Reclaiming the Future

We are being tested by unprecedented extremes.  It can feel like we are living on the edge.  But the disarray in America did not begin with COVID-19.  We must keep this in mind.

How is the pandemic influencing our thinking about the conditions that preceded it?

It is easy to stay riveted on current events.  But older Americans are painfully aware that social and economic deterioration has been gaining momentum for decades.

Regular readers know of my strategic response to this gathering storm.  Does my focus on the importance of local communities make sense to you?

Am I simply preaching sweetness and light?  Or is this a question of central importance to Americans if we are to regain control of the future?

Why is genuine community essential for the stability of social order?  And why is this especially significant now, as we look into the fog of fear and uncertainty?

A foremost concern for most of us is the need for security in the face of multiple crises.

Without neighbors we can depend on, the immediate future appears bleak.  Physical survival in today’s world needs dependable community.

The greater the threats to stability, the greater our need for trustworthy relationships, and the more dependent we become on the practical knowledge, skills, and life-experience of our neighbors.

Safety is essential.  But, it is not everything.

Communities are much more than geographic locations.  For thousands of years communities have been the basic unit comprising civilized societies, the structure in which justice, social order, and cultural identity are grounded.

It is here that youth learn values, find equilibrium, and gain a sense of belonging. Genuine community encourages members to express their unique identity, character, and creativity.

So it is that community, when endowed with the full engagement of its’ citizens, becomes the substructure for freedom and security.  No other institution is capable of serving this purpose.

Among the essential roles of community is to anchor the diversity of institutions, associations, and organized functions that form a healthy civil society.

This is of crucial importance to the individual.  Without diverse opportunities and choices for meaningful involvement with others, we become disengaged and disoriented, set adrift, vulnerable to dishonest, despotic and predatory influences.

The absence of mediating associations thrusts society into reliance on an increasingly pervasive central government.

Why have human beings so often abandoned liberty and independence for the charisma of totalitarian despots?  What were they missing?  The answer is not so mysterious as it might seem.

All of us possess an urge to belong, whether it be to family, a place, or a group where we are valued. To be fully human we must belong somewhere.  Americans are no different from any others in this regard.

If the United States is to survive as a constitutional republic we must find our way back to this sense of identity, and to the flow of ideas, relatedness, and continuity which may have become distorted or gone underground but is not lost.

And, if we care about freedom—our experience must be local. 

Without communities where we feel at home, where we can serve the greater good, where people know our name—the quest for belonging can easily deliver us to authoritarian tyranny.Are we capable of building stability with our neighbors?  Americans have little experience with genuine community.  Many of us are barely acquainted with our neighbors.

I am proposing that we learn how to build a society where prosperity has a foundation in local knowledge, independence, and initiative—where our children can be safe and where personal freedoms are respected.

Yes, as Americans we are fully capable of developing community-based relationships, of tackling problems, managing conflict, and organizing local projects.

With COVID-19 behind us, communities can grow and preserve food, support small businesses and jump-start cash economies.

We have the energy.  With a commitment to constructive action and a readiness to assess our assumptions we will learn by doing.

Challenges will be met with the spirit of generosity for which Americans have long been known.  This is in our character as a nation.

It can be done and we can do it.

Tom.

Note to regular readers:  I will not be posting close to the US elections.  You may watch for future activity here on or about October 19 and November 9.

Freedom, Responsibility, Integrity

I have suggested here that liberty is closely related to justice.  I believe true liberty can only be found when we align ourselves with justice.  We gradually come to recognize the outlines of justice as we mature into adulthood.  So it is that we learn the value of truthfulness, trust, and moral responsibility.  The implications of this are profound.  Let’s unpack it.

We will not agree on many things, but some principles overstep our differences.  Moral responsibility is one—and it requires that we think and act with respect for our fellow human beings.

A friend once pointed out that the meaning of “responsibility” is suggested in the compound word, “response-ability.”  Without this ability, there can be no justice and liberty has no purpose.

Viktor Frankl, a medical doctor who survived imprisonment in two Nazi death camps during World War 2, came through his ordeal with a firm belief that freedom can only be secured through responsibility.

Freedom,” he wrote, “is not the last word.  Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth.  Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness.  In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.”

Seeking freedom begins in the process of maturing: We let go of selfishness, bad habits and dependencies, and try to make a go at life with what resources we can gather or create.

