Fear originated in the human-animal as an instinct. It was meant to keep us safe in the face of predators and other threats to our lives.
As we ceased to be roaming bands of hunter-gatherers, we domesticated the world around us and — for the most part — ceased to have natural predators.
Fear evolved as well. With the formation of settlements and hierarchies, we began to develop more intangible fears of lack, scarcity, and insufficiency. These still had a tangible element, because the direct dependency on crops and livestock meant droughts, floods, and other natural disasters killing them threatened to kill us, too.
With the evolution of the human-animal from agrarian to industrial, so too did our fear evolve. Now, most people worked to earn money to pay for the things they needed, rather than growing their crops and maintaining livestock. Initially, money was based upon an equivalent measure of gold. But even money, in time, changed to be entirely made-up.
Fear, in the industrial society, was still based to some degree in lack and scarcity. If you didn’t earn money you couldn’t get food, shelter, or attract a mate. Yet alongside these tangible fears, intangibles involving social constructs and placing ourselves among our peers became more and more dominant.
Now, we have reached an unusual point in history. The post-industrial society that more and more of us are part of experiences the vast majority of its fears in the intangibles. Fear of not fitting in, missing out, success, failure, and on and on.
But it’s not that simple. One reason is that the United States, in particular, is three societies in one.
The three American cultures explained
All you have to do is look at the electoral maps from this recent election to see an obvious division. What fascinates me the most is how this division gets split in two — conservative versus liberal — when in fact it’s three.
And it only has a little to do with politics, when all is said and done.
The United States is three cultures in one big nation. They break down like this:
We still have many people who make their living raising livestock and crops to feed the nation. While small farms exist, many are unimaginably huge.
Thanks to modern technology, it takes fewer hands to do greater work. The machines of industry tend to play nicely with the agrarian machines.
The agricultural culture in the United States is less than 2% of the population. However, that small percentage of people maintain enormous swaths of land and feed a surreal number of people.
The lifestyle and culture of farmers and other agricultural workers are unique in many ways. Though somewhat reliant on nature, they also have tools to irrigate and deal with pests to protect the crops and livestock.
Some are controversial — like GMOs and antibiotics in livestock — while others have been tried and tested for centuries, now.
I have next to no understanding of this culture because it’s not a life I have lived. Please bear this in mind going forward.
Once the largest and most active employer of people in the nation, the industrial sector of the United States was a wonder of the world.
Because of the incredible abundance of natural resources across the continent, American industry produced anything and everything you could imagine. From microchips to aircraft carriers we build it all.
But the number of people who partake of this is less than 20% of the population.
Cities and towns across the country came into being with the industrial revolution. Enormous plants and factories employed hundreds and hundreds of people. They, in turn, made materials like steel I-beams to finished furniture to cars to computers. You name it, they built it.
Those factories sprang up across the middle of the nation. They employed whole families and were the cultural center of the community.
Until they weren’t. As manufacturing overseas got cheaper the big companies moved their business away.
While I have a limited understanding of this culture, I’ve seen it more closely in my life. Keep this in mind, because recognizing this culture is important.
Post-industrial (service) culture
Welcome to 2020. Please disregard the obvious uncertainty and other issues and let’s look at the post-industrial culture.
This culture accounts for most of the remaining 78% of the population in the United States.
A more accurate term for post-industrial culture is service culture.
Many people think of Big Idea services like doctors, lawyers, scientists, and teachers. But that’s barely the tip of the iceberg.
Service culture embraces automation. Human capital — the people who work in it — oversee the automated systems.
It goes a lot deeper than this, though. Every single customer service rep, tech support, IT professional, administrator, marketing specialist, businessperson, and office worker falls into the service culture.
For the most part, the post-industrial culture doesn’t make anything. They build nothing material — most of what they produce and work with are immaterial.
This is my life. I have spent most of my adult life working in one sector or another of the service/post-industrial culture.
Now, having identified these, allow me to return to the election maps.
What REALLY divides us?
All you need to do is look at the election map to see how and where most of the divide in this country lies.
The vast majority of the blue is part of the post-industrial service culture.
The vast majority of the red is part of the agricultural and industrial culture.
