Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America
By Nancy MacLean
“Balance Personal Rights with Social Duties.”
– Georgia Guidestones, Principle #8, 1980, author unknown
I am frequently asked about the current political scene. Many people are upset by the daily news and fearful of where events might lead. Some suffer from anxiety, depression, compulsive news-following and other symptoms of distress. This article is intended to offer an energy-based perspective that hopefully supports equanimity under these conditions.
My inspiration for this effort is a new book that supports my thesis about “Individualistic vs. Collectivistic” being a main theme of our era. MacLean’s excellent, eye-opening history book even uses the same exact terms that I have been using, in the same exact context.
The Individualist holds that personal responsibility is the foundation for a healthy and prosperous society. For this person, life’s inevitable meritocracy naturally has winners and losers (“makers and takers”), and the winners should not be penalized by the deficiencies and poor choices of the losers, who can sink or swim on their own. Individualists emphasize present-time realism; history is not very important for Individualists, so the losers have few or no excuses and have even been called parasites or sub-humans in the literature. The main valid use of collective resources is national defense, police protection and a few very large projects (as an example, the interstate highway system launched by Eisenhower). Taxation should be minimized so that all people can fully experience the full fruit of their labors, for good or bad. Individualists tend to think the free market will self-regulate to everyone’s advantage, and interventions such as regulatory agencies are to be avoided. “Every man for himself,” is the mantra and there is a tendency to focus locally, within the tribe.
The Collectivist holds that working together has major advantages over individual effort. Here, human history is considered more relevant, and it is seen as the story of a long gradual climb from exploitative brute force autocracy and privilege (often acquired unfairly) to an idealistic future of fairness, social security and democracy. For this group, society is well-served by uplifting the losers through various programs such as public education, protection from predatory exploiters, health care, enfranchisement as voters, progressive taxation and safety nets. Working together is thought to be superior to working alone, for a host of reasons. “One for all and all for one” is the mantra and in the modern world, “all” eventually means the whole planet.
This great spectrum is reflected theoretically in Taoist (and Polarity Therapy) principles. The Individualists represent Yang (Pitta, Rajas) and the Collectivists represent Yin (Kapha, Tamas). Yang is the involutionary, materialistic impulse, found in all phenomena and in the body as the physicalizing part of the cycle (such as flexion gestures, arteries, motor nerves and inhalation). Yin is the evolutionary, spiritualizing impulse, also ever-present in phenomena and in the body as the feelings part of the cycle (such as extension gestures, veins, sensory nerves and exhalation). Of course, both Yang and Yin are essential for healthy functioning. There is a gender correlate in that men are usually slightly predisposed to Yang (Individualistic) and women are usually slightly predisposed to Yin (Collectivistic) perspectives. From this as a starting point, great insights become available for health care, psychology, sociology and other fields, as I have discussed elsewhere, particularly in Dancing with Yin and Yang (2013).
Theoretically, the pendulum absolutely must swing between the two poles, just as breath, heart, nerves and muscles must complete their natural cycles. “The inward and outward energies must move in all fields to have health and happiness” (Stone, Polarity Therapy Vol. 1, Book 3, Chart 2). What we are experiencing in national politics now, a swing to the right, is to be expected after the previous swing to the left; if something is expected, it is often less stressful. At least, understanding and expecting the pendulum phenomenon addresses the “biological need to know the source of the disturbance” (Peter Levine’s comment about the Orienting phase of the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system stress response). Our sympathetic fight/flight responses can be soothed by knowing what we are dealing with. If we can identify the source of noise in the field, and change our expectations accordingly, current events do not have to be so stressful.
Politically, the transitions from one phase to the next have often been turbulent, even involving coups and counter-coups. Generally modern Republicans have been more Individualistic. With modern presidents, we have had Hoover (I), FDR-Truman (C), Eisenhower* (I)- then Kennedy-Johnson (C), then Nixon/Ford (I) then Carter (C), then Reagan/Bush (I), then Clinton (C), then Bush (I), then Obama (C), then Trump (I). Over the course of centuries there is a worldwide trend from (I) to (C), just as energy theory predicts, so the actual three-dimensional graph of the historical interplay of these two poles of action looks like a 3D spiral more than a 2D sine wave. *Note that Eisenhower, elected as a Republican, is classified as a (I) although he was a great disappointment to the extreme Individualists of his era, particularly when he chose to enforce desegregation.
