There is a famous saying that “when things don’t make sense, follow the money”. But what about when there is no money to follow? What about when the number of humans involved is so big that “Money” doesn’t make sense? The answer in such a case is: Understand the Culture and their Values.
In order not to slide into the stereotypical realm and offend any of the sides involved, I’ll start by highlighting the fact that Culture is not coherent and it is not homogenous. This means that different individuals educated in the same culture will not experience in the same way all of the Nation’s Cultural Values, and sometimes different Values can drive people in taking opposite stands with respect to a particular state of affairs. However, one thing is for sure: when things involving large groups of people get very Emotional, we know that it is a cultural issue, and this is exactly the case of the American elections at this point.
So, what is the core Value at the center of the current divisiveness in the American society? Well, it is FREEDOM (at extreme). This is not new and it is not a secret that for the Americans this is the most powerful value, but not understanding how this Value works, how it energizes people, what people are willing to do unconsciously to protect it, and which is the other important value that is being infringed in the process, all of these could lead to big societal dysfunctionalities for decades to come. Hence it is worthy to ask ourselves the following questions:
- 1. In which way is FREEDOM related to voting for Pres. Trump?
- 2. What happens with FREEDOM taken to the extreme?
- 3. Is there another profound Value that is in balance with Freedom and is affected by extreme FREEDOM?
- 4. Are there already other societies that use the benefits of extreme FREEDOM?
- 5. What is the core difference between the USA and those societies?
- 6. Are there any blind spots? and is there anything actionable further?
1. Let’s start by understanding in which way Freedom is related to voting for Pres. Trump.
- Freedom of Speech – the possibility to say or tweet anything regardless of the consequences it might have for some people, for some groups, for the image of the USA abroad, or even regardless of its truthfulness. This is a freedom that most of the other world leaders don’t have, and can’t afford to have. Being able to state anything with confidence and finding a way around it at any point in time can be very energizing for a FREEDOM loving individual. There are downsides to this freedom of course, but for now, we’ll not going to elaborate on them.
- Further, the Freedom to classify what is the Truth and what is “Fake news”. This is one freedom that only the leaders form totalitarian states have. The Constraining of the Freedom of Speech of the Journalists should come only from the Education level of the humans in that particular society, and we already know that Culture beats Reality, because humans will most likely act on the “feeling that something is true because it was always like that”, versus relying on heavy scientific data.
- The Freedom to have done lots of ethically questionable things in your past (and present), but with enough confidence to still be able to become the president of a developed country, like the USA.
- The Freedom to take from the environment whatever you consider that you deserve, like a real WINNER. This is a very important one, as even the poorest and the least powerful person that is educated in such a society will defend this aspect of the value and the possibility that one day they’ll also get there. With enough ignorance, they’ll defend this aspect even against their current circumstances.
- But what about Pres. Trump’s opponent? Well, his opponent is just another politician, guilty of many things that politicians are, in general, across the world. His main disadvantage though is the fact that he can not inspire the Value of Freedom to the extreme, the way Pres. Trump does for some large groups of Americans (no one actually can beat that).
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2. Now let’s analyze what happens with FREEDOM taken to the extreme:
In an unlimited world in terms of resources, the value of extreme FREEDOM will push individuals to take an active part in developing the society and the world mostly for their individual immediate benefits. But when the resources are limited, extreme FREEDOM will lead to an increase in the inequality gap. That means that the Freedom of some will happen at the expense of the Freedom of others, and usually, the number of humans that lose is much bigger than the few winners. One nice example of unbounded Freedom happened during Rockefeller (at the end of the 1890s, beginning of 1900s) when the USA was going through the “capitalism laissez-faire” and Rockefeller, among other things, used to buy all the empty barrels from the market so that his competitors don’t have ways to sell their oil, and go bankrupt. Needless to say that such practices lead to a monopoly, and in the end, the consumer loses. While competition would drive producers or providers to fight for clients, including by keeping decent prices, a monopoly wouldn’t need to do that and could increase the prices undisturbed. That was one of the reasons why such FREEDOM had to be limited with the creation of the anti-monopoly institutions.
3. Going further: Is there another profound Value that is in balance with Freedom and is affected by extreme FREEDOM?
The answer is yes, and it is called Equality. This value, like Freedom, can be functional only if used wisely. Equality, as well, taken to an extreme will create a dysfunctional society, and Communism is such an example. In Communism, everyone was “equal”. Well, everyone was equal in poverty, except for the “organizers” of the system, who were “the most equal” as G. Orwell has nicely captured it. In Communism, everything seemed equal theoretically, but in practice, there were lots of favors and advantages for the “organizers” and for the ones that were connected to them (not always the smartest individuals). It is no wonder that the Americans have such an aversion for “communism”, for the right reasons.
