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.

The Problem of Trust and the Future of Humanity

Trustworthiness and dependability are usually thought of as admirable aspects of personal character.  But as we witness the continuing deterioration of social order it becomes increasingly clear that these priceless attributes are pillars of civilization.

Fear of crime or violence will cripple any society, but the greatest insecurity comes with the loss of trust between friends or neighbors or fellow workers – those we depend on and thought we understood.

Have we found ourselves unexpectedly questioning whether someone we trusted is actually who we thought they were?  When such questions arise, how can we be sure?  How does one keep body and soul together?  It is hard to recover.

Distrust makes the world precarious.  Uncertainties spread; confidence vanishes.

Things fall apart.

Businesses are particularly vulnerable to loss of trust.  Without dependability in governance and consistency in economic policy businesses are hobbled by unpredictability.  Business owners cannot plan.  And a market economy abhors uncertainty.

This is not the way any of us wish to live our lives.  If constant uncertainty makes things feel out of control, it can get scary.

What can we do as responsible people when we live in a society dominated by distrust and a general lack of personal integrity?

The benefits can be great when we choose to be trustworthy ourselves – in spite of everything.  We can be consciously determined to demonstrate what moral integrity means.  But this is not easy.  If America is to turn the corner it will take time and extraordinary patience.

We will have to keep the necessity of dependability in focus at all times.

Nothing will change unless we establish the effectiveness of trustworthiness to those around us and draw attention to its’ value.

In so doing, it will be important that we not fool ourselves into imagining that we are better than others who are failing to meet our standards.  Moral pride can be obvious, and it will push people away.

How can we assist others to understand and value integrity?  Self-righteousness fails to acknowledge that everyone has the capacity to recognize their mistakes.  So, if we would help America move on to a better future we need to be self-disciplined in our contacts and relationships.  Kindness attracts; arrogance offends.

Moral pride,” wrote Reinhold Niebuhr, “is revealed in all ‘self-righteous’ judgments in which the other is condemned because he fails to conform to the highly arbitrary standards of the self.  Since the self judges itself by its own standards it finds itself good. It judges others by its own standards and finds them evil when their standards fail to conform to its own.  This is the secret of the relationship between cruelty and self-righteousness.” (The Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. I, p. 199.)

Readers who profess their belief in the Christian Faith may recall the admonition of St. Paul when he wrote: “For wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things….” (Romans 2:1)

Those of other faiths, or those who do not consider themselves religious, will never-the-less recognize this compelling logic.

Integrity is a personal choice.  We must never assume that others are incapable of cleaning up their act.  It is an intrinsic capacity we are given at birth.

A word of warning before we finish: When we recognize a consistent pattern of dishonesty and deceptiveness, it can become necessary to distance ourselves from it.  Such destructiveness permeates and subverts everything around it.

We must be practical, but also ready, if possible, to care for people who are troubled in this way. The greatest forgiveness is the least deserved.

However, forgiveness and trust are two entirely different things.  Once trust is lost, it can be very difficult to recover.

So it is that the restoration of trust and dependability in all our endeavors must be championed by every American as we enter a new day.

Without trust the future is lost.

Tom

A note to readers:  This blog posts regularly.  The next post is due on or about January 31. However, it will be less predictable than usual as I will be traveling.

You may request emailed alerts by clicking the Follow button on this page.

Self-reliance: Local, Dependable

Once the primary force behind a strong economy, the American middle class has been devastated by the economic aberrations and distortions of recent decades.  Those with least resources have suffered most.

Living from paycheck to paycheck, with no savings and harnessed to debt, most are ill-prepared for retirement.  It is difficult for Americans to envision a meaningful future under such conditions.

Clearly, it is time for ordinary Americans to pull ourselves together to reassert the self-reliance once venerated in our national character, and to unite around a course of action that affirms a self-respect and a self-confidence that no hardship can shake.

Hopelessness breeds helplessness, and neither is acceptable.

How can this happen?  The starting place to regain the American spirit is in our local communities.   Here we have a measure of control despite the constraints arrayed against us, and the freedom to initiate constructive action.

Such an endeavor calls upon us to rise above our differences for the sake of the nation.  We are not asked to alter our views, but to collaborate whenever we recognize shared needs and can find common cause.

All of us have skills, and the ability to teach and learn from others.  Everyone has undiscovered capacities.  Together we can rebuild America, each making the effort to bring others along with us, teaching, serving, sharing knowledge, skills, and energy.

