Reframing the politics of polarization

By Hazel Henderson* – Wall Street International Magazine

I am deeply worried about today’s unhealed political divisions in United States of America

As a native Brit, I am deeply worried about today’s unhealed political divisions in my beloved adopted country, the still United States of America. I chose to become a citizen of the USA and was naturalized in 1963. I had experienced the polarized politics in Britain in the 1950s between the Labor party representing employees and the Conservative party representing employers, investors, landowners and many royalists. As I discovered while writing an article, Circular Politics Beyond Polarization on these issues in the 1980s, these two parties exacerbated the binary politics of division. Yet, to my surprise, I also discovered that the combined memberships of both Labor and Conservative parties were but a fraction of the membership of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds! All Britain’s other various social groups: from animal-lovers, vegetarians, small farmers, local producers, environmentalists to human rights and peace activists, were independent from both parties. Yet without joining one or the other, their issues rarely surfaced in the political debates.

In my 2020 update of Circular Politics Beyond Polarization, I described similar divisive trends in the USA: Republicans and Democrats dominate the national debate, echoed by editors and writers in most mainstream media. Yet, our founders were suspicious of political parties, since they believed they would lead to “factions” and parties are not mentioned in our Constitution or founding documents. Having grown up on Britain’s BBC-TV (publicly funded by taxes on purchases of TV sets), I wrote about US media, driven by advertising and commercial marketing and profit goals in Mediocracies and the Attention Economies dominating governance and politics.

Today, former mainstream media are outflanked by upstarts on internet platforms. These new Silicon Valley giants, Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube, Apple and Microsoft, are empowering many more ideological and political voices, but shielded from the liability, required of all other media, for verifiable, truthful content. These social media platforms relying on the taxpayer-funded internet, grew, protected by the 1996 Federal Communications Decency Act’s Section 230, which shields their most violent, divisive misinformation, hate speech and even promotion of insurrection, as documented by the FBI on the January 6th, 2021, storming of the US Capitol. The advertising-driven business models of these global Silicon Valley-based giants profit by focusing on the most “engaging” content. They use algorithms designed by staff psychologists to addict users, who angrily re-tweet these targeted messages which outrage them. These business models reap huge profits by also selling their users’ personal information to data brokers, advertisers, insurance companies -all to the highest bidders. So, their shares have also become the darlings of Wall Street investors, pension fund managers, theme and index funds, ETFs and end up in millions of investors’ 401Ks and retirement plans.

So, in Steering Our Powers of Persuasion Toward Humane Goals, I looked beyond the way these trends were exacerbating polarization and divisiveness in the USA, also furthering the political goals of Russia to destabilize democracies in their use of social media to destabilize our faith in US institutions in the 2016 and 2020 elections. Globally, this is weakening the European Union, supported Britain’s narrow Brexit vote, and used by China and other countries as evidence that democracies don’t work, are grid-locked and unable to govern. Political leaders everywhere are now forced to face the power of media and the need to also protect free speech. They are exposing mis-information, dis-information on health issues and vaccination during the continuing pandemic, conspiracy theories and fomenting divisions and insurrection. They are facing up to profit-driven social media business models, and whether to break up these new oligopolies, as Senator Amy Klobuchar writes in “Anti-Trust” (2021). Whistle-blowers from Google and Facebook are going public in the movie Social Dilemma.

The good news of bi-partisan possibilities in the USA includes the statement of the agreement signed July 8th, by the US Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the AFL-CIO and 2000 other companies and organizations for President Joe Biden’s first $1.2 trillion bill for infrastructure investments, including universal broadband, upgrading greener electricity grids, mass transit and cleaning up drinking water systems across the country. More good news from Frances Moore Lappe, author of the perennial best-seller Diet for a Small Planet, (1970-2020), which taught a generation about the benefits of plant-based diets for humans and our planet, identifies most US polling firms’ surveys finding the 12 major national issues on which large majorities of the US public agree in 2021.