Most people show a natural blend of both tendencies, somewhat favoring one or the other depending on the context, but extremists exist in individuals, couples, groups and in political and economic theory. In energy theory, long-term extremism is not sustainable, simply because the pendulum must swing. MacLean’s book is the thorough history of one side, the extreme Individualists, who have been gaining momentum recently. Backing away from extremism is a basic goal of therapy, at any level.
Using the Sedona Method (which is similar to Polarity in both theory and method), we ask, “What’s good about _____?”
What’s Good about Individualists: it is correct that personal responsibility is a foundation of wellness at all levels. Excessive dependence on others is unstable at best. Self-interest is a primary, inescapable feature of human nature. Capitalism (structural support for Individual wealth) has created a high standard of living, and the activity of the winners often trickles down to benefit the losers. Creativity rises when outside interventions (regulations) are reduced. The willpower/motivation/determination to pull oneself up the prosperity ladder is an effective antidote to being economically disadvantaged.
What’s Good about Collectivists: it is correct that there have been many large-scale exploitative sequences throughout history, with slavery as a prime example. Slaves and their descendants are not really meritocracy “losers,” because the system was unfairly skewed against them. The collectivist mindset is supported by spiritual teachings such as the Golden Rule and the Beatitudes. It is correct that too great a differential between rich and poor inevitably becomes unstable and can lead to cataclysmic upheaval such as the French Revolution. With Collectivism, the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder is progressively raised away from abject poverty and suffering, and the upper rung of the ladder is not so threatened.
In the same line of thinking, both groups can also have major problems or failures that obscure their value. Basically extremism does not work for very long.
Failures of Excessive Individualism: extreme Individualists have perpetuated abusive systems such as slavery, crony capitalism, corruption, lobbying abuses and fascism (also known as corporatism). Pure capitalism suffers from lacking moral guidance other than profit. Unrestrained Individualism has caused major environmental damage, with the perpetrators often leaving a mess for others to clean. The Individualists are not much interested in majority rule or true democracy. They have generated strategies such as literacy tests, poll taxes and other current-day restrictive voter strategies. After all, true democracy means giving voice to the meritocracy losers, which will feel threatening to the meritocracy winners. In addition, Individualism does not work well with essentials such as health care or housing, as predatory exploitive suppliers may artificially inflate prices; imagine if air or water could be patented, then owned by a monopoly. Extreme Individualism has often meant despotism and enormous suffering for large sectors of the populace.
Failures of Excessive Collectivism: Collectivists have engendered problems such as weak-willed, chronic dependence-poverty, and some unsuccessful experiments in communism/socialism. Unrestrained by Individualists, Collectivists tend toward a spiral of ever-increasing spending, higher taxes, larger and less efficient government, self-perpetuating bureaucracies and entrenched institutional corruption. Collectivists may foster complacency, such as thinking, “Why make an effort or do something difficult since my needs will be met by the group?” In Collectivism, essential bottom-tier tasks involving hard labor may gradually go unfilled and require government intervention to import or otherwise supply workers, leading to awkward and lax migrant-labor policies that can strain the social safety net. In addition, Collectivism may not be as innovative as Individualism because incentives for creativity may be reduced (or innovation may rise through increased collaboration).
As predicted by Taoism, “in the fullness of one is the seed of the other.” Individualists create corporations that then may become culturally uniform and repressive of individuality, while Collectivists may produce artists who are fiercely individualist.
The challenge for everyone, and for both Individualists and Collectivists, is to use self-awareness and introspection to identify and articulate their values in a way that clearly acknowledges and steps away from their predictable and historical extremes. Each side needs to recognize and appreciate the value of the other; the same is true in therapy for couples. In energy theory, this introspective phase represents the Neutral (Vata, Satva) part of the grand universal sequence upon which Taoism and Polarity Therapy are based. Unfortunately, there is little introspective capacity evident in today’s climate, and our present-day public dialogue tends toward fixation in one pole or the other. Imagine if a presidential debate started with each candidate stating his or her understanding of the other’s position, and its value.
The “middle way” (Tao) would seek to identify strengths and weaknesses of each extreme, and gently borrow main aspects of each under the guiding intention of real-world problem-solving. For example, the leadership would ask, “What can be done about a particular problem, then bring in appropriate aspects of both poles to create a solution. The resulting action would gently oscillate between the two poles, and would avoid extremes. Any solution would be viewed as temporary, expecting that a further refinement would be required after the effects were fully experienced.
