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:  Watch for the next post on or about August 23.

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.

First Principle

If Americans are to regain confidence in the future, we must learn to work together effectively despite our differences.  And, we will need to employ means that can actually lead to the ends we seek.  Let’s proceed then with respectful deliberation rather than emotion and ego.

The clash of differing opinions is a time-honored American tradition.  But, no American responds well to abuse, verbal or otherwise.  Expressing our views is important, but nothing will subvert our purpose more quickly than a combative attitude that alienates the very people we need to influence or work with.

We have choices.  We can choose to join forces to tackle the practical problems that threaten the safety and security of our communities.  We can choose to distinguish ourselves with civility and common decency, cooperating to resolve practical problems.

It is only in dependable working relationships tasked with shared responsibilities that we can truly come to know and influence one another.

We live in a time of dangerous instability.   It is a time to refrain from antagonistic words, a time to refocus our energy away from the dysfunction of partisan politics, so to secure essential needs at home.

I have described three essential elements that make safe communities possible.  They are trust, dependability, and constructive action.

These elements will only be found in communities where neighbors rise above their differences to serve a higher purpose.  And, for self-respecting Americans, purpose must be something more than “survival.”

As regular readers know, I use the term “constructive action” to describe the positive means by which we can realistically pursue shared goals.  And, I have explained that constructive action is impossible without a shared sense of purpose.

Shared purpose, I wrote, is a lens through which a community can bring the challenges of necessity into focus and coordinate the efforts of diverse personalities.  In working relationships, shared purpose can provide a standard by which to determine priorities and judge progress.

So, how can we understand constructive action?

Constructive action begins with the refusal to do harm.  It is action taken with dignity, respectfully, which refuses to hurt or injure – by impatience, dishonesty, hatred, or wishing ill of anybody.

Please do not misinterpret constructive action as merely a negative state of harmlessness.

On the contrary, while constructive action in its purest form attempts to treat even the evil-doer with honesty and grace, it will by no means assist the evil-doer in doing wrong.  Nor will it tolerate wrong-doing in any way.

Constructive action requires that we resist what is wrong and disassociate ourselves from it even if doing so antagonizes the wrong-doer.

Constructive action is the essential first principle upon which all other principles, values, and purposes depend.  Its’ underlying premise is pragmatic.  It allows communication and problem-solving even in the most difficult circumstances.

There is a close relationship between the positive spirit of respect and trustworthiness that characterizes constructive action and the moral integrity of the civil society we wish to build.  The two are inseparable as means and ends.

Constructive action is the means.  Unity of purpose grounded in moral integrity is the end.

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

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

Such an approach to our methods is necessary if we seek to apply traditional American values to rapidly changing circumstances.  Thus my call for the active engagement of all Americans in this endeavor, despite our vast diversity.

A vital and prosperous future can only be reached by capitalizing on our differences – in knowledge, skills, perspectives.

And, the better our working relationships, the better our chances for influencing one another – to attract, inspire, and understand.

Again, we have clear choices to make.

Either we choose to respect the Constitution and recover the fundamental meaning of the American Idea, or we can walk away forever from the safety, stability, and integrity of a future we can trust and believe in.

Tom

Please look for the next post on or about May 31.

Security and the Use of Force

I will address two questions involving the potential use of force in defending ourselves. The first is related to the security of our families and communities, the topic of recent blog posts.  The second relates to our ultimate purpose— the effective means by which the foundations of the American Republic can be secured and strengthened.

I will consider the first in this post and the second in the coming weeks.

There are several security issues that will concern us going forward.  Food security may become a serious threat to communities, and the disillusionment of our young people may have the most profound implications for the future.  However, the most unpredictable danger will be the unstable individual or group approaching from outside.

Whether unexpected visitors might be mentally unstable or motivated by dogmatic ideologies, or simply be in desperate need, will not be immediately apparent.