Freeing the Muzzled Majority—Beneath “Polarization,” Surprising Unity. Here are twelve big ones:

  • Nearly eight in ten Americans favor limits on both raising and spending money in Congressional campaigns.
  • Eighty-four percent of Americans agree that politicians have too much economic power, and 82 percent agree that the rich and big corporations have too much power.
  • Six in ten of us believe that upper-income Americans do not pay enough in taxes, while 64 percent are bothered—either “some” or “a lot”—that corporations are not paying their fair tax share.
  • Seventy-eight percent of Americans, including 80 percent of Republicans, oppose the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling unleashing even more money in politics.
  • Eighty-four percent favor paid family leave, and two-thirds support a $15 federal minimum wage.
  • Most Americans–including 70 percent of Republicans and 92 percent of Democrats–favor closing gun-sale loopholes by enforcing background checks for private gun sales and at gun shows.
  • Seventy-seven percent of Americans now believe the US should prioritize the development of renewable energy over expanding fossil fuel production, and 68 percent favor increased federal spending on green and renewable energy.
  • Seventy-one percent favor changing the healthcare system so that any American can buy into a government-run health care plan if they want to.
  • Seventy-one percent think that most immigrants living in the United States illegally should be offered a chance to apply for legal status.
  • Seventy-one percent are against overturning Roe v Wade.
  • Seventy-seven percent agree that racism is a serious problem in the U.S. and 72 percent say racism is a serious problem in policing.
  • Regarding For the People Act (H.R. 1 and S 1.)—with strong democracy-protecting measures addressing voting rights, money in politics, and gerrymandering— Data for Progress’s new survey revealed that two-thirds of likely voters are in favor.

I have long challenged economists’ cynical textbook view of human nature: as greedy maximizing self-interest in competition with all others – incentivizing the ”Seven Deadly Sins” over humanity’s traditional principles of “The Golden Rule! I identified other crucial mis-classifications of statistical data in finance: how all US macroeconomic statistics all based on the price system, including GDP, inflation, debt, investments, etc. ignore all other values and statistics based on scientific research on health, education, quality of life, satisfaction and the environment. I and the Calvert group of socially-responsible mutual funds, created the 12 Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators, only 3 of which were quantified in money. Others hidden in GDP, were revealed in this presentation of direct data. For example, our Urban Air Quality Indicator was not measured in prices, but in actual parts per million of toxins in the air. We released these Indicators at the National Press Club in 2000. Yet, no editors or media picked them up or contrasted them with the money-denominated GDP, which is still fetishized worldwide. Yet Ethical Markets-Globescan surveys in 12 countries since 2009 show large majorities of publics in all these countries favor expanding GDP with statistics on health, education and environment. I founded the EthicMark® Awards for Communications Uplifting the Human Spirit & Society – showcasing decades of winners uplifting advertising.

One of the most pernicious statistical narratives propagated currently by all US media, politicians is that purveyed in US Census data: implying that the white-skinned, Christian US majority population will be overtaken by minority groups by 2042. This “majority-minority” narrative is spread by many influential writers, political analysts and pundits, including respected liberals, Ezra Klein in “Why we Are Polarized” (2019), New York Times writer Charles Blow and many others. Understandably, many African-American leaders along with those of Asian and other ethnic descent, see this as justifiable in fuller recognition of their rightful interests and social justice. Yul Anderson, President the African American Future Society comments: “White supremacy (two sides of the same coin) was perfected in the US, and its negative impact has affected the whole world resulting in the BLM movement (the Black Spring). The world is trying to unravel the threads of race classification for the betterment of humanity, through diversity and inclusion politics that should have been in place a long time ago. I hope we are not too late to save ourselves.”