The reassuring lesson from all this is that “larger forces are at work.” There must be an ebb and flow between Yang and Yin, and this current sequence is just another turn of the same old wheel. Individualists will have their day, then the pendulum will reverse and swing back to Collectivism. In the fullness of each phase, the errors and failures of extremism will propel the body politic to make a correction, spiraling upward in the long march out of Kal Yuga, the Iron Age, as described by Polarity Therapy author Katharina Wehrli in The Why in the Road (2005).
It is unrealistic to fear that extreme Individualism or extreme Collectivism would ever actually come to pass and endure. Inhalation without exhalation, arteries without veins, daytime without night or summer without winter– these are just not sustainable. The extremists of either camp will not achieve their agendas, because the implementation has to activate the reverse forces. Viewing the Individualist side as an example, because it is the subject of this book, the Cato Institute may dream of a time with minimal government, maximum privatization, minimal taxes, no foreign aid, no public education, no unions and no restraints on capitalism (to pick a few of its published goals). But such a gravity-defying situation is only hypothetical, just as “singularities” (monopoles) exist mainly in physics theory and are inherently unstable. MacLean notes that Buchanan’s life work is characterized by little or no interest in real-world applications or empirical data. Ideas may sound interesting on paper, but until they have been actually attempted and the results objectively assessed with real people, the experiment is incomplete. Recent reports about “Libertarian” experiments in Colorado Springs, Kansas and Indiana make good case studies, as extreme Individualist experiments inevitably create a backlash. These sequences could be viewed as a beneficial correction to the previous excesses of Collectivism, but they cannot be sustained; something else must arise. Unfortunately, as predicted in Buddhism, there will be suffering along the way, in either case.
Disinterest in consequences (“irresponsibility”) is a textbook signature of Yang energy when it goes out of balance. In the heat of passion, unbalanced Yang does not think about long-term effects of temporary pleasure. The famous athlete with nine children by nine different women or the British sperm-donation entrepreneur with more than 800 children are examples of this notorious Yang error.
Let’s briefly examine an example of functional blending and interdependence in modern society. To see how this grand cycle plays out in a functional way, the modern pro sports industry provides an interesting metaphor. Sports industry shows how Individualists and Collectivists can work together. It is an Individualistic meritocracy on one level (play well or lose your job, regardless of education, age, race or creed), yet its enormous prosperity has included strong Collectivist factors, such as collective bargaining, league luxury taxes, TV revenue sharing, pensions, etc. that do not offend the Individualists because the need for them is so obvious. Personal achievement is celebrated side-by-side with team achievement, and the two themes seem to work well by oscillating between Individualist and Collectivist impulses. For example, NBA finals MVP Kevin Durant recently gave up big money because he had plenty already, and he saw that Stephan Curry had been undervalued due to his ankle injuries; he saw that together they had an opportunity to do something that could not be done alone. Such balancing acts between Individualists and Collectivists are everyday common news in pro sports, but not so much in politics. In addition to sports being an “opiate of the masses” and “large-scale popular autonomic fulfillment” (as I described in Dancing with Yin and Yang), these very public operations give people a constant subliminal message about effective real-world blending of the two great polarities. This omnipresent messaging and example of functionality could be playing a useful part in subconsciously stabilizing today’s society.
With this as a general backdrop, several more specific conversations attract my interest.
• MacLean’s book notes that the current GOP lacks unity, with several factions operating under different intentions. The hard-core individualists (Tea Party enthusiasts) come from a lineage of segregation, monopoly capitalism, and self-serving protection of privilege that was often unfairly acquired, all disguised as “Liberty,” which originally meant freedom to exploit and dominate others. The GOP’s evangelical wing lacks coherent allegiance to the primary Individualist theme, and mainly pursues specific agendas such as anti-abortion, anti-LGBT and the Rapture. MacLean shows how this group is easily manipulated due to this mono-focus, and a tendency toward cognitive dissonance. In addition, even the Individualists are also fragmented, with an extremist (Koch) wing and a more moderate wing (Romney). Trump found the right tone to pull these together temporarily, with outside help. He has been careful to not overtly disown the historical thread of racism (segregation has been the root source primary issue for USA Individualists, all the way back to their original American intellectual spokesmen John C. Calhoun and James M. Buchanan). MacLean scores Trump as not a true member of the extreme Individualist group, but rather an anomaly; she sees Charles Koch as the real present-day leader. Trump certainly does the work of extreme Individualism, such has been demonstrated by his selection of privatization champions in education, health care and finance, as well as his Voter Fraud initiative, but MacLean shows how the underlying impulse comes from Koch and others who pull strings secretively. Trump provides an important value by creating a constant sideshow so that “stealth” initiatives by the extreme Individualists go unnoticed.
