Polarisation versus consensus

Polarisation serves elite interests while tearing local communities apart. We must stop playing this game and find our common ground.

Ronnie Way
9 August 2016
 Flickr/Graham Holliday. Some rights reserved.

"In most newsrooms around the world, if there’s no conflict, there’s no story." Credit: Flickr/Graham Holliday. Some rights reserved.Recently, Michael I. Norton from Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely from Duke University completed a fascinating study with extraordinary findings.

Respondents were given a scenario whereby they could not choose the financial situation into which they were born. Based on this scenario they were asked to choose between a list of principles and values that best described the society in which they would want to live. There was an “A” list of principles and values defining the US and a “B” list of those defining Sweden. An astonishing 92% of the 6000 Americans polled overwhelmingly chose the list based on the defining principles and values of Sweden. But it gets better.

Hidden within the report is a beautiful truth that could change our political culture. Should we discover this truth about ourselves it would guarantee the peaceful demise of the status quo in both the US and, one could argue, in Canada and many other top-heavy, corporatised democracies.

The study divided the test group to equally to reflect the reality of the US political landscape. The report found that of roughly 2600 Democrats polled, 96% chose the Sweden list. Of the 2600 Republicans, 91% chose Sweden. The 600 independents and supporters of other parties averaged 93%. 

What is this? The American public is in agreement? Where are the Tea Partiers or the flag-burning anarchists? Where are the dyed-in-the-wool, “don’t steal my overpriced healthcare plan you Nazi bastard, Obama” free enterprisers? The Mason-Dixon Line is nowhere to be found. The red states have blended (not bled) with the blue — and have turned out to be a quite fabulous shade of royal purple, on paper anyway. Sounds like a united group of states. 

So why is there such a disparity between public perception and reality? Here are some observations on this polarisation:

Polarisation sells the ‘news’ 

The news as we know it today is a 24/7, 365-day, non-stop regurgitation of messages, delivered by large public companies for other large public companies trading globally on stock exchanges. It is vertically integrated from top to bottom. The inherent conflict is so blatant that it’s possible that getting critical information to the public can now be compromised based on a share price on Wall Street. 

It is well known that the top corporations in the United States and Canada have gross revenues bigger than that of many countries. It is a further fact that several of these corporations retain the services of a private army. The other important note is that the top 20% of Americans and Canadians hold a staggering 85% of the wealth. 
This is political theatre, far from serving the public interest or societal advancement. 
Today, political ‘news’ needs to be confrontational. Conflict is the main element in any political story. Thus, in most newsrooms around the world, if there’s no conflict, there’s no story.  

The result is that political news has now become a conundrum. Journalism has suffered. Ethics have been subjugated. Opinion can mask as fact. The public becomes a blind donkey. The only way the blind donkey can find his way is to be tied to the tail of the others. Panels of experts are lined up across from each other to ‘debate’. Everything is portrayed as a ‘right’ or ‘left’ issue leaving no room for a real, substantial conversation to reach consensus or closure of any kind. Nothing discussed is based on shared values. This is political theatre, far from serving the public interest or societal advancement. 

Now frustrated people, thirsting for knowledge and solutions to desperate real life problems are turning to social media for information. This is a critical part of why the power base is about to shift and why those at the helm of the ship of state and their cozy media moguls may not be living in the same society of exclusivity and privilege for very much longer.  

The new net paradigm allows for immediate feedback and interactive exchanges of ideas. People feel for the first time that they have a voice. But there’s not much time. The battle for control of this medium is well underway. If large corporate media and their parent companies cannot control the information they will try to control the access by controlling the cost.

Political parties need the illusion of ideological polarisation to survive.

Taking the Norton-Ariely study as a frame of reference, one could argue that the healthy evolution of western democratic societies is hindered by right/left and class warfare polarisations. It is an invalid and perhaps devious assertion on the part of political organisations that liberal versus conservative is the only choice we have. No middle ground. Nor is it serving our society to underestimate the intelligence of voters by over-simplifying ideology, creating a ‘politics for dummies’, unless this political game or global strategy is at the heart of these organisations’ ability to survive. 

This all or nothing logic mimics a six-year-old drawing lines on the playground. “Okay, listen you guys. Anyone behind this line is Bobby’s friend and anyone behind this one is mine.” In a child’s world this is exclusionary, pernicious and mean-spirited. In the adult world it is all those things and worse. It also avoids public debate, short-circuits good intentions and stymies originality. It is a means to an end designed to cast the widest net, while leaving many people empty, frustrated and wanting more.

The political party in most western ‘democracies’ was designed to be a servant of ideas: a vessel to act in the delivery of good government, for and by the people. If one could gain enough support from his or her community, he or she would be nominated for election to get passage on their ship of choice for a term or two, to provide the public service of representing and conveying the views of their constituency. That sounds like a perfectly adequate formula for giving a voice to a free, unfettered society.