We would do well to deal with visitors in a respectful and humane manner, while remaining cautious and defensive.  The potential danger is real.  We must respond judiciously, communicating clearly with them, while summoning fellow community members for assistance.

In my view, we will also do well to remain sensitive to any positive value that might be presenting itself.  New faces will sometimes come to us with good character and valuable skills.

Gracious hospitality will always set the right tone, even if a visit needs to be kept brief.  Some of us have better verbal skills than others, or possess more disarming personalities.  Others may have weapons training or know martial arts.

An effective set of tools is offered by Target Focus Training (TFT), which includes skills for personal defense against lethal weapons.

If we keep weapons in the home we must manage them with utmost care.  Any weapon is an ever-present liability when kept in close proximity to our families.  Emotions can run high when we experience hardship.  As we all know, a gun can easily kill a loved one, even without an external threat.

In addition to first aid training, which is essential, each of us can seek conflict management and other defensive and peace-making skills.  It would be wise to prepare ourselves well in advance.  A list of self-determined guidelines and personal thresholds for action can be memorized in preparation for the unexpected.

It is important that our conscious purpose should not only be safety and survival, but also to build the principles we care about into our future.

Courage is a priceless virtue.  Not the courage to fight, but the courage to care.  It takes a brave heart to make peace, but compassion must be buttressed by backbone.

Women sometimes embrace this balance with natural equanimity, but the potential for danger must never be forgotten.

Meeting difficult encounters with a positive attitude is an ability that can save lives.  This can make the difference between friendship and enmity, between collaboration and catastrophe.

We have entered a long crisis.  People are coming unhinged.  We will often encounter the walking-wounded, and dangers will not always be obvious.

We will meet good people who have lost hope or are grieving deeply.  They may appear abrupt or angry at first.  We may not be sure who or what they are – but will soon come to realize we need not fear them.

Each of us is wounded in some way.

This is not about being nice or even socially responsible.  This is about treating one another with mutual respect as Americans.  It is about reconstructing the United States as the kind of country we want to live in, one soul at a time.

It all comes down to purpose: Security requires preparedness; healing requires grace; rebuilding the foundations requires vision.

We cannot afford to live in a state of siege behind walls that isolate us and appear hostile to others.  To give in to fear and retreat into defensive enclaves of survivalists would be to admit defeat.

Let us rather win over the confused, heal the wounded, and welcome the returning prodigal friend.  This is the true path to security.

Mature leadership greets each day with an open heart and an inclusive vision.

Tom

A note to readers:  You can support this blog and book project by suggesting that your friends and associates take a look.  And, please watch for the next post on or about May 17: “First Principles”.

Hard Realities, Practical Needs

Americans know something is wrong.  It is easy to place blame; there is plenty to find fault with.  But, many sense that something unusual is unfolding, something that goes deeper than the headlines, something that has been a long time coming.

For the majority of Americans, social and economic conditions have been deteriorating for decades.  Civil order is crumbling.  Staggering numbers of jobs have disappeared.  Financial disruptions come one after another.

Some threats are obvious, but others lie hidden in the complexity of geopolitical stress, interlocking financial institutions, and a debt-based monetary system.

Our vulnerability is exacerbated by apathy and an inability to understand the choices that now confront us. We accept the present as normal, even when it is dangerous.  Most of us expect every day to be like the last.

To recognize that circumstances could lead to pain requires imagination and foresight.  Imagination based on fear can be get us in trouble, but so too can carelessness.

Imagination applied rationally is a survival skill.  Let me offer an example.

James Rickards is a monetary economist who has advised the Department of Defense and the CIA concerning terrorist threats to the monetary system and financial markets.

Writing about our well-equipped intelligence agencies, staffed by smart people who are intent on protecting the United States, he tells us that these agencies were actually monitoring most of the individuals who subsequently carried out the 9/11 attacks. Analysts were aware that several were being trained to fly airplanes.  In short, the intelligence community had the information it needed to warn of the impending attack.

The only thing missing, says Rickards, was imagination.

