Why Good People Can’t Get Along.

Katie and Jim love one another, but they don’t spend much time together.

Because they see the world- and what our problems are- differently, they don’t get along. Katie’s ‘asteroids’ hurdling toward the earth include poverty, injustice and climate change. For Jim, it’s debt, regulation and freedom.

So Katie and Jim become members of teams with others that see as they do.
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Each team knows they’re right and they each blame the other side for their problems.

They elect politicians to be their leaders & to represent their interests when setting the rules.

We like being on teams and working to help our team win. It feels good- the body releases endorphins. This has a long history, ie. think pre-civilization when we lived in separate tribes.

Katie & Jim surround themselves with information about their team they like to hear. They seek information that confirms their existing bias. They both choose to be comforted, rather than hear anything that might be challenging.

The problem: being on teams blind Katie and Jim to reality. So when leaders of their team don’t support their values with their actions, they don’t see it.

When Democratic leaders pass policy that concentrates wealth and hurts the middle class, like deregulating Wall Street and liberalizing trade policy, Katie doesn’t see it.

When Republicans grow government spending and pass policy that reduces competition and choice for consumers (and grows the need for a safety net), Jim doesn’t see it.

As team members, they cooperate, to fight the other side. They’re loyal to a fault. Their minds shut down to critical thinking. Passion is the slave to reason.

Even though both Katie and Jim are well educated and smart, it feels better beating up the other side than looking in the mirror.

Katie would rather point to Wall Street greed than acknowledge the Democratic leadership’s partnership with (and reliance on) Wall Street. She defends the Affordable Care Act rather than admit to it’s fundamental flaws. Katie calls Republicans heartless, but ignores the Democratic leaders who do little to fight for systemic change that would reduce the number in need. Katie criticizes Republicans as unfriendly to the working class, while her leaders support policy that aids corporate polluters and weakens the position of workers.

Jim enjoys ripping on the millions in food stamp fraud while ignoring his Republican defending billions in subsidies that prop up Big Food & Big Ag & Big Oil (at the expense of small business and lower taxes). Jim criticizes liberals for espousing Big Government, while his his leaders do the same, despite their rhetoric. Jim says government shouldn’t choose winners and losers, but ignores how his Republicans pass policy that provide a leg-up to the well-connected. Jim fumes about government waste, yet never mentions the tens of billions of dollars that disappear during Middle East ‘rebuilding’ and on cost overruns to scraped weapon systems.

When Katie & Jim are shown the truth, they reject it, and often believe the non-truth and support their team even more so. They cling to ideology instead of looking at the evidence. Katie and Jim like being delusional.

The Media (no matter if you refer to it as liberal or conservative) benefits and perpetuate this division.
a. 80% of what we hear, see and read comes from six companies. They’re multibillion dollar transnational corporations in the business of profits. More eyeballs, means more (ad) revenue, and eyeballs are attracted to entertainment. Very little of what we see, hear or read is news related.
b. The news the mainstream media does provide is shallow, narrow and fast. The anchors are judged on like-ability. They have no time for nuance, context, real debate or interest in allowing us to see the roots of the issues. While some argue we live in an age of information, perhaps a more accurate title would be, ‘an age of distraction.’

The blatantly bipartisan news, like FOX News and MSNBC, play on our fears/biases. They douse the fuel that keeps us distracted, and divided. Fox acknowledges to being more about entertainment and opinion than news, with polls showing some viewers being less informed about current events than those who don’t watch news. The liberal station, MSNBC, is owned by General Electric (GE). GE’s CEO advises Obama, ship manufacturing overseas, pays no federal income tax on billions in profits, was one of the largest polluters of the 20th century and was caught bid rigging the municipal bond market (with Wall Street banks, to the tune of billions at the expense of taxpayers). Yet, the news GE offers focuses largely on criticizing Republicans.

So, as Jim and Katie, looking for someone to blame and armed with their sound bytes and their anecdotes, bicker and yell past one another.

Meanwhile…the USA FLOUNDERS.
GDP measures economic activity and here the USA remains on top. But, no matter what indicator of wellbeing we measure, the USA fares poorly when compared with our peer nations. That is, if we measure everything that makes life worth living, we don’t rank well and are falling, i.e.
opportunity/mobility, governance/democracy, health, education, safety and security, personal freedom, social capital. These are from the OECD rankings, Prosperity Index and Gross National Happiness Index.

*We’re not #1 across the world in income inequality, but we are #1 (and well below) every other developed economies of the world. We’re below Nigeria. Also, after importing much of our food system, Mexico inched past the USA as the world’s most obese nation. China now pollutes more than the USA, but per capita we far outpace them.
If our Founders wanted us to be about ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” why are we tops in the use of anti-depressants? If we’re ‘The Land of the Free,’ why do we have 25% of the world’s prisoners?
p.s. Additionally, the design of the global economy means, as it grows, every living system in the world declines. That decline is accelerating.

It wasn’t always like this. Opinion of government (and business and capitalism) in the 1960s was far higher than it is today. Since then, USA corporations sent jobs overseas, businesses consolidated, profits increased & they became more influential in policy and rule making at the government level. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the money the federal government spends is on defense and healthcare.

Are we screwed?
Katie comes from a hard-working family. She holds down two jobs, but still has difficulty making ends meet. She has friends who pursued college, a couple have jobs that pay well, others are stuck in $12/hr jobs like Katie (which is 50% higher than minimum wage in her state). All her friends are swimming in student loan debt and most rarely vote because they see it as a waste of time.

Jim works for a small business. He also works long hours. He pays a lot in taxes and doesn’t understand why he has to pay so much while others pay nothing. He also hates all the hoops he has to jump through to comply with local, state and federal government regulation. He votes Republican because they’re less bad than the other choice, and because they’re pro-life.

Some of Katie and Jim’s friends aren’t sitting still. They’re part of an expanding grassroots movement working on creating something different.

Labeled as fringe, discredited, marginalized or ignored by the mainstream media (and political leaders), it turns out many of their efforts and solutions align w/both Katie & Jim’s values. Better design can and does fuel innovation, provide more choice, greater independence, more jobs, less need for regulation, and fewer people in need of a safety net.

It turns out, when we take off our blinders, and when we get out out of our bubbles and stop looking at parts, we see the world more accurately:
1. All the challenges we face are part of the same economic system. They’re all linked.
2. We’re all this together. This won’t be a good place for any of us to live, unless it’s a good place to live for all of us.

So, what will happen? Will Katie & Jim ever be able to have a conversation about anything important? Will they get past abstract, emotionally-charged sound-bytes and listen to each other’s real concerns? That means spending time getting out of our comfort zones and spending time with one another. If they think slowly, think deeply and ask questions (like where’s the evidence?), they might then find out their two tribes want most of the same things, e.g. security, opportunity, quality of life.

Could Jim & Katie, and people like them, view our challenges as opportunities to work on what’s possible? Could we get past the idea of incremental, piecemeal reform and fashion a new American Dream? Perhaps we begin by look around and join with those who are already working on it.
Will we become citizens and demand more democracy, asking our leaders to represent US? Is a government of the people, for the people, by the people possible? We need both conservative and liberal thinkers, but will enough of them hold leaders accountable?

p.s. Another thing conservatives and liberals agree on overwhelmingly: the influence of money in politics dilutes democracy.

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