We’re now one year away from the quadrennial orgy of democracy known as the presidential election, so let me run a theory by you.
We view this exercise in self-governance as a scrum (to employ a rugby term in honor of the ongoing World Cup) between the conservative and progressive ends of the political spectrum, but a more important spectrum underlies and influences the political one.
Our personalities — through nature, nurture or a combination thereof — determine our political preferences more than we care to admit.
This underlying personality spectrum ranges from counter-dependent to co-dependent, with varying degrees of interdependence found between.
I didn’t include “independence” in that spectrum, which might seem odd since Americans idolize and sing hymns of praise to independence, our nation’s founding myth. But independence is an illusion — personified by the rugged, frontier individualist, who bears a striking resemblance to John Wayne and whose primary relationship with the surrounding community involves resisting attempts to restrict his right to live by his own inner moral code.
But absolute independence is a fiction because we’re all inseparably entwined in our hyper-connected world. You can live alone, but you’re no island. We depend on one another, as the Constitution says, our goal being to form “a more perfect union,” not a more perfect collection of alienated individuals.
Those who try to achieve total “Don’t Tread on Me” self-reliance fit the profile of “counter-dependent,” which basically means they can’t stand being told what to do, especially if that someone is government, whom they perceive as meddling do-gooders doing more harm than good. The counter-dependent personality hates government regulation most of all.
But counter-dependents are still dependent on, and often benefit from, government services. They know deep down that we can’t do it alone. We all need help. We can’t opt out of the fabric of society, which makes government necessary.
The result is counter-dependence, which sees compromise and consensus as a sign of weakness. They cling rigidly to their convictions, even when those convictions are unrealistic, viewing it as a sign of strength. Counter-dependents think this is the path to independence, but it’s really just another form of dependency. They have not gone through the process of true individuation.
The most extreme portion of the Republican Party — for some time now the dominant portion — fits this profile.
The other extreme, co-dependency, involves an unhealthy surrender of individualism, emphasizing the collective or communal at the expense of the person. It translates into an overreliance on government, group-think and one-size-fits-all solutions — a “we know what’s best for you” arrogance. Co-dependency weakens us and makes us less personally accountable. Liberalism at its worst.
Because these things move in cycles, the co-dependency extreme is not dominant or even particularly influential politically at the moment, so though it bears watching, it doesn’t pose an immediate threat.
As with optimism and pessimism, it is possible — even likely — to be both counter-dependent and co-dependent. Despite their counter-dependency toward government, for instance, conservatives often show blind fealty to the flag, the military, and their interpretation of both the Constitution and the word “freedom.” They also worship what they call “the free market,” believing it to have miraculous powers to solve every problem if we can just keep government from meddling. That makes them easily “played” and leads them to co-dependently vote for candidates who not only don’t have their best interests at heart but actively work against their best interests.
The closest any of us come to true independence lies between the counter-dependent and co-dependent extremes. Interdependence acknowledges that we’re all in this together, that we’re all connected in the pursuit, not just of happiness, but also the common good. The preamble of the Constitution is as eloquent a statement of interdependence as you’re likely to find:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Interdependents are not emotionally hog-tied by their rebellions and/or surrenders. They respect everyone else’s individuality and are quietly confident about their own. They know any “freedom” that creates widespread inequality is merely a rationalization for somebody else’s hidden agenda. They understand that government has an important role to play and must play that role effectively — strong enough to check the excesses of corporate power but not so strong that it stifles our economy.
Interdependence balances the rights of the individual with the needs of the common good and works to maintain that delicate balance.
Only one party currently embraces interdependence. The other party is hopelessly mired in counter-dependence and co-dependence.
Next November, your vote will be determined less by carefully reasoned and researched positions and more by where you fall on the personality spectrum.
Do you vote counter-dependent, co-dependent or interdependent?