Russ closed the last part of this dialogue, “A challenge before us, then, is to demonstrate how multiple lenses can reduce perception of demi-reality and increase perception of reality.” Furthermore he suggested a set of criteria for a case study of the application of multiple lenses to a phenomenon of leadership.
Mark: I will make a few comments on each of the case study criteria you’ve outlined before we go into the details of the leadership scenario.
- Provide an opportunity to avoid metatheoretical or any other kind of reductionism;
Of course some type of reductionism is inherent in every view otherwise it would not be a perspective—meta or otherwise—but the territory itself. The issue here is of employing lenses that have as undistorted a form is possible, in that they are neither reduced to particular facets of a lens nor so holistic as to be without analytical capacity. Awareness of the limitations of one’s views and methods here is crucial. Limitations, for example, in which lenses are included and which are omitted from an analysis.
- Engage the distinction between leader as individual holon and leadership as collective holon;
I actually don’t make any distinction in particular between leadership as something an individual does and leadership as a collective quality. Once again it depends on how one views this topic, and on which lenses one employs to do that viewing.
- Demonstrate the application and relevance of the lenses, beginning with the assumption that the twenty-four you have identified are relevant and holding the possibility that our discussion will lead to identifying additional lenses;
I agree with this basic view that the 24 lenses identified in my research are very much open to debate in that some of them may be actually would be reduced in to more fundamental forms while others may not be included at all. Having said this however, my starting point is that these 24 lenses contribute unique perspectives on the study of social phenomena and that good evidence will need to be presented that convinces me otherwise.
- Be of such a generic nature as to apply or be relevant as a model approach across cultures (if that is possible);
I agree that these lenses are cross-cultural. But I would also say that there are many cultures whose lenses are absent from our present understanding of leadership. There are for example, many indigenous cultures whose views on leadership are not adequately represented in any academic literature. In my research I found only two papers that looked specifically at indigenous views towards organisational transformation. So it is not only a question of whether these lenses cut across the deep structures of human experience but also of sampling the many cultures whose views may be unrepresented in the development of how integral lenses in the first instance.
- Show how process is addressed in leading and in leadership; and
The issue of “process” is a complex one and can be dealt with in a variety of ways (Roy, 2006). I have included transition process as one of my fundamental lenses but I gather you mean something rather different here. I did consider long and hard to include a separate process-structure lens in my armoury of lenses but I decided that this dimension could be fully explained through recourse to the transition process lens. I felt that the structure-process distinction was accounted for by the combination of transition process and developmental holarchy lenses. But I may well be wrong there.
- Clarify where the challenges are for future efforts at exploring leading and leadership using metatheoretical foundations.
Yes, and for understanding better the failures of the past.
May I suggest that the scenario we choose deal with the issue of organisational transformation towards sustainability. I’ve noticed that this is a major theme in your discussions with eminent business and community leaders and this is the area where I feel my work has most relevance.
Russ: I deeply appreciate your keeping me honest and accurate. I have a few comments on your offering above.
1. “Of course some type of reductionism is inherent in every view otherwise it would not be a perspective— meta or otherwise—but the territory itself.” Yes. I agree. It would be more important to say something to the effect that we are clear about the perspective being used, its limitations and potential distortions. Consequently, we need to determine the repertory of lenses we will use in such a way as to take advantage of the constellation.
2. “I actually don’t make any distinction in particular between leadership as something an individual does and leadership as a collective quality.” Then, how about exploring the utility (or lack thereof) of such a distinction?
3. I think we are in agreement here. This is going to be a challenge to see the value added brought by the lenses.
4. This is biting off event more of a challenge. I am open to seeing how this unfolds.
5. Transition process it is. And then we can consider if this meets our needs for comprehending process in leadership.
6. A friendly amendment so accepted.
Do you have any other criteria that we should be clear about up front?
As for the scenario, your suggestion makes sense. I wonder if we could extend sustainability to the idea of thriving. I have been playing around with this a bit lately and consider it a more valuable idea than mere sustainability. While latter connotes adequacy, the former is more generative.
What do I mean by thriving? Well, it has something to do with win-win-win-win. It involves moving away from zero-sum games to creating situations in which there is winning at multiple levels for individuals and for the system and of analysis. I worry that this may come across as a bit of a polyanna approach, but I do think that we can evaluate what we are looking at it in terms of degrees of thriving; I am not suggesting an either or. And I am acknowledging that tests for value associated with phenomena are often ambiguous. Perhaps this is one of the attractions of functionality; it charges us with looking at products and implications that may be judged positive or negative. I suspect the multiple lenses may shed some light on this.
Otherwise, I think the choice of focus is excellent. Do you have a particular scenario in mind or do we build one?
Mark: I like your use of the term thriving rather than sustainability. The term “sustainability” has been so often misappropriated as to be almost meaningless now when used in an unqualified way. Thriving, flourishing and generativity capture a little more the transformational sense of sustainability in its authentic usage. But I think we can also use sustainability when it is seen within a truly transformational and intergenerational context.
For me, thriving refers to that type of flourishing growth which comes through participation in a life rich of diverse experience, in encountering difficulties, in dealing with loss, and in being with others, and in developing a deeper identity in oneself and one’s community. Thriving in this sense is a middle path that embraces both winning and losing, both fullness and emptiness, and perhaps also moves beyond any such distinctions. In developmental psychology thriving is used often in describing neonatal development. You have probably heard of those findings about young babies in orphanages and in other situations who suffer from a condition called “failure to thrive” (Batchelor, 1999). Basically, this was a condition of developmental fixation where physical, emotional and cognitive development was delayed significantly through lack of human contact, touch and embrace. Being confined to small cots and other featureless spaces, the children experienced no interpersonal warmth, play or interaction with each other or with significant adults. Although they had sufficient nutritional input, this lack of physical and emotional contact resulted in significant developmental retardation.
We might apply this developmental notion to the broader issue of sustainability. The unsustainable nature of our current lifestyles, organisational goals, economies and systems of consumption and production can be seen as a type of developmental fixation. A fixation with securing our physical, nutritional and personal needs which results in a type of developmental delay at the global level. In a very real sense I think that organisations are like young adolescents who have a sense of their physical stature, their personal rights and capacities to act and pursue egocentric goals but do not possess the requisite level of responsibility to the community, or recognize that their rights are interdependent with those of others. Organisations are growing in a physical sense, in a financial sense, in their ownership of assets and in their power to impact on physical and natural environments to a quite extraordinary level. But they are also suffering from a failure to thrive at an emotional level of basic interpersonal warmth, empathy, and consideration for “the other”. The extraordinary documentary film The Corporation is essentially based on this notion of developmental pathology in organizational identity and purpose. And I think this “lens” provides real insight into understanding the dilemmas we currently face at the global level with regard to such issues as authentic intergenerational sustainability or “thriving” as you are referring to here.
As to which scenario we might develop to discuss these issues, I leave that entirely to you Russ. Your knowledge of these issues and contact with extraordinary leaders is unparalleled in my experience and I would appreciate it greatly if you would choose some organisation or leadership event or experience that stands out for you as a subject for our discussions.
Russ: Thanks, Mark. I value how you have picked up on the notion of thriving. Your elaboration is most appropriate since it seems to me that thriving is about flourishing in every aspect of being, including relationships at all levels, meso, macro…The term is used frequently in relation to health and resilience in the face of environmental challenges, as well as in business development.
