I have never been a big fan of ‘spectrum’ thinking. The language of far left and far right  just rings hollow for me. It is insufficient for the most part and in the end, inaccurate.

I read the book The Argument Culture by Deborah Tannen more than a decade ago and said out loud “Oh! So THAT is why I bristle at the either/or, Republican/Democrat, Right/Left dichotomy! – now it makes sense.

I reject the spectrum at every turn … but recently I have begun to make an exception in regards to the spectrum. The spectrum is only applicable for someone who thinks that there is a spectrum. I will only try to get them to see that not everyone exists on a spectrum nor are they accounted for by a right-left binary. I no longer try to dislodge them of the notion as a whole – I only try to introduce that a spectrum is incomplete and insufficient.

Lately I have been overwhelmed – probably because it is an election year – by binary language and dualistic thinking. In these conversations I have discovered that it can be quite effective to introduce a simple word play. Spectrums are not straight lines – like light, they bend. 

You may think that this sounds overly simplistic but just think about the rise of the Tea-Party and the emergence of the Occupy movement coming in roughly the same window of time. Now those two groups would say that they stand for completely different things. To an outside observer, however, for all the minor distinctions they share a ‘Major’ concern: the system is broken and we can’t trust our leaders to fix it. 

This week, I am starting a series on my personal blog working though the Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges. He begins the book with a 25 year old former Marine walking along a highway in Upstate NY that I driven. He is disillusioned with the economic and political systems and is getting ready to do something about it. At one point the young vet says:

“I could see there was no difference between the two main political parties. There is a false left/right paradigm which diverts the working class from the real reasons for their hardships.”

I am looking forward to the series in the exact inverse proportion to how much I am dreading this election cycle.* I have lots of Tea Party types in my life and many Occupy sympathizers as friends. I hear them both saying that the system is not working and that those in charge are not capable of fixing it, that we the people need to be more hands on.

Chris Hedges analyzes the crisis and articulates the root causes better than anyone I have found. The slant of the series will revolve around one simple question “If Hedges is right about the world – how then should we do theology? 

The Tea Party, the Occupy Movement, the global economic crisis and the ongoing wars are telling us something … and it is not about the End of Days. Doing theology in this environment will inherently have some continuity with historical approaches but it will require some tools that may not be familiar to us as well as some necessary innovations.

 The left and right think that they are far apart, but in a bent system they are closer than they would believe. At some point on an arc the far right and the far left almost touch. 

I end the way Hedges begins, with a quote from George Orwell:

At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is “not done” to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was “not done” to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.  “Freedom of the Press”


* Tavis Smiley has been saying for quite a while that this will be the ugliest and most racist election in modern times.