When we are seated at a table, we are seeing eye to eye. There’s is no one with a physical location to look up to or down at from where we are seated. We are experiencing ourselves as equal in stature. We are cognizant of many other viewpoints and visions. We might even be accepting or supportive of different outlooks from our own. Our situation at the table would appear complex, nuanced and intriguing to all of us seated at the table.
If we were to stand on top of the table, we would look down on everyone seated and anyone under the table. There would be no significant difference between those under the table and those seated at the table. They would all appear inferior from our vantage point. The arrangement would support a binary outlook on winners and losers, insiders and outsiders or supporters and the opposition.
If we were to hide under the table, we would necessarily look up at everyone seated or standing on top of the table. There would be no significant difference between those on top of the table and those seated at the table. They would all appear superior while making our own inferiority an indisputable fact. The arrangement would also support a binary outlook on powerful and powerless, lucky and unlucky or visible and invisible.
Sitting at the table is an analogy to help us anticipate how we can evolve past the extreme polarizations in our political landscape. Anyone dancing on the tabletop has no aspirations to take a seat at the table. That move would be a serious comedown, a fall from grace, or a big slice of humble pie. Likewise anyone under the table dismisses the possibility of sitting at the table. They have incontrovertible proof that they are too unworthy and unqualified to take a seat.
Both extreme locations above and below the table maintain robust justifications for their positions. You can read a sampling of GOP self-righteous justifications for avoiding town halls in yesterday’s post. These justifications produce endless self-confirming evidence. Justifications get us saying to ourselves: “I knew it”, “Here we go again” or “Boring!”. Justifications talk ourselves into “more of the same” and “no change for me until the others change first”.
Through the lens of systems mapping, both locations above and below the table are trapped in vicious cycles. Their minds are reacting to another’s reaction in the same old way. Vicious cycles are closed and lacking a switchover to another cycle. This makes them “entropic” which means they eventually run out of energy. There’s no choice for how to react to another’s reaction. It all runs the same routine on autopilot until burnout.
Systems become negentropic by adding a switch to a second loop. The new approach to balancing becomes dynamic and energizing. When a change was always impossible to consider before, now it depends on an added complication to the thought process. Something else is taken into consideration like a tradeoff, inquiry, or indicator. There’s a new tangent to think through. The little change changes everything. This could occur if the polarized legislators started considering how they could lose their reelection, how they are getting branded as “unAmerican” or how they are functioning as their own worst enemy.
Through a lens of negotiating expertise, this polarization looks like a proverbial deadlock, stalemate or standoff. Any attempt at progress or reconciliation would be “spinning our wheels” or “going nowhere quickly”. Trying to change only plays into everyone’s insular justifications, defensive postures and mistrust of the opponents. When an opponent’s mind is made up, it only becomes undone by doing something unexpected to them, for them or with them. If polarized politicians publicized portraits of their opponents as respected legislators, valued colleagues and insightful strategists, these portraits could become self-fulfilling prophesies. The opponents might take up the challenge to meet these expectations and fit these pictures.
Through a lens of screenwriters and story doctors, this incessant polarization looks like a plot that is not moving forward. The story is in need of a sudden reversal of fortunes, a new character or an unforeseen setback that amps up the suspense and promise of a resolution. This could come about in the political landscape by a reversal of the parties holding the majority in both houses of Congress in 2018. It would certainly happen if President Trump was impeached or removed from office by Amendment 25 of the Constitution. The plot could also move forward if both the RNC and DNC continued to lose voters to Independent and Undeclared status. This development could spawn coalitions of moderate conservatives and progressives demanding representation in Congress and collaborative legislation coming forth.
In any case, it transition out of polarized politics will not happen without a human or fateful intervention. Until then, it is extremely likely that polarization will persist with robust momentum.