Being able to see from three perspectives – yours, your opponent’s, and that of a detatched observer – can dramatically aid in understanding any conflict.
In any conflict, one can choose to perceive at least three perspectives. Each view is different from the others, but some take more work on the part of the observer in order to truly learn from what they see. With our political scene fracturing into confrontations that form the news of the day, and with longer term structural problems that will form the conflicts of the future, being able to switch between these three perspectives at will is an important skill to master.
The first of the three perspectives is, of course, your own. If you are involved in a conflict of any kind, there must be a reason. Whether it’s a legal suit, a family dispute, the latest skirmish in the culture wars, or even legitimate military action, you likely believe that your position is good and true. Because the events that recently transpired in Charlottesville are still fresh in our minds, it’s a perfect example. Following the “Unite the Right” rally and march, many anti-Nazi Facebook users issued a stark ultimatum to their online friends. It went something like this: “There is no excuse for Nazis, ever. If you think there might be, unfriend me immediately.” Nazis, as we all know, are the Ultimate Evil. That’s why we’re on this side and they’re on the other side. Full stop.
The second of the three perspectives is harder to understand: the perspective of your opponent. The key to understanding your opponent’s perspective is realizing that it’s often just like yours, pointed the opposite way. Much as you do, your opponents believe that their cause is pure and just. Try to avoid a blanket write-off, because even enemies are human and have human motivations. For example, consider the Nazis.
Germany experienced population growth outpacing that of France and the UK by the 1870s, motivating them to expand their territory in WWI. After losing, more Germans were crammed into a smaller area, Germany was soaked for war reparations, and they’d lost their vital industrial regions. Rendered desperate by circumstances beyond their control, individual Germans followed a charismatic leader who promised to overturn the Treaty of Versailles, spend massively on military infrastructure projects to increase employment, and make Germany great again. Hitler seized power with these promises and the backing of industrialists who feared the Communist threat of unionization. Making Jews and other minority groups the scapegoats and seizing their land and assets, in this context, was an economic and psychological move. Everyday Germans were largely ignorant of the horrors occurring at the concentration camps. Some evil is obvious only in hindsight, or easily overlooked if you must prioritize your own children.
The last of the three perspectives is that of the detached observer. If the two opponents are playing a chess game, this is the perspective from above. Stepping outside of the situation, one considers the interplay between all sides, their strategy and tactics. Considering the motivation of your adversary doesn’t necessarily mean sympathizing with them. Sometimes, understanding why they think as they think, and do as they do, is the best way to mount a successful campaign.
Nazis, again. Knowing that the German Nazis were motivated by economic and cultural struggles, it’s easier to understand why WWII happened, even if you can never forgive them. Additionally, it helps identify historical repeats. When economic hardship grew in the United States due to outsourcing and automation, the shock of the Great Recession in 2007, and a growing crescendo of rural heartland resentment of culturally liberal coastal cities and college campuses, something was bound to give. Once a populist leader promised economic relief and cultural esteem, as well as an outlet for unpopular opinions instead of the chafing yoke of shame, everything that has happened since the 2016 elections begins to make sense. More sense, that is, than if one chalks it all up to “haters are just evil, and don’t deserve any further mental bandwidth spent on them.”
How, then, to use the three perspectives to understand what’s happening? Consider that as economic conditions deteriorate, the political situation is likely to continue to do so, as well. Desperate people become even more amenable to the pursuit of radical ideologies or the use of force. A cadre of men unable to start or support families contributed to the rise of the Arab Spring, and Charlottesville showed that they are growing discontent with their lot here in the USA. With lawmakers and law enforcement sympathizing with white supremacists, government may not be trusted to help when needed. Our massive protests are no longer working. And if prosperity can’t be commanded forth to give all sides the means to back down (spoiler: it’s unlikely), we may indeed be headed towards a historic reckoning with issues both modern and left over from the last civil war.
None of this should be construed in any way to imply that the homegrown neo-Nazis deserve to implement the changes they wish to see. However, in order to insure a better world for all, the coalition resisting the nationalist threat has to make a credible offer that’s more attractive than what the neo-Nazis feel like they can win on their own. So far, the mainstream left has offered up only vague platitudes about getting an education, and that perhaps technology will save us all. The Bernie Sanders wing came closer with economic promises that are unlikely to pan out successfully as climate change and depleting resources converge.
When the metaphorical game of Musical Chairs is noticeably starting to run out of chairs, people become increasingly brutal when grabbing one for themselves, whether those “chairs” are jobs, resources, or lebensraum. It’s a human thing. Shouting at others about how their behavior is immoral can only go so far, especially when aimed at people who hold to a different set of morals. What is moral and what people actually do are two different things, as well. Just ask the Church.
Taking the Third Perspective here means honestly acknowledging what’s happening and what it would take to win this one, without being a Nazi sympathizer.
We need our best, most realistic thinkers, those with more than just three perspectives, on this one. What do we have now? Brave people standing up to get knocked down, and a bunch of Facebook unfriending. Good luck with that.
Related: Party Shift