Unexpected Wisdom

How has the American identity developed amidst such a diversity of conflicting ideas and beliefs?  And, how has the clash of differing opinions contributed to strength?

The idea that unity is strengthened by diversity may at first sound counter-intuitive, but it is measurable and irrefutable.

In his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki describes compelling evidence that large groups of people possess an extraordinary power to solve problems when their judgment is aggregated, and that the more diverse the crowd, the more efficient the solutions.

Citing a variety of examples Surowiecki presents a fascinating description of the conditions in which democratic decision-making does and does not work.

In his introduction to the book we hear of the surprise of scientist Francis Galton when 787 participants in a raffle at a county fair submitted guesses at what the weight of a large ox would be after it had been slaughtered and dressed.

“The analogy to a democracy, in which people of radically different abilities and interests each get one vote, had suggested itself to Galton immediately. ‘The average competitor was probably as well fitted for making a just estimate of the dressed weight of an ox, as an average voter is of judging the merits of most political issues on which he votes,’ he wrote.”

Galton, who expected to confirm his view that “the average voter” was capable of very little good judgment, borrowed the tickets from the organizers following the competition. He then ran a series of statistical tests on them.  Adding all the contestants’ estimates, he calculated the average.

The crowd had guessed that the ox, after it had been slaughtered and dressed, would weigh 1,197 pounds. In fact, it weighed 1,198 pounds.

Another example described by Surowiecki is the story of the 1968 loss of the United States submarine Scorpion, which disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean. The Navy had no idea what happened to the vessel, where it was or how fast it had been traveling.

Mr. Surowiecki recounts the story as told by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew in their book Blind Man’s Bluff, about how a naval officer named John Craven assembled a diverse group of people – mathematicians, submarine specialists, and salvage men – provided them with a number of varied scenarios, and asked them to offer their best guesses without benefit of contact with each other. All they knew was the sub’s last reported location.

The group laid wagers on why the submarine ran into trouble, on its speed as it headed for the ocean floor and the steepness of descent, among other things.

Craven built a composite picture of what happened and calculated the group’s collective estimate of where the submarine was. The location he came up with was not a location specifically suggested by any members of the group. But, that is where it was.

The Navy found the wreck 220 yards from where Craven’s group said it would be.

Mr. Surowiecki proceeds to demonstrate the surprising consistency of this outcome in widely varied circumstances. And, he explains how groups work well in some circumstances better than others.

As we all know, there are times when aggregating individual judgments produces a collective decision that is disastrous; a riot, for example, or a stock market bubble.

Interestingly, he writes: “Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise.

“An intelligent group, especially when confronted with cognition problems, does not ask its members to modify their positions in order to let the group reach a decision everyone can be happy with.  Instead, it figures out how to use mechanisms – like market prices, or intelligent voting systems – to aggregate and produce collective judgments that represent not what any one person in the group thinks but rather, in some sense, what they all think.

“Paradoxically, the best way for a group to be smart is for each person in it to think and act as independently as possible.”

Later in the present project, we will look at practical methods by which groups with diverse viewpoints can engage in creative problem-solving and decision-making in a manner that goes beyond consensus, even when face-to-face, to reach unexpected and mutually satisfying outcomes.

Tom

In two weeks: The challenge we must rise to.

Knowing Our Strength

The first step is ours to take.  We can address one another with dignity and join with our neighbors to resolve problems and address local needs.  Or, we can accept a world of hostility, disorder, and ultimate collapse as our children’s inheritance – and let the vision and the treasure of the American idea slip away.

The road to security is built with civility and paved with trust.  To make it so will be difficult.  It is, however, the only alternative to disaster.

The argument that the future can only be built on the foundation of dependable communities is as old as history.  It follows from the rational perception that conflict is a condition in human relationships and can only be understood and transcended in and through human relationships.

It is in the struggle with interpersonal relationships that direct and honest communication can take place.  The means for making this fractious process effective in the context of American history is the subject of this blog and forthcoming book.

Some may say that it is too late.  I say that Americans are courageous, resourceful, resilient.  The United States was conceived in controversy, and the pragmatic vision of the Founders came with recognition that wisdom and strength are found in diversity.

Indeed, it will be argued here that diversity is the foundation for strength, and that the United States Constitution is a visionary assertion of this belief.  The Founders gave us structure.  It is our responsibility to make it work.

Our answer to crisis will determine the shape of our future.  We find ourselves confronted today by one of the great tests of history, a challenge to the intent embodied in the Constitution and the coherence of the American vision that has been gradually maturing for more than two hundred years.