This is meaningful and sufficient for a time.  However, we soon begin to realize that the society in which we live, and the material limitations in our lives, impose themselves on us in uncomfortable ways.

Do we then give in to rebellion?  Do we sink into feeling sorry for ourselves?  Or, do we choose dignity rather than doubt, assert control over our shortcomings, and engage constructively with what confronts us?

Many of us find it necessary to construct the lives we wish for from the wreckage of past mistakes, our own and those of others, and are grateful simply for the opportunity to do so.  Even cleaning up a mess can provide a certain satisfaction.

Still, self-respect cannot wait for things to change that we have no control over.  We are each capable of responding to the world around us with dignity and creativity, and we must.

This requires initiative, a positive attitude and constructive action.

The meaning of responsibility can depend on our circumstances.  What I am suggesting here, however, is that a core responsibility underlies all others: This is the imperative to build and protect trust.

Why is this important?  Because ultimately all constructive relationships depend on trust. Social stability, justice, and effective governance all depend on trust. Without the assurance of trust, liberty and justice will remain elusive, and the fabric of this nation will continue to disintegrate.

Trust is the substance of integrity.  It will be essential for building a future we can believe in.

When we are self-respecting persons, we seek to acquire a principled integrity that defines our character and our way of being.

Please keep in mind, however, that such a blessing can easily be squandered in a moment of carelessness.

So, there you have it: Integrity is the highest attainable value—a quality of moral soundness. Trustworthiness is the substance of that value; and, responsibility provides the constructive action with which we make it so.

Finally, justice is the beginning and the end, the structural matrix that holds it all together.

There is no middle ground.  Either integrity and responsibility are wholly present or they are compromised.  Without them no civilization is possible.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about August 12.

A project description and introduction to the coming book, along with completed drafts of several chapters, can be found at the top of the homepage.

To See for Ourselves

Each of us has the ability to see and interpret things for ourselves.  Yet, all too often we allow other people to influence our personal judgment.  Sometimes we even neglect to investigate the truth for ourselves.

Dishonesty and deceit run rampant in the political world.  Every media outlet has its own “spin”, however well-intentioned the editors might be.  And, anyone can create a website intended specifically to mislead and direct our thinking.  Every day we are presented with alternative realities based more on rumor and imagination than on serious investigation.

How can we test the accuracy of our beliefs and assumptions?  What protection can we find for personal independence in the midst of social upheaval?  There are ways to do this using the internet, if we are truly curious and intent on searching for accuracy.

We are human.  We can never fully comprehend the reality in which we live, physically or spiritually.  Yet, I firmly believe that hidden behind every disruption and every illusion a dependable underlying order exists.

Otherwise no civilization would be possible, and the perfections of the physical universe could never have come into being.

The human world survives repeated cataclysms, always recovering its balance and somehow progressing despite incessant delusions, duplicity, and chicanery.

In the previous post I wrote of the boundaries we must navigate between freedom and justice as we move through life.  This foundational structure cannot be altered or manipulated.  We spend our youth learning to recognize and accommodate ourselves to it.  And, under normal conditions we begin to take it for granted.

Religious people may recognize this truth as a manifestation of God’s Grace.  Others might see it as a function of the integrity of the natural order in the universe.  I believe both are true.

Without this stability our lives would always be dominated by anxiety.  And, the disorder in today’s world is cutting us off from this security, causing a massive excess of anxiety all around us.

A balanced and coherent unity can be recognized in both the human and natural worlds, when our vision is freed from myths and manipulation.

The elegant equilibrium found in nature will, if left alone, always manage itself with a sensitive, yet robust and resilient functionality.  Human society, too, has a purposeful balance.  Can we imagine the terror we would experience as social order disintegrates?

Whether in human affairs or in the natural world, any disruption or harm will result in consequences that may not be immediately apparent.  Yet the repercussions of injury and injustice spread rapidly as each impact leads to others in widening circles of instability.

What does this mean for freedom?

Surely we all know that freedom depends on a just, dependable and predictable world.  So it is that freedom and responsibility are interdependent.

While dialog and consultation offer essential safeguards, the ability to recognize the consequences of our own actions, “to see the end in the beginning,” is perhaps most important.

This is a capacity we can develop in ourselves.  The perceptive capacities we possess allow us—if we are responsible—to determine our course of action more freely, safely, and independently.

And, recognizing the potential after-effects of our own deeds allows us a degree of protection from engaging in overly emotional, ill-conceived, or destructive acts.