And I appreciate your adding that it is really about engaging with the full dimension of life, the gains and the losses, but taking them both as opportunities to build and grow, not in an attempt to control nature, but as a way of cooperating with nature so that all, well, thrive. For us this includes the material level of being, as well as the psychological by engaging both in drawing on our strengths and engaging our shadow, cognitively building new meaning while letting go of what is no longer useful for thriving, and finding an engagement with values, ethics and spirit that also requires confronting ambiguities and our demons.
Yes, the same can be said for leaders and for organizations. And I accept your challenge to offer a scenario. Yet, before I do, I would like to go back to one other element of your original response about the distinction between leader and leadership. You say the distinctions we make depend on the lens. I can accept that, providing that it means that before exploring any lens we talk about its implications for the way leader and leadership are defined and what distinctions are indicated. I think it would be valuable also to reflect on the application of the lens for these definitions and distinctions.
For me, I begin with the assumption that leader and leading is about individuals and leadership is about the collective. I also see examining a leader as a “moment” in the life of an individual and a system, while examining leadership is looking at many individuals over the life of a system. I am open to modifying and even radically changing this notion as we proceed.
In the meanwhile, I have come across a definition of leadership that expresses some of what I have been trying to get at with these distinctions. Hazy, Goldstein and Lictenstein (2007) state,
“ leadership in complex systems takes place during interactions among agents when those interactions lead to changes in the way agents expect to relate to one another in the future. This change can be due to changes in a perceived purpose, strategy or objective, or to changes in perceived norms as to acceptable choices, behaviours and communication.” [Hazy et al, 2007, p. 7, italics in the original.]
I don’t much care for the use of the term “lead” and I assume that they are trying to avoid implying a material result from the interactions. Perhaps the substituting “resulting in” might not be a serious problem, though. In any case, they go on to note that,
“ Effective leadership occurs when the changes observed in one or more agents (i.e. Leadership) leads to increased fitness for that system in its environment. We define fitness in relation to some metric of sustainability, especially in terms of evolution selection.” (p. 7, italics in the original.]
Again, the use of “lead,” but that aside, I think their notion of effectiveness is very much in keeping with the way we are talking about thriving. I take their point that thriving in relation to context (environment…) is a question of adaptability to that changed context, and I would add, to the extent that it also prepares us for unanticipated consequences. Here I am concerned that increasing fitness for the current context occurs to such extent that it results in an inability to see changes in context as they occur. This is the frog in the boiling water thing. The frog has evolved to thrive in water. Place the frog in cold water and gradually increase the temperature and it will allow itself to boil to death.
I also find intriguing that their approach is virtually all about relationships in context. It is not about control or influence, per se, although these may be elements that may occur in these relationships. It admits to many different kinds of interactions as long as they result in changes about the intention or nature of the relationships in the future. It does not say that personal style or skills are necessary for these relationships, although it leave it open as to whether or not such things can impact changes.
So, perhaps this might be a place to start in our explorations, once the scenario is defined. I will work on initial construction of such a scenario as you consider these comments. I wonder if you would rather this be a scenario about a business organization facing the challenges of today’s world ecology/economy or more political, e.g. a political leader or candidate seeking to guide his/her country during these challenges. On the one hand, I would be interested in a CEO like John Mackey leading Whole Foods in the face of such challenges, for I see the changes in resource allocations and the carbon footprint as having a major impact on his company. Or I would be interested in looking at what a Barack Obama needs to do to win the presidency. In both such cases, we may need to make many, many assumptions. Any thoughts on this?
Mark: Why don’t we go for the main event and see what we come up with for Obama vs McCain. Perhaps this moves things a little from scenario to commentary, but at least it sets up some comparative dynamic.
As for your definition of leader/leading and leadership, I understand your distinctions and am quite happy to hold to them. I like your time-related distinction in leading being a snapshot of an event and leadership being the movie. As for leading being about the individual and leadership the collective, I’m not so sure. Organisations can be leaders in their industry and individuals can display great leadership, so I’m not sure if this individual-collective thing holds too well. This is why I say it depends on what lenses you are applying. But this is not important and such things are sorted in the course of the conversation, it’s not a major issue.
Something that is a little more pointed for me is this definition of effective leadership. Many leadership definitions include something about moving the organisation in a more adaptive fit with its environment or as your quote puts it “increased fitness for that system in its environment”. I think this environmental adaptation element in leadership to be more about translational leadership than transformational. I know that the translational-transformational distinction is usually only applied to the internal environment of the organisation but I see no reason why it can’t also apply to the external environment. What I mean here is that effective translational leadership is more about adapting the organisation to some existing commercial or economic or technological environment while effective transformational leadership is about setting the standard irrespective of the state of the organisational environment. To my mind the translational form of effectiveness is more about strategic alignment and adjustment to some environmental trend.
I think this is precisely what you are getting at with your comment that effective leadership is also about preparing for “ unanticipated consequences.” And I agree that it is the capacity to move the organisation into new territory (rather than simple functional adaptation) that is the hallmark of effective transformational leadership. This is why this boiling frog metaphor is so apt for our times. This metaphor is all about mediation and environmental scanning. The frog’s skin does not mediate (communicate) the key environmental signals that are relevant to the dire situation it is in. Each increase in temperature is communicated as just another slight rise and there’s no cause for concern. The mediating means on which the frog’s life depends (the temperature receptors in its skin) are incapable of relaying the information about the important changes in the frog’s environment. We are in exactly this situation today. Our media and centres of communication and public opinion are not communicating the important signals of environmental change that are happening in global environments (and I mean here not just natural environments but also social, economic and political). The great majority of scientists are doing their best but I feel that many of our political, media and corporate leaders are doing much to obfuscate the issue. So do we want to functionally adapt to a world that is warming up and losing its ecological and biological integrity or do we want to move to a new way of being and doing that sees growth in new terms? Whatever arena we chose to discuss leadership issues – the political or the commercial – this will be one of the major questions that we will need to consider.
Russ: I like your responses and am very comfortable with your observations about translational and transformational objectives of leadership. Okay. Obama-McCain. Perhaps we can compare and contrast. That would enrich this exploration. In the meanwhile, here is an initial statement and set of questions. Let’s refine this and then get into it with all four feet (add McCain, if the comparison seems like a useful way to go)!
The proposed scenario is: Barack Obama is presenting himself as a leader to a national population in the hope of being elected to a position of national (and international) power and influence in the years 2007-2008.
I propose an initial set of questions we might seek to explore in our analysis.
- How can the six types of lenses of morphological categories be applied to this analysis?
- Holarchical (what)
- Bipolar (why)
- Cyclical (how)
- Relational (when)
- Standpoint (who)
- Multimorphic (several questions)
- We can draw upon one or more lens in each category as a way to demonstrating the value-added of each. Each lens seeks to answer a different question about Obama’s leading. Each lens acts as a means for describing Obama’s operational approach to leading, i.e., relates to a theory of leadership (Table 9.2).
- Since each category is related to change, how will they assist us in understanding the nature of the change Obama seeks to lead toward?
- What blind spots does each of the categories tend to manifest and what categories are required to expose and address them?
- How do we include questions of scale in focusing this analysis?
- Individual (micro)
- Group/relationship (meso)
- Organizational (macro)
- How does this approach help us in seeing the dynamic complexity of Obama’s approach to leading at the various scales?
