The Ground of Freedom

The interdependence of freedom and responsibility is elemental.  Knowing this allows us to live our lives with integrity.  It informs us of the contours of justice.  And yet rational thinking alone cannot determine the foundations for justice.

So it is that agreement on a framework for a just and livable environment is the first order of business for every functional community, large or small.

Living and working together as neighbors depends on a shared understanding of justice—an understanding embodied in a consensual moral consciousness.

Secure communities depend on this.  And it is a condition we can only arrive at by means of dialog and consultation.

Making morals and making community are, it has been said, a single mutually dependent process.

We all have ideas about what is right and good, but where do our ideas come from?  Do we make them up from scratch?

The capacity of the mind to conceive and envision personal freedom hints that self-assurance should rightfully be ours.  Yet, a finite world imposes limits on our freedom even as society depends on moral responsibility.

We are aware of the ease with which we can slip into error, over-stepping the bounds of honesty and integrity in little everyday ways.

To protect ourselves from error, both great and small, we need to see with our own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and to think independently with our own minds.

Many are resistant to recognizing the boundaries between justice and injustice, goodness and evil.  But make no mistake: Every human being is endowed with this ability.

Whatever our religious faith or philosophical belief system, the independent investigation of truth is our first responsibility.

Each of us is vulnerable to the error of transgressing the boundaries of freedom and finiteness that safeguard equilibrium in the world.  We each tread a rocky path strewn with obstacles.

My greatest concern, which I hope you might share, is the powerful influence of strong-willed, overconfident individuals who often appear in the midst of crises, and who will want you to follow them.

We must resist the seductiveness of self-appointed “leaders”.  This is my warning to you.

Such people will surely appear, claiming to love liberty when in fact they are its greatest enemies.  Please be prepared to maintain your independence.

The human spirit knows no bounds.  Yet, the conflict between freedom and the boundaries of justice is as harsh as it is inevitable.  This is a fact of life that defines the human condition.

Given the extraordinary human capacity for perception and imagination, we often stretch the limits with painful consequences.

Worse, it can be easy to imagine ourselves possessed of unique wisdom or exceptional qualities.  The past has been punctuated with great delusions.

So it is that we must understand purpose in the finite limits of being, and find responsible means for putting it to work.

Finiteness is a structural characteristic of the universe.  All physical form is defined by limits, as it must be to serve its’ function.

This is the nature of physical reality and the functional ground of human freedom.  The social order in a civilized society serves a similar purpose.  These are givens.

It is the inherent dependability of this truth that allows us to launch ourselves into new frontiers of learning and experience, to control the direction of our efforts, to instigate, organize, create.

Without structural limits, (which include our own moral values), we would have no capacity to direct our energy and intelligence, to explore new ideas or undertake new ventures.

For the individual, the ability to exercise discipline defeats the limitations imposed by nature and society.

The discipline to leverage our inspiration against the constraints we encounter provides the power to actualize our freedom and transcend the material difficulties in our lives.

We cannot leap without a firm foundation beneath our feet; we cannot fly without wings.

Discipline and limitation are, indeed, the ground of freedom.

Tom.

You may watch for the next post on or about July 15.

Several additional chapters from the forthcoming book have been added (in draft) at the top of the homepage.

The Journey to Destiny

Whatever our personality, philosophy or religious belief, the individual person has an unavoidable choice to make.  Either we retreat into a defensive posture, or we step forward as mature adults, patiently seeking to engage life with a generous and responsible spirit.

At a time of existential crisis for the United States this choice takes on great importance, not only for ourselves but for the nation and the world.  The American model has served as a beacon of hope for people everywhere.  And, the world is watching.

If we are to protect our families, organize the means for safety and security among our neighbors, and recover the promise of this nation, we must interact with one another constructively.  And with dignity.

In the previous post I emphasized that expressing our views is necessary for a healthy society.   But nothing will subvert our purpose more quickly than a combative attitude that alienates the very people we wish to influence—or need to work with.