It is easy to understand why our families and friends might think we are being alarmist when we express concerns about the future. They are human. But, the time may come when they will depend on us.  We must trust our perceptions and think through the implications.

There are numerous resources available in bookstores and on the web, which can help us prepare for a long crisis. This blog (and book project) is focused specifically on the personal, social, and relational challenges involved: the effort to build dependable communities, and to accept moral responsibility in an increasingly disrupted and desperate world.

Local communities can organize around felt-needs – if we are ready to rise above our differences.  But, having little positive experience working with groups of dissimilar people will lead to challenges when trouble strikes.

We may have experienced community in a church group, club, or sporting pastime, but not usually in the immediate neighborhood where we live, and not in the face of threats to our safety and well-being.

A dependable bond among neighbors will be necessary to address food security and other essential needs. But, most of us do not know our neighbors and cannot now depend on them.  We might not even have introduced ourselves to those we see regularly on the street or in the grocery store.

Our natural inclination to be independent and avoid troublesome arrangements has led to the widespread loss of civil society and trustworthy relationships. There have been few compelling reasons for Americans to seek meaningful community with our neighbors.  Yet, when things stop working we will have no one to depend on except each other.

If we are to find security in a crisis, it will be necessary to learn patience, and a range of practical interpersonal, organizational, and technical skills.

Most of us can learn how to grow food, or at least to work with others who do.  But, as the crisis deepens we will discover necessities we did not see coming. Organizing our lives without electricity or safe drinking water or a functional sewage system will require that we cooperate to solve problems, and sometimes solve them quickly.

It will be this personal engagement with one another, forced by hard realities, which will bring Americans together where we belong – as responsible citizens and dependable neighbors.

Hiding under a rock might feel like a good idea in a shooting war, but it will not lead to the kind of world most of us want to live in.

Tom

Dear readers, please look for the next post on or about May 2.

Stability Begins with Constructive Action

The deterioration of social order taking place around us raises increasing concerns about security in our local communities.  Growing instability is impacting businesses and institutions as well as individuals and families.

As I observed in the previous post, our safety and well-being will ultimately depend on the stability and dependability of the conditions we put in place around us.

Stability and security are mutually reinforcing, but without stability any effort to increase security is futile.  Stability makes our efforts to create security possible, and it benefits from those efforts.

It is natural to think that security must come first, but actually it is the other way around. The key to security is effective community and the value of our personal investments in each other.

The first priority for any stable community is the strength of interpersonal relationships. These form the basis for trust, for good communication and effective problem-solving.

Dependable community depends on dependable relationships.

Americans are used to thinking of security as the responsibility of trained professionals who are expected to deal with emergencies.  That is because we have been accustomed to stable institutions and dependable systems.

This may not always be true.  Things we have taken for granted in the past could become major concerns – if we are not prepared for them.

Food security is a good example.  Supermarkets typically limit their distribution centers to a three-day supply.  If the supply chain is disrupted and their vendors are unable to deliver, we are in trouble.

Unless we can imagine what’s coming, the interruption of systems we take for granted will catch us off guard.  A systemic disruption could be caused by a cyber-attack on the banking system or national grid, a global monetary crisis, an Ebola-type epidemic, or any number of other threats.

These are not unreasonable possibilities.

In my view, we would do well to think about the implications – from public health defenses and emergency medicine to the need for a cash economy.  Building dependable networks of support among neighboring communities will also be wise.

Learning how to work effectively in groups will be key to ensuring dependable conditions.  This calls for new personal skills. Group decision-making and resolving interpersonal conflicts need not be traumatic ordeals, if we have acquired the necessary tools.

We are quite capable of preparing ourselves if we are ready to learn.

I have written of the importance of such virtues as trustworthiness, dependability, and responsibility.  These probably make sense to you.  But, I have also introduced concepts that might be unfamiliar, including what I call “constructive action”, and the idea that stability is not possible without forward motion.

Why are constructive action and forward motion so indispensable?

