September 16th, 2010 // 4:00 am @ Oliver DeMille
A third reason for the rise of Independents is the widespread loss of blind faith in man-made institutions (like government and corporations) as the answers to society’s challenges.
These institutions have failed to perform, over and over, causing many of even the staunchest state- and market-loyalists to feel skeptical.
Fourth, the e-revolution has created a technological power of the citizenry, at least in the ability to widely voice views that diverge from the mainstream parties.
The Internet gave Independents (and many others) a voice. People who believed in common-sense pragmatism and principled choices over party loyalty have been around for a long time, but the e-revolution was needed to give them group influence.
But all of these reasons are really just after-the-fact justifications for why so many people are no longer channeled politically through one of the top parties.
They explain why people aren’t Republicans or Democrats, but they don’t explain why Independents are Independents.
Some Independents are actually from the far right and just anti-liberal, and others are leftists who are Independents because they are anti-conservative. Some are one-issue Independents, emphasizing the environment, feminism, race, the gold standard, etc.
A growing number of Independents, however, are Independents because they believe in a shared new ideal.
They have faith in both government and the market, but only to a certain extent. They are truly neither liberal nor conservative, but moderate. They want government and markets to work, and they want to limit both as needed.
Still, they are not just moderates, they are something more.
Three Versions of Management
What makes these Independents tick? They are motivated by a new focus, a set of goals surprising and even confusing to anyone who was taught that American politics is about right versus left, conservative versus liberal, family values versus progressivism, religious versus secular, hawk versus dove, and all the other clichés.
Independents are something new.
Our ancestors were motivated mostly by “Management 1.0,” Pink says, which was a focus on physical safety and protection from threats.
“Management 2.0” came when people learned to produce things in a routine way, from planned agriculture to industry.
People became more motivated by a “carrot-and-stick” model of “extrinsic motivators.” Managers, teachers, parents and politicians created complex systems of rewards and punishments, penalties and bonuses to achieve results in this new environment.
In this model, conservatives are 1.0 because they want government to limit itself to protecting its citizens from external threats, to national security and legal justice.
Liberals support a 2.0 model where the role of government is to incentivize positive community behaviors by people and organizations, and also to enforce a complex system of punishments to deter negative behavior.
In education, 1.0 is the one-room schoolhouse focusing on delivering a quality, personalized education for each student.
In contrast, 2.0 is a conveyor-belt system that socializes all students and provides career rewards through job training, with benefits doled out based on academic performance.
The problem with 1.0 is that education is withheld from some based on race, wealth and sometimes gender or religion.
The 2.0 version remedies this, ostensibly providing democratic equality for students from all backgrounds; but the cost is that personalization and quality are lost, and a de facto new elite class is created by those who succeed in this educational matrix.
On the political plane, 1.0 promoted freedom but for an elite few, while 2.0 emphasized social justice but unnecessarily sacrificed many freedoms.
Version 3.0 combines freedom with inclusion, and this is the basis of the new Independents and their ideals.
It may seem oxymoronic to say that pragmatic Independents have ideals, but they are actually as driven as conservatives and liberals.
Independents want government, markets and society to work, and to work well. They don’t believe in utopia, but they do think that government has an important role along with business, and that many other individuals and organizations have vital roles in making society work.
They aren’t seeking perfect society, but they do think there is a common sense way in which the world can generally work a lot better than it does.
Mr. Pink’s “Management 3.0” is a widespread cultural shift toward “intrinsic motivators.” A growing number of people today (according to Pink) are making decisions based less on the fear of threats (1.0), or to avoid punishments or to obtain rewards (2.0), than on following their hearts (3.0).
This isn’t “right-brained” idealism or abstraction, but logic-based, rational and often self-centered attempts to seek one’s most likely path to happiness.
Indeed, disdain for the “secure career path” has become widely engrained in our collective mentality and is associated with being shallow, losing one’s way, and ignoring your true purpose and self.
This mindset is now our culture. For example, watch a contemporary movie or television series: The plot is either 1.0 (catch or kill the bad guys) or 3.0 (struggle to fit in to the 2.0 system but overcome it by finding one’s unique true path).