As regular readers know, I place great value in local community as the foundation for a dependable, coherent, and prosperous American future.

Are we capable of making this possible?  Americans have little experience with genuine community.  Many of us are barely acquainted with our neighbors.

Why is community a basic element of civil society and a foundation for civilization?

There are several important reasons.

Perhaps the foremost concern at the present time is our need for safety and security in a time of severe multiple crises.  Without neighbors we can depend on and trust, the immediate future appears bleak.

Safety is essential.  But it is not everything.  A community meets needs that are fundamental to human nature.

Human beings possess a deeply felt urge to belong, whether it be to family, a place, or a community where we are valued.  Americans are no different from any others in this regard.

To be fully human we must belong somewhere, to a group, a nation, or a coherent historical stream.

As Americans it is essential that we find our way back to this sense of identity, and to the flow of ideas, relatedness, and continuity which may have become distorted or gone underground, but is not lost.

And, if we care about liberty, the experience must be local.  Communities are the basic unit comprising human societies, the structure in which justice, responsibility, and cultural awareness are grounded.

It is in community that the individual finds equilibrium and belonging; where we are encouraged to express our unique identity, character, and creativity.

So it is that community, when endowed with the full engagement of its’ citizens, becomes the substructure for freedom and security.  No other institution is capable of serving this purpose.

In the absence of community there can be no foundation for the diversity of associations, institutions, and organized functions that form a healthy civil society.

Without such diversity of association Americans have become disengaged, disoriented and set adrift.  And, it is in just such a state that human beings have been most vulnerable to dishonest, despotic and predatory influences.

Needless to say, this is of crucial importance as we confront the social disruptions and pervasive loss of ethical integrity that characterize the 21st century.  To hesitate here is to react as victims rather than to respond as Americans, to choose loss over promise, helplessness over responsibility.

The responsible, free-thinking person will sometimes struggle with the contradictions between freedom and necessity, or may be intimidated by extreme circumstances, but we must never give in to helplessness.

I do not suggest that this is easy to do.  It is not.  What I am saying is that we have no choice.  Either we rise above the challenges of personal limitations or we will join an inexorable slide into chaos.

There will always be difficult people to test our patience.  Choosing to take control of the future will require that we exercise tolerance, perseverance, and self-control.

Achieving an honorable destiny will come one step at a time.

What is imperative is that we each take initiative, that we step forward with a constructive attitude—come what may.

Tom.

You may watch for the next post on or about June 30.

A project description and introduction to the coming book, along with drafts of several chapters, are linked at the top of the homepage.

Grit and Grace

Americans today face a critical moment in time, arguably as profound as any in our history.  Freedom of opportunity, social and economic justice, and the preservation of our ability to seek personal goals are all at stake.  The character of the nation appears to be in question.  Our sense of identity as a people has been shaken.

We are all aware that this crisis is far bigger than an unexpected viral pandemic.  The causes of social degradation and political disruption overshadowing recent decades have been making themselves felt for a long time.

We are experiencing the present adversity as an American crisis, and it is.  But it is taking place in the context of a great turning point in the human story, a period of time when an unprecedented number of monumental crises are converging across the globe.

Our own crisis is inextricably intertwined with the affairs of the world.  Never has there been a greater need for the stability of the American vision.

I have proposed a simple, yet demanding course of constructive action for Americans, which can allow for survival, safety and functional coherence in local communities.

This will be extremely difficult for us to carry off.  But we have a choice.  Without a willingness to engage with one another in this a way, we have to question whether the nation can survive as a democratic republic.

We must find our way with both grit and grace, navigating through complex, sequential and interacting crises.  We have entered a transition that will dominate the course of the 21st century.

For Americans the outcome will depend on our character as a people, and our understanding of the unprecedented structural change that will confront us every step of the way.  Necessity presents us with stark, uncomfortable choices.

We can give free reign to anger and disillusionment, allowing ourselves to be dragged down into demoralized helplessness.  Or we can determine to stand firmly together as a people, rising above our differences to address the immediate practical priorities that confront us.

