Responsibility and Trust in America

Community is the seat of civilization. It is in our local communities that we engage with one another face-to-face and work shoulder-to-shoulder.  And, it is in responding to crises and meeting shared needs that we earn respect, learn patience and build trust.

With our neighbors we can overcome disorder in our own little corner of the world.  Trust and responsibility don’t just appear by good fortune.  They are formed in the trials of necessity and hardship.

Like a marriage, a genuine commitment to community forces us to mature as adult people – emotionally, intellectually, spiritually.  Perhaps this is why so many avoid full participation.

However, there are other reasons to live responsibly.  Just beyond the boundaries of family, community is that place where the reality of immediate needs must be addressed and resolved.

Americans have avoided personal responsibility for these aspects of civilized life for a long time.  We will continue to do so at our peril.

It was not always thus.  Prior to the American Revolution and for close to 100 years afterward Americans gravitated easily, even impulsively, toward decentralized local governance and an independent frame of mind.  We managed our own affairs in cooperation with our neighbors and expected regional autonomy as a natural condition.

Civil society flourished during America’s first century, a vibrant force that was documented admiringly by Alexis de Tocqueville in his two volume commentary, Democracy in America.  Americans created an immense variety of civic organizations to address every conceivable interest and social need.  Citizens did this on their own initiative, inspired by their sense of belonging and the spirit of the times.  There were few restrictions or constraints.

The need for community in America, both in spirit and as a practical matter, is as important today as it has ever been.  It is only in direct engagement with our neighbors, and in all spheres of problem-solving, that we will learn the skills of living and working productively with one another.

As Americans, we have been here before and we can do it again.

Some argue that the decentralist tradition of the American past represents an ideal to which we should aspire.  And this is, indeed, an attractive vision.  However, I think it should be apparent for all to see that there must be a balance struck between a nation of fully engaged local communities and a competent and trustworthy central government that respects and protects the primacy of local responsibility.

At the present time it is difficult to imagine a limited central government managed by mature adults who are prepared to protect both our freedoms and our security.  But, that is what we need.

Without law there can be no freedom.  And, there can be no freedom without a mature understanding of responsibility.  I believe that a valid vision of limited government for the American future can only come from a view firmly anchored in local communities.

Those who understand trust, moral responsibility, and constructive action – and who recognize the very high stakes involved – will build the foundations for the American renewal at home, with their neighbors.

Building unity within communities is a gradual process.  It depends on each of us to reach out across our differences, to form friendships that develop trust, to be supportive in times of trouble, and to influence the hearts and minds of all who care.

It will take time and patience, creative thinking and new skills, and we will do it because America is too important to lose.  The future of humankind depends on it.

Tom

Dear readers: Watch for the next post on or about November 28.   Please note that a project description and several sample chapters from the forthcoming book are linked on this page.

Freedom Road

When we think about a future beyond the long crisis ahead, we find ourselves confronted with challenging questions.  Among them is the meaning and implications of “perfect freedom” — the principle articulated by Patrick Henry, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and others.

Patrick Henry famously said, “Perfect freedom is as necessary to the health and vigor of commerce as it is to the health and vigor of citizenship.”

Many Americans consider this as an unyielding principle.  But context matters.  Those following this blog over time have, I expect, given thought to the limits of freedom we experience in our personal lives.  We all live in a reality defined by limitations and constraints.

A democratic society that provides the security and social order needed for the freedoms we treasure will always present us with limits.  The decisions we make concerning personal relationships, education, employment, and recreation impose the most immediate constraints in our daily lives.

So, what is ‘perfect freedom’?

If we are committed to ‘perfect freedom’ in principle, how can we fault business leaders for maximizing profits by moving jobs overseas or mechanizing assembly lines or in using any other means absent of fraud?

What else can we expect?  And, how can any alternative be legislated with fairness or practical effect?

Yet, we are now forced to recognize that even capitalism itself cannot survive in a world where “anything goes.”

Healthy businesses depend on stable economic policies, predictability, and the accuracy of price-seeking markets.  Free markets are necessary because prices in the marketplace must reflect reality for both buyers and sellers.

These are basic structural necessities that make economic freedom possible. No commerce and no functional economy is possible without it.

Freedom depends on respect for the rules that make it possible.

Today we find ourselves facing the overwhelming consequences of structural economic destruction.  Capital is monopolized by a tiny minority, and it is parked in unproductive places.  Money is not circulating, which limits economic activity.

A vibrant consumer economy has been derailed and the middle class hobbled.

The functional integrity of free markets has been abandoned to the self-centered interests of predatory individuals and institutions.  And that is not all.

Money and power now flow in the virtual reality of electronic networks, largely independent of the productive economy.  The new network economy is global, while jobs and people, community and responsibility all remain locally constrained in the real world.

Americans have entered a major turning point.