This all or nothing logic mimics a six-year-old drawing lines on the playground.

The problem is that in most political systems, such as in North America, unelected groups of ship stewards, paid executive salaries, have become permanent crew members and steer the ship in the same direction, regardless of what the elected passengers (representing the people) want or demand. These bureaucrats work in the map room plotting the ship’s course with other unelected navigators, known as the party brass, and only occasionally consult with the captain (head of state) and his executive officers (cabinet). New voices have a hard time being heard and soon realise that if they wish to continue the privilege of passage they must follow the direction of crew members on the bridge, or they will soon find themselves marooned on a political island. 

Power corrupts and in many places, over time, ship captains (servants themselves) have concluded that they can reject passengers and even handpick others to be invited on to the cruise and — an outsider blindly representing the views of a region with whom he or she has no familiarity. 

Worse still, private interests known as lobbyists have been given privileged access to the captains. The US Supreme Court has gone several steps further ostensibly allowing a corporation to spend as much as they want to influence power. Other parts of this decision have been interpreted by some as an entrenchment of the corporation’s right to actually have a representative of the company run for office and represent it in congress. This brings us to my third assertion. 

Unelected power groups know Julius Caesar was smart — divide and conquer

A peaceful populace, in harmony, with a single purpose directed by consensus across all ideologies, aimed at improving the lives of average people yet with a strong support for entrepreneurship and rewarding creative individuality would, simply put, be the enemy of big labour and big business. At their core these two sectors can only survive by dividing and controlling the people. 

Trade unionism

Big labour goes on a mission to paint the picture of the little guy, defenceless against the interests that put profit ahead of public policy and wealth ahead of labour worthy of a life. There are historical precedents for their claims and certainly large conglomerates rarely show an interest in maintaining or improving worker’s lives.

This comprehensive New York Times article carefully explains the realities of how far in the dung heap America and Canada find themselves with regard to oligarchies (corporate boardrooms) controlling the process with the magic right to citizenship.

Divide and conquer: a combination of political, military and economic strategies that aim to gain and maintain power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into chunks that individually have less power than the one implementing the same strategy.

Polls would probably show that a majority of us sympathise with the union’s position. Most would probably agree that corporations behaving badly should be dealt with harshly to deter abuses such as the recent banking industry debacle, the BP oil spill and many other easily-cited acts of criminality or at least public abuse of power. The main point is that it is not in the interest of large labour and trades unions to seek consensus. It’s just not in their DNA. The class warfare dogma has become so entrenched in their psyche that any search for harmony goes against the very fibre of their collective being. 
Divide and conquer: a combination of political, military and economic strategies that aim to gain and maintain power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into chunks that individually have less power than the one implementing the same strategy.
It is far easier to divide people based on left versus right, big versus little, good versus bad. To this extent that big business has them right where they want them. Corporations have been able to control so much of the message by buying up large parts of international media that they now have convinced even moderate thinking citizens that trade unions are bad for business, bad for the economy and bad for competition. Unions all over the world are in political and financial disarray.


On the other side of the coin, large corporate interests have systematically taken control of more and more resources. They have the governments that they control spread cock-and-bull stories that the private sector is the only way that large power projects, hospitals, schools or highway and bridge construction can be afforded. More and more, these shareholder groups control vital arteries of industry throughout the industrialised world and thus can control the distribution of all things that make civilisation work: the power, the food, the water, the fuel and most importantly the information. 

One should question the wisdom of putting the power to provide and sustain civilisation into private control. Once these deals are signed, governments are snared. Future administrations have their hands tied by business arrangements that are beyond their ability to even scrutinise in many cases,. Once the fox is in the hen house it is hard to save the eggs. 

The bigger problem resulting from this systematic take-over is that a public voice is heard from less and less. How? By dividing our interests. By separating the haves from the have-nots. By controlling the levers of power and doing so by the constitutional entrenchment of corporate power. Here is what Abraham Lincoln said just before his assassination:

"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

Large business interests have no borders. They are transnational, supranational organisations that have succeeded in providing for themselves a rich bounty of wealth by controlling resources, people, governments and even their constitutions, designed to enshrine basic human rights and freedoms.

Corporations are actually an aberration of business created by Queen Elizabeth I in the early part of the 17th Century and they have now risen to such powerful heights as to threaten the freedoms of the planet. Just look at developing nations such as Nigeria and Sudan to see stories of the suffering imposed on people who are desperately fighting foreign-controlled resource companies from destroying their land and poisoning their rivers and farms. We are not immune to such a future. They will divide and conquer.