A cursory review of human history reveals numerous examples of poorly conceived actions leading to disastrous consequences.  As we have all seen, both individuals and groups are quite capable of falling into error.

How does this happen?  Well, sometimes we think we have everything figured out when, in fact, our information is limited and we are only aware of a part of the truth.

Sometimes we fail to speak with people who are right around us.

It is important that we consult with others, and to listen for diversity of experience and perspective when we do so.  Only then can we step back to think critically for ourselves.

These are among the lessons that will allow us to build safety and strength for ourselves and for America.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about July 28.

The Ground of Freedom

The interdependence of freedom and responsibility is elemental.  Knowing this allows us to live our lives with integrity.  It informs us of the contours of justice.  And yet rational thinking alone cannot determine the foundations for justice.

So it is that agreement on a framework for a just and livable environment is the first order of business for every functional community, large or small.

Living and working together as neighbors depends on a shared understanding of justice—an understanding embodied in a consensual moral consciousness.

Secure communities depend on this.  And it is a condition we can only arrive at by means of dialog and consultation.

Making morals and making community are, it has been said, a single mutually dependent process.

We all have ideas about what is right and good, but where do our ideas come from?  Do we make them up from scratch?

The capacity of the mind to conceive and envision personal freedom hints that self-assurance should rightfully be ours.  Yet, a finite world imposes limits on our freedom even as society depends on moral responsibility.

We are aware of the ease with which we can slip into error, over-stepping the bounds of honesty and integrity in little everyday ways.

To protect ourselves from error, both great and small, we need to see with our own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and to think independently with our own minds.

Many are resistant to recognizing the boundaries between justice and injustice, goodness and evil.  But make no mistake: Every human being is endowed with this ability.

Whatever our religious faith or philosophical belief system, the independent investigation of truth is our first responsibility.

Each of us is vulnerable to the error of transgressing the boundaries of freedom and finiteness that safeguard equilibrium in the world.  We each tread a rocky path strewn with obstacles.

My greatest concern, which I hope you might share, is the powerful influence of strong-willed, overconfident individuals who often appear in the midst of crises, and who will want you to follow them.

We must resist the seductiveness of self-appointed “leaders”.  This is my warning to you.

Such people will surely appear, claiming to love liberty when in fact they are its greatest enemies.  Please be prepared to maintain your independence.

The human spirit knows no bounds.  Yet, the conflict between freedom and the boundaries of justice is as harsh as it is inevitable.  This is a fact of life that defines the human condition.

Given the extraordinary human capacity for perception and imagination, we often stretch the limits with painful consequences.

Worse, it can be easy to imagine ourselves possessed of unique wisdom or exceptional qualities.  The past has been punctuated with great delusions.

So it is that we must understand purpose in the finite limits of being, and find responsible means for putting it to work.

Finiteness is a structural characteristic of the universe.  All physical form is defined by limits, as it must be to serve its’ function.

This is the nature of physical reality and the functional ground of human freedom.  The social order in a civilized society serves a similar purpose.  These are givens.

It is the inherent dependability of this truth that allows us to launch ourselves into new frontiers of learning and experience, to control the direction of our efforts, to instigate, organize, create.

Without structural limits, (which include our own moral values), we would have no capacity to direct our energy and intelligence, to explore new ideas or undertake new ventures.

For the individual, the ability to exercise discipline defeats the limitations imposed by nature and society.

The discipline to leverage our inspiration against the constraints we encounter provides the power to actualize our freedom and transcend the material difficulties in our lives.

We cannot leap without a firm foundation beneath our feet; we cannot fly without wings.

Discipline and limitation are, indeed, the ground of freedom.

Tom.

You may watch for the next post on or about July 15.

Several additional chapters from the forthcoming book have been added (in draft) at the top of the homepage.

The Journey to Destiny

Whatever our personality, philosophy or religious belief, the individual person has an unavoidable choice to make.  Either we retreat into a defensive posture, or we step forward as mature adults, patiently seeking to engage life with a generous and responsible spirit.

At a time of existential crisis for the United States this choice takes on great importance, not only for ourselves but for the nation and the world.  The American model has served as a beacon of hope for people everywhere.  And, the world is watching.

If we are to protect our families, organize the means for safety and security among our neighbors, and recover the promise of this nation, we must interact with one another constructively.  And with dignity.

