Values, Justice and Economics

The word “economy” comes from the ancient Greek word meaning “household management.” It is hardly surprising that so much of our lives – from the means to make a living to civil order and social stability – depends on a well-functioning economy.

Yet, who exactly is managing this “household”?

We need governance that is geared to serving the best interests of society.  And while our ‘best interests’ may be a matter of debate, we depend on those people in positions of responsibility for honesty and foresight.

The nature and functioning of a civilized society depend on trust.  And trust appears to be in short supply in the digital systems and human thinking that facilitate global finance today.

Americans cannot raise families or plan for the future without consistent and dependable conditions, whether physical, social, or economic.

Businesses cannot expand or take on risks without confidence in the consistency of law and government policies, and in the unhindered price-discovery mechanism of the marketplace.

In short, we need our economy to be managed in the interests of the American people as a whole, rather than for certain groups.

However, the difficulties we face involve more than a simple problem of personal and institutional trust.

Leadership needs to acknowledge the uncomfortable fact that it is not possible to control everything in reality, even with the best of intentions.  Indeed, growing complexity leaves little possibility for constructive change without new thinking.

Economist John Taylor’s 2012 book, “First Principles”, argues persuasively that the arbitrary application of discretionary policies has led to inevitable economic imbalances and distortions that feed upon themselves.

However, it appears his recommendations will not protect us from the current anarchy of global finance or the massive distortions that now prevail.  It is difficult to see how the economy can escape the control of people who cannot admit their errors or bear to face the pain of changing course.

Short of another major financial crisis, I do not see this changing.

Central bankers will either abandon the illusion of control and the hubris of the past, or their assurance will be wrenched from their hands when reality reasserts itself.

Leaders of government will either awake to the truth or they will find themselves helpless before a calamity of unprecedented proportions.

The coming transition will be painful and frightening, because great destabilized forces must rebalance themselves.  The extraordinary excesses of recent decades will be wrung from a shuddering world.

An instability reaped by ego, greed, and massive indebtedness has infected both the mind and spirit of the nation.

What does this mean for ordinary Americans?

Americans do have recourse, but let’s be realistic: We will not be saved by self-styled leaders who think they know it all.  We’ve been there and done that.  Rather, we must rise above our differences as individuals, build local community, and commit ourselves to a principled integrity.

And, when the ground moves beneath our feet we must trust in the decision-making structure of the Constitution of the United States.

The national economy, when understood as “household management”, involves far more than budgeting and finances.  It requires leadership with a conscious attitude of responsibility, who care about the “household” and the people in it.

It calls for freedoms that are obstructed or denied to real people – citizens of limited means.

Some readers will be uncomfortable with the concept of “love” when applied to economics.  OK; so let’s call it respectful caring or compassionate understanding or common decency.

Whatever we call it, nothing else will guide us home.

The principles to provide the foundation for the future will be those that facilitate both respectfulness and problem-solving.  Genuine community can only be based on the values of true civilization: honesty, trustworthiness, ethical integrity and moral responsibility.

When we fully embrace these values, the economy will reconfigure itself according to just principles.  Only then will our lives find stability and renewal.

Healing will take time.  But rest assured: the economy will reboot.

Tom

Note to readers: I will be taking a brief break to travel in the coming weeks.  Please watch for the next post after February 7.  Drafts of two additional chapters of the coming book have been posted on this site.  Please see links at the top of the homepage.

Deeper and More Dangerous

We live in extraordinary times. Having entered a period of current and impending crises, Americans are challenged to pull together as a people, to safeguard the constitutional order of the nation, and to find our way together to a future we can depend on.

We face a broad range of crises, all emerging into view at virtually the same time.  We have discussed several here briefly, and others at greater depth.

Some, like the continuing debt crisis, have major current implications.  Others, like the unrecognized instability of complexity in today’s digitized world, remain hidden, but may well provide the trigger that sends everything into a tailspin.

I have placed emphasis on the coming financial storm because it hangs over us now, waiting for a trigger.

The too-big-to-fail banks are now bigger than they were before they helped bring down the economy in 2008.  Federal and corporate debt have expanded enormously since that time, further devaluing the US dollar.

Millions who lost their jobs and homes in the 2008 crisis remain mired in poverty.

Respectable higher-paying employment has been lost overseas or to robotics and mechanized production.  Experts predict that 30% of current jobs will disappear in the next 10 years.

The stock market has shot upward with no foundation in economic reality.  It has now reached irrational valuations not seen since just before the 1929 panic and the dotcom crash of 2000.

The Bank for International Settlements (BIS), which is the central banker to the world’s central banks, has stated openly that central bankers will be out of options when the next crisis hits.