Perhaps we have lost our way for periods of time, stumbled, gotten sloppy.  But now it is time to pull together.  It is argued here that this must begin in our local communities – the historic home to pure democracy and the seat of civilization.

In a free society stability cannot be imposed from above. The kind of strength we seek is grounded in trust and the dependability of personal relationships.

I am not writing about a “recovery” from crisis in the normal sense.  Rather, I submit that we stand at the threshold of an unprecedented turning point – a dangerous crossroads, yet one that offers us a unique window of opportunity to affirm and uphold our exceptional and multifaceted identity as a nation.

In navigating through an extraordinary confluence of sequential crises we will be forced to renew our values, think on our feet, and make both pragmatic and ethical adjustments.  A creative process is now underway that would not be possible otherwise.

An assessment of shared values is in order, and reconsideration of the generosity of spirit that once made America so attractive to the world.

In September we will consider the foresight of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that led to the system of protections, checks and balances that make the American structure of governance what it is.  First, however, we will examine the reasons why diversity has given America a dynamic strength – not as a nice idea, but as a pragmatic imperative.

If American communities are to emerge into a vibrant matrix of local and regional networks, they will depend on citizens with diverse skills and varied perspectives who are capable of teamwork and practical problem-solving.

Resistance to diversity often involves our discomfort with those we perceive as “outsiders”, people who look or think differently than we do, or who come from unfamiliar cultural backgrounds.  Yet, in crises, many differences will allow critical problem-solving that we can ill afford to do without.

It is important to feel confidence in our own ideas and values.  Yes, but why should we be afraid of different ways of thinking?

Aristotle said that “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

The opportunity to explore the world through the eyes of others different from ourselves is a blessing and a gift.  And, in the event of social and economic collapse – it may be the key to survival.

Tom

Please watch for the next post on or about August 19:  The unexpected wisdom in diversity – how it happens and what makes it work.

Cooperation or Collapse?

And what of our differences?  The diversity of views and perspectives that divide Americans in the early years of the 21st century are unquestionably the deepest that have existed since the Civil War.

Our differences are based on many things today: ethical and religious values, economic disparities and personal experience with hardship, our understanding of history, and our perceptions of the very real dangers facing the world.

The vitality of the American Republic has always been energized by the clash of differing opinions.  The national character is rooted in the fertile engagement of divergent ideas that test and expand our wide-ranging perspectives.  America has flourished on the principle of pluralism.

Our opinions, values, perceptions all deserve respect; yet we disagree vehemently on matters of fundamental importance. We have good reasons for holding our views. This is the way it is supposed to be in a healthy civil society.

And this begs a critical question: How can we find a way to live and work together in a time of maximum stress?

As sequential crises take hold, is the security of our families and communities important enough that we are willing to do what is necessary to build trust and dependability, meeting life-sustaining needs and working effectively with our neighbors – many of whom we have substantial differences with?

Are we prepared to struggle for this country shoulder-to-shoulder, indeed to be truly loyal to one another as Americans?

And, what is it really that makes this a cause worth fighting for?

I believe that such questions lead to the pivotal question I have described on this blog as a “severe choice” (June 24).

Many readers have expressed concerns about the imposing challenges these questions represent.  Indeed, we stand at a monumental turning point in the nation’s history.

The survival of the Republic will require certain virtues that Americans are not generally known for—moral responsibility, dependability, trustworthiness.  Our most fundamental challenge will be learning to view others – especially our opponents – in essentially ethical rather than political terms.

This is not about charity.  A level of civility is required that goes far beyond kindness and common decency.  If Americans are to turn the corner, it will be with a civilized and responsible attitude that appears unfamiliar at present.

Cooperation does not require compromising our principles.  Indeed, unexpected opportunities for influencing one another will surely come with working together to address common needs, especially in the face of crises.

Times of danger tend to open ones’ personal perspective, allowing us to see with new eyes and hear with new ears.

It is neither practical nor civilized to go to war with one another when our common interests depend on our ability to communicate clearly and to engage in rational problem-solving.  What is essential is not that we agree, but that we seek dependable cooperation in the face of serious threats.

Naturally, this will require more than a right attitude.  Practical skills will be necessary to help us work effectively in small groups, ensure food security, make consultative decisions and manage conflict, organize projects and start small businesses.

Together we will share and develop the necessary skills.

