From partisan divides to the threat of nuclear warfare, America is in the midst of a distinct political era. The question that so many ask is what is the cause of the chaos plaguing modern American politics?
The primary answer is not based on partisan divides but rests in human nature. Furthermore, the answer may require more personal accountability than individual members of American society would prefer to claim. The culprit is the human ego, and the current state of politics is mirroring a collective, destructive mindset.
Understanding the Ego
The first step to understanding the impact of the human ego is to understand the limitations of human language. Humanity developed language; language is inherently limited and not a perfect expression of the human experience. It is unrealistic to expect language to fully and accurately define the world around us. Language is certainly helpful to assist humans in expressing themselves to one another. Yet, many people live imprisoned by language instead of liberated by it.
The limitations of language can be demonstrated by the fact that different languages have words for certain concepts that other languages do not. For example, different languages may categorize colors differently: some languages do not distinguish between blue and green, as in English, but use a single term for both. Thus, the word we use to communicate the color is not the color itself. The word “blue” was created by humans to label a color. Humans chose to give the word meaning.
A primary example of how the limitations of language enable the destructive human ego occurs when humans are children. When a child is born, he or she does not know his or her name. The child is simply a human being with certain natural proclivities and biological impulses. Yet, with time, the child not only learns his or her name but also learns certain linguistic terms. The child attaches deep meaning to these terms and learns that, for instance, a favorite teddy bear is “mine.” The teddy bear may belong to the child if it was given to him or her as a gift, but the psychological meaning of the term “mine” echoes deeper within the human psyche than the more easily determinable question of who legally owns the teddy bear.
In the above example, from parents and society, the child then learns to attach severe ego-driven meaning to term “mine” that is not objectively true but rather models certain unhealthy psychological patterns. To use the teddy bear example, perhaps that teddy bear (an external object) seems to make the child feel safe or even better than others because his or teddy bear is larger and more expensive. Perhaps the teddy bear provides some sort of emotional fulfillment that the child seeks from parents but cannot receive. Regardless of specific circumstance, the teddy bear is providing external emotional fulfillment to the child. The teddy bear itself if not inherently negative; but, if the child learns to utilize the teddy bear to separate his or herself from others, then the child may be feeding a harmful ego-driven psychological state.
The Ego in Politics
Humans may start with teddy bears but stakes increase. Soon, an adult’s political party is “mine.” If the adult values certain personal morals, which can span from individual accountability to environmental activism, then the adult identifies who he or she is by differentiating from others. For example, the adult will think, “I am not selflish like a Republican” or “I am not fiscally irresponsible like a Democrat.” What may be even more disheartening is that this mindset can affect relationships on a personal level: “I am not disorganized like my husband” or “I am not overly emotional like my co-worker.” When ego-driven patterns create a society that hinders development of the human species, these egoic behaviors are not justifiable; they are dangerous.
When one looks at the current American political landscape, such ego-driven identifications are everywhere. Democrats and Republicans cannot tolerate one another because they refuse to identify with the faults that they perceive in the other party. Furthermore, many world leaders have come to identify with external power in order to solidify their own ego. An individual may lose his or her own sense of identity if he or she loses a political position, personal wealth, or public prestige. Large political organizations protect their own interests because leaders of the organizations need resources in order to feel status and control. To note, expressing power, in itself, is not inherently negative; it is healthy and necessary. The question is whether power is used in a helpful way.
Individuals on both sides of the political aisle demonstrate the ego’s power over human behavior. Political turmoil exists because people are identifying themselves through their enemies. The tragedy is that such destructive tendencies impact the trajectory of the larger social identity as a whole. Humans have created masterpieces and technological advances, but we have also imprisoned ourselves in divisive mindsets.
Both sides of the American political aisle can likely agree one idea: America has room to grow to reach its full potential as a nation. This is a hopeful thought because it implies anticipative, promising possibilities; however, it is up to Americans to embrace the task at hand. Americans must make the changes as individuals that we strive to see on a larger scale, which includes rejecting the impulse to feed our own egos to another’s detriment. Whether Americans choose to answer this call will ultimately determine the course of the nation.