The old polarity between the Left Wing and the Right Wing is destabilizing and disintegrating, casting millions into a political No Man’s Land. It is no longer clear who to vote for or which party is ‘ours’. In the States, the Deep State figure of Hillary Clinton is courting educated, middle-class, small-government Republicans who prefer sense and sensibility to coarse demagoguery. On the other hand, Donald Trump, with all his self-made (yet questionable) glitz and glamour, is firing up the fears of working-class Democrats who resent the financial, psychological and social losses they associate with globalization and immigration.
Meanwhile, in Blighty, the world watched the remarkable spectacle of aristocrats who went to Eton winning support for their Brexit beliefs in the supposedly Labour heartlands of the North; whilst left-leaning liberals in the metropolis — many of whom willingly expend their creative energies generating ad campaigns, TV shows, newspaper articles and technologies aimed at triggered ‘one-dimensional’ consumer needs and desires to drive sales and profits of capitalist enterprises — weeped as Britain voted to leave the EU, a project that the Labour Party of the 50s and 60s loathed because they saw it as a capitalist fancy. Up is down and down is up.
For those of us that want to believe that a better, fairer, and more thriving world is possible, whom are we supposed to vote for? This is particularly challenging in the UK, where the party most associated with these values seems to be in its death throes, oscillating between the current leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who wants to denationalize our trains and have entire industries planned by state technocrats rather than the creative flare of a company like Virgin; and a leadership challenger who wants to re-create a Ministry of Labour that was eradicated back when men in Whitehall wore bowler hats. Both of them, as well as the Right, seem hell bent on returning us to a world of fierce nationalism that certainly makes little sense in the global, interconnected world of today; and probably did not make much sense back in the day either. Anachronisms abound.
One of the central tenets of the school of psychology, philosophy and social change that I have spent decades developing, Breakthrough Biodynamics, is that for anything to thrive, it must fit its environment. When the world changes, most such things start to not fit; and become steadily irrelevant. By understanding the historical origins of things — any process, party, practice (or product) — we can surface the assumptions that may no longer fit, which maintain the status quo; and we can disrupt then positively. The very concept of the division between Left and Right was born at the time of French Revolution; a very different epoch from the techno-driven world we live in today. Deputies (MPs) of France who supported the King (and clergy) sat on the right. Those who supported radical change and social equality on the left.
A few decades later, the Labour Party in the UK (and the entire socialist / communist project in general) was created to solve the problems found within an era of sooty factories, indentured servitude and tragic Poor Houses. The Labour concept developed to resist a world where aristocrats and industrialists — those who owned the means of production and distribution of goods, whether physical goods like cotton and porcelain or intangible goods like good taste and courtly influence — held power over all. A new and empowering narrative developed whose core was the belief that power should be held not by the few who have capital but by those who do the work. At the core was the concept of the workers uniting as cohesive Proletariat that could hold the power. With that power, we the aim was to get worker’s rights, full employment, national ownership of industry, redistribution of wealth, a total welfare system, constant political reform and collective bargaining of unions against powerful employers all made perfect sense.
Communism became the logical conclusion of this idea by subsuming all individuality (and so, it was hoped, all need and greed) within the ‘commune’ of the totality of workers. The individual ceased to exist. In its place was a singular body politic: The People. This dictatorship of the Proletariat (an elite made up of people who were more equal than others) forced the will of the People on the people. In doing so, it negated difference; variety; and personal creative genius. State-sponsored violence in many communist countries crushed the dissenting conscience (and creativity) of the individual. The ‘reactionary’ Right attempted to conserve the power and wealth in the hands of a small elite (whilst promising individual of worship and expression).
What is fascinating is that the Communist violence against the individual and our messy, chaotic humanity that defies spreadsheet columns and the best laid plans, is echoed in the capitalist desire to crush human error (and so variability and creativity) on the production lines of industry. As production became more competitive, the only way to increase profitability was to standardize everything and ensure workers made everything in the same way, to the same exacting quality. This disconnected people from their own power; from their own creativity; and their own capacity to make change. It was this ‘alienation’ that Marx revolted against with the Communist Manifesto. In our leadership and innovation consulting practice, we see this 20th Century ambition coming back to haunt multinationals who have sucked the entrepreneurialism and innovation potential out of their workers and now need it back, fast, to stay relevant in a fast-changing world.
Both ideologies — Left and Right — stem from the same mechanistic worldview. Based purely on what can be created materially in terms of profit and surplus, it sees the human as a worker and / or consumer; labour and / or human resource. Materialism — and its sibling mechanistic thinking — was also born in the melange of Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment as first Leibniz, then Newton and his followers, described the universe (and human beings) as if they are clocks; or billiard balls on a table. Such mechanistic materialists believed that if we know all the conditions of the universe, we can then predict everything. This belief system disenchants the world, leaving us disconnected and adrift, relying on materialist ideologies of Left (revolution, socialism, total employment) or Right (free markets, capitalism, entrepreneurialism) for succor. Left and right are simply opposite ‘spins’ of the same intellectual, materialist paradigm.
On the extreme left, we have seen communists attempted to “re-educate” their people to subsume their human nature in service to the State. Although communism always pushed things to the extreme, the same urge can be seen in the statism of Labour policy; and the unified bargaining of the Trade Union movement. All negate the core genius of the human being, which is conscious creativity, bring to life solutions that break through problems with powerful epiphanies. On the extreme right, we have the mythos of the lone genius and creative entrepreneur who should be given as much freedom from laws and regulation to create the future. This meme, made so popular in the US with the books of Ayn Rand, has given rise to cults of individuals, perhaps personified most in the brilliant and yet capricious Steve Jobs. However, whilst creating wonderful products to entertain our consumer desires (and so keep us opiated, sucking serenely on the tit of consumerism), the 100x returns from such businesses swell the coffers of the very few who own the shares: Venture Capitalists, City Bankers and early employees.