Are we prepared to preserve core values as we forge a genuinely American response to evolving conditions and a converging series of crises?  Will we have the vision, courage, and fortitude to commit ourselves to principled means and to engage responsibly in constructive action?

I will not offer political philosophy, nor will I speak of ultimate goals.  Fundamental values and shared purpose must be agreed upon by the American people.  Rather, I am proposing a way forward that calls for qualities of character, attitude, and responsibility that transcend conflict and controversy.

As a first step, I ask that we begin by turning away from the dishonesty and deceit of partisan politics to respond to the practical needs and problems in our local communities – which, in microcosm, embody and exemplify the challenges facing the nation as a whole.

However, make no mistake:  Consolidating local communities is only the first step.  This will create a platform for democratic engagement and a base from which to confront the oncoming forces of disintegration and disequilibrium.

The ultimate vision of the future will be up to you, the American people.

Essential lessons involving physical needs and social order must first be learned in the crucible of crisis.

We must discipline ourselves to abstain from deceptiveness, deceit, or manipulation.  Genuine virtuousness and a constructive attitude are called for, however dark the prospect.

I ask that we rise above our differences with the conviction that however immense the tests we face, however the world changes around us, however diverse our personal circumstances, this nation must not be permitted to abandon its founding vision and ultimate purpose.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about June 2.

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

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.

Finding Our Strength

We have choices to make.  They might differ from the choices we are used to thinking about, but these are not normal times.  Indeed, it appears the challenges before us are likely to worsen before they get better.

Faced with crises and instability we turn our attention to safety. And, our local community is where that needs to happen.  Shall we strengthen dependability with our neighbors and build supportive relationships, or pretend that every day will be like the last?

When the world is breaking down and hardship grows, we can always find common cause with our neighbors.  We need people in our lives who have the practical knowledge and skills to help resolve local problems – whatever their politics or religion or the color of their skin.

This is a choice that calls for wisdom and initiative.   Common sense, really, but the first step is always ours to take.  The road to security is built with civility and paved with trust.

Building community can be hard work, but it is the only certain protection from calamity.

Conflict is natural in relationships, yet differences can only be fully understood and surmounted in and through relationships. It is in the work on interpersonal relations that direct and honest communication can take place.

The means for making this fractious process possible and effective in America is the subject of this blog and my forthcoming book.  Yet, it will not succeed unless we believe it is worth the effort.

Some may say it’s too late.  I say that Americans are courageous, resourceful, resilient.  The United States was conceived in controversy; and the vision of the Founders came with recognition that wisdom and strength are found in diversity.

Indeed, it is argued here that diversity is the foundation for strength, and that the United States Constitution is a visionary assertion of this belief.

The Founders gave us a structure.  It is our responsibility to make it work.

We are confronted today by one of the great tests of American history, a challenge to the intent embodied in the Constitution and the coherence of a vision that has been gradually maturing for more than two hundred years.

Perhaps we have lost our way at times, stumbled, gotten sloppy.  But now it is time to pull together.  It is argued here that we must begin in our local communities – the historic home to democracy and the seat of civilization.

Stability cannot be imposed from above in a free society.  The kind of strength we seek is grounded in trust and dependability in personal relations.  This is the nature of genuine community.

I am not talking about a “recovery” from crisis in the normal sense.  Rather, I submit that we stand at the threshold of an unprecedented turning point – a crossroads that offers a unique window of opportunity for Americans to affirm and uphold our exceptional and multifaceted identity as a nation.

In navigating through an extraordinary confluence of crises we will be forced to renew our values, think on our feet, and make both pragmatic and ethical adjustments.

A creative process is now underway that would not be possible otherwise.

We need to assess our shared values and rethink the generosity of spirit that once made America so attractive to the world.

If American communities are to emerge into a vibrant matrix of local and regional networks, they will depend on citizens with diverse skills and varied perspectives, people who are capable of teamwork and practical problem-solving.