- How does this approach help us understand the landscape of political dynamics and structures related to the question of Obama’s representation as a leader? Here I have in mind all (or at least some) of the array of “constituencies” who will be reacting/responding to Obama.
Is this a useful set of questions to consider or to attend to as we proceed?
Mark: These are all useful questions Russ, and we could spend many hours discussing any one of them. Before we start I would like to repeat that in asking any of these questions we need to remember that metatheory is first and foremost about the analysis of theory (i.e. formal theories, models, systems of thought, cultural paradigms). Metatheory is valid as an analytical tool for discussing the big picture rather than the empirical event. Of course we can use metatheory to make truth claims that have empirical implications but those claims can never be empirically tested via metatheory. So we need to be careful in making assumptions about the empirical world that are based purely on our metatheoretical speculations.
So on to our scenario/topic – Obama’s campaign for the US presidency. Of course one of the major features of this context will be the issue of race and race relations in the USA and this will be a fascinating area to explore in terms of an integral metatheory. I must admit that I think this will be the deciding issue in this election and that I expect McCain to win the presidency because of it, but I certainly hope that I am proven wrong here. Whatever the outcome, I admire the integrity of those who chose Obama to be the Democratic candidate – this has been a truly remarkable achievement whatever happens.
Let’s begin with a quadrants framework that I laid out in Part 7 of our talks. I need to stress that this is not the same as Wilber’s four quadrants which crosses the interior-exterior lens with individual-collective lens. Rather, this framework crosses interior exterior with agency-communion (which might also be called autonomy–relationality). Agentic vision is the directional and intentional aspect of leadership that possesses visionary capacities that inspire and instil confidence in others. Obama clearly has great depth in this visionary aspect of leadership and his capacity to inspire others is undeniable. I will be very interested to see how his mantra of “Change” is matched with real visionary policies that can lead you emotionally to a new place.
Agentic action is the directional and intentional aspect of leadership that possesses behavioural capacities that inspire and instil confidence in others. This is the realm of deeds and actions. The fact that Obama has taken the action of running for the presidency, of going through the obviously challenging behavioural undertaking of leading a campaign team and going through all the actions that are required to take on this immense task is evidence of his behavioural leadership. This active aspect of leadership will be tested when he needs to make decisions that will alienate important stakeholders. How he deals with the inevitable antagonism among those whose power will be threatened will be central to his capacity to make good on his visionary platform.
Communal or relational vision is that aspect of leadership which meshes with shared values, communal aspirations and collective identities. Here it is the capacity of the leader to feel at one with the group’s identity with the cultural makeup of the relevant communities that is particularly important. The leader needs to reflect back to the community this identity and affirm its authenticity and value. This is the quality that I find most endearing about Obama’s leadership. Although there have been one of two (inevitable) hiccups related to his capacity to identify with particular subcultures within certain states, Obama’s capacity to walk the fine line of authenticity in identifying with common cultural values and aspirations has been extremely impressive. It is also in this area (and in the domain of leadership roles) that his opponents will target many of their most direct criticisms. While his values and policies may be relatively conservative, his heritage and upbringing are not those of the American mainstream and this will be a focus for the opposing campaign. However, his decision to take on the race issue and bring it to the forefront of the campaign with his “a more perfect Union” speech has been a sign of his true leadership potential.
Figure 11.1 Vision and Action Domains
Finally, we have the domain of communal action. This is the domain not of specific deeds but of leadership role(s). This aspect of leadership is often misunderstood and greatly underestimated. A large proportion of any single person’s capacity to lead comes from being in a leadership role. The role actually confers these capacities upon the person leading. This area is Obama’s greatest weakness. He has only been a senator for a short period and has not been in leadership roles of any magnitude that would typically be required of a candidate for such a position. He clearly has a sense of being capable of taking on this role and in many ways it is his great oratory skills that enable the American public to imagine him fulfilling the role of president. But the campaign that will follow will seriously undermine the public’s confidence in his ability to field such a role. Hillary Clinton’s campaign technique of bringing attention to the gap between his great rhetorical skills and his lack of experience in leadership roles is only a foretaste of what will follow.
So it is at the communal end of these domains that I see Obama facing his biggest challenge from his opposition. There is no questioning his vision or his capacity to act decisively at the personal level of individual agency. However, how he connects with the broad centre of American values and communicate his capacity to fulfil the role of president will be two areas of particular vulnerability for him. Both these domains touch on the area of race in different ways and it will be very interesting to see how he handles this.
At some point, I would like to bring in the social mediation lens and consider how each of these aspects of Obama’s leadership is mediated into the broader American public and how the leadership of his campaign responds to the changing tides of public opinion, media representation, and opposing policies and strategies. But before doing that, there is one thing which I would find useful for our analysis here. Would you be able to sketch out perhaps 12-15 different policy areas and very briefly mark out the differences between the two positions – the Obama Democrat and the McCain Republican – on those policy areas. Here’s a starting list of some policy areas: Foreign affairs, Economic Policy, Financial, Health, Drugs, Education, Environmental issues, Global Warming, Law and Order, Defence Policy, Media, Constitutional matters, Immigration, Guns, Freedom of information. I’ll leave it up to you to develop this further but I’d like to lay a platform for discussing Obama’s leadership in terms of policy direction and of transformation in government direction on real issues.
Russ: While I understand your pessimism with regard to Obama candidacy for the Presidency, I think you may be underestimating the American public’s distrust of Republicans these days with regard to war, the economy, unemployment, individual freedoms, taxation, health care, to name a few issues. However, how this election turns out is only partly influenced by either Obama or McCain. Intervening variables play a big role. A really good example of that is the position of the Iraqi government on a timetable for withdrawal; this has certainly undercut Bush, as well as McCain who has stood strongly against timetables.
Now, before I proceed, I need to have full disclosure about my own political position, since it influences what we are about to undertake here. I have been a registered Democrat for many years. Generally, I have supported Democrat candidates for office at all levels. However, I have also chosen to support Peace and Freedom Party and Green Party candidates for some offices in some elections. I was active in small ways in the Civil Rights movement, the free speech and anti-war movements of the ‘60s while being a graduate student (PhD and MA) in Political Science at Berkeley.
This suggests that I come in with a left of center bias on many of the issues that you want to consider. So, let’s see what I can offer. First, let me note that some of these are complex, that is, there are multiple issues in the categories you offer. For example, Foreign Affairs includes relationships with Latin American countries (a lot of diversity there already), Asia, Africa, Middle East, Europe, and, yes, even Australia and New Zealand. Also, by Financial, I am not sure what you mean or how you distinguish this from Economic Policy. Finally, my first shot at this will be fairly high level and I will try to be more objective on this that I feel going into it.
Let me offer an example of my biased reactions. Both Obama and McCain say they support tax cuts for the middle class. However, when you do the math it turns out that Middle Class tax payers will receive about 40% more tax break under Obama’s proposal than under McCain’s. Furthermore, McCain supports a continuation of Bush’s tax policy that has resulted in huge tax savings for the wealthy and contributed to growing disparity of income as the Middle Class shrinks in economic power and even sinks into lower economic status. My teeth are grinding as I key this in, so I hope that I am up to the challenge of keeping my bias under control.
