The future of the United States is rooted in a storied past. When the first European settlers came to North America and dispersed into the forests and across the open plains, they had only their own initiative, ingenuity, and self-reliance to depend upon. No one was there to counsel them about the requirements for survival.
The meaning of freedom and responsibility were determined by harsh realities. Intrepid settlers also relied on one another as neighbors, so long as each took responsibility for themselves. Self-reliance and the acceptance of personal responsibility lead to mutual respect, and ultimately to self-respect. Whining and complaint don’t fly, however tough the circumstances.
We now find ourselves coming full circle to a time when some of the requirements of the early American frontier may become necessary once again. The physical circumstances look different, but the challenges will increasingly resemble those of an earlier time – when we were forced to stand on our own feet, depending on inventiveness, cooperation, and reliability in the context of community.
Most of us have become accustomed to the culture of dependence that easy credit and a well-funded government have engendered. But, this cannot possibly continue. Government will rapidly lose its capacity to function in the coming years. A depressed and heavily indebted economy will not support the government services we are used to, and this is likely to be with us for a long time.
As the Government finds itself unable to deliver promised commitments without devaluing the currency, our standard of living will deteriorate significantly. We will be called upon to learn the lessons of self-reliance and social responsibility demonstrated by those earlier Americans in the past who taught us a wisdom borne of hardship and hard work.
The individualism encouraged in the past by the relative freedom of unlimited physical frontiers must now be disciplined and refocused: Disciplined by the necessity to maintain our balance as we navigate through multiple crises, and refocused by the need to develop practical responses to complex material problems.
Maintaining stability will become a major concern because without it we cannot keep our families safe, and because cooperation and constructive effort cannot take place in chaos.
Some argue that creative change is born of instability, because it overcomes natural resistance to changing outdated customs. While this may be true, I don’t think we need to go looking for instability. We are not going to be able to avoid it. Good ideas and promising endeavors will be both born and destroyed in the coming days. I fear there will be no absence of opportunity for injury and trauma to our families. The ground is shifting beneath our feet.
We will have to fight for stability to get it back. If we seek to build a world where prosperity is possible, where our children can be safe and personal freedoms are respected, it will be necessary to create a stable environment for addressing problems, resolving conflict, and building capacity.
What will matter first and foremost will be our ability to work together, rising above our differences to build the foundations for safe communities, food security, and a functioning local economy.
In the coming weeks we will be thinking about how the Constitution of the United States has made such a diverse, strong-willed and combative nation possible for 200 years, and then go on to consider the social history and ideas influencing our national character.
This will be important for two reasons: It will assist us to approach the present difficulties with a balanced historical perspective, and to focus our best thinking on seeking a future we can respect and feel good about.
What are the ultimate outcomes we wish to seek?
Next week: Freedom and Stability, Finding the Balance.