Under the present conditions of social disintegration, strident divisiveness, and dysfunctional institutions, I have encouraged Americans to turn aside from partisan politics, at least temporarily, to focus primary attention on practical needs in our local communities.

I am not at all opposed to effecting change by traditional means. However, as the crisis deepens I believe we will gain far more safety and control over our lives through community building. And, I believe this effort will impart many of the essential lessons that will lead to a decent future.

This is my message.  Dependable community is the ground of civilization.

However complex the problems we face, in the final analysis we are confronted by a single simple question.  Will we accept the destruction of civilized society, a rending of the very fabric of the Republic, and retreat into a state of siege?  Or, will we have the courage to begin anew?

Tom

A note to readers: Please watch for the next blog post on or about August 5.

To believe absurdities…

Police 2 (BradWSutton)

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”  –Voltaire

(Photo credit: Brad W Sutton)

 

Endurance, Resourcefulness and Faith

The severity of a deepening crisis raises unavoidable questions. Will the country be torn apart by anger and frustration?  Will the nation survive as the Republic created by its founders? Or, will the American people have the vision, fortitude, and grit to learn the lessons and reaffirm the vision and principles that will lead to a genuine renewal?

If the Republic is to prevail, how will we pull it off?  Do we have the patience and wisdom to give priority first to the stability that makes problem-solving possible, to rebuild a national unity that transcends the very real differences that divide us?

Early in 2008 Peggy Noonan, a widely read conservative commentator and one-time aide to President Ronald Reagan, addressed this question eloquently in a collection of essays, Patriotic Grace, What It Is and Why We Need It Now.  She wrote during a season of bitter political back-biting, and, as we all know, things soon became very much worse:

“I believe we have to assume that something bad is going to happen, someday, to us.  Maybe it will be ten years from now, but maybe not, maybe sooner, much sooner.  We have to assume, I think, that it will be a 9/11 times ten, or a hundred, or more, and that it will have a deeply destabilizing effect on our country; that it will test our unity and our endurance, our resourcefulness and faith.

“We all know this, I think, deep down.  I don’t know a major political figure in America to whom all this has not occurred, and often…. And yet in some deep way our politics do not reflect our knowledge.  It’s odd.  Stunning, actually.  We keep going through the same old motions in the bitter old ways.  Even our cynics are not being realistic!

“…Will the banks fail, is the system built on anything but faith, and will the faith hold?  Will we keep our coherence as a country, will we hold together, can we continue as a sovereign nation at peace with itself?”

Peggy Noonan’s little book radiates a much needed spirit.  I recommend it.  Most of us never expected to see the United States in the condition in which we find it today.  Many of us never expected to face the personal hardship in which we increasingly find ourselves.

Ultimately we face a uniquely American crisis, yet one that is unfolding in the midst of an extraordinary global turning point.  I will attempt to cut through the emotions and complexity of a monumental moment in history to argue that we must unite to regenerate and rebuild the United States as a living model for a free, stable, and prosperous world.

This nation has progressed gradually toward maturity for 200 years, dedicated to the cause of responsible liberty and built upon the foundation of unity within diversity – diversity of nationality, religion, ethnicity, and, most of all, political philosophy.  We possess wide ranging distinctions and differences, but together we share an essential inviolable common ground.

We are all Americans.  The promise we all hold dear can only prevail if we have the courage and forbearance to rise above our differences, to address our problems shoulder to shoulder, and to do what must be done to make our children safe and our communities secure.

We have the inherent capacity to move forward despite the mistakes and tragedies of the past – and the mysteries of the future.

Our future hangs in the balance.  Let’s pull together, reassert our common ground in the vision with which the nation was built, and step forward to forge a future shaped by fairness, trustworthiness, and moral responsibility.

I submit to you that something far better, far nobler, something perhaps beyond our present ability to imagine, will emerge from the present turmoil.

If, however, we cannot work effectively to build safe communities with people we are not in complete agreement with, then we will be condemned to the only possible alternative: a collapsing civilization defined by fear and violence, a nightmare for our children, and a land where no principles, no values, no stable order can be realized.

Tom

Next post: Cooperation or collapse?

A note to regular readers:  As I announced in late June, I have shifted to a new schedule and will now post every two weeks.  This will allow me more time for completing the book.  I will continue to post on Fridays and hope to publish the next blog entry on or about July 22.

A Severe Choice

The extraordinary depth and breadth of the many crises confronting the American people today represent a critical turning point and test of America’s place in history.

For more than two hundred years the United States has stood before the world as a beacon of hope and an unparalleled model of political freedom, social diversity, and economic vitality.  People from throughout the world have been attracted to the vision it represents.