In the previous post I emphasized that expressing our views is necessary for a healthy society.   But nothing will subvert our purpose more quickly than a combative attitude that alienates the very people we wish to influence—or need to work with.

As regular readers know, I place great value in local community as the foundation for a dependable, coherent, and prosperous American future.

Are we capable of making this possible?  Americans have little experience with genuine community.  Many of us are barely acquainted with our neighbors.

Why is community a basic element of civil society and a foundation for civilization?

There are several important reasons.

Perhaps the foremost concern at the present time is our need for safety and security in a time of severe multiple crises.  Without neighbors we can depend on and trust, the immediate future appears bleak.

Safety is essential.  But it is not everything.  A community meets needs that are fundamental to human nature.

Human beings possess a deeply felt urge to belong, whether it be to family, a place, or a community where we are valued.  Americans are no different from any others in this regard.

To be fully human we must belong somewhere, to a group, a nation, or a coherent historical stream.

As Americans it is essential that we find our way back to this sense of identity, and to the flow of ideas, relatedness, and continuity which may have become distorted or gone underground, but is not lost.

And, if we care about liberty, the experience must be local.  Communities are the basic unit comprising human societies, the structure in which justice, responsibility, and cultural awareness are grounded.

It is in community that the individual finds equilibrium and belonging; where we are encouraged to express our unique identity, character, and creativity.

So it is that community, when endowed with the full engagement of its’ citizens, becomes the substructure for freedom and security.  No other institution is capable of serving this purpose.

In the absence of community there can be no foundation for the diversity of associations, institutions, and organized functions that form a healthy civil society.

Without such diversity of association Americans have become disengaged, disoriented and set adrift.  And, it is in just such a state that human beings have been most vulnerable to dishonest, despotic and predatory influences.

Needless to say, this is of crucial importance as we confront the social disruptions and pervasive loss of ethical integrity that characterize the 21st century.  To hesitate here is to react as victims rather than to respond as Americans, to choose loss over promise, helplessness over responsibility.

The responsible, free-thinking person will sometimes struggle with the contradictions between freedom and necessity, or may be intimidated by extreme circumstances, but we must never give in to helplessness.

I do not suggest that this is easy to do.  It is not.  What I am saying is that we have no choice.  Either we rise above the challenges of personal limitations or we will join an inexorable slide into chaos.

There will always be difficult people to test our patience.  Choosing to take control of the future will require that we exercise tolerance, perseverance, and self-control.

Achieving an honorable destiny will come one step at a time.

What is imperative is that we each take initiative, that we step forward with a constructive attitude—come what may.

Tom.

You may watch for the next post on or about June 30.

A project description and introduction to the coming book, along with drafts of several chapters, are linked at the top of the homepage.

Responsibility and the Future

The civil unrest we are currently experiencing in the United States has exploded into a multi-layered complexity of ongoing crises.  Like the deterioration of social order in America, the present outburst has deep historic roots.  As new crises continue to proliferate, this blog will remain focused on the challenges of social disruption and interpersonal alienation.

We will seek effective solutions for making safety and problem-solving possible despite our many differences.  And, we will return again and again to fundamentals.

When we hear a contentious and quarrelsome tone in the disputes that dominate today, how do we respond?  Does unproductive hostility frustrate us?  Do we yearn for a more practical attitude toward problem-solving?

The clash of differing opinions is a valuable time-honored American tradition.  But no one responds well to verbal abuse, much less physical violence.

Expressing our views is important.  Indeed, it is necessary for a healthy society.   But nothing will subvert ones’ purpose more quickly than a combative attitude that alienates the very people we wish to influence – or need to work with.

Imagine for a moment that we had the good fortune to live in a community where local safety and practical problem-solving is given relative priority over philosophical differences.

In my most recent post (May 18), I challenged readers to consider how far we are willing to go to create safe, positive and productive conditions in our communities.

Do we have the vision, courage, and fortitude, I asked, to commit ourselves to principled means and to engage responsibly in constructive action?

I am not asking what you think other people are willing to do.  I am asking what YOU will do.

Nothing will change while we wait for other people to accept responsibility for themselves.  Responsibility is personal and self-defining.

The most important things in our future – creating safe communities, ensuring food security, recovering from economic collapse, for example – depend on collaboration.

Most of us understand what responsibility means in our personal lives, whether or not we make it real.  And, most Americans know that freedom cannot exist without responsibility.

