What Just Happened?
November 15, 2016
The United States just elected a new President.
The election process and the election results were exactly aligned with the most problematic “Us/Them” instinctive behavior chapters of the Primal Pathways, Peace in Our Time, Cusp of Chaos, and The Art of InterGroup Peace books.
We had one of the most contentious and divisive campaigns in the history of our election process. We have people who continue to feel divided from other people at a painfully high level and deeply angry at each other as the election has finally come to an end.
That kind and type of deep and too often angry division is exactly what happens when the election process has practitioners who are deliberately invoking an array of very basic and negative intergroup instincts to win the election. Those instincts guide our thinking, our values, and our emotions about other people in very direct and powerful ways.
When someone is an “Us,” we are supportive, protective, understanding and forgiving. We tend to want to be with “Us” and we feel safe when we are surrounded by “Us.”
When someone is a “Them,” we are distrustful, antagonistic, and we even suspend conscience in key areas of behavior and interactions. We feel both stress and anger when we are surrounded by “Them.”
We feel very right in doing damaging things to people we perceive to be “Them.” In worst-case settings, we firebomb and kill “Them” and too many people consider those extreme and damaging actions to be both justified and desirable.
We feel those instinctive reactions in times of war. We feel “Them” in times of intergroup and intertribal conflict. And, in a very dysfunctional and damaging way, we can extend those feelings, values, thought processes, and behaviors, into our political interactions and we feel “Them” relative to the other side in a political confrontation.
Instead of perceiving the other political group to be our opposition, we perceive “Them” to be the enemy — and when someone is perceived to be an enemy, then very powerful sets of instincts steer our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors.
We need to do better than that for our American political life. We need the political opposition to be perceived to be wrong — not evil. “Evil” triggers values and behaviors that seriously undermine our ability to succeed as a country.
If we each want a future of success for people from our own groups in this country, then we need to create a future where we have positive and non-damaging outcomes for people from all groups. There is no possible future where we can keep all groups from being damaged if we go down paths that are intended and function to damage any group.
As a nation, we are all in this together. We are all sharing this national space and we are all sharing this historic point in time. True separation is impossible. We can’t change the flow of history and we can’t go back in time. We don’t have any possible functional set of options that lets “Us” divide into subsets and then succeed as subsets. Every group will ultimately be damaged in this country as each group is damaged and then does the things that a damaged group tends to do to reverse their loser status or at least get revenge at some level for that loss-based damage. We can’t afford to aim our political results and our communities to either win/lose or — even more damaging — lose/lose outcomes and interactions. We need to very intentionally create win/win outcomes on key issues for all groups.
To succeed as a nation over time, we need win/win outcomes and a positive environment for all groups. That is entirely possible to do. We just need to clearly understand the process and then take intentional steps to make it happen. The InterGroup books explain those processes and approaches.
One very good reason to point our county toward win/win outcomes for all groups is that when you have win/lose outcomes in any setting and even if your group situationally wins, the loser becomes your enemy and the loser will be constantly working to have your group lose — and maybe suffer in the process. There are few things more expensive and dangerous then an enemy. Win/win outcomes for groups create allies. Win/lose outcomes create enemies. In worst case settings, the losers are willing to create lose/lose outcomes — hating the other group so much they are willing to firebomb and burn communities because their hatred triggers more of a need to do damage than a need to protect their own side.
We see that thinking all over the world. There are people strapping bombs to their own bodies in multiple settings every day who are driven by their own intergroup hatred to the point where they are willing to die to hurt “Them.”
We need win/win outcomes and a win/win mutual commitment for multiple reasons.
The future for everyone is always better with more allies and fewer enemies. Three of the InterGroup books explain why that is logistically true and why achieving those kinds of outcomes is entirely possible.
In this election, we moved down the road to intense intergroup anger and to a potential future of intergroup conflict and highly dysfunctional and even painful intentional intergroup damage. There have been people in political settings who are willing to damage the country or their community if they can damage the people they hated in the process.
We did not have bombings in this election, but we clearly dropped below the usual level of civility and enlightened mutual self-interest and descended to group chants about putting other people in jail as part of the political process. Group chants in any setting have their own clear primal alignment power — but they are dangerous when the final goal of the process needs to be for “Us” all to be Americans together — connected by our vision and values and not divided by our intergroup animosities and instinct fed intergroup hatreds.
We need to make the decision to put our intellect in charge of the entire process. That seems obvious, but it is actually not how we usually use our intellect.
The usual model for our overall behavior is to have our basic instincts create our goals and to have our cultures build rule sets to help “Us” achieve those goals. We have strong instincts to be hierarchical. So every culture creates the rules for a hierarchy for that culture.