We need to focus our vision, develop locally-based cash economies, and begin to rethink the future.  When social and economic well-being becomes a mutual necessity we will discover numerous opportunities to contribute.

What we need most from each other is a positive attitude.  Let’s get acquainted with our neighbors and expand our network of relationships, reaching outward from our personal comfort zone.  There will be rich rewards.

The majority of our neighbors will warm to us when we show an interest in them.  The more we demonstrate our interest in them, the better most people will listen to what we have to say.

Listening with a genuine intent to understand almost always gets results.  If this fails despite your persistent good will, leave them to themselves.

Why is this so important?  Because trust and dependability are critically important at times of disunity and danger.  Especially among neighbors.

Safety depends on it.  Constructive action depends on it.

With some care and thoughtfulness, we will begin to see productive opportunities open up – ways to team people up with each other, to share knowledge and deepen trust.  We each have the capacity to learn new skills and take on new roles.

Again, this does not require that we alter our views, but it does give others a chance to understand the reasoning behind our views.

Personal perspectives often change in new circumstances.

Sometimes we do not realize how our own experience can be helpful to others in unexpected ways.  The capacity and knowledge of others might be suppressed or veiled by suffering.  Let’s listen and give encouragement!

I assure you that an open-minded investigation into the potential capacity of every individual will yield unexpected gems.

This is far more than a charitable concern.  It will expand community resources, and strengthen security in dangerous times.  Even individuals lacking in capacity will often respond to caring attention with the greatest compassion, energy, and loyalty.

Let’s reach out and test our limits.

As I have said, the road to freedom is built with vision, principle, and responsibility.  Americans are caring, inventive and resourceful.  We can rise to the challenge, freeing ourselves from negativity and partisan bickering.

We are capable: We can do this!

Tom

A note to regular readers:  The blog will take a brief break for the holidays.  Please watch for the next post on or about January 3.

A project description, an introduction and several chapter drafts from the forthcoming book are posted at this site (see links above).  Please see especially Chapter One: American Crucible.

Where is the Baseline?

When we begin to think strategically about the future, there are a number of imposing challenges and baffling questions to be addressed.  I offer one here for your consideration.

Bigness has been a hallmark of American culture and has been said to reflect the spirit of the nation.  As an expression of raw power, massive engineering projects have fascinated Americans – and the rest of the world – for a long time.

Great ships, long bridges, tall buildings and world-changing inventions have transformed the material world throughout American history.  Many of us recall the awe we felt as we watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon – live on television.

In recent decades we have watched huge banks and corporations grow ever larger, crushing the small businesses we used to favor on Main Street, USA and dispersing our jobs to distant places.

Eventually corporate America decided it did not need Americans at all.  Jobs were moved across the sea to places that had less interest in protecting the safety and comfort of working people.

We were told this would be good for us; that the cost of living would fall.  They said we could buy the things we need more cheaply – with the money we no longer have.

And then we became accustomed to “big-box stores” filled with cheapened goods manufactured somewhere far away by some other struggling people.

With the success of big business, the wealthy elite have become ever wealthier, and an ever-larger portion of personal wealth has been effectively removed from the consumer economy.

Bigness was supposed to be more efficient; it is not. It was supposed to improve the standard of living for ordinary Americans. It has done the opposite.

Large corporations have destroyed millions of small and medium-sized businesses, as well as the millions of decent jobs they once created.  Indeed, we now know that with very few exceptions large corporations are net destroyers of jobs.

In the last decade the American middle class, once the engine of American economic ascendancy, has in many ways ceased to exist.  With their role as “consumers” crippled by job losses and “hidden” inflation, many who were once in the middle class are now unable to envision a better future or even to afford a new mortgage.

You know whereof I speak.  A massive and unresponsive government dominates the economy, consuming the national wealth while producing nothing itself.  Huge impersonal corporations, for which honesty and responsibility serve no intrinsic purpose, show little concern for the consumer economy, much less the social and economic integrity of the nation.

As Americans we should be well-practiced at asserting our views, but we have allowed this situation to reach an extreme.  Indeed, we have fed it with our own rampant materialism and couch-potato lives.  And now it has morphed into a monster.

This is not a problem that can be legislated away.  How are we to turn it around?

