What is transpartisanship? Firstly, let us begin with a few recent definitions:
The term “Transpartisanship” has emerged to provide a meaningful alternative to “Bipartisanship,” and “Nonpartisanship.”
Bipartisanship limits the dialogue process to two political viewpoints or entities, striving for compromise solutions. Nonpartisanship, on the other hand, tends to deny the existence of differing viewpoints in exchange for cooperation.
Both the bipartisan and nonpartisan approaches can discount the multiplicity of viewpoints that exist, which often results in incomplete and therefore unsuccessful outcomes. In contrast to these, transpartisanship recognizes the existence and validity of many points of view, and advocates a constructive dialogue aimed at arriving at creative, integrated, and therefore, breakthrough solutions that meet the needs of all present. (Wikipedia entry: “Transpartisan”)
In practice, consciously crafted transpartisan solutions emerge from a new kind of public conversation that moves beyond polarization by applying proven methods of facilitated dialogue, deliberation and conflict resolution. In this way it is possible to achieve the ideal of a democratic republic by integrating the values of a democracy—freedom, equality, and a regard for the common good, with the values of a republic—order, responsibility and security.
These definitions provide insight into a newly emerging political worldview characterized by an acute awareness and frustration with the limitations of partisan politics, and a profound desire for meaningful dialogue resulting in pragmatic solutions to common political and social problems.
In order to provide further insight into the meaning of transpartisanship, it is helpful to position political parties and politics in general within a broad developmental context.
It is important to note that broad orienting generalizations can be helpful in positioning political parties and in order to identify the value groups or worldviews that comprise them. A few definitions will be helpful:
The Webster dictionary defines a worldview as “a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint” (Webster). Indeed, it is widely understood that such “worldviews” are sets of values or beliefs articulated in language that form “discourse communities”. As such, values, which are a linguistic phenomenon, allow us to interpret the world and make sense of the situations around us. They also allow us to form “discourse communities” with individuals that share the same values.
The insights of developmental psychology demonstrate that many individuals move through a developmental sequence of worldviews or developmental stages. A useful analogy to explain the developmental process in an individual is the metaphor of ladder, climber, view. From each rung in the developmental ladder, the climber – the self, perceives a different view of the world based on the values associated with that given developmental stage. An orienting generalization is helpful regarding developmental stages – though researchers have many different ways of slicing the developmental pie – with different developmental lines and “stage conceptions” – a simple model of development can provide significant insight. In this simplified model – individuals can move through four major worldviews or developmental stages – traditional, modern, post-modern and integral. Before defining these worldview stages, and examining the discourse communities that coalesce around the values articulated therein, a quick disclaimer about the language of development is necessary.
The language of developmental psychology is sometimes criticized as being elitist or judgmental. Some people don’t like talking about developmental “levels” or “stages” because they don’t want to put anyone down. This is an entirely valid concern, and sometimes people do use the language of developmental psychology in an elitist, biased or unfair way to advance their own agenda. However, if one really understands the developmental process: that each stage makes an important contribution which the following stage transcends and includes – then one understands that while higher stages may be more complex, lower stages are more fundamental. That is to say, without the key contributions of traditional consciousness, for example, we would not have the stable societal foundation upon which modernist consciousness takes root. Moreover, without the economic systems created by modernist consciousness, post-modern consciousness would not have a foundation upon which it could articulate it’s complex insights. So we must ensure that we are constantly examining whose interest are really being served by the language of development, though ultimately, the semantic risk is well worth the reward.
Thus, each worldview responds to a set of life conditions: early forms of traditional consciousness emerged from archaic forms of civilization; responding to nomadic and tribal societal structures and establishing sedentary agrarian societies. With these sedentary city-like social structures came the need for a strict black and white moral code – an essential contribution – with the emergence of the written word, the first laws were recorded – largely in the form of religious doctrine. Thus, the value sphere of morality (culture) began it’s gradual differentiation from the value spheres of art (self) and science (nature). Traditional consciousness is a value structure, or worldview that is still very much alive and well today – it is a key developmental milestone or station in life.
Because all individuals are born at square one – everyone moves through the developmental sequence from the beginning and has a right to stop at whatever station in life they are most comfortable at – or able to maintain. Traditional consciousness is defined by identification with a groups transcendent purpose. A great example of this can be found in some segments of the Evangelical movement in the united states, or in other religious worldviews around the world. These are manifestations of traditional consciousness. It is important to note however, that these are orienting generalization, and, research demonstrates that individuals can actually inhabit multiple developmental stages simultaneously. Thus, the house analogy is a good metaphor – there is a ground floor: the individual’s most consistent developmental altitude – the values they maintain roughly 50% of the time, the basement, the lower 25%, and the attic, the higher 25%. Discourse communities (value groups, religious organizations, political parties) function in similar ways – so we must be weary of branding any group as being characterized entirely by a given worldview stage as there can be examples of more complex or more fundamental thinking therein.