The BIS suggests that the major central banks have mismanaged the situation to a large extent because they don’t understand it.  Previously “unthinkable risks,” the BIS said, are coming to be “perceived as the new normal.”

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also released a report stating that “key fault lines” are growing across the US financial landscape, and that “new pockets of vulnerabilities have emerged.” The largest and most interconnected banks “dominate the system even more than before.”

As imposing as the financial drama appears, in my view there is a deeper and more dangerous crisis.  And, it is clearly visible behind all the others.

I have written here of the profound loss of personal integrity – honesty, trustworthiness, responsibility – we have witnessed in recent years.

A profound collapse of moral standards has taken place on a societal scale.  It has infected many personal relationships and virtually all institutions.

This is the deeper crisis, and it may ultimately be responsible for the general deterioration that appears to be dragging civilization to its knees.

Dependability, trust, and responsibility are the basis for the sound functioning of all human affairs, and lack of them has led to crippling disorientation and disorder.

Why has this happened to such a stunning extent?  Certainly, we have lost the ethical foundations that have contributed to stability in the past.  But, why?  We are intelligent people.  What happened to good judgment?  Where is common sense?

Have we walked away from responsibility believing that honesty and fairness limit our freedom?  Or have we just become thoughtless, undisciplined, sloppy?

Has the daily bludgeoning from mass media stunted our ability to think for ourselves?

Whatever the reasons, we are now reaping the whirlwind.

For a world where many young people have grown up with little or no effective parenting, and where many of their elders have lost any meaningful grounding in values or virtues, there will be no valid guidance available in the chaotic upheavals that lie ahead.

Dealing specifically with impending or potential dangers is very important, but is beyond the scope of this blog.  Rather, I seek to gather Americans around a focus on safety, common needs, and constructive purpose in our local communities.

This is essential regardless of the nature of unpredictable events.

We have entered a time of severe testing.

Such testing requires us to rise to our full personal potential – patiently working together in our communities despite our differences.

This degree of patriotic loyalty is the only antidote to the toxic cocktail of partisan negativity that is poisoning the American soul.

Tom

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

Note to regular readers:  Two new drafts have been posted at the top of the home page (see above).  They are Chapter 6: Freedom and Individuality, and Chapter 9: Confronted by the Past.  In addition, Chapter 1: American Crucible has been revised.  I look forward to your feedback.

The Forward Edge of History

The vision of America that came to life with the birth of the nation was historic.  That vision, controversial as it then was, has been subverted today by a bitter divisiveness that disallows dialog and obstructs decision-making.

Our efforts to regain the integrity of our national identity and to build a future we can believe in, will call on Americans to navigate through currents of alienation, hostility, and misinformation.

Violence begets violence in a downward spiral, verbal or otherwise. Words can ignite uncontrollable fires.  And, dishonest or self-serving actions can do the same.  Destructiveness can take many forms.

Arguably, the United States has been headed for trouble for decades.  But, in the last quarter century social and economic conditions have reached dysfunctional extremes of miscommunication, irresponsibility, and violence.

When the banking system nearly collapsed in 2008, the United States hovered on the edge of material catastrophe.  Americans discovered that failures of responsibility, foresight, and common sense involved the very people and institutions we depended on.

We were stunned by the foolishness that came to light in places where we are most vulnerable.

It was a startling discovery: A cavalier disregard for the interests of both citizens and nation by institutions we had previously regarded as models of dependability.

In retrospect, however, we can see that the crisis had been a long time coming – that it continues today, that nothing has been fixed, and that it reveals far more than foolishness.

The disarray is surely the consequence of something deeper and more basic than financial incompetence.

National leadership has stained itself.  Confidence was compromised, trust destroyed, first in politics, then among institutions and interests that have associated too closely with politics.

We have seen immoral and deeply hurtful actions committed by religious leaders and clergy, the supposed exemplars of integrity.

Where will it stop?  In addition to the material damage done to our lives, the rampant failure of responsibility appearing at the core of our society is degrading and demoralizing.

There is nothing more destructive than distrust.  Indeed, it strikes at the foundations of civilization.

Times of peril require that we avoid contributing to inflamed passions, however offended we may be.  Hurled accusations and insults make it impossible for others to listen and hear reason.

The trouble with blame is, first, that it tends to be indiscriminate. It blinds us to the complexity of circumstances, and to the plural identities of those who disagree with us – or who may have just made some very bad mistakes.

We often fail to see that we share certain values and commitments with those who anger us.

Secondly, blaming blinds us to looming perils that are the fault of no one.  A fierce storm has come upon us.  We need each other for the sake of our local communities.

A storm of this magnitude will alter everyone’s perspective.  The time is coming when we will need to reassess, to adjust, and to seek safety in collaboration.

