The Diminishing Population of Progressive Thinkers

Martin Luther King was one of the greatest orators of any generation. Armed with that ability, and combined with an uncompromising belief in his values, he created a powerful movement that defied extraordinary odds. But just decades later racism remains a powerful force in the US, and throughout the world. We celebrate the man. We quote him often. But why have we not heeded his words?

Or maybe we have not understood them.

I don’t see a lot of people using light to drive out the darkness. I absolutely see the hatred of sexist and racist ideas. But that just feels like we are trying to use hate to drive out hate. My Facebook feed is littered with people of different ideas and values attacking one another on the subject of the day. And how often have these discussions resulted in someone changing their minds. I can’t think of a single example.

So what’s the best case scenario? That you win the argument and your opponent shuts up and goes into hiding? Well, maybe they will. And maybe that doesn’t seem so bad to you right now, compared to the alternative. But just because you can’t see them does NOT mean they are gone.

One of my newest beliefs is that progress is an illusion unless it includes everybody. Because there is this effect that I call the ‘diminishing population of progressive thinkers’.

Let me try to illustrate the concept below. Consider the following progressive chain of beliefs (along with the date it was realized in Canada – source here):

  1. Belief that homosexuality should be legalized (1969)
  2. Belief that homosexuals should be able to immigrate to Canada (1978)
  3. Belief that homosexuals should be able to serve openly in the military (1992)
  4. Belief that “sexual orientation” should be added to the Canadian Human Rights Act (1996)
  5. Belief that same sex couples should have the right to marry (July 20, 2005)

It is my theory that the people who support a certain belief will always be a subset of the previous level. Anyone who supports belief #5, also supports belief 1,2, 3, and 4. But someone who supports belief #1 does not necessarily support 2,3, 4, and 5. The result is that at any point in time the most progressive beliefs hold the fewest supporters. This is what I call the diminishing population of progressive thinkers.

When a society is going through a fundamental change in values, eventually the most progressive thinking can create a backlash from the most entrenched traditionalists. It happens when the gap between the traditionalist and the progressive becomes too wide. It is at this point that the traditionalist will dig in their heels and, because they have much greater numbers, force a halt or reversal in progress.

What really stood out for me in reviewing the timeline above is how long the process took, as well as the amount of resistance encountered. When we are fighting for change we need to primarily focus on getting a vast majority of the population on board with the base values of our movement before we can legitimately move forward in an irreversible way.

Progress moves like pulling a 300 pound rock up a hill with a bungee cord. If you sprint up the hill as fast as you can you are going to get suddenly, and dramatically, pulled right back to where you started, or even worse. As an evolving society we need to find that moment of tension where the static friction is broken and that rock begins to move.

We must keep our hands on the pulse of our country and maintain an alert awareness of where we stand. We need to understand the roots of those old ideas that won’t let go so we can meet them where they are, without the demands of what they should be. Then you can move that damned rock up the hill so it never goes back.

So does this resurgence of racism in the west mean that Martin Luther King has failed in his mission? Or was he simply too far ahead of his time? In the name of efficient and effective progress we need to close that gap with the people who disagree with our values. Because if we isolate ourselves with the people who only agree with us, we end up with a society that can never evolve. Like it or not, where-ever we are going, we are going there together.

Was Donald Trump a Necessary Evil in the Name of Progress?

Can we all pretend for a moment that things just went slightly differently on Tuesday night?

Let’s say two results changed: First let’s imagine 60,000 Trump votes in Florida switched to Hillary, and second that she received 70,000 more votes in Pennsylvania. That gives her enough seats to win. If this was the case, and assuming the results were accepted and Trump conceded, life would soon continue on much as it was under Obama.

America would have quickly reverted back to pretending that the racist and sexist portion of their population was a distant minority. And they would have got back to pretending that an economy that’s rebounding nationally is obviously good for everyone regionally. And this ‘Trump supporting’ part of population would once again feel ignored, and retreat back into those communities where they are surrounded by people who believe what they believe.

America could then comfortably go back into denial about who they really are. Yes, there are plenty of wonderful qualities about Americans. They have this wonderful spirit of entrepreneurship, of sticking up for those that can’t stick up for themselves, and strong beliefs in freedom and opportunity. But like all of us, they have a dark side. And you can never conquer your darkest demons until you are forced to admit they exist.

Getting back to reality, with those painful results from Tuesday night America can’t hide from it anymore. They are like an alcoholic who finally has to admit they have a problem. But the truly wonderful thing about recognizing your problem is that this is a place of redemption. And it is the only place where real progress happens. You would never make great strides towards that future utopia absent of racism and sexism until you stop fooling yourself into believing they’re not there. Yes these are dark times, but this is rock bottom and the only way left is up.

Unfortunately the prototypical American approach for expediting change seems to be confrontation and brute force. They send troubled kids off to boot camp, yell at each other on talk shows, or troll the comments on social media. But this will NEVER work for values. Ultimately, this just pushes people into hiding until they see an opportunity to emerge again, likely with opinions more entrenched and extreme than ever.

American politics is also incredibly divisive. This is because of extremely long campaigns, an adversarial two party system, and relentless 24/7 news coverage. But in spite of all of these forces pushing the two sides apart, now more than ever we need a reason to come together.

Because I believe our potential for progress is directly reflected in the strength of our desire to find common ground. To get to that place where we are talking about values we need a starting point. And I believe we can all agree on a fundamental need for the following: Peace and Prosperity. Because during wartime people vote about peace, in peacetime people vote about prosperity, but in peaceful & prosperous times people vote about values.

Donald campaigned on, amongst other things, achieving prosperity in Middle America. Hillary’s camp retorted with talk about his values. But if you are concerned about getting food on the table you don’t give two shits about values. Just like if you are at war and a bomb might fall on your house, you don’t give two shits about jobs.

If you create a world where people are confident that there will always be a roof over their head, and food for their family, then and only then will everyone be willing to have open discussions on their values.

This is achieved in basically two ways. Social programs or job creation. If Donald can successfully create more well-paying jobs in Middle America then we should all rejoice because that brings us closer to that place where we can finally have meaningful discussion about values. The country then becomes an environment in which the root causes of sexism and racism can begin to be addressed in ways that will truly affect change.

Lets not kid ourselves either. The change from wartime to peacetime can be quick, repairing a broken economy and creating job can take years, but changing peoples core values takes generations and we must be patient.

In the meantime Americans must be more vigilant than ever in defending those core values. Because, as of January 20th, 2017, they won’t be represented in the Oval office. It will truly be a difficult time to be a Muslim, Black, Hispanic, or even a Woman in the US right now and they need us not only by their side, but standing on the front lines.