Developing a unified theory is a humbling process, even to those of us with fairly fortified egos. The problem, of course, is that there is simply too much information that can be brought to bear, and thus one inevitably will remain in a state of ignorance, relative to what one would want to know. For me, economics and political theory are two areas in which I am woefully ignorant relative to what would be ideal. Like many in the helping professions, I have, at an intuitive level, social democratic leanings. Yet, I
am not able to argue deeply why such a position is a viable theory of governance.
Indeed, recently a commentator on a post blasted me and my support for Obama as being like a fundamentalist creationist who wraps themselves in ideology, blindly worships an authority, and cannot accept the error of my ways. My first reaction, of course, was to dismiss such criticism as completely off base. Yet, one of the things the Justification Hypothesis has taught me is that such a knee jerk dismissal is exactly how the human mind is designed to function. We are invested and entrenched in our justification
narratives. Claims that our system of justification is wrong activates a state of dissonance, and the natural response to restore equilibrium is to discredit the source. This basic design feature of the justification system explains much of what passes for debate on the internet (and elsewhere).
Awareness of the design features of our minds allows us to alter habits. So now when I find myself “activated”, rather than
immediately moving toward a more closed state, I remember research on wrongology (what happens when we are accused of being wrong or discover that we are wrong) and my little essay on verbals, which together allow me some perspective. Here is a TED talk on wrongology. And here is my little essay on verbals…
“Without a doubt, the most interesting animal on earth is the verbal. In a span of less than a hundred thousand years, verbals have
gone from an inconsequential little species to a world dominator. They exhibit more control over the environment than any other creature. Verbals are named as such because perhaps their most unique feature is that they have complicated systems of symbolic communication. One of the most interesting and amusing thing about verbals is the enormous variety of ideas they generate in order to explain things. Indeed, it seems verbals can come to believe just about anything and everything. And they passionately pronounce these beliefs, often trying to persuade others. The problem with verbals really is their success–they are causing all sorts of extinctions and changes to the planet they live on. The other problem is that because verbals really believe the stories they tell themselves and because the stories are different, verbals have all sorts of conflicts. The combination of their ability to successfully control the environment in the short-term and the rampant conflict they have between various groups of them makes the future of the species of verbals uncertain.”
With these perspectives in mind, I have spent the last 24 hours surfing the web, exploring the essences of various political ideologies, most notably Liberal-Democrat, Conservative-Republican and Libertarian viewpoints in America. As I did so, a
striking parallel with these three parties and the Influence Matrix began to emerge. Before I note what I saw, a caveat is that I recognize that there are two dominant domains (the economic and the social) that notions of liberal and conservative apply, and just because these are the three major parties in America today, does not mean that such perspectives are always present. Also, I recognize that by drawing such parallels I am glossing over enormous complexity.
Given those caveats, what did I see? Namely, that the foundational concerns of the three major political parties in America parallel the three relational process dimensions in the Influence Matrix. For those not as familiar with the Influence Matrix (I have written the least about it, although use it clinically all the time), it is the subject of chapter four in A New Unified Theory of Psychology, and here is a powerpoint presentation on it…MatSymp11b
In a nutshell, the essence of the Matrix is the notion that social influence, which is the capacity to influence important others in accordance with one’s interest, was a crucial resource related to survival and reproduction. As such, humans monitor their social influence in their social spheres, and are motivated to approach high influence situations and avoid the loss of influence. A second key feature of the Matrix–and this is what is relevant here–is that it argues that there are three primary relational process dimensions that relate to social influence. A relational process is the process by which we engage in social exchange with others. Those three processes are cooperative influence (called the dimension of Love), competitive influence (called the dimension of Power) and freedom from influence (called the dimension of Freedom).
In this context then, my guess is that no one would have trouble lining up the foundational concerns of our three primary political parties and these three relational process dimensions. The core concern of the Liberal-Democratic party is equality and egalitarianism, and it advocates that the central role of governance is to ensure these values. This, of course, is the Love dimension. The core concern of the Republican-Conservative is order, tradition, and respect for a (Christian) authority. This aligns with the Power dimension, in that it emphasizes hierarchy.(The alignment with Power is perhaps clearest if we go to the extreme right, Fascism). Finally, the core value of Libertarianism is freedom from governmental influence, which is the core concern of the Freedom dimension. Although I was aware of these core concerns before, it was in reading them side by side that made me conscious that their relative positions paralleled the dimensions of the Matrix. And, as I thought about how each side operates and defines themselves in relationship to one another, the parallels resonated with me.
It must be noted that the Influence Matrix was developed with a focus on how individuals navigate the social environment, and much additional consideration must be paid to how well such a formulation would translate into large-scale social systems. That said, the parallels were striking enough for me to want to share them.