We must resist fear and its passions, and learn to work with those around us.  We will build from there.

Some of you have expressed serious doubts that this is possible.

I never said it would be easy; I said we have no choice.

If we are unable to confront crises shoulder-to-shoulder as loyal Americans, freedom will be lost in the chaos of the deepening storm.

This will require patience and learned skills.  We must try to see the end in the beginning – the vision of a renewed society where respectfulness, fairness, and moral responsibility prevail.

Both individual freedom and community coherence depend on this.

It is a purpose that might just be worth our learning to get along, even for the most doubtful among us.

Local communities are the one place where we can be assured of having the freedom and ability to make this happen.

Steadfast determination and the American generosity of spirit are among the virtues that will be called upon again and again in the coming days.

The future will inflict tests upon us whether or not we respond with dignity and compassion – whether or not we take our rightful place at the forward edge of history.

Tom

A note to readers:  Please watch for the next post on or about December 31.  New readers can find a project description, a draft introduction to the coming book, and drafts of several early chapters at the top of the home page.

Disruption and Endurance

The twentieth-century brought an astonishing number of advances to the human world – scientific, technological, and agricultural.  It was also a century of appalling violence, the most destructive in human history.  An estimated 167 million to 188 million people died at the hands of their brothers.

The century that put communism, fascism, and nationalism on the map also saw the invention of highly efficient weaponry and a willingness to direct it against civilian populations on a massive scale.

Do we understand what could happen to us on American soil – tragedies more devastating than anything we have experienced since the Civil War?  How easily we ignore the warnings!

At this historic turning-point we can least afford a repetition of the world’s destructive past. Only a strong America, just and wise and levelheaded, can lead a disrupted world back to stability and peace.

In his book, “The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West”, the historian Niall Ferguson, who I have introduced to you previously, is explicit:

“The hundred years after 1900 were without question the bloodiest century in modern history, far more violent in relative as well as absolute terms than any previous era…. There was not a single year before, between or after the world wars that did not see large-scale violence in one part of the world or another.”

Niall Ferguson’s observations are useful because he departs from the typical explanations that blame weaponry and fascist governments, as significant as these were.  Instead he identifies the true causes as ethnic conflict, economic volatility, and declining empires.

In short, he reminds us of our human vulnerability to fear, emotional insecurity, and tribalism.

The convergence of multiple crises I have been writing about here involve all these things, but also newly emerging threats that most of us have not seen coming.

These include an extremely fragile, interdependent banking system, depleted natural resources, the rapid loss of farmland and collapsing aquifers, and the degradation of critical environmental ecosystems.

Run-away technology is rapidly outpacing the maturity of human moral competence.

In every case, the challenges we face as individuals and families rarely come into focus until we consider their local implications.

And, as Dr. Ferguson points out, it is the anxiety of people under pressure that leads to social deterioration and violence.

Long-time readers know my views.  In the extremes of social and economic stress, it is my belief that local communities are the only place where we have the freedom and opportunity to take control of our lives in a civilized manner.

The difference between a disrupted past and a secure future will depend entirely on the manner in which we address problems with our neighbors and manage our local affairs.

We cannot completely wall-out the chaos of the world, but we can accept personal responsibility for the unity and well-being of our communities.

The distinction between past and future will be determined by dependable relationships, respectful attitudes, and giving a helping hand.

Building trust with neighbors and cooperating to meet shared needs are personal choices that lead to safety.

As we work together shoulder-to-shoulder, we can begin to know, understand, and influence one another.  The lessons of civility and cooperation to be learned here will serve us well as a nation.

Yes, we need to be realistic— Many people remain crippled by dogmatic prejudices.  This is unlikely to change until we are forced to address the essential needs that we face together in a disintegrating social order.

Patience and determination will then make many things possible as never before.  Necessity sharpens the mind and invigorates the will.

Distrust and alienation are diminished as we identify common concerns and work in service to common needs.

And what of our common purpose?

Ultimately, in my view, our first priority must be the survival of the United States as a constitutional republic.  The future depends on this.

Let us seek a strengthening respect for the Constitution and the cooperative form of governance it requires.

It is the Constitution that has allowed us gradual progress, an advancing strength toward unity, justice and inclusive fairness for more than 200 years

Tom

Dear readers:  I will be taking a short break— Please watch for the next post on or about December 17.  New readers will find a project description, an introduction to the coming book, and several working drafts of early chapters linked at the top of this page.

A Confluence of Crises

Americans face a formidable array of current and emerging crises. I believe this to be a defining moment that requires us to dig deep into the American traditions of loyalty and overriding unity. The only alternative is to accept disaster and disintegration.

