OT: An observation about political observations. A very short blog.

For many years I have listened to people refer to the ebb and flow of partisan politics as akin the swinging of pendulum where one side or party, having secured the right kind of leverage, takes their pet policies and runs with them, outpacing the general electorate which eventually reacts to the lopsidedness of the new paradigm and pulls the whole process back to the other side. More or less analogous to a sine wave. At some point we conjecture that there is a stable middle ground which is largely logical but never attainable. One theory is that the amplitude of the changes will eventually become smaller and smaller and somehow logic and reason will have us all meeting closer and closer to this theoretical middle ground.

In capitalism we often talk about cycles. In commercial real estate, in which I have some long experience, the accepted wisdom is that we tend to overbuild, panic and then overcorrect, which leads to a shortage of inventory which then leads to overbuilding, followed by surpluses and panic and then the inevitable overcorrection. General consensus is that this is a seven to ten year cycle in most parts fo the U.S.

Cycles, Sine Waves, Pendular Swings. This all makes our politics sound like an arena where the majority of Americans are making changes to their own perspectives and changing their point of view on issues with a degree of flexibility and open-mindedness that I have rarely seen in "the real world."

It dawned on me yesterday that, where politics is concerned, the model of the constituent swing is just wrong. The real model is a giant 24/7 tug of war over an open pit of hot lava. Each side straining and pulling to gain ground and capture territory, inch by inch. One side gets ahead and, perhaps in a celebratory moment, is distracted for a small fraction of time. This gives the other side an advantage which they press with vigor. A big victory makes one side feel as though momentum has arrived as an ally and they can now coast a bit. The sting of a big defeat galvanizes the other side to pull harder to capture back lost territory. People on either side either let go of the rope in a play for self-preservation or are pulled into the lava and die a quick and excruciating death.

But the real point is that the opposing teams rarely loss their team members to the other side. Defections are rare. Minds are not changed. The rope, the struggles is the only thing that energizes each side. The struggle is continually energized by millions on either side.

In the theory that there is a natural ebb and flow there is effort followed by a period in which the fruits of one's labor (or ideology) can be savored with a respite from the process. The wave will continue, supposedly, until it hits its natural peak and then ebb back. The pendulum will swing too far, slow toward its furthest travel in one direction and then accelerate back in the other direction.

But in the tug of war lava pit theory there is no real respite only the struggle and the commensurate balancing of two divergent views on either side of the philosophical lava pit.

That's all I was thinking about today.


Mike Tesh said...

I partially agree with you, but only on the smaller scale. I think that long term all societies go through a natural lifecycle that looks something like this:

Small, lean and hungry = These people live a tough life were they are just trying to eek out a living. If they are successful enough and not overtaken by an outside power, they will move to the next stage.

A growing power = This society has made the right choices and survived outside threats enough to grow themselves and continue to grow themselves into a power to be reckoned with. They are still hungry but are benefiting greatly from their successes which is making them a little less lean.

Decadence = This society has grown fat and rich from its past successes. Those living in this era of society will have a high quality of life. It's fun while it lasts, but they've also grown soft and weak. No longer driven by hunger. Often too big to be sustainable. If they aren't overtaken by a stronger hungrier outside force then they sink do to leaks in their own haul that no one is qualified to repair anymore.

Post Decadence = Society crumbles, sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly. Out of it's ashes a new society or set of societies will be reborn.

What you perceive as the lava pit tug of war is really a short term thing. It's the natural push/pull of liberals and conservatives in any society. Every society has them. The liberals always push toward decadence and the conservatives always try to hold them back like a counterweight. But there is no holding back. Eventually all societies successful enough will become more decadent and that will eventually lead to their downfall and the whole cycle begins again. Birth to death.

Both liberals and conservatives are wrong.
Conservatives are wrong in believing they can stop or reverse time to stay at a certain stage of progress while still being successful.
Liberals are wrong in believing that if they keep progressing they can reach a utopian era that will last.

But I think the reality is, this is a lifecycle. Everything that exists has a lifecycle. Nothing lasts forever and nothing can stay the same forever. But societies often have much longer lifecycles than individuals, so it can sometimes be difficult to judge where our individual lives fall within the lifecycle of our society.

Kirk Tuck said...

Sorry, not looking at the millennial scale. Love the tug of war analogy; still.

Kirk Tuck said...

But a nicely thought out response. Thanks.

Raymond Charette said...

Mr Kirk. That's certainly not all you were thinking today. You just don't want to be too specific. I understand completely.

Gato said...

An interesting thought. Rings true to me -- much too true.

Phill said...

I gather this is all about U.S. politics.

Just guessing?

Jim said...

Hi Kirk, Lately I have been reading "The Great Divide" by Thomas Fleming. It is the story of just such a tug of war between Washington and Adam's Federalists and Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans. It is essentially the same struggle we see being played out today. It has been here as long as the country has existed. If you are into history, you might like that book.

Mark Davidson said...

I think your key insight is the self congratulatory pose the ascendant party takes when experiencing a momentary advantage.

Political service, like a business can not rest in its work towards improvement.
Strutting and crowing about one's passing advantage is the noise before the squawking of disaster.

Eric Rose said...

I'm sorry, I'm blind to political talk, but I really like that radio.

John Krumm said...

I find the the more I become active in local politics, organizing and activism, the more hopeful I become, even in the face of what appears overwhelmingly grim. And the less national news I watch or listen to, the less pessimistic and cynical I become. Instead I read good non-fiction and fiction books and listen to a few excellent podcasts. I'm at that nice age where my kid is out of the house and we have a little more time to engage in the community and our health is still good.

Carlo Santin said...

Careful with the political posts Kirk. Politics and religion right? I think George Carlin had it right, especially in his later years leading up to his death. I won't say what that is, but if you are a Carlin fan or willing to do some very minor digging, you'll get it.

neopavlik said...

In your scenario; I imagine the powers that be are on the sidelines in a chair enjoying some lemonade. They are insulated from the danger of the pit and get their way no matter which side is "winning" because both sides serve for their benefit/entertainment.