Buddhist philosophy often talks of ‘the middle road’ or ‘the middle way’. It is not a political side, nor a point of reference to opinion, it is a philosophy for life. It is to balance the extremes of self-mortification and self-gratification, a path between the devilish impulsive desires of pleasing the senses and the need for discipline, sacrifice and denial of those desires in order to live sustainably and master self control. It is a battle between free will and self control, between feminine and masculine, between past and future. This is a philosophy that can be applicable to all people on all sides, as a way to stay balanced — grounded but in a position to embrace and encourage change, growth and progress. It is a philosophy that echoes healthy justice, balance, clarity and reflects our shared human dilemma of balancing the desire to progress and the fundamental need to conserve energy and embrace patience. When we stand firmly in the middle road, we can weather most of the storms life throws at us.
Division has always underpinned humanity, in most eras and times, it has always been a tool for those in power to ideologically trap us from truly accessing and inhabiting the middle ground, in which we can stand firm in our individual power with clarity and perceptivity of truth. That power knows and understands the value of standing with one foot in either side and often refrains from truly existing solely on the left or the right. It intelligently invests in both, stays bipartisan for its own self interests and invests its power in ways that manipulate people into identifying with polarities. Media, driven by the profits of sensationalism, helps power play this game, it often accidentally keeps us in the drama of imbalance, the shock and awe in which we all bask in when those around us fall down, or societies, governments and industries fail at keeping this balance and dissolve, disintegrate or become disempowered. We like a good story. But more truthfully, we LOVE a story about things being bad. Our primitive instincts and childish tendencies cannot help but react and respond impulsively to it, it often pulls us to our most primitive animalistic tendencies. We share it without thinking more deeply about what that could mean, we sacrifice higher ideals for instant gratification and “likes”. It makes us feel valuable, it strokes our egos and it validates our identities.
In the age of social media, in which media is more integrated into our lives than ever before in human history, this fake reality projection of sensationalist truth and divided opinions is reaching a breaking point within our democracies, cultures and the way we debate and embrace challenging conversation. Algorithms trap us in our belief systems, unable to freely access different perspectives, playing to our sense of reality instead of expanding it. They build walls and an ocean between us and those who represent our opposite. Demagoguery and censorship are rearing their heads again, just as they did in the past from left or right extremes, always before extreme societal challenges and global upheavals. It is written all over world politics; the growing civil divide in US politics between the Republican (conservative) and Democratic (liberal) sides, the use of divisive identities “Leaver” and “Remainer” in Brexit. In fact, most modern first world societies are seeing this effect of media bias, algorithms and divisive intent by the greedy wealthy superpowers in order to keep us away from our shared inner power — the middle road. And with an exponential application of technological advances and digital connectivity, developing nations and societies are quickly catching up.
What we must all remember in this time, charged with emotion and reaction, identification and a feeling of needing to protect and fight for our sense of morality, left or right, is to again simply look at what the relationship between liberal and conservative is and make peace with their infinite codependency.
To this statement and to bring it back to nature and its need for balance, I want to make an analogy of a tree in reference to the balance needed in political sides; left, right and centre. These can be broken down into 3 parts; the need to conserve (roots), the need to stay balanced (trunk) and the need to explore, progress and expand (branches and leaves). See below:
The roots of the tree are what conserves the tree, it gives it access to nutrients and water, the roots ground it firmly so that it does not succumb to the elements of nature. They grow to mirror the upward expansion and growth of the tree as it reaches and grows towards the light. The roots of the tree act as a way to conserve and balance growth, with support and a firm root in the past.
The trunk of the tree represents the centre. A strong centre and core is needed to stay grounded and balanced — this core holds strong in the face of the elements; earthquakes, hurricanes, fires and floods and ensures the survival of the tree. Without the conservational energy of the trees roots, the trunk would not withstand the inevitable changes in elements, just as our ever-changing existence demands.
The leaves represent freedom, each one an individual, grouped in branches, each one different, ever changing with the seasons and elements, reaching and growing into seemingly infinity. Light, agile and optimistic.