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 Americans are currently focused on the politicized concerns that attract media coverage. Attention is easily diverted from the most important problems, including degraded economic conditions and growing civil disorder.

Blame is directed at politicians, while the real causes behind deteriorating conditions are ignored or avoided – the pervading loss of ethical responsibility and trustworthiness, the failure of economic foresight, and the profound menace of impenetrable complexity.

Yet, it is just such underlying conditions that most threaten our future security and well-being.

I offered a short list of emerging dangers and dilemmas in the last blog post.  These threaten a wide range of consequences: social and economic, moral and material.

Whatever the details of a confluence of crises, emerging complexity appears to be most dangerous.  The nature of extreme complexity is impossible to comprehend.  It is silent, multidimensional and unpredictable.

Of particular concern, we have never before been subject to the interactive complexity of digital systems.  This is new to the human experience.

The fabric of civil and economic order is shaken when stability fails.  Systems and structures can come unraveled in a self-perpetuating chain reaction.

Given the interrelated dynamics of social, economic, and political pressures pushed to extremes, we are stumbling into a systemic crisis capable of triggering 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, physical, mental, and spiritual.  And here is the crux of the matter.  Behind the material problems there is a rarely perceived but underlying crisis:  It is about the way we see and the way we think.

This is a crisis of a different kind, and it is the reason why the present turning point is so significant.  I speak here of the loss of moral compass, the need for which is critical in the management of complex crises.

The absence of moral responsibility and personal accountability is of devastating consequence.

The foundations of civil order depend on rational problem-solving.  Yet, contrary to the popular imagination, the efficacy of reason is neutralized in a moral vacuum.

This is the most dangerous challenge before us because it limits our ability to respond effectively to every other crisis.

Indeed, it undermines the integral order of 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 determination to cooperate with others.

Our ability to engage constructively with our neighbors is essential.  While there is much we will not agree on, we must learn to work together, to listen respectfully, and to translate our differences into communication that allows cooperative problem-solving.

A special kind of leadership is needed.  We must encourage one another to believe in ourselves, to be patient, trustworthy, dependable, and steadfast.

Such leaders will be ordinary Americans like yourselves, working to meet local needs and resolve local problems – regardless of our differences.

Dangers will persist.  As Americans pass through a chaotic transition, some will turn to the rigidities of inflexible ideology or violent rhetoric.

Make no mistake!  Extremist demagoguery can subvert the future of the United States as a constitutional republic.  The wreckage of sedition, whatever its sources, will threaten everything we believe in.

Leadership that is true to its American roots will stand firmly against such mental weakening.

The future depends on ordinary citizens like yourself, dear reader.   Your leadership must be quiet, compassionate, steadfast.

It is you who will carry America through the storm and out the other side.

Tom

Note to readers:  Please look for the next post on or about November 12.  A project description, an introduction to the forthcoming book, and several chapter drafts are linked at the top of this page.

Danger and Opportunity

I have addressed my concerns to the American people for two reasons.  I believe we have entered a period of severe, successive and interacting crises.  Serious threats involving economic instability, a disintegrating social order, and the deterioration of physical infrastructure have clearly emerged.  Disruptions promise to be long-lasting.

Most of all, the bitter divisiveness and disunity current among Americans will limit our ability to respond effectively to the dangers before us.  Indeed, our ability to govern ourselves is already impaired.

This is not simply the result of recent political conflict.  Many of you are aware that social and economic disorder has been escalating for decades.

We now find ourselves with a pervasive loss of respect for civility and moral responsibility, (both public and private), a frightening loss of social stability, and a broad deterioration of economic well-being for all ordinary Americans.

We stand at an extraordinary turning point.  Do we want the United States to be preserved as a constitutional republic?  Are we personally prepared to rise above our differences to make this possible?

There are pragmatic solutions to these questions, but they will require us to rise to the challenge.  I have never said it would be easy.  I have said I do not think we have a choice.

We face a formidable array of complex crises.  The problems are profound, diverse, and mutually reinforcing.  Some will impose themselves suddenly, others gradually, but all will ultimately converge to impact our lives.  What is most extraordinary is the multitude and diversity of crises emerging into view simultaneously: social and economic, moral and material.

I will offer several examples.

Political instability has constrained civil dialog.  Undisciplined verbal hostility cripples the possibility for constructive collaboration.

Massive indebtedness – government, corporate, and private – is suffocating the economy and threatens resolve itself in another banking collapse and a significant devaluation of the dollar.

The banking and monetary systems have been abused, favoring the financial elite rather than the American people.  This has nothing to do with free markets.  Indeed, it is a direct threat to free markets.

The financial world is dominated by self-serving individuals who appear incapable of recognizing that their foolishness threatens the well-being of everyone, including themselves.