But what do I mean by ‘constructive action’?  This might sound unfamiliar, but it is hardly a new idea.

As regular readers know, this concept provides effective means for breaking through log-jams of discord.

Constructive action is geared for problem-solving – allowing a sufficient level of cooperation to get the work done, however limited this might be.

Constructive action is exercised with dignity and respect.  It refuses to hurt or injure – whether by impatience, dishonesty, hatred, or wishing ill of anybody.

Please do not imagine this to be simply a state of harmlessness.  On the contrary, constructive action is the foundation for coherent strength.

It is the first principle upon which all other principles, values, and purposes depend.

It makes problem-solving possible despite inevitable conflict.

The moral integrity of the civil society we wish for will depend on the spirit of respect and trustworthiness that characterizes constructive action.

The two are inseparable as means and ends.

Constructive action is the means.  A future grounded in moral integrity is the end.

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

Here we have a very different understanding of means, replacing end-serving goals with an end-creating purpose.

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

This in no way denies the validity of partisan political views.  Instead it provides a rational forum for debate, opening hearts and minds to different ways of thinking.

Influencing others can only happen where there are ears to hear.

And, a free and prosperous future can only be sought by capitalizing on our differences in experience, knowledge, skills, and perspective.

The better our working relationships with friends and neighbors, the greater the opportunity to attract, inspire, and learn.

We can choose to learn the skills and tactics that make collaboration possible – or we can walk away forever from the safety and integrity of a future we can trust.

Tom.

You may watch for the next post on or about June 16.

Links to several additional chapters from the coming book have been added (in draft) at the top of the homepage.

Assurance and Dependability

Both as individuals and as nations we can sometimes be severely tested.  As I wrote in the last post, this is the story of humankind, and it has been rough.  Yet, we have never stopped learning, creating, maturing.  And, yes, civilization has continued to advance.

As the present crisis evolves, and as we begin to think about the future we hope for, how do we think we might be changed?

I’m not asking a political question.  I am asking a deeply personal question, and it turns on responsibility and perspective.

How will our lives look different to us?  How will we view our responsibility for family and the community in which we live?

How will we prepare for the other crises that are already emerging over the horizon?

The tests that we face today are those of responsibility, the single most essential virtue and sign of maturity for a parent, a friend, a business owner, a citizen.

This crisis has impacted our lives in ways we could not have imagined.  How will we respond?

Faced with uncertainty and anxiety, some of us are discovering things about ourselves we did not know or expect.

Each of us has been endowed with capacities that can remain latent and undiscovered until we are challenged by the unexpected.

It is when we face the pain of personal loss and defeat – or its’ potential – that we find strength in ourselves that we did not know we had.

Reaching the limits of endurance we expect to collapse, and then, mysteriously, we keep on going.  Because we do what must be done.

The capacities I speak of are more than strength, mental or spiritual.  They include perception, problem-solving, and insight into the confusion or needs of those around us.

In a crisis we can sometimes see aspects or qualities in circumstances that we had failed to see before.  Perspective changes and new understandings emerge.

Please allow me to suggest several of the elements which together form the structure of the human world.  There are three that I believe are of primary importance.

I will mention justice first.  Justice is defined by the world of order and necessity that we are given in this universe.  But the given structure of justice is often obscured by the confusion and egoism of human disorder and distrust.

And then there is the force of attraction that binds all things which by nature belong in relationship.

This is the force that keeps a family together despite untold injuries and failures, and provides the foundation of dependability in a community despite all difficulties and differences.

Some call this attraction love, but it is not an emotion.  It is an elemental force born of belonging in this universe.  It gives coherence to the structure of justice that we depend upon.

Finally, there is an intrinsic power that energizes the structural dynamics that give form to all things – and which ensures the integrity of our lives and keeps us going.

Believe what you will about the source and origin of these three forces, but their existence and necessity cannot be denied.

They are dependable and trustworthy even in the darkest night; even in the shadow of dishonor, sickness and death.

And they can become apparent to each of us.

The reality into which we have been born in this world has an unassailable structure formed of the union of love, power and justice.

This is the foundation upon which our values remain steadfast, allowing us a measure of assurance within ourselves – even when the ground feels like it is moving beneath our feet.

Be strong, my friends. Stay loyal to one another despite the disappointments, the failures and loss, because the truth of our lives is deeper and more essential than all the rest.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about May 20.