For anyone who wants the information from “the horse’s mouth” here are two links:
- Foreign Affairs:
Obama: The overarching theme of his foreign policy is one of diplomacy and consultation internationally and bipartisan engagement domestically. The focus of his discussion of foreign policy has included direct negotiations with Iran (his variations on the theme on this in recent weeks have been highlighted in “news” reports. Also, increased collaboration with allies, ending the conflict in Darfur, humanitarian initiatives in Iraq and Africa as part of a fight against global poverty, expand the diplomatic presence of the United States around the world, strengthening NATO and maintaining close ties with South Korea, Japan and Australia (I had to include that on in this summary.
McCain:The only theme in his material relates to the war in Iraq, supporting economic development in Iraq, continuing international pressure on Syria and Iran. His official site refers to no other foreign policy stances other than related to energy and global warming. I will treat those in their categories below. Let me just add that my impression is that McCain is advocating a continuation of the Bush administration’s neo-Con approach to foreign policy which has recently been seen to both re-enter international cooperation and sabre rattling.
- Economic Policy and Financial:
Obama: He includes eight elements in his economic policy—taxes, trade, technology, labor, home ownership, bankruptcy reform, credit cards, and work-family. He starts from the premise that Republican tax cuts have benefited the wealthy and wants to push such savings down into the Middle Class at the expense of the wealthy. He also wants to revisit trade agreements to assure that they are not injurious to American workers, while providing transition assistance to workers whose jobs are lost in the form of training and education. In order to promote further employment opportunities he wants to double government investment in new technology development. He wants to leverage innovations dealing with climate change and environmentally friendly technologies to generate more employment opportunities for US workers. He wants to strengthen the labor movement and organizing capabilities to protect US workers and redress the imbalances that have occurred in recent decades. He also wants to increase the minimum wage. Obama wants a Universal Mortgage Credit for tax relief, changes to the mortgage industry and relief for potential defaulters, including changes in laws that constrain bankruptcy courts from revising mortgage loan repayments. He wants to address predatory practices by credit card companies. Finally, Obama want to redress family/work imbalances by innovations in childcare, paid leave from work, and caregiver opportunities.
McCain:His focus is on gasoline tax relief and eliminating subsidies and trade barriers for crops use in ethanol or by consumers. He wants to provide some relief for “victims” of the mortgage crisis, but this is not likely to effect more than a small portion of these people. He also wants an investigation of those who developed the practices leading to the mortgage crisis. He also wants to make sure that loans are available to students from state lending institutions (presumably with some federal support.) I have already characterized his approaches to taxes above. He wants to simplify the tax system, but does not indicate how he will do that. In addition he will seek to cut government spending through reforms. He also wants to reform assistance to the unemployed with an emphasis on training and education programs and diversion of apportion of unemployment insurance into a fund that can be used to offset loss of income or diverted to retirement.
- Health Care:
Obama:He proposes a public plan and a National Health Insurance Exchange to assure there is universal coverage. He will address costs of health care through the development of information systems, approaches to quality of care and government support related to catastrophic illness.
McCain:He proposes to reduce the cost of insurance through market forces. He will work with the states to develop a guaranteed access plan to health coverage. He would emphasize prevention and healthy life style programs (stop smoking!), seeking means to reduce Medicare costs and developing ways to address chronic illnesses at lower costs.
- Drugs: I do not know if either has taken a position on the “war on drugs.” Here I focus on prescription drugs. I will guess, however, Obama would like to see changes in the ways drug abuses are dealt with and that McCain would continue the Bush Administration policies.
Obama: He would allow purchasing of drugs from other developed countries and encourage the use of generics in Medicare. He would support government negotiations with drug companies to lower costs.
McCain: He would support information systems development and open the US drug market to import of lower cost drugs from abroad.
Obama:Obama wants to reintroduce early childhood education and reform Bush’s No Child Left Behind approach that he sees as having failed and demoralized those in the field of education. He would provide funding for the law (which Bush never did) and improve assessments so that they are more individualized. He would emphasize recruitment, training and rewarding teachers. Obama would also develop programs to address drop out rates.
McCain:Essentially, McCain will continue the Bush approach that emphasizes competition among schools for increasing performance. He will “pursue reforms that address the underlying cultural problems in our education system – a system that still seeks to avoid genuine accountability and responsibility for producing well-educated children.”
- Environmental Issues and Global Warming:
Obama: He has proposed a cap and trade program on pollutants. He has also told automakers that they have no more excuses for failing to increase energy efficiency and lower pollution from their vehicles. He proposes to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. One strategy is to increase investment in clean technologies, including clean coal technologies. He would reposition the United States as a leader in addressing global climate change.
McCain: His focus is on decreasing dependency on foreign oil through domestic and offshore development of oil and natural gas fields. He, too, would challenge automakers to improve fuel efficiency and reduce pollutants. He would increase government investment in new technologies, but at a lower rate than would Obama. He also supports a cap and trade program on pollutants. He proposes construction of 45 nuclear power plants by 2030 in the US.
- Law and Order: The primary issue here is gun control. Both have supported the recent Supreme Court decision that upholds the rights of citizens to own weapons which they can keep in their homes. This is a complex and nuanced issue and we have not heard the last of it in terms of local government efforts to control arms.
Obama: He supported local gun control laws, but seems to have reversed himself on this by supporting the Supreme Court decision. He has never opposed citizen rights to own weapons, but has supported development of effective means for keeping guns off the street, primarily with controls on gun dealers.
McCain: He generally takes a hands off policy regarding weapons and ammunition, basically opposing any restrictions on automatic weapons or types of ammunition. He does want stricter controls of sales of weapons at gun shows through more thorough documentation and background checks.
- Defence Policy: This is an area of focus by McCain forces against Obama. The amount of negative rhetoric about Obama’s defence proposals being a threat to the United States is considerable. Obama, in turn, focuses on the negative aspects of McCain continuing Bush’s policies.
Obama:He wants to expand the military ground forces by almost 100k. He wants to improve training, provide advanced equipment and strengthen the National Guard and Reserves, including making the Chief of the National Guard a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He wants to promote a bipartisan approach to defence policy and get the politics out of intelligence services, while reducing secrecy. He would work toward a “nuclear free world” by strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and eliminating as much as possible access to nuclear materials by terrorists, including developing a global ban on the production of new nuclear weapons material. He would continue to work with Russia to expand the ban on intermediate-range missiles and make this a global agreement.
McCain: He vows to continue the fight against terrorism, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. He wants to develop an effective missile defence system, modernize the armed services and increase the size of the military. He wants to modernize military defence spending practices.
- Media: This one seems to me to be a matter of style and strategy. Obamawants to leverage his elocutionary skills with large audiences. His contacts with the press so far seem to be mostly in press conferences. McCain (who totally lacks them) wants to focus on more intimate face-to-face contact. He seems very comfortable in sitting around and chatting with the press, to the extent that sometimes they complain that they wish he would leave them alone to file their stories.
- Constitutional matters: To the best of my knowledge, neither are advocating any amendments to the constitution. One related issue is the appointment of judges with Obama indicating McCain appointees would continue the growing conservatism of the Supreme Court and McCain claiming that Obama’
Obama: Recently, renewal of the FISA legislation for monitoring communications as a tool for fighting terrorism was ultimately supported by Obama with his vote in the Senate, thus providing Bush an opportunity to claim victory. This vote concerned me enough that I contacted the Obama campaign. Here is the response that I received:
Given the grave threats that we face, our national security agencies must have the capability to gather intelligence and track down terrorists before they strike, while respecting the rule of law and the privacy and civil liberties of the American people. There is also little doubt that the Bush Administration, with the cooperation of major telecommunications companies, has abused that authority and undermined the Constitution by intercepting the communications of innocent Americans without their knowledge or the required court orders.