Deteriorating infrastructure, which we depend on every day, includes bridges, municipal water and sewage systems, and the electrical grid.  These cannot be upgraded or repaired by governments that are hobbled by indebtedness and shrinking revenues.

The rapid development of advanced technologies has vastly increased the complexity of the world around us.  Systemic complexity is now far beyond the capacity of even the most intelligent human minds to understand or control.

Furthermore, technology has advanced far more rapidly than the ethical maturity of decision-makers.  A commitment to moral responsibility is severely lacking.

The degradation of the natural environment, which provides us with clean air and water, is the consequence of population pressures and the long-term build-up of toxic chemistry derived from motor vehicles, household products, and industrial pollution.

Most significantly, the loss of ethical integrity and moral responsibility on so massive a scale is overwhelming the values and norms upon which civilization depends.  And. this weakens our ability to respond to every challenge.

However, I suggest to you that we have a hidden and unexpected opportunity here.  A disruption so severe and disturbing has the potential to alter our perspective.  It will challenge our assumptions and our courage.

Such conditions have the potential to awaken us finally to the requirements of responsibility, cooperation, and maturity.  It will be necessary to think differently, both to survive and to build a positive future.  How well do we actually know our neighbors?

Is the United States worth saving as a constitutional republic?  Is it worth the effort to collaborate with those who see things differently, but who share our loyalty and commitment to this great nation?

Local problem-solving will become essential.  Safety and food security will depend on a diversity of local knowledge, skills and experience – regardless of politics or religion or the color of our skin.

If we can build dependable local communities we can also begin to talk – to identify shared needs and shared values, and to develop a shared vision of the future that we can respect and believe in.

Tom

Please look for the next post on or about October 23.

Freedom in Crisis

Big corporations often show little regard for local communities or the people who live in them.  Geared for profit-making, not moral responsibility or citizenship, giant business organizations dominate our lives today.  They are neither human nor humane.

Living in a society dominated by corporate culture, we find ourselves perceived as economic units, “consumers” pressed into service by a materialist mindset.

It should not be surprising that we find ourselves alienated and irritable at a time of crisis, isolated from one another and struggling to make sense out of chaotic circumstances.

The interconnected web of relationships that civil society depends on has evaporated.

Americans need not submit to such a destiny.  Ours is a nation of people, not machines.  We are prepared to work, but not to be used.  We are social beings, but independent in mind and spirit.

In reality independence is relative, but always an attitude and a choice.  The independence that leads to self-sufficiency could actually become a matter of life or death.  It can mean financial stability or food security or being a good parent.

The meaning of independence takes on new dimensions when crises strike.  But there is much more to this than survival.

It is in communities and in the quality of active human relationships that we form the matrix of a free society.  Freedom is realized in serving a principled purpose as autonomous individuals, and in the vitality of lives that are engaged, responsible, and in motion.

Constructive relationships with other people allow ideas to be shared and understood.  Our ability to solve problems improves.  In trustworthy relationships, our self-sufficiency gains strength.

Are we willing to take this on?

We might not want to put up with community-building.  It’s hard work.  Some try to avoid it all together.  A few might prefer to take snowshoes, an axe and a rifle, and walk into the wilderness.

I know how attractive solitude can be.  But I also know it would limit my opportunities to grow as an individual, as well as the honor of dedication to the country I love.

Historically, the basic building blocks of the American Republic have been communities. There was a time when the bonds that held everything together were the personal relationships that made communities real.

Communities are made functional by the inspiration and determination of individuals and families, interwoven into mutually supportive networks, and networks of networks.

It will not be easy to regain what came to us more naturally in the past.  Yet, our future depends on loyalty to the “American Idea”, a vision that embraces unity in diversity, trustworthiness and dependability.

Americans are accustomed to contentious politics and unconstrained partisanship.  There will always be value in the clash of differing opinions.

However, we have entered a dangerous period of instability.  This is a time to rise above our differences, to repair and protect the interwoven fabric of the Republic.

We face unprecedented complexity, deteriorating institutions, and a growing scarcity of resources.

Things are not working as we expect they should.  And there is no one to resolve the problems except ourselves.

If we are to rebuild a society in which the foolishness of the past is not repeated, we must think constructively about the principles and human qualities that are needed.

Generosity and good will are essential human virtues, but they are only the beginning.

Finding solutions to local problems will require consultation, collaboration, foresight and creative imagination.  All of these call for a diversity of practical skills, knowledge, and perspective, and therefore a diversity of membership.

This might sound idealistic, but we can no longer depend on outside help.

Learning how to do it will be difficult, requiring learned skills and determination.  Those with steadfast patience and vision – who can see the end in the beginning – will carry through and prevail.

