You Can't End the 'Politics of Division'

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July 9, 2007

Politics is based on divisive conflict. Therefore it is a logical fallacy to think you can end the "politics of division".

We hear a lot of complaints nowadays about how this country is oh-so divided politically and that we should be "united". We hear endless moping about the "politics of division" and "bipartisanship" and "Red States versus Blue States," as well as popular dissatisfaction with the current crop of elected officials for those reasons. Barack Obama's election campaign started this theme, and the media took it on with glee, citing statistics showing dismal approval ratings for Congress and the President and chalking this up to rampant "division." Their solution is for us to "unite" and to "work together" through politics and the State.

They're asking for the wrong thing. Even though they can identify symptoms, they cannot -- will not -- diagnose the disease. No, that would make them a heretic among the statist brood.

Fortunately, I've no problem spouting blasphemy.

By its very nature, politics is a divisive, zero-sum game. In politics, one party wins while the other loses. Political compromises are usually crooked deals between the major players, which arise from expediency and not firm principle. Only those with sufficient clout and wealth can win in the political system, while your own individual views hold little influence over things. Instead, groups of people fight it out over what you should be doing and how they think society should be "managed". Most issues they cite -- public morals issues, economic issues, security issues -- are too nuanced and deep for the State to address efficiently and effectively, and certain others were created by the State in the first place!

It has always been this way. Those with power are not inclined to dilute it with considerations of individual rights.

By their own egoistic nature, individuals have their own differing needs, wants, goals, and values. Two people rarely agree on everything, much less an entire country! In a free society, we could pursue our lives however we wish; we don't have to force our ways on others. But politics forces social engineering on everyone, backed up by the mindless, coercive force of government. We get a threefold psychological result: fear of that force, envy of those who influence it, and desire to use it for one's own ends. This is exactly why people get so worked up and argumentative over political issues and campaigns.

"But can't we find common ground to work on?" the statists plead. "Can't we work for the common good? Isn't there a middle ground, where all our interests meet?" Well, there is a serious problem of definition here.

What is this "common ground"? What is this "common good"? Who defines it? Who decides how to pursue it? Does it really reflect what we all need, want, value and desire? Does it reflect the values of everyone; soccer moms, corporate execs, schoolchildren, farmers, lawyers, auto workers, cubicle-dwellers, artists, merchants, cabbies, atheists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Blacks, Whites, and everything and everyone in between? And do we all really have the exact same interests?

When you look at it logically and rationally, this "common ground" is a purely political concept. Indeed we do share the same basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, companionship, physical and financial security, meaning and purpose, and even self-actualization. Only if we can have a free society that maximizes opportunities to pursue and fulfill these needs can we have a "common good". But when used by statists, these are merely meaningless, rhetorical terms; rhetoric meant to appeal to your "team spirit", shall I say. But this is a "team" that has no sport to play.

There's a reason why Yugoslavia has been broken up and "balkanized". There's a reason why the Sunnis, Shi'a, and Kurds in Iraq can't get along. There's a reason why the French and the English could never co-exist as a single country. There's a reason for the controversy over the impending European Union constitution. Likewise, there's a reason we have "Red States" versus "Blue States." There's a reason for the controversy over busing. On a far more extreme level, there's a reason why the IRA and ETA and the Chechen rebels and the Confederate States of America -- even the United States of America for that matter -- came about.

If people who share no common interests and disagree on everything are forced to associate with each other, against their will and better interest, the results are akin to a brother and sister fighting in the back seat of a car.

If people who might have common goals but different ideas on how to reach them are forced to compete with each other to reach a compromise, then the result is an eternal rivalry that solves nothing.

Even if people who indeed have a lot in common -- culture, language, creed, etc. -- but still have minor differences in personal values and preferences, are forced to give up one value in favor of another, this breeds resentment. Regardless of the benefits or drawbacks to these values, we are egoistic creatures indeed and don't want to lose face.

The common link here is force. Political force. This is the disease!

The cure, then, is to reject political force, for this force breeds conflict, envy, resentment, and in the worst case, violence and strife. All the while, the powers that be sit in their suites, laughing all the way to the bank.

Let me be clear here; social cooperation is a good thing. We cooperate each day and reach compromises and agreements on countless pressing issues we face. The market itself is social cooperation on a global scale; people freely exchanging goods, services, ideas, and information, for mutual benefit. True market competition is not a violent game ruled by politicians with guns, but rather ruled by people's choices to buy or boycott. Worst case scenario: if people do not want to associate with certain others, and it is harmful for them to do so, they should have the option to avoid them, secede from them, and be left alone in turn. We can hope that this social freedom will lead to less fear, less envy, less discord and more tolerance and acceptance of others.

On the other hand...

By their very nature (and by necessity), States are coercive, amoral institutions. There is no arguing with the State. Historically speaking, citizens have had the choice to obey the ruler or die. Even in a democracy, the "will of the majority" is, logically, little more than mob rule, or mobs competing with each other over the spoils of war. There can be neither social cooperation nor unity in the presence of coercion, fear, envy, and hate.

America 's current fiery political climate is but one reflection of that truth.

Instead of asking for an end to "politics of division", Obama and his ilk had better realize that politics is division, and that the State is no friend to us.

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Marcel Votlucka's picture
Columns on STR: 29

 Marcel Votlucka writes from Brooklyn NY.  His work focuses on the connections between psychology, culture, and anti-politics.  Visit his new website at