Introducing Breakthrough Politics: Transcending Left and Right Wing
I believe we are at a historic point in human development where the polarity between the Left Wing and the Right Wing is destabilizing and disintegrating, casting millions into a political No Man’s Land. For many I speak with, it is no longer clear which party to vote for and which feels like it is ‘ours’. In the US, the Deep State figure of Hillary Clinton is courting educated, middle-class, small-government Republicans who prefer sense and sensibility to coarse demagoguery. On the other hand, Donald Trump, with all his self-made (yet questionable) glitz and glamour, is firing up the fears of working-class Democrats who resent the financial, psychological and social losses they associate with globalization and immigration.
Meanwhile, in Blighty, the world watched the remarkable spectacle of Etonian aristocrats winning support for their Brexit beliefs in the supposedly Labour heartlands of the North; whilst left-leaning liberals in the cities?—?many of whom willingly expend their creative energies generating ad campaigns, TV shows, newspaper articles and technologies aimed at triggered ‘one-dimensional’ consumer desires to drive the profits of capitalist enterprises?—?wept as Britain voted to leave the EU, a project that the Labour Party of the 50s and 60s loathed because they saw it as a capitalist dream. Up is down and down is up. Anachronisms abound.
For those of us that believe deeply that a better, fairer, and more thriving world is possible, whom are we supposed to vote for?
One of the central tenets of the school of psychology, philosophy and change that I have spent decades developing, Breakthrough Biodynamics, is that for anything to thrive, it must fit its environment. When the world changes, most things, like policies and processes, start to not fit; and become steadily irrelevant. When this lack of fittedness occurs, it shows up in continuous problems and perpetual crises (like that gripping the Labour Party and the UK as a whole). By understanding the historical origins of things? like party policies and political practices, in the spirit of French philosopher Michel Foucault, we can surface old assumptions, lurking hidden within our everyday thinking. Then we can use our collective wisdom and insights into the emerging system to judge if they fit or fail the future. Then, and only then, can we break through problems and invent a world that works for all. We cannot have a breakthrough unless we first acknowledge and ‘own’ our own failing assumptions. More challenging, we cannot get a breakthrough until we relinquish old ideas that have served their time, no matter how comfortable they are; and how well they served us to get to where we are today. Then, and only then, can we embrace the new, listening with truly open hearts and minds to whatever is seeking to emerge from the system. We are then able to wrestle bold breakthroughs out of complexity as we dance at the ‘edge of chaos’.
The very concept of the division between Left and Right was born at the time of French Revolution; a very different epoch from the web-like, techno-driven world we live in today. Deputies (MPs) of France who supported the King (and clergy) sat on the right. Those who supported radical social change sat on the left. In the decades and centuries that followed this foundational split, the Marxist / socialist / communist project (as well as the various political parties of labour and workers) were created to solve the problems found in an era of sooty factories, indentured servitude and tragic poor houses. The Left wing political program developed to resist a world where aristocrats and industrialists?—?those who owned the means of production and distribution of goods, whether physical goods like cotton and porcelain or intangible goods like taste and courtly influence?—?held power over all. A new and more empowering narrative developed at this time. The core of it was the belief that power should be held not by the few who have capital but by those who do the work; a singular body politic called the Proletariat. With that power, the aim was to deliver worker’s rights, full employment, national ownership of industry, redistribution of wealth, a total welfare system, constant political reform and collective bargaining of unions against powerful employers. This made perfect sense in a world where workers worked at one factory or coal-mine most of their adult life and felt part of one united body.
Communism became the logical conclusion of this idea by subsuming all individuality (and so, it was hoped, all need and greed) within the ‘commune’ of the totality of The People. The individual’s needs and talents ceased to matter in the respect of ‘the will of the People’. In doing so, communism negated difference; variety; and personal creative genius. State-sponsored violence in many communist countries (I recommend you read a novel about the French war with the Vietminh, by journalist Jean Larteguy for insight into this) proceeded to crush the dissenting conscience (and creativity) of the individual with re-education, imprisonment in Gulags etc. Meanwhile the ‘reactionary’ Right, whether Tory or Republican, attempted to conserve the power and wealth in the hands of a small elite; whilst promising individual freedom of worship and self-expression; preferably in the form of profit-making entrepreneurship.
What is fascinating is that the Communist violence against our messy individual humanity that defies spreadsheet columns and the best laid (5 year) plans, is echoed by the capitalist desire to crush human error (and so variability and creativity) on the production lines of industry. As production became more competitive, the only way to increase profitability was to standardize everything, ensuring workers made everything in the same way, to the same exacting quality. This commodified talent and disconnected people from their own power; from their own creativity; and their own capacity to make change. It was this kind of ‘alienation’ that Marx revolted against with the Communist Manifesto. In my breakthrough leadership and innovation consulting practice, we see this 20th Century ambition coming back to haunt multi-nationals who have now sucked the empowerment and creative spirit out of their workers; and now need it back, fast, to stay relevant in a fast-changing world.
