Collaborate, Fight, or Move?

I devoted a career to teaching collaborative processes for decision-making and leadership because I believed sincere people can work out the problems they face, all they need are good processes and good information.  But populist flames of divisiveness have burned thru the trust, patience, and respect collaboration requires.  The ideological divide is now too great.  The common ground is gone. The era of collaboration is over. The new era is win-lose.  We must win; they must lose.  My only recourse is to fight with raw political power, which justifies most any tactic that helps the “right” side—my side—win. The ends justify the means.  Fight. Fight. FIGHT.

I find this line of logic deeply depressing.  I lie awake at night wondering if I should I follow it and abandon a career, ethic, and identity based on collaboration and evidence.  So, I was both troubled and comforted to read a similar conclusion by Thomas Friedman, one of the most respected, moderate, rationale, and evidence-based public intellectuals:

“Nothing else matters—this is now a raw contest of power… The morally bankrupt crowd running today’s GOP are getting their way not because they have better arguments—polls show majorities disagreeing with them on Comey and climate—but because they have power and are not afraid to use it, no matter what the polls say.”

My internal tension between feeling both troubled and comforted rose when I read Kevin Baker’s essay in the New Republic advocating divisiveness rather than collaboration: “BlueExit: A modest proposal for separating blue states from red.” It provided fist pumping, pulse quickening flashes of righteous indignation.

“You go your way, we go ours. …. We’ll turn Blue America into a world-class incubator for progressive programs and policies, a laboratory for a guaranteed income and a high-speed public rail system and free public universities. We’ll focus on getting our own house in order, while yours falls into disrepair and ruin.”

And doing so would make some of us much better off. After all, the blue states, and principally their urban cores, are responsible for most of the nation’s wealth, innovation, climate mitigation, and progressive thinking.  The red states can cut their safety nets, pollute their environments, and restrict their personal freedoms without the subsides they’ve enjoyed from the blue states. Yeah! It feels good to be vindictive…but then again not (at least not for a compassionate liberal who rather motivate his actions with care and hope than hate and malice).

Now comes Richard Florida’s powerful polemic in Politico about the rise of urban independence and the devolution of authority from nation to locales. Here is a real glimpse into a possible future that bridges political divides. It actually seems within reach. I still feel strongly conflicted, both troubled and comforted, but do I glimpse a path forward?  Should I rededicate my tools of collaboration, evidence, and leadership to help build secular, shining, cities on the hill?

I recommend pondering these three arguments and attempt to connect the dots.  I don’t yet see the bigger picture that is our future, but I’ guessing these dots are part of it.

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Hull is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability http://cligs.vt.edu/
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