Will economic catastrophe force a rational re-ordering of things?  Or will individual foresight, ingenuity, and determination forge a new economic course?  Americans should know how to “think-out-of-the-box.”

Whether we face the chaotic state of collapse, or the confusion and disorder of a long grinding depression, it is apparent that ordinary Americans must find a way to build the foundations for effective governance and a renewed economic order.

But – where do we start?  Here in the 21st century, where is the baseline?

I suggest that our local communities are the only place where we have the power and potential to take initiative, to make things happen.

I am not an experienced entrepreneur, but many of my readers are.  Many of you are inventive; most are smart.  It is time to put our creative imagination to work to figure this out.

Survival is not a new concept; neither is creating wealth from scratch.  These things are difficult and time-consuming, but they have been accomplished successfully over and over again for centuries.

This time is special.  We need community.

The unity needed for rebuilding begins with individual initiative – each making the effort to bring others along with us, teaching, serving, sharing knowledge, skills, and energy – building a future with a safe place for everyone.

Tom

A note to readers: This blog posts regularly; please watch for the next post on or about December 12.

Stepping Forward, Taking Ownership

I have urged that we prepare for a future beyond the impending crisis, and I have proposed three priorities for your consideration.

In my view, the first priority will be to organize our local communities with constructive purpose.  By this I mean mobilizing to meet local needs, resolve local problems, and ensure that we have dependable neighbors and open lines of genuine communication.

The second priority depends on the first.  Everything from neighborhood safety and food security to ensuring the future of the United States of America as a constitutional republic will require that we rise above our differences.

Learning how to collaborate in meeting local needs is only the first step in taking ownership of America’s destiny.

I have never said it would be easy.  I said I do not believe we have a choice.

The third priority will be to start consulting strategically in our communities about building toward a future we can believe in.

All this will ask more of us than simply to communicate with civility.  It will require that we remain rational, investigate reality for ourselves as individuals, and open our hearts.

On a material level we need to be aware that profound structural change is happening in the world around us.  Not all the problems confronting us will be someone’s fault.

By structural change I do not mean anything to do with ideas or political philosophy, but rather the inevitable change brought on by technology, complexity, and rapid population growth.

Structural change will include vanishing jobs, aging physical infrastructure, and major public health threats introduced by international travel and a deteriorating environment at home.

Pervasive systemic change will confront us with surprises we have not even imagined.

I believe we face a long, grinding crisis.  Meeting the shared needs of local safety, energy, food and clean water will depend on functional relationships among neighbors.

If we are to foster dependable relationships we have no choice but to cultivate common ground on which to live and work despite our differences.

In the coming book I will offer practical tools you may find useful.

We will consider the basic skills and processes with which we can accommodate differences (and difficult people) without losing our minds – how to make decisions in small groups, how to transform conflict in reasonable ways, how to create and manage small businesses, and much more.

We all face a steep learning curve.

As  of you know, the purpose of this project involves more than a concern with survival.

A secure future requires a constructive attitude that builds on the foundation of trustworthy relationships, cohesive neighborhoods, and mutually supportive networks of communities.

The learned skills with which we manage relationships, construct plans and negotiate solutions will prepare us for whatever the future holds.

We will soon recognize that our first responsibility will actually be to manage ourselves.  Emotion clouds reason.  Insensitive words can cause alienation where mutual respect is needed.

There are some lessons we can only learn the hard way, but which we would do well to accept gracefully–

How can we relate to others in a manner that will actually lead to the desired results?

What approach will best facilitate community-building among diverse and sometimes anxious or frightened neighbors?

What personal attitude can we foster in ourselves that will best generate a positive response in others?

Beyond the personal challenges of mastering the self, there are a number of concerns for the future that beg thoughtful attention before our backs are against the wall.

Working Americans have been facing deterioration in our quality of life for a long time.  And, in fact, economic conditions could rapidly become worse.

How can we think constructively about finding local solutions?  Who has land on which we can grow food?  What small local businesses will suddenly become viable in a collapsed economy?  Who can we learn from and work with?

A renewed America will call for ingenuity and new ideas.  The force of circumstances will change us all for the better.  But, we must attend to relationships now and not wait for disaster to strike.

Tom

Dear readers:  I will be taking a brief break.  Please look for the next post on or about November 1.