However, a further question is worthy to be asked: Are there any societies that focused on Equality more than on Freedom in a very functional way? The answer is Yes. These are mostly the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands. It is important to understand this so that we don’t fall into the trap of defending the value of Equality versus the value of Freedom from a Dutch point of view, which for sure will not be attractive for the majority of the Americans. Even for some of the Scandinavians the pressure on Equality sometimes is not comfortable, and they wish their society would enable more freedom. Of course, in these societies, you will be taken care of very good, regardless of your situation, but it’s less likely that you’ll be able to get rich fast or to large extents (to mention just one downside of Equality). This is also why Sen. Sanders or similar American ideologists like himself will most likely not get a lot of traction in the USA. The fact that functional systems like the USA and the Scandinavian countries exist at the same time in the world, should tell us that Cultural differences are here to stay, and it will be wishful thinking to try and push “one system” all over the world just because it is comfortable for us (whoever “us” might be).
4. Coming back to FREEDOM: Are there already other societies that use the benefits of Extreme FREEDOM?
The majority of the western countries use the value of Freedom very much in balance with the value of Equality in various proportions in order to satisfy the needs of the majority of their people and to attract their active involvement in the development of the country. Some examples of how Equality is constraining Freedom in some countries:
- In some countries, the Freedom of exploiting fossil fuels was limited in order to offer to future generations an Equal level of experiencing a world with less flooding, fewer wildfires, more variety in animal and plant species, etc.
- In some countries, the freedom of the Plastic producers was limited in order to offer to the next generation an Equal opportunity to experience a world with less undecomposable trash.
But, there are systems where FREEDOM is not constrained at all for some humans, and these are the totalitarian systems where a few humans enjoy extreme Freedom at the expense of the rest of the humans caring the burden of the citizenship of those countries. This is a type of freedom that no person with power can have in the USA (yet) or any country from the EU, or the western world.
5. However, the main difference between the American Freedom and the Freedom of a totalitarian ruler is the fact that the USA has a strong and Independent Justice System that guarantees a high level of Equality for a big number of its citizens. All of the Totalitarian systems have their Justice Systems subjugated to the power holders, hence they can do whatever they want and their subordinates from the Justice system will make sure nothing can affect them. But, should this independence of the Justice System be taken for granted in the USA? No. Even in some countries from the EU, the power holders have managed to subjugate their Justice Systems, regardless of the existence of all the mechanisms that the EU has versus their member states with respect to this matter. There is in the USA the false feeling of being protected just because the USA has a constitution. Even North Korea has a constitution and that doesn’t do any good for the Freedom of the majority of their people.
6. Are there any blind spots? and is there anything actionable further?
- Some Americans that fear what extreme Freedom might bring to their country fail to acknowledge what Pres. Trump represents emotionally for his supporters and the deeper reasons why so many Americans prefer him. Hence they either try to use facts to convey their fears or go into attacking the Pres. Trump’s voters by categorizing them and offending them. Needless to say, this doesn’t work. In a world in which anything can be “fake news”, facts don’t work, and the offense simply enlarges the abyss between the two groups, which at the end of the day will have to find a way to live together in the same society.
- Debating KPIs like the economy, jobs, health care, immigration, and other topics comes secondary after the Emotional issue is addressed. Such a debate is useless when everything coming from one side is short-circuited by “my action was the best”, while everything coming from the other side is “fake news”. Again, Emotions matter more than Facs, when Cultural values are at stake.
- However, imagining an extreme country in which eventually everyone will support Pres. Trump and what his actions could be further, extrapolating his current actions, might actually be an interesting emotional exercise. Imagine taking his most emotional speeches for which he was so much acclaimed and having them being delivered in a USA in which “divide and conquer” or other forms of populism are not needed.
- As a rule of thumb, the more one feels that a particular group is infringing upon their freedoms, the more chances are that the populistic “Divide and Conquer” is used against them. It is interesting to notice that even wearing or not wearing a mask, such a seemingly simple act could be used to divide people. The more politicians take a stand for or against a particular topic, especially connecting them to some core cultural values, the more “Divide and Conquer” is happening. And guess who wins if a large number of individuals get to identify themselves as part of a group, that is against another group? The few. The few win. Regarding the wearing of the mask, if emotions would be removed, there are two simple questions a rational human could ask themselves: is there the slightest chance that the mask would protect me? are the disadvantages of wearing the mask so much bigger than a possible infection? But, these questions don’t really work when emotions are still running high. FREEDOM is a value for the American citizens that can short-circuit any rational thinking process.
- No matter what happens, the key to any successful development in any society is Maintaining Dialogue. This is true all over the world, in any country, and across many groups of humans, and all over the world, the main blockage is Group Culture.
- When individual humans get to understand which Value exactly is causing their emotional response to whatever is happening in the world and around them, they also get more options on how to rationally react, but that, only if the other side (or the neutral side) can enable the creation of a safe environment to maintain the Dialogue on, even if it feels it is in the eleventh hour.
- Education is the answer, and it has absolutely no downsides (except, of course, for the ones Dividing the other humans for personal advantages).