While agriculture and industrial culture are different, a great deal of their language and dialogue is similar. They produce something tangible. This they understand.
The service culture produces nothing but intangibles. For those who make actual, factual things — this is illogical and alien.
And to some it’s exploitable.
Let’s call this one for what it is, shall we? Politics is a service industry, too. Politicians produce nothing tangible save a LOT of on-the-record bullshit and headaches for numerous people.
So, here’s the problem as I see it. The 78% of the nation that is part of the service/post-industrial culture doesn’t understand the 22% of the nation that is part of the agricultural/industrial cultures. And vice versa.
And the politicians exploit this for all they can. They expand the gap between us and have created a rather ugly narrative of “us” versus “them” to employ fear.
This works best with a group that is seeing their way of life fade.
Fear of suffering and loss
Agricultural decline began at the start of the industrial revolution. However, it was thanks in part to technology that it took fewer people to feed more. Manufacturing and industrial decline began in the 1950s. But while industrial and agricultural culture learned to coexist with one another, service culture is an animal in-and-of-itself.
To people who make tangible things as a fundamental part of their culture — people who make intangibles are utterly alien. To them, our focus on knowledge and information — but making nothing material — seems ridiculous and shallow.
On the other side of the coin, we who make our living creating and working with intangibles tend to take the makers of our things for granted. So much so that we don’t tend to care where they or their component parts are made.
While service/post-industrial culture is growing, the industrial and agricultural cultures are stagnant or shrinking. Those who practice these lifestyles are scared about what it means to them and the way of life they — and their family — have lived.
Historically, the loss of these jobs has caused suffering. Cities have all but died as industries left them. Those still holding on — and the culture grown around them — are afraid to suffer as those who did before them have.
People who fear the loss of their jobs, their way of life, and their culture — and don’t receive any guidance from their leadership to alternatives — lash out and react when they feel threatened. Which is all-too constant.
That fear gets exploited for political gain and power — rather than being used by people within their positions to bridge the existing cultural gaps. They emphasize the suffering and widen the divide for their own selfish purposes.
I recognize because of where I live and how I grew up that I do not get the cultures of the agricultural nor industrial societies. They are alien to me and my way of life.
But I also recognize that to them, my service cultural way of life is equally alien. And unlike the similarities that exist in the literal productivity of the agricultural and industrial cultures — what the service culture makes is incompatible.
Because it is hard for the service culture to understand the experience of those in the agricultural and industrial cultures — and vice versa — we are scared to reach out to one another. Because our differences have been so emphasized and polarized, we are scared of each other.
Leaders on both ends — the material makers and immaterial makers — use fear of suffering and exploit our deep-down fear of each other to disempower us all. “They,” we’re told, again and again, will destroy your way of life and your culture.
Yet the truth is that we can and should be able to coexist.
People dreamt up the technologies of the industrial culture. They applied these to improve the agricultural culture. Without these, the service culture couldn’t exist.
So how do we bridge the gap between us?
It begins with understanding. We need to acknowledge that the United States is three distinct cultures that serve two purposes. People who work with tangibles and people who work with intangibles. When we recognize this fundamental divide, we can begin to figure out how to bridge it.
Instead of resisting one another, we need to work on understanding one another. This is the only way to take back our power and prevent future elections from becoming increasingly unpleasant, messy, and potentially destructive.
Though different we are similar
Remember that nobody wants to suffer, and deep down, I think nobody wants anyone else to suffer either.
I believe that when all is said and done, we need to recognize that we just want to live the best lives we can. No matter what culture you come from — the “other” is not out to get you because they want the same thing.
Each of us is different. But all of us want similar good things, connectivity, and worthwhile lives.
While our fear-based society is now more apparent than ever before — so, too, is the technology to understand, work with, and change it to be more reason-based. This begins with understanding. To understand one another we need to connect with and communicate with one another.
It starts by understanding what culture you come from. Then, recognizing the others. Finally, acknowledge that no culture of more or less valid than any other.
What culture are you a part of? How would you connect with those of the cultures you aren’t?
Thank you for reading. I am MJ Blehart. I write about mindfulness, conscious reality creation, positivity, and similar life lessons.