However, this world of right vs. left tension seen in labor vs. capital, worker vs. factory owner, union vs. management, individual vs collective, is fragmenting to a point of virtual meaninglessness. I believe the world has changed so much I that neither ideology or position is entirely fit for purpose.We are all shareholders now, whether directly or through our pension funds. We are all workers now, even the elite who have had to turn their stately homes into wedding venues to foot the bills. Whether we like it or not, the world is marching inexorably towards a connected, networked, flat, de-polarized, hot, crowded and wet. As with all changes to the Operating System of any domain of life, this brings with it many opportunities as well as many threats to existing comfort, power, status and privilege.
The days of long-term job security have died, for all but a handful. Even the Royalty have to constantly deliver. It made sense a century ago for Labour to fight for long-term workers rights and security, when a person might work for the same factory for their lifetime. However, it has been estimated that by 2020, 50% of us will be freelancers to some degree or other. With this connected and interconnected reality, we get enormous amounts of freedom. We can build a website, start a business, or film a youtube hit with our phone in hours, accessing the means of production that was impossible even a decade ago. We can work three days a week for Uber and build a social enterprise or write a novel on the side. However, with this opportunity comes enormous challenges too: Virtually zero job security of any kind; constant noise and a battle for attention; the belief we have to work all hours to make our life work.
The traditional Left (and the opportunistic Right) looks at globalization, and the coming wave of automation, with fear, attempting to stem the tide, blaming these phenomena as attacks on the workers. The traditional Right (and the opportunist Left) look at this as inevitable and suggest that the only way to survive in our late capitalist world is to work harder in harder in whatever jobs are available, striving to make ends meet with 10 or 12 hour days, in jobs that are devoid of meaning, purpose and social impact. Clearly, both these stances are driven by the ideology of the past rather than the possibilities of the future, as tomorrow rushing in towards us.
How do we make sense of this, philosophically and politically? Let us draw on one of the oldest philosophers in the West, Heraclitus, who said (in one of a few fragments of his thought that still exist): “Men do not know how that which is drawn in different directions harmonizes with itself. The harmonious structure of the world depends upon opposite tension like that of the bow and the lyre.” In other words, we can transcend the seeming opposites to engender harmonic, creative tension. If you are interested, I go into this in much more detail in my book Switch On, because I believe that at the core of all wisdom, and every wisdom tradition, is our capacity to resolve paradoxes and hold them within us, embodied in our neurology and embedded in our lives. We can use the term palintonic, derived from the Greek word that Heraclitus uses, palintonos, meaning “unity in opposition”.
Within a harmonic or palintonic politics, we untether ourselves from either pole of Left and Right. But we do it without becoming vanilla centrists in the grey-beige middle. We can, as I have done with my business, harness our individual creative genius to start purpose-driven projects using the vast armory of ‘capitalist’ tools like innovation, design thinking, strategy, marketing, leadership development and change to crack problems, ameliorating the suffering, and amplify the thriving, of the ecosystems that we touch. We harness our creative genius to bring to life enterprises the seek to resolve systemic injustices with ‘social acupuncture’, where small interventions in the system bring about disproportionately large impacts for all, bringing the system to a more thrivable state. We recognize that no central mind or team of genii can ever know enough about a complex, adaptive system to design a perfect year, let alone 5 year, plan; so that we need some form of networked ‘market’ of ideas and insights, that seek to create solutions that fit the complexities of the systems we are part of.
However, rather than err towards the individualistic, liberal, capitalist impulse to pocket all the proceeds ourselves, we can share the risks and the rewards. We can leverage existing, and innovate new, alternative form of ownership of value (like co-ops, mutuals, crowd-funding) and of knowledge and information (like wikipedia, blockchain). At the same time, rather that follow the bias of activists to give everything away for free and so constantly need wealthy donors and state funding to keep our projects alive, we can work out ethical ways to charge people, when they can afford it, for services; and benefit ourselves modestly with a lifestyle and retirement plan that honors our energies and efforts.
We, whose hearts are inspired by the ideals of socialism but whose day jobs aspire to succeed in the realities of capitalism are uniquely located at an unprecedented point in history. We can transcend the Left wing impulse to return to a mythical past of socialist idealism, pretending that the emerging, techno-charged world can be rolled back. Nor do we need to encourage a soulless expansion of all the dysfunctions of modern capitalism, reinforcing existing power imbalances and inequalities.
We can hold the seeming paradoxes of left and right within us and see the challenges of globalization, immigration, automation and neither as enemies nor friends… but as invitations to grow as leaders, deepen our connection to ourselves and each other, and with that collective purpose and sense of unity use our individual entrepreneurial efforts to innovate solutions that serve the whole and rely solely neither on state aid (socialism) nor solely on philanthropy or disposable income (capitalism).
Rather than look to fight the system we can transform it from within as agents of change that honor the system as it is; whilst also fulfilling our deepest purpose to do our level best to help it reach a more equitable, supportive and humane state. To do this we must transcend our egos desire to own all the shares and all the returns, to control all the power and the glory, and to fight for what we think we deserve; and dissolve those protective urges in the oceanic balm of connection and inter-becoming.
As we ‘individuate’ into healthy selves, which is part of our social evolution, we can then transcend the boundaries that form between us — that drive greed and need — and act for the hole with our creative genius intact. We are then both right-wing liberal capitalists and left-wing socialists activists at one at the same time. Or rather, we are neither. We become proponents of Creative Collectivism or Connected Capitalism (take your pick): The use of our individual genius to answer our deep yearning for change to serve the thriving of all, without any force and by absolute choice; through design; eminently on purpose.
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