Town Hall Meeting

An on-going Town Hall Meeting!

Topic: Class war, Culture war, or Holy war?

We all saw the fractious and unruly town hall meetings during the health insurance reform debate. The country really seems strongly divided. My question is:

“What is the primary axis on which the US people are divided?” Is it liberals vs conservatives? Neo-conservatives vs neo-liberals? Rich vs poor? Religious vs secular? Young vs old?

The following list explores one axis of the current cultural polarization in the USA.

(Feel free to suggest additions or revisions to the pairs of opposites.)

Anachronistic Pan historical
Religion Science
Monotheism Polytheism, Naturalism
Belief Critical thought
Faith Proof
Certainty Probability & Ambiguity
Revelation Reason
Divine Creation Emerging Self Organization (evolution)
Divine Right of King Human Rights
Fundamentalism Skepticism
Conservative Progressive
Orthodoxy Consensus
Conformity Cooperation
Obedience Informed Consent
Dogma Fee thought
Censorship Free Speech
Propaganda Information Quality
Tribalism Community
Pecking Order Peer to Peer
Follow the Leader Do the Right Thing
Law of the Jungle Golden Rule
Sociopaths Social Workers
Top Down Bottom Up
Rule of Men Rule of Law
Trickle Down Rising Tide
Centralized Distributed
Predation Cultivation
Dominion Stewardship
Plunder Development
Dictate Negotiate
Might Makes Right Power Corrupts
Ends Justify Means Uniform Justice
Secrecy Honesty
Expedience Ethics
Caviat Emptor Consumer Protection
Taboo Tolerance
Shame Compassion
Exclusion Inclusion
Rejection Empathy
Condemnation Forgiveness
Intimidation Inspiration
Imitation Creativity
Conformity Mutualism
Accusation Evidence
Punishment Restitution, rehabilitation
Indoctrination Education
Competition Cooperation
Selfishness Enlightened self-interest
Torture Nurture
Corruption Accountability
Favoritism Impartiality
Empire Federation
Global Monoculture Bio-Regional Diversity
Nationalism Internationalism
Xenophobia Multiculturalism
Racism Brotherhood of Man
Chauvinism Inclusion
De-humanization Humanism
Lying, Cheating Honor
Stealing Sharing
Monolithic Purity Diversity
Repetition Innovation
Bully Mentor
Mean Spirit Do no harm
Authority Decency
Arrogance Humility
Greed Generosity
Gluttony Moderation
Humiliation Dignity
Violence Non-violence
War Peace
Takers[1] Leavers[1]
Breakers [2] Keepers, Fixers, Healers [2]

Table Notes:

[1] From the 1992 novel Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.

[2] From Creating a world that works for all by Dr. Sharif Abdullah,

Most of the items on either side of the list are things that seem to be deeply embedded in humans, things that seem fairly intractable to change. Where you are on the axis is pretty much where you’ve always been and will always stay. These aren’t things people tend to be very flexible about, are they?


Coming of age in the highly polarized sixties left me with a lifelong curiosity about how a modern society could be so divided in the ways people understood the facts of life, history and reality. In the days of Jonathan Swift‘s Gulliver’s Travels, the state of human knowledge, science, education, printing, etc. might easily explain a great deal of divergence among beliefs and opinions. But one hardly finds any credible explanation surviving into modern times other than some kind of genetic distinction, the popular culture having become so homogeneous and ubiquitous nowadays.

But still faced with a seemingly irreparable schism in our population fifty years on, I am personally inclined to see the advantages of an all out war like the one in the Bhagavad Gita to settle the conflict once and for all. Of course, some scholars see the Gita as an allegory in which the war takes place not between multiple combatants but between different aspects within an individual soul.

Likewise, what I have characterized as two subspecies of humanity may both exist as polarities, like good and evil, or fear and courage, within every individual. I dare say there must be some truth to that, but I don’t think it helps to solve the problem without a war. After all, most of us seem to be choosing up sides pretty unambiguously thanks to catalysts such as Fox News.

If the masses are so passionately divided, who should deny them the satisfaction of a goode olde holy-cultural-evolutionary war? At the very least we should franchise a Culture Fight Club in every town– a place where conflicts between class, culture, religion, etc. could be settled by personal combat. In this  age of Cable TV and the Internet, when each person is entitled to his or her own personal facts, how else are we going to settle arguments?

One solution to the cluture war, if in fact it were a clash between two genetic phenotypes that I call the authoritarians and egalitarians, would be for one side of the conflict to humanely sterilize the other. This would be fine for the authoritarians but alas, the egalitarians don’t allow for the ends to justify the means. Our hands are kind of tied from any direct way of actually destroying the authoritarian gene pool.

