Americans find themselves at an historic turning point. We face a formidable array of current and emerging crises. The challenges ahead will be diverse, profound, and mutually reinforcing. Some will appear suddenly, others gradually, but all will ultimately converge as they impact our lives in the coming years.
Most of us are focused on the highly politicized concerns and dangers that currently attract media coverage. Attention is easily diverted from the most important problems, including deteriorating economic conditions and growing civil disorder.
The real causes behind these circumstances are ignored or avoided – the pervading loss of responsibility and trustworthiness, the failure of economic foresight, and the many conceptual disconnects stemming from the growth of complexity.
Yet, it is just such underlying conditions that most threaten our future security and well-being.
I will not debate the relative importance of various issues. However, in the coming posts I will draw your attention to several that I consider most significant.
I offered a short list of emerging dangers and dilemmas in the last blog post, (see August 25 “In This Time of Danger”). These threaten a wide range of consequences: social and economic, moral and material.
One revealing example of the material threats is the vulnerability of the national grid in the United States to cyber-attack.
Such an attack could cut off or severely limit telecommunications, broadcast media, the internet, air-traffic control, banking, emergency services and hospital functions – without warning. It could disrupt distribution systems, leaving supermarket shelves bare.
The grid is very old; damage could require a long time to repair.
Whatever the details of a confluence of crises, the fabric of civil and economic order could be shaken. Systems and structures could come unraveled in a self-perpetuating chain reaction.
Never before have we been dependent on the interactive complexity of digital systems. We are stumbling into a multi-dimensional crisis of the whole, capable of leading to a cascading collapse.
We must be prepared to respond rationally, without panic and with our principles intact.
The integrity of the whole is a dynamic reality, both physical and spiritual. And here is the crux of the matter. Behind the material problems there is a silent, central, and transcendent crisis that is of ultimate significance.
This is a crisis of a different kind, and it will influence the ultimate outcome.
I speak here of the loss of moral compass, the need for which is critical in the management of complex crises.
The absence of ethical and spiritual grounding precludes personal responsibility and accountability.
Such an abdication of reason threatens the foundations of civil order. Contrary to the popular imagination, reason cannot exist in a moral vacuum.
This is the most profound crisis, and the most dangerous, because it will limit our ability to respond effectively to every other crisis. And, because it will lead to the loss of the integral order of human civilization.
Whatever our particular religious tradition or philosophical grounding, the difficult years ahead will demand a steadfast commitment to the highest ethical standards, to consistent moral responsibility and a patient readiness to cooperate with others.
Our ability to engage constructively with our neighbors will be essential. While there is much we will not agree on, we must learn to work together, to listen respectfully, and to translate our inevitable differences into language that can be understood and respected.
Problem-solving will require local cooperation if our communities are to be safe and dependable.
A special kind of leadership will be needed to navigate this turning point safely.
We will need leaders who help us believe in ourselves and empower us to make things happen for ourselves. Such leaders will be ordinary folk like ourselves, working to meet local needs and resolve local problems.
In a fearful passage through a chaotic transition, some will turn to inflexible ideology or violent rhetoric.
The wreckage of sedition, whether it comes from above or below, could threaten everything we believe in. Leadership that is true to its American roots will stand firmly against such mental weakening.
Such a leadership will be quiet, compassionate, steadfast. It will carry us through the storm and out the other side.
Please look for the next post on or about September 22.