Saturday, July 01, 2006

Left, Right and What?

I just finished watching the 20/20 special on political polarization in the US and feel rather conflicted about it. On one hand, I understand the need for people with different political views to be able to talk to one another. On the other hand, this "meta" position isn't enough. I have strongly held political views myself, and most of them are quite liberal. I really think that we as a society would be better off with, for example, more social freedoms and a more equal distribution of wealth. People with views opposite mine are, for the most part, just as sincere. So where do we go from here?

The first thing that comes to mind is the inadequacy of the "left-right" political spectrum. The folks at the Political Compass have designed a two-dimensional system that rates a person as being more authoritarian or libertarian on separate social and economic scales. (I might add a "parochial-cosmopolitan" axis.) Science fiction writer and physicist David Brin has some great stuff on his blog about alternative models of politics and lots of provocative ideas about what modern societies need to prosper.

Unfortunately, the American political system enshrines the left-right dichotomy in its two major parties. The Democrats and Republicans present us with packages of issues that may be completely unrelated (what does gay marriage have to do with the war in Iraq?), but most of us feel we have to choose one or the other. In Europe and much of the rest of the democratized world, citizens have more choices in selecting a party that truly represents their views, but Americans appear to be stuck with two. I remember doing a short presentation on the Green Party in my high school government class. Greens are fairly left-wing on most issues, but my teacher pointed out that two of the party's Ten Key Values, decentralization and personal responsibility, are traditionally associated with conservatives, at least in the US. The Green Party is not centrist but it does take on elements of several philosophies.

While there are several reforms I could recommend, especially instant runoff voting (you rank several candidates in order of desirability) and the prevention of gerrymandering, I don't think it's enough in the long run. If voters are getting more polarized, why are there so few supporters of creative, potentially radical ideas in Congress? Why do so few Democrats campaign for universal health care or the Department of Peace? I don't know, but merely responding to the issues of the day is not going to get us through this century. This is where sites like come in.

WorldChanging is a repository of ideas, inventions, tools and projects for a better world. Reading it, you become excited about Brazil and India. You learn about green buildings, serious games and dialogue. WorldChanging's strength and weakness is that it's non-political, but there are websites with a similar spirit that include politics. Check out the Radical Middle and the Global Ideas Bank -- and start working for something new. In the end, we won't meet in the middle, but we may reach higher ground together.

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