1. THE SITUATION
No matter what happens in the upcoming Republican race or the November election, the good people of the United States have been afforded a front-row seat to the Republican Civil War. While much ink and digital scribbling has been spilled over Santorum's various comments, Romney's flip-flopping, Paul's neo-libertarianism and pundit Rush Limbaugh's violent rhetoric, what has been overlooked is that it all signals a deep paradigm shift in what it means to be Republican in the post-modern era. Indeed the mere presence of a candidate race steeped in references to the 90's culture wars, libertarian and Objectivist policies and a strong moderate position by Mitt Romney reveal how severe the fighting over internal identity is.
While the level of rhetoric has become disturbing -- and, in the cases of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, flat-out disgusting -- it is commendable. The world and North America in particular are in a shift of meaning from the modern to the post-modern and it is imperative that we all encourage the conversation currently taking place, even if we do not agree with all the conclusions. While the current election may or may not produce a new type of conservatism for a new era, the conversation it is fostering will eventually lead to a new eruption of meaning. To the next generation of conservatives I can only say, from the deepest reaches of my liberal progressive heart, welcome and good journey.
In truth there is no such thing as a political party or philosophy. At their hearts these things are instead clusters of conversations, which negotiate for the center of their own understanding. Where modernity, steeped in an Enlightenment understanding of reason and progress, wanted centrality, absolutes and defined and regulated roles the postmodern wants fluidity, plurality and paradox. No centers, but many nodes in relationship.
2. THE PROBLEM
The problem with modernity and its approach to political discourse was and is the insistence on polarities and duplicities. In this model we must insist on the "right" and "correct" position and any other position then must be a falling away or deviation from the good and moral. Look at our constructions of good and evil, male and female, gay and straight and, finally, left and right, that our moral and political constructions are so dependent on.
We can see this in our primary metaphors for argument: war! In an argument we must win or lose, defeat or be defeated by our opponent. In politics, which is a protracted argument on what it means to be a citizen, we go on a campaign, itself a term with origins in war culture. If our conversations are more about conversions -- to my way or perspective or you are my enemy -- then we have no room for creating a centerspace.
Political campaigns often engage in us/them rhetoric positing the opponent party as being a symbol of what is wrong with the country, or as being purely un-American. In recent years we have seen this in the Republican rhetoric insisting that President Obama wants to destroy our country, is a secret Muslim or is not a true American citizen. The Republican insistence on their own goodness and rightness has validity in relationship to the president being somehow less than American.
This approach also reveals the folly of diversity. In diversity we welcome the other -- race, religion, political position -- as a space to be resisted (The danger of the gays! Of immigrants! Of women and their sex lives!) or a space to be accommodated (multicultural awareness that does little to create multicultural engagement). America is a diverse nation of diverse politics, ethnicities, cultures and religions. Politically it means that we are diverse in that we contain two factions, which, every four years, wage a non-violent war in order to overthrow or maintain the current government.
This diversity still sees the Other as one to be resisted or defeated, or at worst casually accommodated. While each winning president reaffirms his commitment to all people and not just his own party he must get there on a river of metaphorical blood. In their diversity they affirm a commitment to a monoculture that allows the Other to exist inside its centerspace in a way that demeans the minority and affirms the majority. Like false multiculturalism -- which uses the multicultural to affirm the power of the dominant culture -- diversity is a false discourse that depends on the status quo being maintained. For us to be diverse we must insist that the Other remain Other.
3. FROM DIVERSITY TO OMNIVERSITY
The current failure of American political discourse is in its insistence on poles. Left and Right.
Conservative and Liberal.
Democrat and Republican.
American and Un-American.
Diversity in its false paradigm allows us to maintain the language of war and violence when we do politics. Our current discourse somehow depends on insisting that one party or the other seeks our destruction and is not true or real Americans or have abandoned morality, the constitution or our religious heritage. We must, we are told, resist the opposition. The opposite pole must be removed.
The problem is magnets.
Magnets contain north and south poles. In fact a magnet cannot exist with only one pole. If we were to slice the magnet, chip off bits of it or restructure its shape and function the new piece and the new size would still contain a north and south pole. In this way the north always contains the south and the south always contains the north. The objective contains the subjective and the subjective contains the objective as art noise theorist Joseph Nechvatal states in Immersion Into Noise. They are not opposites of each other but symmetries who only exist in relationship to the other. Likewise left and right are not polar opposites but symmetries that only exist in relationship to each other.
They are magnet.
They contain each other.
If left contains right and right contains left we have moved from diversity and its maintenance of the Other to a position of omniversity where the other ceases to be other and begins to be recognized as part of our own being. I cannot be I -- and We cannot be Us --without recognizing that we contain each other. The revolution will not be televised; the Revolution will be in Relationship. This requires us to reevaluate political rhetoric and resist its ability to create polarities. If there are no poles and only magnets then this only makes sense. It changes everything. If we destroy the opposing pole we destroy the magnet, we destroy ourselves.
Let us then shift the politic. The current campaign is positing on the Republican side that individual liberty somehow trumps the common good. The proponents of the common good are destroying our freedoms, we are told; at worst they are un-American socialists. The only true resistance is individual liberty, and each Republican candidate posits a different perspective on what that might mean.
In an approach that affirms a commitment to omniversity though we recognize that the left contains the right and the right contains the left. We are not competing separate units in opposition or war with each other but are instead poles on the magnets, which contains the whole. In fact we are the magnets, attracted to one particular pole and repelled by another, yet containing each.
Here then the metaphor shifts from war to dance. If argument and politics are not wars but dance everything changes. A culture founded on such a principle would give rise to new metaphors of engagement and the political discourse would be just as rich as it is today but ultimately unrecognizable to its current form.
Then we can say that there is no left without right and no right without left. Individual liberty and the common good are not opponents in a war but dancing partners who must negotiate the center. This is not a once-in-history occurrence but an ongoing relationship that renews the American experiment. Dancing partners have relationship, warriors go to war.
4. THE NEW POLITIC
What emerges from a commitment to omniversity is vision of the future that invites discourse and disagreement as conversation among friends, impassioned participants and stakeholders, and not a battle between enemies. It does not insist that all positions are healthy or that all positions are valuable, but it does insist that all positions -- like a magnet -- contain their opposition. Again, we are only ourselves in relation to the other.
Left and right in a politic of omniversity does not and cannot see its opposition as being a combative partner. The common good needs to include individual liberty and vice versa. These two poles on the magnet allow us to negotiate a middle space together. If I as a Democrat recognize that I need -- and that my own being, my own politic and my own nation contains - the Republican perspective, how does that change how I do politics?
It removes war as the metaphor by which we function in the political sense. If done properly it will allow politicians on the campaign trail to take a "here I stand" position in a way that affirms their own positions and invites discourse instead of seeking to villainize.
To my Republican, libertarian and conservative friends steeped in the conversation of what a post-modern conservatism looks like, I can only encourage you in your questions, support you in your efforts to create a new future and contribute to the process of pushing back with my own, more progressive perspective. I hope whatever contribution I make to the conversation will be seen as encouraging and engaging. I do so not as a resistance to your ideas but in recognition that you are I and I am you, we are all on the same magnet.