Independent and On Our Own

Many of us feel trapped in social disorder and a slowly suffocating economy.  Ours is a predicament that seems to be sliding toward disintegration.  Foreboding weighs on the soul.  These feelings are not unreasonable, but let’s try to take a step back and look at the whole picture.

I submit that the collapse of the old order and the birth of something good and revitalized are both happening at the same time.

This is hard to see when we are confronted daily by the degradation of what we have always known.

A dysfunctional past must collapse before a revitalized nation can turn the corner and strive for a principled and productive future.  But there is no reason to wait for the bottom.

I have no hidden agenda.  I do not propose a social or political prescription for the American future.  Rather, I seek the restoration of a spirit and character that we can respect, support and believe in.

We are at a turning point.  We have entered a window of opportunity when it will be possible to reaffirm the vision and principles that have made this nation a beacon of hope to the world for 200 years.  And, it is an opportunity that may not come again.

I have shared with you some of the reasons why I believe we are in trouble.  And I have shared my conviction that we must look toward a future beyond the crisis.

Most readers are aware that I have avoided addressing partisan issues, and I have done so for a reason.

I have personal views and opinions.  My intention, however, is to call Americans to join forces with one another despite our great differences, to identify a broadly understood shared purpose and seek the means to rebuild the foundations of the Republic.

If courage and patience fail us, if we are unwilling to understand, influence and collaborate with those who offend us, we could lose everything.

Our responsibility is to ensure that America comes through this great turning point with purpose, committed to building the kind of future we want to live in.   This depends on each of us individually.

Without a determined effort based on shared purpose, a secure and civilized future will not be possible.

Looking ahead, we cannot know exactly how things will play out.  How long will these fragile conditions continue before an unexpected shock knocks down this house of cards?

We cannot know the extent to which we will be forced to struggle with the remnants of the economic past.  We cannot foresee how social deterioration or the degradation of infrastructure and environmental systems will challenge our resourcefulness.

We can no longer have confidence in government to maintain order or meet emergency needs.  Whatever comes our way, we are on our own.  Only the strength of well-organized local communities can be depended on.

We need to unify our local neighborhoods and communities around problem-solving and meeting local needs.  This is where we have the power and capacity to take matters into our own hands.  And we need to get on with it.

Effecting change on a national level will be far more difficult and the means for doing so more complex and political.

The financial elite will remain in control until they lose control.  As long as financial collapse is avoided the global economy will remain trapped by financial interests that have attention only for their own short-term gain and are oblivious to the implications of structural change.

However frightening the disruptions of the near future, we would do well to recognize the unique opportunity this represents.  Most human beings are only willing and able to consider constructive change when societal assumptions are shaken.

As I have said, the time to gather people together, to engage in creative thinking and positive action, to identify shared values and embrace a shared vision – might not come twice.

Building community with our neighbors will not only increase safety and security for our families, but will also provide a forum for dialog and problem-solving that will carry us forward through the storm.

Tom

Please watch for the next post on or about October 11.

Darkness Before the Dawn

To envision a confident and productive future while we are still mired in the degradation of a decaying society is difficult.  Yet, even as the present order fails we must prepare the foundations for a future we can respect and believe in.

An American renewal is only possible if we rise above our differences and step forward with patience, determination, and inquiring minds.

I look forward to a future in which Americans carry themselves with dignity and treat one another with respectful consideration.  We are learning that problem-solving is impossible without collaboration, and that economic decision-making must be realistic and responsible.

Are we surprised?

Compassion and realism are both essential attitudes. But, idealistic motives for building a just society are subject to the harsh realities of current resources and the balance sheet.

It appears a crisis is unavoidable before we can advance constructively.  We live in a complex society.  Something has to awaken us to the necessities of forward thinking and moral responsibility.

The financial world is now poised to trigger the next shock.  Already massively indebted and near bankruptcy, the government continues to spend like there is no tomorrow.

The Congress has been officially warned that Social Security will soon be unable to meet promised payments.

The ability of the nation to attend to social needs will falter, not because of mean-spirited antipathy, but because bankruptcy is an unyielding taskmaster.  Entitlements will remain in name only, gutted by the devaluation of the dollar.  We will be starting from scratch.

At this writing the crisis has yet to fully precipitate.  Those who understand the untenable condition of our credit-based monetary system, and have their eyes open, are telling us the financial world cannot avoid massive restructuring.

We cannot know if this will be managed in an orderly manner or will spiral out of control.  Either way the dollar has to be devalued significantly.