That is why last year I opposed the so-called Protect America Act, which expanded the surveillance powers of the government without sufficient independent oversight to protect the privacy and civil liberties of innocent Americans. I have also opposed the granting of retroactive immunity to those who were allegedly complicit in acts of illegal spying in the past.
After months of negotiation, the House passed a compromise that, while far from perfect, is a marked improvement over last year’s Protect America Act. Under this compromise legislation, an important tool in the fight against terrorism will continue, but the President’s illegal program of warrantless surveillance will be over. It restores FISA and existing criminal wiretap statutes as the exclusive means to conduct surveillance – making it clear that the President cannot circumvent the law and disregard the civil liberties of the American people. It also firmly re-establishes basic judicial oversight over all domestic surveillance in the future.
It does, however, grant retroactive immunity, and I voted in the Senate three times to remove this provision so that we could seek full accountability for past offenses. Unfortunately, these attempts were unsuccessful. But this compromise guarantees a thorough review by the Inspectors General of our national security agencies to determine what took place in the past, and ensures that there will be accountability going forward. By demanding oversight and accountability, a grassroots movement of Americans has helped yield a bill that is far better than the Protect America Act.
It is not all that I would want. But given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives – and the liberty – of the American people.
So it seems that we can count on Obama to moderate if not ameliorate the assault on individual freedoms and constitutional protections repeatedly assaulted by Bush and crew.
McCain: His position of FISA has changed over the months. He had indicated opposition to Bush Administration unilateral monitoring of communications of American citizens. More recently he has indicated he will continue the Bush Administration policies. He has been strongly critical of Congress for delays in passing FISA without regard for or any demonstrated concern about loss of constitutional rights. This issue is one the Democrats attack McCain on.
Obama:He wants to secure the borders, crack down on employers, repair the system and assure that families are kept together. This last point involves the fact that children born in the United States of illegal immigrants are US citizens. But there parents are not and there are cases where parents have been deported and their children left behind, as well as cases where the deportation resulted in the deportation of the citizen child. Obama has indicated a desire to work with Mexican economic development to reduce the reasons why there is such immigration. He also wants something like a guest worker program for industries requiring it.
McCain:He has indicated that the first order of business is security national borders. He would work to assimilate immigrant populations. He has not, as best as I can determine, indicated what he will do about illegal immigrants, other than refuse all public services (health care, education, etc.) to them. A strong case can be made that he supported some form of amnesty. This is a loaded concept in conservative politics, so it needs to be understood. I think for McCain it meant providing a means for illegal immigrants to become legal and, eventually, to become citizens. Now he has totally departed from his earlier position and opposes “amnesty” without indicating how it differs from his earlier position. Nevertheless he is for some form of reform of the immigration system.
- Guns: I think I addressed this above.
- Freedom of information:
Obama: He wants to open government through technology and the internet to make government information readily accessible. This would include live webcast of agency meetings, public ability to track government grants and contracts, and p;ublic review and comment online of proposed legislation. Generally speaking, Obama represents himself as valuing open government. Included in his approach is restoring scientific integrity in government reports.
McCain: McCain values access of the public to government information, including his commitment to expose financial abuses to the public. He has advocated continuing classification of some Viet Nam war documents.
Well, there you have it. It might be asked, what have I left out? Well, both candidates talk about government reform, particularly reducing the influence of lobbyists. However, it seems McCain’s campaign draws heavily on lobbyist support in staffing and fund raising. Obama does not. Both candidates want better treatment of veterans. And we haven’t looked at agricultural policy and, well, we could go on.
Now I am curious. I have laid this out. I have not done that great a job of being “objective.” But this is a place to start. What’s next?
Mark: Well, now we have a few distinctions betweens these leaders, so I guess our scenario might as well be considered as referring to the leadership challenge that faces both Obama and McCain. There are many ways we could proceed from here. Here are some options:
1. We could map the profiles of each leader according to the 24 different lenses. Table 9.2 in part 9 of our discussions lists the full set of 24 integral lenses as they apply to theories of leadership. We could simply go through each of the policy areas that you have identified and discuss the capacities and actions of and both leaders according to these 24 lenses.
2. We could also combine some lenses of interest to create a metatheoretical framework for comparing Obama and McCain. For example, we could take the quadrant matrix described above and assess the qualities of each leader according to these domains of vision, values, roles and deeds.
3. Another option would be to apply these lenses to some core aspect of the campaign. For example, we could take one of the policy areas that you described above such as health or foreign policy and analyse the policy initiatives of each of the candidates with respect to this area.
4. Another interesting approach might be to take what could be called a “campaign battleground” such as health, housing, race relations/immigration, middle-American values, terrorism, change or economic credibility and apply some lenses or combination of lenses to this campaign battleground in terms of how it is communicatively framed (as in George Lakoff’s meaning of framing political messages (Lakoff, 2004)).
A particularly interesting aspect of this last option for me would be to consider how each of the candidates deals with the issue of race, immigration, illegal workers and of race relations. As I stated before, my expectation is that Obama will not be successful in this campaign primarily because of the race issue. I know that this is a rather extreme view given the disaster of the last eight years for the United States under a Republican Administration. I have only a passing knowledge of American politics but it seems to me that Obama must win the contest in the southern states to win the prize. And here race will be a major issue.
To this point his leadership in terms of dealing with this race issue has been quite impressive. For example, I am sure that he would have received much advice to cut himself off from his association with the pastor of his church, Jeremiah Wright, after the issue was first raised. Instead, he decided to take on the issue of race directly in his “more perfect union” speech. As Wright continued to express his views, Obama decided to review his association and announce his separation from his former mentor. This has been no doubt presented as flip-floping by his opponents, but for me it shows Obama’s flexibility in assessing his response to crucial campaign issues. The real issue here is how the candidates can present their respective messages via the social mediation of the mass media. So for me the framing of the race issue via the lens of social mediation will be one of the most interesting ways of considering the leadership battle between these two candidates.
Using the mediation lens provides a very different window of interpretation to that of the developmental holarchy lens. The mediation approach sees the social environment of the individual group or community as crucial in understanding their developmental profile. From this perspective people and groups are not to be understood as acting from some particular developmental level but as expressing their identity within a certain context. People do not vote in a certain way because they come from some level of values or cognition or moral development but because of the mediation of values or ideas through which their social environment is constituted. Potato farmers in Idaho do not vote conservative because they have conservative values but because their views are mediated by conservative means of communication. This is the Sociogenetic understanding of development that the social mediation lens is sensitive to. So when Obama talks of the “bitterness” of small town America he falls right into the expectations of particular frames and elements of the mass media. It will take quite some sophistication in his campaign to walk the narrow path of expressing his visionary ideas about change while doing so in a way that does not unsettle the conservative regard for retaining current social positions (which are so powerfully reinforced by the stereotypes that the “sound bite” media works with).