Resolving differences of opinion or non-core values is not necessary for stabilizing a crisis.  While giving each other space to have differences can be uncomfortable, holding ourselves apart over disagreements while hurling insults can only reap destruction.

Rising above our differences is a serious challenge.  But there is no other way.

Tom

Note to regular readers:  Please look for the next post on or about October 9.

Finding Courage in Crisis

The courage to step forward in a time of crisis often means responding to pain and frustration with a commitment to moral responsibility.  This can be especially challenging when it feels like the world is unraveling.

To persevere through disruptions and turmoil we need a vision of the future that embodies constructive purpose.  Personal values and sense of integrity become vitally important.

However, thoughts and ideas are useless without action.

What is to be done?

We must never forget that there can be no freedom without responsibility.  This is the backbone of a free society and an inescapable requirement of the human soul.

Civilization itself cannot exist without the committed responsibility of citizens.  This is our country and our world, and the problems we face belong to us.

In my view, a commitment to the foundations of civil order is a commitment to our own personal integrity.

We would do well to consider our sense of belonging, who we are and what integrity means to us.  This will strengthen self-sufficiency and sense of purpose.

Self-sufficiency and purpose give us self-confidence; both are important.  Self-sufficiency concerns practical matters and will-power.  But purpose has to do with ideas, and ideas can be problematic.

So, let’s think about this.

Sense of purpose is a personal matter, yet it would be useless in a vacuum.  Each of us is a member of the society in which we live.  And. being truly alive places us in motion.

We learn to live with life’s fluid nature and to adapt to change.  If we are not engaged, thinking and responding, we are not paying attention.

Purpose implies a future.  It would be easy to attach ourselves unwittingly to ideas or expectations that are based solely on the past.

There is both strength and danger here.

Most of us attach ourselves to long-held assumptions.  This lends itself to stability, as long as we keep our minds open.  We need consistency to follow through with plans.  Otherwise nothing would get done.

But, at a time of extraordinary disruption and change, when the future is dark or hard to imagine, expectations need to be flexible and purpose must depend on a strong spirit and time-tested values.

We know what kind of world we wish to live in, at least in general terms, but expectations will have no ground to stand on during a long crisis.

In the coming years we can expect to be bombarded by sequential crises.

Safety will depend on dependable community, despite our differences.  A readiness to rise above our differences is a necessity in genuine community.  Survival may depend on it.

However, a vision for the future can only be built upon mutual respect and understanding, rather than on the assumptions of a crumbling past.

In the midst of chaos, “constructive action” can be understood as the means by which we unite and advance toward intended goals, not away from them.

So, let’s keep two priorities in mind:  First, to identify values that are capable of guiding us through turmoil.  Second, to stay alert, allowing flexibility of judgment and readiness to adjust our thinking as conditions change.

If we believe in freedom, we cannot allow presuppositions to control the future.  That is not what freedom is about.

Assumptions carried with us from the past are dinosaurs that threaten our ability to build the future.  Principle must be permitted to guide our way, always responding to the realities at hand.

We may dislike the conditions in which we find ourselves at any particular moment.  We may determine to alter them.  But, to be rigid and inflexible will court disaster.

Our independence as free people depends on engaging effectively with ever-changing circumstances.

We are challenged to keep our balance at the vortex of historic change, to uphold the spirit of liberty, and remain ever resistant to absolutism and bigotry.

Personal integrity, trustworthiness and responsibility, will keep us on track through the storm.

To survive and to serve, we must summon the courage to spread our wings and soar on the wind.

Tom

Please look for the next blog post on or about September 10.

Note to new readers:  A project description, an introduction to the book, and several chapter drafts are linked at the top of this page.

Cooperation or Collapse?

And what about our differences?  The hostility and divisiveness that currently separates Americans is unquestionably the most intense since the Civil War.

Our differences are based on many things, among them ethical and religious values, social philosophy, electoral politics, and our understanding of history, as well as economic disparities and personal experiences with hardship.

Many at both extremes have distorted perceptions of the views and intentions of the other, and remain unwilling to seriously investigate actual differences.

These are dangerous times.

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 a rich national diversity.

Our opinions, values, perceptions all deserve respect; yet we disagree vehemently today on matters of fundamental importance.

In addition to these differences, America also faces a broad range of growing practical problems.  As material crises take hold, will the security of our families and communities be important enough to encourage cooperation and loyal dependability?

Effective problem-solving and meeting life-sustaining needs with our neighbors – many of whom we disagree with – may soon be essential.

Are we prepared to work shoulder-to-shoulder in our local communities for the sake of safety and relative comfort?  Can we be loyal to one another as neighbors – and as Americans?

