Friday, October 22, 2004

Bipolar Nation

Despite recent polls that suggest some separation between Bush and Kerry, the remarkable story of this election cycle is the continued closeness of the contest, or so says David Brooks, our most insightful culture critic writing today.

After four years of historic events, from dot-com bust to corporate scandals, 9/11 and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the nation remains essentially divided in its world view - a condition that Brooks describes as “a deep, tectonic fissure that shapes the electorate, a fissure so fundamental that it is unaffected by the enormous shocks we've felt over the past four years.”

Brooks ascribes this “stable divide” to two factors: the self-fulfilling dynamics of partisanship - the coalescing of attitudes around two competing tribal groups.

The second is Brooks’ belief that the country is undergoing a conflicted discussion around the preferred nature of leadership and our chief executive.

But despite Brooks’ proven brilliance in identifying patterns of social perception, he doesn’t go far enough in addressing the root cause of our Bipolar Nation.

The democratization of information and technology (eg Internet), the freedom of travel and social exchange, and the professionalization of the political parties have removed any structural barriers (or “friction”) to the free competition of ideas. Institutional advantages such as the Main Stream Media bias towards Democrats or the financial advantages of the Republicans no longer are decisive, leaving what economists call a “market of perfect information” and what psychologists might call an “un-inhibited state.”

From this perfect market, the dueling elements fundamental to our psyches are free to roam unfettered across our political landscape – yin vs yang, introvert vs extrovert, passive vs aggressive, ego vs id, Kerry vs Bush.

With this psycho-social dynamic in play, it’s a wonder that anyone would want to govern this patient. Take two Prozac and call me in the morning.