McCain on the other hand has to walk the thin line between promoting a vision of stability and a return to core values without stimulating or manipulating the media in their framing of the race issue. He will come under considerable pressure to do so and in some ways I think this issue might be out of his hands and rather too subtle a process for him to control. For example, the issue of race and Obama’s lack of leadership experience can be very subtly interwoven. The coming months will see a barrage of images and contexts that the American public will be subjected to that will act as a mediating filter on any positive vision that Obama presents. So the promise of change will be reframed as a threat of insecurity and this will resonate with the racial divides that are still prominent in American life.
The temptation for Obama will be to make himself “a small target” for the super imposing of easily mediated negative stereotypes. The danger in this is that he will reduce the visionary element of his message so that conservative fears of change will be allayed. This is the ongoing quandary of progressive parties. How do they present a vision of change such that it does not resonate with people fears of change. We’ve had this situation highlighted in Australia over the last 12 years where labour leaders ran small target campaigns. In the long run these sorts of campaigns to destroy a progressive party’s reputation as being based on some substantive visionary principles and they actually undermine the core purpose of progressive political ideas. From my very limited understanding it seems that the Democratic Party in America has fallen into this trap.
Where conservative parties often attempt to appeal to the common security fears and concerns of voters (either in terms of national defence, economic security, law and order, maintaining social class and n position, maintaining financial status quo, etc) progressive parties are more about appealing to people’s hopes about visionary change. This is the real difference between conservative and progressive parties. Of course there will be conservative and progressive elements within any political party but these issues of stability and visionary change are the central foundations upon which the spectrum of political parties is based. In terms of my lenses this would be a lens of transformation-translation, where transformation is obviously about visionary change and translation about integrative stability.
Unlike Wilber, I do not think that the interior-exterior lens is the best one for explaining the division between left and right political groupings. It might have some relevance but by far the most important lens for distinguishing between Republican-right and Democratic-left is the individual-collective lens (what I call the ecological holarchy lens). I don’t think that there is any great difference in focus on interior-exterior domains between the parties and their policies. The Democrats have their values as much as the Republicans. And the Republicans have their policies on social behaviours and collective systems just as much as the Democrats.
It’s the individual-collective lens that really cuts between them. When posed with the question “What is the source of human suffering/happiness?” Republican answers are much more likely to respond with something about the individual, whereas Democrats are much more likely to respond with something about the social group or organisation or community or collective or government. This makes it much more difficult for Democrats to present their message through forms of mass media that rely so much on the visual imagery of the individual. It’s much easier to show a talking head on television than a social system. So when television deals with crime it shows individuals being arrested and not a graphic of an organised crime network; and with terrorism it shows an individual in a balaclava rather than a terrorist network or government military force (most terrorism is state-sponsored, of course); with an ailing health system it interviews some unfortunate in a hospital bed rather than covering the details of an alternative national health scheme; and with drug issues it shows the addict rather than the social situation in which the addict is embedded. This is also why reality television is so appealing and addictive—because we are attracted to the lives and stories of individuals and so every good or ill in the world becomes a question of individual happenstance rather than systemic structure. This is also one reason why Republicans use television with much greater effect than Democrats. Not only can they frame the issues with more powerfully coded messages but those messages are also visually locked in to the individualist worldview and the mediation of a social message is much more difficult. Obama, like the leader of every political party that takes a more collective viewpoint (even if only marginally so) faces huge challenges in conveying his message of systemic change. In any event systemic change is inherently more threatening to individuals.
So Obama’s leadership qualities will be evident in how he juggles this issue of progressive vision while not stimulating the fears that can be so easily manipulated through the social mediation of stereotypes that television and now even the Internet can reproduce so easily. McCain’s leadership will be seen in how he promotes stability and integrative legitimacy while not appealing to easily tapped fears, and particularly those regarding race. But already we see that McCain’s campaign is jumping on those easily distorted the details and I refer specifically to the US Army refusing Obama access to the military hospital in Germany. McCain immediately distorted this into Obama choosing to play golf or something over supporting injured American heroes. And I don’t think it’s going to get any better than this.
Now, taking your summaries of the respective policy positions of the two leaders we could extend these ideas to each of the policy areas and see how these might play out via some “mediation challenges”. These mediation challenges arise because of the intervening nature of the mediating means, i.e. media companies, internet, entertainment programs, talk shows, advertisements, movies, songs, etc.
Policy Areas and Candidates Basic Stances on –
- Foreign Affairs:
- Obama: diplomacy and international consultation
McCain:close ties with allies, military option
- Economic Policy:
- Obama: more equitable taxation and wage policies
McCain:maintenance of current policies
- Obama:Move towards a more public health system
McCain:Reduce the health costs through market forces.
- Obama:no clear policy direction
McCain:continuation of current policies
- Obama:early childhood education, targeted support programs
McCain:McCain will continue the Bush approach that emphasizes competition.
- Global Warming:
- Obama: A cap and trade program on carbon.
McCain: Security of energy through domestic oil, gas and nuclear.
- Law & Order:
- Obama: Supports modest regulation of gun ownership.
McCain: Supports status quo.
- Defence Policy:
- Obama:Expand military, “nuclear free world”, focus on Afganistan
McCain: continue current policies
- Constitutional Matters:
- Obama: A conservative approach to constitutional issues
McCain: A more conservative approach to constitutional issues
- Obama:Secure the borders, keep families together, guest worker program
McCain:Security national borders a priority, opposes “amnesty”
- Freedom of information:
- Obama: Open government, more access for media, accountability
McCain: Accountability, more scrutiny of government budgets
Table 11.1: Comparison of mediation challenges for the respective leaders
Notice how the challenges for Obama relate more to overcoming mediated stereotypes while those for McCain involve questioning more fact-based arguments. You can see from this very simplistic listing of mediation challenges that Obama faces considerably more problems in communicating his message than does McCain. There is nothing particularly special in this for Obama or any other leader of a relatively more progressive party. As I have said the tendency for progressive parties to have a greater focus on policies of systemic and visionary change rather as opposed to the conservative message of the status quo (or “reform” to the simpler traditions of yesteryear), individual security and stability makes the task all the more difficult when it comes to the visual electronic media.
Obama really needs to have a two pronged point to any of his messages, be they related to visions, deeds, values or roles. One needs to be visionary and to encapsulate images/ideas of change towards a more hopeful future. The other needs to be integrative in that he needs to reassure people of ongoing stability, the retaining off past values and cultural identities. Again, this will be a difficult path to walk given that it is so easy to reduce such a message to one of flip-floping ambulance and lack of decisive leadership double-edged. In many ways this was Kerry’s weak point and the conservatives targeted this difficulty in selling progressive politics with great precision.
Perhaps the most difficult task for McCain to accomplish in this campaign will be to sell his conservative credentials to the fundamentalist Christian wing of the Republican Party. And it will be interesting to see how the electronic media deals with his relatively more liberal and pro-choice background as he courts Christian conservatives.
Russ: Well, it appears we have bitten off the whole of American politics for us to chew on. Generally, I find your discussion so far to be helpful in laying the foundation for what is to follow. For now, I would point out a couple of things at a general level and then let’s turn to the application examples.
For one thing, I don’t thing the Christian conservatives are as united a group today as they may have been historically. Certainly they still stand on their anti-abortion position, but there are growing volumes of discussion about the stance of the “churches” with regard to politics, and particularly the aggressive stances of more recent years related to multiple issues, including abortion. In addition, it has been very interesting to hear Obama speak repeatedly about God and family, about issues that are at the heart of social positions held by religious conservatives of all stripes. In other words, when it comes to the religious right, the situation is getting muddier and their antipathy for McCain is a piece of that. In addition, there are some high profile leaders of that group showing up in the Libertarian Party that may influence the degree to which either major party candidate attracts that vote. This may be marginal, perhaps, but nevertheless significant in some states.
