I used to consider myself apolitical, but my interest in humanity is too gripping. The psychology behind politics not only fascinates me, but gives me insight into the soul. The same interpersonal patterns which play out in small scale groups, such as schools and companies, also play out on a global scale. To understand how these dynamics take hold, I start by looking at the person I know best: myself. From there, I look at my loved ones, my friends, my network. Patterns make themselves known.
What I observe is that knee-jerk biases constellate around unconscious impulses, such as fear and guilt. If we fear our survival is at stake, we divide politicians into saviors and threats. Powerful people harness that fear for their own benefit. They design rhetoric to persuade us that we’ll be victimized if the other party wins, and that fellow citizens who support that dangerous party are the enemy. “I will make this right,” says the politician. What registers deep in the gut is “My people and I will survive, but only if he wins.” Next comes guilt. The politician says, “Even if the actions of my opponent may benefit you, they will hurt other victims.” What we hear is, “Bad people support the opponent.” Deep down, we sense that if we support our politician of choice, our guilt would be absolved. By shunning fellow citizens who vote for the opposing party, we vindicate ourselves further. Thus elections are not just about choosing a candidate – our conscience and safety is at stake. This gives the politicians quite a lot of power indeed!
The same trends play out on smaller scales, all around us. A good movie for highschool politics is ‘Mean Girls.’ The most popular girl makes it clear that she has the power to destroy reputations and condemn her fellows to social exile. Fearing they might be next, people scramble to be close to her, as this elevates their status over others – but that close contact also gives her more power to expose and ruin them. Over time, they are increasingly caught in her web, as the stakes continue to rise. They start making deals with each other to bring her down, while pretending to support her when she is present. She plays on their guilt. “Is she talking about me?” To absolve their own guilt, they expose their fellow betrayers, and the queen bee uses this information to her advantage in a desperate attempt to rescue her own position. At this point, the viewer may even empathize with the queen bee, as her friends betray her, but are too cowardly to stand up to her. No one’s crimes are worse than the others. Everyone has played a part in the web of lies. The question is, who will come out on top?
Even if we grasp such dynamics, we may resist applying the same evaluations to ourselves. It’s so easy to hate the opposition or the people in power – but those people have basic human instincts just like our own! Noticing such dynamics in others provides a great opportunity to look at ourselves if we so choose. We can ask ourselves: what am I afraid will happen TO ME if the opposite candidate wins? Does it ease my conscience to vote for this candidate – and if so, is there good reason for that? Whether our ideas change or not, we may look at ‘the other side of the aisle’ in a new light: they are people too, with unconscious fear and guilt. Even the elites are caught in their own webs, but they are invested in outcomes with high stakes, under tremendous pressure. Could you do better?
These are the parts of politics that grip me most. While I do have certain triggers and use facebook to air them, my deeper interest lies in the underlying patterns that play out timelessly. I am not merely political – I’m transpolitical. Every human in history had to figure out their place among other humans, which necessitates involvement in local politics, whether we take interest in the larger government or not. And this is why the political stage never ceases to interest me. Politics is not a dirty word – it is a discussion of what it takes for humans to coexist.