Note for new readers: A project description, an introduction to the coming book, and several chapters in draft can be found at the top of the homepage.

This Crisis, Here and Now

Faced with severe challenges and the haunting presence of fear and uncertainty, we turn to inner personal resources and reserves.  Where do we find strength when a family is in need, when hopes and expectations suddenly vanish?

For many of us the questions that present themselves, perhaps late at night, in some way turn on character, emotional equilibrium, and for the fortunate, on religious grounding.

With the future thrown suddenly into turmoil, how can we respond – as parents, citizens, human beings?  What kind of person are we?  Clearly, courage is called for, but what does that really mean?

We are being tested: What is the best we can be?

Character, values and virtues all emerge more clearly, demonstrated as they always are through actions and behavior.

Words can come easily, but truth makes itself known in action.

I have some suggestions you might wish to reflect upon.  Our world has been shaken and will likely be a different kind of place after the pandemic.  But the world is not ending.

Human beings have often been tested severely.  This is our history, and it has been rough.  Yet, we have never stopped learning, creating, maturing.

And civilization has continued to advance.

Somehow injuries heal, mistakes are corrected, and human failures vanish behind us in the mists of time.  Yes, as individuals we can fail.  But others are always raised up in our place.

So, again, we are here and now:  How do we wish to respond?

What will our needs and priorities be when we are able, once again, to engage directly with our neighbors?  Will living with dependable neighbors seem more important now?

How can we ourselves become resourceful, trustworthy neighbors?  Communities can improve safety and security in many ways.  Are we willing?

What knowledge, skills and tools do our neighbors already possess?  Electrical, plumbing, IT, security?

Communities can cooperate to grow food, of course, even in urban neighborhoods.  And this is the time of year when the soil is turned and gardens are started.

In a world now dominated more than ever by the stresses of an integrated economy, of population growth and complexity, we can expect a future punctuated by unexpected crises.

Long-time readers of this blog know my concern that local community is the only place where we have the ability to address the needs that both dignity and survival require.

We can choose with our neighbors to rise above our differences, to share personal knowledge and skills, to collaborate in problem-solving.  These are the basic building blocks with which the future will be built.

Community is the seat of civilization.

And, so it is that learning the lessons of cooperation, dependability, and trustworthiness will secure a richer, safer future.

Do we wish to live with neighbors we trust?  Do we wish for neighbors who recognize and appreciate our own efforts to demonstrate trustworthiness?

If so, we will have to step forward and make it so.

Living with integrity, in my view, is to be committed to these things – expressed in our relationships with others who seek the same.

It is only in collaboration with others that we can build a future we can respect and believe in.  It cannot be done in isolation.  Every kind of isolation must come to an end.

Will the coronavirus pandemic awake us to the challenging potential of this waiting reward?

Or will it require a series of ever greater crises and even more terrible suffering for Americans to turn the corner?

There is no other way.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about May 6.

Note for new readers: A project description, introduction to the coming book, and several chapters in draft can be found linked at the top of the homepage.

Coming to Account

Never have such extreme constraints been imposed on us – economic, emotional, and physically threatening.  The necessity to understand the current threat, to protect ourselves and to secure household and family, has required every bit of energy and attention.

Now, however, the reality of isolation is beginning to sink in.

Imagination easily wanders through feelings of helplessness and, perhaps, to thoughts of paranoia.  We are human beings, having a natural tendency to look for fault somewhere – the possibility of malevolence or the likelihood of mistakes and poor judgment – and to lay blame.

As people attempting to protect our families and to survive, such stray thoughts get us nowhere.  However, the opportunity to reflect deeply on our lives, both personal and societal, may be opening.  This is rare for many of us.

We are aware that things have not been right in America (and the world) for quite some time.

We have little opportunity as citizens to influence economic or political outcomes, yet we have significant control over how we manage our lives.

How have we been doing?

We value our own intelligence and self-respect.  So, given the opportunity to think, assess and evaluate — to reflect on what is missing in our lives or what we would like to do better – what ideas or principles might be helpful?

What ways of thinking might help at such an extraordinary time as this?

One of the principles available to us, and which comes with ancient roots in the Judeo-Christian heritage of the western world, is the idea that we each exist for a purpose – which presents itself in the opportunities we have to make a positive difference in the world, each in our own way.

Perhaps most importantly, this idea comes with recognition that our world is fragmented and in disarray.