In the midst of upheaval it can be easy to forget the unique stature of the United States and the role it has played and will continue to play in the progress of an ever-advancing civilization.  Yet, our confidence in its’ social coherence, its’ economic well-being and generosity of spirit has faltered.

This blog, and the forthcoming book it represents, is addressed to those who are interested in understanding lessons from the past, and who recognize that failures of responsibility and foresight have led us to the brink of disaster.

Do we possess the resolve to join with one another in rebuilding the United States based on its core values and ultimate meaning?

In redirecting our attention and redoubling our commitment, it might be wise to consider those aspects of the American character and cultural attitude that have influenced the downward slide from responsibility to turmoil.

A self-indulgent materialism and thoughtless disregard for the consequences of our actions has placed the future in jeopardy.

The fragmented way we have perceived the world and led our lives may have origins in our immigrant past, but it will not serve us well in reconstructing a stable, coherent, and economically viable future.

There is much to think about.

However, my message is brief.  It will be short on analysis and will forego blame.  There is more than enough blame to go around and we all know about it.  Rather, I will focus on the essentials of mind and attitude, of human character, and of our relationships to one another that will be required if we are to turn despair into courage and failure into triumph.

We will address areas of concern that I believe to be central to realistic solutions.  Most importantly, we will consider the manner in which we relate to one another as individuals when we have very great personal differences.

I submit that the safety and security of our families and communities can only be assured if we unite around the structural order provided by the Constitution, which has anchored the American Republic from its inception, and to the principles of mutual respect and moral responsibility that give strength and resiliency to all civilized societies.

The United States has entered the fiery test of a crucible in which the forces of crisis will burn away the self-centeredness and sloppy thinking of the past to forge an American identity we can respect and feel good about.

If we fail to rise to our calling, however, the social violence generated by failing institutions and human suffering will threaten to incinerate our children’s future and turn a great vision to hopelessness and anguish.

At a time of extraordinary existential threat we are confronted with a severe choice.

Will we return to the founding ideals and principles of these United States as the bedrock on which to build a free and ethical future?  Will we defend and protect two hundred years of commitment, hard work, and sacrifice by generations of Americans who have given their lives to this unprecedented vision?

Or, will we give way to the emotions of uncompromising partisanship – and allow a great trust to shatter and vanish?

Infrastructure, systems, and services we have long depended upon are going to fail in the coming years. Problems will have to be solved without many of the tools and supports to which we are accustomed.  We will need to depend on one another in our local communities.

So, let’s set aside partisanship and sectarian differences when it becomes necessary in the interest of stabilizing and rebuilding the nation. Panic neither serves nor becomes us.

Tom

A note to regular readers:  Starting in July, I intend to post on alternate weeks.  This will allow me more time for completing the book.  I hope to post the next blog entry on or about July 8.  Have a good summer!

Someplace else…

Background 11 YogiBerra

“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”

–Yogi Berra

 

 

 

Principled Means, Principled Ends

These are precarious times.  We find ourselves confronted with growing social and economic instability and an uncertain future.  We do not want to sit on our hands.  Yet, unprecedented complexity and uncertainty make it impossible to know what to expect.

How easy it would be to let emotions rule, tipping the future into chaos and endangering the very goals we wish to secure.

It is with this in mind that I take up where I left off in the previous post (June 9).  I see two pragmatic reasons why political violence will not get Americans where we want to go.  One is tactical.  The second is strategic – and the more important.

Any patriot preparing today for armed resistance in the tradition of 1776 will pit himself against an extraordinary opponent.  He will be outmaneuvered and outgunned by fully militarized police possessing the most advanced surveillance technology and backed by massive firepower.

The mythic ideal of the citizen soldier remains deeply engrained in the American psyche.  But the plain fact is, if you imagine a heroic Star Wars scenario in defense of freedom and justice you are indulging in fantasy.

I am not interested in arguing about this because there is a much bigger problem, and it is this:  Who exactly do you intend to fight?

American law enforcement agencies and the United States military are served by loyal, committed Americans.   These are our people, our sons and daughters, friends and neighbors.  They are working people, they have families, and they care about the future.

It is our responsibility to win them over, not beat them up.  They should be approached respectfully, with persuasive argument and attractive example.

As I wrote here last week, violence committed by Americans against Americans would contradict the rationale behind the impetus to violence itself.   It would be self-contradictory, pitting us against one another and subverting the integrity and viability of the American Idea as a guiding force for the good.

