August 16, 2012

Partisan Hatred Scenario?

Patrick Marren
Partner

As scenario consultants, we spend a lot of our time looking for patterns, and then we try to play those patterns out into the future and see where they might lead.

The biggest thing going on in our country right now seems to be the increasingly extreme partisan rhetoric on all sides: "Obama's a socialist"; "Romney wants to put you back in chains."

I'd like to introduce a naive hypothesis into our political dialogue (actually, dual monologue would be more like it).

Naive Null Hypothesis: Every time one party gets in power, they are filled with thoughts of revenge for the depredations the other party foisted upon them when THEY had power. So they take revenge and are harsher than the other party was last time.

Then the other party gets in and THEY are filled with thoughts of revenge, so they in turn are worse than the previous party was...and so on.

Key point: EACH party can point to the other party as having been worse than anyone ever up to that point, and so they can justify to themselves their own extremism.

One problem: If one party really DOES happen to be far more extreme than the other, then they will always, in this age of the Interwebs, be able to find "evidence" to "prove" that it is in fact the other side that has been worse.

Another problem: As this spiral intensifies, we are far less likely to discuss the very real (but potentially resolvable) differences we actually do have, since we have completely slotted the other side into the psychologically comfortable but utterly inaccurate role of The Other, which ought to be reserved for Nazis, Stalin, Pol Pot, space aliens, serial killers, lepers, people with bubonic plague, Neanderthals, saber-toothed tigers, etc.

And so it goes, until the Second Civil War, which will be over nothing in particular that ought to matter to anyone in the grand scheme of things, other than the media that thirsts for insanity and chaos to report on and to embellish and scream about. And, ultimately, it will "matter" to us who have become reliable viewers and screamers, rather than citizens and fellow Americans.

Want to know if you are infected with this virus?

Ask yourself: Have you ever read something or heard something that made you realize that someone you really like is on "the other side," and felt like your favorite pet just died or you've just been told Santa Claus might not be on the level? You're infected.

And brothers and sisters... I have to admit...I AM INFECTED.

I'm always amazed when I run into anyone who isn't.

Makes me wonder if maybe they're infected...with something worse?

Comments  | 

For a more hopeful scenario on how we might emerge from this nasty divide, check out E.J. Dionne's new book -- "Our Divided Political Heart." I have not read it, but heard him interviewed on News Hour last night. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/july-dec12/dionne_08-20.html If nothing else, Dionne reminds us that we've had extremist elements in both parties before and still we managed to make important national decisions, compromise, deal and debate in a (mostly more) civilized manner. Alas those were simpler times, before the emergence of cable news and all the ideological reinforcement it tends to provide.

Thoughts?