There’s been a decades-long trend in American society where the nation has become increasingly polarized. Another trend running concurrently is an increasingly centralized world and economic landscape which increasingly leaves all but the most elite classes alive. These elements combined have caused a deep schism which pits one side against another in a series of false, and dangerous, dichotomies. Either All Lives Matter or Black Lives Matter; masks save lives or must never be worn; two candidates are enough choice to represent nearly 400 million lives.
This creates a society where people become obstacles and their choices become threats. Empathy and humanity get left by the wayside as we walk down this road. Further entrenchment in this system only brings bigger problems and greater divides but there are solutions that lie in decentralization and voluntaryism that work for all.
The Politicization of Everything
In an election year the politicization of life is particularly palpable as left and right are pitted against each other once again. The dehumanizing tactic of reducing human beings to numbers is on display as polls are taken and ballots are soon to be cast. These reductive calculations are frighteningly aligned with the thinking of tyrants where one death is a tragedy, millions are statistics. It makes it very difficult to care about or find common ground with another human when they’re just part of some nebulous other.
This politicization of society has extended well into the private sphere. For some, it’s not enough that a business strive to provide an outstanding service or make an excellent product. They must launch PR campaigns to broadcast their commitments to opaque ideals of equality, diversity, inclusivity. They pick and choose which elements of their business to promote while conveniently ignoring uglier truths.
Take Nike for example. In 2018 they signed a multi-million dollar deal with Colin Kaperknack, the former NFL player who made headlines for kneeling during the national anthem, who has since become a Nike spokesman. This was done as part of a campaign to showcase the brand’s commitment to social justice but totally ignores their lengthy history of relying on slave labor.
Or look at JPMorgan Chase who boasts about having done much for the LGBT community. A quick search will bring up numerous stories of their accolades and achievements as a bank who fights for equal rights. A different set of keywords however brings up their involvement in manipulating the precious metals market, money laundering, and their ties with Jeffrey Epstein.
In a world like this all that anyone is left with is choosing a side. No ethical compass or moral code required, just one side or the other. Either you’re a Democrat or a Republican. You’re either fighting for justice or supporting systemic inequality. Pro-life or pro-abortion. Somehow we’ve arrived a point where you’re given more options for ordering a steak than you are political opinions. Seemingly gone are the days where one could freely pick and choose what they believe and support based on their principles, uninterested in dangerously simple-minded dialogue or supporting one side in a false dichotomy.
The state does nothing to soothe this tension. It was in the days after 9/11 that George W. Bush famously said, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” and was seen at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo where human rights were casually disregarded, this wasn’t an idle threat. Today, while dissidents aren’t being hauled off to black sites, politicians continue to call for violence and upheaval as a means to catapult this tinderbox society further into the fray. We don’t have to think back long or look far to see how this has played out this year and with a presidential election looming it’s not obvious that this will abate.
Centralization on Steroids
If the pandemic of 2020 has served any purpose it is the further centralization of society. Politicians have used it as an excuse to take unprecedented control while allowing their billionaires buddies to thrive at the expense of the small businesses and the middle class.
Politics takes place mostly on the national stage in the battle of Democrats v. Republicans. The importance of voting is almost only discussed in terms of the presidential election and implications of a new Supreme Court Justice are presented only in extremes. State Governors seem to be enjoying their time in the spotlight but otherwise local issues and elections take a backseat to the spectacles in Washington.
With politics taking place on such a large scale, and with only two sides of any debate presented, it’s easy to get the whole nation pitted against one another. Now lurking around every corner is a potential political opponent reduced to a dehumanized other who needs to be subdued lest they interfere with your political leanings. In truth, the vast majority of those perceived opponents lives hundred of miles away, minding their business across state lines. Meanwhile most everyone forgets to talk to people in their own community about how to best handle issues or hold their town mayor accountable for keeping an election promise.
Centralization continues to run rampant in the private sector as well. America’s billionaire class has continued to amass more wealth as tens of millions of people filed for unemployment. The stocks of Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Home Depot, and Walmart rose in value as the year progressed while small businesses, and the people who built and staffed them, were deemed “non-essential” and told to close. This has forced Main Street to weather an unprecedented storm which already has and will continue to cause many to close their doors forever with the carnage never even fully accounted for.
Life itself seems to have become more centralized too as human interactions occur more in the digital world than the real one. Social media platforms are the new soapboxes, town squares, bars, restaurants, churches, and townhalls that once allowed ideas to be freely discussed face-to-face. Instead Twitter, Facebook, etc. serve as echo chambers where one’s worldview is infinitely reaffirmed and anyone who disagrees can be shouted down or blocked from the safety of a smartphone. The dehumanization continues as pain, suffering, and humiliation are hidden from view with the touch of a screen.
Decentralization As The Answer
In this world you are your political beliefs, not the human being who holds them. You are not the mother who raised three lovely children while also running a landscape architecture firm or the mechanic who has run marathons in 20 counties or the guy with the two yellow labs from around the block or the award-winning chef or the future professional surfer or the friendly neighbor who’s always out tending their garden. Instead, you are the Trump supporter or the anti-immigration nut or the liberal or the conspiracy theorist. You are not the wonderful, fascinating, miraculous human being that you are supposed to be.
The antidote for all of this politicizing and centralization is decentralization. Stripping the central planners in government and titans of private industry of this ill-gotten power is what will allow for the flourishing of humanity where voluntary interaction is at the center. It doesn’t require that everyone suddenly agrees on all political, religious, or philosophical issues but disagreeing would have far less consequences. When decisions have to be made on a more personal, local, and equitable level it is much more difficult to resort to dehumanization.
There is no roadmap to the final stage or blueprint for how it’s built because a decentralized and voluntary society doesn’t all look the same for everyone everywhere. The starting point lies in every person who would rather see the world take a step back and we’ll see where it goes from there.