Our views on politics or government, the integrity of the Constitution, or the corruption of principles, are all serious matters.  But, public servants, police officers and bureaucrats are not the problem.

We must respect these people, not just as a matter of principle, but because we need them. They are essential to a constructive solution.

Americans are not to be persuaded when we are attacked, not for some high-minded cause or anything else.  When faced with hostility we naturally close ranks, and clear thinking stops.

Even the misguided rebellion of tiny splinter groups will be destructive to the cause of liberty.  Any resort to force can easily lead to cascading consequences in which violence begets violence in a downward spiral, tearing the fabric of the republic and threatening the progress of constructive action.

Furthermore, it is simply not necessary.

Change is needed that is real, lasting, and built on the solid ground of dependable communities – not quicksand.  I never said this would be easy, so let me be clear – the skills, attitudes, and discipline that create and build community are at the heart of what we need to learn to create and build the future.

This is more than a matter of survival.  For thousands of years community has formed the foundation of civilization.  The essential concern in the present hour, and the basis by which to judge constructive action, must be the spirit and the quality of the future we wish for.  It is the means that determine the end.

This is not a theoretical nicety, but hard-nosed truth.  Understanding it will determine success or failure.

We are capable of being decent, patient and forbearing, of cooperating to resolve practical problems and even saving each others’ lives.  Personal principles, values and views must certainly be respected.  But, rising above our differences will be essential if we are to identify shared values, ensure comprehensive security, and begin to build a stable social economy for the future.

Going to war with our fellow citizens would make no sense.  Indeed, the ends we seek could be delayed by decades and possibly destroyed by impractical or intemperate courses of action.

Tom

Next week: A Foundation Based on Values

A note to regular readers: Thank you for all the comments, ideas, and perspectives shared in recent weeks, especially on the Facebook page.  You are a valuable “reality test” for me as a writer.  This project would be impossible without you.

Ends and Means…

Music 4-x

“The principle that the ends justify the means is in individualist ethics regarded as the denial of all morals”

–F. A. Hayek

“He who chooses the beginning of the road chooses the place it leads to.  It is the means that determine the end.”

–Harry Emerson Fosdick

“An attempt to achieve the good by force is like an attempt to provide a man with a picture gallery at the price of cutting out his eyes.”

–Ayn Rand

“They say ‘means are after all means’.  I would say ‘means are after all everything’.  As the means, so the end.”

–Mohandas Gandhi

“The first sign of corruption in a society that is still alive is that the end justifies the means.”

–Georges Bernanos

 

The Second Amendment, Then and Now

The Bill of Rights, which includes the first ten amendments to the Constitution, was first proposed to Congress by James Madison as articles to be incorporated into the main body of the Constitution.

Congress approved twelve articles of amendment to the Constitution in 1789 and submitted them to the states for ratification.  Contrary to Madison’s proposal, they were submitted as “supplemental” additions.  Articles Three through Twelve were ratified by the required number of states and became Amendments One through Ten in 1791.

The Second Amendment, which has become a matter of considerable interest in recent years, reads as follows:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

This was not controversial at the time.  The concept existed in English common law long before the enactment of the Bill of Rights.  And, many Americans feel it necessary to own firearms today.

The importance of this issue to the Founders was quite clear.  James Madison, who introduced the language that became the Second Amendment, also wrote that “The Constitution preserves the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation where the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”

Alexander Hamilton, like Madison a strong advocate for Federalism, was equally explicit: “The constitution shall never be construed…to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.”

Thomas Jefferson famously said: “No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms.” And he also wrote that “The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”

During the years just prior to the Revolutionary War there was mob violence in several of the colonies.  In addition, many Americans lived in or close to wilderness regions where conditions were essentially lawless.  The need people felt to protect their families was quite rational.

It should be noted that a primary motivation for supporting “a well regulated Militia,” articulated in the Second Amendment as “being necessary to the security of a free State,” was the strong opposition among the Founders to the concept of a standing army.

Thomas Jefferson put it this way: “None but an armed nation can dispense with a standing army.  To keep ours armed and disciplined is therefore at all times important.” “Every citizen should be a soldier,” he wrote. “This was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free state.”

The American reality in 1776 and 1791 was entirely different from that confronting us today.  Yet, news of social and religious violence imposes on our peace every day.  Older Americans are particularly sensitized to what has changed: the radical loss of trust and the lack of civility, ethical integrity, and social responsibility we see everywhere.

