Danger and Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will offer several examples.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom

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

The Promise and Reward in Teamwork

Readers are quite right to question how I can expect the intense hostilities and incivility current among the American people to allow any dialog or cooperation at all.

I have never said it would be easy.  It will be extremely difficult.  But I believe we have no choice.  Our failure saps our spirit, undermines our strength and impedes governance.  It could actually lead to the loss of the American Republic and everything it stands for.

I think it interesting that our young people can commit themselves to discipline, teamwork, and decisive action in the armed forces – while the rest of us appear unwilling to exercise even basic civility, much less the loyalty and generosity that have characterized the American tradition.

Faced with an oncoming series of major crises, it will be necessary to renew our spirits and brace ourselves for frustrations.  Working with our neighbors to resolve local problems will bring us together.  Collaborating to meet shared needs will steady our course.

The success of communities in developing shared purpose and strategies for coping, will be critically important.  This can only happen when we rise above our differences and begin to understand and trust one another as friends, neighbors, and allies.

It is not necessary to compromise our personal views and beliefs.  The challenge is to be both self-confident within ourselves and respectful of others as we engage in local problem-solving.

This might require that we adjust our attitudes.  Can we come to terms with one another as teammates and compatriots committed to the fundamental integrity of the nation?

No cohesive effort can be mounted, much less succeed, if we cannot get ourselves onto the same page.  This will not be possible if we cannot communicate with civility and listen with understanding.

The way we handle working relationships and resolve local problem-solving will be the first stage in preparing for the future.  A right attitude for dealing with an immediate crisis, as I suggested in an earlier post, will probably be the right attitude for working with one another to build a better future.

There will inevitably be confusion at times, and difficulties comprehending problems.  The American people are under immense pressure.  Many of us are already demoralized.

Those who have the presence of mind to engage in problem-solving will need to step forward and pull their neighbors together.

Working with people can be one of our greatest tests.  This is a fundamental aspect of the life we have been given in this world.

I will continue to offer practical perspectives and tools for building trust and dependability when working with people in our communities, including those who are especially difficult to work with.

Assistance will be available in my forthcoming book, and more detailed guidance will follow in a handbook for communities.

A variety of topics will include:  1) Rising above personal differences to build dependable relationships; 2) local decision-making in small groups; 3) planning and managing community gardens and other local projects; and, 4) responding to conflict with an approach called conflict transformation.

You might wonder what I mean by “conflict transformation”.

This is a practical approach to serious conflict, which is described most clearly by John Paul Lederach in “The Little Book of Conflict Transformation”.  The book is inexpensive and available from major booksellers.

Conflict transformation looks beyond immediate surface issues to recognize and respond to the personal or group experiences that led to the conflict.  It seeks first to reach a shared understanding of perceptions and underlying causes, and then to address the actual human needs relating to the conflict.  Finally, participants are invited to join in seeking satisfying solutions.

When the going gets tough, we would do well to remember that user-friendly tools are available for group collaboration and problem-solving, online and from booksellers.

No one can do this for us.  Each of us can learn – if we have the will to stand up, take responsibility for the future, and refuse to give up.

Tom

Notes to new readers:  Please watch for the next post on or about January 17.  A project description and several chapter drafts from the forthcoming book are linked on this page (see above).  Please see especially Chapter One: American Crucible.

Food and Water: The Bottom Line

It is easy in a crisis to feel overwhelmed or angry.  Seeking assistance from neighbors might feel difficult or impossible.  Yet, it may be necessary to cooperate, to organize mutual assistance simply to meet essential needs.

The safety of our families, the security of our local communities, and even the future of the nation could depend on it.

Our disagreements pale in the face of an unprecedented convergence of multiple crises.  If we believe in the unique value of the United States of America as a model for the future of the humanity, we need to think about our priorities.

Some disagreements may need to be deferred to honor central and overriding agreement.

Americans are capable of recognizing shared goals and collaborating to meet shared needs – if this is recognized as a necessity.  Nothing needs to shake our determination to prevail.

The world is changing dramatically every day.  Tensions rise when the economy deteriorates or resources are scarce.  We live in a digitally interconnected world in which financial stress is never isolated and can suddenly spread and metastasize into instability.

But, we do not need to wait for a sudden crisis to know that something is happening.  It is no secret to anyone who watches supermarket prices.  The global population is growing exponentially.  We are gaining approximately 214,000 new mouths to feed every day.

Do we understand that the price of food is determined primarily by global commodity markets?

Natural resources are becoming extremely expensive to produce, whether through agriculture or to extract from the earth.  As falling water tables, changing weather patterns, and the loss of top soil bring pressure to bear on agriculture, the cost of food will continue to rise unevenly.

The natural aquifers that provide water for some of the most productive farming regions in the world, including the United States, are collapsing at an accelerating rate – as they are over-pumped and water is diverted to cities.

Available farmland is shrinking rapidly in the breadbasket areas of the United States, India, and China, which feed hundreds of millions of people.

Some scientists suggest that advancing technologies will increase crop yields.  But, there is evidence that biological “glass ceilings” may exist, above which photosynthesis will not allow increased productivity.

Given the rapid loss of farmland, we have little time to wait for research.

It has become apparent that a worldwide food crisis can only be avoided by producing record harvests every year – year after year.  We all know this is impossible. The weather has never allowed for that.

For Americans, the availability of food at any price could also be of concern.  A banking crisis or other major disruption of North American supply chains would empty the stores. American supermarkets only maintain three-day warehouse inventories.

Logic and wisdom should draw our attention to food security.  This is a necessity that requires self-sufficiency, and it would benefit immensely from cooperation with our neighbors.

We cannot wait to reach a state of desperation before we prepare.  We can all learn how to grow and preserve food. This requires that we arrange for access to appropriate land and find knowledgeable neighbors to work with.

Growing food can be a rewarding endeavor.  It can generate economic activity, and can lend itself readily to community cooperation. But, early planning and preparation are essential.

Safe drinking water is another matter.  The majority of municipal water systems in the United States are ancient and tottering.  Furthermore, polluted ground water can render local wells toxic.  This also demands knowledge, planning and preparation.

Having community-members with electrical, plumbing, farming, and other skills is important for all kinds of reasons.  This is why I continue to remind readers of the importance of finding a diversity of knowledge, experience, and skills for our local communities.

There are also skills we each need to learn – how to build trust, manage conflict, and engage in effective small group decision-making.

We are Americans.  We can do this.

When the going gets tough, differences in religion, politics, or skin color are not going to go away, but they need to take a back seat.

Tom

A note to regular readers: The drafts of several chapters posted on this page (see above) are currently being re-written and expanded.  I depend on your feedback.

Please watch for the next post on or about November 17.