It is vital to realize that both ideologies ?- of ?Left and Right? – ?stem from the same materialist worldview. Based purely on what can be created materially, materialism (whether Marxist or Capitalist) sees the human as a worker and / or consumer; labour and / or human resource. Materialism?—?and its sibling, mechanistic thinking?—? were born in the period of the Scientific Revolution / Enlightenment. First Leibniz, and then Newton and his followers, described the universe (and human beings) as if they were clocks; or billiard balls on a table. Such mechanistic materialists believed (and still believe) that if we know all the conditions of the universe, we can then predict everything. This belief system disenchanted the world, leaving us disconnected and adrift, relying on materialist ideologies of Left (revolution, socialism, total employment) or Right (free markets, capitalism, entrepreneurialism) for all our hope and succor. Left and right are simply opposite ‘spins’ of the same materialist paradigm. This paradigm is being steadily broken down by empirical evidence, moving us into a post-materialist world (but that is for another essay, although for now, check out this post-materialist manifesto I have signed).
Now, on the extreme left, we have seen communists attempt to subsume human nature in service to the State. Although communism always pushed things to the extreme, the same urge can be seen in the statism of Labour policy; and the centrism of the Trade Union movement. All tend to negate the core genius of the human being, which is our conscious creativity (with which we can bring to life solutions that break through problems with powerful epiphanies). On the extreme right, we have the mythos of the lone genius and creative entrepreneur who should be given as much freedom from laws and regulation to create the future. This libertarian myth, made so popular in the US with the books of Ayn Rand, has given rise to the cult of the individual, perhaps personified most in the brilliant yet capricious Steve Jobs. However, whilst creating wonderful products to entertain our consumer desires (and so keep us opiated, sucking serenely on the tit of consumerism), the 100x returns from such businesses swell the coffers of the very few who own the shares: Venture Capitalists, City Bankers and early-in employees.
However, this world of right vs. left seen in labor vs. capital, worker vs. factory owner, union vs. management, individual vs collective, is fragmenting to a point of virtual meaninglessness. I believe the world has changed so much that neither ideology or position is entirely fit for purpose anymore. We are all shareholders now, whether directly or through our pension funds. We are all workers now, even the elite who have had to turn their stately homes into wedding venues to foot the bills. Whether we like it or not, the world is marching inexorably towards a connected, networked, flat, de-polarized, hot, crowded and wet reality. As with all changes to the Operating System of any domain of life, this brings with it many opportunities as well as many threats to existing mindsets, comfort, power, status and privilege.
The days of long-term job security have died, for all but a handful. Even the Royalty have to constantly deliver. It made sense a century ago for Labour to fight for long-term workers rights and security, when a person might work for the same factory their whole life. However, it has been estimated that by 2020, 50% of us will be freelancers to some degree or other. There is no longer a clear body politic of workers. And even if there was, research (and now voting patterns) shows that issues like immigration, which is becoming so divisive in the UK and US, are not split along typical political lines. With this connected and interconnected reality, we get enormous amounts of freedom. We can build a website, start a business, or film a Youtube hit with our phone in hours, accessing the means of production that was impossible even a decade ago. We can work three days a week for Uber and build a social enterprise or write a novel on the side. However, with this opportunity comes enormous challenges too: Virtually zero job security of any kind; constant noise and a battle for attention; and the belief we have to work all hours to make our life work.
The traditional Left (and the opportunistic Right) looks at globalization, and the coming wave of automation, with fear, attempting to stem the tide, blaming these phenomena as attacks on the workers. The traditional Right (and the opportunist Left) look at the change as inevitable and suggest that the only way to survive in our late-capitalist world is to work harder and harder in whatever jobs are available, striving to make ends meet with 10 or 12 hour days; in jobs that are devoid of meaning, purpose and social impact. Clearly, both these stances are driven by the ideology of the past rather than the possibilities of the future, as tomorrow rushes in towards us.
How do we make sense of this, philosophically and politically? Let us draw on one of the oldest philosophers in the West, Heraclitus, who said (in one of a few fragments of his thought that still exist): “Men do not know how that which is drawn in different directions harmonizes with itself. The harmonious structure of the world depends upon opposite tension like that of the bow and the lyre.” In other words, we can transcend the seeming opposites to engender harmonic, creative tension. If you are interested, I go into this in much more detail in my book Switch On, because I believe that at the core of all wisdom, and every wisdom tradition, is our capacity to resolve paradoxes and hold them within us, embodied in our neurology and embedded in our lives. We can use the term palintonic, derived from the Greek word that Heraclitus uses, palintonos, meaning “unity in opposition”. We transmute either / or into both / and.