We must acknowledge the compelling reasons why so many feel it necessary to possess firearms.

It is in this context that I have expressed my concern about threats of force made or implied in the name of political ends.  We already face dangerous instability, a condition that can only grow worse as conditions deteriorate.

Unfortunately, I expect it will ultimately be demonstrated for all to see – that the pursuit of violence will produce exactly the opposite of its intended purpose.  Such destructiveness will set us back immeasurably.

There is a dynamic relationship between means and ends.  The character of the ends we seek will be determined by the character of the means with which we seek them.

Violence committed by Americans against Americans would contradict the rationale behind the impetus to violence itself.   It would be self-contradictory, pitting brother and sister against brother and sister, subverting the integrity and viability of the American Idea as a guiding force for the good.

We can do better.

Both our purpose and our means need to be carefully considered, and we need to get it right.  We face an extended period of sequential crises.  Many dark and dangerous things are possible.

Tom

Next week: Principled Means, Principled Ends

Sorrow and suffering enough…

Trees 10

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The First Principle

If we are to regain our self-confidence with the vision and values of the founders, it would be useful to employ means that can actually lead to the goals we seek.  Let’s proceed then with careful deliberation rather than emotion and ego.

No American responds well to abuse, verbal or otherwise.  Nothing will subvert our purpose more quickly than a combative attitude that alienates the very people we need to win over.

Will we allow our differences to tear us apart?

We have choices.  We can choose to join forces to tackle the practical problems that threaten the safety and security of our communities.  We can choose to distinguish ourselves with common decency and cooperation in the interests of a well-reasoned and purposeful future.

It is only in dependable personal relationships tasked with essential responsibilities that we can truly come to know and influence one another.

We live in an era of dangerous instability.   It is a time to refrain from antagonistic words; a time to refocus our creative energy away from the dysfunction of partisan politics, so to secure the essential needs of our local communities.

I have described three essential elements that make community possible – trust, dependability, and constructive action.  These elements will only be found in communities where neighbors rise above their differences to serve a higher purpose.  And, for a self-respecting people, purpose must be something more than “survival.”

As regular readers know, I have chosen the term “constructive action” to describe the positive means by which we can realistically engage with one another and progress.  And, I have explained why a shared sense of purpose is helpful in guiding constructive action.

Shared purpose, I wrote, is a lens through which a community can bring the challenges of necessity into focus, and coordinate the efforts of diverse personalities.  Purpose can provide a standard by which to determine priorities and judge progress.

So, how can we understand constructive action?

Constructive action is based on the refusal to do harm.  It is action taken in a spirit of respect and kindness, a spirit founded upon the refusal to do violence to fellow citizens.

The principle here is the refusal to hurt – by impatience, dishonesty, hatred, or wishing ill of anybody.

I submit to you that this is the essential first principle upon which all other principles, values, and purposes depend.

Please do not misinterpret constructive action as merely a negative state of harmlessness. Quite the contrary, while constructive action in its purest form attempts to treat even the evil-doer with grace, it by no means assists the evil-doer in doing wrong or tolerates wrong-doing in any way.

The state of constructive action requires that we resist what is wrong and disassociate ourselves from it even if doing so antagonizes the wrong-doer.

There is a close relationship between the positive spirit of kindness, respect, and trustworthiness that characterizes constructive action and the moral integrity of the civil society we wish to build.  As means and ends, the two are inseparable.

Constructive action is the means.  Unity of purpose, grounded in the truthfulness of moral integrity, is the end.

Western political thinking has always considered means to be either an abstraction of tactics or simply the character of social and political machinery.  In both cases means are considered only in their service to the goals of particular political interests.

We will approach our understanding of means in quite a different way, replacing end-serving goals with an end-creating purpose.

Such an approach to means is necessary if we seek to apply traditional American values to rapidly changing circumstances.

This is the reason for my insistence on the meaningful engagement of all Americans in this endeavor, despite our vast diversity.

A vital and energetic future can only be realized by leveraging our differences in knowledge, skills, perspectives.  And, the closer we work together the greater our opportunity to influence, attract and inspire.

Again, we have clear choices to make.  Either we choose to recover and refine the fundamental meaning of the American Idea, or we can walk away forever from the safety, stability, and purpose of a future we can trust and believe in.

Tom

Next week: The Second Amendment, Then and Now.

A note to regular readers:  Your ideas, views, and constructive feedback have been immensely helpful to me, especially on the Facebook page.  This project would be impossible without you.  To receive alerts by email you may click on “Follow” on the right side of this page.