Resistance to diversity is often caused by discomfort with those who look or think differently, or who come from unfamiliar cultural backgrounds.  Yet, in crises it is differences in perspective that allow effective problem-solving.  We cannot afford to do without this.

You should feel confidence in your own ideas and values.  Yes, but why should we be afraid to hear and understand different ways of thinking?

The strength in calm composure brings us clear mindedness and the ability to listen well.

The opportunity to explore the world through the eyes of those different from ourselves is a blessing and a gift.  And, in the event of social collapse it may be the key to survival.

Tom

A note to readers:  You may look for the next post on or about February 26.  New readers can find a project description, an introduction to the coming book, and drafts of several chapters on the homepage.  New chapters have recently been added, including one on Freedom and Individualism.

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.

Deeper and More Dangerous

We live in extraordinary times. Having entered a period of current and impending crises, Americans are challenged to pull together as a people, to safeguard the constitutional order of the nation, and to find our way together to a future we can depend on.

We face a broad range of crises, all emerging into view at virtually the same time.  We have discussed several here briefly, and others at greater depth.

Some, like the continuing debt crisis, have major current implications.  Others, like the unrecognized instability of complexity in today’s digitized world, remain hidden, but may well provide the trigger that sends everything into a tailspin.

I have placed emphasis on the coming financial storm because it hangs over us now, waiting for a trigger.

The too-big-to-fail banks are now bigger than they were before they helped bring down the economy in 2008.  Federal and corporate debt have expanded enormously since that time, further devaluing the US dollar.

Millions who lost their jobs and homes in the 2008 crisis remain mired in poverty.

Respectable higher-paying employment has been lost overseas or to robotics and mechanized production.  Experts predict that 30% of current jobs will disappear in the next 10 years.

The stock market has shot upward with no foundation in economic reality.  It has now reached irrational valuations not seen since just before the 1929 panic and the dotcom crash of 2000.

The Bank for International Settlements (BIS), which is the central banker to the world’s central banks, has stated openly that central bankers will be out of options when the next crisis hits.

The BIS suggests that the major central banks have mismanaged the situation to a large extent because they don’t understand it.  Previously “unthinkable risks,” the BIS said, are coming to be “perceived as the new normal.”

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also released a report stating that “key fault lines” are growing across the US financial landscape, and that “new pockets of vulnerabilities have emerged.” The largest and most interconnected banks “dominate the system even more than before.”

As imposing as the financial drama appears, in my view there is a deeper and more dangerous crisis.  And, it is clearly visible behind all the others.

I have written here of the profound loss of personal integrity – honesty, trustworthiness, responsibility – we have witnessed in recent years.

A profound collapse of moral standards has taken place on a societal scale.  It has infected many personal relationships and virtually all institutions.

This is the deeper crisis, and it may ultimately be responsible for the general deterioration that appears to be dragging civilization to its knees.

Dependability, trust, and responsibility are the basis for the sound functioning of all human affairs, and lack of them has led to crippling disorientation and disorder.

Why has this happened to such a stunning extent?  Certainly, we have lost the ethical foundations that have contributed to stability in the past.  But, why?  We are intelligent people.  What happened to good judgment?  Where is common sense?

Have we walked away from responsibility believing that honesty and fairness limit our freedom?  Or have we just become thoughtless, undisciplined, sloppy?

Has the daily bludgeoning from mass media stunted our ability to think for ourselves?

Whatever the reasons, we are now reaping the whirlwind.

For a world where many young people have grown up with little or no effective parenting, and where many of their elders have lost any meaningful grounding in values or virtues, there will be no valid guidance available in the chaotic upheavals that lie ahead.

Dealing specifically with impending or potential dangers is very important, but is beyond the scope of this blog.  Rather, I seek to gather Americans around a focus on safety, common needs, and constructive purpose in our local communities.

This is essential regardless of the nature of unpredictable events.

We have entered a time of severe testing.

Such testing requires us to rise to our full personal potential – patiently working together in our communities despite our differences.