• Charles Koch receives lots of attention from MacLean. To have one family’s massive wealth applied so abundantly for so long to such extreme Individualist impulses is unprecedented. The influence is pervasive in terms of who gets elected in government and also the judiciary, and what information gets offered to the public. MacLean’s thorough historical details were often revelations for me. There are also wealthy Collectivists at work behind the scenes, of course, and many wealthy advocates of either camp are not extremists. These exceptional resources are necessarily temporary, limited by life spans; extremist Individualism sustained a major loss when James M. Buchanan finally passed in 2013, at the age of 93, and Charles Koch is now 81.
• Buchanan had a gift for obfuscation; he could offer extreme Individualist ideas in a way that sounded intelligent without betraying their real meaning. His beginnings were about opposing segregation without actually using the word, instead talking about “personal choice” and “state’s rights.” His successor as director of Buchanan’s study center at George Mason University, Tyler Cowan, lacks a comparable gift of gab, and speaks in more plain ways that are unlikely to gain traction. Here is a composite of Cowan’s actual words created by MacLean (p. 212):
“With the re-writing of the social contract people will be expected to fend for themselves much more than they do now. Some will flourish, other will fall by the wayside. Worthy individuals will climb out of poverty, making it easier to ignore those who are left behind. [Notice Cowan’s usage of evangelical terms] We will cut Medicaid for the poor. The fiscal shortfall will come out of real wages as various cost burdens are shifted to workers from employers and a government that does less. To compensate, the people who have had their benefits cut or pared back should pack up and move to lower-cost states like Texas. The United States as a whole will end up looking more like Texas. Lower income parts of America will re-create a Mexico-like or Brazil-like environment complete with favelas like those in Rio de Janiero.”
• The use of the word “stealth” in the book title also makes sense of Trump’s super-ambiguous tagline, “Make America Great Again.” The presumed era of greatness is the early 1950s, which is immediately before Brown vs. Board of Education [of Topeka Kansas] (1954). That Supreme Court case was the ignition point for modern-time Individualist extremist mobilization, in the form of the founding of Buchanan’s pioneering “Libertarian” study center at the University of Virginia, The Thomas Jefferson Center (1955), which later was moved to George Mason University near Washington DC as the Center for the Study of Public Choice. This study center was the origin of the major current-time institutions attempting to wrap intellectual-sounding wording around the Individualist cause. The list of these institutions includes the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation, and subsequently dozens of other academic initiatives and media operations funded by Individualist extremist wealth. The modern Individualist phenomenon relies on ambiguity to keep its coalition together; it will never state its intentions clearly. To articulate the real agenda of Buchanan and his colleagues (including the allied University of Chicago “free market” economists) is taboo in current society, partly because its actual historical origins are now indefensible. Current-day racist groups feel comfortable with Trump for a good historical reason, and he has to keep that segment in his camp to have their votes, even though it might be distasteful for him based on his long New York business career. This is comparable to his stance with evangelicals; he can keep their votes as Individualists as long as he does not alienate them with theological discussion. Much goes unsaid in the Individualist world, to maintain a tenuous alliance, just as much often goes unsaid by Yang in a personal relationship. MacLean gives the actual agenda, using the 50th anniversary writings of the Mont Pelerin Society (an extreme Individualist group established in Switzerland after WWII), expressed by Buchanan. Items that must be stopped include:
–Excessive government regulation of business
–Environmentalist control over business
–Government-backed health and welfare
–Progressive taxation (redistribution of wealth)
–Government monopoly in schooling
–Feminism, which is “heavily socialistic for no apparent reason”
• In foreign policy, there has been confusion. Impulses to move toward Collectivist ideologies have been often branded as communistic and attacked in a disguised attempt to postpone dilution of ancient autocracies. Individualists have little interest in history, being more focused on the present. The Age of Imperialism was a real phenomenon in which the Guns/Germs/Steel group methodically exploited the rest of the world. Extreme Individualists may think of imperialism as a golden era, whereas Collectivists tend to feel guilty that it happened. “Nationalism” is often an authentic Collectivist impulse to undo the whole imperialistic phase of history. Examples include Mossadegh in Iran, Lumumba in Cong, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, to name a few of the many authentic nationalists crushed by secretive American Individualists. In the Vietnam War, the two strands of Individualism and Collectivism were totally conflated, with the former starting the very profitable war, and the latter eventually stopping it.
