Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Political Evolution to Bleeding Heart Libertarianism

At a recent conference I attended, we were talking about people who were either conservatives or liberals and who later became libertarians. However, someone asked about whether or not there were a lot of “apostates” to the libertarian movement, and we were able to come up with several names of those who have moved to the left. I don’t want to name names (this isn’t a meeting of the Unlibertarian Activities Committee), but rather discuss the very phenomenon of moving from one ideology to another – and relate it to the idea of bleeding heart libertarianism. Specifically, I want to look at political ideology through the lens of Gravesean psychology.
Clare Graves, whose psychological theory was developed more by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan in their book Spiral Dynamics, advanced Piaget’s theory of psychological development into adult psychology. Graves noted that people seem to develop through different psychological levels – and that when a society has a large enough number of people with a given psychology, there is a change in society itself. His theory is that people’s psychological states change in response to changing social conditions, and that they alternate between individualist and collectivist world views as their psychologies become more complex. One can envision such a combination of alternation and increase as a spiral, which is why the theory is called “spiral dynamics.” Among the elements affected by one’s psychological level are epistemological beliefs (how one thinks people learn best), social ideology, political ideology, and economic ideology. As one can imagine, then, this affects one’s overall ideology, and how one’s ideologies evolve. First, though, let me summarize the theory.

Graves identifies two tiers of psychological development, with six levels in the first, and two (so far) in the second. Let us start with the first tier.

The first level is the one humans share with chimpanzees, and is described by Frans de Waal’s Chimpanzee Politics. The second level is the first truly human level. It is the tribal level where safety, security, nepotism, and paternalism are most important. The politics of this level involve kinship and lineage and constitute clan councils. The economics at this level is barter and mutual reciprocity, with the chief distributing everything according to need.

The third level is the heroic level, typified by all of the male characters in The Iliad. Power, action, egocentrism, and exploitation are important values to this level. The politics is typified by powerful people who rule by whim, and the economy is one of feudal distribution in which rich elites get richer off the work of those under them. However, if you have a society that is dominated by this psychology, you do have a political system emerge that is able to allow all the powerful, egocentric individuals to have a say: democracy. Indeed, this is why Athenian democracy arose, and why it had the features it had.

The fourth level is the authoritative level. The values promoted by this level include stability, having a purposeful life, Truth, Beauty, and Good and Evil, and absolutism. Good must be rewarded and evil punished, and the good are those who follow the rules and traditions of society. Doing one’s duty gives life meaning. They prefer governments with one party rule (monarchy), and believe economic benefits should go to those who work hard, are disciplined, and save their money. If this sounds like conservatism, that’s because it is. This is the source of the values of social conservatives, including religious fundamentalists (of any religion). Medieval Europe is an example of a society in which this psychological level is dominant.

The fifth level is the entrepreneurial level. Material success, autonomy, competition, and reason are central values. With the dominance of this psychological level, we saw the Age of Reason, the development of modern science, and the development of capitalism. Politics at this level becomes pluralistic, with checks and balances, strategic alliances, and bills of rights. The economic system supported is, as already noted, free market capitalism. Your average libertarian – and Objectivist – will find all of this quite familiar.

The sixth and final level of tier one is the egalitarian level. Egalitarians are communitarian and support equality of outcome, equal rights, human rights, social justice, and redistribution and reciprocity. They are relativistic, sociocentric, and want to get along and feel accepted by their peers (meaning, other people who think exactly like they do). They believe sharing and participating is much more important than competing. Their politics tend toward consensus-building social democracy, and their economics are socialist, or at the very least supporting of a welfare state and community-based distribution.

This wraps up the first tier of human psychological development. I will note several things about each level. First, each level is exclusionary of the others – thus the tribalism inherent in our foundations are realized at each level. However, in reality higher levels contain lower levels, though some may be more suppressed than others. Someone who is at the egalitarian level, yet has a strong element of the heroic level may express a great deal of concern with victims and oppressed groups. One moves from one level into the next when life conditions change. One cannot skip levels, meaning we go through them all, and society will always have representatives of older levels. Psychological changes drive social changes, which drive psychological changes. This accelerates the more densely and interconnected societies – and the world – become(s).

We can now also make sense of many of the political divisions we see in this country. Conservatives like Pat Buchanan are solidly authoritative conservatives. The typical American conservative is a social authoritative and economic entrepreneurial. The typical American liberal is an egalitarian with a great deal of residual entrepreneurial level. Many of the left-libertarians would also fall into the latter group, though the emphases may be different.

So where does that put bleeding heart libertarians? In fact, I haven’t gotten to them yet, because I haven’t talked about the second tier yet.

Second tier psychology is exponentially more complex than those that came before. Tribalist thinking is rejected, and all of the component psychological levels are recognized and more fully integrated. There are to date two levels which have emerged in the second tier: the Integrative and the Holistic levels.
For the integrative level, systemic processes, quality, responsibility, and information are central values. They believe the world order consists of different realities of different complexities (quantum physics to chemical to biological to psychological to social; different psychosocial levels). Politically, they tend to be pragmatic, supporting whatever will work for whatever a given psychological or social level needs. Economically, they tend to support free markets as the system which best benefits everyone, regardless of level.

Holistic thinkers value broad synthesis, renewal, experiences, and spiritual bonds. They view the world in holistic terms, seeing universal forces permeating life and society. The world is a cosmos, full of complex whole-Earth networks. There is a renewed concern for eternal truths, the good, the beautiful, and meaning – though these are more cosmological, more natural classical (to use a term coined by Frederick Turner). Knowledge is a very important value, and much emphasis is put on ensuring information is well-distributed.

I would argue that bleeding heart libertarians are most likely to fall into one of these two levels. There is a recognition by those in the second tier that free markets are transformative complex adaptive systems – spontaneous orders – which cannot be controlled and should not be meddled with too much, except on the margins. The world is best understood from an interdisciplinary perspective. More, the world is understood as nested sets of self-organizing networks. This means information must be able to be communicated as easily and broadly as possible. This attitude may explain the difference between libertarian supporters of intellectual property rights (the entrepreneurial level) and opponents of intellectual property rights (the integrative and holistic levels) – and explain why neither group can really persuade the other.

If we understand that people evolve psychologically through these levels, we can make sense of many social problems and many of our political and economic differences. For those in the first tier, people with less complex psychologies are evil, while those with more complex psychologies are incomprehensible. For those in the second tier, all levels need to be integrated and made more harmonious. When I see those who recognize themselves as bleeding heart libertarians discuss practically anything, I see them trying to integrate and make harmonious, to try to understand the opposition and explain in their terms why they are wrong – thus helping guide them “up the spiral.” If we know what it is we are doing, if we are more conscious of what we are doing, we can be more successful. That’s why I think it’s important we understand Clare Graves’ contribution to psychology. It will help us reach our goals.

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