Wider US and global research identify the basis for this ‘majority-minority” model in the US Census, which still categorizes our historically diverse population. Sociologist-demographer, Richard Alba in his “The Great Demographic Illusion: Majority, Minority and the Expanding American Mainstream”, (2021). Alba’s well-documented research urgently needs a fair hearing in media and public debates – now further riven by this “majority-minority” meme roiling our fears and stoking the recently-revealed January 6th surfacing of rising white nationalistic and supremacy groups, as well as many mis-named “militia groups”. The FBI now focuses on such groups as domestic terrorists who actually attempted to thwart the peaceful transfer of power by Congress. They still promote wider armed insurrection at state capitols against the United States and its government. In most countries, such open advocacy of insurrection would engender legal jeopardy as treasonous: revocation of citizenship, withdrawal of passports, social security and other government benefits to prison terms and even outright execution!

Alba updates and expands conventional US portrayal of our history of expanding pluralism beyond the stories of Plymouth Rock arrivals in 1620 – continuing in the later story of Ellis Island’s waves of European immigrants who followed the “America Dream” to the USA. Alba’s research pinpoints the modes of data-collection and Census categorization which obscure the continually increasing intermarriages between Americans. In fact, dominant mainstream whites continue intermarrying and procreating with all incoming groups of immigrants, beyond their earlier acceptance of white Europeans from Ireland, Italy, Poland and Eastern European Jewish immigrants, as well as with Native Americans and African-Americans. This continual white-minority mixing is still expanding and re-shaping the American mainstream. In fact, the white-skinned majority will remain the national majority past 2050, simply because whites are now intermarrying with incoming white Hispanics and Asian citizens. Furthermore, social and cultural norms follow these trends by continually expanding embrace of the rights to marry, work and live equally, along with respect for gender-diversity and ethnic heritage. Most corporations, pension funds and many institutions respect these social norms and rights, celebrating such diversity in their advertising and honoring the now ubiquitous media coverage of Pride marches and festivities. Inequalities in the USA are widely challenged, with companies also monitored for their fairness to employees and other stakeholders by surveys and groups including Just.

All of these trends are now over-riding the obsolete emphasis on the still-binary Census categories of either “white” or “minority”. Yet these continue to foster the politicization of “black-white” racial categories in our families, neighborhoods, endless debates in politics and in US laws and institutions. Alba’s research also helps illuminate our past truths, also cited by historian Jill Lepore in “These Truths” (2019): that interracial mixing since 1619, began with white male slaveholders procreating with enslaved African women the first generation of bi-racial Americans. This is confirmed with today’s DNA ancestry data, by companies, 23 and Me, Ancestry, explored on public TV’s “Finding Your Roots”. In “DNA-USA: A Genetic Portrait of America” (2012), by scientist Bryan Sykes, finds no inhabitants of the USA who do not have mixed European, Native American, African and Asian DNA. Yet, despite these unassailable truths, laws criminalizing mixed white-black marriages were overturned finally in 1967 in the Supreme Court decision in the “Loving v. Virginia” case! Current research now shows Neanderthal DNA present in most members of the human family.

Hypocrisies survived the Civil War and Reconstruction in Jim Crow laws and in the unrealistic “one-drop rule” which held that even if one appeared to have white skin, had a white parent and white grandparents, one could not “pass as white”. All such mixed-identity Americans are still categorized under the single heading as “minority” versus the other heading: “white” citizens. This kind of denial of reality is present in many other countries. Such cognitive biases are revealed by Daniel Kahneman in his study of such unconscious cognitive errors of human beings everywhere in “Thinking Fast and Slow” (2016), for which he and fellow-psychologist Amos Tversky won the Bank of Sweden Prize in 2002. For example, in my native Britain, a royalty-obsessed tabloid media furor erupted over the likely skin color of Prince Harry and Megan Markle’s children. These absurdities over the amount of melanin in human beings’ skin are demolished by Isabel Wilkerson in Caste (2019), which examines human ranking schemes, all still patriarchal: in India by birth and caste; in Britain by royalist ranking; in Germany by ethnicity and race, and in the USA by skin-color. Wilkerson even corrects the mis-classification of US whites as “Caucasian”, pointing out that inhabitants of Europe’s Caucasian region are mostly of Indian descent!