But for the conscientious objectors among us, what if the coming environmental “perfect storm”, which might destroy a substantial part of the human population, gave one sub-species the opportunity to just survive better than the other? We tend to see authoritarians as survivors, but are they always? What if survival depends on the ability to change ones interior point of view rather than controlling external conditions?

What if the surviving authoritarians were to enclose themselves tightly within their own defensive perimeters on dwindling patches of prime real estate, leaving most of the planet to the rest of us? What if the meek were to inherit the earth simply as a result of superior preparation, mainly in the form of already being used to applying  appropriate manual skill sets on marginal property?

There may be an important opportunity hidden in any environmental apocalypse that might occur. Who knows what will actually happen–but if there should be a drastic depopulation it could be turned into an opportunity by whoever was best prepared for it.

Also, I am pointing out that there may indeed be a materialistic logic behind the old and ubiquitous prophesy that the meek shall inherit the earth. If the meek were those who were already adapted to minimal subsistence, they might also be best adapted to a collapse of civilization, especially any part of civilization that is heavily dependent on unsustainable technology and infrastructure. In this case the “should” need come from no more than the wish to survive. (Some may actually prefer not to.)

To participate in this on-going Town Hall Meeting about the divides in the US public, please leave your comments below.

Poor Richard

Related Stuff:

Our Political Nature: The Evolutionary Origins of What Divides
Us by Avi Tuschman.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, 2012 by Jonathan Haidt

Here’s What Science Says About the Brains of Democrats and Republicans

I prefer the biology and neuroscience to the psychology and evolutionary theories, but it’s all very interesting. The following wikipedia articles have substantial overlap:

Listen to the story Bill Moyers tells about an Old Cherokee Chief and his “two wolves” at 6:20 into this video:

18 Responses to “Town Hall Meeting”

  1. Lori Says:

    Very Bakuninist of you to draw a dichotomy between authority and equality, instead of the usual authority vs. liberty or equality vs. efficiency. I applaud.

  2. Poor Richard Says:


    thanks for your comment. I’m glad you found something practical about my writing.

    I’m sure Bakunin is an interesting historical figure but I don’t think I am an anarchist in any sense. I strongly support the rule of law and the social contract as the necessary context for peace and justice.

    As a pragmatist rather than an ideologue or technocrat, I think the greatest social utility comes from balance and compromise amidst a diversity of competing interests and values. What makes balance and compromise possible is full information transparency and accountability.

    The greatest problems humanity faces are information asymmetry and our own irrationality.


  3. "Natural Lefty" Says:

    I think the list is on the mark from the perspective of a progressive, but I doubt that anyone would agree with more than a few of the terms on the Authoritarian side. There is a huge social desirability bias in the list. I wonder whether there is a way to make both sides of the list more palatable to their respective advocates.

    I don’t think that there will ever be an actual war between the 2 sides, as a peaceful egalitarian. From a practical perspective, too many families have members on both sides of the spectrum to allow for a war, and that’s a good thing. Also, as a trained psychological statistician, when we examine any trait, it turns out to be a continuum, most likely in the form of a normal curve with the peak in the middle, meaning that most people are probably somewhat near the middle of the spectrum, although the Authoritarian/Egalitarian distinction does seem particularly polarized these days. Perhaps the people on either extreme are the most vocal, creating that impression.

    By the way, there is no date on this post. Is that intentional? Can I use the list? I find it very useful.

    • Poor Richard Says:

      I agree about the obvious social desirability bias. The lists might be more fun if the bias was softened and there was some chance that someone might self-identify with the “authoritarian” side. I’ll look at that in the future.

      I say somewhere in the piece that the axis (and/or each pair of values) can be seen as a continuum that exists in each of us, but I think that many of us also show a net bias one way or the other.

      Feel free to quote anything you like with attribution.

      Thanks for commenting!


  4. "Natural Lefty" Says:

    Poor Richard, the reason I focused on the social desirability bias is that I was wondering about finding a way to show that both progressives and conservatives are biased toward positively framing their own perspectives. It could be done as an actual study, maybe on Facebook. However, I do think the progressive frame is more realistic. Overall, I love your idea and the list.

  5. basket puma Says:

    Let us not forget that Reagan’s future vp (Bush) and cia chief (Casey) met with the Ayatolla Khomeini behind the back of the then-current Carter administration (treason) and arranged for Iran to keep the American hostages until after the election. In return Iran got, at the very least, a conduit thru which to illegally receive missiles and other armaments–which came to light when traitor Ollie North got busted taking the missile $$$ and giving it to friends in Central America who turned out, naturally enough, to be drug smugglers USA-bound. Ah, the good old days…

    • Poor Richard Says:

      Basket Puma, thanks for the comment. When Eisenhower warned against the military-industrial complex, the capture of government by private interests was already pretty far advanced. Is there any way back to government in good faith and in the public interest? I doubt it. It is often said that liberal democracy can only exist in conditions of economic plenty. Meanwhile a growing population competes for shares of a shrinking pie of natural resources.