Unfortunately, this will only be the beginning.  The consequences of fiscal irresponsibility will introduce a long crisis.  A sobering array of intensifying pressures and additional crises are emerging into view.

There will be a period of time when the surprises can only keep coming.

It is for this reason that we must stand our ground locally, building strong communities and dependable relationships – despite our differences.  Constructive action must replace blaming and prejudice.

And, we must begin now.  The future is desperate for clear thinking and positive energy.

We must be especially wary of silver-tongued ideologues who promise to fix everything for us.

I understand the anger.  It is real and it is valid.  But the only effective solutions will require that we all step up to the task.  Freedom depends on responsibility – personal responsibility.

The old order is self-destructing, and the seeds of destruction have been sown for a long time.

The towering mountains of paper wealth accumulated by the self-styled masters of the universe will evaporate before our eyes and theirs, a direct consequence of their own greed, their myopic fascination with money, and their lack of foresight.

There is no way to sugarcoat the pain this will cause for everyone else.

But, let’s be clear: We need not endanger our families and friends with acts of rebellion.  That will simply not be necessary.

We have work to do that calls for our full attention.   Our job is to get serious about rethinking the future, to rebuild and re-unite and not to wait.

The impending financial upheaval will set the stage for what follows.  We must make this a time for listening and learning and developing new skills.

Trust-building, dependability, and constructive action are the order of the day.  Working out social and political differences will come later.

I will not offer specific prescriptions.  An American future must be reconstructed in this time of crisis by the American people themselves — as we are brought finally to our senses.

I will outline principles, strategic thinking, and organizing tools that can make constructive action possible.  Only then can we begin taking control of our lives as a free and responsible people.

Even in a long crisis.

Tom

Dear Readers, please watch for the next post on or about September 14.

A project description can be found at the top of this page, (www.freedomstruth.net), as well as a draft introduction to the coming book and sample chapters, including: American Crucible, The Power of Diversity, and The Will to Freedom.  I depend on your feedback.

Rationality and the Conflict of Values

We have been talking about values.  So, let’s turn our attention to the most fundamental of questions: Why are values essential to civilization?  How can shared values provide stability, sanity and safety, as society passes through major disruptions and change?

Most perplexing, why do our own personal values sometimes conflict with each other?

Human values grounded in religious teachings have remained relatively consistent for thousands of years.  The great majority are still accepted as valid today despite a society that is largely indifferent or even hostile to religion.

Since ancient times the history of ideas has been dominated by the assumption that society, and indeed all of human reality, is an integrated and coherent whole, governed by rules that are consistent and rational.

Consequently, it has been assumed that every genuine question must have a single correct answer and that the true answers to all questions must be compatible.

To put it another way, all truths were assumed to be harmonious, and when accurately understood could be expected to conform in consonance with one another.

This thinking is certainly logical, and it is reasonable that people would wish to believe in it.

However, as the human world has become more complex, we have been confronted with uncompromising evidence that reality and truth are not so simple.

We find ourselves increasingly challenged by choices that are incommensurable – that is, impossible to compare or measure against one another.  And, our most cherished values can come into direct conflict with one another, despite each being entirely good and reasonable in its’ own right.

This in no way questions the facts or the validity of the values.  Rather, it challenges us to make difficult moral judgments in complex circumstances.

Clearly, increasing complexity and morally perplexing choices will be present in our lives from now on.

Even science, the realm of endeavor most closely associated with reason and logic, is confronted with problems that present moral dilemmas – choices between evils.  And, the nature of complexity has proven mathematically impervious to predictability and rational expectations.

I do not deny an ultimate holistic conception of reality as an all-inclusive functional domain – one true Reality.

However, I suggest that its’ character requires us to mature – mentally, emotionally, spiritually – by engaging with ambiguity, paradox, and logical incongruities, all of which are intrinsic aspects of the world we are given.

I believe that to a limited extent such adversities can be addressed in similar ways by religious and non-religious people alike.  All of us face the daunting challenge of distinguishing between true reality and the myriad alternative realities imagined by the human mind.

Unsurprisingly, the earliest historical references to conflicting values and moral dilemmas appear in religious literature.

An incident I find most compelling is Jesus’ confrontation with a crowd of people who brought accusations of adultery against an unidentified woman.