Think of it this way: Keeping ones’ balance while riding a bicycle requires forward motion.  In any community, business, or organization, activity guided by purpose serves a similar function.  No social group can sustain coherence or mutual respect without applying itself to a common purpose.

We will address two considerations as we consolidate our communities: What we do and how we do it.  The concept of constructive action concerns the “how”.  It is a way we can work together effectively.  And, it has a direct bearing on security.

To put it very simply, constructive action is about being constructive rather than destructive, encouraging rather than tearing down, freeing rather than oppressing.

A constructive approach requires a positive attitude and will contribute to improved safety and well-being.  Destructive actions and a negative attitude will set us back, the results of emotional reaction rather than rational purposefulness.

One leads toward the ends we seek; the other pushes us farther away.

Agreeing on a shared purpose (or several) is also essential.  In this way we can test group decision-making tools and come to know each other as friends and allies.

Shared purpose is a lens through which community needs will come into focus, and the efforts of diverse personalities can be coordinated.  Shared purpose provides standards by which a community can determine priorities and measure progress.

With patience and willpower each of us can learn how to this meaningfully.  And, a positive attitude will support rational thinking and a constructive way forward.

Tom

Please look for the next post on or about April 19.

Foundations for Security

In seeking security for those we care for at a time of crisis we would do well to consider the qualities of order and stability that security requires.

Safety depends on the conditions we put in place around us, and therefore upon our ability to provide for necessities and to create a dependable environment.  This includes access to adequate food and healthcare, a roof over our heads, safe functional sanitation, and absence of conflict, among other things.  None of these will be possible without proactive, trustworthy relationships with our neighbors.

With deteriorating social and economic conditions we will be exposed to the failure of institutions and systems we have depended on for basic needs.  Our neighborhoods may feel less safe.  Police protection may become less dependable.  Some individuals might lose their balance and become disoriented.

It is quite possible that we will find it necessary to organize our communities effectively to meet needs and resolve problems.

In a time of social degradation it would, in my view, be wise to think carefully and rationally about the potential for sociopathic violence.

But, let’s be clear: The possibility for violence is only one among a wide range of security concerns.  In the coming weeks I will touch on some of these, including ways we can both prepare for and limit personal encounters with violence.

As we experience increasing disorder, I expect it will become increasingly clear that we must assume responsibility for our own necessities.

Food security will be a major problem if we do not learn how to produce and preserve food.  Hunger is not fun and hungry people are often not very nice.  By the way, March and April are crucial months for planning gardens and preparing the soil in the northern hemisphere.

The greatest test for some may be the sudden recognition that we do not really know how to be self-sufficient.  Our well-being will depend on how we respond to these challenges.  And so, as we find our way forward in a new reality it will become apparent that the requirements of security are in fact the requirements of stable communities.

That said, let’s be realistic about the relative nature of security.

President Dwight Eisenhower, a five star general, reminded us of the limits: “If you want total security,” he said, “go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking… is freedom.”

Like President Eisenhower, Helen Keller also had a way of putting things in perspective.  Being both deaf and blind gave her insights into life that the rest of us would do well to think about.

Security is mostly a superstition,” she said. “It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.  Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.  Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

Fear can interfere with our ability to address problems and to keep our heads clear in difficult circumstances.  However, security concerns certainly do need to be addressed to keep our families safe and our communities productive.

I suggest that a sequence of responsibilities applies to local communities:  Freedom depends on security, which depends on stability, which in turn depends upon honesty, trust, dependability, and forbearance.  All these depend on personal commitment and generosity of spirit.

There is one other essential component as well, which I call “constructive action.”  By this I mean the active condition in which dependable working relationships are built.

Trust and dependability among neighbors can only be functional in the presence of constructive action guided by principle and a shared sense of purpose.

Principle and purpose cannot be constrained.  Stability is only possible when we are in motion.  Constructive action supported by a shared sense of purpose will be the only way to navigate through dark times.

