The political right and left have hijacked the words “freedom” and “progress”

“Is it going to be a right-wing thing?”

A friend of mine recently asked me this question when I told him I am building a new media platform called the Freedom Media Network.

“No, why?” I asked.

“The word ‘freedom’…sounds like a right-wing thing,” he replied.

It wasn’t a surprising exchange. After all, I spent the better part of three decades working in politics and public policy. While I used to be a partisan hack, I woke up several years ago to focus on my principles, rather than party tribalism.

When I mentioned the aforementioned conversation to Randy Gage during our recent Freedom Media Network interview, he wasn’t surprised, either.

“I think they (the political right) have been very effective at hijacking that word,” said Randy. “They’ve been able to hijack freedom and religion. You know, they have a trademark on ‘God’…’Jesus’…’morality.’ They’ve done a good job with their tribe kind of co-opting those issues.”

To be fair, and I think Randy would probably agree, just as the political right has hijacked the word “freedom”, the political left has done the same with the word “progress.” During the past several decades, many liberals and Democrats have begun identifying themselves as “progressives.”

You may agree. You may disagree. You may be fired up over this blog post — in which case you are probably proving the point that tribalism is so often about branding and “trigger words” instead of critical thinking.

Effective tribes employ this type of branding.

As Randy told me, they do it to create movements by appealing to our “innate desire to be a part of something much bigger” than ourselves.

“I think that’s why they (people) join religions, I think that’s why they join gangs, I think that’s why they join political parties and movements,” he said. “Because you feel like this little microscopic dot in the Universe, thinking, ‘what’s the meaning of life beyond taking the kids to soccer practice, paying the bills, and binge watching something on Netflix…what’s my life all about?'”

“And now, when somebody (a tribe) comes along and says, ‘hey, you can be in the gang, or you can be in the cult, or you can be in the religion,’ it gives people a sense of meaning.”

As Randy and I discussed, tribes can certainly be forces of good in the world, as well as forces of the not-so-good.

But the point of this post is this: Are you a member of your tribe due to critical thinking, or due to the blind emotion created by the promise of that ‘meaning’?

Most people, for example, follow the religion they were “bequeathed” at birth. I was born into a Catholic family, attended Catholic schools, contributed significant money to the Catholic Church and, until recently, never questioned anything about it. I wasn’t Catholic by choice or by any type of critical thinking. On the contrary, I was born Catholic with the programming that to be non-Catholic was a sin that would lead to eternal damnation.

It used to be (I’m not sure if this is still the case) that people adopted the political party of their parents. And, as Randy told me, if you’re someone who adopts the opposite political party of your parents simply to be contrarian — that doesn’t involve critical thinking, either.

When I tell members of my former political party (I worked in Republican politics but now consider myself transpartisan) that I left partisan politics, they employ the same type of tactics that were used to keep me in the Catholic religion: Guilt tactics and the notion that by not voting a party line I am de facto condemning the country to eternal damnation.

That’s what tribalism does. It creates a fanatical supporters and staunch defenders who oftentimes act out of programming, rather than critical thinking.

That’s not to say that every member of a political party or religion hasn’t arrived there without critical thinking. Absolutely not. (Please also note that when I say “religion” I use it in the context of “organized religion” versus spirituality or a relationship with God.)

But I ask you: Have you chosen your tribes as a result of critical thinking, or due to fear, guilt, or other emotions that leave you with a fear of missing out or “eternal damnation”?

The first step to truly freeing yourself is being aware.

Be aware of your emotions being controlled through programming broadcast from the media, politicians, or the pulpit.

Be aware when your mindset is reliant on such programming, or you’re opinions and beliefs are controlled by others, rather than clearly defined principles.

Be aware when you’re simply unable to explain why you believe something and instead retreating to thoughts of “because this is the way it’s always been” or “this is what ‘they’ say I should do.”

When you blindly follow a tribe, you give up your freedom, because the pull of that tribe can override your principles, values, and vision.

Are you truly free?

Are you blindly following any tribes?

Are your decisions and actions based on critical thinking?

Check out my discussion on tribalism with Randy Gage:

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