The Transpartisan World of Subjects

Transpartisan Note #3

by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner

Adding the subjective to political discourse expands how we view reality. It focuses us on how perceptions as well as facts determine ultimate impacts on people.

Travelers often return from Africa, Asia and developing areas of the world surprised to have found poor people there who appear happy. Understanding that objectively poor individuals might be subjectively happy helps us understand why social programs focused solely or primarily on objective outcomes alone (relieving ‘poverty’) often fail subjectively—leave people emotionally dissatisfied, even bereft.

Adding the subjective to our understanding explains much about the ‘paradox’ of ‘the happy poor’. Psychiatrists may touch the essential point when they say people seeking their help are mostly looking to relieve isolation and loneliness. Consider this isolation in understanding ‘social problems’—alcoholism, drug addiction, crime, suicide and even poverty. Aloneness seems to us to play a key role in each of these conditions. We propose that a crucial, and often overlooked, aspect of each objective social problem is isolation. We think it likely that both social and personal rehabilitation begins in connection.

‘Transpartisan’ integrates freedom and order as people subjectively move (in freedom) to choose connection (order). If ‘caring’ schools are essential to reach adolescent African-American males, as current research suggests, we propose a larger point—that successful schools are all positive communities—they connect people. Subjective educational communities provide an essential foundation for objective learning. Subjective components of all communities provide an essential part of the foundation of every objective program—welfare, justice, health, employment, for example. Objective programs often minimize or overlook these subjective components.

Embracing the subjective forces radically changes our understanding of politics. Religion as Spirit is subjective, conforming or not to traditional religious practices. Recognizing the ways objective politics—polls, votes, demographics etc.—overlook or fail fully to consider subjective (difficult to count) realities, forces, impulses can help explain realties of our current electoral season that seem objectively preposterous. Seth Godin identifies the role of such subjective forces in his new book Tribes.

Albert Einstein, probably quoting William Bruce Cameron, is reported to have said: ‘Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.’ We have reduced so much of our politics, our programs and our daily lives to what can be counted (the objective), what cannot be counted (the subjective) constantly surprises us. The Transpartisan imperative embraces, illuminates, and employs life’s subjective reality within the objective political context.

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