Stability is the necessary foundation for security.  And, constructive action allows us dynamic flexibility in responding to what the world throws at us.

All of this will also depend on our readiness to work closely with people we have differences with.

We cannot be tentative about this.  Building trustworthy communities will not be easy.  Our future depends on it.

Tom

Dear readers:  Please look for the next post on or about April 6.  To receive alerts by email when new posts are available, please click the “Follow” button on the right side of this page.

America: Meaning, Action, Place

We have been considering the value of local communities as the means for seeking safety and stability during a long crisis.  Further, I have argued that communities are the basic building-blocks of a civilized society.  Well-organized, fully functional communities will become the foundations for an American future we can respect and believe in.

Thoughtful readers will have recognized that the strategy proposed here implies a premise – a pattern and framework for action that few have imagined.

The United States is a large, diverse, and pluralistic nation.  Diversity and pluralism have long been elemental expressions of our national identity, and compelling evidence of the strength in the constitutional model that America demonstrates to a troubled world.

How can American communities restore meaning to the vision we have inherited?

No political philosophy is offered here; only a reminder that Americans are the beneficiaries of a priceless birthright: An exceptional Constitution, an “idea”, and a belief in ourselves that has carried us through crises and hardship for more than 200 years.

There is only one means for recovering the vision, attitude, and confidence that makes us who we are.  This will be through honest, rational engagement in the commitment to resolve local problems and address shared needs with our fellow-citizens.

The decisive success of such a bold undertaking can only be forged in the crucible of genuine communities – in our own communities – built in place, wherever we are.

To pull ourselves out of crisis and set course for a truly American future, it will be necessary to learn the lessons of civility, of operative unity, and the practical skills required for organizing and collaboration.

Ultimately these can only be learned through personal engagement and experience. We cannot overcome our fears and regain confidence in the future by isolating ourselves – either physically or emotionally.

The profile and characteristics of community required to overcome social disorder and estrangement will reflect, as much as possible, the diverse composition of America as a whole.

Yes, this will be extremely challenging.  But, we have no choice.

I have presented the rationale for ensuring that we know our neighbors and can depend on them.  I have spoken of the necessity to rise above our differences, at least to the extent that we can collaborate in addressing local problems and needs.

The resources, skills and tools needed for these endeavors are available and can be learned by anyone.  And, I assure you that the frame of mind that allows community to flourish can be achieved by every American.

However, we have not talked about the challenges posed by ideologies or dogmatism or domineering personalities, or the inevitable demands of simply working with difficult people.

We will do this in the blog and in the book, and I will need your feedback to keep it real.

First and foremost, however, one thing must be made perfectly clear.

Those who retreat into isolated communities that represent distinct religious groups or political ideologies, will launch us backward and set the stage for disaster.

An isolationist, fear-based attitude would be subversive to both the purpose and structure of the United States as a Constitutional Republic.

Such an error would be an ironic rejection of everything America stands for, not simply projecting a hostile predisposition toward perceived evils, but toward the integrity of the Republic itself.

The future is ours to build.  The center must hold.

There are effective ways to protect the Constitution and restore the American Idea.  Alienation can only lead to chaos, and violence will subvert its’ own intended purpose.

Our methods and means must be fully compatible with the future we seek.  As the means, so the end.

Neither morality or social order are the products of abstract intellectual rules.  Rather, they are lived in and through active working relationships that engender mutual bonds and instill values that transcend selfish interests.

Where there is a will, fellowship among people and groups will lead to the communication and understanding needed to promote stability and the regeneration of the nation.

Ours is a great honor and responsibility: To restore the United States of America to its rightful place in history.  The future of humankind depends on it.

Tom

Dear readers:  Please look for the next post on or about March 23.  You may register for emailed alerts by clicking Follow on the right side of this page.

Walking the Talk

Big corporations sometimes show little regard for local communities.  Geared for profit-making, not citizenship or moral responsibility, giant business organizations are resistant to compromise.  They are neither human nor humane.