The survival of the Republic will require virtues that Americans are no longer generally known for: moral responsibility, dependability, steadfast loyalty.

What gives?

Our greatest challenge will be learning to view problems and people – especially people who are different from us – in essentially ethical rather than political terms.

This is not about charity.  Civilization requires a level of civility that goes far beyond kindness and common decency.  If Americans are to turn the corner, it can only be with a responsible and inquiring attitude that is unfamiliar at present.

Genuine communication does not require compromising principles.

Indeed, opportunities for influencing others will proliferate when we work together, addressing urgent common needs.

Times of danger tend to open minds and alter perspective.  We begin to see with new eyes and to recognize the dynamics of cause and effect.

It is neither practical nor civilized to go to war with one another when our common interests depend on our ability to communicate effectively and engage in rational problem-solving.

What is most urgent is not that we agree on religion or politics, but that we seek dependable cooperation in the face of material threats.

Practical tools are needed to make acceptable decisions in small groups.  Skills will be required to ensure food security, to make consultative decisions and manage conflict, to organize projects and start small businesses.

We each can develop needed skills.

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

I am not opposed to effecting change by traditional means.  As the crisis deepens, however, I suggest we will gain more immediate control over our lives through collaboration and community building.

And, dependable community is the ground of civilization.

Our values, principles, and ideals need a stable forum in which to be communicated, cultivated, and spread.  This will never happen by force.

The present crisis will be long and the challenges extremely difficult. We must prevail for the sake of our children and the future of America.  Failure would be catastrophic.

Ultimately we are confronted by a single simple question: Will we accept the destruction of civilized society, a rending of the fabric of the American Republic, and retreat into a state of siege?

Or, will we have the courage and the will to do the real work?

Tom

A note to readers:  An introduction to this project and several chapter drafts from the forthcoming book are available on this page.  Please watch for the next blog post on or about July 17.

American Endurance, Vision, Faith

The deepening crisis raises unavoidable questions. Will the country be torn apart by conflict, hostility and suspicion?  Will the nation survive as the constitutional republic created by its founders?  Will Americans have the foresight, fortitude, and grit to reaffirm the vision and principles that will lead to a genuine renewal?

Disunity fosters weakness.  If the American people are to prevail as a unified nation, how will we pull it off?  Do we have the patience and wisdom to give priority to the stability that makes safety and problem-solving possible?

Peggy Noonan, a widely read conservative commentator and former aide to President Ronald Reagan, addressed this question eloquently in her book, “Patriotic Grace, What It Is and Why We Need It Now”.

She wrote at a time of bitter political back-biting, and, as we all know, things have become 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 resonates with the American spirit.

Most of us never expected to see the United States in the condition it is in today.  Many of us never expected to face the personal hardships and growing challenges we are experiencing.

We face a uniquely American crisis, yet one that is unfolding in the midst of an extraordinary global turning point.  It is, in my view, a time of real danger.  We can only rebuild the United States as a living example of a free and prosperous nation if we unite to make it so.

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.

The historic promise of the Union has held every generation in safety through every challenge.

It can only prevail today 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 capacity to move forward despite the mistakes and tragedies of the past – and the concerns and discomfort of our differences.  Many valid concerns need to be addressed, but this will not be possible without the stability of civil order.

Our future hangs in the balance.  It is time to reassert the vision with which the nation was built, and insist on 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 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

A note to readers:  Watch for the next post on or about the Fourth of July.

American Crucible

The extraordinary challenges confronting the American people will mark a turning point, and a test of America’s character and place in history.

For more than two hundred years the United States has stood before the world as a beacon of hope, a source of creative imagination and ingenuity, and as a singular model of freedom, diversity, and vitality.

In the cauldron of crises it is easy to forget the unparalleled historic meaning of the United States, and the role it has played in the progress of an ever-advancing civilization.

Our confidence in the future is shaken by abandoned responsibility and collapsing institutions.

Economic well-being and the social coherence of the nation have been weakened.  The generosity of spirit for which Americans have long been known has faded.

This week I will step away from recent topics to revisit the central theme of this blog and forthcoming book.

I ask my fellow Americans to consider the danger in the present crisis – a threat to the survival of the United States as a constitutional republic.

The most basic underlying problems have not been caused by present or past leadership, but by structural change, by a weakened understanding of personal responsibility, and by a lack of constructive thinking.

Political leadership will not save us.  Hope lies in the hands of the American people and our readiness to rise to the occasion.

My question to you is this:  Will you align yourselves with a loyal core of American citizens, however diverse, who possess the will and the vision to assert our shared identity as a nation?

Small at first, we will grow.  This will take time, but increasing numbers will be attracted by the American spirit.