All these absurdities might even be amusing – if they were not exacerbating our mis-conceived divisions and polarization. In reality, the US melting pot continues to assimilate additional whites of Irish, Polish, Italian and Jewish descent, by expanding the label to today’s “Judeo-Christian” white mainstream majority. Today, this expanded assimilation of whites into this US mainstream includes growing numbers of white Hispanics from Central and South America, the Caribbean and Asian Americans. However, US Census data still records all these white-skinned citizens, as well as all other mixed white/minority citizens including people of color as “minorities”. As Richard Alba points out in “The Great Demographic Illusion”, these demographic categories are changing, partly with input from the US Office of Management and Budget, as well as from individuals and groups of African-Americans, with white parentage, who wish to continue identifying as black. Yet, as Alba points out, this binary categorization of “white” or “minority” fostered the widespread belief in the “majority-minority by 2042” account, still adding to white fears and more polarization.

Furthermore, as gender-diversity norms are increasingly acknowledged, another truth is revealed. Societies which still prize their fertility and population growth as key to their importance and developmental prowess, rely on controlling the bodies of their female population. Yet today, as reported by Canadian statisticians, Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson in “Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline” (2019), women’s freedom, access to contraception and abortion, is reducing fertility rates in most advanced societies. Along with urbanization of over 50% of humans in cities, women become educated and breadwinning single parents. This fertility decline accelerated in 2020 due to the Covid virus. Even China’s one-child policy now allows up to three children, offering incentives to women to bear more children. These fall on deaf ears, as in Sweden and all other European countries. This demographic shift challenges the conventional United Nations (UN) population projections of over 10 billion members of the human family by 2100. This requires reassessing, since the likelihood is that this total may not be reached, but top out as soon as 2050 at about 7-8 billion – due to these aforementioned trends, climate crises, food scarcity, and species extinction which the IPCC warns must be addressed in the next decade. Indian physicist Ashok Khosla, president of Delhi-based Development Alternatives, estimated in a computer model that making solar panels and small loans available to the world’s rural women could result in as many as 3 million avoided births annually.

These demographic busts occurring all over the world are challenging governments wedded to price-determined economic growth statistics and GDP, which all depend on population growth. Their politicians and economists see only though these economic lenses: declining workforces, aging dependent populations with long-promised pensions, rising health costs, lagging productivity, inflation and increasing indebtedness, financial and transition crises. They must also shift from fossilized GDP growth to greener, knowledge-richer, sustainable development in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Many have shifted from their formerly-prescribed remedies: austerity and cuts in government spending. In 2020, they were forced to “stimulate” their locked-downed economic markets, by providing money to their unemployed workers and families to maintain their purchasing power and keep up aggregate demand, even contemplating universal basic incomes. Central banks obliged with ever-larger rounds of “Quantitative Easing” (QE), purchasing mortgage-backed securities, creating housing and asset bubbles along with negative interest rates. The financial plumbing needs re-piping and textbook economic and financial levers have stripped their gears, as I report in Evolving Finance, Money and Markets. No longer subsidizing fossil fuels leaves coal and oil companies and financial firms with stranded assets of fossil reserves that cannot be burned without cooking the planet. New views emerge with new lenses, as former traders and market players seek deeper meaning and lifestyles, as physicist Fritjof Capra and I wrote in our Pandemics: Lessons Learned Looking Back from 2050.