Settling for mediocrity in order to fit the system is today’s view of 2.0.
In contrast, the two main versions of 3.0 movies and series are: 1) Ayn Rand-style characters seeking personal fulfillment, and 2) Gene Rodenberry-style heroes who “find themselves” in order to greatly benefit the happiness of all.
Where the Greeks had tragedy or comedy, our generation finds itself either for personal gain or in order to improve the world.
Whichever version we choose, the key is to truly find and live our life purpose and be who we were meant to be.
And where so far this has grown and taken over our pop-culture and generational mindset, it is now poised to impact politics.
Few of the old-guard in media, academia or government realize how powerful this trend is.
Independents are the latch-key generation grown up.
Raised by themselves, with input from peers, they are skeptical of parents’ (conservative) overtures of care after years of emotional distance.
They are unmoved by parents’ (liberal) emotional insecurity and constant promises. They don’t trust television, experts or academics.
They don’t get too connected to any current view on an issue; they know that however passionate they may feel about it right now, relationships come and go like the latest technology and the only one you can always count on is yourself.
Because of this, you must do what you love in life and make a good living doing it. This isn’t abstract; it’s hard-core realism.
Loyalty to political party makes no sense to two generations forced to realize very young the limitations of their parents, teachers and other adults.
Why would such a generation give any kind of implicit trust to government, corporations, political parties or other “adult” figures?
Independents are more swayed by Google, Amazon and Whole Foods than Hollywood, Silicon Valley or Yale.
Appeals to authority such as the Congressional Budget Office, the United Nations or Nobel Prize winners mean little to them; they’ll study the issues themselves.
Their view of the experts is that whatever the outside world thinks of them, they are most likely far too human at home.
Officials and experts with noteworthy accolades, lofty credentials and publicized achievements make Independents more skeptical than star-struck.
They grew up with distant and distracted “corporate stars” for parents, and they aren’t impressed.
Having moved around throughout their formative years, never allowed to put down deep roots in any one town or school for long, why would they feel a powerful connection to country or nation?
If the government follows good principles, they’ll support it. If not, they’ll look elsewhere.
They understand being disappointed and having to move on and rely on themselves; in fact, this is so basic to their makeup that it is almost an unconscious religion.
If this all sounds too negative, consider the positives. The American founding had many similar generational themes.
Raised mostly by domestic help (parents were busy overcoming many out-of-the-home challenges in this generation), sent away to boarding schools or apprenticeships before puberty, the founders learned loyalty to principles over traditions, pragmatic common sense over the assurances of experts, and an idealistic yearning for improving the world over contentment with the current.
Today’s Independents are one of the most founders-like generation since the 1770s. They want the world to change, they want it to work, and they depend on themselves and peers rather than “adults” (experts, officials, etc.) to make it happen.
There are many reasons why Independents don’t resonate with the two major parties, but this is only part of the story.
Most Independents aren’t just disenfranchised liberals or conservatives; they are a new generation with entirely new goals and views on government, business and society.
This is all hidden to most, because the latch-key generation isn’t vocal like most liberals and conservatives.
Trained to keep things inside, not to confide in their parents or adults, growing numbers of Independents are nonetheless quietly and surely increasing their power and influence.
Few Independents believe that there will be any Social Security monies left for them when they retire, so they are stoically planning to take care of themselves.
Still, they think government should pay up on its promise to take care of the Boomers, so they are happy to pay their part. Indeed, this basically sums up their entire politics.
They disdain the political debate that so vocally animates liberals and conservatives, and as a result they have little voice in the traditional media because they refuse to waste time debating.
But their power is drastically increasing. The latch-key Independents raised themselves, grew up and started businesses and families, and during the next decade they will increasingly overtake politics.
Like Shakespeare’s Henry V, they partied through the teenager stage, leaving their parents appalled by generational irresponsibility and lack of ambition, then they shocked nearly everyone with their ability and power when they suddenly decided to be adults.
Now, on eve of their entrance into political power, few have any idea of the tornado ahead.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.