Social networking solutions 

Buckminster Fuller predicted that the web would one day be networked globally and that instantaneous exchanges of information would liberate the masses from the oppression of the giants — his term for unbridled corporate power. He wrote an impressive tome warning of all the dangers of the collection of power and coercion of humanity in Grunch of Giants. (‘Grunch’ meaning: GReat UNiversal Cash Heist.)  If we believe Fuller, the architect and futurist who imagined and drew the design of the building blocks of the carbon-based universe (later proven correct by chemists using high-powered electron microscopes that were unavailable during his lifetime), then the future is truly in our hands. Bucky then transcends time like Hari Seldon of Asimov fame, restoring faith in ourselves and giving us the confidence to move forward and take control of our own fates.

 Wikimedia/Steve Yelvington. Some rights reserved.

"Buckminster Fuller predicted that instantaneous exchanges of information would liberate the masses from the oppression of the giants." Credit: Wikimedia/Steve Yelvington. Some rights reserved.Social media is the new variable. It is an important gift to humanity. Rogue. As of yet it is uncontrolled, but perhaps the last true bastion of real freedom available to us. If it is recognised as such by enough of us in time it could be the last and best chance to organise our power. If we can survive the attack on net neutrality currently under way, citizens may yet be able to sustain a semblance of freedom for their children. 

Yes, the situation is that dire. We must however approach our organisation as an attempt to unite and find common values. We must avoid the political traps to which we are so easily prone. A new movement for mutual peace and prosperity could be created and then begin electing representatives across all political borders. Just as the net has few boundaries, so too could this movement for humanity. It can be called ‘social consensus’. Based on five simple values or principles that best define our societal aspirations. Social consensus would ensure room for all voices. Dreams? Idealism? As John Lennon once sang, ”I’m not the only one.”


The world needs solutions. People need a voice. Individuals are systemically silenced and discouraged. Large organisations with no loyalty to us have already been picking over the bones of our economy and will eventually devour the bones themselves. This is the result of unbridled capitalism. Unrestrained greed. Unregulated ownership. 

Over the last few years the truth of systems built ‘of the club, for the club, by the club’ has been revealed to all good-thinking citizens for what they are: a series of cartels that manipulate customers mercilessly. They dangle 0% interest rates in front of poor, working people and then after a few years jack them up to 10% or 12% overnight. They then package these disgusting loans into banking products and sell them to investors. Theft, right? Aggravated fraud? Who’s gone to trial?

There’s an energy cartel that holds everyday citizens to ransom at the pump and shocks their wallets into not causing any upheaval. “Be good, little citizens, or we’ll pop that gas price up when your toast pops up.” They control output to control pricing and pretend that market forces are the prime director, when it’s anything but. Isn’t this behavioural control of the masses? They have convinced the US government that no one should police the industry without the petro-chemical industry, setting the frame of reference for any such oversight. Regulators are continuously compromised with special rewards and compensation, as witnessed in the recent investigation into BP.

There’s also a political cartel that plays on individuals’ beliefs, offering no substantive solutions, driving philosophical wedges, further dividing the public discourse and playing their role — which is, to play their role. Political theatre. They have several plot points but are limited to very narrow windows of opportunity to voice meaningful ideas, at least publicly as individuals. That is now the party’s job. Occasionally they pretend to be the good parent and reprimand the bad bankers or oil companies, but ultimately legislate exactly what they are told. This is the best we can do? This is democracy? This is freedom?

We can share interests, share dreams, share industry, share common sense and share common wealth.

The fourth pillar to this house of collapsing cards is the media cartel. The media feign objectivity and concern for the public but are most often sycophants to popularity, or crows watching over cadavers. They ascribe cynical labels such as ‘radical’ or ‘conspiracy theory’ to topics which they are uncomfortable to discuss, or which could cause the inherent conflict of media ownership by banks, oil companies and pharmaceutical giants to be properly scrutinised.

A perfect example would be the creation of the Federal Reserve system. This banking cartel designed to keep the American people in perpetual debt is shrouded in secrecy and underhanded dealings but is kept from open discussion in the US by labelling any such discussion a “conspiracy theory”. In fact President Wilson was quoted after signing the system into law saying, “I have unwittingly ruined my country.” 

This article could all collapse in on itself as a diatribe of pain and angst, wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth about the power versus the people. No. We are better than that. We are all capable of re-modifying, re-tooling and re-engineering our societies. We simply have to realise that a consensus-based centrist approach where most people can find and hear their voice is very achievable. It doesn’t have to play into the left-right game. 

We can share interests, share dreams, share industry, share common sense and share common wealth. We don’t have to be labels any more. We can call our neighbour a friend and not give two hoots about his or her politics. Let’s remember the Norton-Ariely study and realise that only a few inconsequential percentage points are all that separate us from a shared consensus. So often we hear our friends and co-workers say something like: “gee, why can’t politicians ever figure stuff out? Whatever happened to common sense?” Well it’s a great question to ask. It’s one that desperately needs to be answered. Soon.

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