      The Occupy movement may be the best targeted reform effort, but only time will tell if it is sustainable.


      • n8chz Says:

        A shrinking population means a period with a top-heavy age distribution. We’ve been backed into a corner. Some are questioning whether social democracy is dead, forever.

        • Poor Richard Says:

          n8chz: Yeah, “The Death of Social Democracy” may be similar to Chris Hedges’ ‘Death of the Liberal Class’. Another period of “dark ages” would not surprise me. But interestingly, a recently aired episode of “Pirate TV” ( claims that the ruling class likes “dystopian future” scenarios as part of a general fear-mongering approach. Regardless, I’m inclined to think that future conditions will psychologically favor authoritarian arrangements over egalitarian, cooperative ones–even though the latter may offer greater real utility. Humanity seems driven largely by emotion. News of our “enlightenment” has been greatly exaggerated.


  6. william E Justin Says:

    Good question. With the presidential election having come and gone, we see an almost 50/50 split in the contest for commander and chief of the Democrats & the Republicans. It seems strange to me just how evenly it is divided. Part of this is due to “adjustments in manipulation” made by the political pros after reading each fresh batch of the never-ending polling. Maybe the primary division goes beyond what we ordinarily think of as the divide. It could be that the “human biological/social/intellectual blob” is trying to stay in balance. “This is too static, let us be more dynamic”, “this is too dynamic, let us be more static”. The giant can’t move by keeping both of its feet rooted to the ground and it can’t move by flying with both feet off of the ground. It hasn’t figured out yet how to “hop”. The various splits you mention are closer to the surface. People have all of these qualities—and put them into use at times–whether they realize it or not. They get caught up in a “dance of opposites” with their counterparts and just seem sometimes to completely lack an overview, a proper two-handed approach–the ability to make a basic “standing long jump”. The list you draw is very good in helping the giant gain the coordination it requires. Thanks.

    • Lori Says:

      Hotelling model?

      • Poor Richard Says:

        Lori, I think Hotelling’s model is pretty evident in most political campaigns. Moving to the middle is a strategy that tries to minimize the advantages of the opposing party with its base, and tends to elevate personal attributes over policy. That is probably not in the best interest of the public, but ironically it is driven by public appetites. PR

    • Poor Richard Says:

      Thoughtful comments, William. Thanks. Dan Arielly and various game theory experts point out some upsides to irrationality, but I am still reluctant to fully embrace the “Fox News” theory that every crazy point of view deserves equal time with more reliable matters of fact. So I am unequivocal about my bias towards the “egalitarian” side of my chart even though I admit the usefulness if not necessity of picking from the other column from time to time. PR

  7. Anonymous Says:

    The irrationality of a fox news report is actually rational at a lower level. They want to “eat” and will settle for the $ that buys a plate full of pork butt. They will nix the higher intellectual truth even as a parasite will kill a higher life form because it is right for it to feed. This has importance for the larger “blob” I call the social animal (us). A lie doesn’t equal the truth—but it does have a secondary value in, at least, showing *us* which switches to hit on your list.

    • Poor Richard Says:

      Everything is rational in some context, and thus worth analysis if for no other reason than to better understand the relationships between context and human nature. But many of our unconscious “programs” whether hard wired or learned, and even some of our consciously calculated behaviors, are expressed in inappropriate contexts and backfire in unintended consequences, such as when the parasite inadvertently kills the host for no good reason. PR

  8. wej7 Says:

    PR, I think you have a fine understanding of all of this and I thank you for commenting…this part of what you write is given from a high level as opposed to that of the lowly, hungry parasite: “…expressed in inappropriate contexts and backfire in unintended consequences, such as when the parasite inadvertently kills the host for no good reason.”. Obviously the parasite has a good reason for eating the higher form of life—it doesn’t/can’t get involved in the intentions of any higher level of awareness. Looking at this from the root of Intention itself—as far as we can see it—Man caulks up this apparent misfire as a negative random event or “the mysterious will of God”. Understanding this all breeds a compassion (even for the plight of the lowly parasite) that helps US manage such things going forward. I write this to promote a “first things first” mentality that I see less of in the world then I would like to see—that would foster a tighter organization in our view of the world and various relationships. WEJ

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