Once a stage has made it’s contribution however, it can become pathological. As a new stage – modernity for example, responds to the life conditions established by traditional consciousness, traditional consciousness can resist these changes. For example, by clinging to a strict black and white moral code that contrasts sharply with modern and post-modern desires for increased moral flexibility. A good example of this is the gay marriage issue – a large portion of the “religious” world, characterized by traditional consciousness, opposes the notion of same sex marriage. The identification with a groups transcendent purpose – in most cases, the authority of an interpretation of a religious text or scripture, defines for many people the response to the issue. Marriage is interpreted as being defined by many religious texts as the union of a man and a woman, and as such, people at the traditional stage of consciousness cannot deviate from this definition for fear of being ostracized from their discourse community. Modernist consciousness is sort of caught in the middle, with post-modern consciousness leading the charge for radical equality and pluralism – why can’t same sex couples get married, and be afforded the same legal and social status as heterosexual couples?
It will be useful to outline the key values of modernity and post-modernity prior to assessing their role in the Canadian political landscape.
While traditional consciousness is characterized by identification with a groups transcendent purpose, modernist consciousness values a growing economy and the ascension of the social hierarchies it creates. Loosely construed, the key value of modernist consciousness reflects it’s key contribution – a dynamic economic system which in turn allows willing/able/privileged individuals to climb the socio-economic ladder. Where traditional consciousness is defined by belongingness to a group, modernist consciousness is characterized by a “healthy” self-regard, a focus on the individual and his her place in society. Moreover, another way of conceptualizing modernity is with the rise of the scientific method and an emphasis on reason as opposed to religious doctrine. The American Republican party is an interesting mix of Traditional and Modernist consciousness. A useful generalization concerning one facet of the pathological aspect of modernity is that scientific progress constantly outpaces our ability to deal with the moral consequences of these innovations. Thus, scientific innovation outpaces moral and societal innovation.
In contrast to modernism, post-modernism shifts the focus again with the values of radical inclusion, pluralism, multiculturalism, egalitarianism and environmental stewardship. The emergence of French post-structuralism responds to modernity’s emphasis on science and reason by deconstructing the narratives of scientific progress to demonstrate underlying individual agendas – whose interests are narratives of scientific progress really serving? The liberal arts and associated academia are very much the bastion of post-modernity.They form a natural ally to labor unions and movements in support of social and income equality. One characteristic value of this group is simplistically summarized as “share the wealth” or, “tax the corporate elite and give a break to the middle class”. In fairness, this is also a modernist value – it really is in many ways a shared modern and post-modern value, though one shared by a greater percentage of post-moderns than moderns.
As discussed earlier, each stage responds to a set of life conditions – modernity differentiates the value spheres of art (beauty) morals (goodness) and science (truth) – in the modern world, scientific truth is no longer governed by the moral authority of the church (or religious doctrine/organization). However, in creating and growing a complex economic system, modernity also gives rise to a legacy of environmental degradation and socio-economic inequality – the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Thus, post-modernity attempts to respond to modernity by preserving it’s important contributions (the dignities of modernity) while negating it’s disastrous consequences (socio-economic inequality and environmental degradation). Thereby, the “green” movement emerges, along with labor unions and discourse communities that rally around values of pluralism, egalitarianism, and “looking out for the little guy”. The problem with post-modern ideology is that it often ignores the life conditions necessary for it’s own existence – often, post-modernist consciousness engages in a performative contradiction. For example, in stating that all perspectives are equal, because all perspectives are socially constructed, post-modernism is really stating that the best perspective is the worldview which says that all perspectives are equal. Thus, the statement of radical equality presupposes an inherent inequality. Moreover, and most importantly, post-modernism is often quick with a critique though lagging on pragmatic answers as to how it will fund or pay for the social programs many of it’s proponents envision. Thus, the modern and traditional response to post-modern ideas often are along the lines of “how will we ever afford that” or, “those ideas would bankrupt the country”.
Ultimately, the Canadian political landscape can be understood as a tug of war between three major discourse communities (or worldviews): traditional, modern and post-modern. This problem is compounded by the fact, as previously discussed, that each discourse community can have sub-factions at different developmental altitudes. For example, the Conservative Party of Canada is largely characterized by a complicated mixture of traditional and modernist worldviews, with a few oddball post-modern “fiscal conservatives” thrown in for good measure. The Liberal party, by a mixture of modern and post-modern values, and finally the New Democratic party by a mixture of post-modern and modern worldviews with a whole variety of outliers on every side of the spectrum. Thus, a developmental approach to politics can facilitate an understanding of the various political parties and the worldviews that support them. In so doing, it can begin to untangle this mess of values and raise the possibility of legitimate dialogue between these groups: transpartisanship.
An integral worldview, integral meaning comprehensive, whole and balanced, represents a distinct shift because it can recognize the essential and enduring contribution of each major worldview. While traditional consciousness is at war with modernism and post-modernism, and moderns and post-moderns fight each other, the integral worldview understands that without the enduring contributions of traditional consciousness – a stable societal framework governed by clearly defined rules or laws, there wouldn’t be room for more complex stages. Further, an integral perspective also understands that without the scientific and economic progress made possible by modernity, important conversations about equality, pluralism and environmental stweardship wouldn’t even begin to be feasible. Thus, an integral perspective can begin bridging the gap between the three major political ideologies outlined above, and foster meaningful dialogue. In a future post, I will examine the Canadian political system more closely, and begin to outline some of the concessions necessary on all sides in order to actualize some of the values of post-modernism, namely, increased income equality and environmental stewardship in a responsible, economically reasonable, and prudent way.