We have strong instincts to want and find a leader for each hierarchy — and we have strong instincts and strong cultural values that cause “Us” to be loyal to that leader. Our intellect in those settings generally serves as the servant of both our instincts and our cultures to help both achieve their goals. It feels right when we are aligned with our instincts — and it also feels very right to be aligned with our cultures.
We instinctively build cultures — and part of their power over “Us” is the fact that we each feel right being loyal to our culture and acting in accord with the expectations of our culture. It also feels right to our intellect to be used very directly to figure out ways of aligning with our culture and achieving our instinctive goals.
We need to use a different approach if we truly want to achieve intergroup Peace. To build a context for real Peace, we each need to clearly understand how that whole process usually works and we need to turn that process on its head, flip the basic priorities and change the power relationships, and put our intellect in charge rather than having our intellect simply continue to serve the culture development process and the instincts that trigger our cultures and give “Them” their goals. .
At this point in time, we should intellectually and conceptually understand both our instincts and our cultures and we should make the intellectual decision to create a set of enlightened values that will guide our future. The new approach is simple and entirely achievable. Knowledge is power. We need knowledge about the explicit sets of values that should guide “Us” — and we need knowledge about how both our cultures and instincts influence and guide our lives. Enlightened values are both possible and the right thing for “Us” to use now to steer who we are, and to guide what we do as individuals and as communities and groups.
We need enlightened values about how we will act relative to other people, and then we need to embed those values very intentionally in our cultures and our skill sets.
We need to make enlightened choices about gender based behaviors, for example, and then we need to embed those values into the rule sets, guidences, and laws that structure our behaviors in those areas.
We need to make enlightened choices about honesty and telling the truth — and we need to embed those choices into our cultures and our behaviors.
We need to make enlightened choices about inclusion — and we need to embed those choices into our cultures and behavioral expectations.
We can have our intellect make those choices and then use the available tools to make “Them” part of our lives. Rather than having a blind loyalty to our cultures, we need to know exactly what cultures are and how to have “Them” serve “Us” rather than rule “Us.”
Every culture is invented by the people in it. That is true for every culture. No cultures are genetic or inherent. None created itself. All are created — and all exist in a context. We need to recognize how powerful our cultures are and then we need to use “Them” very intentionally as tools to make enlightened behaviors that we chose to define and guide “Us” feel right for each of “Us.”
We need to do some of that work very soon after this election. It will do huge damage to our country if we exacerbate our division and anger for the next set of political processes. We need more respectful, civilized, and enlightened elections.
We need to make several explicit choices about how we want to do the next set of elections — and we need to collectively choose not to sink to the same primal levels that we found ourselves in for this last election.
We can make those choices. We can chose to make telling the truth a key expectation of the political process.
We can begin by asking our news media to tell the truth — and we can chose to watch and read the media outlets that are truth based and not partisan cheerleaders who are willing to be dishonest to promote the side they support.
We have not been able to rely on much of the news media for truth in the last election cycle. When our “Us/Them” instincts are fully activated for media people in a negative way, the media is not only willing to say obviously untrue things, they are often so wrapped up in their instinctive reaction to a perceived enemy that they feel entirely justified in telling those lies.
The ends do justify the means at an emotional level for those people when those instincts are in gear. In worst-case settings, they hate the perceived enemy so much that they feel justified telling lies if the lies damage the enemy they hate. Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese general who wrote The Art of War strongly advised the people in war to lie constantly and to never feel any need to tell the truth relative to either your own side or the enemy. Those standards in The Art of War apply to too many news outlets today.
The Internet will never be policed and we can’t force any websites to tell the truth, but we can have trusted internet sources that both make telling the truth part of their brand and their commitment and we can have internet sources we can rely on to tell “Us” when they various social media and public media are falsifying what they are telling “Us” and showing “Us.”
Honesty can be a culture-imposed phenomenon. We just need to decide to make it part of our culture. We need to all move to make a commitment to value the truth and to expect it from both our leaders and our media outlets.
We all need to figure out what we need to do now.
This website is starting a new set of activities and thought pieces calling for the Truth. There is now a Truth and Honesty set of blogs and essays. That effort will be aimed at getting people to make a commitment to the truth and a commitment to make telling the truth an American value once again.
We did have that as a value at one point in our history. People took pride in the fact that people could make agreements, confirm “Them” with a handshake, and then go forward with full piece of mind that both parties would honor the deals that were made.
That type of interactions can anchor our collective success. We need to make it our expectation and practice today.
We need to do better than we have done. We need to make sure we don’t go down those primal paths with so much dysfunctional energy in the future.
This post was written by Institute for InterGroup Understanding