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Respecting your cultural needs. And theirs.

1,234 words

In this blog entry I delve a little deeper. Politics serves needs, and our needs are different. This is the running theme for unpacking polarization. Respecting each other's different needs is the goal.


“Divisive!” complains the Right. “Why must these contentious ‘libtards’ emphasize our mild differences? Can’t we all just get along?”

“Bigots!” the Left shouts back. “Why do these xenophobic conservatives hate us for being different? Why can’t they respect our unique contributions?”

Both assume the other are choosing to be obstinate, choosing to be willfully ignorant of what they need. Both sides mask their vulnerably felt needs as rational arguments. Both expect reasoned agreement instead of humbly relating their subjectively felt needs. Both sides have missed the boat, entirely.

Anakelogy (the study of need) speaks to this with one of its principles: You do not choose your needs; your situation chooses your needs for you. The bulk of your situation remains beyond your control. Politics may expect the others side has more control than they actually do.

Inflexible needs

Needs are no simple matter of choice. Political differences express different sets of needs. Those on the Left present one set of needs. Those on the Right present another. Neither side deliberately chooses to experience these needs; they just are.

The Left traditionally attracts those with a need for individual expression of who they honestly are, apart from the norms of the larger culture. Often, this difference stems from membership in a minority culture (ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, gender). Being marked as “different” prompts their need for greater social inclusion, often by politically appealing for greater social acceptance of this minority culture group.

The Right traditionally attracts those with a need to guard their longstanding social cohesion. Often, they rely on individual rights as the means to preserve their more localized control over their lives. They guard the freedom to individually choose their well-grounded local cohesion over newly imposing collectivism.

No amount of political arguments or philosophical reasoning can make these differing needs go away. Needs are either respected, or devolve into problems. And these and quickly devolve into painful politically polarizing problems.

You can think of these competing needs occurring in a grand cycle. Those seeking greater individual freedoms (or choice) to preserve their more localized social cohesion sit at one end of the cycle. Those seeking greater social inclusion to honor their individual expressions sit at the other end of this cycle.

You can also think of these as organic needs. No amount of political reasoning can erase them. Such effort merely widens the problem of political polarization. Let’s look instead at how each side specifically experience their challenging needs.

Needs on the political left (seen above in blue)

CONSIDER HOW a minority typically adjusts to a majority culture. They typically must choose to leave some of their unique expressions behind. Cultural integration leaves some of their cultural heritage uprooted. It’s a sacrifice they willingly make, at least initially, for some social inclusion in the larger cultural unity of their host culture.

East European immigrants from a century ago, for example, eventually allowed English to replace their mother tongue, and assimilated into American diets and other routines. Their loyalties were tested at times, especially during the war effort under President Wilson. Despite pressures toward cultural unity, they remained culturally distinct in other matters, such as retaining their religion.

In short, their need for social inclusion through cultural integration took priority, for a while, over any need to individually choose to assert their cultural distinctions. Their survival often depended upon this prioritization. Their social situation chose their needs for them.

Needs on the political right (seen above in red)

CONSIDER HOW a majority adjusts to a minority culture. Generally, they socially include them as long as they do not present too much of a threat to their social cohesion. They traditionally seek to conserve their cultural unity. To preserve their social cohesion, they traditionally assert their cultural distinction from minority cultures.

Anglo-Americans a century ago were generally suspicious of the large number of newly minted Americans pouring in from Europe. They expected these “hyphenated Americans” to individually choose to blend into American cultural unity. Such Anglo-Americans had little to now experience accommodating peoples of vastly different cultures. They often reacted out of fear to what seemed like possible threats to the American way of life.

In short, their need to conserve social cohesion of their cultural unity took priority, at least for a while, over accommodating minority’s cultural distinctiveness. Rapid changes were already challenging the social cohesion that provided them the means to socially include the newcomers. Their social situation chose their needs for them.

Changing needs on the left (political colors flipped)

NOW CONSIDER the emerging needs of assimilated minorities. Their increasing inclusion into cultural unity allows them to feel relatively safe.

Blacks are no longer terrorized into silent submission through public lynching by racist mobs. Gays are no longer arrested for deviance. Women are no longer subjected to legally condoned sexual harassment on the job.

Cultural unity shifts in their favor. With their basic need for public safety adequately resolved, their previously restrained growth need draws to the fore. They feel safer to express and contribute from their cultural distinctiveness.

Changing needs on the right (political colors flipped)

NOW CONSIDER the impacts upon earlier members of a culture. Their once proud cultural heritage seems increasingly squeezed out. They counter by asserting their strained needs.

They assert their strained need for self-sufficiency (gun rights, welfare reform). They assert their strained need for national defense (patriotism, strong military). They assert their strained need to preserve their sacred values (religious liberties, pride for the flag).

Now they are the ones seeking to culturally integrate, or reintegrate, a socially inclusive response to these strained needs. They are the ones now striving to impact the national narrative of cultural unity.

Not being Left behind

NOW CONSIDER this: full social inclusion continues to elude many minorities. Subtle forms of discrimination persist. The more of their cultural heritage previously left behind, the more

it naturally asserts itself. While no longer as easily victimized as before, room for more thorough cultural integration exists.

Blacks continue to be inordinately profiled, arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced. Many LGBTQ people still carry the scars of recent violence. Many women carry the trauma of unspoken sexual violence.

They became dependent upon progressing more social inclusion of their differentness. Pushback now feels xenophobic, or outright bigotry. Pushback can easily trigger some overwhelming trauma.

Not getting it Right

NOW CONSIDER this: full social cohesion remains strained for many majorities. The less their needs feel included in the rapidly evolving cultural unity, the increasingly they feel culturally distinct from it. They retreat to parochial pockets, away from imposing government regulations, where they can feel freer to express their honest individual selves.

Hunters can freely hunt for their own food. The devout can freely congregate with familiar faithful supporters. Local business owners can freely create goods for market.

They became dependent upon freedoms to individually choose their deeper associations. Government imposed regulations serving segmented minorities can feel tyrannical. Even pointlessly divisive.

Respecting each other’s needs

We generally do not choose the needs we feel. The needs we endure stem largely from social situations beyond our immediate control. We hope in vain for others to make a “rational choice” to politically align their needs fully with ours. NEWS FLASH: It’ll never happen!

We certainly can choose to respect each other’s needs. Disrespecting each other’s needs in the name of politics pulled us into this mess. You are invited to take a stance, and join me in putting each other’s needs ahead of politics. If indeed you seek to overcome debilitating polarization.

Do you feel that need more sharply than emphasizing our political differences? Then your life has already taken the first step. See you on the other side.

BIONOTE: Steph created an eCourse to take the "bite" out of political polarization. Hope this post helps to clear away some of the fog. Deeper clarity waits just around the corner, for when you enroll and complete this eCourse.

Steph is a self-described transspirit, which is a kind of sacred misfit. By transcending conventional limits—gender norms, religious identities, political polarities, and more—Steph experiences a unique connection in life. And suspects others do as well. This blog shares that spirituality, and affirms others of a similar state of being.

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