Placing blame is of little use when we are confronted with such extremes.  Yes, we must understand our predicament.   But, it is essential that we then turn our attention to re-imagining and re-configuring the future.

We need to think creatively and think together, calling on partisan adversaries to pull in their horns, get practical and apply themselves locally.

For many, the jobs we had are gone for good.  Incomes have stagnated or deteriorated for decades.  Most significantly, many of us have lost our means for living with self-respect.

Making an income influences our sense of dignity and well-being.  Unemployment and poverty are not simply insufficiencies of income.  They have a debilitating impact on individual freedom, initiative, and capacity.

Poverty and overwhelming debt are more than regrettable misfortunes.  They inflict a serious drag on a productive economy and are a blight on liberty.

Local communities can choose to overcome this barrier.  Individuals with practical experience can share knowledge and skills, assisting others to step out of our old lives and gain new competencies.

Each of us can look around, think creatively, and take initiative – cooperating where necessities become obvious and building businesses that address local and regional needs.

Locally and regionally-based economies need to be reconstructed, transcending the chaos around us and surmounting the stumbling blocks thrown up by government and big business.

We can network with people in nearby communities to share ideas and resources, to find (or offer) learning opportunities, and to expand our horizons.

Americans are smart, industrious, and resourceful.  We can rise to the challenge and free one another from the shackles of limited perspective and inadequate skills.

Working together requires many things, among them patience, vision, creative imagination, cooperation and generosity of spirit.

These are choices that are ours to make.

Tom

Please watch for the next post on or about September 27.

Principled Means, Principled Ends

These are perilous times.  We find ourselves confronted with growing social and economic instability and a clouded future.

We do not want to sit on our hands.  Yet, uncertainty and unprecedented complexity make it hard to see the way forward.  How easy it would be to let emotions rule, tipping our lives into chaos and endangering the principles we depend upon.

It is with this in mind that I take up where I left off in the previous post (May 30).  There are two reasons why political violence will not get Americans where we want to go.  One is tactical.  The other is strategic and more important.

The mythic ideal of the citizen soldier remains deeply engrained in the American psyche.  The problem is that if we imagine a heroic Star Wars scenario in defense of freedom and justice we are dreaming.

Any patriot preparing today for armed resistance in the tradition of 1776 will pit himself against a formidable opponent.  He will be outmaneuvered and outgunned by fully militarized police possessing the most advanced surveillance technology and backed by massive firepower.

Marine veteran James Rock made this very clear in his comment two weeks ago (on the Facebook page).

However, there is a more fundamental problem, and it is this:  Who exactly do you intend to fight?

American law enforcement agencies and the United States military are served by loyal, committed Americans.   These are our people, our sons and daughters, friends and neighbors.  They are working people, they have families, and they care about the future as we all do.

It is our responsibility to win them over, not beat them up.  They should be approached respectfully, with persuasive argument and bighearted example.

As I wrote in the last post, violence committed by Americans against Americans would contradict the rationale behind the incentive for violence itself.   It would be self-contradictory, pitting us against one another and subverting the integrity and viability of the American Idea as a guiding force for the good.

Our views on defending the Constitution or the corruption of principles are serious matters.  But, public servants, police officers and bureaucrats, are not the problem.

We must respect these people, not just as a matter of principle, but because we need them. They are essential to a constructive solution and we need to win their trust.

Americans are not to be persuaded when we are attacked, not for some high-minded cause or anything else.  When faced with hostility we naturally close ranks, and clear thinking stops.

Even the misguided rebellion of tiny splinter groups will be destructive to the cause of liberty.  Any resort to force can easily lead to cascading consequences in which violence begets violence in a downward spiral, tearing the fabric of the Republic and threatening both progress and principle.

Furthermore, it is simply not necessary.

Change is needed that is real and lasting, built on the solid ground of principle and trust, of moral responsibility and dependable communities – not quicksand.

I never said this would be easy, so let me be clear.  The skills, attitudes, and discipline that create trust are at the heart of what we need to learn if we are to build a future for the nation as a whole.

This is more than a matter of survival.  For thousands of years local communities have formed the foundations of civilization.  The essential concern in the present hour, and the basis by which to judge constructive action, must be the spirit and the quality of the future we wish for.

It will be our means that determine the ends we seek.

This is not a theoretical nicety, but hard-nosed truth.  Understanding it will determine success or failure.

Americans are capable of being decent, patient and forbearing.  Personal values and views must be respected, but if we are to identify shared values, ensure comprehensive security, and begin to rebuild a stable civil order, it will be necessary to rise above our differences.

Going to war with our fellow citizens makes no sense.  Indeed, the ends we seek could be delayed for decades and possibly destroyed by impractical or intemperate courses of action.

Tom

A note to regular readers: Thank you for the comments, ideas, and perspectives shared (mostly on the Facebook page) in recent weeks.  This project would be impossible without you!

Please watch for the next post on or about July 4: Will the Center Hold?

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”.

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.