Are We Doomed to Split Apart?
Is Bipartisanship All But Dead?
I’m publishing this series of articles to share and discuss my ruminations on coping with a troubled and messy world. Please “follow” me to never miss an article.
“…those…hoping for bipartisan efforts on climate are probably deluding themselves. Environmental protection is now part of the culture war, and neither policy details nor rational argument matters.”[i]
As Paul Krugman and a spate of others have said repeatedly, we’re hopelessly divided. Compromise is virtually dead. The only ways in which things are accomplished is by each Political Party acting alone.
To dig deeper into the forces dividing us, I want to make use of two schemas to which I’ve referred in previous blogs. They are the Kilmann-Thomas Conflict Framework and the pioneering work of the eminent Child Psychoanalyst Melanie Klein.
Kilmann and Thomas identify five primary ways of responding to conflict. They are Avoiding, Asserting, Accommodating, Compromising, and Collaborating. They are best understood in terms of a pie.
If one always strives to get a whole pie solely for him or herself, then one’s Conflict Style is Assertive. If on the other hand, one habitually gives a pie to the other, then one’s Style is Accommodating. In sharp contrast, if neither party wants any of the pie, then they are Avoiders.
If both parties are willing to settle for half of a pie, and therefore get something, then they are Compromisers. And finally, if they are able to work together amicably and productively, then even though it takes the most time and effort, by Collaborating they can both each get a whole pie.
As I’ve written before, Covid 19 is the perfect issue to which the Kilmann-Thomas Framework applies. Thus, as a clearly recognized authority, Dr Anthony Fauci has every right to Assert himself when it comes to appropriate ways of treating the Virus. And, to safeguard Public Health, the Public has to Accommodate to his expertise. Thus, one is more than justified in being Assertive if one is clearly an expert in the issue at hand.
As I’ve written extensively[ii], one is not justified in Avoiding Public Health safeguards such as being Vaccinated, Wearing Masks, and Social Distancing when it comes to a deadly disease such as Covid 19. Avoiding is justified only in those cases where the stakes are not worth arguing over. In the case of the Virus, Avoiding has been nothing less than an endless spate of fallacious arguments that people have concocted for not getting Vaccinated.
In the case of the Virus, Compromise assumes the form of acceding to expertise and thus in essence is Accommodating. Of them all, Collaborating is the most difficult but is absolutely required if we are both to prepare for and weather future Pandemics more effectively, that is with far fewer deaths and hospitalizations. It’s not enough to involve Medical Experts alone. Social Scientists who can anticipate and hopefully devise ways of overcoming people’s resistance to taking appropriate Health Measures are absolutely essential. To name but one, a coalition of Epidemiologists and experts in Communication are needed.
Thus far, it all sounds perfectly rational. One chooses as it were that style of Conflict Handling that is best suited for a particular situation. As if it’s all that easy, which it is not. Here’s where the insights of Melanie Klein are invaluable.
Klein is best known for her work in identifying the Paranoid-Schizoid Position in Human Development. She first observed it in young children.
Under the age of two, children instinctively Split (this is the Schizoid part) the mother into a Good versus a Bad Mother. The Good Mother is the one who is always there at the child’s command, whereas the Bad Mother can’t always be there and has to discipline the child. The Paranoid part is due to the fear that the mother will either hurt or abandon the child altogether.
Klein also identified a subsequent Developmental Stage, the Depressive Position. Here the child remembers his or her previous bad feelings towards the mother, feels ashamed, and therefore tries to atone for it.
While all children essentially move beyond the Paranoid-Schizoid Position, in times of great stress, one easily falls back into it. In particular, consider how it affects the five Conflict Modes.
If one is deeply in the throes of the Paranoid-Schizoid Position, then Asserting becomes a matter of basic survival. In short, the world is an extremely hostile place governed by enormously dangerous forces that must be defeated. It certainly applies to extreme Far-Right Groups who are ready to declare Civil War, and thus Split the country, and justify violence if their beliefs are threatened in any way. Indeed, individuals have already engaged in violent actions against the FBI in their view for falsely targeting Donald Trump.
Accommodating also becomes a matter of survival. One bows to forces more powerful and malevolent than one in the hopes that one can survive by submitting. In the same way, one tries to Avoid confronting malevolent forces as much as possible.
Compromise and Collaborating become essentially impossible because working with the Enemy is ruled out.
If ever we needed leaders who embody the Depressive Position and thus can help heal the great divide, that time is now. Republicans will have to take the lead in reclaiming the ideals for which they have traditionally stood.
Nonetheless, in line with the thoughts of Paul Krugman with which I began this blog, are we deluding ourselves? Are the Culture Wars too deep such that we are destined to Split apart?
[i] Paul Krugman, “Why Republicans Turned Against the Environment,” The New York Times, Tuesday, August 16, 2022, P. A19.
[ii] Ian I Mitroff, The Socially Responsible Organization: Lessons from Covid 19, Springer, New York, 2022.
Ian I. Mitroff is credited as being one of the principal founders of the modern field of Crisis Management. He has a BS, MS, and a PhD in Engineering and the Philosophy of Social Systems Science from UC Berkeley. He Is Professor Emeritus from the Marshall School of Business and the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Currently, he is a Senior Research Affiliate in the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, UC Berkeley. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Management. He has published 41 books. His latest is: The Socially Responsible Organization: Lessons from Covid, Springer, New York, 2022.