The smallest acts of compassion and service, however insignificant they might seem, are the effective means for putting the world back together.

There is nothing new about this understanding.  All the world religions focus on healing and uniting the fragmentation of societies – on fostering fellowship within social and cultural diversity.

Why do so many adherents of the various religions fail to see this and understand?  Surely this is due, at least in part, to the habit of accepting only what feels comfortable, what is selfish and easy.  We reject the rest.

It has actually been in the direct response to catastrophe in religious history that the importance of individual deeds has come to be recognized as a fundamental principle.

It is in the immediacy of selfless interactions that we transform negative energy into a force that heals and restores the damage we experience in a battered world.

The smallest actions make a difference.

We do not need to be religious to do good or to understand moral responsibility.  To be moral is to do what is right or necessary, out of our own self-respect and not because somebody tells us we should.

Each of us is quite capable of rising up from our own difficulties and selfish preoccupations to reach out to others in straightforward ways.

In experiencing the effectiveness of selfless actions, we make a critical discovery – that we can look upon the disasters around us without concluding that America is irreparable or that human beings are irredeemable.

How important this is for the country, for our communities, and for the well-being of our own spirits!

A future that embodies the essential principles of the American Republic will depend upon citizen initiative that demonstrates the moral responsibility, trustworthiness and caring we are all capable of.

Let this become an everyday, habitual way of life: Allow it to color the character of your local community.  And watch what happens.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about April 22.

Note to new readers: A project description, introduction to the coming book, and several chapters in draft can be found linked at the top of this homepage.

Life Interrupted – and Reconsidered

The shocking impact of the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted our lives.  We can only wonder at the ultimate consequences.  What does it mean for our families, our friends, ourselves?

As a trigger for another financial crisis, the impact on the future will be great.  An unprecedented level of corporate and government debt prior to the crisis has ensured systemic weakness.  Long-time readers are well-aware of this danger and its implications.

Those with a sense of responsibility and the spirit to help others may be feeling helpless at the present time.  Concern for our families is paramount.  And, the natural urge to reach out, to care for the sick and elderly, to serve the community in our neighborhood or church, is suddenly and severely hampered.

Escalating needs will quickly become obvious, even as compassionate inclinations are confronted by growing personal risk.

To sustain body and spirit we are challenged to think differently, to alter our approach to life both inwardly and outwardly.

Above all, we face the need to stay positive in the face of fear and dislocation.  This will not be possible unless we are determined – however uncertain the future – to take constructive action in our communities.

If we are unable to act physically, we certainly have multiple means of communication.  We must be supportive in every way possible, strengthening positive relationships and discouraging despair.

Morale always depends on action – on being and doing.

Accepting fear is useless.  Losses certainly hurt and can require unwelcome adjustments.  But the greatest damage from getting knocked down is not getting up.

All this is especially important for our local communities, which we will depend on in the coming economic disarray.

Personally, we must count on ourselves to stand firm in the storm, and to look around to see who else is counting on us.  How quickly can we refocus our attention on priorities?  How can we gain confidence in our sense of purpose, dependability, and usefulness?

The corruption and disintegrating order of the present age reveal the necessity for thinking and acting in a manner fit for the future.

We are being tested.  Yes!  Are we willing to consider what we wish to gain from being tested – to learn, to mature emotionally and spiritually, and to become better people?

Let’s think about how we wish to comport ourselves as mature adults and human beings.  Such tests as these show us what we are made of.

For those without a sense of inward spirit in themselves, severe tests can sometimes feel intolerable.  Yet we persevere with great courage, digging deep into our own accumulated strength.  Can we recognize that such perseverance is a function of spirit more than of rational intellect?  Reason is a wonderful tool, but only spirit will carry the day.

For the religiously oriented among us, the challenge will be to resist the false security offered by institutional dogma or silver-tongued preachers.  Will we allow our inward self, our spiritual grounding, to be diverted from a direct relationship with God?  Scriptural guidance is immediately available, and it is quite explicit.

Whoever we are, we will gain steadfast strength by first turning inward to ground ourselves and then outward through action to serve family and community.

We can best learn and grow by opening ourselves to the unexpected benefits of hardship – by allowing the testing to become a path to wisdom, to discipline, and to a deepening perceptual sensitivity.

It is this that provides us with the strength and vision for building the future – both for ourselves and for America.  Nothing of such profound value comes without pain.