Here is the breakthrough: Within a harmonic or palintonic politics, we untether ourselves from either pole of Left and Right and liberate ourselves from out-dated ideology to consciously choose what works to solve the problems we share. We avoid becoming vanilla centrists in the grey-beige middle. We can, as I have done with my business, harness our individual creative genius to start purpose-driven projects using the vast armory of ‘capitalist’ tools like innovation, design thinking, strategy, marketing, leadership development and change to crack problems, ameliorating the suffering, and amplify the thriving, of the ecosystems that we touch. We harness our creative genius to bring to life enterprises the seek to resolve systemic injustices with ‘social acupuncture’, where small interventions in the system can bring about disproportionately large impacts for all, bringing the system to a more thrivable state. We recognize that no central mind or team of genii can ever know enough about a complex, adaptive system to design a perfect monthly, let alone 5 year, plan. Therefore we need some form of networked ‘market’ of ideas and insights that seek to create solutions that fit the complexities of the systems we are part of. They may do this for profit. They may do it for purpose. Most likely, and most reasonably, they do it for a mix of the two.
However, rather than err towards the individualistic, liberal, capitalist impulse to pocket all the proceeds ourselves, we can share the risks and the rewards. We can leverage existing, and innovate new, forms of ownership of value (like co-ops, mutuals and crowd-funding); and of knowledge and information (like wikipedia, blockchain). At the same time, rather that follow the bias of traditional activists to give everything away for free – and so constantly need wealthy donors and / or state funding to keep our projects alive – we can work out ethical ways to charge people, when they can afford it, for services; supplement those who cannot, whilst they cannot; and benefit ourselves modestly with a lifestyle and retirement plan that honors our energies and efforts.
We can transcend the Left wing impulse to return to a mythical past of socialist idealism, pretending that the emerging, techno-charged world can be rolled back. Nor do we need to encourage a soulless expansion of all the dysfunctions of modern capitalism, reinforcing existing power imbalances and inequalities.
[blockquote]We can hold the seeming paradoxes of Left and Right within us and see the challenges of globalization, immigration, automation neither as enemies nor friends… but as invitations to grow as leaders, deepen our connection to ourselves and each other, and – with that collective purpose and sense of unity – use our individual entrepreneurial efforts to innovate solutions that serve the whole. They do not need to rely solely on state aid (socialism) or on philanthropy / disposable income (capitalism).[/blockquote]
Rather than look to fight the system as the Left wants to do, or go back to a more rigid, nationalistic era as the Right is wont to do, the wise ,can transform the existing system from within as agents of change that honor the system as it is; whilst also fulfilling our deepest purpose to do our level best to help it reach a more equitable, supportive and thrivable state. To do this we must transcend our egos desire to own all the shares and all the returns, to control all the power and the glory, and to fight for what we think we deserve; and dissolve those protective urges in the oceanic balm of connection. We have a choice to transcend the boundaries that form between us? and others / nature —?that drive greed and need?—?and act for the whole whilst leaving our creative genius intact. We are then both Right wing liberal capitalists and Left wing socialist activists at one at the same time. Or rather, we are neither. We instead are part of a co-creation of Breakthrough Politics. This will need to cover:
Ideology: Breakthrough Politics has no pre-determined ideology from the past, but looks instead to use design thinking, breakthrough innovation, participatory models and co-creation to solve problems that matter in appropriate ways that the fit the world as it changes. The only ideology we subscribe to is a spiritual experience of being connected to each other, in fathomable and ineffable ways; and that this connectivity leads us to act with compassion for all life and to reduce the suffering of all life. We are freed from all ideologies except the lived experience that all wisdom seekers arrive at eventually that we are part of one shared universe; interconnected and interdependent. We humans call that this sense of connection, ‘love’. Expanding love, connection and purpose (which I define as “love-in-action”) and so reducing separation, stress and suffering become our sole ideological goals.
Economic: Because it is not set on either Left of Right Wing ideology, Breakthrough Politics accepts the reality of capitalism as a source of energy, effort and innovation whilst also wanting to make sure the risks and rewards of growth (of all kinds) is shared. Because we have worked to transcend our ego’s need for fame and fortune, we can build enterprises and usher in innovations without the need to own all the shares, be celebrated as a genius or have a huge exit. With love coming into action in the form of purpose, there is nowhere we cannot go economically. We become visionary yet pragmatic innovators and ethical entrepreneurs who look for breakthroughs in the status quo that can bring more thriving into the system. We might call this a form of Connected Capitalism; or Creative Collectivism.