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

It should not be surprising to find ourselves alienated from mass society, isolated from one another, and struggling to find meaning in life.  The interconnected relationships that civil society depends on have evaporated.

Americans need not submit to such a destiny.  Ours is a nation of people, not machines.  We are prepared to work, but not as tools.  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 food security or financial stability 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, and in the vitality of lives that are engaged, responsible, and in motion.

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

Are we willing to take this on?

We might not want to put up with community.  It’s hard work.  Some try to avoid it all together.  But, it is impossible to ignore it in a civilized society – unless we 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 work.

Communities are formed 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, diversity, and trustworthiness.

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 period of instability and potential danger.  This is the 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 will not work the way we expect they should, and there will be 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 community problems requires consultation, collaboration, foresight and creative imagination – all of which call for a maximum diversity of practical skills, knowledge, and perspective.

This might sound idealistic.  In fact, it is the only way to build communities and, I believe, to restore a broken society.

Learning how to do it will be difficult and often frustrating.  But those with steadfast patience and vision – who can see the end in the beginning – will carry though and prevail.

Resolving differences of opinion or non-core values is not necessary for this to work, and may often be impossible.

While giving one another space to have genuine differences can be uncomfortable and aggravating, holding ourselves apart over disagreements while hurling insults can only reap destruction.

Rising above our differences can be a formidable challenge, but there is no other way.

Tom

Dear readers:  Please look for the next post on or about March 9.

Finding Courage in Crisis

The courage to step forward in a time of crisis often means responding to pain and frustration as a positive personal act.  This can be especially challenging if it feels like the world around us is unraveling.

To persevere in the present turmoil, we are in need of a vision of the future that embodies our hopes and a purpose we believe in.  Our values and sense of personal integrity are vitally important.  But, ideas are useless without action.

What is to be done?

Our responses to a crisis will be guided by our values and sense of belonging.  We must never forget that there can be no freedom without personal responsibility.  This is the backbone of a free society.

This is our country and our world, and the problems we face belong to us as well.  In my view, a commitment to the integrity of civil order is a commitment to ones’ own personal integrity.

We would do well to think about who we are and what integrity means to us.  This will lead to greater self-sufficiency and a stronger sense of purpose and belonging.

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.  It builds on creative thinking and adapts to change.  If we are not engaged, thinking and responding, we are not paying attention.

However, purpose also implies a future.  How can we think about the future when all we know is the past?

It would be easy to attach ourselves unwittingly to ideas or expectations that are based solely on past circumstances.  There is both strength and danger here.

Most of us develop a firm commitment to certain ideas.  This has value, so long as we keep our minds open.  We need the capacity to stick to our beliefs and to follow through with plans.  Otherwise nothing would get done.

But, at a time of extraordinary disruption and change, when the future is hard to imagine, purpose and expectations can sometimes take unexpected turns – or disappear into a fog.

We know what kind of world we wish to live in, at least in general terms, but the details of the future will be veiled from view.

Why?  Because the emerging reality of the future will remain in constant motion during a long crisis.  And, in the coming years we can expect to be bombarded by sequential crises

This is why shared moral values and agreement on basic principles are important in genuine community.  A vision for the future needs to be built upon mutual respect and understanding, rather than on the assumptions of a crumbling past.

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

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

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

Let’s be clear.  Assumptions that we carry with us from the past are dinosaurs that threaten our ability to create the future.  Our values and principles must be permitted to guide our way, based on 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 would court disaster.  Our independence as free people depends on our capacity to engage effectively with ever-changing circumstances.

We are challenged to keep our balance at the vortex of historic change, resisting absolutism and bigotry in the spirit of liberty.  Our values will support personal integrity and trustworthiness; our vision will help us keep our bearings as we traverse a stormy sea.

To survive and 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 February 23.

A note to new readers:  Blog entries are posted on alternating Fridays on both this and a Facebook page.  A project description, an introduction to the forthcoming book, and several chapter drafts are posted on this page.