The time to confront pain and find our strength is now, and the way to find it is through constructive action.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about April 8.

Note to new readers: Links to a project description, an introduction to the coming book, and several chapters in draft can be found at the top of this page.

America: Meaning and Challenge

We all have anxiety about coronavirus and the related instability in the financial system.  These are serious concerns.  But, let’s not take our eyes off the ball.  We have more fundamental issues to deal with – challenges that will continue and deepen with each oncoming crisis.

In my view our greatest concern should be our difficulty dealing with crises, in problem-solving, especially in our local communities.  Because this is where trust, dependability, and survival count most in our lives.

Americans have always been a contentious lot, yet we are capable of showing fierce allegiance to America.  How, I asked in the previous post, have our national attributes led to strength?

I quoted from James Surowiecki’s book, The Wisdom of Crowds, where he described how unexpected solutions can be found when independent thinking and a diversity of viewpoints are aggregated in a decision-making process.

I have suggested that such wisdom can be found in small groups, intentionally and intelligently, when we are committed to meeting local needs and resolving local problems.

A decision-making process that seeks common purpose among diverse participants can be managed as a learned skill.  Anyone can learn how to facilitate such a process.

Effective solutions depend on a group’s ability to generate new ideas that go beyond consensus.

This is only possible when we rise above our differences to leverage our diversity in knowledge, experience, and problem-solving skills – and take an inquisitive interest in the input.

All available information is needed on the table.  Unexpected insight might prove invaluable.

With an attitude of patience and civility toward one another we can make an ongoing effort to seek effective solutions.  A degree of uncertainty is natural and healthy.  We can always make course corrections.

However, we must each see with our own eyes and think with our own minds.  We must never be certain of another person’s certainty!

Unity is not sameness.  Unity can only come into being with the embrace of differences.  Living with diversity presents us with the necessity for learning how to engage with one another in practical ways.

In the first chapter of my coming book, which is posted on the blog’s homepage under the heading American Crucible (www.freedomstruth.net), I quote conservative columnist Peggy Noonan, who makes a heartfelt call to the American people in her little book, Patriotic Grace, What It Is and Why We Need It Now.

In it she urges us to rise above our differences, however significant they may be, to reaffirm “what it is to be an American.”

Peggy Noonan writes:

“Politics is a great fight and must be a fight; that is its purpose. We are a great democratic republic, and we struggle with great questions. One group believes A must be law, the other Z. Each side must battle it through, and the answer will not always be in the middle.  The answer is not always M.

“But we can approach things in a new way, see in a new way, speak in a new way.  We can fight honorably and in good faith, while—and this is the hard one—both summoning and assuming good faith on the other side.

“To me it is not quite a matter of ‘rising above partisanship,’ though that can be a very good thing.  It’s more a matter of remembering our responsibilities and reaffirming what it is to be an American.

“…And so I came to think this: What we need most right now, at this moment, is a kind of patriotic grace—a grace that takes the long view, apprehends the moment we are in, comes up with ways of dealing with it, and eschews the politically cheap and manipulative.  That admits affection and respect.”

Does she have a point?  I think so.  We can acknowledge the things that divide us, address them in a manner that allows practical solutions, and unite to protect a civil order that allows us to preserve or recover the freedoms we cherish.

Or, we can let it all come to naught.

I never said it would be easy.  I have said that if we are to recover the integrity of the nation we wish to honor and respect – we have no choice.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about March 25.

Note to new readers: A project description, introduction to the coming book, and several chapters in draft can be found at the top of the blog’s homepage.

Unexpected Wisdom

How has the American identity formed itself during the past 200 years – from amidst an immense diversity of conflicting ideas and beliefs?  Why has the clash of differing opinions led to patriotism and strength?

What is going on?

The idea that unity is strengthened by diversity may seem counter-intuitive at first, yet we have many examples of how this works.

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 he shows that the more diverse the crowd, the more efficient the solutions.

Citing many examples Surowiecki describes the conditions in which democratic decision-making does and does not work.

He tells us 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 added up all the contestants’ estimates and 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 US Navy 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 identified 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.”

My coming book will offer practical guidance for local communities to utilize diversity to engage in effective problem-solving and decision-making.

Stability in a crisis and the survival of freedom will require this wisdom.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about March 10.

A note to new readers:  A description of this project, an introduction to the coming book, and several chapter drafts can be found at the top of the homepage.