Her accusers ended up walking away from Jesus (and from her) confounded by the rationality of His response to conflicting values. (John 8)

The letter of the law was not good enough.  It was a moment which I believe to be a turning point in human history.

The Apostle Paul describes an agonizing mental and spiritual ordeal in which he confronted insoluble choices.  His may be the earliest written account of the dilemmas presented by the two-fold nature of the human Will. (Romans 7)

Augustine, the philosopher and theologian of the 4th and 5th centuries, confronts the same problem in his “Confessions”, and “On Free Choice of the Will”, without resolution.

He finally reports his conclusion in “The City of God”, close to the end of his life.  And it is not what many would expect.

Augustine says we can only engage effectively with the conflicts and incongruities in life by means of love.

Yes, love, the ultimate law of unity and understanding that transcends diversity and differences, which prepares the way for problem-solving, and which aligns all aspects of our lives in a functional whole.

The way has been prepared for us in this world with severe tests of intellect and soul that will change us as we must be changed.

Tom

Dear readers:  The next post will be delayed for a week due to disruptions on the blog’s Facebook page, apparently caused by the current restructuring of Facebook code and consequent disarray.  Please watch for the next post on or about August 30.

Values Matter

I have proposed that a small unified core group of determined Americans could generate a powerful moral presence in the United States – by defining basic values clearly and projecting a vision for the future with a positive spirit.

This would be immensely attractive to a nation desperate for the feel of solid ground beneath its feet.  However, it raises emotionally charged questions.

How will Americans determine those essential values we can agree on?  And, how can we then work together to resolve problems and meet shared needs despite the differences we cannot agree on?

We know we have values we cannot compromise.  Yet, we all wish for a safe, reliable, and productive civil order which can keep its balance as a pluralistic society.

Many of us have been feeling hopeless about the divisiveness and dysfunction we feel all around us.  But when we think of abandoning hope we are confronted with the prospect of a future that is far worse.

A nation collapsed in antipathy would be a nation where it is impossible to share our thinking or disseminate our ideas and beliefs.  And, social chaos would be a briar patch ripe for the predatory intentions of totalitarian despots.

A totalitarian America would, by definition, not be America.  It would be a dictatorship where liberty has vanished, questioning is forbidden, and the independence of the human spirit is crushed.

Is this our choice?

Primary values are never negotiable.  So, when we are confronted with a collision of values that cannot be reconciled, what is to be done?

Our choices are limited. For any group or authority to force a particular vision or interpretation of reality on others would be a violent denial of the principles that make a free society.

Would we destroy liberty in order to defend it?

We are left with the necessity for negotiating a state of cooperation and collaboration that permits a functional civil society, yet allows us to express and disseminate our values and our views.

We all need to stand firmly for what we believe. But, to rise above our differences so as to secure the safety and well-being of our communities is not to compromise our beliefs.

Aristotle is quoted as saying “Those that know, do. Those that understand, teach.” And, if we are confident in our knowledge and understanding, we are able to entertain diverse thoughts without accepting them.

A wise man named Walt Disney once said: “Our heritage and ideals, our code and standards – the things we live by and teach our children – are preserved or diminished by how freely we exchange ideas and feelings.”

What is essential is not that we agree on any aspect of personal belief, but that we collaborate to restore the integrity of a civil society that allows for constructive cooperation.  The safety of our families and the economic well-being of our future depend on our ability to engage with one another with dignity.

We cannot allow America to disintegrate in unrestrained acrimony.  Our challenge is to establish conditions in which we can sustain freedom, seek change, and attract others to constructive action.

In so doing, I propose general acceptance of the following shared values.  I expect we can also agree on others.  In this way we can claim the moral high ground and attract a growing number of Americans to join us.

First, an uncompromising commitment to defend the Constitution and a respect for the rule of law.

Second, that we embrace the following values as the foundations for unity:  Justice, equity, truthfulness, honesty, fair-mindedness, reliability, trustworthiness, and responsibility.

These are universal values and must be understood.

However, if we are to gain a hearing, we must first engage people with compassion and a willingness to actually comprehend what they see and think – and why.  Then the real work can begin.

If no one can hear us, we will have no influence over the future.

Tom

Dear readers, I will be taking a short break.  Watch for the next post on or about August 9.  You can support this blog and the book project by suggesting that your friends and associates take a look.

Will the Center Hold?