I appreciate the way you have laid out the mediation of issues in the campaign. The role(s) of the media, including the Internet, in this process is proving to be interesting. It has become a constant theme in the campaign that the media is treating Obama as privileged and not giving McCain his due. Much of this seems to be to be propaganda issued by the McCain campaign, for my local newspaper cannot be charged as guilty of that. But they may be talking about television news. There is little doubt that a large number of Americans (presumably American voters) get their news from television. However, I am not much of a judge of this since I have not owned a television set since 1997. Therefore, I can only note that there is a vocal and very public debate about fair coverage in the campaign. This serves McCain very well as an approach that will undercut Obama’s effectiveness in communicating with voters.
It seems to me that McCain is banking on a campaign of intimacy. That is, he believes he is more effective in swaying voters in small, community gatherings. On the other hand, Obama has demonstrated strength as an orator, a passionate speaker. Consequently, the forum in which each feels most effective is very different. This is the reason why they are at odds with each other over the number of “traditional debates” in front of the media and a large television audience and community forum meetings in which each engages with individual citizens who pose the questions. McCain clearly is pushing for more of the latter and less of the former. Obama is resisting this in favor of the “traditional debate” format. So mediation involves the character of mediating formats and institutions, as well as such factors as choices of language and symbols.
It is both. And, perhaps, we could be thinking of a third mediation challenge: the course of events in the context of the campaign. Each will seek to interpret local, national and international events to support their candidacies. A “current” example of that is the dispute over whether the surge worked in Iraq or not. McCain promoted it; Obama opposed it. McCain claims it was successful. Obama has been less clear about that, but maintains that his position opposing it was appropriate and then turns to the questions of McCain’s support of the initiation of the war in Iraq. In other words, I don’t think Obama has addressed this very clearly. Analysts have. They point to such factors as the neutralization of the Mukhti Army, the Sunni disillusionment with al Queada in Iraq and the largely completed relocations of Sunni and Shiite populations in Iraq and as refugees in Syria, primarily. I don’t think Obama will ever successfully undermine McCain on his claim for the success of the surge, because alternative explanations are too complex for many voters to integrate. In addition, Obama’s stragegy for Afghanistan is a variation on the theme of a surge. Pretty messy, huh?
I agree with you comments about the role of individual-collective ideologies as separating traditional conservatives and liberals. Again, here we find something interesting in Obama’s campaign. Within the black community, he stresses individual responsibility, for example regarding black men and fatherhood (it involves raising a child, not just fathering a child).
And your comments on the race card are well taken. It cuts two ways. In the Democratic campaign Obama was able to mobilize black voters in unprecedented numbers. I would suggest that many of those who would tend to vote against a black candidate because of his race would also be those who find it difficult to support McCain and would be attracted to candidates like former Republican Congressman Bob Barr. But would it be enough to offset McCain’s advantage in the South or in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania? That is something that remains to be seen. Obama’s challenge on the race issue is considerable, I agree. But we are dealing here with a very mixed landscape of change that includes new generations of voters who, apparently, are more color blind as any generation in American history. To the degree that Obama is able to attract this generation to the polls that could make the difference.
The question of generation is an important one. Will the profile of Americans who vote be like it was in the last eight years or even twenty years? Perhaps it will include more youth, more blacks, more Latinos and Hispanics, and particularly Mexican-American voters in the Southwest and West, but in Florida and the East. Will these groups play a role in altering patters in elections during the coming years? I think your focus on mediation is important for parsing the challenges in relationship to the two campaigns and various voting blocks. And let’s not forget the elderly, the pre-Baby boomers. We may be dying off, but there are still millions of us around and we vote. McCain is one of us. How will this group respond? Are they ready for an even younger generation of leadership that Obama might bring?
The distinctions among voters, then, are mediators, too. And so are economic groupings. How will the two campaigns show up for consumers, workers, business and industry leaders? There is already evidence that since McCain came out in support of offshore drilling for oil and gas the campaign contributions to McCain from those industries have mushroomed, growing from a couple of hundred thousand dollars a month or less to more than a million. Obama’s contributions from that industry are very small by comparison. But he still outstrips McCain in fundraising by millions every month, thus the McCain campaign will have to depend upon the Republican National Committee for funding far more than will Obama need to depend on the Democratic National Committee.
While all of this is interesting and fascinating, where we go from here seems to me to be more about clear demonstration of the application of the lenses and the kinds of analyses they promote. In the case of mediation, this lens has led us to looking at issues, at voting blocs, at message content and the like. Where would it be useful to go from here? I find myself wondering what a quadrant analysis would look like. Correspondingly, I wonder what we might gain from an assessment using an individual holon for each candidate and a collective holon for the society and culture in the United States and its global context.
Mark: Yes, we have chosen a rather ambitious scenario here, but well it’s the main leadership game in town so why not! Just a little reminder on the actual definition of this mediation lens: It doesn’t mean “mediating variable”. Any factor can be a mediating variable in a research design (as I noted in a previous discussion). The mediating lens, on the other hand, is about theory itself. A theory uses a mediation lens when it explains its subject matter in terms of the reflexive communications, gestures, signals, mediating agents and interactions occurring between two or more social entities.
Mediation is so crucial in democratic elections because of the immense and growing physical, emotional, communicational and existential distance between the leaders of large nation states and the people and communities that elect them. It might be a rather obvious point to make that an independent and active media is perhaps the most important ingredient for baking a democratic cake. It is easy to recognize that totalitarian regimes target the media before anything else in their struggle to control—the examples are numerous—Goebbels, Milošević, the Chinese Communist Party. But there is also a concerted struggle for influence over the media in democratic countries. The battle for influence (and even control, as seen for example, in the disastrous developments with Berlusconi’s Italy) over public media is intense, sophisticated and draws in immense amounts of human and financial resources.
The importance of social mediation can be seen in the recent contending movements to reframe people’s attitudes towards the news media in the US. There has been the conservative attempt to convince the public that the news media is largely made up of intellectual liberals, closet socialists and subversive left-wing academics. And on the other side there has been the rather less well orchestrated attempt from the progressives to overplay the political influence of the Christian conservative media. These are attempts to impact on the influence and colour the way we perceive those mediating channels of communication between the localised centres of government and corporate power and the distributed population of voters and consumers (as well as other distributed community and social agents/groups).
The distance between the ordinary lives of voters and operations of governments and national decision-making bodies is huge and growing daily. This distance requires and pulls in mediating processes of all kinds. And of course mediation cuts many ways when there are multiple centres of power. For example, the lobbying system in Washington can be seen as a mediating mechanism between organisations of all kinds and the decision-making bodies and personnel of government. This type of mediation circumvents democratic process and is one of the most important reasons for the loss of confidence in the representative power of government in the US.
What is interesting about the Internet is that it also cuts across powerful sources of mediation and is not only a vehicle for transmitting government messages and also relaying and expressing the interests and attitudes of the voting public. The Internet can perform this mediating role at every level in the ecological holarchy—from the very lowest level of the individual and the family to the meso level of community groups and organisations, to the macrolevel of multinational companies, to the highest level of corporate, government and intergovernmental action.
