- Rich Tafel
Understanding America’s Cultural and Political Realignment
Understanding American politics has become increasingly confusing as the old party labels have lost much of their meaning. A simplistic Left vs. Right worldview no longer captures the complexity of what’s going on. As the authors of the October 2017 “Pew Survey of American Political Typologies” write, “[I]n a political landscape increasingly fractured by partisanship, the divisions within the Republican and Democratic coalitions may be as important a factor in American politics as the divisions between them.”
To understand our politics, we need to understand the cultural values that drive it. The integral cultural map developed by philosopher Ken Wilber identifies nine global cultural value systems including the archaic (survival), tribal (shaman), warrior (warlords and gangs), traditional (fundamentalist faith in God), modern (democracy and capitalism), and postmodern (world-centric pluralism). When combined with Pew’s voter typologies, Wilber’s cultural levels offer a new map of America’s political landscape.
Of Wilber’s nine global value systems, the Traditional, Modern, and Postmodern categories are most useful to understanding our moment. Traditional culture values disciplined adherence to assigned gender and social roles: men are providers and heads of households, marriage is between one man and one woman, and the institutions of the military, law enforcement, and the clergy are all highly respected. Historically, traditional cultures were monarchies or states ruled by “strongmen.” Modern culture superseded traditional systems in the West during the Enlightenment, and values rationality, democracy, meritocracy, capitalism, and science. Individual rights, free speech, and free markets harness an entrepreneurial spirit to solve problems.