Seeking an American renewal will be an arduous task requiring genuine dialog and rational negotiations. Basic values and national purpose need to be on the table.  Our differences are great and some have not been resolved for 200 years.  But, civilized debate may not turn out quite as we expect – if all sides actually listen.

At this very challenging moment for Americans I suggest that the goal of civil dialog should be to answer the following questions:

Will a courageous few stand together at the center of national unity?

Are we willing to rise above our differences to rebuild civil society based on moral responsibility and basic shared values?

Will this alliance of loyal and determined citizens establish itself as a civilized American “center” that transcends culture, religion, politics?

Will the center hold?

As difficult as it is to visualize how this can happen, I expect Americans will rise to necessity. Because we must.

The only alternative could easily be catastrophic collapse – with no future possibility of influencing receptive minds or furthering personal agendas.

I believe such a challenging course of action can ultimately succeed because it does not need to begin with large numbers.  A small unified core group of determined Americans can make this happen.  But, it will require citizens with vision, tenacity, and compassion who invoke a powerful moral presence.

Such an honorable vision for the future which embodies a generous and welcoming spirit will be immensely attractive to a nation desperate to feel solid ground beneath its’ feet.  Increasing numbers will respond.  A few at first, then many.

I expect the vision of a civil order based on trust and responsibility will draw Americans to it from every walk of life – from every religious faith, from every economic condition and political philosophy.

Why?  Because without safety, civility, and a stable order no one will be listening.  The business of the nation will grind to a halt.

The first priority must be to defend the identity and character of the United States as a constitutional republic.  The second priority will be to do what Americans have always done: to debate our many differences with fairness and dignity.

What is essential is not that we agree on all aspects of personal belief, but that we restore the integrity of a civil society that allows for constructive cooperation, so that we can secure the safety of our families and the stability of civil order.

If this is indeed our priority, we cannot allow America to disintegrate in unrestrained acrimony.  We will have to choose our battles.  Some issues might be argued more effectively on another day.

James Madison fought to have slavery abolished by the Constitution when it was first drafted in 1787.  It was painful for him to walk away from that vision, but he finally realized it threatened to kill the entire project.

It took decades for citizen abolitionists to get the job done.

Today, however, agreement about certain principles will be immediately necessary.  What must these be?

What are the core principles that will put America on the road to a self-respecting future? Not the core principles held dear by each of us personally, but rather those necessary to pull a diverse people together to make our local communities safe and dependable.

Each of us must consider our personal willingness to engage in respectful, meaningful dialog concerning these questions.

As regular readers know, I have suggested several principles in this blog that I consider essential.  In addition to a firm defense of the Constitution, I have written of the necessity for trustworthiness and civility, for moral responsibility and the concept of constructive action.

A fully American future can only be reached by identifying where we can find common purpose.

An inclusive vision of the future does not require agreement, but rather genuine curious interest and understanding – and a shared loyalty to the nation we love.  Only then can we work together on real problems and real needs.

We are either all in, seeking to build a free and fair society, or we are each on our own in a disintegrating world.

Tom

Dear readers, please look for the next post on or about July 19.

The Second Amendment, Then and Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During the years just prior to the Revolutionary War there was mob violence in several of the colonies.  In addition, many Americans lived in or close to wilderness regions where conditions were essentially lawless.

The need people felt to protect their families was quite rational.

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

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

The American reality in 1776 and 1791 was entirely different from that confronting us today.

Yet, news of social and religious violence imposes on our peace every day.  Older Americans are particularly sensitized to what has changed: the radical loss of trust and the absence of civility, ethical integrity, and social responsibility.

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

It is in this context that I express my concern about the threat of force made or implied in the name of political ends.  We already face dangerous instability, a condition likely to grow worse as conditions deteriorate.  Political violence could easily tip us into chaos.

For those with the eyes to see, it is clear that the use of force for political ends will very likely produce exactly the opposite of its intended purpose.  There is a dynamic relationship between means and ends.  The character of our results will be determined by the character of the means we employ.

Indeed, violence committed by Americans against Americans would endanger the Constitution and contradict the rationale behind the incentive for violence itself.  The uniformed services are staffed by our own sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.  We need to win them over; not turn them against us.

We have pragmatic alternatives.  We need to learn what they are.  Both our purpose and our means must be carefully considered, and we need to get it right.

We face a long crisis.  Many dark and dangerous things can happen.

Tom

A reminder for readers: Please look for the next post on or about June 14.