Obama’s capacity to inspire and enlist people through the Internet and to use it as a means for fund raising, information dissemination, and participatory reaction has been extremely impressive. If Obama does make it to the White House I think it will be largely due to his understanding and utilisation of the Internet as a central communicative (i.e. mediating) tool in his campaign. It was one of the central reasons that he was able to defeat Hillary Clinton in the primaries (in that he was able to raise so much more money than she—largely from small donors elicited through Internet communications). And this capacity to raise money in itself seems to send out a very important signal in the American electoral process.
Wilber’s thing about the Republicans being interiorists and liberals being exteriorists does not add up to me either in their policies or in the actual historical background of the two parties. Take an issue like defence. I think the Republicans in their policies, in their values and in their actions have always been much more exteriorist, in taking action, in taking up arms, in developing defence systems, in buying and producing defence weapons and materials. In terms of defence the Republicans are as behaviourally active and exteriorist as you can get. The Democrats on the other hand have always taken on “the high moral ground” in terms of military action. They have traditionally been isolationist on the grounds of a passive and even pacifist moral base. WW2 is a classic example of this. Can you imagine George W. Bush waiting as long as Roosevelt to get the US to take on Hitler during 1939/40/41. Even then there were many in Roosevelt’s Democrat administration that did not want to enter the war and FDR worked very hard to sway them until it all precipitated with the attack on Pearl Harbour.
If we look with a little bit more depth at the leadership issue through the mediation lens we can see that progressive leaders need to resonate with people’s highest potentials in communicating their message of visionary change. In Vygotskian terms, Obama will need to present visions, perform deeds, enunciates values and present himself in roles that activate the upper end of people’s and communities’ Zone of Proximal Development (ZLD). The ZPD is a developmental zone that is defined by the difference between someone’s solitary performance level/ability or, as Vygotsky called it, “actual level of development” (ALD) and their peak level/performance (we could call this the PLD) when guided by a mentor or collaborative group. Obama needs to appeal to the PLD to get his progressive message of hope and change to stick, whereas McCain needs to aim for the ALD to send his message home. You can see here that the PLD is inherently social while the ALD is inherently individual. This is the real reason that I believe is behind the distinction between the collective focus of the progressive left and the individual focus of the conservative right.
So these are a few thoughts on the sorts of discussions that come up when the social mediation lens is used to explore leadership issues. As you can see the discussions begin to move into very different territories than those of the developmental stages lens. I actually think that the developmental lens is of rather secondary importance in discussing issues of political leadership. But I am wondering, Russ, if you would like to go a bit further down this mediation path. Is that something you’d like to explore further or not?
Russ: Yes, Mark, I would like to explore it further. The Vygotskian distinctions you have shared make a lot of sense and seem to offer considerable utility. I am not sure what continuing would look like, but let me step into the dark room and offer a couple of interpretations that may help make sure we are on the same page.
I am thinking of the role of mediation as you have described it, the mediation lens. I am wondering what further can be said about the power that it brings to examining the Obama campaign. So far, the mediation tools that I can identify are (not listed in any particular order or sequence):
- Television, which can be further refined into relevance for various audiences, (youth, business, etc.)
- Commercial Radio, which can be further refined into relevance for various audiences,
- Lobbying organizations, including those for industries, ecology and social concerns,
- Campaign events, including conventions, debates and community forums,
- Magazines, including news and other topic focus,
- Books (here I have in mind how the right drives Obama-attack books to the top of the New York Times Best Selling list, in addition to other books that tend to receive attention),
- Academia, including classroom instruction, expert opinion and student organizations,
- Professional Organizations (a wide spectrum of these),
- Events, sports, county fairs, etc.,
- Poster promotion in public places,
- Voter Registration programs,
- Political Parties,
- Community and Ethnic organizations, and
- Business relationships (small business, face to face),
- Families and social relationships.
There are probably others. It would be interesting to consider the strength of each of these, likely variable from one individual to another, and the strength of each in the Obama campaign. What would that tell us? Well, for one, it would suggest where is strength is and where his weakness. It may surface blind spots in the campaign or simply areas of challenging access.
It may be a way to organize messages, that is, act as a guide for how to tailor political messages. For example, what are the implication for Obama of going before a mega-church audience and explicitly supporting abortion rights which McCain, at almost the same time, announces the sanctity of conception. While it could be said that Obama deserves praise for not pandering to his audience, it also suggests that for at least that portion of his audience (the ones to whom abortion is a primary issue) he is willing to write them off while courting less committed members of that community by reminding them that he is a Christian, too, with many of the same values as those held among members of his audience.
What this boils down to is the accuracy of the demographic analysis by the Obama campaign in formulating a coalition leading to his election. That is, if the suggestion is that he needs to fit his message to a winning coalition. One might argue that the process needs to be somewhat different, i.e., that Obama represents a political position, a stance on a variety of issues that represent a point of view, a political ideology and a set of values. His message needs to match that and not pander to other ideologies or values. A lot of the flip-flopping centers around decisions that can be interpreted as “moving toward the center” of appealing to elements of the electorate needed to win. There are probably elements of both.
But mediation involves more than just the tools and the message, doesn’t it? It also involves context. Economic, international, social and political events are represented through mediation and impact the relevance of messages. For example, the emergence of the leadership of the Iraqi government as supporting deadlines for US troops to pull out can be interpreted through these mediators as evidence that Obama has the best understanding of the situation in the Middle East or as evidence that he is simply talking about Bush Administration policy, anyway. Further, the Russian invasion (or peacekeeping) in Georgia can be interpreted in alternative ways to try and support either candidate. What occurs to me is that mediators are noisemakers to a large extent. They are promoting messages that distort and color ideas, opinions actions and events. Doesn’t this muddy up the utility of mediators as a lens? Thus, there may be both a functionality and a dysfunctionality of mediators. From a political campaign perspective the challenge is to make the on storyline message dominate. I notice a tendency (and my bias shows here) of the Republicans to repeat over and over again false statements, which they know to be false, about the opposition through multiple mediators. In the Kerry campaign the Swift Boaters were masters of this. Now they are using the Obama is a Muslim and other things to label him in ways that will repel poorly informed voters.
I want to come back to this comment of yours:
In Vygotskian terms, Obama will need to present visions, perform deeds, enunciates values and present himself in roles that activate the upper end of people’s and communities’ Zone of Proximal Development (ZLD). The ZPD is a developmental zone that is defined by the difference between someone’s solitary performance level/ability or, as Vygotsky called it, “actual level of development” (ALD) and their peak level/performance (we could call this the PLD) when guided by a mentor or collaborative group. Obama needs to appeal to the PLD to get his progressive message of hope and change to stick, whereas McCain needs to aim for the ALD to send his message home. You can see here that the PLD is inherently social while the ALD is inherently individual. This is the real reason that I believe is behind the distinction between the collective focus of the progressive left and the individual focus of the conservative right.
I wonder how this will help us find value added in a mediation lens as muddied as I have described it., for no matter what Obama (or McCain) presents, the distortions set in. I think you are suggesting that Obama needs to hold a compelling vision that attracts sufficient numbers of people to vote for him, rather than McCain. Obama wants to have this vision focus on the needs and potentials of the collective, while McCain appeals to the sense of patriotism and needs of individuals. For Obama to win, he needs to span PLD and include ALD, to offer a greater sense that both can be met, that they are conjoint.
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