America: Meaning and Challenge

We all have anxiety about coronavirus and the related instability in the financial system.  These are serious concerns.  But, let’s not take our eyes off the ball.  We have more fundamental issues to deal with – challenges that will continue and deepen with each oncoming crisis.

In my view our greatest concern should be our difficulty dealing with crises, in problem-solving, especially in our local communities.  Because this is where trust, dependability, and survival count most in our lives.

Americans have always been a contentious lot, yet we are capable of showing fierce allegiance to America.  How, I asked in the previous post, have our national attributes led to strength?

I quoted from James Surowiecki’s book, The Wisdom of Crowds, where he described how unexpected solutions can be found when independent thinking and a diversity of viewpoints are aggregated in a decision-making process.

I have suggested that such wisdom can be found in small groups, intentionally and intelligently, when we are committed to meeting local needs and resolving local problems.

A decision-making process that seeks common purpose among diverse participants can be managed as a learned skill.  Anyone can learn how to facilitate such a process.

Effective solutions depend on a group’s ability to generate new ideas that go beyond consensus.

This is only possible when we rise above our differences to leverage our diversity in knowledge, experience, and problem-solving skills – and take an inquisitive interest in the input.

All available information is needed on the table.  Unexpected insight might prove invaluable.

With an attitude of patience and civility toward one another we can make an ongoing effort to seek effective solutions.  A degree of uncertainty is natural and healthy.  We can always make course corrections.

However, we must each see with our own eyes and think with our own minds.  We must never be certain of another person’s certainty!

Unity is not sameness.  Unity can only come into being with the embrace of differences.  Living with diversity presents us with the necessity for learning how to engage with one another in practical ways.

In the first chapter of my coming book, which is posted on the blog’s homepage under the heading American Crucible (www.freedomstruth.net), I quote conservative columnist Peggy Noonan, who makes a heartfelt call to the American people in her little book, Patriotic Grace, What It Is and Why We Need It Now.

In it she urges us to rise above our differences, however significant they may be, to reaffirm “what it is to be an American.”

Peggy Noonan writes:

“Politics is a great fight and must be a fight; that is its purpose. We are a great democratic republic, and we struggle with great questions. One group believes A must be law, the other Z. Each side must battle it through, and the answer will not always be in the middle.  The answer is not always M.

“But we can approach things in a new way, see in a new way, speak in a new way.  We can fight honorably and in good faith, while—and this is the hard one—both summoning and assuming good faith on the other side.

“To me it is not quite a matter of ‘rising above partisanship,’ though that can be a very good thing.  It’s more a matter of remembering our responsibilities and reaffirming what it is to be an American.

“…And so I came to think this: What we need most right now, at this moment, is a kind of patriotic grace—a grace that takes the long view, apprehends the moment we are in, comes up with ways of dealing with it, and eschews the politically cheap and manipulative.  That admits affection and respect.”

Does she have a point?  I think so.  We can acknowledge the things that divide us, address them in a manner that allows practical solutions, and unite to protect a civil order that allows us to preserve or recover the freedoms we cherish.

Or, we can let it all come to naught.

I never said it would be easy.  I have said that if we are to recover the integrity of the nation we wish to honor and respect – we have no choice.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about March 25.

Note to new readers: A project description, introduction to the coming book, and several chapters in draft can be found at the top of the blog’s homepage.

Unexpected Wisdom

How has the American identity formed itself during the past 200 years – from amidst an immense diversity of conflicting ideas and beliefs?  Why has the clash of differing opinions led to patriotism and strength?

What is going on?

The idea that unity is strengthened by diversity may seem counter-intuitive at first, yet we have many examples of how this works.

In his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki describes compelling evidence that large groups of people possess an extraordinary power to solve problems when their judgment is aggregated.  And he shows that the more diverse the crowd, the more efficient the solutions.

Citing many examples Surowiecki describes the conditions in which democratic decision-making does and does not work.

He tells us of the surprise of scientist Francis Galton when 787 participants in a raffle at a county fair submitted guesses at what the weight of a large ox would be after it had been slaughtered and dressed.

“The analogy to a democracy, in which people of radically different abilities and interests each get one vote, had suggested itself to Galton immediately. ‘The average competitor was probably as well fitted for making a just estimate of the dressed weight of an ox, as an average voter is of judging the merits of most political issues on which he votes,’ he wrote.”

Galton, who expected to confirm his view that “the average voter” was capable of very little good judgment, borrowed the tickets from the organizers following the competition.

He added up all the contestants’ estimates and calculated the average.

The crowd had guessed that the ox, after it had been slaughtered and dressed, would weigh 1,197 pounds. In fact, it weighed 1,198 pounds.

Another example described by Surowiecki is the story of the 1968 loss of the US Navy submarine Scorpion, which disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean. The Navy had no idea what happened to the vessel, where it was or how fast it had been traveling.

