Politics and Identity

December 12, 2008 | 2 Comments

Category: Activism, Society

Passion for exploring underlying presuppositions is useful when offering attention to how things work.

My father is a Republican.  His affiliation is based upon what he determines is best for him, personally.  Issues are not important in the context of his allegiance.  He views himself as a person with something to protect.  He estimates that Democrats don’t really care about people that are well off and he wants to make sure that he stays well off.  An underlying presupposition of my father’s political leanings is that he makes his decisions based on what’s best for him.

This is not just a Republican assumption.  Many people that vote Democrat support the party they believe is best for them, personally.  A person with few resources will often estimate that Democrats will more likely make it possible for him or her to have access to resources.  The difference may often be incremental, but a real difference exists.  Whether it’s my father voting Republican or a person with few resources voting Democrat, an underlying presupposition is that both people are voting based on what is best for him or her at his or her economic level.

Republicans and Democrats can share underlying assumptions.  The Depression and WWII affected so many so deeply that personal identity expanded beyond personal issues.  There was a shift, and change occurred.  More recently, 9/11 compelled that same change in personal identity with a temporary abandoning of personal points of view as the population identified with a larger society.  The governing administration, noting the shift in underlying presuppositions away from personal interest to the larger group, put through legislation that was not in the interest of individuals with few resources.  Republicans and Democrats take advantage of these times of identity shift to create laws that could not normally be achieved.

In the American Left, I come across two very different groups of activists.

The first group is focused on achieving what is in the best interest of those with few resources, empowering the powerless.  Some in this first group concentrate on poor in the U. S.  Others seek redress for the powerless overseas.  Some go back and forth between both domestic and foreign fights for freedom.  Often these activists are not themselves without resources.  Their underlying presuppositions suggest an ability to identify beyond what is best for them personally.  For Americans, a shift in identity occurs when the society is deeply stressed.  People are scared.  Many activists don’t require this stress to see the world in a different way.  They already identify with a larger group than just themselves.

Members of the second group of activists offer their attention to the planet as a whole.  Sustainability, peace and justice issues are all entwined.  These folks are citizens of the world that happen to live in the U. S.  These folks display a shift in identity beyond national boundaries.  Underlying presuppositions of this group often include reverence for the whole.

Attention to underlying presuppositions offers an ability for understanding what we have in common.  People behave in ways having to do with whether they identify with themselves or circles larger than themselves.  Strong emotion can compel identify shift.  Politicians ride emotion waves to achieve narrow-identity personal goals.

Wider identity is possible without strong emotion.

As disappointed as I sometimes feel that my father continues to vote based on how much money he perceives himself to have, loving a man with such different intuitions does me good.


This entry was posted on Friday, December 12th, 2008 at 7:20 am and is filed under Activism, Society. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
2 Comments so far

  1. Max on December 24, 2008 10:37 am

    I think you are mistaken in trying to identify a single model of voter behavior. You may be right in the case of your father, but you may want to pursue that further. In any case, I recommend this book: http://www.google.com/books?id=qLEbLIAovFkC&dq=myth+rational+voter&printsec=frontcover&source=bn#PPA2,M1

  2. Andrew on December 24, 2008 12:25 pm

    Indeed, a single model only makes sense in a non connected, isolated matrix. I’m making a suggestion in the context of identity shift, telling a story to make a point.

    Concerning the book, “The Myth of the Rational Voter”.

    “Through an analysis of American’s voting behavior and opinions on a range of economic issues, he [author Bryan Caplan] makes the case that noneconomists suffer from four prevailing biases: they underestimate the wisdom of the market mechanism, distrust foreigners, undervalue the benefits of conserving labor, and pessimistically believe the economy is going from bad to worse. Caplan lays out several ways to make democratic government work better”

    I would agree that the voter does not behave rationally, particularly because a voter usually behaves selfishly without paying attention to the effects of decisions made. I would also argue that economists make poor decision makers, noting the way the financial world has been regulated and organized. Regarding believing the economy is going from bad to worse, that could hardly be an irrational conclusion.

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