This degree of patriotic loyalty is the only antidote to the toxic cocktail of partisan negativity that is poisoning the American soul.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about January 15.

Note to regular readers:  Two new drafts have been posted at the top of the home page (see above).  They are Chapter 6: Freedom and Individuality, and Chapter 9: Confronted by the Past.  In addition, Chapter 1: American Crucible has been revised.  I look forward to your feedback.

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.

An Unexpected Threat

In recent decades a profound and unexpected threat has been growing exponentially.  The densely interconnected world of digital networks, instant communication, and global markets have presented a seductively attractive frontier.  Yet, we find ourselves awakening now to the danger embedded in this complexity.

Hidden within this new reality is a menace that is difficult to comprehend.  A new and unpredictable world, it hides hazards of barely imaginable magnitude.

We are confronted with impenetrable complexity.

Exponential population growth and digital connectivity, along with warfare, fragile commercial distribution systems, and the global transmission of deadly diseases, are all contributing to rapidly intensifying complexity.

However, it is the immensity and density of digital networks that is most difficult to grasp.  It is here where we are learning that complexity can behave in very strange and disturbing ways.

Complex systems are capable of spiraling out of control suddenly and inexplicably.  Living as we do with the instability of today’s world, I think it important that we understand this.

In his book, “Ubiquity”, science writer Mark Buchanan writes that a natural structure of instability is in fact woven into the fabric of the world.

He writes that complex structures and processes – in geology, in rush-hour traffic, in financial markets, and in the many intricate networks of human society – have a natural tendency to organize themselves into what is called a “critical state.”

When this happens they are poised on what he describes as the “knife-edge of instability.”

A critical state occurs when a system is poised for sudden change.  Some mathematicians and scientists now believe that a pervasive instability is a fundamental feature in nature – and in the structures of human societies.

Any event, even a small one, can have an effect that seems far out of proportion to its cause.

A single grain of sand, for example, will cause a sand pile to avalanche. But it is impossible for us to know which grain of sand, which individual maneuver in heavy traffic, or which specific circumstance in the financial markets will trigger an inevitable catastrophe.

What is the difference between something that is complicated and something that is complex?

James Rickards, who I have introduced to you in the past, answers this question in his book, “The Death of Money: The Coming Collapse of the International Monetary System”.

Rickards explains: “Many analysts use the words ‘complex’ and ‘complicated’ interchangeably, but that is inexact. A complicated mechanism, like the clockworks on St. Mark’s Square in Venice, may have many moving parts, but it can be assembled and disassembled in straightforward ways.

“The parts do not adapt to one another, and the clock cannot suddenly turn into a sparrow and fly away. In contrast, complex systems sometimes do morph and fly away, or slide down mountains, or ruin nations….

“Complex systems include moving parts, called autonomous agents, but they do more than move. The agents are diverse, connected, interactive, and adaptive. Their diversity and connectivity can be modeled to a limited extent, but interaction and adaptation quickly branch into a seeming infinity of outcomes that can be modeled in theory but not in practice.

“To put it another way, one can know that bad things might happen yet never know exactly why.”

James Rickards goes on to expound on the instability of today’s financial markets and global economy.  He writes: “Bankers’ parasitic behavior, the result of a cultural phase transition, is entirely characteristic of a society nearing collapse.

“Wealth is no longer created; it is taken from others. Parasitic behavior is not confined to bankers; it also infects high government officials, corporate executives, and the elite societal stratum.”

Today the financial markets and monetary system are again poised “on the knife’s edge of criticality.”

My message here is the importance of resisting panic when confronted with frightening and unexpected shocks.  We must remain steady on our feet when others are ready to stampede.

Only with a commitment to justice and steady self-discipline will we hold our communities together.

The road to freedom requires courage, and getting there through a dark night will depend on the strength of local cooperation and moral responsibility.

Tom

Note to readers:  Watch for the next post on or about November 19.  New readers can find a project description, a draft introduction to the forthcoming book, and several chapter drafts 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.