Mr. Surowiecki recounts the story as told by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew in their book Blind Man’s Bluff, about how a naval officer named John Craven assembled a diverse group of people – mathematicians, submarine specialists, and salvage men – provided them with a number of varied scenarios, and asked them to offer their best guesses without benefit of contact with each other.

All they knew was the sub’s last reported location.

The group laid wagers on why the submarine ran into trouble, on its speed as it headed for the ocean floor and the steepness of descent, among other things.

Craven built a composite picture of what happened and calculated the group’s collective estimate of where the submarine was. The location he identified was not a location specifically suggested by any members of the group.

But that is where it was.

The Navy found the wreck 220 yards from where Craven’s group said it would be.

Mr. Surowiecki proceeds to demonstrate the surprising consistency of this outcome in widely varied circumstances. And, he explains how groups work well in some circumstances better than others.

As we all know, there are times when aggregating individual judgments produces a collective decision that is disastrous; a riot, for example, or a stock market bubble.

Interestingly, he writes: “Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise.

“An intelligent group, especially when confronted with cognition problems, does not ask its members to modify their positions in order to let the group reach a decision everyone can be happy with.  

“Instead, it figures out how to use mechanisms – like market prices, or intelligent voting systems – to aggregate and produce collective judgments that represent not what any one person in the group thinks but rather, in some sense, what they all think.

“Paradoxically, the best way for a group to be smart is for each person in it to think and act as independently as possible.”

My coming book will offer practical guidance for local communities to utilize diversity to engage in effective problem-solving and decision-making.

Stability in a crisis and the survival of freedom will require this wisdom.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about March 10.

A note to new readers:  A description of this project, an introduction to the coming book, and several chapter drafts can be found at the top of the homepage.

Values, Justice and Economics

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

Yet, who exactly is managing this “household”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does this mean for ordinary Americans?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom

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

The Forward Edge of History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both individual freedom and community coherence depend on this.

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

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

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

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

Tom

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

Disruption and Endurance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what of our common purpose?

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

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

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

Tom

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

A Confluence of Crises

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

The challenges ahead will be diverse, profound, and mutually reinforcing.  Some will appear suddenly, others gradually, but all will ultimately converge as they impact our lives in the coming years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Given the interrelated dynamics of social, economic, and political pressures pushed to extremes, we are stumbling into a systemic crisis capable of triggering a cascading collapse.

We must be prepared to respond rationally, without panic and with our principles intact.

The integrity of the whole is a dynamic reality, physical, mental, and spiritual.  And here is the crux of the matter.  Behind the material problems there is a rarely perceived but underlying crisis:  It is about the way we see and the way we think.

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

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

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

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

Indeed, it undermines the integral order of civilization.

Whatever our particular religious tradition or philosophical grounding, the difficult years ahead will demand a steadfast commitment to the highest ethical standards, to consistent moral responsibility, and a patient determination to cooperate with others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom

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

Danger and Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will offer several examples.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom

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

Freedom in Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we willing to take this on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom

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

From Courage to Responsibility

Without neighbors we can depend on, how will we find safety for our families and strength to build the future?  Tell me, please, in what place other than our local communities do we have the freedom and opportunity, amid deepening turbulence, to forge dependable relationships and to influence our destiny as a nation?

I never said it would be easy.  Responsibility never is.  We face an extraordinary turning point, an oncoming confluence of crises that will challenge Americans to rise to a new level.

Do we imagine that a superhero will rescue us?  Or will we pick ourselves up, reach out to our neighbors, and do what needs to be done?  This is an uncompromising question.  Not to answer it, or to defer commitment, is in fact to answer it.

Failure to rise to necessity is to accept defeat.

Whatever one’s personality, political philosophy or religious belief, we have a choice to make.  Either we retreat into ourselves, accepting the world as beyond our control, or we step forward to engage hardship and purpose with constructive intent.

This is a very personal choice, but at a time of existential crisis for America it takes on great significance – for ourselves, for the nation and for the world.

The United States has served as a model of governance and an engine of creative vitality that is unparalleled in human history.  The American idea has been a beacon of hope for people everywhere.  There has never been anything else like it.

And, now the world is watching.

To hesitate would be to act as victims rather than as Americans.  It would be to choose loss over promise, helplessness over responsibility.  We may be temporarily intimidated by difficult circumstances.  But we must never give in, and never lose sight of the dawn of a new day that even now lightens the horizon.

Without the personal courage to begin anew, we will join the slide into turmoil.

It is true that strengthening our communities will not protect us from uncertainty.  However, what it can do, and will do if we are determined, is to open the door to practical potential — dependable neighbors, mutual assistance, food security, and economic renewal on a human scale.

It positions us to best keep our balance mentally and spiritually.  And, it keeps the future alive.

Working with people is probably the most challenging thing in life.  Choosing to work together requires perseverance and forbearance – a readiness to exercise tolerance, patience, self-control.

There will always be difficult people to test us.

Our job is not to be heroes or caretakers or managers, although these roles may call on us at times.  Our job is to win over hearts and minds to the cause of responsibility, safety, mutual respect.  Only then will it be possible for fear to give way to sincere listening, anxiety to understanding.

