really that simple but these two big categories seem to capture a lot of the angst that’s floating about these days.
Start with principles. End with games
At the start of each movement is someone with an idea, Marx with communism, Adam Smith with the invisible hand. And then people build on these ideas, commenting, believing and acting, until eventually you have another movement, something happening, a new belief system. And then, over time, the belief system gets guardians, rituals, temples and then one day the belief dies and the shell, the carapace remains, looking like it did the day before but hollow inside.
It’s impossible not to comment on a certain election and individual, so I’m going to have to point in that direction. Here is a story of a person who came to power promising to help the forgotten many, the people progress had left behind. The people who had jobs and security and lost it when the world moved on to new ideas and different ways. And he surfed on a wave of anger because people who had something and then lose it feel the loss and pain more than people who never had it at all.
He had his time, did things his way, focused on the people that put him in power and said the things that they wanted to hear, flattered and pleasured his audience and did things others wouldn’t. And some people love him for that and others hate him and I don’t know who is right and wrong but you cannot deny that he is popular with his group.
But all of it has been about games, playing games to get things done. And now playing games to keep going, to regain territory, to look alive, to build resources for the next game. Principles are easy to state, easy to come up with and then the game starts. And eventually, very quickly, players forget the principles and focus on the rules and what they have to do to win and at one point, one time they have to decide whether they step over the line; whether they play to play well or play to win and whether the principle matters or whether the winning matters and when the winning wins, that’s when you lose your soul and the principle at the core, the belief rots away and dies.
Flames have to be relit
When you look at large, established groups then – the big parties, the big religions, countries and counties and states – what is it that holds them together? The one thing they all have in common is ritual, they know the importance of conditioning, of socialization, of songs and anthems and texts – the pillars that hold up the structure of belief, the walls that keep out the others.
The history of these movements is that of a flame, a burning torch that first gives light, which is then interred in a holder. Unless the flame is fed it eventually goes out and all that is left is the holder. That’s why all movements need recruits, new people who can hold and pass on the flame. And there is always a battle within each individual, a battle between their belief in the flame and their desire for power and, over time, the desire for power tends to win.
What do people do?
Well, they speak out or they stay silent. Or they use the process. Games are not a bad thing because they also allow those people who do not have natural advantages, the charisma, the charm, the patter of some, to create rules that give them an equal voice. That is the purpose of politics, to give you a chance to express your views and make your case and appeal to the voters, to the people. And you agree to abide by the will of the majority. Or do you?
One of the most visible failures of a recent coalition government was of the party that chose to compromise in the larger interests of the nation. They went back on their promises to their core voter base because they thought they were doing the right thing for the country as a whole and they were eviscerated in the next election. Politics is not about doing what is right for everyone. It’s about making the case for your group and working to advance its interests. If you go into coalition and there are things you fundamentally disagree on with your partner – the thing to do is not change your beliefs but focus on the smaller list of things you do agree on. The rest will have to wait until the next time you all go back to the polls.
There are no trump cards
As I think through this situation what seems increasingly clear is that there is no real resolution, there is only reality. The reality is that if you believe in something you have to make your case, go out there and make your point, and you will need all the skills needed for any other kind of organizing activity, resources, people, opportunity. Running a movement, being in politics, holding a belief – these are all matters of business, about worth and value and resource and cost. If you’re not willing to pay the price don’t do it.
Most of us don’t. Which is why we’re the floaters, the people who the core believers have to attract to their ideas.
This leads to an important lesson for community builders. There are people who will agree with what you have to say. Direct most of your efforts at helping them work together, with resources, communication and knowledge. Spend some time helping people that are interested and open to your ideas learn more and help them decide if they want to work with you. Ignore everyone else, especially those that have a go at you. Push only your message. If you start to attack others you’re giving them oxygen.
In the end your community’s value will be judged by what it does. Think of the communities you know – political, religious, commercial, philosophical. They are all based on ideas. Some have survived for centuries and enriched the world. Others have drenched it in blood. What made the difference was what people were willing to do for their group.
Why are people willing to do things in the name of their group, their organization? Does it have something to do with safety?
Let’s look at that in the next post.