• Both sides have been known to use brute force to accomplish their goals, but the Individualists are much more inclined to Yang violence. The same Yang tendency is found in domestic quarrels. In the modern era, the assassinations, Vietnam War and 9/11 are examples. The Collectivists tend toward more gradual negotiated change via legislation, such as in the Equal Rights Amendment and ACA. The same Yin preference exists in using counseling and talking to resolve domestic problems. Collectivists appreciate and are attracted to the spark of Individualistic charisma to achieve their major gains, so their leaders have often been extraordinarily personable and highly visible (for example, JFK, MLK and Obama generated high levels of personal magnetism, aside from the issues they dealt with).
• Individualists are linked with larger prison populations, as the gulf between winners and losers is amplified, and the prison population provides a profitable side-business and modern slavery for the ruling class. Individualists will tend more toward harsher punishment with longer prison terms, to isolate the losers and feed the economic machine, whereas Collectivists will prefer smaller prison populations and more focus on rehabilitation, to uplift the most disadvantaged.
• “In the fullness of one is the seed of the other” (a central tenet of Taoism) also applies to autonomic nervous system stress responses, as Individualists seem more sympathetic but tend toward parasympathetic autonomic (“hunker down”) strategies and Collectivists may initially seem more reserved but may tend toward sympathetic autonomic (“mobilize”) strategies.
• American history represents a blend of Individualist and Collectivist impulses. At its founding, it incorporated an unprecedented appreciation of Collectivist thinking compared to previous governmental models (“of the people, by the people, for the people”). However, it also preserved Individualist values through constitutional strategies such as the Senate and Electoral College, both of which give an elite disproportionate power. Similarly, the initial vote privilege was for men of property only, not everyone. A “strict Constitutionalist” today often is code for a return to 1776’s Individualist structures. The subsequent years have been a long, slow, continuous struggle by Collectivists for equal rights, with the Civil War, enfranchisement of Women and the Equal Rights Amendment being examples of key turning points.
• Adding understanding of Yin and Yang does not negate the great value of political and economic activism. However, activism can be approached more consciously, with good effect. Activism with consciousness creates less stress for the activist and may be more effective. Gandhi and Mandela exemplify activism with consciousness that led to good Collectivist outcomes, although Gandhi paid the ultimate price.
• The associations of dimensions and colors with Individualism and Collectivism is of interest. How did Red and Right come to be linked with “Conservative” and the inverse for “Liberal”? These are the appropriate colors and sides of the body from Taoism; is that just a coincidence? I have no answer for this yet but I believe that such phenomena are usually not random. For that matter, the origins of the terms “Conservative” and “Liberal” are another curiosity. My interpretation starts with how “to conserve” comes from “to preserve” as in to preserve the status quo of wealth and privilege (involution, Yang) and “Liberal” comes from “freedom” and “generosity” (evolution, Yin).
• It is interesting that current-time conservatives oppose conservation, for several possible reasons. Some possibilities include: unbalanced Yang is not much interested in responsibility, environmentalism can reduce profits and dreaded government regulation is often the agent of enforcement. The Flint water crisis happened when Individualist extremists privatized the water system and the new manager sought to maximize profits by tapping into a different source. One of Trump’s first moves was to weaken the EPA. My prediction is that this strategy will work only until the next environmental disaster, then a backlash will materialize.
I hope that this discussion is helpful in relaxing and observing or participating in events as they develop. The pendulum must swing, and the spiral is irresistible. The details of betrayal, intrigue and silliness are just disturbing fragments of the whole story; by keeping the big picture in mind we can observe the ups and downs without as much fear. Our first task is to do our best in our immediate sphere of influence, and we will do that much better if we are coming from a state of relative equanimity. Let us focus on creating balance in our own immediate surroundings, using both Yin and Yang contributions in a moderate way, and let that balance be an influence on those around us.