Breakthrough Politics moves to transcend the obsolete polarity by migrating from the Left (if we previously self-identified as socialist) to bring more individual flare and innovation into social, communal and collectivist endeavours. Current examples might be Wikipedia (a non-profit constituted by volunteers), online activism groups like SumOfUs, innovative broadcasters like the BBC and Channel 4 along with the kinds of State Capitalism seen in Singapore and Norway, all of which can be very innovative at times. This might involve more shared, participatory and national ownership of equity in enterprises than the Right wing would entertain.
Breakthrough Politics also moves to transcend the obsolete polarity by transitioning from the Right (if we previously identified as conservative) to encourage free-market enterprises to be driven by purpose at least as much as profit. We want to transform every company and every government department into some form of social, or purpose-driven, enterprise. Current examples might be Mondragon (the Spanish co-op giant), Natura (the large publicly-traded Brazilian B-Corp), Nationwide Building Society (a mutual) and John Lewis, the radically successful retail innovator that is employee owned.
I propose we must, as leaders, consciously choose – from a place of connection and interconnection, which breeds deep and abiding compassion and the desire to contribute freely to the reduction of suffering of others – what idea fits the moment, in the context we are working in, at any given time, freely choosing from what we would label, in the past, as Left or Right wing thinking or something entirely new. We do not retreat into dull centrism but into fiery transcendence. If we cling on to the old ideologies and attempt to move to the centre without a palintonic, transcendent, connected (and so ultimately spiritual) worldview, I believe we end up in disaster, whether with out-dated Right wing ideals driving privatised rewards and public risk (bailing out the banks; for-profit train franchises answerable only to central government); or with out-dated Left wing ideals driving the re-nationalisation of industries (which would have to be managed with co-creative genius to avoid them sinking into mediocrity); or the belief that unions should be able to prevent employees that do not care or believe in their own personal growth from being fired.
Therefore Breakthrough Politics affords us the freedom to choose ideas and insights from what we might previously have called the Left or the Right so we can solve problems that matter, in the here and now, with the most appropriate or fitting business / delivery / ownership models for shared risk and shared reward. We can, and must, untether ourselves from out-dated political ideological frames (looking at a problem through the lens of any pre-existing belief in a form of solution) and acknowledge that all frames have values and value that we need to thrive in the 21st Century. If we identify as Left then that will tend to limit us from using the ideas and insights of the Right, when they might be the best fit. And vice versa. Above all perhaps, Breakthrough Politics would transcend all forms of nationalism, proving it obsolete in a networked age when we are connected across space and time in unprecedented ways.
To make lasting systemic change in any system, one has to transcend old habitual mindsets and behaviors that keep us positional in the status quo (e.g. Left or Right) and ‘love’ everyone in the system, respecting their values and intentions. Although I have always self-identified as Left wing (my father was a full-blooded socialist when I was growing up), I believe this label is anachronistic and limiting (as perhaps all labels are). I sense that the embedded patterning of the Left is now holding it back from transcending the historical contingencies of its origination. Our world is too connected, too overlapping, too homogenous in its heterogeneity to have this polarity run our political consciousness. We cannot act our way into a more thrivable future until our thoughts allow us to. So transcending the metaphysics of thus polarity are critical. If we are unable to get out of materialism / duality of the poles we will only ever create more of what we have had in the last 300 years. As Salmon Rushdie puts it:
[T]hose who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.
When we do the inner work of transcending opposites within the field of our own wisdom, we can birth new narratives that allow us access to the entire spectrum of creative possibilities. We exist in a centre that is pregnant with creative power set alight by compassionate, interconnected hearts (as opposed to being dull centrists and compromisers). We are Highest Common Factor rather than Lowest Common Denominator. We seek a win-win-win at all times (a win for me, a win for you and a win for our world). We are driven to use of our individual genius to follow the yearning we have within for a more thrivable future for all. We do this without any force of any kind and with absolute freedom of choice. We are free from anger and rage against the machine. We are not anti-anything. We are not counter-culture. We are for the system; for its transformation. Then we can use breakthrough innovation and breakthrough leadership to design and implement breakthrough solutions with ownership and delivery models that fit the real-world and will drive the best services for all.
As Rumi might have said:
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, [and ideologies of Left and Right]
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
If you are interested in breakthrough politics, and what it might look like in real-life, sign up at www.breakthroughpolitics.org and we will keep you in the loop as it emerges.