But the leaves also serve an equally important purpose. They represent the liberal side, without the leaves absorbing light there would be no beauty, no meaning and reason for the tree to exist. Contrastingly, without the roots, the tree couldn’t exist either, it would not have the freedom to explore, expand and grow. It is this push and pull between the forces of the past and future that conservative and liberal are at constant war with. How far should we progress and let go of the past driven by the encouragement of expansion, meaning and in the name of natures beauty? Versus how much should we be be patient and embrace our past, accept the need to stay grounded in our ideas and work together in order to grow to withstand the elements of life? These are eternal questions both can only answer working together. They are also important questions we need to ask ourselves and the way we conduct our own lives in the quest for both freedom in experience and the necessities of survival.
The point of this analogy is to illuminate, hopefully, that all three create the tree. Just like left, right and centre create humanity. To remove one, would break down the need for us all to inhabit these sides. All positions are valid. We need conservatives, we need liberals and we need those who stay balanced in the centre, we also need some on the extremes who show us our limitations and keep us aware of when too much is not good. The problem however, in this time, is that we have forgotten the definition of what it means to conserve at its most fundamental level and aided by the illusion of infinite growth have all become too liberal in our individual rights for freedom and free will. Right party politics do not reflect or understand or represent the need to conserve such things as our environment, our systems like capitalism, or growth. A true conservative should understand that we have a finite environment to live in, the no system is infinite, that ecological sustainability is actually completely within its ideological belief system and role. Modern parties do not reflect this. In fact, it is often the liberal side that strangely embraces this need for ecological and environmental conservatism. From my point of view, someone like Greta Thunberg is definitely not a socialist communist, or far-left voice, she is conservative. What she talks about at her core is conservation; to our systems, to our bodies, to our earth and to our societies. She is not on the left. She illuminates how confused we have become about what left and right actually are and the relationship we all need to think about between freedom and limits when establishing our core values and individuals.
On the left, modern liberals often reject and resist the need for patience and manage change in order to not isolate people in the excitement of fresh new ways of living and evolving. As our identities multiply and expand, just like the branches of a tree, with new pronouns, new genders, new ways to express and be and live in freedom, all beautiful representations of the infinite possibilities and expressions of humanity. It unfortunately fails to recognise that endless expansion is actually against its own interest, impatient at those who have not evolved to their level, and impatiently fuelled by a system that rewards growth, consumerism, free will and the illusion of infinity, fed by the American dream and post-industrial sentiments, that it can be anything that it wants, separating itself from what it needs to survive — it’s foundation and its roots.
What has happened in modern politics and an ever merging global humanity is that the sides have become confused and corrupted, they have neglected their positions and have lost their understanding of the role they play and the need for bipartisanship to strengthen the middle ground, the trunk and the core of humanity. From my point of view, corporate “conservative” conglomerates are more liberal than conservative, rewarding themselves infinite growth without the thought of implications and consequence. What was once a role of accumulating wealth for conservation and protection has become a competitive and violent game of expansion. It is not conservative at all. It is threatening the existence our entire species. In fact, it is probably wise to completely forget political sides in this time, because they do not reflect what they should stand for and this, in my opinion, is what makes politics in this time so confusing.
As we enter a new decade and new opportunity in the wake of a breakdown in our democratic institutions, governments and societies, we need to redefine these sides and bring back to the core of their values and why they are needed. They need to properly represent Liberalism; free will, exploration, art, aesthetic and expansion (as the buddhists say sensual desire and pleasure — self gratification, the enjoyment and celebration of being human) and the need for Conservationism; sustainability, patience, grounded ideas, staying rooted, maintaining our earth, the need for sacrifices in our desires in order to not grow too quickly (as the buddhists say, self mortification, giving up enjoyment for the greater good). Finally, to establish a better platform to listen and give voice to those who exist in the Middle, who understand the need for diplomacy, dialogue, debate and a good fight, and who realise we can only be powerful together, not when we remain separated, isolated and confused about what we are meant to represent.
If we don’t work this out soon, the tree will fall and die and so will much of our humanity and societies. We will need to rebuild. Just like after world wars and global upheavals, which at this point is seeming more and more inevitable. It is up to us all to decide if it better to rebuild, or try to fix the tree.