No one is asking that you change your views.  Our lessons, (and those we need to teach), are those of democratic governance as well as human decency: Patience, problem-solving, teamwork and collaboration.

We can only advance one step at a time and will often seem painfully slow.

Making a commitment to stay positive requires resolve.  Despite this, to focus on productive activity and to build dependable relationships will make a very big difference.

The negativity that imposes on us every day may seem powerful, but it can only exist in the absence of constructive action, and only has the energy we allow it.  When we set out on a practical path and offer encouragement to others with a friendly spirit, we become as a light that pushes back the darkness.

If we meet with overwhelming negativity, it may be wise to take our energy elsewhere.  But, we must never allow our vision to dim or our compassion to be compromised.

Darkness can always be countered with light.  Darkness is the absence of light and has no substance of its own.

Tom

Please watch for the next post on or about August 22.

A note to new readers:  Blog entries adapted from the forthcoming book are posted on alternating weeks at both this, the main blog site, and on a Facebook page.  To receive alerts by email you may click “Follow” on this page.

Turning Point for America

Whether our ancestors came to this continent by choice or in slavery, or were forcibly separated from their indigenous American roots, all of us are estranged from the lands and lives of our forbears.

With a strength rooted in the individualism of survivors, Americans have reconstructed human society on the basis of association, reciprocity, and principle: freedom of thought, economic independence, and a new sense of belonging that transcended social and religious differences.

Despite the hardships, European settlers formed communities and built a vibrant civil society that flourished through the first half of the 19th century.

However, our inquisitive nature and the inclination to range far and wide across the North American continent soon led to the society we know today – mobile, disconnected, alienated, and suspicious of differences.

Cut off from the cultural foundations that provided previous generations with the basis for social stability, personal identity, and moral integrity, our values have become less confident, our standards less clear.

Railways, highways, large-scale industries and shopping malls facilitated the unrestrained pursuit of economic productivity and material gain.  Big always seemed better and was certainly more profitable for the few.

We soon lost any sense of proportion, purpose, or belonging.  A society once anchored by small businesses and community cohesion soon fell apart, morphing into urban sprawl, broken families, and lost dreams.

What have we been thinking?

Our roots in community were lost, except in rural areas that found themselves increasingly on the defensive, both socially and economically.

For new arrivals the transition has always been rigorous.  Hostility toward immigrants was greatest between 1880 and 1910.

First the Irish, then the Polish and Italians were treated as threats to American “purity”.  And for people of color, especially blacks, the setbacks have never stopped coming.

New arrivals contributed economic strength and rich cultural diversity to the quality of American life.  Many of us know the stories of our grandparents and their successes, which only came with sheer determination.

Today we have a haunting awareness of the deterioration and decay of American society.

The loss of local economic strength and social cohesiveness has led to diminishing independence and self-sufficiency for virtually everyone.  The fears and suspicion that come with hard times has resurfaced.

The destruction of economic vitality that once provided us with the dignity of self-sufficiency, and the deterioration of the civil order we have depended on, have led many to look for something or someone to blame.

We now find ourselves at a turning point at which hard choices confront us.

The positive ideals that once gave us a feeling of dignity are partly veiled from memory.  The need to clarify our identity as a nation has become clear.

The genius of our Constitution has allowed America to grow and mature for 200 years.  Yet, we find ourselves in confusion today, without a vision for the future or a sense of community we can depend on.

Confronted with growing instability and uncertainty, I believe there is the only one place where we can gain control over our destiny.

This is in our local communities.

It is here that we can find safety and dependability in a social and economic crisis.  And it is here that minds can be influenced, thinking can change and the future can be debated rationally.

We are presented with a formidable task.  Without trustworthy neighbors and coherent communities, how are we to engage constructively with America as a whole – a people uprooted and disorganized in the wasteland of a broken society?

How will we build dependable relationships, a stable civil order, and a safe future for our children and grandchildren?

I do not voice this question as an intellectual exercise, but rather as a personal challenge to my readers as thinking, caring, self-respecting adults.

This is our turning point.  Do we have the will to rise above our differences to engage with our neighbors, to resolve local problems and meet shared needs?  It will not be easy.

I see no other way to influence one another or be cleansed of animosity and hatred – no other means than in the crucible of local community.

Do we have a choice?

I don’t think so.

Tom

Note to new readers:  Links to a project description, a draft introduction and sample chapters from the coming book may be found at the top of the homepage.

Watch for the next post on or about August 7, and please join the conversation.

Cooperation or Collapse?

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

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

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

These are dangerous times.

The vitality of the American Republic has always been energized by the clash of differing opinions.  The national character is rooted in the fertile engagement of divergent ideas that test and expand a rich national diversity.

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

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

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

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

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

What gives?

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

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

Genuine communication does not require compromising principles.

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

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

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

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

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

We each can develop needed skills.

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

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

And, dependable community is the ground of civilization.

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

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

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

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

Tom

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

American 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.