All these trends must be unpacked, reframed and their basis in mis-categorized statistics derived from faulty assumptions must be replaced and measured by broader scientific data as in Transitioning to Science-Based Investing. This will steer completion of the global green transition now underway toward renewably-resourced circular economies, harvesting the daily free photons from our Sun. Reframing the politics of polarization and survival through cooperation, and sharing at all levels requires restoring the age-old traditional values of the Golden Rule while Valuing Love Economies, those fundamental formerly unpaid invisible, caring sectors that undergird all our markets and price-based transactions. Currencies and prices are tokens of what we value and measure, by which we still keep score of our agreements, goals and strategies. Major themes of the G7 and G20 summits so far in 2021 have debated the need to shift from global competition toward cooperation, as I urged in Building a Win-Win-World: Life Beyond Economic Warfare (1996-e-book 2004).

Demographics will continue to shape our common future. The human family needs a more balanced story!

In Humankind, (2019), Dutch journalist Rutger Bregman provides examples of human kindness, altruism, cooperation and love. We can re-focus on his re-discovered story of a group of shipwrecked schoolboys who survived this way. We can choose to teach this in schools instead of Golding’s dystopian novel “The Lord of the Flies” and Stanley Milgram’s now de-bunked “experiments” to show human cruelty! Historian Jill Lepore calls for a new Americanism. The European Union and China are revising their respective “Dreams”. The Chinese Dream is now encoded in policy at the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party and its “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”, based on Deng Xiaoping’s pragmatism, as I learned in my many visits China: Key Player in a New World Game. We can focus as Lincoln urged, on our better angels too, as does Stephen Pinker in “The Better Angels of our Nature” (2011) and Jeremy Rifkin in his vision of The Empathic Civilization (2009), as well as The Ways and Powers of Love (1954), by Pitirim Sorokin, a former Russian scientist, who became Harvard University’s head of its Sociology Department. Chinese scientist Zhouying JIN envisions China’s rejuvenation in The Future of Humanity, (2018).

Ed Mayo, former leader of Britain’s century-old Cooperative Society agrees adding his experience of cooperation in Values (2016). Even former Bank of England’s head, Mark Carney, shifts his focus from price-system-obsessed finance to broader social and human concerns in his Values (2021). Economists could teach Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (1757) as well as their obsession with his Wealth of Nations (1776). Media owners, publishers and editors can balance their traditional coverage of “rape, riot and ruin” or “if it bleeds, it leads” as the only path to ratings and profits. Humans are seeking meaning and purpose after the losses of loved ones, faith and trust in the future in this global pandemic.

The EU is identifying beyond its original purpose of trading to avoid conflicts. The USA can overcome its statistical confusions over skin-color, reflect on its history and re-define “infrastructure’ as the deeper human foundational caring sectors I describe in Info-structure for the 21st Century. Scientist, Michael Mann redefines The New Climate War, (2020) as reframing the issues to take back our story from the incumbent 19th-century fossil fuel sectors. Evolutionary theorist, Riane Eisler, author of the best-seller The Chalice and the Blade, (1988) sees our human transition from patriarchal ranking toward partnership between the sexes and valuing the unappreciated caring bedrock sectors of our societies as the source of our evolutionary potential, in Nurturing Our Humanity (2021) with her co-author peace scholar Douglas Fry. Cybernetic expert Prof. Stuart Umpleby digs deeper into human ethics at George Washington University, along with Professor Edward Seltzer’s Forums on Security and Sustainability which Ethical Markets co-sponsors. Algorithm expert Dave Lauer shows why “Algorithms Can Never be Ethical”. Heather McGhee envisions beyond our current division the harmonious, prosperous future when we all cooperate as The Sum of Us (2020). My 40-year old vision of the equitable global green transition now at last unfolding, is expressed in all my books, and in The Politics of the Solar Age (1981,1988) in 800 libraries in 20 languages. I’m still dreaming for more “American Pluralism” in my beloved USA, as we continue to embrace our glorious diversity as our founders dreamed:

E Pluribus Unum.

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*Author of “Mapping the Global Transition to the Solar Age” and other books in 800 libraries worldwide in over 20 languages, is CEO of Ethical Markets Media Certified B. Corporation , producer of “Transforming Finance” TV series and publishers of the Green Transition Scoreboard.