We have entered a great turning point that is neither partisan nor cultural, but rather social, ethical, and economic.  It has been brought on by greed, lack of foresight, and the abdication of moral responsibility over a long period of time.

My message is brief.  It will be short on analytical detail and will avoid 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 moral character, and of our relationships with one another that will be required to go forward.

The challenge will be to turn despair into courage and failure into honor and self-respect.

The book will acknowledge mistakes and the failure of vision and responsibility. I will consider the way we have gradually abandoned control over our lives.

However, I will do so not to fix blame, but for the purpose of understanding the steps required to build a stable future we can respect and believe in.

In the present fragile context, priority must go to ensuring the safety and well-being of our families and communities.  This will depend on trustworthiness — and teamwork among our neighbors.

There can be no freedom without trust.  And, we cannot begin to build trust or address the future without first securing stable local communities in which to resolve immediate problems, meet local needs, and learn to collaborate.

Is this really possible?

Yes, but only with great patience, a commitment to fairness, and a determination to pursue constructive, life-affirming solutions.

America has gained its vitality from our diversity and the creative engagement found in the clash of differing opinions.

I do not ask you to alter your views, but to listen to others with interest — to understand, influence, and debate.

Our differences must not be permitted to subvert the unity of purpose that defines this nation.

At a time of existential danger we are confronted with a stark choice.

Will we seek the ideal of collaboration made possible by the Constitution?  Will we 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 vanish from history?

Tom

A note to regular readers:  My blog posts are adapted from a forthcoming book.  They appear both on this page and at facebook.com/freedomstruth.  You will find a project description here (linked above), as well as an introduction to the book and full drafts of several chapters.

Values in a Deepening Crisis

Once again I want to ask readers to consider the values and principles we should rely on during the long crisis ahead.  We want to survive tough times and come out the other side better than when we started.  And surely this means doing so with moral integrity and self-respect.

This is a crisis that has been a long time coming.  The many challenges we face are complex, fluid, and unpredictable.  At times it will feel like the ground is shifting beneath our feet.

Perspective is easily distorted in a crisis.  The horizon we depend on to stabilize our vision and judge progress may be veiled.  Decisions we are forced to make on the fly will depend on the attitudes, principles and courage we have already internalized in our mind and soul.

These are our most precious possessions.  There may be times when they are all we can count on.

We have entered a great turning point, a crucible in which the strength of the American identity will re-emerge in clearer focus.

I would like you to distinguish between moral values that guide our personal lives, and the broader principles that can guide a stumbling nation back to stability and take Americans forward into a future we can respect and believe in.

Certainly, these are closely related, but how do we prioritize in the interests of the nation?

Let’s keep some basic realities in mind as we do this.

First, at the present time our local communities are the only place where we have the freedom and the immediate opportunity to stabilize our lives.  Here we can seek safety and security by working together.

However, we can only succeed if we are willing to join forces despite our differences.

How do we feel about conflicting values?  What principles do we need to agree on to allow local collaboration and problem-solving?

Second, this nation was founded on the basis of principles that are represented by the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  These are not in question here.  One of those principles is freedom of religion.  Americans have the precious freedom to practice our own religion unhindered, but are discouraged from imposing our beliefs on one another.

There are some who view religious principles as limiting to their principles of personal freedom.  Others believe that true freedom is only possible when guided by the constraints of moral integrity taught by religion.

There also happen to be a number of religious concerns that have significant social implications.

One familiar example would be the importance of honesty, trustworthiness and good will in politics, as well as in personal and business relationships.

Another would be the termination of human life before physical birth.

Still another would be the enforced imposition of principles of social responsibility on those of libertarian inclination who have not agreed to such principles.

I could go on.  Many Americans do not believe that such questions have anything to do with religion despite their metaphysical qualities.

So, again, let’s distinguish between 1) those religious or philosophical values that can best ensure a good and responsible personal life, and 2) those broader principles necessary to knit the social and economic fabric of the United States back together.

And, let’s remember that the pluralistic tradition in American history and culture allows us to grow, change, and influence one another of our own free will rather than by force.

We can only attract interested consideration of our own views when we treat one another with dignity and respect.

The bottom line is both simple and challenging.  We know we will never agree on many things.  Americans have always been a contentious lot.  Yet, we have chosen on many occasions to unite, to defend the Constitution and the inclusive character of the nation when these have been threatened.

And so I ask:  What is required to allow us to pull together as a nation now, while yet allowing each to remain comfortable in his or her own views and beliefs?

I expect your comments to be wide ranging.  Please be direct and to the point, which will be helpful as my book progresses.

Tom

A note to regular readers:  I have returned from my travels and intend to post regularly.  Please remember to check in!  A project description and an introduction to the book are available on this page, as well as full drafts of several chapters.